Although managing your money at uni might seem like a chore, it's important to keep an eye on those precious pennies, or you might end up running out of money before the end of term.

What budgeting tips can I find in this guide?

Living costs at university

Although costs will vary slightly depending on where you are staying in the UK, you can expect to pay the following each month:

  • Accommodation - £400
  • Food - £120
  • Travel - £55
  • Bills - £64
  • Eating out and socialising - £130
  • Mobile phone - £20
  • Course materials - £20
  • Health and wellbeing - £25
  • Clothes - £35
  • Gifts - £15.

Not surprisingly, you will find that rent or food will eat up most of your budget, although there are ways you can reduce the cost of your grocery bill, such as buying yellow-stickered items, buying certain items in bulk and batch-cooking meals.

It's important to realise that the costs above can all be broken down into two categories: essential and non-essential. So if you're trying to save money at university, make sure you look at cutting down on non-essential spending first.

Why you need to budget at university

With the cost of living crisis now taking a firm hold in the UK, it's more important than ever to budget while studying at university.

While this may seem boring, and just another mundane task to take precious time away from studying (or drinking!), budgeting each month and managing your money carefully carries some great benefits.

It's also important to remember that if your money starts running too low, you can start encountering some serious problems, e.g. not being able to pay rent, afford a core textbook you really need for your course, or pay for emergencies such as a broken laptop.

For some, having to live on a student loan, isn’t a prerequisite of life as a student, however for most students, having a limited income, based around your maintenance loan is the standard – so knowing how to maximise this, plus being able to stretch it further or make a little extra, can help you transform your life from noodles and beans in a cold room to something a bit more comfortable! 

1. Calculate your income

The first step is to total up your income each month, and then you'll know exactly how much you have to spend.

To start, make sure you are making the most of what’s available to you through your student loan – and any other scholarships or bursaries you might be able to apply for.  

Generally, for students in England, if your household income is less than £25,000 – you should be entitled to a maintenance loan of £9,706 (or £12,667 if you're studying and living in London), with this amount decreasing as your household income increases.

You might also be entitled to various other forms of governmental help, depending on your circumstances. These include:

Depending on your course, university, circumstances etc, you might be eligible to apply for various bursaries, scholarships, and hardship funds.

These do not have to be paid back, but you will need to do some work to find out what’s available for your specific circumstances.

A good place to start with this is your university student services department - they will have access to lots of knowledge about the options available locally to you!

2. Determine your outgoings

The next step is to work out exactly how you are currently spending your money. Check your bank statements from previous months and add up all your expenditure. This should give you a rough idea of where all your money is going. Don't forget to include the following in your calculations:

  • Rent
  • Groceries
  • Bills
  • Transport
  • Course materials
  • Socialising
  • Hobbies
  • New clothes
  • Gym membership
  • Haircuts and beauty treatments
  • Subscription services
  • Travelling
  • Gifts

3. Put together a weekly budget

Once you've worked out your expenses, it's time to get down to the nitty gritty and calculate a weekly budget. To do this, you'll need to:

  • Work out your total income for each term
  • Deduct your essential expenses for the same time period
  • Divide the figure you're left with by the number of weeks in each term.

This should give your weekly student budget, i.e. how much you can spend on non-essentials such as nights out, etc.

For example, if your income per term is £3,500 and your essentials add up to £2,000, then this leaves you with £125 a week to spend.

It's best to aim for a weekly budget, so you don't end up spending too much at the beginning of term and are left with nothing at the end.

4. Earn extra cash

Once you have covered the above, it’s time to think about how you can make a little more to top up that weekly budget!

It’s important that if you need to consider ways of making extra money, you consider your studies first – after all, by getting a good degree, you’ve got better options for your career in the long run – so make sure you don’t prioritise any part-time work above your studies (although this is tough, and we all slip occasionally!)

Some good ideas to start with include:

  • Approach your university – some universities have a careers service that also advertises part time jobs available to apply for in the local community. What you can make: Usually minimum wage, but higher rates available for more specialised work
  • Part-time jobs - keep a keen eye open on the notice boards of local newsagents, along with online sources such as gumtree. You can normally earn minimum wage, but higher rates may be available for more specialised work
  • Mystery shopping and retail merchandising - this can be a convenient and flexible way to find work that fits in with your studies, especially if you can drive and have access to a car! Very often this kind of work is done on a self-employed basis, so you need to keep an eye on your tax and national insurance, but generally, if you can go to the stores during opening hours, whether that be at 7 am or 10 pm, you can be sure to find occasional jobs! What you can make: £8 - £10 per hour on average.
  • Online surveys - whilst you’re never going to become a millionaire, this can be a handy way to make a little in your spare moments. From on the bus, or having lunch – filling in a questionnaire or two about your daily habits can reap rewards from PayPal payments to amazon vouchers and more! What you can make: depending on how much you commit, maybe £10 – 20 per month.
  • Become a participant! Again, whilst this isn’t right for everyone (and indeed, not every university has the option available!!) becoming a participant – from everything from psychology studies to vaccine development – can reap a bit of extra cash. You would need to participate in various studies that contribute to research, PhD studies and more; this might mean a simple half hour psychology trial to a more longer-term study over a period of months which involves trialling new vaccines. If you look at university noticeboards, department sites, or even local website and their volunteer sections, you should find the occasional call for help! What can you make: You can expect around £5 for simple half hour psychology studies, but longer trials involving new drugs or vaccines can run into triple figures.

5. Student discounts

Always keep an eye out for student discounts - you'll find that there are usually plenty around if you take a look!

For example, the following websites have dedicated sections for student deals:

You'll find many more online, depending on the exact type of discount you're looking for, but clothing, magazine, technology, and pretty much anything else will normally carry a discount for students.

Don't forget that an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) also offers up to 150,000 student benefits and discounts worldwide.

6. Use tools to help you

As you know, it’s important to make sure your outgoings don’t go above your incomings and remember – your money will have to stretch to that next loan payment!

  • A budgeting app can help with tracking, such as Starling Bank or Monzo. These allow you to group purchases into categories and receive notifications when you're about to go over budget. Other good banking apps include Atom, Revolut, and Monese. Money Lover and Money Dashboard are two other apps that are good for helping you track your money. Some of these apps also have savings features that help you to set aside small amounts of money each week, as well as your usual banking functions such as overdrafts, in-credit interest and joint accounts. Alternatively, you could try Kakeibo – the art of Japanese budgeting!
  • Spreadsheets are also a great way of tracking income and expenditure, and this way, you'll have everything to hand in one place should you need to check any figures quickly.
  • Student budget calculators can be useful to help you improve your money managing skills, such as Save The Student, UCAS, Money Saving Expert and This Is Money.

Other top tips for budgeting, and sticking to your plan include:

  • Try to take out a set amount of cash for the week, if you can – and stick to it!
  • If you can get your hands on an NUS Extra card, you will find you have access to lots of discounts across several brands and high street shops.
  • Keep on top of the best deals for mobile phone contracts, broadband and the like by regularly reviewing your contracts and checking through comparison websites – and if you can get it for free, such as by using the internet on campus, then try to utilise this.
  • You can save money on your food shopping by looking out for those yellow stickers! This is a great way to get your shopping for less, and with some thought and a freezer(!), can stock up on essentials. Meat, milk, even bread can be frozen, so it’s worth finding out when your local supermarkets reduce their stock.
  • Plan your meals and make bigger saving by cooking together with your housemates – sharing the bill in the process!
  • Don’t use cash machines that charge fees!
  • Make sure you keep an eye on your tax situation – if you do any part-time work and earn less than the current tax threshold of £12,570, you don’t need to pay any tax. If you happen to have tax taken off your earnings and will be working for the rest of the tax year, you can claim a refund from HMRC at the end of the tax year. If you know that you are only going to be working for a shorter period, you can claim a refund on your tax using form P50, four weeks after the end of your employment.
  • If you can avoid buying textbooks, you can make some big savings – check out lending them from your university library, or even buying second hand if this is not possible. Lots of universities hold department sales, where you can pick up texts for a fraction of the new price.
  • Finally, you might find you have access to free software through your university. Generally, this will include Microsoft Office and Microsoft OneDrive, but you might find you have access to more, including industry specific titles – check with your university IT department or department office.

Managing your student budget, and living well on it, might seem an impossible task, but with some time and care, you might find you have a better standard of living, and learn some important life skills in the process!

Further information

For more tips and advice on budgeting at university, please see: