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How To Budget

How to Budget for University

Starting university is a very exciting time in any young person’s life. You’re finally independent, away from mum and dad, and supporting yourself. This new freedom brings with it a number of new responsibilities, most important of which is the need to take care of your own finances.

Many freshers start university off well then they quickly realise how difficult managing money can be. But, with careful planning and the right budgeting skills, taking control of your finances doesn’t have to be too difficult and you won’t have to miss those all-important nights out either.


So, how can I budget at university?

We all have this image in our minds of a typical strapped-for-cash student. When you first receive your maintenance loan at the beginning of the term, it can seem like a lot of money. But making it last can be extremely difficult.

And whilst money may seem to get tighter as time goes by, if you are able to effectively manage your budget, making your money last the whole year is actually possible.

Say your tuition fee loan for the year is £9,250, along with a maintenance loan of £7,500. If you work, either during term time or during the holidays, you’d only need to save £3,000 for the year to get you by, according to The Complete University Guide. Here’s how:


Expenditure Cost
Tuition fee £9,250
Rent (for a room only, shared bathroom accommodation in university residence) £4,500
Electricity, gas, water £250
Mobile/internet £220
Insurance £150
Food and drink £1,500
Toiletries £260
Laundry £100
Books and course supplies £300
Clothes and shoes £600
Travel and transport £500
Going out £1,000
Home entertainment £120
Sports and leisure £200
Holidays and presents £500
Emergencies £300
Total expenses £19,750


As long as you’re able to bring in that extra £3,000 per year somehow, covering the costs of university within your budget is a reasonably manageable task.

Of course, your own expenses may not look exactly like the example provided, so it is important that you create your own budget using what you think are appropriate estimates of your outgoings and rent.

Firstly, you’ll want to calculate your total student income. Remember to include your maintenance loan and income from a summer or term-time job, as well as any savings, bursaries or money from your parents.

Once you have this number, you can take a look at your expenses. Find an average amount that you spend on food, drink and entertainment per month. If you’re not sure of your average, it is always best to take the highest number rather than underestimate your outgoings and running out of money halfway through the year.

As long as your income is more than or equal to your total outgoing expenses, you’re fine. If not, you may need to look at cutting your expenses or increasing your income.

Depending on your study schedule, you may want to look into working part time around your classes to give yourself more money to play with.

If you’re really struggling, you can always talk to a student money advisor or support services at your university. They will help you with developing a manageable budget that’s easy to stick to.

If you’ve exhausted all other avenues, many lenders offer student-specific loans to help get you by. Remember though, you’ll need to account for your loan repayments in your monthly budget.


Do I need to budget for nights out?

Living the full student life will be one of the most memorable parts of your university experience so it is extremely important that you put a little money aside for fun.

Fresher’s week, gigs, student nights and clubs shouldn’t be missed, but the cost of socialising can build up quickly. If you have an entertainment or ‘going out’ section of your budget, make sure you don’t overspend.

If you don’t have the funds for a big night out, consider attending free events at your student union or cheap two-for-one cinema nights instead.


Where can I find cheap textbooks?

University can be expensive well before you even show up at the halls of residence. Upfront costs such as course materials are usually higher than many initially expect, putting a big dent in your yearly budget.

Remember to also consider the course you’re taking – the amount of course materials you’re required to buy yourself can vary. Art students face higher upfront costs, for example.

No matter what your course, however, you know you’re going to need textbooks. Required and wider reading are an essential part of studying at university and, if you’re paying for paper textbooks for every module you do, these costs can build up quickly.

According to the University of Essex, the average amount spent on new textbooks is more than £630 per student – and this is only for core texts for each module. Some universities may provide core textbooks free of charge to their students by including the price in their course fees; however, they would still be required to purchase any further reading books themselves.

Not all universities offer this service, though, so finding a way to fit the cost of textbooks into your budget can be difficult. If you’re looking for ways you can save, you may want to consider alternative options such as:


Buying second hand

If brand new books are too expensive for your budget, you can always consider buying them used. You could do this by looking around online or even asking around at your university to see if any students are selling their used books at the union.

Some universities even run second-hand book sales themselves, meaning getting your hands on the books you need doesn’t have to ruin your budget.



Rather than paying out for your reading resources, head to the library to see which ones you may be able to borrow. Even if they don’t have everything you need in stock, borrowing one or two can still help cut the overall cost of purchasing textbooks yourself.

Be careful not to return it late however, as some universities have been known to charge as much as £1 per hour a book is overdue.


Take advantage of discounts

If you’re determined to buy your textbooks and course materials brand new, see if you can get a cheaper deal by buying them directly from your university. You should also try to make the most of your NUS Extra discount card on any purchases you make.


Enjoy your time at university – and the time after

Debt is a fact of student life now but there are ways that you can avoid running up debts any higher than they need to be with careful budgeting. Be careful with your money but that, even if you’re watching the pennies, you can still have an amazing, unforgettable, and uneventful three or four years of your life at university.