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A student’s guide to budgeting

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Talking about money can be an awkward subject, but as a student you’ll soon find you spend a lot of time discussing the lack of it! At the beginning, surviving on a student loan might be a shock to the system, but that’s why we’ve got cash saving tips that will make budgeting a breeze.

1. Take note of your finances

So we went straight in there and dropped the ‘F’ bomb. We know what you’re thinking, that’s serious adult stuff you shouldn’t have think about until you have things like a mortgage and 2.5 kids, but don’t panic. It can be as simple as;

  1. Knowing when your direct debits are going out
  2. Making a list of what you’re spending each month versus what’s coming in. Keeping track of your finances will mean you don’t have to worry about blowing all your loan in the first week of freshers and you’ll know exactly what you do have left to spend on the fun stuff each month without feeling guilty.
Coins and calculator
If you really want to do the math…
Per month

Income
Maintenance loan
+ Possible scholarship/grant payments
+ Any additional income i.e. support from parents, part-time job

Minus
Outgoings

Rent
+ Utility bills (Broadband/gas/electric/water/phone bill)
+ Any monthly travel passes if necessary
+ Estimated food shop

= What’s left per month for social spending or new clothes! (Note that you’ll probably want to leave yourself a little extra in Freshers week for all the activities!)

2. The food shop

Shopping

Whether you’re already pretty independent or a novice to doing your own shopping, you’re going to have to start shopping differently. The weekly food shop is where you can really start to save the pennies, here’s how…

  • Learn to cook. If you can’t – you’ll soon learn to when you realise you can’t afford to live on ready meals and take outs. If you’re completely clueless when it comes to using the hob, start with something simple. There’s loads of places to find cheap and easy student recipes[AS1]  online or in student cook books.
  • Compare prices! Some supermarkets are a lot cheaper than others. Saving the odd pence here or there really adds up at the end of the checkout. Find out where your favourite items are cheaper and you’ll soon be cutting the cost of your average food bill.
  • Cook in bulk. Planning your meals ahead avoids food waste and makes the most of your weekly shop. Either plan which different recipes you can make with the same ingredients or cook in bulk and make enough portions to stick in the freezer for next week.
  • Communal shops. Discuss doing a group shop with your flatmates to avoid having five tubs of butter in the fridge. Or if you think that might cause arguments as to who drank all the milk, try doing a dinner rota. Taking a day each to buy and cook food means you only have to shop for dinner one night of the week and get six nights off from cooking! You’re winners all round.
  • Find the best time to shop. You’ll soon learn your local supermarkets schedule and find yourself lurking in the aisle ready to pounce as soon as they sticker the reduced items. Also, don’t shop when you’re hungry – big mistake!
  • Be creative. Nutella + spoon = dessert. Voila!

3. Travel cheap

  • Get a rail card. If you’re 25 and under you can buy a young persons’ railcard for one to three years. They cost around £30 but save you over 30 per cent on every train journey. If you’re getting the train home at weekends or the end of term, you’ll soon make a saving.
  • Buy a bus pass. Whether you’re travelling into uni by bus or just to explore the city, a Student Buss Pass will give you unlimited travel from under £10.50 a week.
  • Just walk. If you’re living and studying in the city centre everything you need should be within walking distance!

4. Beware of your overdraft!

Man climbing on cliff

An overdraft might seem like your best friend at first and it can be a great safety blanket, but once you get in too deep it can quickly spiral out of control. If you have one, set a reasonable limit, and if you’re starting to feel like you’re stuck in it with no way out, it’s okay to ask for help!

5. Have a cheap night out

  • Pre-drink. You’ll rarely find a student night out without a pre-drinks session. Partying at home is much cheaper than the prices you’ll pay at a bar so arranging a great pre-outing gathering will mean you can save your cash once in the club.
  • Student nights. You’ll find different clubs advertise different nights of the week as their student night. Plan it right and you’ll get all the best deals every day of the week!
  • Take cash. Setting yourself a limit and taking that amount in cash while leaving your bank card at home means there’s no chance of you getting a bit carried away once you’re out. That way there’ll be no surprises when you find a receipt the next day for a pricey round you wish you hadn’t got in!

5. Take advantage of offers and freebies

Free stuff sign

Like it or not you’ll soon be a coupon champion and find yourself scheduling your calendar around the social events that offer free food.

  • Sign up to every loyalty/rewards card. Whether it’s a loyalty card from your coffee shop of choice that gets you a free drink after so many purchases, a Nectar card or Clubcard, sign up to everything and you’ll soon be racking up the points and reaping the rewards.
  • Make the most of your student discount. Get yourself an NUS card and get into a habit of asking everywhere you shop if they accept it. Most retailers give at least 10 per cent off. Just make sure you always have your card on you!

5. Earn some extra cash

Your loan should be enough to live off, but if you’d like a little extra dough to treat yourself each month there’s loads of opportunities to work while you study.

  • Get a part time job. Being in the city means there’s loads of places to work including retail, restaurants and bars.
  • Get a job on campus. If you want the ultimate flexible part-time job look out for jobs available on campus. Why not apply to be a mentor or a student ambassador and get paid to work Open Days or give tours.
  • Participate in focus groups. If you don’t want to commit to anything you can sign up to one-off things like focus groups, where you’ll be paid for your time in vouchers so that you can buy more stuff.
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