Going to university for the first time is an exciting experience, but it can also be a challenge when you have to balance your studies with managing your money and taking care of everyday tasks. If you’ve never had to worry about managing your money before, this can be one of the hardest things to get right. So, we’ve put together a guide to help you budget effectively while you’re at university. You can also check out our financial wellbeing pages for more advice.
Budgeting: the basics
Step one is work out what your budget actually is. You may want to calculate this on a monthly basis or, if you’re receiving a student loan each semester, it might make more sense to calculate it on a term-by-term basis.
Either way, you need to begin by working out your income. This can include money you receive in the form of loans, grants, scholarships or bursaries, any help you get from your family and any money you earn in a part-time job. Add all of this together to get your overall income.
Step two is calculating your expenditure. Write a list of everything you have to spend money on each month or semester. Include your rent, utility bills, phone bill, internet bill, TV licence, insurance for your personal possessions, travel costs and the amount you spend on food. If you’re not sure how much all of this will be, take a look at our living expenses guide, or ask your family or friends who are already at university to help you work out your rough expenditure.
Step three is deduct your expenditure from your income, and you’ll know how much spare cash you’ll have each month or term. Use the Student Budget Calculator if you want a bit of help.
There will be certain times of the year when you need to meet one-off expenses, such as buying books for your course, or even splashing out on Christmas presents! Part of budgeting is allowing for these expenses and planning ahead for them. By setting aside a bit of money each month, you’ll have what you need available when the time comes, rather than having to find a large lump sum in one go.
It’s also sensible to set aside a bit of additional money each month as an emergency fund. That way, if you do have something unexpected to pay for you’ll (hopefully) have at least some of the cash you need to cover it.
Account for hidden costs
When negotiating long term contracts like bills and gym memberships, make sure to factor into account hidden costs (such as signing up fees, router chargers etc), and consider these points on rent and hidden costs if you are moving into private accommodation at the start of next academic year. If you are in halls this will tend to be included, but do remember to check if your accommodation has insurance or if you are covered by your parents’ policy.
Similarly, do ask for help if you are unsure what exemptions you are eligible for (such as tax rebates), and make sure to ask about cashback opportunities if you are not fully using a service (for example, students paying for a tv licence can have a partial refund for the months you are back home).
Top tips for saving money
You can make your money go much further if you just do a bit of research and shop around. Here are some of our top tips for making your cash go a little bit further:
- Take advantage of student discounts with a TOTUM card. This can give you discounts in shops and online, save you money at the cinema and even mean you get reduced price entry into various UK attractions.
- Make the most of loyalty cards. Many retailers, particularly the supermarkets, offer loyalty cards where you receive points for shopping with them, which you can then spend in store.
- Get a 16-25 railcard. This will give you ⅓ off rail travel, which can save you a considerable amount if you regularly take the train.
- Apply for a National Express Young Persons Coachcard: £12.50 a year (plus £2.50 p&p) for a ⅓ off coach fares.
- Don’t buy course materials before you arrive. Many students will sell their used textbooks to new students - or you may find them on online auction sites. Our BU Students’ Union has a second-hand bookshop too.
- Take advantage of our UNIBUS service, which runs between campuses as well as elsewhere in Bournemouth. If you’re living in halls of residence or Unilet shared housing in your first year, it will be included in the cost of your rent.
- Students aged 16-18 don't have to pay for prescriptions, and once you hit 19 you can apply to the NHS Low Income Scheme. If your application is accepted, you can get free prescriptions. The same process applies for dental treatment and sight tests.
- Avoid impulse buys in the supermarket by making a shopping list – and sticking to it. Cook in bulk and freeze. This way nothing gets wasted, it works out a lot cheaper and you always have a back-up plan when the cupboards are bare! Make packed lunches for cheaper meals on the go. Do grocery shopping in the evening when food is often discounted
- Shop around for the cheapest energy tariffs, phone contracts and accommodation. The MoneySavingExpert has some great tips to help you get the best deals on your household bills.
- Being sociable doesn't have to be expensive – think nights in with housemates, free events at BU's Students' Union or two-for-one cinema nights.
- Set yourself mini-budgets. This might sound like overkill, but if you set yourself a monthly allowance for food, going out, clothes shopping etc, you’re less likely to overspend and will find it easier to keep on top of your money.
Useful apps to track spending
- Yolt: uses open banking to show you an overview of your finances. You can set and track budgets for 21 categories, including things like travel, groceries and housing.
- Money Dashboard: displays your spending in colourful charts and graphs, so you can see where your money’s gone at a glance.
- Cleo: this AI guide can answer questions about your finances. The app works through Facebook Messenger and lets you pay friends, set spending goals and alerts.
- Monzo: you can use the app to track different types of expenses, keep an eye on daily spending, put money aside and anticipate upcoming costs.
MoneySavingExpert also has lots of finance tips and tools, as well as information about the latest student deals and discounts.