How To Budget At University

19th August 2021 Shannan Humphrey News and Events

For most university students, the move to student accommodation is the first time they live away from home, whether that be in a studio apartment or shared halls. What you’ll quickly come to realise is how important managing money and budgeting is when you’re fending for yourself. Between managing accommodation costs, food, and making the most out of student life, budgeting can be hard. Here, we explore how to manage your money while at university.

Why Do You Need A Budget At University?

Money may be something you’ve never had to think much about living at home. And while talking about the importance of finances might seem boring, being conscious about spending and saving is important.

If you are relying solely on your student loan, remember your money only comes in on set dates and is supposed to last until your next payday. After that money is gone, it’s gone. So, it is important to budget and save where possible.  Emergency situations have a habit of appearing at stressful times, so it’s important to have an emergency fund you can lean on when times are tough. This could anything from needing an emergency train fund home to a broken laptop and plenty more. Knowing that you are covered will lift a weight off your shoulders. It is also just handy to know what you need to spend your money on, so you can plan exciting trips and activities once you’ve sorted your essentials.

How To Calculate Your Student Budget

Budgeting is easier than it sounds. At it’s most basic, it involves listing all the money you’ve got coming in, tracking how much you spend, and seeing how it balances out. Then, you can see where you spend the most and start saving where needed. Let’s dive in, step-by-step:

1. Establish your income

Firstly, you need to work out how much money you have coming in. This sets the parameters of how much money you have to spend. Student loans usually are paid in sync with the university academic terms — typically three instalments throughout the year. Take this into account and ensure your budget matches up or you risk your instalment running out over the 3-month period.

Also, consider every possible source of income that you may be getting. This means your maintenance loan but also extra money if you are receiving a bursary or grant, help from parents, earnings from a part time job and any savings you currently have.

2. Estimate your spendings

Next, you need to figure out where your money is going. Use your bank statement from the previous month or do a trial month and see how much you spend. You can even simply make a list of what you need each month and estimate spendings.

Try splitting your outgoings into two categories: essential and non-essential. Essentials are the things you need and what you spend on these will determine how much money you have leftover for the non-essentials or ‘wants’.

Essentials might include:

  • Rent / accommodation
  • Groceries
  • Bills (council tax, gas and electric, water, broadband, TV license, phone bill, etc.)
  • Transport (trains, taxis, bus, petrol, insurance and road tax if you drive)
  • Course materials

Most students won’t be paying many bills as most student accommodation comes with energy and council tax included but its important to work out what you are required to pay and incorporate it into your student budget.

Non-essentials might include:

  • Nights out (alcohol, club entry, taxis, etc)
  • Eating out and takeaways
  • Hobbies
  • New clothes
  • Beauty expenses (haircuts, nails, eyelashes, etc)
  • Any memberships such as Gyms
  • Subscription services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+)
  • Trips away, travelling, and events
  • Gifts and charity


3. Calculate your budget

Once you’ve got your expenses laid out, it’s time to break it down into a budget. You can do this on a weekly or monthly basis. However, it can be better to budget weekly. If you opt for monthly, it is easy to go overboard at the start of the month and end up struggling by the end.

OK, let’s dig in. Prepare yourself — this part can take a lot of maths!

A term at university is 3 months (12 weeks long) so:

  1.  work out your total income for a term
  2. add up the total of essential expenses for the same period of time
  3. subtract your total expenses from your total income
  4. divide that number by the number of weeks in a term.

That gives you your weekly budget and how much you’ve got extra to spend on those non-essential things each week. If you want a monthly budget, just divide by 3 instead.

Here’s an example:

  • Let say your income for a term is £4,000 and your essentials add up to £2,500 in that same 3-month term
  • £4,000 – £2,500 = £1,500 leftover to spend or save in that 3-month period
  • To calculate a monthly budget: £1,500/3 months = £500 leftover a month
  • To calculate weekly: £1,500/12 weeks = £150 a week

A helpful tool for calculating your budget is the UCAS Budget Calculator.

4. Set yourself goals

Finally, set yourself some goals. If you see yourself spending more money and are struggling, see where you can cut back. For example, if you are spending too much on takeaways, consider getting into cooking and finding some new recipes or create your own takeaway at home!  Another common one is spending too much money on taxis and UBER. It’s easy to say ‘it’s just a fiver or a tenner’ but it adds up in the end. See where you can cut back and save money, it’s all about setting goals to boost your income and your savings.

Ways To Save Money At University

If you are spending more than you are earning, which is a common problem among university students, or are just looking to boost your income and savings, there are a few ways you can cut back and save money:


  1. Firstly, ask yourself if you want or need things and evaluate what you are buying. It’s important to treat yourself every now and then. Just make sure it’s within budget and sensible!
  2. Try doing a weekly food shop or buy in bulk this way you’ll save money and trips. Getting your groceries delivered might seem easier as well, however, you might buy more food than you usually do and the delivery fee is an extra cost as well.
  3. Try to cut out and reinvent spending such as the daily coffee, meal deals, or takeaways. They might all seem like easy options, but making and bringing in your own meals will save you money.
  4. Don’t worry though there are ways you can save money if you decide to eat out as well, including looking at discount vouchers, sharing with friends, and eating at cheaper places such as pubs. Read more in our article on 10 Budget-Friendly Tips to Eating Out for Students
  5. Look for deals where possible, such as on food, your bills, even your bank account. You can save money just by switching providers.
  6.  Try buying second-hand, you’d be surprised what things you may need that people sell for cheaper in charity shops, on Facebook Marketplace, or apps like Depop.
  7. Check for student discounts, many places give students a discount such as in clothing shops, events, and tickets such a cinema, and even travel such as a rail saver card. There are also lots of student cards, such as the NUS Totum Card, and apps that offer student discounts as well.
  8. Planning will help you as well, if you have an event or a holiday coming up you need money for, planning ahead with help you budget and manage your expenses. For example, during the festive season, it can be hard not to overspend, but there are lots of ways to do Christmas on a budget. 
  9. Take out a set amount of cash or set a weekly allowance, this way you know exactly what you are spending, on what, and how much you have left. Putting money into savings at the start of each month might help you spend less as well.
  10. Finally, we all know what student life is really about, partying, but don’t worry you don’t have to cut out partying to save money. Throwing a good party can be low budget, all you need is to plug in some speakers and have everyone bring their own beer. For more, check out our post on How To Throw A Student House Party On Any Budget.

As well as saving money, if you have the time on your hands, looking for ways to increase your income will help you as well. Consider looking into part-time or weekend jobs, selling things you don’t need anymore or turning a hobby into a side business.

That is pretty much all there is to budgeting. It isn’t as scary as it sounds. It’s up to you now — once you get into a routine it’ll get easier. Just make sure you stay organised. There are several apps to help you manage your student loan if need be. Just remember to be sensible and be your own person – it doesn’t matter what your friends are doing with their money, you’ll thank yourself for saving money later.

Shannan Humphrey

Shannan Humphrey

For more great posts from Urbanest about accommodation, London life, study tips and much more, visit the Student Journal.