James Felton, Content Editor of Student Money Saver, takes a look at the how to (realistically) budget as a student.
Most budgeting tips are made for robots and spreadsheet enthusiasts. They expect you to know precisely how much you earn, how much you’re likely to spend on sandwiches within a three-month period, and, worse, expect you to stick rigidly to the budget you come up with.
Here we’ve put together a few tips for students who need to start budgeting, but aren’t ready to give up all fun aspects of uni life just yet.
Look at your bank balance
When you’re at uni your bank balance is like the sun. You might be mildly curious about what it looks like, but if you look directly at it you’ll probably start crying and instantly go blind. The temptation is not to look at all.
But without knowing that number you can’t make a budget. So brace yourself and take a peek.
Estimate your income
Be precise and don’t over-estimate. Anything that isn’t certain (e.g. birthday money or a part-time job you don’t actually have yet) doesn’t count.
Get exact figures for your maintenance loan as well as the dates you should expect to have the money in your account. But make sure you can survive until at least a few weeks after the maintenance loan arrives, as they are inevitably late for a large number of students.
Always assume you have less money than you do, otherwise you’ll soon find you have no money whatsoever.
Take a look at automatic outgoings
Having no money at the end of a term may be out of your control, but at the very least it shouldn’t be a surprise. Have a look at all direct debits you have coming out of your account, and any other subscriptions you may have, so that you’re not surprised when tens to hundreds of pounds suddenly come out of your account.
This includes automatic bill payments, quarterly accommodation payments and smaller subscriptions such as phone bills, Netflix etc. You may notice subscriptions you don’t even want any more, or things you didn’t even know you had. Now is the time to cancel them.
Once you’ve worked out what you’ve got, and what you’re spending on, divide it up by the number of weeks you need to survive. Think logically – is this just for the term or will you be living off this money during the summer too?
Budget for the things you keep telling yourself you won’t do this month
You may have vowed not to drink this term, or smoke or buy a collection of priceless antique Faberge eggs, but by the end of term even people with the best of intentions may not be able to stick to that vow.
This isn’t just a budget that you have to stick to; it’s a budget that “drunk you” has to stick to as well. If “drunk you” is likely to buy fancy cocktails on a night out, followed by a gourmet kebab, then you should budget for that as well. If “drunk you” really can’t be trusted then you should take cash out before a night out and leave your card at home, where “drunk you” can’t get hold of it without taking an inconvenient bus ride.
Budgeting doesn’t mean having no fun whatsoever, but if you’re going to buy booze for house parties, make sure you’re getting the cheapest booze deals available.
Budget as if you are terrible with money, because most people are
Allow £100+ (if possible) for “miscellaneous items” that might happen during the month, including unplanned trips home, meals out etc. as well as unexpected urges to splurge or burn money.
Hopefully you won’t actually spend this money, and it can be used for next month’s budget.
Stick to it as much as humanly possible
But don’t beat yourself up if you overspend. Budgeting can often be like dieting. When you feel like you’ve over eaten one day, the urge is to call the day a complete write-off and eat a whole pack of hobnobs as a mid-morning snack. Don’t. If you overspend that’s fine, it’s best to minimize the damage now rather than get yourself further into debt.
At the end of it, reassess
Your first budget will largely be a wildly misinformed work of fiction. You’ll likely look at it and realise you were way off, and massively underestimated your ability to spend all of your money in a very short space of time.
At the end of the term, take a look at where you overspent, underspent and budgeted entirely correctly. This will help you with budgeting for the next term, and will be much more realistic and accurate than your first budget ever was.
And remember: if you need student accommodation, you’ll find the student home you’re looking for on Uniplaces.com.