Managing your budget while at university isn't easy, but there are a number of ways you can keep your costs down
Keep track of your spending
It might not be the most exciting job, but keeping track of your finances is the best way to make sure you don't overspend and land yourself in trouble.
As a starting point, you could create a spreadsheet showing your income from student loans, scholarships and bursaries, parents and any part-time job you have, and note down regular outgoings such as your rent and mobile phone contract. You'll then be able to see exactly how much you have available to spend each month.
Sticking to your limits has never been easier, now you can check your balance at any time using your mobile banking app. If you do go overboard, the interest-free overdraft offered with the majority of student bank accounts will help tide you over.
Try not to spend too much of your student loan once it comes in - as tempting as it may seem, you don't want to be left penniless for the rest of term.
Be smart with your food shopping
Food will be one of your biggest costs, so it's worth finding ways to reduce your bills. Buying supermarket value products rather than well-known brands, and shopping at the end of the day when many items are discounted, are some of the simplest ways to save money.
Where it's possible, you might look into cooking with your housemates or planning your meals in advance. Either way, you'll be able to do a cost-effective 'big shop' at the start of each week and avoid the need for too many expensive takeaways, working on your culinary skills at the same time. You'll also be saving money by making your own packed lunches rather than buying a sandwich or going to a coffee shop every day.
Don't overpay for transport
Most universities are either city-based with excellent public transport links, or campus-based with everything you need on your doorstep. You probably won't require a car while studying, which will save you a lot of cash.
If you plan on taking the train regularly - whether you're visiting parents or friends at other universities - make sure you buy a 16-25 railcard. Costing £30 for one year or £70 for three years, this will give you a third off all rail fares. Combined with cheap advance tickets, the card will soon pay for itself in the savings you make.
More locally, buses remain one of the cheapest ways to get around town. Check whether there are any student discounts or weekly/monthly passes available on services you use regularly.
Take advantage of student discounts
Many shops and food outlets offer student discounts. Even where they aren't advertised, it's worth asking as they are sometimes still available.
To make the most of more than 200 student discounts buy an NUS Extra card from the NUS website or your student's union, costing £12 for one year, £22 for two years or £32 for three years. Savings include 10% off at the Co-op supermarket, 10% off at ASOS and up to 40% off food at Zizzi. View the full list of discounts.
If you have a favourite shop, you could try to get a part-time job there in order to take advantage of the staff discount.
Buy course books second-hand
Course textbooks can be expensive, but luckily there's no need to purchase every item on your reading lists. You can usually borrow set texts from the library whenever you need them. Only buy the most important books, and even then you'll be able to find cheap second-hand copies online or through your university. Sell them on when you're finished with them to recoup some of the costs.
Books aren't the only course essential you can save on. Depending on how much your university charges for printing, it might be more cost-effective to buy your own printer.
Pay your bills on time
When you're living in halls of residence utility bills will usually be included in your rent, making budgeting a little easier. However, if you're sharing a student house you'll normally be responsible for paying for your gas, electricity, water and internet. Use comparison websites to ensure you get the best deal and keep costs down by saving energy. Put an extra jumper on instead of turning the heating up a notch, and don't use the tumble dryer every day if you've got one.
Setting up direct debits for your regular bills, so that they are paid automatically each month, will make them easier to keep on top of. You may even receive a discount for doing so, and you'll avoid any charges for late payment.
Sharing bills among housemates can be effective (one pays the electricity, another pays the gas, etc.) as long as it is managed carefully. If you pay a bill on behalf of your housemates, make sure they give you their share promptly. Similarly, if a housemate pays a bill for you, repay them as quickly as possible. This way, you'll avoid any unnecessary tensions developing should anybody consistently fail to pay their share.
Ensure you pay the right taxes
If you work part time while studying, you pay income tax in the same way as anybody else. This means that if you earn less than £11,000 a year, you shouldn't have to pay any taxes. Depending on how you're paid, you may be wrongly charged income tax - in this case, you can claim a refund through HMRC.
Meanwhile, recent changes to licensing laws mean you need to buy a TV licence even if you only use catch-up services on BBC iPlayer. You can claim a partial refund if you have three months left on the licence when you leave university at the end of the academic year - find out more at TV Licensing.
Find out more
- Find out what you need to know about student accommodation.
- Struggling financially? Learn how to deal with debt.