Living on a Student Budget
It’s a common shared experience between students that money is tight while you study. When you’re new to student life, managing your finances can feel impossible, but I’m here to make your student experience easier.
Below I have loads of tips and tricks for saving money while you’re studying, to help set you on the right path.
Choosing the right bank account
The student bank account you choose can be mega beneficial to your student budget. Some banks offer guaranteed free overdrafts, whereas others have benefits and freebies that make the account worthwhile.
I’ve done a quick bit of research for you – but make sure to have another look yourself before you choose in case their offers have changed.
This is probably the best account for 0% overdrafts, which means you won’t have be charged when you use your overdraft. Accepted students get a £1,000 overdraft in first year, a £2,000 overdraft in second year and (you guessed it) a £3,000 overdraft in third year.
So long as you make sure to pay at least £500 into the account per term, you’ll be good to go.
With a Santander 123 account you’ll have a 0% £1,500 overdraft for your three years, plus a free four-year 16-25 railcard which saves you a third-off the majority of train fares. So if you know you’ll be travelling a lot, this one can be good for you.
I opened a Santander Student account when I started at university, that free Railcard was one of the biggest savers of my three years – getting the train home to my family or up to London was a lot more accessible thanks to my railcard.
Natwest offer a £500 overdraft in first term and up to £2,000 for the rest of your three years (although check that wording – ‘up to’ does not guarantee you’ll get that amount, so make sure to always check the small print).
You can also choose between a 12 month Amazon Prime Student membership, a 4-year National Express Coachcard or a 4-year Tastecard – what’s going to benefit you the most?
Make a budget
Budgets sound boring – but believe me, it’s going to be nearly impossible to manage your finances without one. The sooner you get on top of it all, the sooner you can feel okay about buying that round of drinks. If you’re new to budgeting, it isn’t overly complicated if you’ve got all the information in front of you.
- Know how much money you have
this is the place to start – it’s very important to know how much money you have to work with each month, whether that comes from Student Finance, part-time work, savings or elsewhere.
With a student loan, I found it best to divide the money up by how many months I needed it for until each instalment. Getting £1,500 in your account in one go can feel great, but let’s not forget it probably has to last you at least three months
- Know your ‘essential’ spending
Now we know what we have to work with, it’s time to work out all of your outgoings that can’t be avoided. This includes your utilities and bills, direct debits you may have for things like the gym, Netflix or your phone bill or food shopping.
It might take you a little while to figure out how much you need for your food shop each month, so be kind on your budget and give yourself wiggle room – even if that means less entertainment money.
Once you have this worked out, it may be good to put this money aside so you can’t spend it. You could have one bank account solely to pay all your bills, or if you have an account like Monzo you can keep the bill money in one of their pots.
Just make sure it’s in a safe place, so you have no chance of finding yourself short on money for the stuff you need.
- Time for fun
If things are going well, now you’ve put money aside for the necessities you might have money left over – and that’s all for you!
Maybe working out your outgoings has made you realise you need to find some part-time work, or maybe you’ve realised you’re in a better situation than you thought. Either way, any leftover money in your monthly budget is yours for spending.
You may want to save that money for some nights out, or maybe there are some new trainers you’ve been eyeing up. Whatever it is, spend it wisely – and remember you’re allowed to have fun too!
Find work early
If you think it’s likely that you’re going to need a part-time job, the sooner you can find one the better. Although you may start the year with plenty of money and no worries at all, this can change quicker than you think.
Getting a job early can mean saving up for when times are hard later on – or having extra money to spend at the pub!
It’s also wise to consider the structure of your academic year. The end of term is always filled with assessments, so if you’re already settled into your part-time job you won’t have any extra stress during those difficult times and it will be easier to organise any time off you may need.
Communal & batch cooking
Buying food and preparing your own meals can be one of the biggest adjustments within student life. Suddenly you’re in charge of all three meals, seven days a week, and if you don’t have much experience in planning your meals, it may become expensive (and time-consuming) very quickly.
But one of the joys of meeting your new housemates is having a group of people with a varied set of skills – and multiple cooks in the house. Sharing the cooking and making large group meals can be a great way of saving time and money (and washing up) when living in shared accommodation.
Stir Frys, Curries, Bolognese and Pasta dishes are all meals that require inexpensive ingredients and can be made in large portions to feed lots of people. Split the grocery costs and soon you’ve got cheap dinners, that give you more time to socialise.
If you aren’t lucky enough to live with others who want to share the cooking responsibility, batch cooking is still a great way to save. That bolognese I mentioned earlier? Make a large amount while you cook, and you can have some the next day and some to freeze for the future.
Of course, there will be days when you want to cook something fresh – but when you’re short on energy, reheated pasta can be just the thing you need.
If you are stuck on recipe ideas, Studentrecipes.com has got loads of ideas for when you’re ready to chef it up in the kitchen – and Pinterest is always a good place to look for inspiration.
Get something for nothing
If you’re trying to renovate your student flat to make it feel more like home, websites such as Freecycle and Trashnothing can be great ways of finding old furniture that just need a bit of love. A fiver on paint to spruce up some old drawers is a lot cheaper than a trip to IKEA.
You can find all sorts of things on these websites, along with selling pages like Facebook Marketplace and eBay, and charity shops. Make sure to check them out before hitting up major retailers.
Grocery shopping can be one of the biggest money drains while you’re at university. There’s not just food to think about, but cleaning products and toiletries as well.
If you’re lucky enough to live near an Aldi, then you’re already one step closer to saving yourself a whole lot of money on your groceries. But it’s a good idea to shop around for your other bits too – Poundland, Bargain Buys and Home Bargains can be great places to pick up those other essentials for a very low price.
Lot’s of places do student discounts if you ask (always have your student ID on you) and you can sign up to websites such as Unidays and StudentBeans for even savings – milk it while you can! I miss student discounts already…
When on a tight budget you need to be smart with your money, so always be prepared for your week ahead. Buying meal deals and lunch every day is going to make your money disappear faster than anything else. Be organised and make sure you’ve packed enough lunch/snacks for the day – leftovers from batch cooked dinners are always good.
Shop smart; £3 on a Tesco meal deal, or a 75p loaf of bread and a couple of quid on some fillings? Stuff like this will feel like a drain, but all those odd spendings do add up and before you know it, you’ve spent an extra £30 a month that could have been spent on a meal out.
Don’t let budgets get you down
I know that budgeting can feel like a massive drain while you’re a student (trust me, I’ve been there) but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! Days out at the beach, long walks in the countryside with picnics and bike rides can all be lovely weekend activities.
Plus if you can’t afford that night out, £2.50 bottles of wine from Aldi in the garden can be just as fun as any nightclub. Get creative with your friends, fun is still to be found everywhere.
Don’t forget there’s always an ear to listen to you at ICTheatre, so if you are worried at all about finance don’t be afraid to reach out to someone.
Author: Charley Morgan, ICTheatre Graduate 2020