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budgeting at university

How to budget at and after university (and avoid buttered pasta forever)

The tangible sigh of relief from my starved bank account as soon as my student finance was deposited was a regular occurrence at university. During my three years at university, I learned a lot of useful pointers about budgeting which have really helped now I have graduated. I also witnessed first-hand the reasons why you need to budget; sitting alone in your pyjamas on a Friday night with pasta and butter and two weeks left of term is miserable. Here are the top 14 things I have learned about budgeting your way to a debt-free (as much as you can be if you have taken out a student loan) year:

First things first

  • The easiest way to keep track of your money is to create a budget. Whether this is on MS Excel, with an online budgeting tool or on useful apps such as Daily Budget, the basic premise is the same. You need to work out your overall income and then you need to work out your regular outgoings. This could include rent, bills, your phone bill, gadget insurance, music/movie subscriptions, gym membership, laundry costs and your travel expenses. When you minus your regular monthly spending from your overall income you can see the amount of money you have left for nights out, societies, food, alcohol, clothes, books and anything else your heart desires.
  • The expenditure in the final section should then be managed as much as possible. When it comes to books, check what copies are available in your campus library, ask last year’s students and/or explore Amazon and other online buying options. Also, be realistic about what societies you want to join – can you really attend five sessions a week? Furthermore, make use of your student discount and, if you’ll be travelling home by train for the winter and spring holidays, invest in a 16-25 Railcard.
  • Before starting your first year and at the end of your final year, you should research the best student and graduate bank accounts. Compare the charges if you exceed your overdraft, the overdraft limits and the deals offered by each bank. If this seems like a lot of effort there is usually a helpful online guide each year outlining this for you.
  • If you’re considering gaining work experience or doing an unpaid internship either during the long summers at university or after you have graduated, make sure you budget accordingly. 

Top tips for successful budgeting

  • Make good use of supermarkets’ basic products – toiletries, foods such as flour and cleaning products can all be selected from the lower shelves. Say goodbye to your parents’ Molton Brown and hello to Asda smart price antibacterial hand wash instead. See which brands or treats you cannot part with, and which you can substitute. You’ve seen the adverts: Lidl and Aldi are great for cheaper alternatives to your beloved brands.
  • Don’t be hungry when you go food shopping. You will buy far more food than even you think you are capable of eating. Also, when it comes to food shopping, make a rough plan of what meals you are going to eat for the following week so you don’t waste any food by leaving it to pass its sorry sell-by date.
  • Try and make your lunch if you’ll be staying on campus or at work all day. Even if it’s just for a couple of days a week, this makes a pretty big difference – and it might cover the price of a few drinks on a Friday night.
  • Know when your local express supermarket discounts their food at the end of the day. But always be wary of impulse buying just because there are savings: ‘You can save 50p on something I would never buy if it wasn’t discounted? Gimme!’

Student suggestions: the £1 Jägerbomb

  • Making use of student bars and their unrivalled deal nights can mean great weekly savings. £1 Jägerbombs you say?
  • Printing at uni is a nightmare. So are library fines. Try and avoid both. Consider buying a cheap printer if a lot of printing is required for your course; however, remember to factor in the costs of paper and ink.
  • Early on in the university term, decide if you need to help fund your studies with a part-time job, or, if you have a job at home, see if you can work when you go home during the winter, spring and summer holidays.

Graduate guidance: payday!

  • When you get your first graduate job try and accumulate some savings. The amount you may be able to save will differ depending on your circumstances but even £50 a month adds up. Do what you realistically can afford and don’t just dip into to it for unnecessary purchases. These savings are a blessing if something goes wrong like your car breaks down, or to help you make the most of your weekends and holidays now you no longer have six months holiday every year.
  • Remember that you should get your house deposit back at the end of the year.
  • You only start repaying back your student loan once you have started earning over £21,000 a year and the repayments are worked out proportionally based on your income (9%). And remember your student debt doesn’t contribute to your credit rating but, if you’re worried, you can always speak to a debt advisor.

Lastly, a word of warning

As with anything else, sticking rigidly to a plan or routine can quickly get tedious. Be a bit flexible, but it is also great life experience if you can learn to keep to a budget. Plus, it’s better if you don’t miss your rent payment because you bought five-too-many tequila shots for nine weeks on the trot. More sinisterly, debt problems can give you a bad credit rating which can be difficult to repair.

Natasha Hallam, University of Exeter English graduate

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