So you’re living away from home, and into the swing of student life. But taking a few minutes to overhaul your finances could save a lot of worry.
A student life is not a rich life, but there are ways to stretch your budget and get the most out of every penny.
It’s probably best to start by making sure you’re not going into the red, as no one needs that sort of stress.
The best way to do this is to budget. Put simply, you need to balance your income vs your outgoings.
So, add up all your money coming in – loans, grants, wages, and any other contributions. And be honest! No matter how painful this might be. Be sure to you know the dates that payments are coming in, as that can have a big impact (a little something we call cashflow).
Then estimate as accurately as possible your outgoings for essentials – rent, food, bills, transport, course materials, clothes, essentials. Make sure you know precisely when these are due too, so you have money in the pot ready to go.
We love a nice handy spreadsheet, and you can use a great budget template that will help you do just this.
Whatever is left in your piggy bank is your disposable income. This can be broken down into a monthly or weekly figure so you know how much you have to spend at the union bar, days out, takeaways, those new trainers…
Don’t trust your bank balance. This gives you a snapshot of your balance at one time – it won’t show you what is about to come out, or go in. Never think that by having cash in your account that your budget is healthy.
Take a really good, and brutally honest, look at your spending. Do you really need those new jeans? Or a that gym membership that is too much effort to get out of bed? There are, for example, lots of options to exploit free stuff (like these fitness classes on the NHS website).
Take a look at your non-essential spending. Barista coffees, takeaways and magazines are the kind of things that only cost a few ££ here and there, but add it up over the course of a few months and you could can save hundreds by cutting down. Maybe walk, rather than take the car. Take your coffee from home in a reusable mug. Have fun in the kitchen re-creating your favourite takeaway dishes for a healthier version.
Definitely set yourself limits for spending on food shopping – make a plan and stick to it. It’s cheaper to buy in bulk from a large supermarket, rather than nipping into the smaller convenience stores. Never shop on an empty stomach, as it’s the route to a basket full of ice cream and cookies!
Shop around for the best deals on your bills and subscriptions. We love Martin Lewis – he is the man to know! Switch by swapping to cheaper suppliers. If there’s no reward for your loyalty then take your custom elsewhere. Don’t forget to sign up for an NUS card for all those lovely discounts at your favourite shops.
If you have a large item you are saving up for, open a savings account and squirrel away a little bit each month. One of our favourite suggestions is to put money away as soon as you get paid, so there’s no chance it’ll get spent. Some bank accounts will do this automatically for you, so check out what your bank will do for you. Even a little bit, like a daily coffee, all adds up and is a good habit for the future when you leave for the big wide world out there.
If you have a financial problem, don’t ignore it. It won’t go away, and it’ll only get worse.
Be honest with yourself, and talk to someone if you’re getting stuck. Citizens Advice can help, as can your University.
It’s important to make the most out of the Uni life so have fun and treat yourself when you can. By having a sensible budget and keeping an eye on your spending will mean you have more spare cash left for the splurges, and definitely less stress.