Living on a Budget

January 01, 2014

Learn to love your coppers

There are certain periods in our lives that we’d all rather not go through, yet inevitably will. What goes hand in hand with being a student is the promise that at some point during your degree, you will be absolutely skint and foraging through your kitchen for any loose bits of pasta or bread. Students generally can’t budget until they’re forced to, so it’s worth working out in advance how you will cross that bridge when you come to it. There are ways to avoid getting multiple overdrafts if you are disciplined and willing to forego a bit of pride. Some methods are immoral, but so is allowing yourself to go hungry.

The Basics

  • Get online. If you bank online you can easily see your balance and any ingoing/outgoings at a glance. You can also arrange your direct debits/standing orders and cancel cheques.

Know your income

  • Know how much money you have coming in each month from your loan and other sources such as a job, parental assistance, bursaries, grants (we wish, eh?).

Know your expenditure

  • Subtract from your income any fixed regular outgoings to obtain the amount you have left: things like accommodation, internet in your room (often overlooked), tv license, phone contract.
  • Divide this by the number of weeks per term/year to obtain the figure for the maximum you have left to spend each week.
  • From this figure, subtract an amount for essential food items and a book/stationery allowance.

Work out what you have to play with

  • You now have the maximum amount you have to spend each week on non-essential items.
  • Endeavour to spend less than this!
  • Keep your receipts for everything for a week or two once term has really got going, spend an hour or two working out exactly where cash is going. If you spend too much on any one item (drink, coffees, magazines, sandwiches, etc.) try and cut back.
  • You will soon get the hang of how much you can spend and get away with it but for the first few weeks I would recommend making detailed notes of everything you spend.

Keep a contingency

  • It is important to remember that there are occasions on which you may unexpectedly have to spend a large amount of money. Text books are expensive and If you aren’t careful nights out can cost large amounts too. There are balls and events you may wish to go to, so remember to save a bit for them. Therefore it is always good to save money as a contingency.


Go to markets

If there is a market near you, it will be a heck of a lot cheaper than shopping in a supermarket. The ingredients are often fresher and it’s likely that there will be a huge variety of vegetables, meat and fish, as well as all the essential dairy products. The thing that may put people off is the lack of ready-made meals. But market shopping forces you to be adventurous, and if you’re not willing to sacrifice a bit of time to cook, you deserve to be a pauper.


Economy food

If you don’t have access to a market, scope out the cheap deals in your supermarket. When you first move into the area you should check out the times and days that supermarkets reduce all their food prices.

Also, at the end of each day the hot food deli will serve as a gold mine for you. All the food has to be sold, so prices are outrageously low. And familiarise yourself with the economy food: the majority of it doesn’t taste too different to the more expensive varieties - baked beans and economy orange juice are fine. In particular things like toiletries and dried foods don’t need to be plush: get the cheapest you can and you won’t really notice the difference.

Also, make trips to your nearest Lidl, Netto or Aldi. They sound budget but you can get some great deals on good quality food and they are especially good for bulk buying.


Shop online

For those already with internet access (otherwise that’s an extra expenditure that you don’t need draining your cash), try doing your grocery shopping online.

It’s good for two reasons: first, you can shop for things you really need instead of getting distracted by the enticing products that leap out as you walk past.

Second, you are likely to get more cheap deals online and, if you all buy together, delivery will be free. Above all, the golden rule of food shopping is not to do it when you’re hungry. It might be more fun, but money ceases to matter when the stomach is rumbling.


Drink before you go out

Once you’re off campus, bar prices will rise pretty steeply. Therefore delay leaving the house by a couple of hours and you’ll be able to knock back a few drinks at two-thirds of the price of a bar or club.

Mind you don’t go overboard before you reach the club though, or you may have a bit of a hard time getting in or getting home at the end of the night. Or even leaving the house in the first place.


Get a bike

Kill three birds with one stone here. If you’re living in a city, cycling is generally quicker than public transport. It’ll get you fitter than your short run to the bus stop each morning, and it’ll work out a lot cheaper in the long run.

You can get a decent second-hand bike for around £100 and it can last years. Think about it: a bus fare is roughly £2.50 each day; that’s £12.50 for a five day week.

So for the price of about eight weeks travel on a bus you can buy yourself a calorie-burning, traffic-dodging, bargain. And it’s environmentally friendly too. What more could you ask for?


Psychology tests

Across campuses undergraduates, postgraduates and PhD students are looking for willing guinea pigs to take part in psychology tests. Many of these are paid, and some pay well.

When you first arrive at university, you should stumble across a sign-up list which puts you onto a database allowing psychology students to contact you.

An example of a test would involve a dependent variable, such as food, cigarettes, alcohol, and an assessment of you once you have consumed this item.

Some trials even pay you money to eat a breakfast and lunch, providing you answer a few questions while you’re chomping away.

However, unless you're sure you know exactly what it is you're taking, avoid drug tests like the plague - the results could be deadly, hideous or at the very least rather unpleasant!

Access to Learning Fund (ALF)

The mother of all deals. At every university and college across the land, students are missing out on anything between £300 and £1000 just because they don’t know it’s there.

Every year the government sets aside a certain amount of money for those poor souls whose “financial problems are getting in the way of their studies.”

The ALF is determined by a student’s relative financial situation. Almost everyone is entitled to one, but the amount you get is judged by a number of factors.

The important one is your bank balance; whether your outgoings are far greater than your income. You’ll need to show them bank statements from the two months prior to applying for some cash, so make sure the above is actually true. Wait until the third year when you’ll need it most, and also show that you’ve tried to alleviate the problem yourself, such as doing cash-in-hand jobs like flyering.

And if your parents pay your rent, just tell the people at ALF that they’ve had to do this for the last two months because you can’t afford to pay it yourself. Simple. And let the money roll in.



You can get a rough idea of how much your budget will be by using the Student Budget Calculator. This allows you to type in a rough estimate of your income and then your predicted outgoings. It isn’t meant to scare you but can be useful if you have no clue as to whether you’ll need a bit of initiative when it comes to saving money.

But if all this is failing to sink in, have a look at The guys in Whitehall have commissioned a little film which looks at the benefits of going to university against the overall cost of getting a degree.

The conclusion: don’t let cash worries override your desire to get stuck into student life. The film outlines what financial help is available if you need it and how to go about getting it.


If you get into trouble

At the end of the day, it might not be possible to balance the budget. So it's where you can turn if everything goes wrong:

  • Let your bank know as soon as possible. They may be able to help.

Tagged: Budget

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