The basics of student budgeting

When you're heading off to university you tend to get inundated with advice. That could be anything from 'network viciously' to 'pioneer the knee-scarf fashion trend'. It can all be useful. However, one of the more handy bits to take on board before you even start packing for Freshers' week is about how to handle your finances via the mysterious art of budgeting.

Why is it so handy? “Budgeting is important because students often only have a small amount of money left over when they've paid for essentials,” says Michael Royce from the Money Advice Service. “By budgeting they can keep track of their finances.”

We can work it out
Before we get to the numbers, don't think that budgeting is a miserable exercise to be done alone, ideally in a damp room. You can – and should – discuss it with friends and family, to get extra advice and support. 
If your friends are students too, you can share the load together. Even sitting with the family dog can help (although dogs give lousy financial advice, so just stick to stroking them). 

The ins and outs of it 
To create a realistic budget you'll need a good idea of your income and your outgoings. Your income is everything that adds cash to your account, so includes your loans, maintenance grants, tuition fee loans, and any other income from work or your family. According to NUS figures the 'average' student income from loans and grants is just over £14,000 a year, but everyone will be different.

A good tip is to make sure you don't miss anything out. “Have you claimed all the grants and bursaries you can, and worked out the maintenance loans you'll need?” asks Michael. “You can enquire online via your nation's student finance service [see links below], or you can call your university – most have an advisor who can help you.”

Your outgoings include all your fees, your accommodation (usually the biggest cost), and things like utility bills, travel and course books. But there are other things too, says Helen Elsey, Team Leader for the AskBU enquiry service at Bournemouth University. “Students don’t always realise the cost of living. For example, the cost of food, and the things you take for granted like shampoo or washing powder.”

Every student's needs are different, but the NUS average outgoings for students is around £22,000 per year, which includes things like £316 for household goods and £1,310 for leisure. For a full breakdown, see here

The ins and outs of it 
To create a realistic budget you'll need a good idea of your income and your outgoings. Your income is everything that adds cash to your account, so includes your loans, maintenance grants, tuition fee loans, and any other income from work or your family. According to NUS figures the 'average' student income from loans and grants is just over £14,000 a year, but everyone will be different.

A good tip is to make sure you don't miss anything out. “Have you claimed all the grants and bursaries you can, and worked out the maintenance loans you'll need?” asks Michael. “You can enquire online via your nation's student finance service [see links below], or you can call your university – most have an advisor who can help you.”

Your outgoings include all your fees, your accommodation (usually the biggest cost), and things like utility bills, travel and course books. But there are other things too, says Helen Elsey, Team Leader for the AskBU enquiry service at Bournemouth University. “Students don’t always realise the cost of living. For example, the cost of food, and the things you take for granted like shampoo or washing powder.”

Every student's needs are different, but the NUS average outgoings for students is around £22,000 per year, which includes things like £316 for household goods and £1,310 for leisure. For a full breakdown, see here

Halls

Putting it all together
Once you have an idea of what you need to pay for every month, as well as what income you'll have, you can get your budget together. Michael recommends a weekly budget, so you know what you need to set aside for rent, food and so on, and what you'll have left for, you know, fun.

“It's not an exact science,” he says, “but if you can estimate your incomings and outgoings on a weekly basis, it's often easier to deal with.”

How you keep track is up to you. Some students use software like Excel, while Michael advocates the pen and paper approach. “Write down what you have to spend in a week. You could stick it on the fridge with a magnet – keeping it visual often helps.”

You might even find that your uni can assist you. At Bournemouth, students can access a dedicated web page to help with their budget planning, so see if your uni offers a similar service. 

Making it work 
Helen offers one final tip: don't get carried away when the first maintenance payment comes in. It's easily done, trust us (ahem). “Try not to get too excited about having all the extra money in your account,” she says. “Keep in mind when your rent payments are due to avoid overspending on everything else.”

According to Michael, investing some time in thinking about your finances now will mean getting more out of your time at uni. “The more students can pre-plan their finances, the earlier they'll know what they have to spend over the year,” he says. So plan ahead and you can just get on with things without worrying about demons visiting you every time you check your balance.

With your theoretical budget worked out you're ready to go out and enjoy your student experience. Some weeks and months will be leaner than others – that's the way of things – but with a little practice you'll find your money mojo.

Find more student money help on our student money hub, brought to you by NatWest


More information 
Student Finance:
England: www.gov.uk/student-finance
NI: www.studentfinanceni.co.uk
Scotland: www.saas.gov.uk
Wales: www.studentfinancewales.co.uk 

More money help:
Money and finance discussion on The Student Room
UCAS: www.ucas.com