How to save (and earn) more money while you're at university

Two students chatting

Student support experts at Oxford Brookes University share their tips on keeping up with your cashflow

When you’re a university student, money management is a skill that’s essential to learn but tricky to master. With so many outgoings to juggle, it can be easy to lose track and find yourself spiralling through your overdraft. 

Good money habits can help you stay on track. We spoke to Annabel Waterson and Sam Wallis, applicant and enquiry advisers at Oxford Brookes University, to get their tips on managing your funds at university.

Budget effectively

When your student loan payment hits your bank account, it can feel like a huge amount of money. But each instalment needs to last you through the whole term, and effective budgeting is key to achieving that. 

To figure out your budget, start by writing down how much cash you’ll have coming in. This might include money from: 

  • your student loan
  • grants, scholarships or bursaries
  • wages from a part-time job
  • money from family
  • savings that you’re planning to use

Once you’ve defined your income, list your essential expenses for the term ahead. This might include: 

  • rent
  • bills and insurance
  • food
  • travel costs

You might have other essentials on the list as well. Oxford Brookes has a living costs page on its website, which can help give you an idea on living costs to consider.

Once you’ve got your numbers down, subtract your expenses from your income to work out how much of your money is already accounted for. Hopefully you’ll have something left over - but if not you can look for ways to increase that income number and reduce those expenses. More on that in a bit. 

Get organised

With your budget in place, organising your money is a smart next step. Annabel recommends getting a bank account where cash can be moved into multiple savings pots.

“If you know your loan has to last X amount of time, create a pot for each month, with all outgoings factored in,” she says. “When your student loan lands in your account, you will have an accurate idea of your budget.”

In addition to setting an overall weekly or monthly budget, Sam suggests you’ll want to do the same ahead of any individual expenses - such as a big night out.

“Before the pandemic, you could take a certain amount of cash out with you and ditch the card at home,” he says.

“Post-covid, however, many places are card-only and the temptation to tap away without checking your balance can be tantalising.

“By getting a second bank account (for free of course), you can transfer yourself a set amount for the night. This will prevent you from buying the entire pub a round when you get a bit jolly!”

Check for funding

Most undergraduate students in the UK will be eligible for student loans – but other areas of financial support, such as grants, loans, bursaries and scholarships, may also be available.

Grants, bursaries and scholarships are different from loans; you don’t normally have to pay these back. In the case of bursaries, you don’t even need to apply. You’ll be automatically awarded any funding that’s due to you.

“All eligible students who have not opted out of the ‘consent to share’ part of their SLC student support application will automatically be assessed for a bursary,” says Sam. 

Check your university’s website to get started. For example, the Oxford Brookes website features a funding tool to help students and university applicants check their options for further funding. 

It’s always worth a look, even if you don’t think you would qualify. There are many different funding options out there and some can fall into fairly niche areas. 

Some universities will also have resources that students can access for financial support.  At Oxford Brookes, “if you are struggling financially once you join us to study, you can contact our Financial Aid team who can assist you,” says Annabel.

Find everyday savings

When it comes to reducing your expenses, try looking for bills where you can make savings. Grocery shopping can be a good place to start. 

“Try to shop in discount shops and avoid regular top-ups at convenience stores where prices can be blinding,” says Sam. 

“If you have a rough idea about what you are prepared to spend on non-essential items, you might be more inclined to wait until you are next sailing past Aldi or Lidl.”

Small changes, such as taking in a packed lunch rather than buying packaged sandwiches, can also make a difference. 

“It can be very easy to spend a lot of money on coffee and snacks while on campus,” says Annabel. “Budget how much you can spend per day on campus and bring packed lunches as well as coffee and teas in a flask from home to offset that cost.”

When you’re looking for things to do outside of study time, you can keep a few pounds in your pocket by hunting out free options in the local area. 

Students at Oxford Brookes can easily have a day out at no cost, says Annabel. “There are many beautiful parks, the museums are free and, with an Oxford Brookes student card, entry to Oxford Botanic Gardens and Harcourt Arboretum is free as well!”

Choose a part-time job that fits around your studies

For many students, a part-time job is the obvious way to boost the ‘income’ side of that budget. But it can be challenging to find one that doesn’t interfere with your studies. 

“Bar/pub jobs will require you to finish late in the evening, while cafe/coffee shop jobs will ask that you come in early in the morning,” says Sam. “Some jobs will ask that you exclusively work on weekends, while others will require you to work after lectures on a weekday.” 

Checking out part-time job vacancies at your university can be a handy place to start. You can expect any university to be a very understanding employer when it comes to fitting your shifts around a busy schedule of lectures and seminars. 

As well as fitting in with your schedule, a part-time job ideally shouldn’t be adding more stress to your life. Try to make sure it’s something you enjoy doing or, at a minimum, doesn’t involve tasks that you actively dislike. 

“Some people enjoy interacting with customers, while others can’t think of anything worse,” says Annabel. 

“Find out if the position you are applying for is mainly customer-facing, like a bartender position, or if customer interaction is limited, like when you work for a sandwich shop.” 

If you’d rather not commit to a contracted position, Sam suggests looking out for apps such as Stint and Indeed Flex. “[These] allow students to pick up flexible casual work around their studies without the need for interviews and prior experience,” he says. 

“This is a handy way to earn some extra cash and an option that may be worth considering if picking up regular hours might prove difficult with your availability.”

About our sponsor

Oxford Brookes is a leading modern British university known for its teaching excellence, innovative approaches to learning, and strong links with business and industry. Our degrees have employability built in, with work placements and integrated careers guidance.

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