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As a student, keeping your spending to a minimum can be challenging. You are likely to have a low income or no income at all! The rising cost of living adds onto this issue. This is why creating a realistic student budget and learning how to stick to it is important. You may want to use student discounts or find the most cost effective rental prices. Read on to find out how to spend your budget effectively at university.

1) Managing your student loan so it lasts the whole term

Getting your first student loan payment is exciting! But you must remember that student loans are limited and each instalment should last you until your next. Your budget will vary depending on how much maintenance loan you get, whether you have support from your parents, or have a part time income.

This can make it difficult to maintain financial stability during your time at university, as you will receive your loan in three instalments: in September, January and April. 

To ensure you have enough money throughout the term, once your loan comes in, you should calculate your weekly budget until the next instalment. For example, if you receive £2,000 in September, it is roughly 17 weeks until your next loan payment in January.

2) Accommodation/rent costs

First, consider your rent and bills payments. You will either be paying rent per month or per quarter. This should be the first thing you pay for with your loan. For some students, their maintenance loan will only cover the cost of rent. To cover other costs, these students usually get a part-time job.

After you have calculated your rent costs, you will need to divide the remaining amount by the number of weeks until your next instalment. For example, if you have £800 left over, divide £800 by 17 weeks to calculate your weekly budget. In this example, the weekly budget would be £47.05. 

But how do you make the most of your budget and ensure you have enough money for everything? Let’s look at each area of spending at university and explore ways to save money or buy effectively within your budget.

3) Food shopping

Food is essential and should be top priority second to paying your rent and bills. Depending on your diet and preferences, how much you will spend on food as a university student will vary. When buying food on a budget, the most effective way of spending is to decide on a weekly meal plan. This means you are only buying what is needed for your meals, preventing food waste and overspending.

Cooking food in bulk is the best way to get more food for your money. Decide on 1 or 2 meals you can bulk cook each week, to reduce the amount of different ingredients you need. For example, you could make 3-5 meals worth of spaghetti bolognese, which can be frozen or kept in the fridge for the week. 

Try to buy own-brand food where possible. Most supermarkets have a range of budget-friendly food options for basics such as pasta, sauces, meat, cereal, cleaning products and frozen items. You may struggle to find own-brand items in convenience stores, so try to find a larger supermarket nearby for your weekly food shop. It’s also worth noting that larger supermarkets offer cheaper prices than local stores. Go with friends to the supermarket if one of you has a car, or you could split the cost of a taxi.

If you get along well with your house/flatmates, consider sharing food and cooking. This means you will both save money on the ingredients you don’t use up quickly like condiments and spices. Also, this can be a nice way to spend time with your house/flatmates, by cooking meals and eating together.

4) Course costs

Find out at the start of your course what you will need to buy throughout the year. You may need to budget for textbooks, art supplies, trips away and printing costs. The amount will depend on your degree. 

To save money on textbooks, buy them second-hand online. You could also reach out to students in the years above you, to ask if they are selling the books they no longer need. Some textbooks will be available online through your university email address. Speak to your lecturers to find out if the required reading is available online for free. 

Check your university library before buying every book on your reading list. For larger courses, universities generally provide multiple copies of required reading for students to borrow.

5) Saving money on utility bills

Lots of student accommodation comes with utility bills included in the rent. However, private housing may require you to pay the utility bills separately. There are different types of utility bill you will need to pay:

★ Electricity - To lower your electricity bill, try to switch off appliances and lights when you are not using them. Did you know that phone chargers are using up energy even if they aren’t actually charging your phone but are switched on at the wall? If you need to buy new appliances, try to buy energy efficient models. They may cost more up front, but could save you money on your electricity bills. 

★ WiFi - Explore your provider options and internet packages before buying the first one you see. Think about the speed of WiFi you need and the number of housemates you have to buy the best deal for you.

★ Gas / Oil heating - Take shorter showers and have less baths to use less hot water each week. When washing up, use the plug to fill the sink with hot water rather than washing the dishes with a running hot water tap. In the colder months, schedule your heating to be on at the coldest times of the day, during the morning and evening. If you and your housemates are out at university all day, there is no need to constantly heat the house. Try setting your thermostat 1 degree lower. The house temperature will not feel drastically colder and it will save you money on your heating bill. Thermal underwear and jumpers are your friends when it gets really cold!

6) Travel costs as a student

There are a few different travel costs you will need to factor into your budget:

★ Public transport costs during term-time - if you need to commute to get to uni, consider buying a weekly or monthly pass to save money on tickets. Some transport companies offer student discount prices or travel cards you can use.

★ Taxi rides - if you plan to go out at night time, you may need to budget for taxi rides home when there are no public transport options

★ Train/bus/plane tickets home - depending on how often you plan on visiting home, make sure to save some money for travelling home. If you live further away, this will cost more per journey. To make the most of your travel budget consider buying a 16-30 railcard. You can also save money by booking tickets in advance.

★ Car running costs - if you want to take your car to university, you will need to think about running costs such as insurance, fuel, repairs and tax. You may want to think about how often you plan on using your car, as it may work out cheaper to simply use public transport.

7) Budgeting for leisure and shopping

When you aren’t doing university work, you will probably spend your time and money on nights out, eating out and socialising with friends. Though these things are enjoyable, they can be costly if you don’t keep an eye on your spending. You might want to set yourself a small budget for leisure and shopping at university, so you can still enjoy yourself without worrying that you are spending too much.

Students’ Unions offer cheap events which may be better alternatives to activities in the city or local area, whether that is cheaper drinks at club nights or free activities during the week. Be sure to use your Students’ Union: part of its role is to make your time at university enjoyable!

If you need to buy clothes or fancy dress options, check out your local charity shops before buying something new. Also use websites such as eBay, Depop and Vinted to search for second-hand alternatives. You might get lucky and find what you are looking for at a cheaper price.

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