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What you need to know about budgeting as a student…

Written by: UPSU

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We understand that balancing your finances whilst at university can be challenging, and it is perfectly understandable that you may feel hesitant to suddenly start being responsible for your financial responsibilities, such as rent, bills, and transport costs if you have never lived away from home before.

When you get your funding at the start of each term it can seem like a lot of money but making it last across the year can be hard. Many students will be feeling a little out of their comfort zone when it comes to managing money, but please know that you are not alone. 


Access free financial advice at the SU


As a University of Plymouth student, you have access to the University of Plymouth Students’ Union SU Advice team who are highly experienced and can offer free, impartial, and confidential financial advice to any student who needs it. 

This includes advice on budgeting, discounts, travel, healthcare, welfare benefits and childcare costs to help make sure you are getting the best value for money. 

SU Advice can also help you to navigate and understand Student Finance England (SFE), including your tuition fee loans, maintenance loans, and if you qualify for any bursaries or additional grants. 

Our SU Advice team are here to support all University of Plymouth students, whether they are a new student, returning student, postgraduate or international student: we are here to offer information and guidance to ensure you understand your outgoing fees and available financial support.


How to calculate your student budget 


To start calculating your student budget, it is important you make sure that you understand your Student Finance arrangements. For many undergraduate students, Student finance usually consists of a tuition fee loan to cover the cost of your studies and a maintenance loan to help you with the cost of living while studying. Tuition fee loans are generally paid directly to your university so generally you won't see the money and therefore do not need to factor it into your incoming or outgoing costs. 


Think about what money you will have coming in...

Before you start signing up to activities and memberships when you arrive at university, first you need to work out how much money you have coming in to ensure you don’t commit yourself to financial outgoings that you can’t sustain. 

If you are an undergraduate student, your Maintenance Loan will come in three large instalments across the academic year. It is your responsibility to manage this money responsibly and ensure it lasts until your next payment drop, and budget to cover any outgoing costs, including things like groceries. 

You may find you have additional income streams on top of your maintenance loans. Other common student income streams include money from bursaries for students, salaries from part-time work or paid internships, savings, or money from family members. 


Think about what money will be going out...

When thinking about your outgoing costs, it may be helpful to divide your outgoings into categories, for example, your essential outgoings and your non-essential outgoings. These lists may look something like this: 

Essential outgoings: 

  • Student accommodation rent 
  • Any bills associated with your student accommodation, such as TV licence.
  • Contents insurance 
  • Travel and/or car costs
  • Phone bills
  • Essential subscriptions
  • Credit card or debt repayments 
  • Essential groceries and household supplies 
  • Books and equipment for your studies

Non-essential outgoings:

  • Social activities, including nights out. 
  • Societies and student group memberships
  • Hobbies
  • Non-essential subscriptions 
  • Gym memberships
  • Clothes and personal shopping
  • Haircuts and beauty expenses 
  • Takeaways and meals out
  • Leisure travel
  • Festivals, gigs, and events 

We recommend making your own list and then using this Budgeting Worksheet to help you add in your own incomings and outgoings.


Establishing a weekly budget...

Save the Student recommends that students work out a weekly spending budget whilst at university to help you understand how much money you have to spend on all the non-essential things on your list each week. You could also work out your budget monthly if this is more suited to you, however, most students will find it more helpful to have a smaller budget more frequently to help them manage their finances better. So, how do you work out your weekly budget? 

Once you've got all your expenses laid out before you, it's time to break it down into a weekly budget...

  • Work out your total income for a term at university…
  • Minus your essential expenses for the same period…
  • Divide the number you're left with by the number of weeks in a term

You've now got your weekly student budget which you can choose to spend however you like, or perhaps you might want to save it up for a bigger occasion or place it into your savings account. 


What happens if you worked out your weekly budget, but it’s not sustainable? 

If you followed the steps above and your weekly budget is too low to live on, you may have to think about cutting back on some of the costs you may have previously thought were essential. For example, if you listed your car as one of your essential outgoing costs, you may wish to reconsider if you need to have your own vehicle whilst studying. Many university students do not bring their car with them to university to save on money and rely on public transport. The University of Plymouth campus is located in the city centre, with large food shops, shopping centres, bars and restaurants and activity centres all within walking distance for many students. Plymouth has great transport connections to Cornwall and up North via bus routes and a train station located just a 10-minute walk from campus. 

If you decide that all your listed essential outgoings are in fact essential, you may need to think about boosting your income through a part-time job. Plymouth provides a variety of part-time job opportunities for students looking to work around their studies. The University of Plymouth Careers Service can help you find local work to suit your availability. Here at the SU, we also employ members of student staff in a variety of roles from running our SU Bar and Coffee Spot, serving customers in our SU Shop, or providing technical assistance at our events. View any vacancies for student staff at the SU here. 


Tips, tricks, and tools for budgeting


This first tip comes from Save the Student and is called the ‘standing order trick’. The idea revolves around the psychology that you only spend what you can see and can easily access. Here is how to do the three-step standing order trick: 


Step One – When you receive your Student Loan (or any other income stream) into your student bank account, transfer it into a separate current or savings account (free to set up).

Step Two – Set up a recurring payment (such as a Direct Debit or standing order) each week to transfer your weekly budget into your normal spending account. This is easy to do with internet banking, and will gradually feed the money you need into your account, preventing you from going overboard when you first get paid.

Step Three – If you ever need more cash one week, you can simply transfer some more money across manually, but at least you'll be thinking about whether you really need it first. Not only does this give you a (sort of) weekly payday, it helps to break bad spending habits and ensure your money will last until you're next paid.


Other tips, tricks, and tools to explore: 

  • Find a student budget calculator online.
  • Get as much Student Finance support as possible including any grants, bursaries or scholarships up for grabs.
  • Explore ways you can save with UniDays, Totum, and other student discounts. 
  • Download budgeting apps.
  • Cut out non-essential purchases that you know are not good for your wellbeing, i.e., cigarettes, alcohol, takeaways.
  • Say goodbye to some unnecessary subscriptions, i.e., pick either Amazon or Netflix to watch your movies and don’t pay for both if you frequently use one more than the other. 
  • Open a savings account separate from your student bank account and transfer some of your income into your savings and only access it if you need it.
  • Sell your unwanted items on and make some cash.
  • Treat yourself – remember to still have fun and do the activities you enjoy. University is first and foremost for your education, but it is also about making friends and memories. Plan ahead for when you think you might want to spend a little more and treat yourself so you can work around the extra outgoings.