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Essential living costs to budget for as a student

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When I went to university I had no idea about how to budget money.  I constantly maxed out my student overdraft and spent my student loan way sooner than I should have on non-essential items.  I got my student overdraft around one month before I started uni and was in debt before I’d even started my course!

Unfortunately there was no financial education at school, no personal finance management tips lessons, and so we were really thrown in the deep end as 18 year olds, unless we’d had a solid financial education and guidance at home.

Suddenly we have money to spend, day-to-day living costs, free student overdrafts, a bunch of new friends, we’re living on our own, we are old enough to go to pubs and nightclubs, and there’s a very tempting student social nightlife to entertain us.

It’s an exciting time and we’re trying to learn to manage our own finances for the very first time, stand on our own two feet, whilst still being in education and also having the freedom to do what we like with our time and money with fewer restrictions.

Of course, uni is often known for having a great social side, but it’s also a place to knuckle down, learn and secure our employment future and effectively secure our financial future.  Constant partying and student nights out won’t help you get the best grades and they’ll be bad for your student finances.  As will spending all your money on the latest clothes and gadgets that you really don’t need, no matter how tempting the student discount on offer is!

Learning to budget as a student

Learning to budget as a student is essential if you want to get through each academic year without the constant stress of student debt and worrying how you’ll pay your bills.  It’s also vital to manage your student finances properly as you have such little money as a student.  Even if you get a job, you’ll likely only work part time hours otherwise it will begin to interfere with your studies.

Budgeting may sound boring, but it’s a vital skill to learn whilst you are at university.  It takes a little knowledge, common sense and willpower to make sure you stay on top of your finances.  Three things I wish I’d had with my money when I started uni!

In order to budget, you’ll need to know your incomings and outgoings.  Your incomings are your student loan and salary (if you have a job whilst at uni).

Your student loan usually comes in three instalments, one at the start of each new term, so make sure you divide this between the months you have until the next instalment.  It need to last you approximately 3-4 months, so it’s important to break it up into months and resist splurging when you see the large amount in your bank account!

Then, once you know your monthly incomings, deduct all of the below living costs to see what you are left with.  This is your disposable income.  It’s yours to spend on entertainment or to save.  It’s a good idea to save some money to cover emergencies like a broken laptop, an unexpected event that might incur travel costs or extra study materials for uni.

To get a rough idea of the costs at your university, you can use this student budget calculator.

It’s good practice to factor your savings into your outgoings if you have enough money to do so.  Building an emergency fund means you won’t need to get into debt when you need cash for something unexpected.

Essential student living costs

In order to budget and save money as a student, you’ll need to take into account your day-to-day living costs as a student.

Here are the costs you will have as a student that you must pay for.  These are non-negotiable.

·         Rent

Whether you are staying in halls of residence, a shared student house or you’re going to find your own private accommodation, your first essential cost will always be rent.  This is so important to pay in full and on time as it will ensure you have a roof over your head.

There are lots of options for student accommodation and some like this student accommodation Sheffield have their own gyms, social rooms with cinemas, a gaming room, events and Wifi included.  Finding student accommodation with so many extras included means you can make a saving on your other costs.

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·         Bills

Many student lets and halls of residences in particular will include bills with the rent payment.  This means you’ll pay one set fee each month for rent and bills.  It’s normally stated that rent is ‘inclusive’ of bills, or something along those lines.  If bills are included then this is one less thing for you to worry about each month, however if they are not included then you need to add them to your monthly outgoings when budgeting.

Bills include council tax, water, electricity and gas as essentials.  If you watch live TV or record live TV then you’ll need a TV licence.  Don’t forget about your mobile phone bill, broadband and insurance costs too. (Check out my Airtime Rewards review for an easy way to save money on your mobile phone bill).

·         Groceries

You need to eat to survive so normal supermarket shops for essential food and drink needs to be included in your outgoings.  By ‘normal’ I mean food you can cook and make yourself for each meal, not eating out costs as these aren’t a necessity!

Don’t forget about your essential hygiene too.  You’ll need toilet roll, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap as a minimum.  Factor in cleaning products too like washing up liquid, bin liners and kitchen surface spray.

·         Transport

You may need to use transport each day to get to different campuses or even the university itself.  Most student accommodation is near the uni or within walking distance, no matter whether you're in student accommodation at Scape Sydney, in London or New York, the student halls are usually on campus or close by. 

But sometimes you may have no choice but to live further away, travel between different campuses in different areas in short periods of time to get to lectures on time, and therefore need to take public transport.

Weekly bus passes can provide better value and you may get a student travel card that gives you discount on public transport.

If you need to use public transport regularly to attend uni, then add these costs to your essential outgoings.

·         Course materials

There are some things you will definitely need to buy when you are at uni to enable completion of your course.  You will likely need a laptop, printer and internet connection to complete your university work and meet deadlines with ease.

Pens, papers and study books will also be required.

Many courses have lists of books that you must buy so make sure you get a list of the course materials you need at the start of each term and deduct these expenses from that term’s budget.  If you can, borrow books and materials from the university library and search pre-loved sites like eBay to find your course materials for free or at a reduced cost.

Don’t forget to save for an emergency

So long as these essential student living costs don’t wipe out your money, then your next outgoing should be to save money into an emergency fund.  Even if it’s only a small amount, you’ll be thankful you have a pot of emergency cash when you most need it.  This will stop you from needing to access credit when you’ve run out of money and desperately need to pay for something unexpected.

Finally, once you have factored all these essential living costs into your budget then you are left with money to spend on beauty, entertainment, eating out, student nights out and whatever else your student heart desires!

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Eek!  My student outgoings are more than my incomings!

The student loan really doesn’t provide very much at all and usually just about covers rent and bills if you’re lucky.  So unless you have extra income from savings or family then you’ll probably need to get a part time job.

There may still be times when your total essential outgoings are more than you have coming in.  If this happens then The Money Advice Service recommends the following:

  • “Increasing your income - depending on your study schedule, taking on part-time work could make a big difference to your budget.
  • Speaking to an adviser - your university or college should have a student money adviser or support services that can help you to manage your money.
  • Reducing your expenses - look what you’re spending money on. Are there any areas that you could cut down on? Swapping branded products for supermarket-own brands or sharing meal costs could save you money
  • Consider borrowing - tried everything else? Consider borrowing options such as an authorised, interest-free overdraft or a credit card that might come with your student account. Only ever borrow what you need and what you can repay.” Check out our tips on smart ways to use a credit card so you don't get into trouble.

How to make more money as a student

If you want more money whilst you’re a student, then check out the below money making ideas, money saving tips and even learn how to get free cash.