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Tips for managing money when you have budgeting blues

Student budgeting made simple, with tips and tools from a student blogger

  • Student finance
Niamh McShane's avatar

Niamh McShane

December 16 2015
Piggy bank at university


You’re a student and you like extra guac on your burrito, mimosas in the afternoon, and organic almond milk in your porridge. You’re subscribed to Netflix, to Spotify, to the gym, and when you look at your overdraft you’re reminded of that Battle of Hastings exam you have coming up… -1066… hmmm, how did that happen?

Student life can be tricky, between lack of routine, first-time budgeting and trying to keep up with your painstakingly well-dressed peers, most of us experience money woes at one stage or another. And it’s not to be taken lightly, the effects of debt and financial pressures on psychological wellbeing are well known; anxiety and depression are as directly linked to the figure in your bank account as the Iceland ready meals in your deep freeze.

More advice on college finance

If you belong to the sea of students who have reported anxiety in relation to financial stress, then it’s time to get budgeting, and seriously. Not only will this make the remainder of your university days a lot more manageable, it will have an impact on your future too. Most of us don’t walk out of university into a well-paid job.

In fact most of us walk out with a lot of debt and a poorly paid internship, so learning to control your in-goings and outgoings is genuinely one of the most important skills you can master while studying.

Yet, of all the organisational and administrative tasks you face as a student, the financial diet is one of the hardest. Luckily, it doesn't have to be rocket science.

The method

Sit down in front of your laptop, or in front of a blank page (whatever works best for you), and calculate all the money you will have coming in for the next semester – this includes loans, grants, income and savings that you are willing to spend. Once you come up with a figure, add up all your concrete outgoings – this includes rent, bills, fees, your phone contract – basically any costs that are fixed.

Now subtract the latter from the former and you have your living money. Divide this by the months in the semester, and you now have the amount you can reasonably expect to live on per month.

Now calculate how much you would ideally like to spend on food, on going out, and on clothes and how much you want to leave as a reserve for emergencies. It sounds a little patronising and simplistic, but once you've made these first steps then at least you’re well informed on how much you should be spending.

The figures you’ve now set out for food and fun are crucial, if you stick to these, then you can safely say that you’ll have a relatively stress-free financial semester. But as most yo-yo financial dieters know (myself included), writing the plan and sticking to it are two very different things.

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Tools for success

So how does one assure one’s ascetic ambitions?

By keeping a financial diary! Invest in (or ideally re-use) a nice portable little notepad or textbook and write down everything you spend, to the last penny. Don’t kid yourself and don’t leave anything out. When you get back to your laptop, open the initial budget document and input the things you've noted down manually and keep a running balance. If this sounds like a lot of effort, trust me, once you've done it for a total of two weeks, it will become habit and you’ll be so glad you started.

Most importantly, once you’ve started honing your budgeting skills, why not give saving a whirl? Even if it’s just £5 a month, at the end of the academic year (I guess around nine or 10 months depending on your course) you’ll have around £50. Treat yourself to that stupidly overpriced T-shirt you've had your eye on, and pat yourself on the back for saving up for it.

As a hopeless spender myself, I found that it was really only through pedantically noting down everything I was spending my money on that I realised how much I actually spent on ‘the nicer brand’ of bottled water, take away coffees and single ride bus fares. It’s pretty shocking what you can just slowly but surely whittle your money away on, but what’s even worse is not knowing.

If you need a little helping hand, UCAS offer a nice little budget calculating tool. What I’ve found however, is that nothing beats writing it down yourself. And nothing is worse than maxing out your overdraft well before your next grant or loan instalment.

If you regularly have too much month left at the end of the money, then frugality is your friend – trust me!

Read more: Student finance help and advice

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