How to stay on top of your spending at university

There’s a lot to think about in your first few weeks of Uni. Not only are you signing up to classes and clubs, making new friends and trying not to get lost on campus, you may also be managing a budget for the first time, too. So if you’re wondering how you can better manage your money now that you’re at university, take a look at our top tips for making your funds go further.

Start with the budgeting basics

In our recent survey*, we found out that after rent and bills the average student is set to spend £5,016 on living costs this year at uni. On top of that, 77% of students said they tend to bury their head in the sand when it comes to managing their money. We get it. Thinking about big budgets can get overwhelming. One way to make things more manageable? Try breaking things down into bite sized chunks...

1. First, take note of your yearly budget:
Let’s say you’re going to spend that average £5016 over the course of the whole year. Write that number down and use it as the top-level basis for all of your budgeting.

2. Break that down into an overall budget for the month:
£5016 for the year works out to £418 per month. Now, with your overall £418 budget for the month, you can break that down into manageable mini budgets for all of your major spending categories.

3. Set some smaller budgets by category:
Some things are going to need more budget than others, so think about how best to distribute your monthly budget across everything, from essentials to treats. Don't forget to think about some of the big events throughout the year that might impact your spending - from birthdays to Christmas.

Food, course supplies (like text books, course equipment and field trips) and, socialising came out on top, as the biggest expenses in our recent study. So, we’ve outlined some handy ways to make those budgets go a bit further, so you can enjoy uni life to the fullest!

How to make your food budget last at uni:

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31% of students said that most of their spending went towards groceries. Here are a few ways that you can keep your foodie finances in check:

1. Make a shopping list - and stick to it!
It’s easy to impulse buy once you’re at the supermarket, especially if you go shopping when you’re hungry; but little by little those extra bits can eat away at your budget. With a list in hand, it’s easier to stay on track.

2. Cook in big batches
You don’t have to live on baked beans alone! With the right planning you can eat cheap, healthy meals all term. Batch cook your food and freeze some meals for later. Not only will you waste less, but is also gives you ready-made meals on hand for those evenings when you’re just too tired to cook, and tempted to spend a week’s worth of food budget on a takeaway.

3. Search for cheaper supermarket options
There’s no need to spend extra money on a brand-name loo roll or cereal, when a supermarket-own will usually shave off the pennies for the same product.

How to spend less on supplies:

It’s probably no surprise that a large chunk of student budgets go towards course-related costs - that’s why you're at uni, after all! 21% of students reported that supplies were their biggest expense. It may seem tricky to keep those costs down, but there are ways to cut back on even the essentials…

1. Stay one step ahead:
Find out at the beginning of the course what financial obligations you’ll have throughout the year. If you’re studying a language there might be a trip abroad, or if you’re enrolled in a science course there might be protective lab clothing and equipment that you need. Factor these into your budget at the beginning so that there aren’t any nasty surprises halfway through the semester.

2. Boost your budget with a bursary
You should also speak to your university and see what bursaries might be available. These can range from cash grants to book tokens and are dependent on your household income, but if you do qualify, you don’t usually have to pay them back.

3. Keep an eye out for grants and charities
There are lots of handy sites out there with tonnes of info on grants and charities that offer assistance towards study costs, so take a look and see if there’s anything that you could be eligible for.

4. Go bargain hunting for books
There’s no doubt about it - university books are expensive! But there may be ways to keep the costs down. Can you buy them second-hand from previous students or from a text-book swapping site? Are they available to check out of the library? Can you find them cheaper online? Can you split the costs with a friend in the same class? It might take some hunting, but there are usually cheaper ways to purchase course textbooks than from the campus book shop!

How to spend smart on your socialising budget:

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This was the third biggest reported cost. If you want make those ‘fun budgets’ go a little bit further…

1. Track your outgoings to stay on top of spending
Socialising is one of the biggest parts of university life (after, you know, studying…) so it makes sense that a big portion of your budget is going to be spent on meeting new people and having fun. But before you blow everything on one epic night out, set yourself some budgets so you can keep on track and enjoy the fun all year long. £1 beer may be a good deal, but even small expenses can quickly add up.

2. Hone your hosting skills
Not all socialising has to happen in the pub. It might be your first time living away from home, and this is a great opportunity to take advantage of having your own space. Have friends over for a cheap dinner party, pick a series to watch as a group, host a board game night or refine those beer pong skills!

3. Take advantage of that NUS card!
There are loads of great deals out there for students - some cinema’s have a student discount on tickets, as well as free screenings or other offers. Your local art galleries and museums are likely to be free, or offer a student discount if there’s a particular exhibition on that you’d like to see, while lots of shops, cafes and restaurants will give money off to students too.

You can set up budgets in your Yolt app to set how much you want to spend every month in each category, so you can make smart decisions all term about how to spend your money - and so that you can keep an eye on where it’s really going!

Find out more about setting up your budgets here.

Bank account perks

You could also find out about the potential money-saving perks that are offered with your student bank account too. Some banks offer new students incentives like gift cards, travel passes, or a fee-free overdraft. However, try and keep your overdraft usage strictly for emergencies - like if your student loan gets paid in late. And remember, you’ll still have to pay it all back, and once you leave university you could even be charged for being in it.

Ultimately managing your money is, like cooking, a new skill that you’ll learn the more you practice. No matter what your money experience is, your Yolt app is here to keep you on track with your spending - and saving!

*Resources: Yolt Student Survey of 2000 participants. Research commissioned with Delineate. September, 2019.

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