10 Sep 2020 • 7mins • Yolt

9 tips to balance your budgets and still have a life at uni


Whether you’re fresh on the scene or you’re returning back for another year at uni or college, making those student budgets stretch to the end of term can always feel like a struggle.

They say out of good grades, enough sleep, and a social life, you can only choose two. But what about those budgets? According to a 2018 Natwest survey, 28% of students don’t budget at all. Sure, it’s not something you want to think about when you’re keen to get stuck in, but budgeting early can be key to making the most of your uni experience - so you can still have a social life! As for the good grades and enough sleep… we’ll leave that to you!

So, all set to get that 1st in budgeting? Read on to get some top tips…

1. Break down your budgets

It’s the beginning of term, you’re in the black, you’re feeling good. You might have just got your lump sum loan for the semester. But do future you a favour, and split up what you have. Making your money go the distance is difficult, but pace yourself and you’ll be able to make sure you still have a life in 3 months as well as when you’re freshing it up.

Start by getting a list of your incomings (loans, savings, wage etc.) and minus your outgoings (rent, utilities, food, travel etc.), and see how much you really have left to spend. Set this up in your Left to Spend in Yolt, then split this up into individual category budgets and set them up for the month.

Not sure how to calculate your student budgets? Check out Money Advice Service's money planner.

2. Don’t get de-railed!

From Belfast to Bournemouth, Exeter to Edinburgh, no matter where you study, it’s likely that you’ll need to get some form of transport.

There are lots of student travel cards which can help lift the strain off those train fares. The 16-25 Railcard is a perfect example and a super way to save a third on fares. Money Advice Service has a great list of the various cards and transport companies offering discounts – definitely worth checking out, especially if you’ve moved to a new town!

Bonus tip: Train tickets often come out 90 days in advance, so if you know when term ends – book early and future you will be thankful for that extra cash!

3. Discover discounts

Speaking of discounts, let’s talk student deals. From 10% off at the Co-op, to tax exemptions, there are lots of ways being a student can save you dough on every day expenses.

If you like to eat out, an NUS extra card is always a winner for saving on your dinner.

If you’re looking to tighten up your shopping or leisure budgets, browse through student deals online before you buy.

Signing up for a subscription? Whether you’re a gym buff or a prime online shopper – investigate what discounts and free trials are out there. But before you pay that annual fee, work out if you’ll really be getting your money’s worth. Or if you’ve got a few free trials on the go, set a reminder to cancel or check in to see if you want to commit once your free trial is up!

4. Switch and save

You might have a great bank account already, but there are some student specific accounts with great saving rates – and, if you’re lucky, a free gift for setting up an account! With lots of accounts on offer, check out which one might work best for you. Once you’re set up, just remember to link it up to your Yolt, so you can keep an eye on that Total Balance across your accounts.

5. Don’t overestimate your overdraft

There are lots of options for bank accounts offering overdrafts. Interest free and often lasting for the duration of your course, it can seem like a great deal! And sure, having a safety net is always reassuring, but when it comes to calculating your budgets, it’s probably best to leave your overdraft out of the equation. Looking at your overdraft balance as real money that you have to spend might make you less mindful about spending it.

Unlike your student loan, you might need to pay it back pretty quickly after you graduate, and those free interest rates can start to creep up. So, if you can’t avoid dipping into your overdraft, make sure you’re clued up on all those T&Cs!

6. Sharing is caring

You’re back for a new term and you’ve been hit with your reading lists. Academic books are often on the expensive side, and just a few can push your Education budget into the red.

To keep your budgets in the black, take a look at the list and see what’s really essential. Forking out for a few books which you never actually read could come back to bite when budgets are tight. See what you can get second hand, or check out the library and online portals. If you have some course mates, you could also suggest sharing. For any books you do buy, Student Union fairs are your friend for selling second hand, and you might be able to swap or grab a bargain, too!

7. Get resourceful

Reap the rewards of what your college or university has to offer. From financial advice to online tips, it’s never a bad idea to see how your uni can help you along to bossing those budgets. And of course, access to libraries and your course buildings often means you can make the most of printing, photocopying, and cheap resources. While these costs may seem small, they all add up over time!

8. Shop smart

Armed with your student card, there are plenty of ways to be smart with your weekly shops. Popping into the nearest small supermarket a few times a week can really rack up. Smaller shops mean higher prices, and to keep your grocery spend low, make a list. Find a low cost bigger supermarket, and make sure you’re not splashing the cash on things you don’t need.

If you’re living with others, buying in bulk can pay off. Creating a kitty with living mates can also be a clever way to make sure you’re set for the semester— its’s a great way to make sure necessities costs are spread across everyone.

Long day of lectures? Make sure you budget for lunches in your grocery shop, too. Making your midday munch ahead of a long day will save you in the long run – more money for social occasions later!

9. Fight the FOMO

It’s hard. It’s a new year, and you’re excited to be back with your mates. A few nights out, a few societies subscriptions later, and before you know it, your budgets have halved.

Maybe you actually fancy a night in to save some cash for the next week, but don’t want to miss a night out with friends. Well, chances are, they probably feel the same. Suggesting a night in, or a low-cost activity might be just the perfect balance.

Peer pressure is real, but you’re definitely not the only one feeling it. Save up for the events you really want, and get involved with low cost activities to keep budgets on track.

That’s all for today’s spending seminar – top marks all round! If you’re a student with some tips you’d like to share (and not too busy enjoying the uni social scene), join the conversation on Twitter at @getyolt.