Ten tips for how to survive on a budget at university

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With some application, you can get a good degree and learn something about money management at university. In the first term of my history and politics degree from Queen Mary, University of London, I had great difficulty staying afloat. I took out the full student finance available of 9,000 for the first year, but I found budgeting a challenge. It was the novelty of independent life – being away from the parental home. I was in private accommodation and so relied on takeaways, although there was a tiny kitchen. I also had too many nights out. There were the people who seemed to know how to budget almost naturally; they were the envy of everyone.


Fortunately the need to study curtailed my nights out, but even if that had not been the case, I would have been forced to re-evaluate my spending. I cooked my own meals with housemates, sharing the cost of food. We liked to shop online with Click Marketplace or similar stores to stock up our snack cupboard for the entire month, in the beginning of the month itself. We entertained at home, rather than going out in London. I waited for books to become available in the library rather than buy my own. I even changed the focus of my studies to keep down the cost of books.

I also took advantage of the full overdraft on the student account from Santander. I would
recommend this bank to anyone starting university next month, but with one proviso: don’t go above the maximum free overdraft or you will incur very heavy charges.

Having graduated last month, I know everything about the EU, which was my special subject. Also the Russian revolution, but I am also a bit of an expert on financial survival at university as I explain below.

  1. Cook your own meals
    This means avoiding the overwhelming temptation to splurge on Domino’s in September when your bank account is flush with student loan cash. Check out jamieoliver.com for recipe inspiration – with sections such as “cheap and cheerful”, “one-pan recipes” and “quick fixes”, you’re bound to find something that appeals. Also look at the Instagram account OnePoundMeals for some real money-saving mastery.
    Extra tip
    Suggest cooking meals with your housemates to split the cost – and the washing-up.

2 Student finance
UK-born students are entitled to finance from the Student Loans Company (SLC). The money you receive will be dependent on your circumstances, but if you want to avoid a long wait and a miserable, moneyless freshers week, make sure the details you and your parents submit to the SLC are right first time. It may be worth confidentially sharing your parents’ income details because tens of thousands of pounds are set aside by the government and universities for student bursaries.
Extra tip
There’s no reason you can’t play the banks at their own game by making the most of student rewards. Set up an account with Santander, for example, and then switch to HSBC after receiving your free railcard.

3 NUS extra and UniDays
The NUS extra card and a MyUniDays.com account are must-haves for any deal-savvy student. Top offers from NUS extra include 25 per cent off National Express, 25 per cent off Odeon cinema tickets, 10 per cent off Asos and up to 40 per cent off Pizza Express. At only 12 for the year, you would be daft not to consider it. Meanwhile similar online and in-store offers can be found at MyUniDays.com.

4 Spotify Premium
Say goodbye to buying music tune-by-tune. Spotify offers a free streaming service with intermittent adverts. If you can’t bear ads, students can get Spotify Premium for half price – 4.99 a month.

5 Netflix
As a student you’re not likely to have floods of cash to go out every night. For 5.99 a month you can get a Netflix subscription to TV shows and films, or an extra 3 ( 8.99) lets you split access with your housemates. This gives you HD content on up to four devices at the same time.

6 Nights out
As a student, you’re going to have nights out, but that doesn’t mean they have to break the bank. There are lots of student nights with cheap entry and discounted drinks. Shop around – there are lots of websites to help, such as wickedstudentnights.co.uk, aimed at the 300,000 students in London. Going to university in the USA? Then you may want to go on fewer nights out and spend a few more evenings in, you can get a New Jersey fake ID or an ID from your area so that you can get some alcohol and enjoy a night with your friends on a much cheaper budget.

7 Get a part-time job
The more time spent working, the less time you have to spend money. And remember that juggling work with your academic commitments not only boosts your student budget but also proves your multitasking abilities to any potential employers.

In addition, it may help you save money that you could use for future endeavors. If you have student debts to pay off, your earnings from your part-time job, no matter how little, may contribute to the repayment efforts. If you end up doing well and landing a good-paying job, you could use your savings to go on a trip/holiday that you deserve. With several more advantages to back it up, taking up a part-time job could be a learning experience that you would be paid for.

8 Live with your parents
Some of you may feel that the independence is worth the financial costs and that’s fine, but rent is the biggest financial strain on students, particularly those studying in London. If you can stick it out with your parents while you study, do it. Your bank account and your social life will thank you for it. You’ll find yourself making a bigger effort to stay sociable and you’ll actually be able to afford your nights out.

9 Budget
You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can drain your student loan when you’re not keeping track of it. A budget will ensure that you haven’t spent December’s rent before the end of October. To create a budget, establish your available funds per week, then factor in all your essential outgoings (rent, bills, insurance, travel, food) over the same period. See below for more budgeting tools.

10 Student deal websites
There are scores of websites dedicated to scouring the market for the best deals in all kinds of areas from food and tech to household goods and nights out – savethestudent.org, studentbeans.com for students specifically, as well as vouchercodes.co.uk; groupon.co.uk and quidco.com. You should also be sure to check out product reviews to ensure you don’t make poor purchases. We like using www.onlyreviews.com to double check. If you don’t buy right, you end up buying twice.


This app gives you a “360-degree view” of your money, according to its developers, allowing you to monitor what goes in and out of your account as well as what you have saved and budgeted. You can take pictures of your receipts and set notifications to remind you when you need to make payments.

Money Dashboard
This is another app that allows you to view your money in one place. You can group your spending into categories so that you can see exactly how much you’re shelling out (note that you can’t use OnTrees or Money Dashboard to move money around).

If you’re living in a shared house, get all your housemates to download this app and wave goodbye to passive-aggressive notes on the fridge. Splittable gives you a platform to specify who owes what and when, as well as notifying others when you have paid your share of the bills or bought anything communal for the house (it can’t be used to make payments).

Use this as a free way to pay friends, whether it’s your share of the bills or the drinks tab. In the worst-case scenario, your parents could use it to send you some cash quickly and safely.

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Iona Bain

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