Student budgeting: Get a grip on your finances!

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By in Student Budgeting. Updated July 2015.

Anxious about making it through a degree on next to nothing or just want to learn how to get more money? You’re in the right place. Read on to learn how to rock a budget like a pro.stacked coins

With 1 in 3 of you telling us you’ve never budgeted, we knew we had to get it sorted. We won’t lie to you: that essential Guitar Hero tournament may always be more appealing, but once you get in the black, you won’t want to go back. Trust us.

Once you’ve nailed the budget you’ll be more clued-up about how to make your money go further and spot cash spoilers long after you’ve graduated.

How to make a budget in four steps

Step 1: Know what you’ve got

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Your basic budget is as simple as listing all the money you’ve got coming in, tracking how much you spend, and seeing whether they both balance out.

You can do it on paper or in your head – but to keep things sweet our handy student budget sheet does the hard work for you. To use it, just add any income for each month – things like pay, grants or gift money – and keep a log of your expenses (clothes, rent, books, going out), and it’ll track whether you’re living within your means.

You can budget as you go, but it’s also a great tool if you’re working out whether your finances are going to fit your future spending – such as planning for uni.

The aim of the game is to keep your balance (the money that’s left after you’ve accounted for spending) in the black – and ideally have a few quid left over to lay away.

If you find you’re overspending – or it looks as though your budget won’t match your expectations – you’ll need to find ways to bring it back in line.

Step 2: Know where it goes

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Once you start snooping on your expenses, you’ll quickly see there’s more to your spending than rent and stationery.

How obsessive you get about logging your spend is up to you – but knowing where your money goes gives you more control over how much you bust.

And, once you realise you’re spending a tenner a week on late fines and fancy coffee, you’ll be prepped to get your books back on time. And maybe buy a thermos.

Step 3: Boost your balance

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Whether you’re happily in the black or redder than Madonna after the Brits, your budget will always benefit from a boost. There are two ways to do it: increase your income, or decrease your spending.

Getting more income is harder, but it’s not just about getting a (better paid) job or hocking your prized comic collection. Make sure you’ve got all the student finance you’re entitled to, and check whether there’s any extra funding you haven’t claimed.

Cutting costs is a doddle, but you’ll need to stay motivated. It’s worth checking your budget once a month to see where you over-spend, or if any of your fixed outgoings, like rent or bills, can be cheaper (if they are, switch those babies up!).

Step 4: Cut your costs

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There are things you can cut back on but can’t do without altogether. Like eating.

You can still stretch your pennies to make sure you’re getting the best deals, though. Check out our guides on going out, shopping, food, student discounts and money.

10 ways to make your money go further

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Practical savings steps to help your new budget.

    1. Do you want it, or need it? Spend your money on the stuff you need first, and save the wants for special occasions.
    2. Give yourself an allowance for each of your spending areas, such as socialising or sports – and stick to it.
    3. Get cash out at the start of the week and use that instead of paying by card. It’s an easy way to see how much you’re spending, with no hidden interest charges to boot.
    4. Get into the habit of planning your activities around what you can afford, instead of fudging the budget for that luxury glamping experience.
    5. If you can manage it, always siphon off some of your income at the start of the month and put it into a savings or ISA account. If you make it to the end of the month with cash to spare, squirrel that away for a longer-term spend instead of blowing it on a quick fix.
    6. Recycle everything. If you’re done with something, and you can sell it – get rid. Likewise, never buy new if you can get it just as good for less. Works for clothes, furniture and text books.
    7. Don’t upgrade your phone if it locks you into another year of extortionate charges. A tenner a month or less for calls, texts and data is easily had. Check whether a sim-free phone can do the job for less than the fancy gadgets and buy it up-front (or stick it on your wish list and drop some hints).
    8. Plan your meals and go armed with a shopping list to avoid buying things you won’t use. Buy in bulk, cook at the start of the week – and learn to love your freezer.
    9. Don’t live like a monk all the time: just plan ahead for splurges. Brew your own booze, freeze portions of comfort foods, or buy a season pass for the cinema, gym, or whatever floats your dinghy.
    10. Be your own person. Don’t worry about what your friends are making or spending – just stick to your budget and keep your eyes on the prize.

Pro tip: use direct debts to drip-feed your account

helpful tipsIf you get a lump sum – such as your loan or grant instalment, or money from your folks – stick it into a second account. Set up a direct debt to stream regular deposits into your student account (the one you use for regular spending) to ensure you only get at your money in manageable chunks – you’ll know how much you need if you used our budget sheet.

If you’re strict about living within your allowances (or stash the money in a high-interest savings account) you may even find you’ve got a bit extra at the end of year, whether it’s enough for a cheeky holiday or a trip to the flicks. Sweet.

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