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Student Budgeting

Student budget calculators

Fancy having a bash at a budget? We review some of the tools out there that could boost your money-saving mojo. Let’s get it on.

Calculator maths sums numbers budget

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Unless you're a total maths whizz, the thought of creating your own budget from scratch can be pretty daunting. Luckily there are loads of tools out there to help you get one off the ground without so much as breaking a sweat.

But how do they all work? Here we take an honest look at the types of tools out there, how they can help, and how to do it yourself.

Why do you need a budget?

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Whether it’s for your finances or your essay deadlines, planning ahead just … helps. Set up a money plan now, and you’ll have more time (and cash!) to splurge as you like later.

There are a few different tools out there to help you budget and manage your finances. The main types are:

Budget calculators

You can use a budget calculator or budget planner to estimate your costs for the year or semester, such as how much you're going to spend on rent and how much on takeaways. This type of budgeting is low-maintenance - you can do it as little as once a year, or just whenever you've got a big expense coming up that you need to factor in.

Calculators are particularly helpful for detecting problems before they arise. For example, they might help you realise you need a part-time job to pay your way, or you need somewhere cheaper to live. The key is to remember they're just a guide to potential costs.

Budget trackers

A budget tracker gives you a real-time view of where your money’s going, and helps you to start saving money if you're going overboard. Using one takes a bit more time and effort, but it will give you the best chance of staying solvent and cash-heavy at the end of the year.

If you want to stay money-savvy you should do both - estimate your costs at the start of the year and track your spending habits to make sure you're not going overboard.

It’s your choice how and whether to manage your money – but tracking your spending and cutting down costs will help you make it to the end of the year without going into the red.

Best budget calculators

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These free budget calculators, also known as budget planners, can help you predict your costs over a period of time.

  1. Save the Student rent calculator

    save the student logoUse our tool to see how much you can afford to spend on rent to stay within your budget - wherever you’re from or wherever you're studying in the UK.

    Simply input your income such as your student loan or part-time job salary, and estimate your monthly living costs, and we'll tell you how much you have leftover for rent. Then you can decide what kind of accommodation to choose for university.

    Try it here »

  2. UCAS budget calculator

    UCASThis is a really simple and easy to use tool which helps you work out your monthly income and expenditure in just a few seconds. Of course, you have to take time to make sure you're predictions are accurate for it to be effective!

    At the end it will tell you what your monthly budget is; that is, how much money you have leftover each month to spend.

    Try it here »

  3. This is Money student budget calculator

    this is moneyThis comprehensive student budget calculator will help you calculate your living costs and income during your time at university.

    It's geared more towards parents than students and is a bit number heavy, but will tell you if you have a shortfall or excess of cash to cover you for each year of your course if you take the time to complete it thoroughly.

    Try it here »

If you’re looking for more detailed info on how much student loan you’re entitled to, Student Finance England has its own calculator (however, this applies to students from England only).

Best budget trackers

man holding magnifying glass

These tools tell you where your money is going in real-time. If you've had a few heavy nights out, followed by one too many hangover takeaways, your budget tracker will alert you so you can reign your spending in for the next few weeks.

Check out the deets for yourself before downloading any third-party apps and make sure you’re happy with the terms of use and privacy. And remember that, while these are all useful tools, it’s up to you to actually stick to your spending goals.

  1. Save the Student budget spreadsheet

    save the student logoObviously we’re biased – but if you’re looking for ease, access and works-on-just-about-anything, this spreadsheet’s a doddle. It's good for all students regardless of where you’re from or where you want to study and works just as well for calculating long-term costs, too.

    Just add your income and outgoings following the guide headings (or customize your own) to see whether you’re blowing your budget or staying on track. Use this as your master tracker, and maybe supplement it with one of the tools below if you want even more insight into your spending habits.

    Download our budget spreadsheet »

  2. App-based bank accounts

    Mobile-Smartphone-iconIn the past few years, there has been a huge rise in 'challenger banks' - modern-day banks that exist purely in app form and give you more control over your finances than ever before.

    Most will allow you to set a monthly budget, specifying how much money you want to spend on food, socialising, bills etc. and will send you real-time notifications if you're under- or over-spending.

    Some even have auto-saving features, so they set aside a small amount of money in a pot each month to help you save towards something big, like a holiday.

    Head over to our complete guide to app-based banking for our ranking and reviews of the best.

  3. Goodbudget (iPhone, Android)

    Goodbudget logoGoodbudget has taken the classic envelope budgeting technique and brought it into the modern age. Essentially, you divide all your spending areas (food, bills, eating out etc) into separate envelopes, each containing a set amount of money you want to spend on that thing each month.

    You can sync your budget with others if you have shared finances, and it's also useful for working towards debt payoff, too.

    The free version only has a limited number of envelopes (10 regular and 10 extra) and can only be used on two devices, but that should be plenty for regular users. Alternatively, their paid version (around £5 a month) offers unlimited envelopes and devices.

    Download Goodbudget »

  4. Money Dashboard (iPhone, Android)

    money dashboardYou can link all your accounts to this app and use the colourful pie chart to see where your money is going.

    It helps you set a budget, with target spending goals for bills, fun etc, but also works as a budget calculator, helping you see predicted income, expenditure and balance over a long period of time. If you use more than one current account, you can see all your transactions in one place.

    Download Money Dashboard »

  5. Money Lover (iPhone, Android, Windows)

    money loverAnother useful tool that works across all your devices, helping you keep track of your daily transactions.

    It will notify you of recurring transactions (like rent, bills etc) before they leave your account, help you manage a saving plan and debt repayment, and even works when travelling abroad with up-to-date exchange rates.

    It's a fully comprehensive budget tracker but takes more hands-on work than an app-based bank account.

    Download Money Lover »

  6. Make an envelope budget

    envelope-iconIf you work better with physical cash than fancy apps, then this is the method for you. It can be fiddly but is guaranteed to make you think twice about spending on unnecessaries.

    How it works:
    • Get cash out at the start of the week (and put your cards away where you won’t be tempted to use them).
    • Decide how much you’re going to allow yourself to spend on clothing (or whatever). Add that much cash into one envelope and write on the back the amount and what it’s for.
    • Whenever you need to buy something from that envelope’s allowance, take the money out, note the amount on the back and adjust the total.
    • Keep going until the money’s finished or the end of the week. Aim only to spend what you allowed yourself – don’t keep topping up!
    • Siphon-off anything you don’t spend during the week into your savings account, treat fund or investment pot.

How to make a budget

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Credit: CBC

If you don't fancy any of the budgeting tools above, then you can create your own to suit your needs. At its simplest, budgeting is just about knowing how much you’ve got coming in and how much you spend. If you spend less than you have coming in, you’re nailing it.

The top-line figures you’ll want to include are:

  • Income such as loans, grants, wages, benefits and bursaries.
  • Fixed outgoings (things you have less control over) such as direct debits rent and bill payments.
  • Variable outgoings (things you can wiggle if you need to): transport and fuel, treats, socialising.

Take away your total outgoings from your total income to see if you’re spending within your means.  If you need to rein in unnecessary spending, start by slashing flexible costs so that your ability to pay essential costs isn't hit. Remember that you can get a better deal on fixed costs, too - shop around to see if and where you can save money.

Skim off a little from each paycheque or grant instalment and put it into a savings account first. You won’t miss the money if you do it up-front, and you’ll build yourself a nice buffer.


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