Student budget calculators
Fancy having a bash at a budget? We review some of the best online budget calculators that could massively boost your money-saving skills...
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 budget calculators out there to help you get one off the ground without so much as breaking a sweat.
But how do they all work? We take an honest look at the types of calculator tools out there, how they can help and how to do it yourself.
What's in this guide?
Why do you need a budget?
Whether it's for your finances or your essay deadlines, planning ahead helps – a lot. 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:
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.
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.
Best budget calculators
These free budget calculators, also known as budget planners, can help you predict your costs over a period of time.
Save the Student rent budget calculator
Use our calculator 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 Maintenance 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.
UCAS budget calculator
This calculator on UCAS' website is operated by Which?, and it helps you work out your monthly income and expenditure in just a few seconds.
All you have to do is select your university, and it will break down how much you can expect to spend each month on living costs to help you set a realistic budget.
This is Money student budget calculator
This 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.
Best budget trackers
These budgeting 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.
Save the Student budget spreadsheet
Obviously 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 customise 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.
App-based bank accounts
In 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.
Goodbudget (iPhone, Android)
Goodbudget 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 per month) offers unlimited envelopes and devices.
Money Dashboard (iPhone, Android)
You 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, socialising, 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.
Money Lover (iPhone, Android, Windows)
Another useful tool that works across all your devices, helping you keep track of your daily transactions, is Money Lover.
It will notify you of recurring transactions (like rent, bills and so on) 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.
Make an envelope budget
If you work better with physical cash than digital 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 you reach 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 create your own budget
If you don't fancy any of the budgeting calculators, then you can create your own budget 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 in your budget 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 and 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.
For more on how to budget, head to our main student budgeting guide.