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10 things to remember to budget for at university

It can be difficult to know how other students budget their money. Before you go to university, read our guide to find out about student discounts and other budgeting tips.

How do students budget their money? This can be one of the trickiest questions you might ask before uni but don’t worry – there are ways to budget and still have a great time. 

Four in ten first-year students said they'd found managing money trickier than expected, and a worrying 15% said they were struggling financially. Part of the battle is knowing what you need to budget for. We list our top 10 things below, plus ways to alleviate the pressure, such as an NUS card, and student travel card.  

Once you’ve finished reading our guide, you might like to read our downloadable guide to student finance, which includes budget planners and money tips.

1. Course materials

Starting university comes with a fair few upfront costs, including course materials. 45% of the first-year students we spoke to told us they have spent more than expected on extras such as books and arts materials. Here are some of the ways you can save.
  • second-hand book sales: Many universities run second-hand book sales, giving you the opportunity to buy books from older students (and to sell them once you’ve finished with them!).
  • use the library: Which texts do you actually need to buy? Head to the library to see which ones you can borrow.
  • student discounts: You may be able to get cheaper deals on course materials by buying direct from your uni department, and don't forget to make the most of your NUS Extra discount card.

2. Transport

Whether it's a bus to lectures or travelling back home for the holidays, you'll need to factor in travel costs. To help, there are student travel cards out there to help you reduce the costs of getting around by as much as a third:
  • 16-25 Railcard: £30 a year for a third off rail fares.
  • 18+ Student Oyster Photocard: Pay a £20 admin fee for 30% off London travelcard costs. You must live at a London address in term-time to be able to apply. 
  • National Express Young Persons Coachcard: £10 a year (plus £2.50 p&p) for a third off coach fares.
For added savings, plan ahead and book in advance if possible.

3. Food

It’s a myth that students live off baked beans – it is possible to eat normally and healthily whatever your budget. Here are a few pointers to get you started:
  • prevent impulse buys in the supermarket by making a shopping list – and sticking to it.
  • cook in bulk and freeze. This way nothing gets wasted, it works out a lot cheaper and you always have a back-up plan when the cupboards are bare!
  • make packed lunches for cheaper meals on the go.
Get budget-friendly food tips: read the Which? guide to student cooking

4. Entertainment

From freshers' week to club subs, student nights, gigs, fancy dress, sport or a quick catch-up with friends at the union – the cost of socialising can soon mount up. Allocate yourself a certain amount for entertainment and try not to go over it. Being sociable doesn't have to be expensive – think nights in with housemates, free events at your union or two-for-one cinema nights.

Student-specific discount websites such as NUS Extra and Student Beans offer deals on cheap days and nights out including theme park visits, eating out, and cinema and theatre trips. 

5. Utilities

If you’re in halls of residence, utilities such as gas, electricity and water are usually included as part of your rent – but that might not be the case if you're heading into private housing. Along with your rent, you'll need to put aside a certain amount each month to cover utility bills. Setting up regular payments is a good way of managing the outlay. 

If you're able to, see if you could save by moving to a different energy supplier or tariff. You can compare energy suppliers online (using a free service such as Which? Switch). Online deals are usually among the cheapest, plus you'll often get an extra discount if paying by direct debit. And of course, there are lots of steps you can take to use less energy in the first place. 

Our Which? guide reveals how to cut your energy bill

6. Internet

This is another cost you'll often have covered in halls of residence, but will need to factor in if you're in private housing.

Don’t forget that there are often a few costs involved beyond the quoted broadband price – the cost of installing a phone line and monthly line rental, for instance. Shop around for deals online to check you're on a good value package.

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    7. Insurance

    You might be surprised by how much your belongings are actually worth – try totting up the cost of your laptop, smartphone, TV, clothes, specialist course equipment and so on. According to Endsleigh Insurance, the average student owns £1,981 worth of hi-tech gadgets.

    You might be covered as part of your parents' home insurance policy. If not, student contents insurance packages start at around £10 a month.

    8. Toiletries

    You might not realise until you become a student how much things like toothpaste and shower gel cost. Set enough aside for the basics, making the most of special offers and value brands.

    9. Clothes

    It’s tempting once you get your loan to head straight to the shops but you'll regret blowing your clothes budget in the first week. Save money by:
    • making the most of student discounts in shops (and online by checking out deals on sites such as MyUniDays).
    • find extra discounts and money back by shopping online through cashback websites.
    • consider clothes swapping – try online on websites such as Vinted, or host your own clothes swapping party for a fun, cheap alternative to shopping!

    10. Extra study expenses

    Printing, photocopying, library fines (avoid these, if possible!). The little costs can add up  – here’s how to keep them to a minimum:
    • if you're taking a course where you're likely to be submitting lots of essays, it might be worth buying a printer (you can get a decent budget one for less than £50) rather than using university facilities.
    • print double-sided and in black and white.

    Watch: what other tips do students have to manage money?
     

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