A guide to university budgeting from a second year

Handy tips from one student to another

After recently returning to begin my second year of university I decided to actually spend some time devising a budget.

Last year’s attempt was commendable but like the majority of first year students I fell into the trap of spending rather than saving, lulled into a false sense of security by the sudden influx of money from student finance into my previously empty bank account.

The lure of countless clubs, bars and cafes can make it difficult to stick to a budget so I have devised some handy tips and tricks to avoid relying on your overdraft and perhaps even end the year with some savings rather than being in debt.

Work out a budget and stick to it

Devising a budget may seem daunting, I know I found it difficult in the beginning to predict how much money I would need for everything.

If you start by working out how much money you have to work with, the rest of the budget will soon fall into place. Calculate the total amount of money you have for the year (Student Finance, money from your family, personal savings) and then work out how much you will have left after paying for your accommodation.

Divide this amount by the number of weeks you are at uni and, hey presto, your weekly budget!



The next task is to divide your budget into categories. One section for necessities: food and going out (a university necessity) and a second section for variables: coffees, clothes shopping and travel.

If you can afford to, put aside some money each week or month for savings. You might even be able to treat yourself to a holiday at the end of the year!

The beauty of categorising is that if you under spend on necessities then you can afford to spend more on variables. Now you have a budget that is organised and flexible.

Clubbing, a university necessity

Cash Not Card:

A useful trick to keeping a tight budget at university is using cash rather than your debit card.

I’ve found that taking out the same amount of money in cash each week makes it easier to control my spending rather than using a card which is harder to keep track of.

There is something about physically seeing the notes diminish in your wallet that encourages you to spend money more wisely.

It’s also easier to judge whether you are overspending or under spending by the amount of money you have left at the end of the week, a good test to see whether the budget is actually working!


Saving money at university isn’t easy. Not because it’s impossible but because it’s not a high priority.

Putting aside five pounds a week may seem completely manageable until you overspend one week and then forget to save anything. Do this enough times and before you know it you’ve spent all your savings and end the year with no money.

This isn’t the biggest problem if you return home for the summer to generous parents and home cooked meals, but then you’ll crave a last-minute holiday and won’t have any savings.

The older you get the more important saving becomes. The future is no longer a distant possibility and having savings will make you feel more secure and prepared.

The Beauty of Bargains:

Bargain shopping is a must at university if you want to hold onto your money.

Swap highstreet shops for charity shops and branded food items for non-branded equivalents. Buying a reduced whole chicken at the end of the day, for instance, is significantly cheaper than buying chicken breasts on their own.

You’ll find after a while that hunting out the best bargains becomes a weekly challenge and gradually reducing your food shopping bill is immensely rewarding.

Self-Discipline and Sacrifice:

Unfortunately keeping to your budget often means practising the art of self-discipline.

Since starting at university I’ve been forced to learn the subtle difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’. I often find myself declaring how much I ‘need’ another winter coat when really I ‘need’ to be able to afford food for the week.

Whenever you find yourself debating over whether to buy something you could probably do without, question whether you actually need it and often you will realise that you don’t.

Sacrifice is another skill you will need to master at University. Meat, for example, is so much more expensive than I realised and by reducing the amount I eat I have been able to spend less on food shopping and more on going out.

Home made pizzas; cheap and delicious

The Envelope System:

An example of a system that I have recently started using is ‘The Envelope System’ designed by my dad.

Once you have worked out your weekly budget, label each envelope with a different category and how much you have allotted towards it. For example, one might be for going out (bars, clubbing, alcohol etc.) which you have allotted £20 a week for.

The idea is that you put that money into the envelope at the start of the week and if you don’t spend it you’ll have £40 the following week. The beauty of this system is that it easily allows you to keep track of your money and save up for specific things.

* Suggested envelopes: travel, supermarket, coffees, going out, restaurants, personal shopping.