Avoid these budget mistakes
Here's what you need to know about managing your budget at university.
For most students, making ends meet is one of the biggest challenges of their time at uni.
The latest National Student Money Survey revealed that 79% of students worry about money. Not only that, but 77% wish they had a better financial education before they arrived at uni. In fact, a recent survey ¹ by private student loans company Future Finance found that less than 2/3 of students surveyed felt prepared for budgeting when they started university.
Budgeting is something most students have never had to do before. But getting clued up on your finances means you can worry less and make more of the money you do have. Here are four common budgeting mistakes made by students – and how you can avoid them.
Rookie error 1: Putting off making a budget
Budgeting doesn’t need to be complicated. All we’re talking about here is understanding how much money you have ― and making sure it’s going where you need it to.
When your first student loan instalment lands in your bank account, it can be tempting to spend it all at once. Throw Freshers week into the mix (UCAS research suggests students spend nearly £400 in this week alone) and suddenly that bank balance isn’t looking so pretty.
But setting a budget, and sticking to it from day one, will help you plan for the weeks and months ahead so you can avoid any unexpected financial surprises. One of the easiest ways to start budgeting is to set aside a certain amount of spending money each week – and stick to it. You can even withdraw the amount in cash and leave your debit card at home if that helps you resist temptation.
There are lots of free apps that can help you keep on top of your budget. Money Dashboard brings together all your accounts and enables you to set spending goals based on your last month’s spending. Yolt provides a similar service, as well as the option to make payments to people directly from the app. Over on the The Student Room (TSR) forums, member furryface12 has put together these simple budget planners to help you get started with managing your money.
Rookie error 2: Overspending on non-essentials
Whether you’re just starting uni or you’re heading back for a new year, you’re going to be spending plenty of cash on day-to-day essentials.
Note the key word here is ‘essentials’ – all those things you took for granted at your parents’ house, like fresh towels, bed sheets and a tin opener. But many students make the mistake of wasting money on things they don’t need.
In this discussion on TSR, students talk about depleting their bank accounts by getting all kinds of unnecessary items such as bottled water, branded medicine, fancy kitchen gadgets and takeaways. Future Finance reports that 64% of first year students said food and eating out was where most of their money went.
One student warned against buying cheap cosmetics because “they’re false economy as you get through them so much faster” while another said that they regretted overspending on subscriptions “such as Netflix, Sky Sports, and Spotify”.
Another common regret was paying high prices for expensive new laptops and smartphones. There are always plenty of deals to be found on gadgets - particularly if you shop around or buy used. So, when you’re looking for your essential kit, save a chunk of cash by looking on deal-finding sites, eBay and in second-hand stores.
Rookie error 3: Missing out on student discounts and freebies
As a student, there are thousands of discounts and freebies available to you: so take advantage of these deals while you can.
The student ID card you get from your university is your passport to all kinds of deals around town - in Future Finance’s survey, 85% of students said they used this when getting discounts.
The NUS TOTUM card is also handy - so long as you’re using it to save on things you’d be buying anyway (and not buying stuff just for the sake of getting a discount). UNiDAYS is also popular with students, as it’s packed with deals that you can only access if you’re a student.
The 16-25 Railcard is a no-brainer if you ever catch the train, as it takes a third off the cost of all UK rail tickets. It costs £30 a year, so if you’d be spending more than £90 on train tickets in a year, you’ll be saving by getting one of these.
Living in a student-only house also means you won’t have to pay council tax. If you do get a bill, you can apply for an exemption.
And if you have a part-time job, make sure you’re not paying more income tax than you need to. Your first £12,500 earned each year is tax free - this is known as your personal allowance. If you’ve already paid tax on an amount that’s less than your personal allowance, contact HM Revenue & Customs to request a refund.
Rookie error 4: Ignoring budgeting tools
With so many useful (and free) budgeting tools available, getting the hang of money management needn’t be tricky.
If you want to identify – and quickly banish – any bad habits, try Wally - a virtual spending diary that will help you track everything you spend. You can save images of your receipts and your location so you know exactly what, when and where you’ve been spending.
Many students are surprised to learn where – and when – they’re spending the most money. “It’s so useful to see… what makes [your outgoings] peak,” said one student on TSR.
Emma is an app that will sync with your bank account to help you track your spending, highlight any wasteful subscriptions, and stop you dipping into any costly overdrafts.
It’s a popular choice for students on The Student Room, with one member saying; “I use it for budgeting [and] syncing my bank accounts all onto the one app. It has a nice, clear layout and account balances update almost instantly.”
If you’re worried about splitting bills with your housemates and friends, the Splitwise app can help. It lets you track balances, add expenses and pay friends back so you can avoid stressing over “who owes who” or “who’s paid what”. Living on a shoestring goes hand in hand with being a student, but learning to budget means you can spend with a bit less stress. Get started early on and you can make the most of the money you do have.
1 Future Finance Online Survey, July 2019, 1,930 students surveyed.