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Nine top tips to help you budget at university

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Budgeting might seem hard at first, but it doesn't have to be. Especially now that Which? University has made it even easier!

Far too often, budgeting is thought to only be possible with a colour-coded spreadsheet of income and expenses. I’m not saying I don’t like to do that sometimes, but it really doesn’t have to be that hard. There are simple, realistic tweaks you can make every day to keep your finances in check, and university is one of the best times to start thinking about savings. Don’t be that guy who maxes out their overdraft before Fresher’s week even finishes.

First and foremost, Which? University has put together an estimate of monthly living expenses for students across the country. The calculator covers crucial areas like rent, food, and transport - but also delves into the truthful chief expenditure of students: clothes, alcohol, and cigarettes.

The information is tailored to what part of the country you’re studying in; London taking top spot as the most expensive location (no surprises there), and Northern Ireland landing itself as the most affordable.

If you haven’t picked your university of choice yet, the ‘see average cost’ feature is enough to give you a fair guess at how much you’ll be blowing on the bus, your heating bills, and your pre-lecture cappuccinos. Which? are also kind enough to attach tips and advice to each cost estimate: reminding us how planning your meals a week in advance is better than splurging on a Domino’s because you forgot you don’t have any pasta in the cupboard. Some costs are avoidable, others less so - but for those of us who need visuals on how much we’re flushing away per month, this calculator is a godsend. 

Now, real talk.

There are ways to get around the little expenses that add up to big things. Here are a few of our tips:

1. I know the on-campus refectory looks tempting when you have a day of back-to-back lectures, but how about you buy up a big box of coffee sachets so all you have to get is a takeaway cup of hot water? You can still walk around with your Starbucks cup, but you haven’t paid extortionate amounts of money for your caffeine hit!

2. Give yourself a realistic amount to spend on nights out. We’re all guilty of saying ‘I literally can’t afford to go out this month’ and then...going out. Like five times. So, put money aside knowing that you’re gonna be going out. It gets rid of that ‘all or nothing’ mentality where you just decide to throw all your cash away because you’re out anyway. You can buy a small bottle of mysterious-brand vodka and weird sugar-free lemonade for a fiver. Capitalise on that!

3. Student offers are everywhere. Everywhere. If you’re planning where to go out for lunch, search ahead for places that do the best student deals. It’s often just as simple as showing them your student card or signing up to their newsletter with your spam email address. If you can save 25% off your meal just by searching the internet for codes, why on earth wouldn’t you?

4. Don’t get a credit card unless your self-control is legitimately incredible. You can try to justify it as being ‘just for emergencies’ all you like, but deep down you probably know those ‘emergencies’ will end up being ‘my card got declined but I really want these ‘Jagerbombs’.

5. Try to keep your receipts. Facing up to the random, unnecessary things you’re spending money on can sometimes be a blessing. I don’t like to admit how much I spend on Tesco meal deals. 

6. Cancel direct debits. You signed up for the gym at the Fresher’s fair and now you’re 6 months in and you’ve gone twice. Be real, you probably aren’t gonna turn it around now. Make a list of the subscriptions you pay for and try to only keep what’s necessary: do you need Netflix AND Amazon Prime? Spotify AND Apple Music?

7. Do your weekly food-shops in the evenings! Most things will be reduced, and stuff like bread can be frozen to last the week ahead.

8. There is something satisfying about buying all your textbooks new and crisp from Amazon or Waterstones, but you can probably find them second-hand online if you look hard enough. You can even see if the e-book is good enough, as it’s often FAR cheaper than the print version. Libraries exist too by the way, not just your university library, but the city library. You’d be surprised how many people don’t think to look there.

9. Last but not least, shop around! You can buy bio-oil at Primark for half the price it is in Boots! Supermarkets that boast good deals on branded products can actually be surprisingly expensive on their own-brand range. Not only that, but they can hike up the prices of your weekly staples without warning or explanation. 

All things considered, good luck! You are in charge of your life, and your budget. Your future self is the only one you’re messing around when you splurge on pizza, drunk at 3 am, which you don’t even appreciate because you can’t really remember eating it. Think about the future, your savings account, and how chuffed you’ll feel if you can pull off conscientious money-saving!

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