​A student's guide to budgeting at uni

Written by SMS blogger Mollie Knight.

There is nothing worse than looking at an empty bank account with an equally empty stomach. Coming to university is an exciting experience, but you can often get so side tracked getting everything you need for your new place that you don’t keep your eye on those magical bank numbers.

Most UK students would have received a loan from a student loans company to help them through their time at university, but as I have seen from personal experience, often these loans only just cover your rent. They don’t make a dent in your food shopping, or if you need any textbooks (which most courses require) and they certainly don’t cover any social occasions you will be going to.

All these extras are essential to get through the year. Here’s a few things you can do to make those £££s stretch a little further.

1. Things for your course

Firstly - for anything you need for your course, like textbooks, pads of paper and pens, these can usually be found somewhere at home already. All of those paper pads you used for your A-levels? If they’ve still got paper in them, use them! During lectures you only have time to make quick, rough notes and you’re going to end up writing them out again for revision too. Most Universities have a Library where you can take home books for anywhere from a few days to weeks, which is great for when you have a deadline due. However, you could look for areas where people donate the books for people to take for free (Portsmouth Uni, UK, has one) or you could find a previous student selling one on the uni Facebook page…or use a website to get them for cheap. I'm a big fan of ABEBOOKS.co.uk.

2. Save on going out

If you're a social butterfly and like to have a good time out, before you start university check for the fresher’s deals on nights out. Often you can find great deals, like entry to three clubs for less than half the price they would normally cost. Going out on organised student nights is a great way to save money as there are usually deals on drinks, like three Jägerbombs for £5 etc. Or if you’re not into clubs, find out if your university has its own bar or pub, pretty much all of them do. Most of the time if it’s owned by the university there's no entry fee and the drinks are pretty reasonably priced.

3. In your wardrobe

For fashion I suggest buying the staple items: something casual (jeans and a tshirt), something smarter (dress or shirt with jeans or trousers) and shoes that are comfortable, as well as a pair of smart shoes. If you are strapped for cash, thrift shopping Macklemore-style is all the rage at the moment. Some people have a phobia of charity shopping and others just don’t like the idea they’ll be wearing clothes that someone else has previously worn. However, most registered charities (if not all) thoroughly wash their donations and check everything before it goes in the store front. So it’s not dirty, it’s usually way cheaper than the brands, you can sometimes find absolute steals and it’s kind of cool to think your money is actually going towards something worthwhile. It’s a way of recycling too. If you’re not into it though, eBay is also a good cheaper way at getting branded clothes for less.

4. Getting around

Ideally you'd be able to walk or get a bus to your lectures. But if not, catching a taxi is sometimes necessary. Taxis are notoriously expensive, so get your friends to share or if they’re not going to perhaps share with others on your course.

5. Eating in vs eating out

Food is a necessity, you need it to live! But it's even more of a necessity when you're using your brain for a long and intense amount of time (studying, not playing Xbox). I suggest that before you come to uni and even before you do your first shop, make a list of everything you're going to want to eat. Get some recipes together, so you know roughly what goes in to your favourite dishes. Write out a budget to give you a limit on the amount you can spend each shop. Here’s a few things I found helped me with my food money:

  • I suggest finding a cheaper shop to shop at and go there for your larger shops if possible. However, I also found the supermarket own brand items were still available within my budget and so I used the offers on delivery they often have to get everything delivered, so I didn’t have to walk the mile there and lug it all back!
  • For my first shop I ensured to cover all the cupboard staples. These are things like rice, pasta, tins of food (baked beans) and other stodgy foods that could make almost anything. As long as these stock your cupboards you shouldn’t go hungry.
  • For everything else I wanted, like veg, fruit, meat and bread. I made sure I got enough to just cover me until my next shop. Foods that are perishable go off quicker than you think, so shop with the thought that your food will go off soon. Make sure you plan meals so there's no wastage.
  • If you have access to a freezer USE IT. This can be your saving grace. I learnt to bulk buy at the beginning of the month and batch freeze. This means I would buy lots of ingredients and spend my Sunday making meals for the week. I’d put them in Tupperware tubs for portion freezing (average Tupperware fits about 2 portions in), so when I was hungry I wouldn’t need to cook - just defrost and reheat. You'll always have access to a good filling meal without spending ages cooking it. Perfect for when you’re too tired to cook, but hungry enough to eat.
  • If in doubt - TINS TINS TINS. You can buy nearly everything in a tin nowadays and they have a long shelf life too, so you don’t have to worry too much about expiry.

I hope I have brought some insight to how you can save money as a university student.

If you want to read more from Mollie, check out her blog.