I can go through all the same tips that everyone else will tell you about creating a student budget. I could go on about working out your income and your outgoings, separating your outgoings into necessities and luxuries.
In fact, I’ve written all these tips down before. I’ve shared how you can creating your first budget here. In a second post on the topic, I focused on creating a realistic student budget, because we all know our first attempts are never ones that we can stick to—there’s always something we can miss.
For the parents looking for advice, I even shared how they can help their children budget to set themselves up for the future.
In each of these posts, I missed something vital: my own student budget. I never once showed you what I set up to create a budget while I was living as a full-time student, making sure I could eat, pay rent, and socialise with my friends.
You Don’t Need Any Fancy Software for Your Student Budget
I don’t want you going out and paying a fortune for some fancy-ass student budget software. You know the type: the stuff accountants recommend because it’s what they use or what they’ve had developed for them.
There’s no need to buy any of that fancy software. You can get everything you need from spreadsheets. I use Microsoft Excel, but Open Office, Google Spreadsheets, and other similar software will work. I’ve just always used Microsoft, so I prefer it and know my way around it.
It also has a few budget templates to make life easier.
When you click ‘new’ on Excel, you can opt for a blank workbook or go into the templates at the side. Opt for ‘Monthly’ and you’ll get a list of budget templates.
Pick whichever budget template you want. It doesn’t really matter which one you work with, as they all work things out the same. They’ll get you to put in a projected income and then an actual income when it comes to the month end.
This type of budget gives you the chance to work out your monthly income and then see how well you did at the end of the month. You can use that to plan ahead for the month after and keep going until you get your budget just right.
The downside is that the money is all in dollars. It’s an American program. It doesn’t really bother me. I’ve always pretended that the $ is a £. It’s the numbers we’re more interested in.
Think Carefully About All Your Income and Outgoings
Start with the income first. Add up all the income that you have, including your student loan, money from parents, grants, a part-time jobs, etc.
If you’re in England and Wales, you’ll get your student loan once a term. Split this amount into three so that it gives you a rough monthly income guide. That was the way I always worked it out. In Scotland, you’ll get your student loan monthly over the space of eight-nine months. We just used that amount for those months when my husband was in university.
For the sake of this, I’m going to work with the English student loan and assume that you’re getting the total amount. I’ll also assume that you work 16 hours a week over the weekend at the current minimum wage for 18-20 years olds of £5.55 per hour. This is just to make things a little easier to show you a basic student budget to get you started.
New full-time students living away from home outside of London get a loan of £8,200 over the course of the year. We’ll say that this is split evenly over each term, so you’d get about £2,733 per term, which is £911 per month.
So you have that and £384.80 per month if we assume you work 16 hours per week, every week of the year. You may work less some weeks or you may work more, but we want to keep this simple for now. So you’ve got £1,295.80 per month income. The software rounds it up to £1,296.
I won’t be able to accurately guess your exact rent or food costs etc. I’ll just share roughly what mine were 10 years ago to help you with this student budget.
- Mortgage/Rent at £330 per month
- I was lucky to have all heating, electricity and water included
- There was no council tax because I had the student exemption
- I had cable and internet at around £34 per month
- TV license was £12.45 per month
I ran a car and paid £100 per month for insurance and all my tax upfront. That was around £125, so it would work out at £10.41 per month. There would always be on-off costs but I can’t work those into the projected budget. Remember this is your way of working out costs for the month.
- So the car would have been around £110.41 per month.
- Fuel for running would have been around £80 per month.
- I chose to have SinplyHealth insurance for dental and eye coverage at around £10 per month at the time. It’s gone up since then, but still worth it for me.
- With groceries, I would stick to a budget of £30 per week most of the time. There was always one week higher at around £50 because I would buy meat to last the month. So, we’d be looking at around £150 per month.
- And yes, there would be takeaways, drinks, eating out and socialising. I’d project £250 per month for that! To be fair, I’ve put this under dining out to make it easier, but it included shopping, books, music etc.
The rest of the money I would put into a savings account ready for when I had an expenditure I hadn’t planned for.
Credit Cards, Loans, Debt
Let’s talk about debt right now. There is good debt and bad debt.
Your student loan and mortgage are good debts to have. They’re working towards something, whether it’s your degree or owning your own home (which could work out to be an excellent investment).
What about the bad debt? What about car loans, credit cards, bank loans, and all the rest?
I’d love to say not to have any but as a student I had two credit cards. I had one purely for emergencies. It was there if I didn’t have money for car repairs mainly. I didn’t use it. It sat doing nothing for three years until the first time I had to use it!
The second one was for regular spending—but not to put it on a credit card and forget about it. At 18 I wasn’t able to get a loan and I really don’t like having one. Instead, I would put my food shops on the credit card and then clear it at the end of the month. I’d have no interest to pay at all and would build my credit rating, as I showed that I was sensible with my money.
I only EVER bought something that I knew I had budgeted for. In fact, I only had the card for the food shop. And I always knew I had money for the supermarket shops because it was always one of the first things to put into the budget.
This is how I use credit cards now that financially I’m not up to my eyeballs. I’ve only ever used a bank loan to consolidate debt and pay it off quickly. The credit card is there for the food shops, so I know I’m only using money that I actually have in the bank. It’s cleared off before the interest is added on. Don’t use your credit cards for anything else. If you don’t have the money available for it, you don’t need it!
You want to put as much money into savings as possible. This budget works out that I would have had £319 left over with the average monthly outgoings. That would have gone into savings for any car repairs (so I didn’t have to use the credit card) and to make sure I had enough to cover the months without a student loan if I couldn’t get extra hours for work.
Are You Ready for Your Student Budget?
Now it’s time to sit down and create your own. Use a spreadsheet program to help you, even if it is just to get started. I’ve shared tips in the past, but this is the first time I’ve shown you what my budget was like in university—although the student loans and grants were very different then and I had two part-time jobs.
Hopefully, though, this will help you create your first student budget and work from there.
And don’t worry about getting the student budget just right. When you create a student budget for the first time it’s not going to be perfect. You may go over or may forget something essential. Just learn from it for the next time you create it.