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How to budget as a student

Get tips and advice on budgeting your student finances, including your student loan.
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Published on December 18th, 2019
Last reviewed on September 21st, 2023
5 mins read

Budgeting your money

Creating a student budget is essential so that you can be stress-free with money while you study and enjoy your university experience. Having a spending plan means you’re always up to date on your bills, have food in the fridge, and can have fun with your new friends without any worries. This guide will help you find out what to think about when budgeting for student life and give you a better understanding of how student loans work alongside other finance options.

Why create a student budget?

Going to university is an exciting time. It’s the beginning of a new life, with loads of great new experiences and independence to come. It’s also usually the first time that you’re in charge of your own money, and responsible for things like paying bills and buying essentials like food and textbooks.

If you’re not used to saving or budgeting this may be a bit overwhelming, but creating a budget and managing your money to feel in control of your finances can be an empowering experience.

If you’ve never budgeted before, we’ve made it easy for you with our handy how to budget guide.

What should be included in your budget?

When it comes to creating your budget, you’ll need to make a list of all your outgoings so you can prioritise your expenses. It may be tempting to spend your maintenance loan on new clothes or gadgets, but you need to be sensible, if you want your money to last.

Below are some examples of essential and non-essential expenses so you can prioritise them in your budget.

Essential Student Expenses

The items in this list need to be paid as priority so you can live and study comfortably.

  • Rent and deposit
  • Insurance
  • Groceries
  • Utility bills – electricity, gas, water, mobile phone and internet
  • Textbooks and school supplies
  • Travel such as buses or train fares to your classes, or car expenses

Top tip: Check your tenancy agreement to see what you’re liable to pay so there are no surprises. Some rent may cover all or some of your utilities, for example.

Non-essential student expenses

You can budget for these expenses with any money remaining from your income after paying the expenses on your essentials list.

  • Clothing
  • Nights out
  • Hobbies
  • Socialising
  • Streaming services

Keep an eye out for student discounts, voucher/deal websites or money saving apps that let you know where restaurants offering cheap food at the end of the day to make your money go further.

Understanding student loans

In the UK there are two types of loans available to students.

Tuition fee loan

The first is a tuition fee loan, which as the name suggests is used to cover the cost of tuition fees and is paid directly to your college or university. This is paid back in instalments once you’ve completed your course and are earning over a certain amount each year. The amount available to you will vary depending on what type of university you’re attending.

Maintenance loan

The second type of loan available is a maintenance loan, which is there to help you support yourself, so you can focus on your studies, rather than having to work full time alongside your course (although a part time job may supplement your income well).

The amount you’re entitled to will vary depending on your household. To get an idea of what you’re entitled to, use this calculator on the website. Depending on your financial situation, you may be eligible for other grants or bursaries.

Your maintenance loan is split into three payments across the academic year, usually being paid directly into your bank account around the beginning of each term. Make sure you’re aware of how much you are receiving for each payment, so that you can plan your budget effectively.

How does this fit in with a student budget?

As a student you may have several sources of income, such as your maintenance loan, additional grants or bursaries, money from your parents, your savings or any wages from a part time job.

The best way to manage these income streams is to calculate how much this equates to over the year, and when you can expect these payments, and then find your monthly sum. Once you have this figure you’ll be able to create your monthly budget.

For example, as you receive your maintenance loan at the start of each term, divide each payment by how many months each payment will need to cover, to get your monthly income, and do the same with any other income.

Credit cards and student budgeting

Once you’ve worked out your monthly income and have budgeted for both essential and non-essential expenses, you’ll be set up to manage your money with minimal stress.

If the budget feels a bit strict, or you’d like more money to spend on things like going out, then use our everyday budgeting guide to see how you can make your money go further.

If you don’t think that having a part time job will affect your studies, this could be an option to help increase your income. It could also be a great way to upskill, get to know your new town, and meet people to make new friends.

Alternatively, selling off old textbooks, taking part in market research, or getting a full-time job outside of term time and putting some money aside could also help to cover your expenses.

Another option is to get a credit card for emergencies. So if you find yourself with an unexpected university expense, a big bill for your car, or if there’s a delay with your student loan payment, you’ll have a backup plan and access to a line of credit or cash if you need it.

In many cases students might not have a credit history yet or may find it hard to establish one, but owning a credit card can help build your credit.

Aqua credit cards could help you improve or start to develop your credit history, so you have a good credit score by the time you graduate. Just make sure that you don’t spend beyond your means, stay within the card’s credit limit and make regular monthly repayments on time.

34.9% APR Representative (variable) for Aqua Classic

Failure to make payments on time or to stay within your credit limit means that you will pay additional charges and may make obtaining credit in the future more expensive and difficult.

Failure to make payments on time or to stay within your credit limit means that you will pay additional charges and may make obtaining credit in the future more expensive and difficult.

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Failure to make payments on time or to stay within your credit limit means that you will pay additional charges and may make obtaining credit in the future more expensive and difficult.