/ Money

Lessons in life: learning to stick to a budget

Budgeting while studying

Spending beyond your means could see you learning to live on a budget the hard way, so do you know how to avoid the usual money traps and pitfalls to prevent that?

It was November 2008. I was two weeks off from completing my first term at uni, and counting the days until a whole month of home cooking and Sky TV.

I popped by the cash machine to grab some cash for my food shop (penne, cheese, pesto).

‘You have insufficient funds to process this request.’

I tried again. The same emotionless message appeared on the screen.

Had someone gotten hold of my details and raided my account? I remember I was a wreck on the walk to my bank to get a full statement.

Running out of money

Long story short, I’d completely miscalculated and spent more on post-club takeaways and unnecessary books, than I actually had in my account.

Also, I hadn’t properly looked into all the options my bank offered to keep this from happening, namely text alerts and overdraft facilities. The more you know, huh?

Fortunately, my mum donned her superhero cape, emblazoned with a ‘£’ rather than an ‘S’ on this particular day. But for many students, a quick call home if things get rough financially isn’t an option. I was lucky, it could have been worse…

Due to my lack of funds, I missed out on end-of-term socials and gatherings at home; plus some members of my family had to wait until after Christmas for their presents, which I felt really bad about.

The No.1 student budget tip

A term is a long time. When I talk to students about the scary topic of student finance, the No.1 tip I give is look at what you have to play with, and work backwards from the end of term to structure your budget.

This kind of forward-thinking isn’t the easiest (or most fun) option when you’re 18 and away from home for the first time.

Seeing a big chunk of money just appear in your account is delirious – the possibilities are endless (you think).

When our loans went in at the start of term, everyone went clothes shopping; you’d want to look good that night when everyone went out.

You’re definitely not thinking six weeks ahead when it’s back to dry noodles five nights a week.

That’s why it’s important to know how to be smart with your money at uni.

How to save more money at uni

You can learn a few more things from my (and countless other students’) money mistakes:

  • 1) Set up text alerts from your bank to keep track of exactly how much you have.
  • 2) Don’t choose a student bank account based on incentives. Look at its interest-free overdraft.
  • 3) Plan your meals a week ahead so you don’t splurge on spontaneous takeaways.
  • 4) Recycle and upcycle. Borrow a friend’s shoes for a night out rather than buy new.

You can read more student finance advice on Which? University.

If you’re at uni, you now have about seven weeks left of this term. Do you have a plan to make sure what’s in your bank account lasts? Or, if you have a child or grandchild at uni, do you know if they’re coping with their budget? Have you discussed it with them and worked out ways they can make their money last longer?

bishbut says:
11 February 2017

The first thing to do so you stick to budget is to destroy your Credit Card you can manage things a lot better without it


If you pay your card off in full every month it can help you manage your money and could help avoid overdraft charges, otherwise I agree.


Why on earth isn’t the money deposited into students bank accounts weekly to help them budget?


I remember when I was paid weekly wages when I started work and it was indeed easier to manage and a good way to learn.


Me too Sophie. It would certainly help students learn how to handle their finances as well.


We are all aware of major expenditure but I suggest it is worth keeping an eye on smaller everyday costs. Cooking for yourself can be cheaper than an endless succession of carry-outs and ready meals, and cooking with others can be fun.


The best way to budget is never get into debt thats why Bishbut has a point and the point of those holding the fiat money is to get us into debt , its the name of the game . Once they do that ,they control YOU , do without , ignore the adverts , live within your means even if that is at a very low social level , its like the guy who says to you still driving that old car and you reply but this old car is bought and paid for your Merc. is on finance. According to all the latest forecasts while the business section is looking not too bad the government intends to save money by reducing further social benefits and money in public institutions used by the population , in other words you will have to tighten your belt even further but in a lot of cases the belt is so tight the person dies . If you don’t get into debt you are not beholding to anyone , meanwhile Spain/France are heading towards the India Policy of doing away with cash money , under the pretense -OMG ! the whole world is crashing down due to money laundering ,Germany is resisting , once that happens Big Brother OWNS you body+soul to control your whole way of life , not that money is worth anything since the Gold Standard was Slyly got rid of just so the government COULD and does get into debt government money=the Publics Money so the whole nation is affected , we are in debt -oh no ! tax the poor , make ,em pay , cuts here there and everywhere ,Parker fire up the Rolls take me to my private jet I am going on holiday to the Bahamas cant stand looking at those poor people. Who own ya ? the Big Banks . Didn’t think this would post got -internal server error , somebody trying to tell me something ?


You might have got a bit carried away on this one Duncan.

Paul has admitted students blowing their loans on clothes, clubs (pricey drinks?) and takeaways.


My favourite app for budgeting is an A6 cash book, a Bic pen and a rubber band. On the left hand page, put the week at the top and, each day, with your last pint or cup of Costa, write down everything you have spent. Add it up each week at the bottom. On the right hand page, start with your bank balance and write down your withdrawals. Hold your receipts in with the rubber band (comes free from your postie).

This way you will shock yourself into just how much those incidentals add up to, but you’ll soon know the real state of your finances and, if you have any sense, realise what you can afford and what you can’t. And you’ll know if you are heading for a nasty overdraft.

Credit cards tempt you into the convenience of impulse buys when you don’t have the ready money. Avoid them until you have a healthy income that exceeds your spending.

Boring? Well, you will at least know the truth and, if you are reckless, you’ll head for financial disaster fully informed.

I started this in my very impecunious days and the habit has stuck. I budget each year based on this.

This app is given f.o.c. Donations please to the happymalcolmfoundationfortheneedy.con


Do your elastic bands come through the letterbox or get dropped on the path Malcolm?


Usually around the letters. Just occasionally on the path. Sometimes they are even supplied with only two items. I have quite a collection.


I wonder if there is a free phone app that can be used to record purchases and income. Some banks have phone apps linked to electronic banking, though I have no experience. I’m glad you spotted the typo within the editing time, Malcolm. 🙂


Us too. Just think of all the money the Post Office could save if posties took them back for reuse?


If they were wider, they could have adverts on them and make dosh for the PO?