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How to Budget for Your First Semester at University

How to Budget for Your First Semester at University main image

If, like me, even the mention of the word budget sends a shiver down your spine, you’ve probably been putting off figuring out the best way of managing your money now you’re at university. Keeping track of how quickly you’re spending your student loan is important though if you don’t want to end up broke.

It's taken me a while to master, but here are a few hacks I’ve learned along the way that should help you budget for your first semester.

Start by looking at your expected income and splitting it into a rough budget

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This may seem a pretty obvious way to ensure you don’t run out of money but most people don’t even get this far. Look at how much you spent on clothes, food, nights out etc. before coming to university and try to come up with a conservative budget for each type of expense. The trick is to ensure the total across all of the different types of expense doesn’t exceed the money you’ll have coming in.

Keep track of your spending

This could be in a spreadsheet but I much prefer writing my budget out. This is by no means the only way to do it, but I use a page for each month. At the top, I write the monthly and weekly amount I can spend on each category. Then, I write the dates of each week and the total actual spend on each thing just to keep track of how much has been spent through the month. Then I use the rest of the space to write each individual thing bought.

This is quite a long method and, if you copy it, you’ll have to keep it up throughout the month, but if you get into a routine, it really works.

Amend the budget as the year goes on

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Realistically, you can’t know exactly how much you’ll need to spend on various things until you’ve been at university for a few weeks. So, make changes to your budget as time goes by. Maybe you need to allow yourself more money to buy groceries each week? If so, look at where you can afford to spend less and move money from that part of your budget into the category for groceries. This is why it’s important to keep track of your spending – even those late-night kebabs and taxi rides home.

Don’t panic, the first couple of months will be the most expensive

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If it feels like you’re burning through money too quickly, remember that freshers' costs a lot more than you’d expect. Freshers' wristbands and tickets to events take a lot out of your bank account, and it can take a while to fully realise how expensive drinks are in clubs (of course, if you don't drink then enjoy having some spare cash). Subsequent semesters will be less expensive, so don’t worry if you’re almost completely out of money by Christmas.

Only eat pasta and tomato passata

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By this, I mean that a good way to save money is to make meals in bulk to last you the week. That way, you'll be saving money and time you’d otherwise spend cooking in the evening. Pasta is my chosen staple but other options are rice or noodles. 

Drink spirits not beers

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If you are going to be spending a lot of money on drinking and nights out, spirits are more cost-efficient as their alcohol content is far higher and they last longer. Also, if you can stomach it, unbranded or own-label supermarket spirits are considerably cheaper than Smirnoff’s, Gordon’s etc. We can’t promise you’ll enjoy the taste though!

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Written by Katie Roach
Katie is a third year student at UCL studying Philosophy. She is originally from Kent but now lives in London with 3 other Philosophy students. She discusses her experiences and provides advice on a range of topics.

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1 Comment

Its hard out
When u inning its amazing part in your
Life