Wednesday, 1 July 2009

A beginner’s budget.

See the full sized image by cleebster@flickr here.

Are you sure there’s no way you can extend my overdraft?
Leaving home and going to university for the first time creates a lot of problems, mostly with money and it’s management. While some people would run to their parents every time they ran out of money, I didn’t – if I was supposed to be an adult then I would have to handle all problems like I was an adult – on my own. Money management is an essential skill and is better known as budgeting. While I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, I hope to try and do my best to create a basic grounding of how to survive on a student budget.

The key to having enough for a pint.
The best thing you can do for yourself really is make a budget, whether it be scribbled on a piece of paper, made up in a spreadsheet or just a solid idea in your head. I usually sat down a quickly scribbled out my numbers and then remembered the outcome, doing so every month as I received my student loan and my pay from work within about a week of each other.

Write the essentials.
The first step is to write down all the “solid” figures – things you know definitely will be coming in and out of your account. This includes loans, money from parents, wage from work and rent. As long as the figures are fairly constant (my work pay wasn’t the same every month, but I could guesstimate how much I would receive usually) they can be written down confidently.

The not-so-sure essentials.
The next step in your simple budget is to figure out your grocery cost. The grocery cost does not include any alcohol and really means what you buy at Tesco/Asda/supermarket of choice for your meals and snacks. After three or four weeks it’s quite east to figure out how much you spend on average each week, so you quickly come to a figure for the four weeks of the month and add on a little bit extra for the extra days.
The next cost to budget for is going out. Clubs, pubs, whatever. Give yourself a limit – a realistic one – for each week and then obviously times it by four. Once you know how much an average night costs (drinks before going out + travel to club + entry fee + drinks in club + travel home) you can usually make a fairly realistic guess at the cost. Plus, anything you don’t spend one week can be carried forward to the next!
General travel costs can also be guesstimated in this part of your budget; you might have a bus/train pass or you know exactly how much it costs to get you the places you need to be.

The everything else's.
This is the section of your budget that really can be the most uncertain and messy. Everything else can be a large majority of things – savings, magazines, clothes, DVDs, trips to the cinema. You decide. This all has to be paid for somehow. The money left over after you have paid for the essentials is money you can “play” with, so to speak, but as long as you know how much of that there actually is, you shouldn’t go over the amount there. Of course, it’s always a good idea to take savings out of any money you have left over for the future or for “just in case” situations, but to each their own.

In this spreadsheet example I’m about to show you, I’ve tried to keep the numbers close to actual spending from when I was at uni the past year. Green figures are income (the darker shades being the constants and the lighter being uncertain), the orange figures are essential spending (with the darker shades being constants, as before) and the red figures are unessential spending (with the same shade system as before).


As you can see, it’s very basic, but is also fairly concise, and best of all? After I knew my figures it only took a few minutes to put together. It’s a simple skill – but useful!



  1. i'm going to need to come up with a budget - i'm off to Uni in september! thanks for the tips! x

  2. It's not always easy to stick with it, and for the first month of uni you'll need to double your going out money - I spent alm0st £100 in my first week on going out!