A Student’s Guide to Budgeting

When I first arrived at university, the prospect of having to figure out how I was going to afford my rent, my food and course supplies, whilst still having a little money spare to enjoy my time socially was very confusing and daunting!

Before university, I learnt to manage my money whilst I had a part time job during Sixth Form, but never on as scale as huge as this. It may seem that you only have a small amount of money coming in, with a huge amount of money needing to go out to different places, but hopefully this little guide will put your mind at ease and make managing your finances a little bit easier.

counting pennies

Tuition Fees

First and foremost, make sure you know exactly how much your tuition fees are costing; and whether you are funding these privately or through Student Finance. Ensure that you have this sorted otherwise the rest of this post will be irrelevant!

If you are funding your tuition fees through Student Finance, as long as your application is all up to date, the process of paying tuition fees to the university will be handled by Student Finance so you won’t need to panic!

If you are paying for your tuition fees privately, make sure you know the payment details and deadlines. All of this can be found on the University’s website.


(This will mostly applies to those student’s who are living in University or private accommodation and not commuting from your parent’s home.)

Whether you are staying in University provided accommodation, or privately rented accommodation, paying your rent will become one of your biggest priorities where budgeting and money is concerned; and as upsetting as it might feel, most people need to allocate a large proportion of their budget here.

I found it easier to pay my rent at the start of each term, as soon as my student loan came in. Although it takes away a huge chunk of the lovely sum of money that has just landed in your account, it also means you won’t be scrimping around for your rent the day before it is due. With it all paid off at the beginning, the money won’t be sitting in your account and you won’t be tempted to blow it all!

the meadows accommodation

Course supplies

Depending on your course, the cost of text books and course books can amount to quite a hefty price! Make sure you put aside some money to allow for this. You can find all of your module reading lists either on Moodle or via the University’s Albert Sloman Library website.

My top tip; check out pre-owned and secondhand books before you buy the shiny new expensive copies! You will typically find that there are many students who have just finished studying the module you are about to start who are selling off the books that they no longer need. Most of these will still be in good condition and it will probably save you quite a bit of money. Make sure you check your course Facebook groups and the Facebook Freshers group before you buy brand new. You will also find secondhand books on Amazon and our University of Essex book selling site.

buy student books

Living expenses (travel, food etc)

Your living expenses will cover everything from food and travel, to clothes and laundry. These things may seem menial compared to the other things taking up huge amounts of your budget, but you’ll soon realise that you can’t live on Tesco Everyday Value Instant Noodles for the whole term! When it comes to food, write a meal plan for each week and do a weekly shop; this way, you won’t end up buying unnecessary items and you won’t find yourself taking 5 separate trips to Tesco every week.

campus street market


This last section may fall into your budget for your living expenses, but I found it easier to keep this separate to all of the other essential things I needed to budget for. Although your social life isn’t mandatory or something you need to allow money for, for me personally, the social experience of university is just as important, so finding money to enjoy the odd night out on campus was vital!

Although, I do advise… make sure you have enough funds to pay for all of the above before you go and blow all of your weeks food budget on a night out… you will regret it!

Here is a little idea of how I budgeted for my first term at university:

jess's budget planner

Total money from Student Finance: £2379 per term

Accommodation: £1218 per term (51.2%)

Course Supplies: £50 per term (2%)

Living Expenses (Food/Necessities): £25 per week (10.5%)

Living Expenses (Travel): £125 per term (5.3%)

Living Expenses (Laundry): £3 per week (1.3%)

Socialising: £25 per week (10.5%)

Other: £456 (19.2%)

This is just a rough outline of how I tried to split my budget each term at Essex. It was pretty hard to stick to this exact budget every week but I tried my best and having it all planned out did help me out a lot!

Other Resources

Sometimes your budget won’t go exactly to plan, and some of you will find that your student loan just about covers your rent, let alone any other expenses. So before you panic and go into complete meltdown, remember that these options are also out there…

  • Getting yourself a part time job is always a viable option. I managed to budget well in my first year without a job, but by the time second year came around, I had to get a job to manage my finances. However, having a job isn’t all bad, not only does it give you that extra bit of money you need, you’ll also be gaining skills and experience that others might not have! The Student’s Union is a great place start when hunting for part-time jobs.

working for the students' union

  • Many banks will provide help with a student account. These are aimed specifically at students and many of them offer perks such as Student Discount cards and Railcards. Most of them will also offer you the chance to open up a student overdraft with 0% interest. Use this as a last resort but it is always an option if you find yourself really struggling!

I hope this will help you to make a start on budgeting for your own time here at the University of Essex!

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