Creating a Budget for College, University or Starting Work

Heading off to college or university? Starting work experience, volunteering or apprenticeship? Worried about getting through your studies or placement with little or zero income? You’re in the right place. Get help creating a budget for college, uni or starting employment.

Financial worries can be a big stress when you’re taking your next steps and becoming more independent. Knowing how to manage your money and stretch your student loan, benefits, apprentice wage or allowance that little bit further is an important skill to master.

But if you’re starting out with no clue on creating a budget (or how to stick to it!), we’ve got you covered. Starting to learn how to manage your financial affairs is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Why having a budget is important

It may seem pretty dull, but actually there’s tons of benefits to tracking and controlling your spending.

First up, it helps to know what you have now and what you’ll be receiving in the future (and when). You may receive funds as a one-off starting bonus, at the start of each new term, at the end of every month or on an ad hoc basis. Find out exactly what you have coming in (your income) so you can work out what’s available to spend (or what the shortfall will be in what you’d like to spend!).

Next, think about all the things you need to buy on a daily, weekly, monthly basis (like travel, lunches, club fees, phone bill etc.) and those one-off purchases (like a laptop, textbooks or class trip). You can look back at your previous bank statements to add up your recent spend history or work out an average of your monthly expenditure.

Use our Budget Planning Sheet to make a list of the common things you might have to buy when you start college, university, a job or an apprenticeship.

Download our Budget Planning Sheet here

Once you’ve got all your expenses set out, you can then break to down into a weekly budget by:

  • Working out your total income for the college or university term, or your monthly wages or equivalent (don’t forget to deduct the tax!)
  • Subtracting your essential expenditure for the same period
  • Divide the number you’re left with by the number of weeks in a term, or until your next pay day, to calculate your weekly budget

Setting some saving goals

Once you know you have enough coming in to cover the basics, you can then think about the ‘luxuries’ or additional things you’d like to buy or save for. This could be treating yourself to a take-away, a night out or some new clothes, but it could also mean setting aside some cash for a bigger reward – like saving towards a holiday or buying a car.

If you follow the steps above and learn to live within your means, hopefully you’ll have some money to spare. It’s then a good idea to set some aside for a rainy day or to set yourself a weekly or monthly savings goal so you can spend the excess on something you really want or need when the time comes.

Learning to cut back

But what if you find you’re unable to stick to your weekly budget? What if you find yourself left with only a small amount to live off each work or actually have no spare cash at all?

This is where good budgeting really kicks in. Start by reviewing what you’re actually spending. With contactless payments, its so easy for those little spends to stack up before you realise it. There could be some simple ways to cut back. For example, if you’re spending £50 on takeaways each week, maybe try some cheaper supermarket alternatives and take up an online cookery class. If your gym membership is eating up half your loan payments, why not consider some more creative (and cheaper) ways to stay active?

Some good budgeting tips include:

  • Spend your money on the stuff you need first and save the rest for things you really want
  • Try to cut out the money-draining non-essential purchases that you make without thinking (we’re talking coffees and fast food!)
  • Go old-school and visit the cash machine to only take out a set amount of money that you can keep track of
  • Stick to your weekly allowance and wait until the end of the month to treat yourself
  • Find the best deals and make sure you look around before you buy

Topping up your income

Having a part-time job whilst you study (or to top up your hours) is a great way to increase your incomings and gain experience too.

There are plenty of flexible-working jobs available from temporary positions, to freelance work to jobs working just evenings or weekends for example. Many of these require little or no experience and are a great way to develop new skills and earn some much needed cash.

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