Going to university for the first time is an exciting milestone in life, no matter what age you are. It’s an opportunity to make new friends, learn new things, and enjoy new experiences. But juggling student finances can be overwhelming, especially for people who are managing money independently for the first time. In fact, a 2023 survey revealed 55% of students said that their mental health suffered as a result of money issues.1

If you’re the parent or guardian of a new student, you won’t want money to get in the way of an important experience for them. To help, we’ve put together a guide you can share with your children or loved ones that covers the basics of budgeting. We’ve also shared some tips to support you if you’re a mature student.

How to work out your budget at University

  1. Start by tallying up your income for the year. This might include any student loans and grants, money from your parents or income from a part-time job. Mature students may also have access to additional funding. The UK Government has a calculator that will help you estimate what you might receive in student loans and other funding.
  2. Next, calculate your fixed expenses. These are things you’ll need to pay for regardless of your lifestyle. For example tuition fees, rent, bills and any books or equipment that are essential for your course.
  3. To find your weekly budget, simply subtract your fixed expenses from your income, then divide it by the number of weeks you’re at university. This amount is how much you’ll have for living expenses like food, clothing and going out.

If you’re on a strict budget without much flexibility, it’s worth setting up a spreadsheet to help you track your spending week by week. This could be especially helpful if you’re a mature student and have a family to look after.

two femaile friends laughing as they sit outside a cafe with takeaway drinks

Tips for managing money at university

1. Prioritise needs vs. wants

Student loans and grants could be paid out on a monthly basis, at the beginning of each term or even as a lump sum. This means you might feel pretty well off at the beginning of term. But this money can quickly run out if you don’t stick to your budget. It’s important to prioritise essentials like rent over optional spending on things like going on a night out. That’s not to say it’s not important to enjoy yourself – it is – but make sure the essentials come first. You might find it helpful to set up a standing order so you don’t forget any crucial payments.

2. Set aside money for emergencies

If you underspend your budget, consider putting the extra money into an emergency fund rather than spending it immediately. That way you’ll be more financially resilient if something unexpected happens, like the electricity bill being higher than you expected. To find out more, check out our article 5 steps to build an emergency fund.

3. Meal planning is key

When it comes to food, cooking at home will usually be cheaper than eating out. But you could save even more by meal planning, which reduces food waste. If you batch cook and freeze the extra portions, your ready meals could save you from turning to a takeaway when things get busy. And if you bulk buy, you could take advantage of special deals. For more tips, read our article 9 money saving food tips to help you live sustainably.

4. Don’t forget student discounts

It’s always worth looking for discounts geared towards students. Many larger retailers have this, and it’s worth asking the shop staff if it’s not advertised explicitly. There are also discount cards and apps for students like MyUniDays and TOTUM (formerly NUS Extra). And before splashing out on books for your course, check the local second-hand shop. For mature students, there are also special railcards you can get to save on rail travel.

5. Consider earning extra income

Need to supplement your income? Bars and restaurants aren’t the only employers that offer part-time, flexible hours. Some universities have job boards for positions around the campus or you could sign up to a temping agency for office jobs. There are also short-term retail jobs during the holidays, especially around Christmas, when you can earn extra money without taking up your valuable university time.

man is using his laptop and taking notes while sitting in his home office

Tips for mature students

  • Apply for financial aid and scholarships – look for scholarships, grants, or bursaries specifically aimed at mature students. Don't overlook smaller awards, as they can add up. UCAS has information on some potential options.
  • Childcare considerations – if you have children, research if your university offers subsidised childcare services or if you're eligible for government assistance in childcare.
  • Network and support systems – engage with other mature students for support and advice. They can be a great resource for sharing experiences and cost-saving tips. They might even be able to help in practical ways such as childcare and carpooling.

Building the right habits

University is the first time many students become financially independent. Or for mature students, it could mean taking on a new challenge of juggling the costs of studying and everyday spending. While it’s a time to learn and enjoy the experience, your university years can be a crucial period for building lasting money habits. By considering these tips, it could help you develop a strong money mindset to support you both now and in the future.

1. National Student Money Survey 2023. Survey of 1,786 university students in the UK between May and August 2023. Data source, Save the Student, 5 September 2023.


Everyday money tips Insights