Ways to live on a student budget

UK universities have stepped up to help students with their current financial pressures. If you are worried if studying a masters is possible next year then we can offer advice. Here is a guide to recently announced support, and practical tips for ways to budget as a student.

Few students studying in UK universities can afford big ticket luxury items. For the most part every student has to live on a budget of some kind. However, the picture for masters students is different in contrast to an undergraduate starting out from scratch.

If you have been through three years of university study you will already be familiar with ways to live on a student budget. Of course this does not mean you will be immune to the effects of rising food and energy costs.

If your situation is looking tough or may get tougher next year, then help is available.

Student Hardship funds from the UK Government

In the UK the Government has provided a financial support scheme for students. This is designed to direct help to students that have the greatest needs. In general the people that fall into this category are usually vulnerable individuals. In reality a sudden change in circumstances can be difficult to manage.

At this moment they include: -

  • a student with children, especially single parents
  • a mature student with existing financial commitments
  • a student from a low-income family
  • a disabled student
  • a student that was previously in care (a ‘care leaver’)
  • a homeless student

The amount offered is decided by the university. It’s paid in a lump sum or in instalments. By and large you won’t have to pay the money back, but in some cases you’ll get a loan that you have to repay.

University run support schemes

Most UK universities operate schemes that offer support to the students that are enrolled, including students from overseas. This applies to universities of all sizes and rankings.

The individual Russell Group universities have collaborated on a generous scheme that covers help with day to day living costs. These also include keeping facilities open longer to help students that are experiencing difficulties with energy bills.

In addition, the schemes provide access to free food in some instances, and reduced entry prices for sports facilities and transport costs. The scheme also supports additional jobs for students on-campus, and job vacancies with local employers where possible.

Access to support for managing finances is also available.

Individual universities are offering assistance along the same lines. With this in mind check with the student finance team at your intended university to find out if they offer any additional support.

They will be happy to offer advice to you, without making any judgements on your situation.

It’s better to understand your situation early in case there are any issues further down the line once you have signed up for a course.

Foodbanks on Campus

There are a number of UK universities that have been offering donated food to students for a number of years. Now that there is more awareness of cost-of-living issues, these services are acknowledged and welcomed by students.

Schemes are operating at Newcastle, Kent, UEA, Nottingham, Essex, Loughborough and others. Many of these services were set up during the Covid lockdown.

There are also many instances where universities are donating student-bought surplus food to local food banks. For example, students in Lancaster, Northampton and York are generously supporting local charities to help families in difficulty.

Smart ways to save money and live on a student budget

Common sense is key. However, if you are distracted by money worries then taking decisions for fear that it’s the wrong choice is even harder.

The top consumer websites have plenty of advice and student budget calculators to help you live on a student budget. Sites like Money Saving Expert and Which? are very popular.

In addition, there are lots of tips from recent graduates that are good to keep in mind. These include: -

  • Choose your student bank account wisely if you need to set one up (in the UK). Some of the sign-up deals look great for the most part, but you may end up with a poor service on important details like overdraft costs, or additional loans.
  • Use cash wherever possible. Contactless cards are too tempting to flash around, particularly on a night out.
  • Some banking apps can be really handy for splitting your money into ‘pots’ so you don’t overspend.
  • Use concessionary travel schemes if they are available, such as student railcards.
  • Accommodation will be your biggest regular expense. If you are studying part time, or you don’t need to attend campus every day, investigate low-cost hotels. These can offer weekday rooms at reasonable rates but watch out for broadband charges.
  • Always use free campus facilities if they are available.
  • Student discount schemes such as Unidays and Student Beans are very handy.
  • Any town that has a campus university within walking distance will be offering student discounts. The student population represents a huge customer segment, even if individually they don’t have a lot of cash to spend.
  • Campus universities offer sales of donated student kitchen equipment (thoroughly cleaned of course). This saves on buying low quality items which don’t stand up to regular use.
  • If you have to, always buy textbooks secondhand, and better still make full use of all library lending services.
  • If you are always losing your keys or wallet/purse – invest in a Bluetooth tracker. This might seem excessive, but you don’t want to be worrying unnecessarily about any valuables that you need in a hurry. That won't help if you lose your phone of course...

And most importantly...

  • Remember to make time to meet new people and make friends. Sharing food and company is a really important aspect of student life, particularly if you are finding things tough for any reason. Don’t forget your own mental health because that’s more valuable than money.

Explore the latest masters courses on Masters Compare. Find masters study funding opportunities on Postgraduate Studentships.