5 helpful tips for students on a budget



As a student, I struggled with money for quite a long time. I was a student for five years, and during this period of time, I learnt how to manage my finances.

The first year was especially tough. I can remember sitting in my room during the summer, with nothing left but a jar of Nutella and some yoghurt. Fun times! I had to wait for a couple of day before my next allowance. And so I ate… Nutella.

Living on a budget was a very valuable life lesson. I got the hang of budgeting and of controlling my finances. When money was short, I needed to be resourceful and to look in different directions. I’m happy to share my most useful tips for living on a budget. All of this advice comes from personal experience!

  1. Keep track of your income and of your spending

One crucial aspect about budgeting is keeping track of the money that comes in and the money that goes out. You won’t be able to make your budget work if you don’t know how much you are spending on a monthly basis. I would usually make a list at the beginning of the month of all the expenses I was expecting (rent, food, mobile phone, clothes, books for college) and match that up with the money that I would receive every month. Actually, I still do this.

For example: this month I will receive X dollars (allowance, side job) which makes a total of: X. Next, I would calculate how much money I needed to cover all of my expenses. This gives a very clear overview of what you will have to spend.

If you notice that there is more money going out than coming in, try to make changes to your spending pattern. Is there a way of spending less money? Can you save on the non-essentials (such as a tenth pair of shoes or and Ipad)?

You will now have a clear perspective on your incoming and outgoing money. If you have some money to spare, put it into your savings account (or piggybank if you prefer 😉 ). We all know that life sometimes takes an unexpected turn and you’ll have to cough up money (computer crashing down, your bike getting stolen, we’ve all been there).

2. Sharing is caring

If you live in a dorm, or if you share an apartment with roommates, it is always a good idea to cook meals together and to share the grocery shopping. Why is this? Well, usually, it is cheaper to buy meat, fruit, yoghurt and other things in family sized packages than buying individual portions. You can check this by reading the price/kilo on the label in the supermarket. The smaller the portions, the more expensive it will be.

So: cook together. Make a plan for the week, for example, you will be sharing meals 3 times a week. Do some grocery shopping together and split the bill. You can even take turns cooking. Let’s say you’ll cook on Monday, your roommate Sara will cook on Wednesday, and your  other roommate George on Friday. This means you’ll get 3 meals a week, but you’ll only have cooked once.

Make sure that all of the costs are split evenly. You can make a scheme and put it somewhere visible, like on the fridge, where you write down what you’ve been spending on the grocery budget.

Apart from this method being frugal, it is also nice to unwind from all the studying by sharing a meal with your roommates or friends.

3. Make your own presents

When festivities such as birthdays or Christmas would come up, I would always start panicking because of the expenses that weren’t going to fit into my budget. I felt like I needed to give everyone presents, but I couldn’t pay for it.

So I started DIY-ing and making presents myself. You can find thousands of creative projects on Pinterest and on DIY-blogs. The great part about making your own presents, is that you can make them any time of the year and gift them later. This allows you to spread the expenses throughout the year.

It became somewhat of a personal tradition for me to make jams, marmalade and cookies and to hand those out during Christmas parties. The only thing I regret, is that I always felt like those gifts weren’t good enough. When I look back at it now, I can see a broke student trying her best to be kind and to give a handmade present. It is a great gesture, so don’t feel guilty about not being able to buy expensive gifts.

I’ll make sure to post many DIY-projects on my blog, that you can make during the year and give as a present on special occasions

4. Couponing

For a little while, I was addicted tot he show “Extreme Couponing” (you can watch it on youtube!). The idea of being able to walk out of the store with tons a free products, seemed totally absurd and yet very appealing to me. Sadly, in Belgium, such systems are not possible. We only get the occasional 50 cent discount on an item, there is no doubling of coupons; and we only have a limited amount of free products per purchase.

So I discovered another system. There is a website (in Belgium) dedicated to products that will be reimbursed after purchases (link). You might want to look for such websites in your own country. This website would alert when there was an offer of a “100% reimbursed” product. Basically, you go to the store and purchase the product. You get a form with your purchase that you need to fill in, and you send this form together with the purchasing ticket back to the company. The company then reimburses your purchase after a few weeks.

So, in the end, you only pay the price of a stamp for your product. I had a little stash of products  such as toothpaste, shower gel and shampoo that I had gotten this way.  The downside is that this process is time-consuming.

In the end, I found that the best way to save money on grocery shopping, was to go to cheap stores such as Liddl and Aldi once a week, make purchases for the entire week, and freeze whatever I could. Ultimately, this is the cheapest way to manage your grocery budget.

If you live in another country, check out all of the possibilities when it comes to couponing, free items, etc.

5. Wait for the sales

Unless I needed something urgently, I would always wait for the sales season to buy clothes and other items. In this part of the world, we have a sales period two times a year: during the month of january, and during the month of june. When prices go down by 50%, I stock up on clothes, shoes, bath products and so on. Remember that I said you should save up some money in my first point? This is why: if you have more of a budget to spend during sales season, you’ll end up getting more out of your money.

Keep in mind that most students aren’t living a luxurious life and that is ok! You don’t need the latest Iphone, the newest designer handbag, or an expensive trip. Life has just begun for you! There is more to discover in life than buying things. Now that you’re an adult managing your own finances, you’ll need to prioritize and that is definitely ok. In fact, it gives you a great feeling if you managed your money fabulously and got the most out of our budget.

Good luck! I know you can do it!


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