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How to Budget for a Postgraduate Year

For many students, one of the hardest parts of planning for a postgraduate year is working out their budget. No doubt you picked up a thing or two about keeping on top of your finances during your undergrad years, but money management as a postgrad can be a bit more complicated.

During your first degree it’s likely that your student loan made up most, if not all of your income, but once you reach postgraduate level your finances will probably be more fractured, with some of your income coming from funding, grants or loans, some from a part time job and some from your own savings.

All that can make it tougher to keep track, plus your expenses as a postgraduate student will be higher too. Don’t be daunted though, as our comprehensive guide to budgeting for a postgraduate year will make managing your money a cinch – in fact, you’ll wonder what you were ever worried about!

 

Getting Started – What You Need to Know

First comes the fun part - adding up all your various income streams. If you’ve been offered postgraduate funding or a grant, add that to any loans you might have taken out (like the government’s loan for master’s degree students, for example) and any savings you’re planning to spend on study. If you’ve got or are going to start a part time job, add on your wages too.

Next, you’ll need to do some basic research in order to calculate your outgoings.

Housing Expenses

After fees, your biggest expense will probably be your rent, so if you’re not in your accommodation already, you’ll need an idea of how much to set aside.

If you’re planning to live on campus, the rent for your preferred building should be easily available on your uni accommodation department’s website, or you can give them a ring to find out. It’s worth remembering that rent for uni accommodation usually includes bills like water, electricity and internet too.

If you’re looking to rent privately, check out the average rents in your area so you’ll have an idea of how much you’ll need to spend. When it comes to figuring out bills, you can get an idea of average amount from price comparison websites or going to utility companies direct. Of course, if you’re not planning on moving from your current home, you get to skip this step – congrats!

After that’s out of the way, there are just a few more things to factor in.

Other Expenses to Consider

If you’re staying off campus and need to travel into classes, find out how much a weekly or monthly travel card for the train or bus costs (if you’ll be travelling in more than a couple of days a week, this will usually work out cheaper than buying single tickets), or what the fuel will cost if you’re planning to drive (if you own a car, you’ll need to make a note of your insurance costs, too).

Get hold of your required reading list - most of the books will probably be available in the university library, but if there’s anything you need to buy, go online to see how much it will set you back. Don’t forget to check second hand sites like eBay or Amazon, as they can have some great deals on used textbooks!

Finally you’ll need to factor in the basic cost of living, so don’t throw away your shopping receipts and keep track of how much per week you spend on groceries and essential toiletries like toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, etc.

Planning Your Budget

Now you’ve got an idea of your expenses, add them all up and subtract that total from your income for the year. The figure you’re left with will be how much you have left over to live on.

In short, your monthly budget should look something like this:

Income

 

Expenses

 

Funding

£

Fees

£

Grant

£

Rent

£

Loans

£

Utilities

£

Part time job

£

Course materials

£

Savings

£

Travel

£

Help from parents

£

Food

£

   

Toiletries

£

Total=

 

Clothes

£

   

Socialising

£

       
   

Total=

 

 

Rather than try to budget for the year as a whole, try to set a monthly cap on how much to spend. As long as your expenses total is smaller than the income total, you’re doing great!

If you don’t fancy doing the sums yourself (and unless you’re a maths student, who can blame you), why not try an online student budget calculator and have the world wide web do the work for you? UCAS has a budget calculator on their website and Barclay’s bank has a monthly money planner you can download for free to help you get started.

 

Take Control of Non-Essential Spending

Things like fees, rent and bills are set costs that you can’t really alter, but you can take control of how much you spend on non-essentials.

Think about your priorities – is it more important that you always have money for a night on the town, or would you rather part with your cash to keep up with the latest trends? Or maybe you’re not fussed about fashion but you do like to spend a bit more on food (everyone has their limit when it comes to instant noodles). Once you know what’s most important to you, you can divide up the rest of your budget accordingly, deciding how much you can afford to spend on each item/activity and keep within your means.

If you’re moving to a completely different part of the country, you might find it helpful to look up the average costs of things like a pint of beer, a cinema ticket and a basic meal out as the differences between say, London and Liverpool can be quite considerable.

Top tip: be realistic with your expectations of how much you can cut back on. Don’t think "oh, I just won’t go out at all" and not budget for socialising, because realistically, you’ll fail in the first week, and plus, uni is a time to have fun as well as learn a thing or two. Likewise, don’t think you can scrimp on food to pay for beer – if you’re often going hungry or only eating junk your concentration in class will suffer, plus you don’t want to go drinking on an empty stomach anyway. We don’t want to sound too much like your mother here, but it’s important to take proper care of yourself!

 

How to Make a Budget – and Stick To It

Making your budget is only half the work, the most important thing is to make sure you stick to it. It can be hard to keep to a budget, especially if everyone around you appears to be splashing out all the time, so here are some handy hints for keeping on top of your finances.

Keep Your Receipts

This is the best way to keep track of how much you’re spending, so you don’t accidentally go over budget. It’ll also help you determine any areas where you could cut back.

Budget With Friends

Unless you’re hanging out with lotto winners, it’s likely your course mates will have similar amounts to spend, and budgeting together could prove great motivation to stick to your plans.

Speak Up

Next time you’re in the pub and someone suggests ‘just one more’ w hen you really can’t afford it, don’t be afraid say, forcefully, that you’d love to, but you can’t. Chances are, others in your group will have similar concerns, and will thank you for saving them from spending money they couldn’t afford because they were too shy to say no.

Set Goals and Reward Yourself

Whether it’s a brand new outfit or a no-expenses-spared night on the town, think what completely frivolous thing you’d love to spend some spare cash on, and every month you come in under budget, put the extra money towards it. With the right motivation, you’ll be hitting the town in no time!

 

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