How to Budget When You Lack Self-Control

Students! Looking after your money isn't the most natural thing in the world, but you can set yourself up for a year of financial stability with these tips, learnt the hard way

Feature by Laurie Presswood | 30 Aug 2021
  • Money

Living within your means can be hard at the best of times, but compounded with hormone-driven spontaneity, a dense backdrop of parties and low-interest borrowing opportunities, and you could have a recipe for financial crisis on your hands. While it’s easy to say “just set a budget and stick to it”, or to promise yourself that you’ll bulk cook every week, the reality is that impulse control isn’t always that simple. It’s important to prepare for your self-discipline to falter, and have mechanisms in place to limit the consequences when it does.

Establishing your budget

First of all, it's important that you get an idea of what your budget should be – even if you slip up, having these figures in your head will help you to move in the right direction. This doesn't need to be an overwhelming task, just set aside an hour to add up your monthly income against your estimated expenditure. Money advice site Save The Student has created a really helpful budget spreadsheet which you can download – it’s easy to use, and they’ve done all the equations for you already so you don’t need to learn how to work Excel. Be aware that things like textbooks, rent and cheese will likely cost more than you are anticipating – while there isn’t much we can do to help with the last two, asking for your reading list in advance in order to buy second-hand copies will make a big difference.

The Direct Debit is your friend

Set up as many bills as you can to go out via Direct Debit at the start of the month, so you don’t have time to eat into your student loan. Alternatively, keep the bulk of your monthly income in a second account, and arrange for it to be drip-fed into your primary account on a weekly basis. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you simply going into your online banking and transferring it back when you fancy a last-minute night out, but the idea here is that the act of having to transfer money over should act as a psychological block of sorts – not exactly insurmountable, but at least a trip hazard. 

Don't take out the maximum student overdraft straight away, and avoid credit cards. Given that most high street banks will approve student overdrafts more or less overnight, you can always take one out or extend it when in need. Going for £2000 immediately just because you can will only encourage you to spend recklessly, and it will take longer than you expect to get in the black again.

The most important piece of bank-related advice, and the one that students violate most regularly, is to keep looking at your bank balance. Get mobile banking set up, and don’t let the fear of what you might see keep you from being prepared.

Feeding the 5000

Invest in a big pan at the start of the year (3'' deep x 9'' diameter, minimum). Then pick one bulk recipe and perfect it – you can make 10 portions of bolognese sauce for under a tenner if you shop cannily at Lidl (less if you cook without meat and cheese) – but be realistic. If you are not within walking distance of a reasonably-priced German supermarket, don’t budget on the basis that you will do all of your shopping there.

You’re unlikely to have the time or energy to go every week – but you can still save by shopping off-brand in your local store. Of course in an ideal week you’d do a bulk cook once a week, but even doing a huge cook once a month and then freezing most of the portions will set you up to stay well-nourished on a low budget. Complement this with as many frozen meals and cans of non-perishables as your hands can hold and you’ll know that even if disaster strikes you’ll be able to eat.

Lifestyle and Entertainment

Make sure you’re taking advantage of deals on any recurrent expenditure – get a 16-25 railcard and a student Spotify plan (or, if you get on well with your flatmates, why not team up for a family plan?). And if you’re shopping for clothes, try charity shops rather than full-priced vintage shops, or head online for proper bargains. eBay, while sometimes harder to sift through, is a good alternative to app-based retailers like Depop and Vinted if you’re worried about having temptation so immediately accessible. 

Don't feel ashamed

If you find yourself in financial difficulty, or are struggling to make key payments, talk to someone. That could be your Personal Tutor, student union, or a family member or friend. Most universities offer hardship funding to students facing unexpected money problems, but alternatively here are some helpful websites to consider: