Budgeting as a student: Vanessa’s guide to managing money at uni
Starting to stick to a budget can be tricking, yet so rewarding. A few years ago, I set my budget to a sum that I can afford to spend each month without reaching a negative number on my bank account.
I would still have enough money in reserve to replace, for example, a broken phone or buy an airplane ticket to see my family.
However, that was the easy part. The tricky part was about to come: how do I stick to it? It took some months of practice, but over time I figured out how to (almost every time) stick to my goals.
Let me share my budgeting tips with you.
Keep track of your expenses
The most important step to keep my expenses within budget was to write them down. It may sound exhausting at first, as well as scary when you add up everything at the end of the month, but it pays off in the end.
Over time, I figured out how to categorise and sort everything. I usually take a simple A5 notebook and write down each category. The first things I add are regular expenses. In my case, things like contact lenses. Over the course of the month, I then insert what I spend in the appropriate field and add everything up in the end.
The first few months were horrible, as I spent more than I wanted to. And still, this is sometimes the case - it’s not every month that I manage to stay within my budget, but this method helps me at least stay close to it.
Write a grocery list
The first thing I write down is what I need on a weekly basis, such as (plant-based) milk or spinach. Then I think roughly about what I want to cook and list everything that I need.
Before I go shopping, however, I have a look around in my kitchen because most of the things are actually already in my cupboard. For those items I then have to buy, and that are more expensive (for example, coffee), I check online to see where I can buy it for the cheapest price.
In the grocery store, I try to compare certain products by their price per kilo. It all helps me to make the most of my money. At home, I freeze products I cannot use up quickly enough. This saves money, reduces my food waste, and helps the environment.
Invest in quality
Another point I pay attention to is buying quality instead of quantity. This especially counts for items such as shoes and clothing in general. At first, it seems expensive to invest in new boots that cost three times as much as the cheap ones. However, they usually last way longer and save me from buying new shoes regularly.
This goes also hand in hand with buying things I like and need. Especially through social media, consumers get this constant feeling of needing to stay on-trend, to have the newest items from the newest collections. Sticking to what I need and actually like, not only following a trend, saves me money each month.
Tip: Cancelling email subscriptions of fashion stores can help as well.
Reduce those daily costs
Each month, I simply try to reduce my daily costs by eating out less and cooking with friends, making a potluck meal or simply meeting up for a picnic. Enjoying nature and playing games can be as fun as going out at night, plus it saves a lot of money.
Another category where money can be saved is transport. Especially in a city where places are not too far away, it can be easier (and sometimes even quicker) to walk or cycle instead of taking public transport - and of course it will always be cheaper too.
It takes time to become good at budgeting
What I learned since starting budgeting is that it takes time to change your habits. It took me several weeks to know how to go grocery shopping in the most cost-efficient way, and how to organise my wardrobe so I’m not wasting money.
Moreover, it does not work each month. Some are better and some worse but, in general, budgeting and writing down my expenses helped me to cut what I spend each month and have more control over it.