Student life is hectic. I can speak from experience. You have to take into account lectures, friends, exams, tasks, parties and yes… your budget.
The latter is not always the most enjoyable part of studying, although it certainly doesn’t have to be a chore either. I’m lucky to have been able to live in multiple student flats for over 5 years. Not everyone has the luxury or the means to do that. I am very aware of this.
However, this experience allowed me to learn how to keep up with my own budget and ultimately share this knowledge with you. It taught me a lot about money and how to handle it responsibly.
To give you a head start, we discuss in this student budget guide 7 useful tips to control your budget as a college student, so you’ll hopefully never be (too) tight on your budget ever again!
1. Keep an eye on your income and expenses
A first crucial tip is to create a certain awareness around your budget. It’s important that you are aware of exactly how much money is coming in and how much you’re spending.
This way you can see when you have extra money left to do fun things, or when you should be more careful and maybe leave those few extra pints for what they are in the coming week.
There are several ways to record your income and expenses and keep track of them:
- With pen and paper
- With Microsoft Excel
- With a handy app on your smartphone
Make it a habit to keep track of your receipts and not to lose sight of your expenses after a night out. This way you can be sure that by the end of the month you will have enough money left.
There is also a very interesting playlist on TED.com on this subject. You can view the playlist here.
2. Buy consciously
Food is often a major expense for students. Your breakfast, toothpaste, shower gel, drinks, vegetables and fruit are all the things you have to fill up on regularly.
A good student budget tip that has saved me tons of money is to buy my groceries in (discount) supermarkets and always compare prices.
For example, in the Netherlands, meat and dairy products can be cheaper at Jumbo, but it is better to buy (frozen) fruit and vegetables at Albert Heijn.
Compare prices of the supermarkets in your own cities. The first step is always to have all the information and make a conscious decision as to how you will spend your money.
Some tips that I personally find very useful:
- Buy discounted products (e.g. at Albert Heijn), which are often much cheaper and also seasonal (this way you buy seasonal fruit and vegetables and change them up regularly: better for your health and the environment).
- Look at the price per unit of weight (kg, lbs, etc) and don’t be seduced by the price of the item itself. Often, certain products are packaged in such a way that it looks like there is a lot of content, but you only pay for a few grams of the food.
The price/kg (or lbs) can be found on the price tag at the bottom (supermarkets are legally required to show this). This is the best way to compare prices. A bag of pre-washed lettuce of 100g, for example, can cost €1,2 (= €12/kg), while a fresh lettuce head costs €1,5 for 350g (= €4,28/kg!), so you have three times as much lettuce, for only 30 cents extra.
- Buy white label products when you shop for basics (sugar, flour, oil, rice, etc). These are of good quality, without having to pay the extra price that other companies spend on marketing, advertising and branding. When looking in your own country, find out if it the same label as in the Netherlands.
- Wait until certain ‘expensive’ products such as laundry products, shower gel or your favourite toothpaste are sold at a discount, and then buy a large(r) quantity all at once. You will temporarily spend a little more, but in the long run, you can save quite a few euros with this.
- Frozen fruit and vegetables are often a very good and cheaper alternative to the fresh fruit and veg. So make sure to take a look at the frozen food department and compare prices.
- A trick the supermarkets often used to make more profit is by placing the expensive branded items on the shelves at eye level. This is because people are more inclined to take products that are clearly visible and require less effort to put in the shopping cart.
So if you want to shop more cheaply, take a look at the bottom shelf if you are looking for the cheapest goods (often the white label products are at the bottom, for example). Pay attention to your next visit to the supermarket and see for yourself!
Another way to save money as a student is to avoid overconsumption. Think carefully about what you really need, which things are essential and which things only provide extra luxury. This way of thinking is also better known as ‘minimalism’. You can find more information about this on the becomingminimalist.com website.
Do you prefer to read a good book? Then ‘The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own’ by Joshua Becker is highly recommended. If you are interested in the topic of minimalism, here is an interesting article about it.
3. Take the bike
As a student (and actually still to this day), I used to cycle everywhere. It’s fast, efficient and cheap. Moreover, you can leave at the exact time you want, while on public transport you need to stick to an hourly schedule.
Tip: Learn how to repair your own bike. There are lots of useful videos on YouTube that explain how to replace a flat tire, for example. This saves you the cost of having to pay a bike repair shop, and it’s also nice to know that you’re able to repair your bike yourself!
On some college campuses, there are ‘bicycle repair points’, where you can repair your own bicycle with some assistance and buy parts with a student discount. Take a look around at your local campus or ask someone to find out if there’s one near you.
4. Commuting or rooms?
Renting a student flat is expensive, especially in Amsterdam. How is it in your own city? Consider whether it is feasible to rent a room, or whether commuting by train would be a better option.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury and choice of either living at home or renting a room. Be aware of this and be grateful for the opportunities you have.
If you decide that renting a room is feasible for you, be sure to do enough research on the various prices and locations.
Sometimes a room or flat that’s located a little further away from the centre can be a lot cheaper. It can be useful to see if the distance can be easily done, for example by bike. Also, take a look at the nearby shopping facilities. The right supermarket within walking distance can save you a lot of extra time.
A few more tips when renting a room:
– Electrical heating is expensive! Preferably choose a building with central gas heating. Also, check for double glazing, this will keep the heat inside longer.
– Ask if the landlord has taken out fire insurance and if you can view the certificates. This can save you a lot of extra costs if something goes wrong.
– Is EGW not included in the price? Then try to be extra economical with your heating and hot water. Put on an extra jumper during the winter months and set a timer when you take a shower. Energy is precious and can easily be overlooked if you are not conscious of your consumption.
5. Buy second hand
As a student, you don’t have to buy everything new all the time. Used items are often found in good condition at a fraction of the original price. Below you can find some things you can save a lot of money on if you take the time to look for a nice second-hand bargain.
Courses & manuals
Some courses offer the possibility to buy second-hand textbooks and manuals from students of previous years.
Ask around, maybe you can get some manuals at a good price. This way you save a serious cost and you also get the chance to win a lot of free and handy notes!
Buying second-hand clothes is another way in which I saved a lot of money as a student. On top of that, I discovered loads of trendy items!
Take a look at some vintage shops and you’ll be amazed by the wealth of cool shirts, jeans and jackets that can be found there at a fraction of the original price.
The second-hand clothing in vintage shops is carefully selected for its quality and thoroughly washed. So, you don’t have to worry about the clothes not being clean or of lower quality.
Actually, on the contrary: often the price/quality ratio is much better than, for example, discount clothing brands.
Furniture, crockery and kitchen accessories
If your room is not furnished, it may be worthwhile to take a look at the charity shop in the area. Used furniture, crockery and kitchen accessories are often found in good condition with a nice discount.
6. Find a student job
A budget does not only mean keeping an eye on your expenses, but it also means increasing your income. Earning money as a student can be a good way to have some more financial relief and spending space during the week. Moreover, as a student, you benefit from low tax rates and you are an advantageous worker for employees.
There are several options and formulas to make money as a student. You can work:
- During the holiday periods
- on fixed working days during the week
- on the weekends
- from home (online)
- or any combination of the above.
Personally, I have worked as a student for many years both during the holiday periods and on fixed working days during the week. This allowed me to earn a nice little extra and save up to travel and pay for an extra drink in the pub. Nowadays I mainly work from home. Below some tips to find a student job:
Go for a walk through the city and enter a few shops, grocery stores, bars and restaurants. Ask them if they are looking for extra workers and if you can come and do a day of trial runs. Employers LOVE it when you are proactive and show that you are motivated to work.
Offer your services temporarily for free
I have a friend who went to a clothing store every single day to help fold clothes for a few hours, without saying a word, until one day he stepped outside and the manager stopped him in his tracks and asked if he was looking for a job. My friend replied that he did, and he was hired on the spot, right then and there.
Many employers want experienced workers, but how do you gain experience if no one wants to hire you? Try to help out in the garden, at events, concerts, family parties and house-warmings. In this way, you will learn the basics and show your potential employer that you have already acquired some skills.
Show your willingness to learn
Employers like to have people who show that they are willing to learn. Making mistakes is human, but if you are not willing to learn from your mistakes, it will be a lot harder to get to work or keep your job.
Sign up at an employment agency
In some cases, it may be useful to register with an employment agency. Here you will usually get temporary contracts with a duration between one day and several months. Interims can be a good way to gain a wide range of experiences. You can indicate your interests and apply for different types of work. Personally, I prefer to visit the company where I want to work, but my experience with interim jobs has certainly broadened my horizons.
Tip: Are you looking for opportunities to work from home? Then click here.
7. Use a student card
As a student, you can use a student card for free and enjoy the many discounts and benefits. Check with your university to see if they have their own card. A second option is to apply for an ISIC card. This is an internationally recognized student card that allows you to enjoy discounts and benefits worldwide.
Here are some examples of the discounts you get:
- Discounts on document printing and copying
- Discount on parking
- Discount on a subscription to a sports club or gym
- Cheaper rates for museums and film
- Discount on borrowing books from the library
- Student menus in restaurants
The Bottom Line
Budgeting as a student is often not the most exciting part of studying. However, you can easily control your budget by using our tips. This way you can make the most of your time as a student and at the same time, you don’t have to worry too much about your cash account.
It gives reassurance and a comfortable feeling: you know that your income and expenses are in balance.
Money matters don’t have to be as boring as most people might think. With a little creativity and goodwill, you’ll get a long way.
Apply our 7 tips today and be amazed by how many extra euros you will have at your disposal to save, travel, participate in fun things and much more!
Read more about budgeting? Then click here.