I’ve decided to write about my student budgeting experiences over my last three years in Southampton in the hopes that it might help Life at Southampton readers, prospective undergraduate students and those continuing their courses. I have my proud moments, such as getting a part-time job to help with costs of living and saving some cash. I also have things I wish I did differently, like ordering fewer takeaways! But nonetheless, budgeting is a learning experience.
I am happy to say that I am leaving university much better at managing my money than before.
Rent and Bills
Rent was my biggest expenditure of the whole year. It was taken out in instalments that cover each university term through a recurring card payment. Of course, it wasn’t great seeing my bank balance effectively dwindle when payments were due but there were perks to this. I always knew exactly when the money would be coming out of my account. This was my first test of responsibility. If you take note of payment dates and make the most of the chance of foresight you are given, you will do just well budgeting for rent in first year.
On the other hand, bills such as water, gas, electricity and internet were all included when living in halls. As a student, I didn’t have to pay for Council Tax. This applies to most full-time students – just remember to allow the University to share your details with Southampton Council so they know not to charge you for tax. Don’t worry if you forget to tick the box that says 'share my information' on your student records page. You are able to amend this, however it is always better to let the council know about your status as soon as possible to prevent any charges from incurring.
My other expenses also included my monthly phone bill and my cherished music and movies subscription. I had a wall calendar which marked when payments were outgoing for these just so I could keep track of when money was leaving my account. I opted for the cheapest phone plan with my service provider. The University of Southampton provides free wi-fi on campus and in halls. This meant I really didn’t need a large quota of minutes as I was able to use WhatsApp to call and text friends.
Moving into my room at Connaught Halls
Living in Connaught Halls in Wessex Lane had many perks. Connaught is part catered,Two meals per day were included in my rent so it was super easy to budget for this expenditure. Meals included breakfast and we had the option of lunch or dinner. There was a good array of meals to choose from in catered halls – we were able to have the option of cereals, fruits, pastries or a fry up! A good money saving tip if you’re about to enter catered halls is to take what you can’t finish back to your kitchen so you have some extra fruit or pastries lying around if you wanted a snack. Another good thing about catered halls is that I was able to have my second meal as lunch on campus or dinner at the Connaught Dining Hall. This was especially useful if I knew I wasn’t going to be back in time for dinner service.
Connaught Christmas dinner with hall mates. I later moved in with this lot!
Living in halls meant a free Academic Year bus pass with Unilink. The bus routes go around the city and everyone can use the service – students, staff and locals! I absolutely love the Unilink service – buses typically come every 10 minutes or less and are well connected to other routes provided by other transport companies. What’s more, the Unilink office is located on Highfield campus, so if ever there is an issue with your bus pass or if you want to top it up, you may visit their office above the Union Shop and you’re good to go! The transport system back home in Surrey does not even compare to the one here in Southampton. The frequency and the reliability of services here really do make travelling around the city incredibly easy.
In addition, my undergraduate bank account came with a complimentary 16-25 Railcard, so I saved 1/3 off train tickets whenever I travelled back home.
When I looked at the reading list for my course I was initially shocked. Was I to buy every single book from this list?!
Nope. Absolutely 100% not.
In my course, BSc Politics and International Relations, the reading list is there as a guide to which books or authors are relevant to your module topics. We were not expected to buy and read every single book on there. Core readings are important, but most of them are made accessible by course convenors online via WebCat or Delphis for free! As a tip, I would say don’t buy the all of the books on the reading list before the start of uni. Wait until the first week is over and then decide which you need to buy and which you can borrow from the library.
I did purchase some books because I found it helpful to write annotations on pages. However, I saved a LOT of money by buying second hand or previous editions online as opposed to buying new at the shop. I was always able to borrow the newest editions from the library or from my course mates if I needed access to the added content. Most of the money I spent on course materials went to stationary. ‘Cuz you know, you gotta have those colourful highlighters…
Just some of my course textbooks. Many of these were borrowed from the library.
Clothes and toiletries
I don’t really spend much on clothes and toiletries but I do treat myself to a shop once every three months. Even then I only typically buy one garment. I spend more money on makeup than I do on toiletries but, again, this is only on rare occasions when I am running out. One of the best things about being a student, though? Student discounts of course! Take advantage of student discount shops online or get some of your money back by going through cashback websites.
If you’re someone who likes to shop, be wary of giant shopping trips when student loans come through. If you do go out shopping, go out with a budget in mind and pay with cash so you can actually see the money leave your hands, thereby preventing you from overspending.
Fun, entertainment and miscellaneous
Now this what I spent a lot on in first year. Like many other students, going out was an integral part of my life as a Fresher. I allotted a £150 for going out during Freshers' Week which was more than enough. Throughout the year, a lot of my money went on taxis home. To some, this may have been a waste of money but investing on getting home safely was something I was prepared to put cash towards. Southampton has a ‘student night’ for every night of the week which gives drinks deals and cheaper entry so I saved money by making the most of this.
As a money saving tip, I found it a good idea to take cash on nights out and leave my card at home. This prevented overspending and lost property! Although I didn’t always do this, I definitely found myself spending a lot less without my debit card! If you do find yourself with no cash for the ride home, Union Southampton has a Student Taxi Scheme with Radio Taxis which allow you to pay your fare later at the Box Office. Just hand the Taxi driver your Student ID card.
Second and Third Year
I’m going to be comparing Second and Third year together as my living circumstances were essentially similar. I’d like to think I got better with money after my stint as a Fresher and that I had mastered it in the last year of Uni. Looking back on it now, I have some incredibly proud moments and some that I could have done differently.
Rent and Bills
Naturally, second and third year lent me more responsibilities. This time, rent was taken out monthly and I did have to pay bills separately, as I had moved out of halls. I had a recurring payment to my landlord so the money was taken out automatically at the start of the month. On the other hand, bills included water, gas and electricity. I paid £30 per month to a house account with the rest of my housemates and our bills were paid through it. I opted for the money to be automatically taken out too. This gave my housemate, whose name holds the account, some relief knowing that my share would always be there when payment is due.
I kept my phone bill and my music and films subscriptions.
My Third Year house
My part-time job which I had since first year was what I used to pay for my weekly food shopping. Part-time work whilst studying was a necessity for me. You might be concerned about the effect this will have on your studies and this is something that you need to monitor carefully, however I found that part-time work helped me get through my degree. I worked from 6 to sometimes 10 hours per week at the average rate for a 21-year-old.
Your student loan is not affected by any part-time employment, and working for just 10 hours a week at £5.50 will provide nearly a third of the income from a full student loan. There are plenty of part-time work options in the city and even on campus.
Moving out of halls meant I had to say goodbye to a complimentary bus pass. I was able to save up some money whilst working more hours during the summers before second and third years so I bought Academic Year passes. I travel around the city often – sometimes twice a day – so I thought it was worth investing in.
Once again, it wasn’t necessary for me to splurge on books. I saved some money by buying second hand again. Still, by the end of third year I had a LOT of books. I made some of my money back by selling my books on Facebook. I also sold some to John Smith’s bookstore on campus as they buy back the latest editions of core books.
Fun, entertainment and miscellaneous
During second year, I found myself opting for entertainment offered by the University. Prices at Union Films (our on-campus cinema), for example, are at least a third cheaper than regular tickets. Union Southampton also offers other means of fun such as lunch deals at The Bridge and drinks deals at The Stags. I still enjoyed the occasional night out but I found myself going out less and opting to spend my money on food and a pint!
I also had some money to buy a gym membership. Finally buying a gym membership turned out to be the best decisionSport and Wellbeing membership allows you access to all of the University’s many sports complexes as well as fitness classes, outdoor courts, swimming pools and many more all for £155 per year for students. Super cheap – plus, who doesn’t benefit from a gym break during revision? It’s great for your brain as well as your body.
So there we go: my university budgeting experience. The last three years have been challenging with money but with some advice from friends, family and a little bit of research and a ton of sensible judgements, living as a student is really not all toast and bake beans. I realised that with less self-indulgence, I was able to live comfortably.
If you have any tips on student budgeting, why not leave them below? If you need someone to talk to about budgeting here at Southampton there is plenty of ways to get some financial advice. You can always speak to a financial advisor from Student Services or from the Union's Advice Centre.