Managing your money

Managing your money at university can be a daunting experience: you may be away from home for the first time, managing student finance payments (without spending the whole lot), or changing your employment to fit around your studies. Whichever situation applies to you, you may need to make a little money go a long way.

Key things you need to know about budgeting on a low income:

  • What is your income? This is how much money you have coming in. Such as your student loans/grants, earnings, money from family, etc.
  • What are your outgoings? This is how much money you have going out. This would include rent, food, bills, books, etc.
  • What is the difference between the two? You could use a spreadsheet, or a budget calculator, to work this out.
  • Do you have any spare cash to save (or spend) at the end of the month?

Take a closer look at our guidance below on online budgeting, money-saving tips and debt.

Living Costs

We have provided a cost breakdown below, based on the average costs for a student staying in university accommodation, taking into account the amount of money that most students spend on food, course materials, household goods and other expenses. This provides a guideline only as your living costs will depend on a variety of things, including the accommodation you choose to stay in and your lifestyle choices. If you have additional hobbies or costs associated with your lifestyle choices, these will need to be factored into your budget.

Breakdown of costs
Column one shows the expense, column two shows the weekly expenditure.
Cost breakdownWeekly Expenditure
Accommodation (Based on the range of costs for a self-catered room in university halls of residence. Includes cost of electricity and wi-fi) £85.76 to £182.45
Mobile Phone £10
General living costs including food, toiletries, household goods etc. £70
Travel (Based on monthly Uni Link pass purchased via the app) £9
Books £9
Other Expenses (estimated) £31
Total weekly expenditure £215 to £311
Total per year for 38 weeks of study £8,170 to £11,818
Total per year for 52 weeks of study £11,180 to £16,172

See more information on living costs.

Tips and information to help to reduce your living costs

It’s your money; don’t settle for less, plan for more.

Food shopping and the costs

We know food shopping is an essential expense, but that doesn’t mean it has to eat away at your whole budget. We’ve put together some information to help you keep your spending to a reasonable amount, no matter what your circumstances are.

It’s good to remember that there’s no set rule on how much you should spend, everybody has different responsibilities! Somebody who has children or cares for someone is not going to spend the same amount as an independent student. A breakdown of the average amounts spent on food per week/month can be found on NimbleFins. This can give you a rough idea how much you might wish to budget depending on how many people you are buying food for.

Get more from your shop

Most of the leading supermarkets offer loyalty card schemes which give you access to exclusive deals on products, and some even allow you to build up points that result in money-off vouchers.

Remember to shop around though, deals can lure you in but sometimes that product is hiding away elsewhere at a better price. Apps such as ‘Trolley’ can help you instantly compare prices from multiple shops to make sure you get your items for the best value.

Shop savvy, save the pennies

  • Go shopping with a friend and share the multi-buy offers.
  • Shop around for brands/shops that can save you money. “own” brand products are often similar to brand names.
  • Never go to the supermarket hungry.
  • Always use price comparison and cash back sites.
  • Try charity shopping for clothing, books, gifts etc. – lower your carbon footprint too.
  • Always ask for a student discount even if not advertised.
  • Download vouchers from Money Saving Expert – good tips too!‌
  • Look out for student discount voucher codes at My Voucher Codes.
  • Don't take kids shopping with you!
  • Look for coupon/deal finder apps and browser add-ons to help you save when shopping online.

Write it down

  • Always write a shopping list and only buy what you have written down‌.
  • Give yourself a budget and stick to it.

Eat well for less

  • Cook food from scratch and freeze the rest for later.
  • Learn to cook – avoid ready meals. See Beyond Baked Beans.
  • Cook together with your flatmates.
  • Bring a packed lunch instead of buying lunch.
  • A coffee a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but little costs add up quick. Make these treats, rather than habits.

Wasted food and drink is money down the drain

  • One of the biggest causes of this food waste is incorrect storage. Love Food Hate Waste has found that the average UK household has their fridge sitting at least 2°C too warm! So ensuring that your fridge temperature is set below 5°C can curb that food waste, saving you some money, and even helping you to do your part to save the environment.
  • Using up leftovers before you go shopping again is also a great way to waste less food and money. Websites such as Big Oven allow you to pop 3 ingredients you have into a search bar, and it generates lots of recipes for you to use.
  • There’s a brilliant A-Z guide on how different food products should be stored, giving you the information to make your grub last longer.
  • Eating foods that are “in season” is a great way to spend less on your weekly shop. You’re less likely to pay a premium price and you may even be supporting the local economy. Eat the Seasons is a brilliant website that gives you an in-depth breakdown of different home-grown produce that is available in the UK now. It even has a bit of information on some of the food products such as tips for buying, storing, and preparing them.

Sometimes food waste just happens, so don’t be too harsh on yourself if you find you do have to throw a few bits away, but maybe look to see if there are better ways to dispose of your waste than just chucking it in the bin.

Energy costs

Unfortunately, we are all facing a challenging winter for energy costs.   

Tips for saving energy and reducing your costs:

  • Unplug appliances that guzzle energy when you are not suing them. Anything left on standby is probably using energy you don't need to use - for example chargers, laptops, games consoles, the kettle, televisions and more.  Switching off the plugs or unplugging items could save you a considerable amount of money.  You can find out more about energy vampires here.   
  • Turn off lights when you leave a room and to be mindful of how many lights you have on in the property at any one time.  
  • Keep doors closed for rooms you don't heat. Closing doors keeps the heat in the rooms that you are heating and stops cold air entering.  
  • Only using the heating when you need saves both money and energy. If the heating system has a timer consider using it for when you are in the property only and only when you need it. 
  • Can you can turn your thermostat down? - but not to a temperature that is too cold.  A USwitch survey in 2020 showed that 2.7 million households are turning their thermostats up to 25°C. The ideal room temperature is between 18°C and 21°C.
  • Ask your landlord to look at ensuring the house is as draught free as possible - for example looking at doors, windows, floorboards and skirting and fireplaces.  Draught proofing strips or silicone filled can be used by your landlord to help seal up areas where heat or energy is escaping. 
  • Avoid electric heaters if you can - they are one of the most expensive forms of heating.  The cheaper way to heat your home is by ensuring your landlord has provided and maintained an efficient gas central heating system with timers and thermostats.  
  • Check out tips to save energy from the Energy Saving Trust and tips to reduce your energy bills from Which?

If you are struggling to pay your energy bills read moneys saving expert Martin Lewis’s advice on the action to take: What to do if you're struggling to pay your energy bills.

Travel costs

Travel costs are a necessary expense for most students, be it travelling to university, travelling to work or travelling home.

If you are spending money on travel, check out the following information to make sure you are taking advantage of offers available to you:

Free bus travel

If you are under 22 years old and live in Scotland, you are eligible for a free Nationwide bus pass. This is a great incentive for young people and a great way to save money too! See full details and find out how to apply for the Nationwide bus pass.

University travel via Uni-link bus

McGill's offers a direct service to the University of Stirling from the Stirling Bus Depot. They also offer discounted tickets for all Students and have a variety of options including weekly or monthly passes. This is a great way to utilise your student card and save money! Full details can be found on the McGill's website.

McGill's also offer student GoZone tickets, with weekly, monthly and 10-week tickes.

Railcards and train discounts

Scotrail offer several options for discounted rail cards that may be of benefit to you. If you use the train frequently to travel to university, or even for general day-to-day journeys, it could save you money in the long run. Visit the Scotrail website to find out more

NextBike Cycle Hire

The Nextbike scheme provides hire bikes throughout the Stirling Area, including approximately 30 bikes at three locations on campus and various locations throughout Stirling. See more details about the Nextbike scheme.

Parking on campus

If you travel to university by car, there are different options for paying for parking. Depending on your circumstances, it may benefit you to purchase an annual or semester parking permit to save money, rather than going ‘pay as you go’. See more details about car parking.

General tips and advice to save you money

  • Mobile phones - We all use our phones for so much now but it's important to ensure you've got the best contract for your needs. If your contract is ending shop around to see what the best deal is for you - even if it means changing your network. Ask about student discounts. Often your current provider will be able to match or beat other offers when you ask. 
  • Free software. The University provides Microsoft Office 365 and cyber security software to students for free while you are here. Learn more about accessing Office 365 for free.
  • Private rental sector - If you are living in the private sector, it is important to be aware of your rights. The Citizens Advice Bureaux provide a housing advice service so speak to them if you have any concerns.  
  • Insurance - Get insured. Insurance is important to help safeguard you against loss, theft or damage to expensive items such as laptops, phones, cycles, and more.  If you have been living with your parents before coming to university check whether their insurance policy also covers you for theft or loss under the 'temporarily removed from home section'.
  • Treating yourself - If you have the impulse to buy a special treat why not try to make yourself save the cost before you buy? You could take a tea or coffee you've made at home with you rather than buying one saving around £2.50 each time to go towards your treat. Or take a refillable water bottle rather than buying one each day. Saves money and the environment! Not only are you saving on a day-to-day basis, but it also gives you time to make sure you really want the treat and are not making a rash purchase, that you can’t afford. 

Take a closer look at our guidance below on online budgeting, money-saving tips and debt.

Advice and useful links

Review your spending

It is easy to spend money and develop bad spending habits, potentially losing track of what your money is being spent on.

If your income has changed, or you are struggling to cover your monthly costs, it is time to review your current spending levels and habits. You may be surprised at how much of your monthly income is spent on coffees, takeaways or spur-of-the-moment buys.

To review your current spending levels and habits and determine what positive changes you can make, look at Your Spending Review exercise.

Online budgeting

There are several websites where you can put in details about your income and expenditure. An online calculator then works out the difference. Why not try changing a few figures, such as how much you spend on food, or leisure, or travel, to see how much it may change your result? You could also use this to plan ahead, by putting new bills or a different rent amount in to see its effect on your budget.

If you are an undergraduate student funded by SAAS, Student Finance England/Wales or Northern Ireland, take a look at our own budgeting calculator.

Other sites include:

Once you've worked out the difference between your income and expenditure, you can start to take action.

  • Can you cut back on spending in any area?
  • Are there any areas where you could cut your spending?
  • Do you have debt that you need to manage?
  • Should you think about getting a part-time job
  • Are there other sources of funding you could consider?
  • Decide how much you can spend on different things – and try and stick to your budget
  • Check the top tips section below

MoneySavingExpert’s Academy of Money with Martin Lewis

The Open University has joined forces with “MoneySavingExpert” to produce this new free course to give you the skills and knowledge to master your finances. The course was written by the Open University, with MoneysavingExpert providing support and guidance.

Find the course at the Open University

The course has six sessions that each take around two hours to complete. It's packed with video, audio, quizzes and activities that cover all the key aspects of personal finance. 

  • Session 1: Making good spending decisions
  • Session 2: Budgeting and taxation
  • Session 3: Borrowing money 
  • Session 4: Understanding mortgages 
  • Session 5: Saving and investing 
  • Session 6: Planning for retirement

You can stop and start the course whenever you want, so you can fit it around your main studies. Plus, you will receive a statement of participation in the course.


Anyone can fall into debt from time to time. However, it is important that you don’t bury your head in the sand and ignore the debt. There are some easy practical steps you can take to avoid debt.

Trying to avoid debt

  • Managing your money – begin by planning a budget.
  • Maximise your income – look at the options you have to access additional (free) money and the information on University Hardship Funds.
  • Minimise your expenditure – look at your budget and check the things you can do without or that you can buy cheaper. Go onto money saving websites for vouchers and money back schemes, use your student card for discounts, check out websites such as Money Saving Expert.

Existing debt

  • If you have debts before starting university, don't ignore them. Find out what you can do to minimise payments or make the debt more manageable.
  • Some debts are more important to pay than others, for example always make sure that you pay your rent and have a roof over your head.

Useful links