Most students live on a limited income while they are studying. A student's capacity to earn money will be reduced by the need to attend classes, study and complete assignments. While you will not be a student forever, it is worth planning your finances for the time you are studying.
Calculating your budget is the best method of assessing your financial needs and controlling your costs. Preparing a budget gives you 'the big picture' of where your money is coming from, when it's coming in, and how it's being spent. It will help you prepare for the coming year (or month if you like) so that your expenses don't overrun your income.
Preparing Your Budget
In order to prepare a budget you need to write down all your expenses for the week or the month or the year (it's up to you). Then assess whether the total of your income from work, government assistance, your savings and any contribution from your family, for the same period, will allow you to meet those expenses. If you predict a shortfall in funds for the period, you will need to consider options such as increasing your income with additional work, loans or decreasing your expenditure by cutting your costs for the duration of your course.
Student Financial Aid has an information brochure - Calculating Your Budget (pdf) which includes a budgeting form to assist you in preparing your own budget.
There are a number of budgeting programs and applications that can be downloaded from the internet for both Mac and PCs.
The Moneysmart website has an excellent online budget calculator which is quite comprehensive for students.
Budget calculators can make drawing up budgets quick, fun and interesting - but you should still put some thought into them to make sure the data you enter is accurate. There are many people who find it just as easy doing their budget on paper.
If you're starting or considering a course at university, check the Cost of Living Information to help you understand the kind of costs involved in life as a tertiary student. This may be particularly helpful if you are new to Melbourne.
To control your finances, one approach is to divide your income and savings into 'chunks'. This will help you meet regular costs and plan for future bills, while still using some of your cash on social and recreational activities. For example:
- Regular costs ( Rent / Food / Transport etc): 60%
- Bills (Electricity / Gas /Telephone etc): 10%
- Spending Money (Entertainment, clubs, etc.): 15%
- Membership Fees:5%
- Savings for unexpected costs (presents, emergencies etc.): 10%
Remember that your budget should be based on your lifestyle, within the limits of your predicted income and savings. Your expenses will be significantly affected if you own a car, smoke, eat out regularly, drink alcohol, etc. These are all decisions you make, but they will need to be included in your budget and be paid for while you're studying. They are costs for which you are responsible.
When estimating your expenditure think of all your costs in terms of wants and needs. Write down all the purchases you would like and expect to make. Be less careful about your actual need at this stage. Then compare it against your likely total income and savings. If you are significantly short of cash, analyse your costs list and start deleting those that can be classified as a want/luxury and not an essential/needed item.
- When estimating expenses try to account for price rises and unpredictable events.
- Don't forget the once yearly costs such as car registration and course costs.
- Try to save some money towards unexpected medical or dental expenses.
- Check your budget on a monthly basis.
- Create an Excel spreadsheet or an online budget calculator to save time
- Compartmentalising your income automatically by using more than one (fee-free) online bank account
For more tips on how to control your budget, including using a Spending Diary and financial sacrifices, go to our Keeping Track of Your Money section.