This article was written and provided by UniBank.
While there are many fun aspects to university life, managing your student budget isn’t usually one of them. You’re income depends on paid work options that fit within your schedule and whether or not you have any help from family or government assistance. Your expenses, on the other hand, can seem endless.
If you’re feeling the pinch financially while studying, you’re not alone. 30% of Nationals 2019 Div 2 participants who responded to our survey questions about their top money concerns told us they often find themselves short of cash by the end of the month. Likewise, during Div 1, 34% of participants said that they aren’t saving enough.
While living on a student budget might not be a walk in the park, there are some steps you can take to make it a little easier so you can focus on your studies and other commitments, instead of worrying about your bank balance.
Set a budget you can stick to
How many times have you heard, ‘You need to stick to a budget,’ and said to yourself, ‘Thanks but no thanks, I’ve heard that before.’ Setting a budget might seem like a flippant answer to making ends meet, but it’s the first step towards taking control of your spending.
Budgets are often associated with cutting out the fun stuff in life. They are seen in a negative light because of all the things you can’t spend your money on, instead of all the things you want to spend your money on.
Yes, you need to have discipline which can mean making difficult decisions between wants and needs. You’ll need to make trade-offs, but if you know you enjoy a coffee from your local cafe every morning before class, don’t cut it out completely. Instead, of a blanket ‘no coffee’ rule, scale back to only once or twice per week. Or, bring your own cup and get a discount. Keep in mind you might have to give up something else less important than the coffee to keep the balance.
To get started with your budget, work out your regular expenses, how much you’d like to save and how much you’ll need for day-to-day (discretionary) spending. You’ll also need to set some goals so you have something to focus on during times when you may be struggling to stay on track.
Remember, a budget isn’t a set-and-forget plan. You should review it regularly and make adjustments when you need to.
Now you’ve got your budget sorted, how can you make the most of it? Here are three things you can do to cut your costs and make your budget work for you.
Save time and money with meal prepping
Between lectures, studying, working, playing sport and spending time with family and friends, there isn’t much time left for cooking meals. Eating out can be expensive, as can grocery shopping and having the food go to waste because you don’t have time to cook.
It takes a bit of planning, but there are plenty of resources and recipes available online if you need some inspiration. Here are some tips to get you started:
Know how many days and meals you need to plan and prep for. Don’t prep three meals a day for the next seven days if you know you won’t eat all of it.
Pick a few core ingredients you can build your meals around for the week so you can buy in bulk and save on the per-unit cost.
Batch cook a few meals you can portion out and keep in the freezer for busier periods, such as during exams.
Chop your veggies and meats for the week and keep them in sealed containers in the fridge so you can mix and match to avoid getting tired of eating the same meal.
Shop at your local produce stand or discount grocery store to avoid paying higher supermarket prices.
Keep inexpensive staples like dried lentils, canned beans and frozen veggies on hand.
Invest in durable containers. There are glass and stainless steel options available if you want to avoid plastic. You can also re-use take-away containers, or choose BPA-free plastic.
Aside from the time and money saving benefits, meal prepping is a great way to always have healthy meals and snacks ready to go.
Take advantage of student discounts and rewards
Being a uni student has its perks when it comes to the discounts and deals you can access with your student ID or university email address. You can score discounts on everything from clothes and meals, to electronics, travel, entertainment and transport.
Discount and reward sites such as UniDays, StudentVIP and Student Edge can help you save while you’re studying. Check with your software providers to see if they offer any student discounts; Microsoft and Adobe are two companies that offer discounts on their subscription-based products for students.
Check with the cafes, pubs, restaurants and other retailers around your university. They might offer a weekly meal deal for students or do a percentage discount across the board.
Get a little extra back at tax time – tips which may be able to help
Maximizing your deductions is a good way to get a bigger refund at tax time. Depending on your situation, you may be able to claim the costs of certain self-education and travel expenses.
According to the Australian Tax Office (ATO), if you work and study, and your current job has a sufficient connection to your studies, certain expenses may qualify as a work-related tax deduction. For example, if you’re studying a marketing degree and work part-time at a marketing agency, you may be able to claim self-education expenses such as textbooks, stationary, student union fees and allowable travel expenses.
Allowable travel expenses include where your course requires you to be away from home for one or more nights. You may also be able to claim travel expenses from your home to your place of education and back and your work to your place of education and back.
The ATO has extensive information on what you can claim available on their website, including all of the eligibility criteria. If you’re unsure about anything, speak with an accountant or registered tax agent who will be able to give advice based on your situation.
Whatever you claim, make sure you have records to back it up. The ATO myDeductions app lets you record your claimable expenses and save photos of your receipts. The app connects directly with your MyGov account and will pre-fill your tax return at tax time.
The most important thing to remember is your budget should work for you. Set a regular review period, maybe at the end of each semester to review it against your goals and income and adjust as you need to.
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