Surviving on a student budget

This article was written by CQUniversity alumnus Dimitri Kondilis (BFinPlan), Financial Adviser at Soundbridge Financial Services.

University study can be stressful, but managing money is on a whole other level – especially when you’re on a student budget.

Ask any student what the hardest part of being a student is and they will often tell you it is having no money.

Struggling to afford your education and desired lifestyle can be a major stress in your life as a student and can lead to financial difficulties if you do not pay attention to the realities of income and expenses.

It’s no secret that students have a multitude of expenses – from the essential university-related costs like course fees, textbooks, uniforms, student accommodation, placement and residential schools. And if that weren’t enough, add to that your cost of living with expenses like rent, groceries, power, car rego, fuel and maintenance.

But it’s important to know there are strategies you can use to become more financially conscious and take control of your money situation – so you can get back to focusing on your all-important studies.

Of course, there is one expense that I suspect students don’t lose focus on, and that is the social expenses. But it’s important to remember these expenses should be treated in moderation. While we still need to socialise to keep our sanity, this is often an area where people become unstuck and overindulge.

As a financial planner, I teach my clients that there is nothing better than having complete control of your money. Often we become stressed because we focus on the things we cannot control and let the things we can control, control us.

By having a good start on managing and planning budgets effectively, it will hold you in good stead not only for your uni days but for life long after you graduate.

It is important to understand the necessity of budgeting on a small income so that the necessary costs are met.

When developing your own personalised student budget, you need to start with your constant, fixed costs – not allowing student fees and expenses to be forgotten behind spending on your social life and living expenses!

But remember, budgeting is not a structure, it’s a lifestyle

A budget is simply a path for your income to follow. If you let your budget control you in your day-to-day life, you are not doing it right. The idea of a budget is that you are creating a path for your money – an autopilot that you don’t see in effect daily.

The best way I have found to keep your “money structure” relevant to your lifestyle is to get a whiteboard and place it in your room, where you’ll look at it every day. Get some colour markers and write it all out. Remember, the best budget is the one you can understand.

The budget I suggest for a client is simply this;

Identify your Income Sources:

For students it will be most likely from;

  • Working wages, parental support, government support.


Then we look at the expenses which include;

  • University costs (textbooks, tuition, SSAF fees, res school and placement costs like accommodation and travel), living expenses, social and debt expenses.


Then, we can identify a surplus (extra cash week to week or fortnight to fortnight). There might not be a surplus every week, and that’s okay! But remember, the goal is to get the extra cash to grow – so whether it’s $2 or $200, it’s a start in the right direction.

There are only two ways to grow extra cash – increase income and decrease expenses. It’s not rocket science, it just takes planning and persistence.

My pro tips for saving:

  1. Name your savings – putting a name on a savings account will make your savings more than just money, it will become something tangible and something to look forward to (think ‘New Car’ or ‘Holiday in Europe’).
  2. Pay yourself first – when you get paid, make sure you transfer your decided amount into your savings account immediately or automate the payment. This will help remove the risk of dipping into your savings throughout the month by accident (cough), and get your savings on autopilot.

Drowning in debt?

If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you are struggling to pay off multiple debts it can feel as overwhelming and stressful as uni exams. The best place to start is putting a plan together for repaying your debts. Start with a budget – once you have that built, you can identify how much you can repay after expenses with your surplus money. Next, you will need a strategy.

I recommend;

  1. Focus on one – where focus goes, energy flows. Instead of getting overwhelmed by multiple debts, focus on one and get a move on.
  2. Pay off the debt with the highest interest rate –this approach will help save money because you will be minimising your interest repayments.
  3. Make your smaller debts a priority – by doing this, you’ll gain short-term motivation which will cause a domino effect in helping pay off the rest of your debt. Once you’ve paid off one debt, use the money you were spending on that, to make an extra repayment on your next debt.

Now I’ve broken down the how to’s of making a budget work for you, but how do you actually save money as a uni student? Read my top 20 money hacks for the uni student on a budget.

For more budgeting tips and tools, visit

This advice is general in nature. For specific advice that applies to your individual circumstances, students should seek their own personal advice. Please note that this content does not necessarily reflect the views of CQUniversity.

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