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 a whole PHD course in itself.

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 create major stress in your life 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. If that was not enough, add the cost of living with expenses such as rent, groceries, power, car registration, 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 studies.

There is one expense that I suspect students don’t lose focus on, and that is the social expenses. Social activities allow you to enjoy life. While we still need to socialise to keep our sanity, this is often an area where people become unstuck and overindulge. It’s important to remember these expenses should be treated in moderation.

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.

Being able to manage and plan budgets effectively, it will hold you in good stead not only for the duration of your studies but for life after you graduate.

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

When developing your personalised student budget, you need to start with your constant, fixed costs. Do not allow student fees and expenses to be forgotten due to your social and living expenses!

Budgeting is not a task, it’s a lifestyle.

Budgets come in all shapes and sizes and the best ones come naturally.

A budget is simply a path for your income to follow. If you let your budget control 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.

CQUniversity has partnered with Blackbullion, a free resource for students to access. This service provides access to budget calculators, informative videos and money-related boot camps. Simply create an account using your student number and email.

I suggest the following budget for clients:

Identify your Income Sources

For students, it will be most likely from working wages, parental support, government support.


View your expenses which include, university costs (textbooks, tuition, SSAF fees, res school and placement costs like accommodation and travel), living expenses, social and debt expenses.


Identify a surplus (extra cash each week or 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

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’).

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 and get your savings on autopilot.

Drowning in debt, push it down the hill and snowball it

If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you are struggling to pay off multiple debts it can feel overwhelming and stressful. The best place to start is putting a plan together for repaying your debts. Start with a budget – once you have built that, 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 debt – 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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