Student budget calculators

If you read our starter kit on how to build a better budget, you’ll likely be wondering whether a budgeting gadget or gizmo can help you lick your lolly into shape in less time.

Here we take a look at the types of tools out there, how they can help, and how to do it yourself.

Why do I need a budget?

Finger with a question markCredit:Tsahi Levent-Levi – Flickr
Whether it’s your budget or your reading list, planning ahead just … helps. Set up a money plan now, and you’ll have more time (and cash!) to splurge as you like later.

Making a budget is like taking just one bottle into the shower – it’s multi-functional.

Firstly, you can use a budget planner to estimate your costs, such as reckying-up how much uni will set you back. This type of budget is low-maintenance: you can do it as little as once-a-year, or just whenever you’ve got a big expense coming up.

Where  they really rock is in helping you tweak your totals before you’re committed – realising you need a part-time job to pay your way, or picking somewhere cheaper to live, for instance. The key is to remember they’re just a guide to potential costs.

A budget tracker gives you a real-time view of where your money’s going. This takes a bit more time and effort, but gives you the best chance of staying solvent and cash-heavy at the end of the year. Ideally, you’ll want a tool that does both.

Budget calculators

Close-up calculator shot with loose coins in backgroundCredit: Images Money – Flickr
These free budget calculators can help you predict your costs. If you’re looking for more detailed info about how much loan or grant you’re entitled to, check your government’s student finance pages for the relevant calculator.


Aimed at students from England only at the time of writing. Can give you an idea of how much you’ll get in loans and grants and estimates whether you’ll finish the year in debt or in the black.

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The Save the Student rent calculator

A neat twist on the calculator idea: use our tool to sum out how much you can afford to spend on rent to stay on budget. Works wherever you’re from or studying in the UK.

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Aimed at your folks and not so easy on the eyes but includes ballpark figures if you really don’t know how much to allow for things like rent or bills (but don’t take the estimates as gospel for your personal situation!)

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Budget trackers

Upward graph with stack of coins - illustrationCredit: (edited)
Tools to tell you where your money goes.

The Save the Student budget spreadsheet

Obviously we’re biased – but if you’re looking for ease, access and works-on-just-about-anything, this spreadsheet’s a doddle. Good for all students regardless of where you’re from or where you want to study, and works just as well as a budget planner, too.

Just add your income and outgoings following the guide headings (or customize your own) to see whether you’re blowing the budget or staying on track. Use this as your master tracker, and maybe supplement it with one of those below if you want even more insight into your spending habits.

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Goodbudget (iPhone, Android)

Comes in free and subscription flavours and works on the lines of an ‘envelope budget’: you allocate spending limits to certain categories (such as transport or clothing) and tag your spending to see where your money’s going. Free version has a limited number of envelopes (we’ll talk you through how to make your own always-free envelope budget below).

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Evernote (iPhone, Android, Windows)

Not a budgeting app as such, but if you’re already using this free note-taking tool then it’s easy to set-up a new list to note down any spending.

Spin it: take photos of things you really wanted to buy but went without, along with how much they would have cost, to stay motivated on how much you’ve effectively saved during the year.

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Money Dashboard (iPhone, Android)

Colourful little gizmo that hooks up to your bank account (if you trust it to …) and tracks your spending remotely. Gives breakdowns by category as well as access to your bank balance.

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Money Lover (iPhone, Android, Windows)

Has annual and quarterly overviews for getting the big picture, but monthly view is limited to the current month.

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Check out the deets for yourself before downloading any third-party apps and make sure you’re happy with the terms of use and privacy.

And bear in mind that, while these are all useful tools, it’s over to you to actually stick to your spending goals.

How to make your own budget

At its simplest, budgeting is just about knowing how much you’ve got coming in and how much you spend. If you spend less than you have coming in, you’re nailing it.

The top-line figures you’ll want to include are:

Income such as loans, grants, wages, benefits and bursaries.

Fixed outgoings (things you have less control over) such as direct debits rent and bill payments.

Variable outgoings (things you can wiggle if you need to): transport and fuel, treats, socialising.

Take away your total outgoings from your total income to see if you’re spending within your means.  If you need to rein-in unnecessary spending, start by slashing flexible costs, so that your ability to pay essential costs isn’t hit. Remember that you can get a better deal on fixed costs, too – shop around to see if and where you can save money.

Make an envelope budget

Airmail envelope with plane motif and watermarkCredit: Jeric Santiago –
This is a great way to only spend what you can afford, and works particularly well if you stick to cash payments. It can be fiddly but is guaranteed to make you think twice about spending on unecessaries.

What you’ll need:

How it works:

  1. Get cash out at the start of the week (and put your cards away where you won’t be tempted to use them).
  2. Decide how much you’re going to allow yourself to spend on clothing (or whatever). Add that much cash into one envelope and write on the back the amount and what it’s for.
  3. Whenever you need to buy something from that envelope’s allowance, take the money out, note the amount on the back and adjust the total.
  4. Keep going until the money’s finished or the end of the week. Aim only to spend what you allowed yourself – don’t keep topping up!
  5. Siphon-off anything you don’t spend during the week into your savings account, treat fund or investment pot.

So there you have it: tips, tricks and tools to help you budget like a pro. If you put them into practice, and stick with it, you’ll not only get by when you’re a cash-strapped student, but you’ll be laying down savings to make you better-off in later life. Good luck!