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How To Improve Your Student Budgeting Game In 7 Steps

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

Improve your budget as a student- 7 Tips

Making a monthly budget is not as difficult as it sounds and certainly does not require any financial knowledge.

But it does require about 2 hours of your time, if you are doing this for the first time. So my little tip, within a blog full of tips, is to schedule a time in your calendar, when you will embark on this journey.

For students in Denmark, a monthly income usually consists of:

  1. Salary from a part time job.

  2. SU grant

  3. In some cases SU loan.

  4. Extra pocket money from your parents

My strategy when looking at my budget, is to divide costs into two separate tables (see screenshots below). I like to divide my costs into two categories:

  1. Fixed costs

  2. Variable costs

Fixed costs are the things I cannot avoid, in order to live and breathe in my country of residence (which happens to be Denmark). In this table, I put things such as rent, car insurance, gym membership, this website etc., things whose price I simply cannot influence.

On the other side (or above, in case of my screenshot) are the variable costs. These are costs that I can directly influence. This includes gas money, travel budget, clothing, groceries or restaurants.

I can decide to eat pasta with ketchup for a whole month, cycle instead of driving, spend a whole month at home and never eat at a restaurant.

Not a glorious life, but life nonetheless…

But that is not the point. The point is to understand (and see) the breakdown of your spending over a month.

Pro tip: You can export your bank data to a .csv format and look at the exact figures instead of copying data into your tables.

I was surprised, when I made this budget for the first time, about how much money I was spending on subscriptions. I was paying for services I was not using for months.

Another thing that surprised me, was to see (based on my banking data) how much I was spending at restaurants. Nearly 1.000 DKK every month. With my life costs being about 4.000 a month, I could simply not eat out for 4 months, and not worry about working for a month of my life.

But I did not stop, because I was stupid and wondering why am I always broke. Don’t do that mistake!

Take a look at an example below:

You can export your bank data to a  .csv

This is the step number one in determining your monthly budget - getting a full blood scan of your finances.

This is where you get to be honest with yourself and practice a little bit of financial masochism - look at where you spend most of your money.

You might be surprised about some categories and if you do this for a couple of months, you might start seeing some trends that you can avoid.

Let’s move to step 2: budgeting tips.

7 Tips For Better Budgeting while studying

1. Use Excel or Apple Numbers

It might take a bit of time to set up a layout in the beginning, but then you can reuse your template. Having a visually pleasing way of looking at your budget will help you to come back to it often - I know it helped me in the past.

I’ve tried making my budget on scraps of paper, that I would, of course, loose or crumble after no time. This was very demotivating!

Also, do not trust your banking app to give you an accurate representation of your finances - making your own spreadsheet ensures that you take the necessary time to judge the individual items within it.

Use Excel or Apple Numbers

This is my budget from last semester. I am currently working on a more elaborate one, because I am myself having struggles with following everything that I prescribe to myself. (If you’re wondering why this Excel table looks so nice, it’s because it was made in Apple Numbers).

I am too having months when my spending gets out of hand. These are the times when it’s important to evaluate what went wrong and go back to the drawing board.

It is not a reason to bring yourself down; quite the contrary. Life is a lifelong learning journey, learn to embrace it!

This is step number two because you first need to determine how much you are spending. Once you know that, you can start putting some constraints.

Firstly, you need to be critical about your fixed costs. Just because you HAVE to pay it, does not mean it is a good idea.

Also, consider switching to yearly subscriptions for things that you MUST use for extended periods of time fx. Adobe Creative Cloud or Google Drive.

2. Look retrospectively

Once you have a few months of experience using your budget, it gets easier to make predictions and to understand and correct your spending habits.

When you are making your first budget, look retrospectively and get some data about your spendings. It will be easier than blindly guessing how much you are spending every month.

3. Export banking data into a .csv file by logging in to your online bank

This is not only helpful in the budgeting example, but if you are a bit into statistics (like me), you can have a little bit of fun too.

If you can feed 2-3 years of your banking data into a model, you might be able to answer the following questions: Am I spending particularly more on fast food on Fridays? If so, cooking an extra meal on Thursday might save you a bunch of money - and you can even calculate this.

Or Do I spend money on online shopping during particular times of a day? Maybe it could be a good idea then, to schedule a gym class at 19:30-21:30, in order not to fall into my temptations.

4. Include pleasure/entertainment spending predictions into your budget

After all you are also entitled to have some fun; put aside, for example, 500 DKK every month for traveling - if you don’t happen to travel that particular month, no worries, simply put it in a savings pocket called Travels and next time around, you get 1000 DKK to spend. You can turn this into a little game called ‘Spoiling my future self’ where you get to save up now, to enjoy more later.

Include pleasure/entertainment spending predictions into your budget