Blog post

8 top tips for international students to budget wisely

As an international student, living for the first time alone in the UK, I had to learn to budget if I was to live comfortably and still enjoy my time at university. Below are my top eight tips for budgeting and ways I keep my finances in check. These are based on my own experiences so far, as I have adapted to living as an international student in the UK.

By Sam Chikowore - 6 March 2019

1. Find the accommodation that best caters to your financial situation 

Whether it be living in private accommodation, or living in the University halls of residence, find the best possible accommodation that you can afford and are comfortable living in. Personally, I have found that living in the University halls has been a better option as I am still in my first year and I wanted to settle into university life before possibly moving to private accommodation.

The great thing about living in halls is that all utility costs are included as part of your rent, which means that it’s a one off payment. I have loved living in halls and have met lots of amazing people whilst doing so. I recommend living in halls to anyone looking for safe, secure, affordable accommodation. There are lots of halls to choose from that cater to different budgets, which makes it an option to strongly consider. However, if you decide to live in private accommodation, sharing with a group of friends can lower the rent and utility bills compared to living by yourself, as you may all chip in to satisfy the costs.

2. Pay your needs first, then satisfy your wants

Your needs must be catered to first. I’m talking about food, rent, toiletries, electricity, gas, heating – you know, things that are essential for your survival as a human being. When those are out of the way you can then start satisfying your heart's desires with what you’ve been desperately yearning for. Don’t be that person that goes on a shopping spree the moment your loan comes in or when mum and dad deposit some funds into your account. Necessities first, wants later.


I have personally found that cooking food tends to be much cheaper in the long run than buying take-outs or ready-made meals. I admit we all love a quick fast-food meal after a long day, however it can end up breaking the bank and putting a serious dent on your bank account. Seriously, your culinary skills do not have to be up to par with Gordon Ramsay or Michelin Star rated for you to cook a decent and edible meal.

4. Transport

Don’t we all just love the Unibus – transport to and from the University campus as well as other destinations? It really is Christmas every day in Derby, as we all know that transport costs can really eat away at your funds. However, on some occasions, you may need to grab a taxi. Again, in my humble opinion, when wanting to travel in a taxi, I have found that if you tag with a group of people and all split the costs, it is way cheaper than if you were footing the bill all by yourself. If the place you want to go to is in walking distance and it is not too late or too dark, walk! Take in the sights and sounds and the culture. Plus, you’ll be getting your daily dose of exercise. Investing in a railcard is also a worthwhile option as you can get rail travel discounts and knock off a third of the price for a rail ticket.

5. Entertainment

Entertainment costs while at university can mount up very quickly. From the costs of going on nights out, eating out and a whole plethora of other activities being held either by societies or in the city. I would suggest that if you are planning to go out, make sure to take a set cash limit with you. Remember, the keyword here is cash, not card. With cash, you know that when your cash reserves start to reach their cap, that’s your cue to call it a night and go home. With a card, however, you may be tempted to withdraw a cheeky tenner or more, all in the pursuit of continuing your fun, a decision you may well regret when you look at your account balance in the morning.

6. Not all fun requires money!

You don’t have to go on big nights out or pay to have fun. Try doing something different either by yourself or with a group of friends. This could be going for a hike in the Peak District, walks in the park or going to the free museum and art gallery in the city centre. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but find something that you can do that sparks an inner passion within you and you find fun, without necessarily having to break the bank. You may also want to try and find free events that various societies host or perhaps at different locations within the city centre that you could attend.

7. Shopping

Lots of shops around the city offer a student discount. Most of the time all you have to do is provide your valid University student card and you’ll be well on your way to receiving money off. Also, look out for sales and discounted items. It’s all about shopping wisely and keeping your eyes peeled to scope out the best deals and bargains.

8. Try finding a part-time job

As an international student, you may be on a Tier 4 student visa that allows you to work a maximum of 20 hours a week during term time. Obtaining a part-time job may allow you to get a few extra pennies to sustain your living and upkeep expenses that may prove to be of great benefit. However, be wary that you do not exceed your regulated work hours and that it does not eat into your study time.

Budgeting at University may seem like a mammoth task. However, it’s a skill that needs continuous practice and that you’re going to need as you continue your journey as an independent adult. The more you do it, the easier it will start to be. Make sure that once you have established a student budget that works for you, stick with it. If you find that you go over your set limits, cut out some expenses that you may deem to be unnecessary. Happy saving!

About the author

Sam standing next to a mountain wearing a red anorak.

Sam Chikowore
Business Management and Geology student at the University of Derby

Business Management and Geology student at the University of Derby. I also work part-time as a Marketing Representative for the University.