Blog post

Managing money as an international student

Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy student, Sai Rushali Srivastava, provides advice for international students on how to manage their money in the UK.

By Sai Rushali Srivastava - 18 January 2023

There are a lot of elements to consider when trying to stay financially afloat at university. As an international student, you are in a new environment with a lot of unknown factors. This can feel quite daunting. After all, it involves managing various aspects such as food, groceries, accommodation, mental and physical fitness, and social life.

Accommodation and Transport

Finding a place to stay in a new country that you are not too familiar with can prove to be a challenge. Especially when you are not familiar with the city and its rental policies. I worried about this and felt relieved to find the University's student accommodation suited my needs and budget (within £650). It helped that they offered inclusive bills and were so close to the university campus. If considering other alternatives such as flat sharing or private rentals, you can enjoy a lower monthly rent of around £500.

When assessing your choices, do not forget accessibility as well. The Unibus is a free bus service (we have the U1 and U2) that runs frequently. Remember to check transport routes for getting to uni. If you are not on the Unibus route, it could add costs.

Two black and red Uni Bus's parked outside the University of Derby Kedleston Campus
Credit: Alexander Dennis

Beyond trips to uni, there are local cabs available (Bolt, FREENOW and Uber) and City Buses (ARRIVA Midland, Trent Barton and Notts and Derby) to help you explore the city and the East Midlands. If you plan on taking the train often, take the benefit of a railcard for discounted ticket prices all year long.

Groceries and home essentials

There are a good number of stores that are at the top of my list for affordability, quality, and accessibility.

Poundland is one of my top recommendations to buy a wide variety of items. These include:

Located at Derbion, the store is easy to access by using the Unibus, car or even by foot and has a large variety of brands available.

Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Lidl, Asda, Iceland and Tesco are the top stores for fresh produce and other groceries. Sainsbury’s is a personal favourite of mine in terms of freshness and discounts.

Asda is a top recommendation amongst students. Its products are well-priced to fit all sized budgets. It’s around a seven-minute drive from the city centre. If you are looking to make one grocery trip that covers many stores, Iceland, Sainsbury’s and Poundland can all be found in the City Centre at Derbion.

Student discounts, free food and giveaways

Student discounts are super helpful to ensure purchases are not heavy on your wallet. Your Unicard will be enough proof for most providers, but a TOTUM/NUS Extra discount card can unlock a few exclusive others. It's always worth asking a salesperson or cashier whether their store offers any student discounts.

Most retail stores do have student discounts, including:

Wallet cards including TOTUM Student Discount Card

Make sure to stop by Freshers week and other promotional events to pick up freebies. They often have giveaways such as tote bags, calendars, vouchers, discount codes and much more. You can check the UDo events tile to browse for upcoming ones.

Hindsight and reflections

Opening a bank account should be at the top of your to-do list. This can help with tracking your funds and transactions become easier. You will need a proof of study letter that can be downloaded from the ‘Student Documents’ tile on UDo (your student portal) once enrolment is complete.  With this letter and passport in hand, open a bank account on the same day when you visit the bank in person. You will receive the debit card a few days later.

My prior experience as an international student in the States taught me the importance of budgeting. I experimented with apps such as Squirrel (iOS / Android), Wally (iOS) and even Excel (download Microsoft 365 for free as a student) before deciding that the classic Notes app was best suited for me. During my first week in Derby, I decided to make my budget after picking up my first bag of groceries. This gave me an estimate of my future spending.

Currently, I allocate myself a £50 allowance per week for expenditure on food that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy items, my chocolate stash and even my occasional coffee runs. This sums up to £200 per month for food. I also keep an additional £50 aside for restaurant or bar visits with friends or any other social events during the month. 

Individual holding an umbrella with the British flag on it in front of a river with Big Ben overlooking it

A new city, a new beginning with new elements to juggle in life can be a lot to handle and balance. It is not easy and there can be a few mistakes along the way. Remember to take the advice and help available. Be kind to yourself as you adjust to a new lifestyle in a new unknown place. Your capabilities have brought you so far and managing your finances will certainly become your cup of tea in no time. If you ever find yourself struggling, remember when the going gets tough, the tough get going!

About the author

Postgraduate student Sai, smiling, wearing a black and white breton top.

Sai Rushali Srivastava
Postgraduate student

I'm an international student from Dubai pursuing a Masters in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy. I also create fun content as a Communications Ambassador. When not working on my dream to become a Psychotherapist, you can find me buried deep in a book, sipping on some cold coffee while putting together a recipe for my next Pan-Asian meal.