Tips for surviving on a student budget

beat those student budget blues
beat those student budget blues

Cancelling plans, deciding against buying things you want and choosing between instant noodles or sleep for dinner are some of the classic student budget tales.

When looking back at one of our older articles, How much does a first year at a SA tertiary institution cost in 2018?, I think it's safe to say that a ton of money goes into obtaining a degree. It's no surprise that uni students are perpetually some "broke boiz".

The trick is to work with what you've got, and working well with money doesn't mean that you need a lot of it. 

We know how it can be quite the challenge, but luckily there are some ways around it.

Here are a few tips and life hacks to help you get through those trying times:

1. Prioritise

Sometimes you just have to sacrifice going out every now and then to save money for something more important. Yes, it's good to balance work and fun but only if it is within your means. Stay away from the impulsive purchases!

There are always going to be fun times waiting for you, but university is pretty expensive so try to finish it in as little time as you can or else you'll end up needing to cough up even more money.

2. Take advantage of student deals

Student deals are really there to help you save money so why not take advantage of it?

A lot of food and clothing stores and even certain places or events in South Africa have student discounts, so be sure to look out for them. It usually requires that you present your student card in order to qualify for the discount.

You may feel somewhat like your grandmother, but try couponing as well. No shame in being money-wise.

3. Budget

The best way to keep track of your finances is to create monthly or even weekly budgets. Make provisions for unexpected costs so that you are prepared for anything that comes your way. Not everyone is that organised or has enough self-constraint to stick to a budget, but it sure is worth a try.

4. Share bears

If you have fellow students attempting to make the same financial cut-downs, try to figure out some way you can share certain things in order to cut costs. Things such as lift clubs or carpool can not only cut down on those dreadful petrol costs but also spare the environment of harmful fuel emissions. A win-win really.   

2-for-1 specials are best enjoyed with a fellow student!

5. Keep your expenses low

While saving may not be the easiest thing to do when you are a student, it is important to at least try to do so for your own sake. You grow money by keeping your expenses low. Think about all the things you could buy once you finish university and get a job, and let that be your motivation.

It's also important to keep track of your expenses so that you can have an idea of the areas that require more or less funds.

6. Learn to say no

Being at university, you'll find that everyone comes from different economic backgrounds. Perhaps even some of your friends are in completely different ones to your own. I'm not saying only make friends with those who are in the same economic bracket as you, but don't try to live beyond your means in order to keep up with friends.

You'll find that people are more understanding of financial issues once you reach university level, so don't have too much pride to say no when you need to. If your friends make you feel bad about it, remember that university is big and you can easily find some new less judgemental ones, yay!

7. Check for free online textbooks

Unfortunately in SA, it's not always that common to find free textbooks online. But with the price of those things, it sure is worth the search! 

If you're an English major such as myself, try downloading PDF versions of novels or plays instead of buying them brand new. You could even rent them from the library (on or off campus) or look to buy them at a second-hand or charity store.

8. Make use of campus facilities as opposed to external facilities 

Using things like the on-campus gym, pool, library, etc. will probably end up costing you a whole lot less money as it is generally cheaper or free, which is great for that student budget of yours!

9. Plan your meals

Whip out your cute lil' lunchboxes and get those meals going. Cooking at home and taking lunch with you to uni will hopefully keep you away from buying expensive junk food at campus. 

10. Sell your old textbooks

If you progress to the next year of university and no longer need your textbooks from the year before, sell them to a student who is in fact looking to buy them. Odds are they'd much rather buy something second-hand than splurge on something new too. Selling a textbook is generally pretty easy, most people put up posters in toilet cubicles or around campus (check the rules on that though) or advertise on social media.

I've seen some people try to sell their old textbooks at a profit though, don't be that person.

11. Sell one of your vital organs

Have you seen how much those things go for? It will have you contemplating how much you really need that second kidney.

Kidding, please keep your organs intact.

12. Find a side hustle

If you're able to cope with working and studying, then definitely consider doing so! It can be a lot of pressure, but you definitely learn some good time-management skills in the process.

If you're skilled at something, try creating a small business to make money from it or even consider tutoring. Get that coin, sis!

13. Work hard at your academics

Working hard will open many doors for you, and it makes you a whole lot more likely to be awarded a bursary! It may not be easy, but it's definitely possible.

14. Always remember the main goal

If you're at university, I think it's safe to say that the main goal is ultimately to graduate and get your qualification. Obviously you may have a whole lot more expectations that come along with that such as building relationships and having fun, but once your main focus is on that degree, you'll naturally become more money-conscious.

What are some of your tips for surviving your student budget? Let us know by emailing us at and we could publish your comments. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

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