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Your lifestyle choices will have a massive impact on your budget. There are no rules about what you should or shouldn’t spend your money on – it is entirely your choice, and your responsibility to manage those choices effectively.

It's a fact of life that, unless you have a lucky lottery win, you cannot afford to spend money on everything you would like. Whether your budget is not adding up or you want to save money for a big purchase, reassessing your lifestyle expenditure is a good place to start.

Not thought about your budget yet? Check out the information we have in our Budgeting and Planning section of the web, which can help you prepare or review your budget.

When it comes to lifestyle expenditure, the information and tips below will help you make choices that are right for you, and keep this at an affordable level.

Needs v Wants

If your budget is stretched, the best way to review your spending is to categorise it as either things you need (essentials) or things you want (luxuries). It is important to remember that everyone is different, so one person’s need might be another person’s want.

When you prepare a budget, it is best to do this based on your needs/essentials, and identify what is left over, also known as your disposable income. You can then use this as your budget for wants/luxuries.

This exercise is not about completely cutting out those things you want, but about identifying your priorities and ensuring you can enjoy life’s little luxuries, but within the limits of your budget. Be honest with yourself when making these decisions - it is your budget and your life that is affected by your choices.

This is also the kind of activity that you should review, particularly when your financial position changes, such as an increase to your income.


Spending all of your energy on one aspect of life, such as your studies, is not ideal. Having an active social life is an important part of life, and can help promote positive mental well-being. While your disposable income might be low while you are a student, there are plenty of ways to enjoy an active social life on a budget.

Here are some tips to enjoy an active social life on a budget:

  • Set aside an affordable weekly or monthly allowance for socialising and stick to it
  • Try to plan ahead and budget for any big events so you don’t blow your budget in one go
  • Many venues, whether bars, clubs, cinemas or bowling alleys, will offer discounts for students, so take advantage of these
  • Always ensure you have enough money to get home safely
  • Consider ways to socialise that don’t cost money, such as trips to local parks, museums etc.
  • Think about how your attitude to spending changes when you drink alcohol - If you are prone to going over budget, or being gung-ho with contactless payments, take out only the cash you can afford to spend on that particular day
  • Use websites such as Groupon, Living Social, Wowcher and 5pm to find deals at a fraction of the cost. This can include deals in restaurants, entry to attractions, activities etc.




Family Activities

The cost of sending your kids to weekly activities, like swimming and gymnastics, can be a pressure that many parents face as they want to ensure their kids don’t lose out. However, this can be a significant part of your budget, and might be something you want to reconsider if money is tight. If paying for these activities is going to cause you financial pressure and even put you in debt, you should think about whether they are really worth it for your family.

Juggling the pressures of studies and family life can also be a challenge, so spending good quality time with family is important. There are lots of free attractions such as museums and beaches which make great days out for all the family – you can find out more from Visit Scotland. Or if you fancy a day in the house, it doesn’t have to be boring with these fun ideas for activities for the kids.

We see a lot of parents who end up in financially difficulty during their studies as a result of trying to maintain a lifestyle for their family that they can no longer afford. It’s important to think of your student income as a short term impact of your studies that will improve once you complete your course and move on to pastures new, so also think about the short term sacrifices that your family might need to make in order to help you sustain this without racking up debt. It might mean a few less gifts at Christmas, packed lunches instead of lunch money etc.




Whether via a mobile device or games console, it’s becoming more and more popular for people to spend their spare time gaming. Gone are the times where we spent money on this hobby by buying games in-store. Instead, we are now linking credit and debit cards to accounts that make it easier than ever to buy new games, or in-app purchases. While this makes gaming easier, it can also increase your risk of your spending getting out of control.


Gaming can be a good way to relax and take a break from the pressure of studies, but it can also impact your finances quicker than you can reach the next level. In order to make sure your gaming stays enjoyable, and doesn’t impact negatively on your money, follow these tips:

  • Set a gaming budget. Once you have identified what disposable income you have available, set yourself a gaming budget and stick to it.
  • Avoid linking your credit/debit cards to your account. This makes it so much easier to spend without giving it much thought, and before you know it, you have no money left in your account to pay bills.
  • Use pre-payment cards instead. Load your gaming budget onto a pre-payment card and link this to your account. You’ll then only be able to spend what is on the card.
  • Beware of FREE games. Many free games come with add-ons that cost money, meaning they don’t end up free for long. Whether it’s a payment that means you don’t have to watch ads, or a bundle of gems for only £1.99, these small purchases can add up to make that free game end up being pretty expensive.

Gym Memberships

Keeping fit and healthy is important, and regular exercise can also help to relieve stress. Many students will spend money each month on gym memberships but why part with your hard earned cash when all UWS students can use the on -campus gym facilities for free?

If you are really into fitness, and are considering gym memberships out with UWS, many local councils and private gyms or health clubs will offer student membership rates. You won’t be a student forever so take advantage of these while you can. Just like any other purchase, make sure you shop around and find the deal that suits you best. Don’t just look at the cost, look at what is offered. If you are more of an independent gym-goer who is interested in free weights, make sure the gym you choose has plenty of kit. Alternatively, if you are more into fitness classes, make sure the range offered suits you, and your availability.

Remember that gym memberships are often a contract, similar to a mobile phone contract. Make sure you are clear about the length of contract and any cancellation policies.


Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are an essential part of life, but when you are managing a low income, it is important to ensure you get the best deal for you. These days, most people are looking for mobile devices that are so much more than a simple phone, so the price you pay will reflect this, and is something you should be mindful of.

There are two options when purchasing a mobile phone – monthly contract or pay as you go – and three things to think about – the minutes, texts and data you need.

Monthly contracts can run for up to three years with the monthly cost made up of a payment for the device, and a payment for the airtime plan (minutes, texts and data allowance).

Pay as you go, or sim only deals are different because you are not committed to a contact, and are generally not buying a device as part of the deal. You are usually buying credit as and when you need it, or accessing a bundle deal that gives you a monthly allowance of minutes texts and data, in exchange for a monthly top up.

The right plan for you will depend on your circumstances, but the following points will help you work out what’s best for you:

  • Consider what your budget will stretch to cover before making any commitment
  • If you need to buy a device as part of your plan, think about the device you need – does it need to be the latest iPhone, or could you manage with a slightly older model that might be much cheaper?
  • If you do opt for the contract that includes paying for the device, make sure you calculate exactly how much that means you are paying for the device, and shop around. Perhaps you can buy the device outright using a 0% credit card, making it cheaper in the long run.
  • Why not consider buying a refurbished phone? Check Money Saving Expert's guide to buying refurbished phones
  • Use comparison websites like Money Supermarket, Compare the Market and Uswitch

Student discount

One of the perks to being a student is that many companies offer discounts to encourage you to spend your money. Whether it’s for clothes or shoes, technology or holidays, there are so many companies offering these type of discounts. Some companies may offer these to any student with a valid student ID, while others may be linked to TOTUM (formerly the NUS Extra Card) (see below) or your UNiDAYS account (see below). Some may offer these discounts year round, while others may have bespoke discount events that link to Freshers Weeks.

TOTUM is the official student discount card, supported by the National Union of Students, which includes UWS. The card costs from only £14.99 for one year (two or three-year options are also available). Take a look at the discounts available, as many students will easily recoup this cost, especially when it comes to saving on Christmas shopping.

Don’t miss out. Visit the UNiDAYS website to see what discounts the have available, from fashion to food and fitness.

Check out the Save the Student - Student Discount Directory to see if there are any discounts available on whatever you might have your eye on.


A pet is a big commitment in many ways. As well having the time and energy needed to effectively look after a pet, you will need to have the budget available. As well as the day to day costs, such as food, bedding, cleaning products, you also need to think carefully about the cost of insurance, and healthcare for your pet.

If you are thinking of getting a pet, you should consider whether this commitment, both in terms of time and money, is something you can manage. Check out this calculator to see if you are prepared for the real cost of a pet. If you are barely managing to get by each month, then we would strongly recommend you don’t make this more difficult by taking on the added responsibility of a pet.

Pets are often as much a part of a family than any human being, but they can get into all sorts of scrapes, and pick up any number of illnesses so the best way to mitigate against the considerable costs associated with this is to have good quality pet insurance. Buying pet insurance is no different to insuring your car or home – you should think about you needs and shop around for the policy that suits you best. 


Emotional Spending

You may not know this, but your mood and emotions can have a big impact on your spending habits. Think about the difference between your spending habits when you are in a good mood, to when you might be feeling down and tired. Whether you are more likely to opt for a takeaway if you are tired, or splash out on something nice because you are feeling down and want to treat yourself, emotional spending can have a big impact on your budget.

The best way to minimise the impact of any emotional spending on your budget is to take a step back and identify how your mood affects your spending habits. The more that you are aware of these habits, the more able you will be to minimise any negative impact.

Use the resources below to help deal with your emotions in a positive way:

  • Silvercloud (free for UWS students and staff) Secure, immediate access to online cognitive behavioural therapy programmes that can help you handle feelings of stress or anxiety.
  • Sam App (free) –An app to help you understand and manage anxiety.
  • Hold App (free) – Earn rewards for spending time away from your phone.
  • Emoodji (free) – An app for the ups and downs of university life. Use the app to track your mood and get tips on how to cope with university life.
  • Buddhify (£4.99) – For mindfulness on the move! Select what you are currently doing (walking, trying to sleep etc.) and find a guided meditation to match.
  • Headspace (free) –Free ten day mindfulness programme and paid monthly membership if you want more.




Dependence and Addiction

If you are concerned about addiction, whether that be in relation to alcohol, drugs or shopping, you can find advice, guidance and list of organisations who can help in this section.

While addiction is most commonly associated with drugs, alcohol or smoking, it is possible to be addicted to just about anything, including your phone or shopping.

NHS Guide on Addiction & Support

Addiction can very quickly impact your financial situation, so it’s important to access help and support as soon as you feel ready to. Our Team of Advisers are also able to refer to specialist support that make be available locally, so please don’t hesitate to contact us for support:

Contact Funding & Advice Team


Many people will engage in gambling on a social level, perhaps putting a small bet on the football each Saturday, or buying the occasional lottery ticket. As long as this is affordable for you, and not impacting negatively on your budget or life, this is not a problem.

However, where your gambling habits begin to impact negatively on your life, this is something you should address immediately, and help is available through the following organisations:

Addiction can very quickly impact your financial situation, so it’s important to access help and support as soon as you feel ready to. Our Team of Advisers are also able to refer to specialist support that make be available locally, so please don’t hesitate to contact us for support:

Contact Funding & Advice Team

Last updated: 25/02/2020

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