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UK student finance: How to map your budget

A young woman speaking to a money adviser at Manchester University

Cost is likely to be a top concern for anyone thinking of studying abroad – so it’s great to know that studying in the UK can be excellent value for money.

But how can you get the best value for money from your UK course? And what’s the best way to prepare for the cost of UK student life?

We spoke to Eri Mountbatten, a Student Adviser, freelance writer, trainer and member of the Financial Capability & Research Board of NASMA (the National Association of Student Money Advisers), who works with international students on a daily basis. We asked him for his top financing tips for international students thinking of coming to the UK.


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Eri says: ‘I meet many international students, from China to the Czech Republic, who believe that the UK will be the best place to kickstart their career. Research shows us time and time again that they are probably right. However, problems can happen if you don’t plan adequately; as people say, "failing to plan is planning to fail".

‘The good news is that you don’t need a Master’s in financial planning to increase your chances of success. All you need are some simple common-sense principles. It all comes down to making a plan – or rather, a MAP! This stands for:

  1.  Map:        Map your current financial state and consider your range of options.
  2.  Afford:      Make informed decisions based on what you can afford and stick to the plan.
  3.  Prepare:   Prepare for the unexpected.

1. Map

‘Draw up your current and prospective financial snapshot. It seems so obvious, but in order to know how to get to where you want to be, you need to know where you are first!

‘How much do you already have to spend on your studies from savings, money from your parents, etc.? How much can you get from other funding sources, for example from grants, loans, scholarships?

‘There is a wealth of information out there – so much that it can feel a little bewildering.

‘Education UK has made this process easier for you by pulling all of the most important information together. Find out about course costs and fees here, and about scholarship options here.

‘For more information about fees and finance, check out Fees and Finance on the UKCISA website.’

2. Afford

‘Once you’ve looked at course fees, you can now begin to consider all other possible costs.

‘For example, you may have one-off expenses such as travel, insurance, deposits or visa expenses.

‘You will also have regular expenses, such as student accommodation, food, bills and social life. One online tool to help you work these issues out and balance your finances is the International Student Calculator – give it a try.

‘Alongside all these, remember there are different options in the UK – and some are more expensive than others. Life in London, for example, is likely to cost a bit more than other parts of the country.

'The NUS (National Union of Students) has a great article about UK living costs. If you need more specific data, Numbeo claims to be the world’s largest database for the cost of living in cities across the world. Whatever happens, plan your budget and stick to it!’

3. Prepare

‘It is said that the one thing in life that is certain is change, and this is very true of our current economic, social and political climate. Therefore preparing for the unexpected is by far the most important tip I can give you.

‘You could meet anything from unforeseen course fees to travel or emergency accommodation costs to healthcare expenses. Your initial "plan" could change because you have an unexpected drop in income, such as a drop in wages or in money from home.  

‘These things can and often do happen and they can have devastating consequences – but they don’t have to. If you think ahead you can be empowered.

‘As a back-up, I’d suggest having between two and three months’ savings in a separate bank account – call this your safety net. This will give you time to source alternative funds during any major crisis and will also give you a degree of financial flexibility and resilience to cope with smaller unanticipated outlays or drops in cash flow. This is your own personal lifeline – but it only works as long as you don’t spend it!'


‘To sum up, remember: map your current financial state and consider your range of options; make informed decisions based on what you can afford and stick to the plan; and finally, prepare for the unexpected. Follow these simple steps and you will be right on course to weather any storm ahead – anticipated or otherwise.

'Finally, be aware that most universities and colleges have some form of advice service available to students which is totally free! Just ask your students’ union or international office. At NASMA, we can also help you get in touch with our members for money advice. So be reassured that once you get here, you will not be alone!’

For more information about student finance, see NASMA useful links.

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