Budgeting and debt


Managing money is hard. Expenses can quickly add up without you realising, and soon you’ve become a student stereotype living off beans on toast. But if you put thought into your finances, a lot of the stress can be reduced.

We’ve signposted to plenty of external resources and charities, because they’re the experts when it comes to money and debt issues. We don’t offer our own financial advice, so if you need more support than is available on these pages, these specialist services will be able to help.

Student Funding Office

The University has a team of financial advisors who can help you with all sorts of concerns, whether it's budgeting, debt advice, help with Student Finance or how to access the University's Hardship Fund. Contact them at financialsupport.undergraduate@durham.ac.uk (despite the email address, this service is open to both undergraduate and postgraduate students).


Having to face exactly how much money you spend each week might sound like a nightmare, but it’s the most helpful way to ensure you manage your money well.

Why should I budget? [+]

With an accurate picture of your financial circumstances, you won’t unknowingly run-up debt. If you are aware that your finances are low, you can try to adapt your spending before it becomes critical, making sure you have enough money set aside for priority needs.

If you owe creditors money, a budget can also be used to inform them as to your financial situation and will help you negotiate a repayment plan you can afford.

Cost of living [+]

To budget effectively, you need to know your cost of living, which means taking into account everything you spend money on. The following areas provide a good starting point for calculating your cost of living:

  • Tuition fees
  • Accommodation
  • Food and drink
  • Utilities
  • Travel
  • Costs related to study
  • Non-essential expenses e.g. going out
How do I budget? [+]

Budgeting begins with calculating your total income and total expenditure, and working out the difference between the two. This will allow you to see if you are living beyond your means.

You can then use the following tools to help plan your spending, while taking into account your income.

Budgeting tools

The budgeting tools below will help you plan for the year ahead:

  • Managing Your Money – the University’s tips and suggestions for managing your money
  • Money Health Check – a simple online questionnaire to help you with your spending priorities
  • Brightside Student Calculator – an extremely useful and easy to use budgeting tool
  • NASMA – a Student Budget Planner provided by the National Association of Student Money Advisers


No matter how well you budget, debt is inevitable for many students. You will have likely taken out a tuition fee and maintenance loan to support you through University. But these loans will be paid back once you have graduated and are earning money, so do not need urgent attention.

You may, however, have more urgent debts and whether you owe your housemate £100 or a credit card company £1000, debt can be worrying. The important thing is not to ignore the problem or suffer in silence, this always makes things worse.

We recommend that students contact debt advice charity StepChange, who provide a free and confidential service that can be accessed by anyone.

Understanding your debts [+]

To get a good handle on your debts, it’s useful to divide them into priority and non-priority debts.

1. Priority Debts

Priority debts are urgent because the consequences of not paying them are more serious than the consequences of not paying other debts. You should always aim to pay off your priority debts off first. Common priority debts for students are:

  • Rent – you could end up losing your home
  • Electricity and gas bills – your supplies could be disconnected
  • TV licence – watching TV without a valid licence is a criminal offence
  • University debt – an unpaid debt to the University is a priority since it might lead to your degree being withheld

2. Non-Priority Debts

Non-priority debts are money debts like:

  • Overdrafts
  • Credit card bills
  • Bank loans
  • Store cards

If you’re finding managing your money difficult, it’s important to ask for help before you get into serious debt and financial hardship.

If you cannot pay these you will face increasing charges and interest, and the ultimate possibility of being taken to Civil Court. A County Court Judgement (CCJ) can affect your ability to get credit in the future.

Page last reviewed: 01/04/2019