Surviving Dublin: how to navigate your way financially in the Big Smoke

Emma Lueders shares some essential advice for budgeting as a college student

During my first year in Dublin, coming from a small village where the only shop for 20km doubled as the post office, I haemorrhaged money the second I walked out of Heuston. Being financially independent in a college that has specialized coffee, brunch spots and vintage shops all on its doorstep can be challenging. It can easily leave your wallet as nothing more than a glorified holder for Zara receipts and an Insomnia loyalty card that you always forget to get stamped. Going from a full time pay check during the summer, to a part time one once term kicks back in doesn’t help either. Learning from past mistakes, I have found the key to surviving the term without a heavy reliance on Aldi pot noodles, is to establish a budget when the semester starts. As setting a budget can be difficult, I have outlined some of the tips and tricks that I learned and the best way to create a budget that works for you. 

To start off, it is a good idea to list all of your actual and predicted income. If you are taking on a part time job this can mean jotting down your hours and the expected wage at the end of every week. I found it useful to underestimate the number of hours I would be working, allowing your budget to be built on the minimum amount of money received, therefore any extra shifts could be noted as extra income. If you are receiving a SUSI grant or dipping into savings it can be beneficial to divide the overall amount available to you into equal weekly allowances to see the most you can afford to spend. This is a very simple starting step in creating a budget and can be great to get an idea of weekly limits and how much you can afford to spend straight in your head. 

One of the most important rules of budgeting is ensuring that your expenditure is never higher than your income. It seems straightforward, but can be difficult when Alfie’s is running their Monday cocktail special. Once you have your weekly income sorted, the next logical step is to discuss your fixed expenses. These are the things that you have to pay each month such as rent, food, phone bills, repeat medical prescriptions or petrol/diesel. These are the bills that need to be paid and places where money needs to be spent consistently. Unfortunately for many students, with minimum wages being below a living wage, this can take up a lot of a person’s income. It’s a good idea to overestimate these bills to make sure that these expenses are always covered. I find it best to round them to the nearest 10 or 50, depending on how much wiggle room you have in your budget, you can always skip this if you feel it brings you too close to your limit. The next type of expenditure you need to take account of is your flexible expenditure. This band includes non-fixed bills such as meals out with friends, books, clothes and nights out. If something is going to be particularly expensive such as books needed by Hilary term, or a big night out, you can divide this portion of expenses to reflect that. It can also be useful to set aside a bit extra for things you know are going to be expensive in the future. With these three categories, you can establish your basic budget. 

Although being a student means that most of the time money is tight and stretched as far as it can go, I feel a small part of your budget should include saving. I have set this component apart from the others as it is probably one that will change the most week to week. By putting aside a small amount each week, you can cover unforeseen circumstances such as becoming sick and needing to take time off work as a result, or increased medical bills. It can also be important if you want to take extra time off during exam periods. The key thing to remember about having a savings category is that the amount you will be able to put aside each week will vary and that is to be expected. Savings are also put aside to be spent at a later date, and I know for one that I always feel guilty when I have to access any of my savings. Savings are meant to be dipped in and out of as a way of never being truly stretched on money, so if unexpected costs do arise that is what your savings are for. That being said, although saving is a great idea, sometimes it is not possible with other expenditures taking priority. It’s important that you work with your own budget and figure out one that works for you. 

With the key elements of budgeting established, here are some great money saving ideas that can be implemented to make your allowance stretch as far as possible. Meal planning is an excellent way to save, as it ensures all of your groceries get used from your weekly shop. I find making a list before going shopping, and switching to home brand products for the majority of food purchases also makes a significant difference. Repairing clothes instead of replacing them is a great way to save and be sustainable. Shopping in charity shops can also be a clever way to get new clothes at a cheap price but, in my experience, steer clear of ‘vintage’ shops if you are trying to save money. Although they sell great trendy clothing, there tends to be a hefty mark up in comparison to shopping in charity stores. Walking or cycling to college and work both helps to reduce costs on transport and get in your daily step count. 

“Although there are hundreds of ways that you can reduce costs, it’s important that you also don’t skimp on the things that bring you joy.”

Although there are hundreds of ways to reduce costs, it’s important that you also don’t skimp on the things that bring you joy. If buying a lunch out once a week or grabbing a nice coffee on a Monday morning makes you happy, allow for that expense. A scrap of paper or simply a document in your notes app can also be used, whatever helps to make sure you’re balancing your income and expenditure. A key idea to remember when budgeting is that it needs to be sustainable and if you feel trapped and unhappy, your budget won’t last long.