Budgeting for the big stuff

Managing your money well can be the difference between having fun and having none. Here’s how…
Young girl stands outside in the sunshine holding her takeaway coffee cup

We get it: saving money and managing your budget might not sound like much fun. But having a plan for your spending will help you afford the lifestyle you want in the future, whether that’s moving into your own place, getting a car, heading to uni or a sun-filled weekend with your mates in Barcelona. Here are five easy money management tips to help you take control today…

1. Suss out where you stand

Work out how much money you have coming in each week or month – any earnings, pocket money, loans etc. Don’t include any money you have in savings – that’s what you’re hoping to add to! You could do this with pen and paper, on a computer or even with a budgeting spreadsheet like this one from Save the Student, or a free app like Mint. If you bank with NatWest, use the handy Savings Goal Tool in the app.

2. List the lot

Next, write a list of all of the things you spend money on each week or month. Be thorough – everything counts, from bus fares to snacks, days out with your mates, petrol, phone bills – the lot.

3. Mark up the essentials

Go through your list of expenses (what you spend) and mark everything you need – that’s the absolute essentials like food, bus fare, rent – in one colour. Add up how much that comes to and make a note of it. That’s your essential spend.

Should I, can I, will I?

Lusting after a new video game, the latest must-have accessory or an iPhone upgrade? Before you drop your cash, sense-check your spending:

Should I be spending this much on something I want but don’t really need?

Can I afford it without impacting my other lifestyle and saving plans?

Will I have to go without other things because I bought this?

Savings ninja

Struggle to keep within your spending limits after pay day? Go stealth and set up a standing order (a regular payment) that automatically moves some of your wages into your savings account the day you’re paid. If you don’t see it in your current account you’re less likely to accidentally spend it on that must-have jacket…

A person wearing trainers and carrying shopping bags standing on an escalator

4. Make a saving plan

Take a look at the things not marked in that colour. These are your non-essential spends – the milkshake when you’re out with your mates, the new top, the gig tickets. Have a think about which of these you could go without, or swap for a cheaper option, and how much you could put into your savings if you did. The magic ratio to aim for is 50, 30, 20:

  • 50% of your money should go on needs (the essential costs you can’t avoid)
  • 30% on wants – the fun stuff
  • 20% on savings or paying off debts

5. Keep on top of your spending

Once you have worked out how much you can save each month, keep track of your progress each day. Watch out for those small, non-essential costs as they creep in, and keep reminding yourself of your end goal. You’ll also need to adjust your budget when your income, or life costs, change – for instance, once you manage to buy that car, you’ll need to put some petrol in it. Tell your friends and family your plans, too, so they can help encourage you and sense-check your spending along the way.

Head shot of Clare Seal, founder of The Financial Wellbeing Forum

My budgeting tips:
Clare Seal, founder of
The Financial Wellbeing Forum

Clare Seal may have written two books about the art of budgeting, but she learnt everything she knows the hard way, having found herself in £27,000 worth of debt by the age of 30. Here are the three things she wishes she could tell her younger self about managing money:


“It’s not worth spending money you don’t have to ‘keep up’ with people, or to try and show you care. I spent a lot of my teenage years buying things to try and fit in. It cost me more than just money – it also impacted my sleep, my mental health and my relationships.”


“Don’t be afraid to talk to your bank. They’ll have dedicated teams to help make sure you understand your account and responsibilities, and there’s no such thing as a stupid question.”


“Don’t bury your head in the sand. Try not to see managing your money as a hassle, but as something that enables you to live the way you want to. It’s part of looking after yourself and making sure you’re well prepared for the future.”

Check out the accompanying video for this article and discover the five things you need to know about budgeting.


Image credits: Stocksy