It is not easy living on a student budget, but Alex Watts offers useful advice on how to make the most of your income
Finding ways to stretch your cash a little further will pay dividends over the academic year but it will not be easy. There are ways you can cut down on your spending without consigning yourself to a diet of bread and water.

The first step is to get into the habit of keeping an eye on what is coming in and going out of your bank account.

The trouble with budgeting is that money generally comes in at one time, often in large chunks at the beginning of a term, and your expenses at another. It is therefore easier to budget termly or yearly.

You should keep a note of your finances in a diary or personal organiser. A simple budgeting method is to divide a piece of paper into two columns.

On the left-hand side write down your likely income sources such as student loan, parental contribution, holiday or part-time job money, access funds or sponsorship.

On the right-hand side write down your fixed expenses like rent, gas, electricity, telephone, food, books, laundry and travel costs.

Subtract the total of the right column from the total of the left and this will give you an indication of how much you have or haven't got left over to spend on "non-essentials" like socialising, clothes, cinema and presents.

Accommodation is likely to be your biggest expense, so try to make sure you have enough in your account to cover your monthly rent cheque.

Geoff Orton, Advice Services Manager at the University of Kent's Student Union, said: "Most of the initial money a student gets goes on rent. With the value of grants going down, students are probably going to have to borrow or get an overdraft to pay their first rent bill.

"To avoid problems they need to discuss this with the bank as when their loan comes through this should clear the debt and leave them some money for living costs.

"What students need to make sure they know is what their expenses are going to be and how much money they are going to receive and when they are going to get it."

Another big expense will be food. Quite simply, your money will not last long if you rely on take-aways or cafe offerings.

By learning how to cook cheap, balanced meals, you will save yourself piles of cash and look and feel healthier.

You will need to make weekly trips to the supermarket to stock up on basic foodstuffs like bread, rice and pasta. These should be supplemented with fresh vegetables and fruit.

It is worth trying local markets for bargain prices, they are much less expensive than the corner shop. Also don't go food shopping on an empty stomach - you will end up with a basket of mouth-watering goodies you can't really afford.

There are a number of "Grub on a Grant" and "How to Survive on a Fiver" cookbooks aimed at students leaving home for the first time. These offer simple guides on how to knock up hot, nourishing meals in a matter of minutes.

You should also check out student union shops, which buy in bulk and can therefore give good discounts. Most union shops sell everything from stationery to holidays.

Also try putting your money in the bank and paying yourself a weekly allowance. If you're broke before "pay day" you know you're over-spending.

Another tip to remember is don't go splashing out all your cash on books.

Universities will give you a course booklist, but this doesn't mean you have to buy them all - libraries or buying secondhand books are cheaper options.

A lot of students sell their text books as soon as they leave their course, these are often advertised at knock-down prices on university notice boards.

You could also boost your income by getting a part-time job to fit in around your studies. Many employers, like Marks & Spencer, have removed the distinction between part-time and full-time staff.

Caroline Noble, from the Macclesfield branch, said: "With branches around the country we may be able to help with term time work near your university.

"Staff, including students, have the chance of gaining NVQ qualifications with us, which could improve chances of finding other work at university.

"Part-time staff on permanent contracts begin to accrue staff benefits and normal employment rights from day one. It could be the start of a lifetime post-graduate management career with the company."

The Natwest Student Book (pounds 10.99) contains information about managing money

University Scholarships and Awards (pounds 9.99)

Students' Money Matters, sponsored by NatWest (pounds 8.99) all are published by Trotman & Co Ltd