The thought of student loans, tuition fees loans and various grants might make you feel flush, but the reality is that most students scrape to get by. You’ll have to be clever with your money and scrimp in places to avoid getting seriously into the red. In a nutshell, you’ll have to channel your inner Scrooge (but be nice to Tiny Tim).
The problem is that when you get that first instalment of your student loan, it’s tempting to splash out on iPads, phones, clothes, and rounds of drinks. But the reality is that, for most students, their maintenance loans will just about cover their accommodation costs, and after that you’ve got to find some dosh to live on.
The magic word, when it comes to working out your finances and making sure you’ll have enough to live on, is ‘budgeting’. It’s quite simple really: work out your total expenditure for the university term (e.g. what you’ll have to spend money on), calculate your income (e.g. money from grants, loans, your parents, part-time work), and then make sure your expenditure doesn’t exceed your income.
Well, it sounds simple, but the problem is that before you go to university, you’re pretty clueless as to what your costs will be and how much things will set you back. So let’s run through what you’ll probably have to fork out money for and some ways you can keep that student bank account looking healthy.
This will probably be your biggest expense. However, most people will take out a tuition fee loan from the government to cover the cost of it.
This will be the biggest chunk of your living budget.
Student halls can be expensive, so be careful to find out if utility bills are included. How much will your accommodation set you back? Bear in mind that you’ll probably have to pay a deposit. You will also need to tally up laundry expenses (particularly if you’re living in student halls).
- Pool your resources. If you set up a tab for bulk-buying essentials with your housemates, you could save a pretty penny.
A student’s gotta eat and one thing you’ll need to budget for is food. All of those cheeky pub lunches at university and ready-made meals can make your food costs spiral out of control. Really, you should be looking at spending less than £40 a week on food.
- Share meals. Even if you just share a meal one or twice a week with your housemates, it’s a great way of getting a cheap meal. Making food for one can be an expensive business, but if you split the cost of a meal between more people, it can work out a whole lot cheaper.
- Learn to make a few basic cheap meals to save money on ready-made meals. Alternatively, (and this is a bit sneaky) try and persuade your parents to cook you a batch of meals that you can keep in your freezer, ready to defrost.
- Go vegetarian. Try and have two or three vegetarian meals a week, as they can be much cheaper than meaty meals.
Some halls of residence have contents insurance included in the rent, but you might need to take out your own policy. You might also want to take out mobile phone insurance and computer insurance.
Travel & transport
If you’re living away from home, then travel and transport might be a big part of your budget. Going to and from home at the start and end of each term, as well as those cheeky trips home during term time, might end up costing a fair bit. Add to that: visiting friends at other universities, and the actual transport costs of getting to lectures, going into the city centre and getting cab rides home at night.
- A bike is a student’s friend. It’s a cheap form of transport and a pretty ubiquitous sight in most student towns.
- Leave your car at home and try getting coaches instead of trains. You can get coach trips for as little as £1. If you’re going by train, always try and book as far in advance as possible, so you can get the cheapest tickets. You might also want to invest in a Young Persons Railcard.
You should also expect to pay a few hundred quid for course materials, such as books, equipment and various other things. Art students will have to take into account that many art schools don’t provide art materials for free.
- Buy second-hand course books instead of new ones, and sell on the stuff you no longer need.
Much of your money, particularly during first year, will be spent on ‘hitting the town hard’ (or other non-alcoholic pursuits) and going to gigs, cinemas, bars and restaurants.
- There are plenty of voucher deals for cinemas, bars and restaurants. Take advantage of cheap student nights at clubs!
- Don’t get sucked in by your friends’ spending habits. Have the balls to stand your ground and say: “I can’t afford that.” Try and suggest other ways for you to go out and have a fun time (e.g. cheaper student nights) without shelling out too much cash.
That dinky little piece of hardware in your pocket can end up costing a lot.
- Shop around for some good deals and work out exactly how many minutes and texts you’ll need. You might need to look for more minutes than you currently have if you’re going to be calling home and friends at other universities.
Clothes, music, presents, student society membership, toiletries…there are plenty of other ways you can inadvertently find yourself splashing the cash. The trick is to budget a set amount of money for things like clothes, treats and other expenses, and try to stick to it.
- Small priced items can be your downfall. For example, buying a cup of coffee everyday could end up setting you back £400 over the whole university year. Eek!
- Keep a spreadsheet detailing what you are spending your money on and see if you can find ways to shave back your expenses. It’s about weighing up want vs. need: you might want that iPad, but do you really need it?
Your income will come from various sources: first and foremost, you can apply for tuition fee loans and maintenance loans, as well as a maintenance grant if you come from a low income household. Next, you might get a part-time job (e.g. working a few nights a week at the students’ union). Alternatively, you can save up during the holidays by doing vacation work.
- It’s a good idea to get an ISA where you can save any surplus funds you might have. They usually have the best rates and you’ll be able to earn some interest on your money. Those students who are very careful with their money and know they won’t go into their overdraft, sometimes take out the money from their interest-free overdraft and put it into an ISA to earn some money off it. However, if you decide to do this, you need to be careful you don’t go over your overdraft limit.
- Get an on-campus job or a Saturday job to earn a little bit of extra cash. If you’re looking for something a bit more flexible, you could join a catering service for occasional work.
- Work during the holidays. Students have a stupid amount of holiday and it’s a great time to earn some money. If you’re earning under £10,600 a year, you won’t have to pay tax, so that even makes working for National Minimum Wage worth it.
- Our final tip is to take out a set amount of cash out each week (say £30 - £40), which you have to get by on (obviously excluding rent and bills).
With a few tricks up your sleeve, there’s nothing to suggest that you won’t be able to pay your way through university. You just need to keep a tight hand on those purse strings.