As most of us know, it’s easier to spend money than to acquire it! Learning to manage your finances at a relatively early stage in your life will set you up now and in the future.
Most students live on a tight budget, but it’s never been more important to manage your money effectively. Recent surveys on how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting students make sobering reading and the National Union of Students is running a Cost of Living Campaign. A survey by the Office for National Statistics found that 91% of students were worried about rising costs.
In this article we look at some of the ways you can keep your finances under control and signpost you to specialist sources of information and advice.
1. Research costs
If you’re still exploring universities, although choosing the right course is extremely important, there are other factors to consider, including the potential costs.
The cost of living varies from one part of the country to another, with London and the South East normally proving to be the most expensive. Where you live and study can have an impact on how much you pay for accommodation, food, transport and entertainment, so it’s worth doing some research. The Which? Budget Calculator allows you to see what your outgoings might be at different universities. In some cases, studying overseas can be cost-effective.
Once you’ve settled on a university, find out the difference in cost between university accommodation and the private rental market. Make sure you check what is and what is not included in your rent. Factor in any additional travel costs if you don’t live near the campus.
Although not for everyone, think about whether living at home could be an option.
2. Make a budget
A budget will help you keep control of your spending. Start by listing all your essential, regular expenses – i.e. what you anticipate you’ll spend on rent, food, utilities, broadband, travel costs etc. Then work out how much you have coming in from your student loan or part-time job, for instance. (Don’t forget that student loan payments have to last a whole term). Factor in the cost of any one-off purchase you know you will have (e.g. to pay for a field trip or clothing). Try to put some money aside for unexpected or major expenses, such as a new laptop. Now work out how much you have left; this can pay for non-essential or luxury items. There are some great planning tools online, such as those on the Money Helper and Citizens Advice websites.
3. Find a job
Many full-time students boost their income by working part time. Not only is this a way to earn money, you will also meet new people and develop some transferrable skills. If you can find work that’s relevant for your future career plans, that will be a bonus.
However, not all universities encourage you to work during term time and most recommend that you do no more than around 15 hours a week. Your study timetable may mean that you have little time spare and you should always check that your job won’t impact on your studies. Your education is an investment in your future, so it would be a shame to damage your long-term prospects.
Waiting on tables, bar work, serving in shops and so on are all jobs popular with students, but there are other types of opportunities to explore, such as tutoring your subject. To find opportunities both on- and off-campus, many unis have ‘jobshops’ and Unitemps provides employment services linked to certain universities. It’s also worth looking at specialist student recruitment sites, such as StudentJob and Employment4Students.
Vacation work is another chance to boost your income and has all the advantages described above without, perhaps, impacting so much on your studies. As you’ll be working for a more concentrated period of time, you may find a job with more responsibility and the chance to develop relevant skills.
Be aware that lots of students chase part-time and vacation work, so apply for vacancies early. It’s also worth making a direct approach to any employers of particular interest. Depending on how much you earn, you may have to pay Income Tax and National Insurance – you’ll find useful information on working as a student on GOV.UK.
4. Investigate other sources of funding
Government-backed student loans for tuition fees and maintenance give you preferential terms for repayment over a long period of time, only when you are earning over a certain income. You can find details on student loans – including some myth busters – on the Save the Student and other websites listed at the end of this article.
All sorts of scholarships, grants, bursaries and other awards are available through universities, professional bodies, employers, educational trust and so on. Some funds are small, but every little helps. Eligibility for awards is based on such factors as academic or sporting excellence or individual circumstances. Check what your obligations might be. If an employer offers sponsorship, for instance, they may expect you to work with them during vacations and after graduation.
If you find yourself in particular financial difficulty, you may be able to access your university’s hardship fund, although priority is given to certain students and funds are limited.
Full-time students cannot normally claim state benefits, but there are exceptions – in some cases students may be entitled to Universal Credit, for instance – so make sure you claim anything to which you are entitled. If you have a disability, long-term health condition or learning difficulty, the Disabled Students' Allowance can cover your additional study-related costs. The Jobcentre Plus can advise about benefits and there’s useful information on the Citizens Advice website.
Find out more about undergraduate student support through UCAS.
5. Control your spending
Nobody likes to be told to cut costs, but there are all sorts of things you can do to save money without necessarily affecting your enjoyment of life. Here are a few suggestions; you may be doing some of these things already and a lot of it is common sense…
- Find cheaper ways to travel. Could you walk, cycle or scoot instead of driving or getting public transport? If you use public transport regularly, check out student travel cards. If you have to travel by car, could you share with other students and split the fuel costs? If you own a vehicle, find ways to reduce your insurance, such as by doing an advanced driving course.
- Shop smart. Make use of charity shops, car boot sales and online auction sites. Find out whether there’s a system at your university for borrowing or buying second-hand course books and equipment. When shopping generally, make use of voucher codes, loyalty cards and other discounts. Various student cards/apps – such as Totum , UNiDAYS and the International Student Identify Card (ISIC) – offer discounts at high street stores, restaurants, travel companies, gyms etc, but make sure you’re likely to get back any initial investment. Also look out for the best deals on your utility bills, broadband, mobile contracts and insurance. There’s advice on student discounts on the Which? website.
- Eat well for less. We all know that some supermarkets are cheaper than others, but shop around. Planning your meals ahead saves on food waste and can help you avoid impulse purchases. Buying in bulk and batch cooking can also save you money. If you share with other students, taking it in turn to cook can save you time and cash, as well as providing you with a variety of meals. And it makes sense to make your own lunch and drinks instead of buying expensive (and often overly packaged and processed) takeaways. Spending just £2 a day on coffee adds up to £730 a year!
6. Manage your bank accounts
Banks and building societies are keen to attract students and may offer you incentives to open an account with them. Although these are tempting, also look at their reputation and what the accounts themselves offer in terms of overdraft facilities etc. The ease of online/mobile banking means that you’re not restricted to banks or building societies that have branches near your university. Whatever you do, never exceed your overdraft limit without making prior arrangements or you will be charged extra.
With contactless debit cards and mobile payment services, it’s all too easy to pay for things, but do keep track of what you’re spending. A good banking app can help you monitor what’s in your account.
If you’re in the position where you have savings, make sure you invest in the right account. Investigate interest rates, ease of access, tax benefits and so on.
7. Control of your borrowing
Borrowing money has its place, but remember that companies that lend money make a profit by charging interest, and interest and late-payment charges can add up.
- Make sure you are fully aware of the interest rates and terms of any credit or loan you are considering.
- Always try to pay off your credit or store cards in time to avoid paying interest.
- If you’re tempted by an offer to ‘buy now, pay later’, ask yourself whether you will really be in a better position to pay down the line.
- Make sure you borrow from an organisation that is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority/Consumer Credit Register.
- If at all possible, avoid borrowing from friends, no matter how good they are.
- Be extremely wary of lenders that appear generous but charge very high interest rates and use all means possible to get their money back if you default.
If your debt is getting out of control, don’t panic but don’t bury your head in the sand either. Put a stop to any unnecessary spending. Contact your lenders; they may help you develop a financial plan and readjust your payments. You can get advice from the StepChange Debt Charity or National Debtline (there’s a useful factsheet on their website called Student money and debt).
We’ve only been able to give you a few pointers as to how you can manage your money as a student, but there are plenty of other sources of information. Your university student support service can help and there’s lots of advice on sites such as Save the Student, Money Helper, The Money Charity, MoneySavingExpert.com and The Mix.
When you’re a new student and trying to fit in, it’s easy to be persuaded to spend. Remember that not everyone has the same level of income as you or the same attitude towards their money, so try not feel pressurised into spending what you don’t have.
Debbie Steel, November 2022
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients. She is an enthusiastic proponent of impartial and reliable careers information.