Student Budgeting and Economic Skills
For many people, going to university means taking full control of their finances for the first time. Inevitably, they probably have more money than ever before, from a student loan, or perhaps from a summer job. It is a heady mixture, and it can also be a challenge.
With so much money at your disposal, it can be tempting to spend it on going out with your new friends, or buying things to make your room look nicer. But it is worth stopping for a few moments, and doing some budgeting. It may be dull, but it could stop you having to spend a miserable few weeks at the end of term living on baked beans and never going out.
Starting your Budgeting
To ensure that you do not overspend at the start of term, or indeed at any other time, you need a plan. A budget.
Our page on Budgeting sets out a process that you could use for this.
Whatever process you use, some idea of your likely income and outgoings will help you to avoid running out of cash.
Budgeting for Students
This page sets out some ideas designed to help you as a student, and to identify issues that will be particular to you.
1. A lot of financial stuff happens at the start of term
This is when you receive your student loan, but it is also when you have to pay your rent—and if you are living in halls, probably for the full term, and not just for a month—and when you have to buy books and equipment for the term.
On the plus side, this means that quite a lot of your big expenses are dealt with while you have money.
It also, however, means that quite a lot of your money is gone straight away.
In other words, you probably have a lot less money than you thought.
2. There are often celebrations and parties at the end of term
Clubs and societies will often have end-of-term parties, and halls or colleges may also hold balls or events. Many of these will require paying for a ticket in advance. It is worth adding a bit of a contingency into your budget, especially in your first year, until you get a feel for how many events you are likely to want to attend, and their likely cost.
3. There may be catering options that will allow you to front-load your spending
Universities understand that students can struggle to budget, and they also want to ensure that you eat.
There are, therefore, often options that allow you to pay for meals at the start of term, while you have plenty of money. For example, if you are living in halls, your hall may have a canteen that sells season tickets at the start of term. You may also be able to pre-load a payment card so that you have some money stored away for later in the term.
If you are in self-catering halls, and you have been given a lift to university by your parents or a friend, consider asking them to take you to the nearest big supermarket to stock up on some essentials before they leave.
A big box of washing powder, or some four-packs of baked bean cans, are surprisingly heavy. Buying in bulk is almost impossible when your only transport is a bike or a bus, and internet shopping is not always viable financially. Your parents might even pay for your shopping trip if you’re lucky…
4. Student bank accounts offer benefits that standard accounts do not
Banks want student custom, because students become graduates, and graduates earn money. Most high street banks therefore offer students incentives to open an account, such as a railcard, an interest-free overdraft, or a discount card.
It is worth shopping around to find a bank that offers what you will need most.
It is also, however, worth remembering that when your student days are over, so is your interest-free overdraft.
Try not to rely on your overdraft as a standard source of funding, rather than an emergency option. It can get expensive later. There is more about this in our page on Loans and Savings.
5. There are many other discounts available to students
There are likely to be discounts available to students in local shops; you will need an NUS card to be eligible, so take time to go and get one if they are not issued automatically. Whenever you buy something, ask if there is a student discount. It is also worth checking out other discount options, such as railcards and coach cards, as these allow you to travel home and/or to visit friends elsewhere more cheaply.
6. It is often possible to manage a university course and a part-time job
Your university will probably tell you that it discourages part-time jobs for students. Your tutor will want you to be able to concentrate on your study, without distractions.
In reality, however, your contact time on many courses and at many universities is nowhere near ‘full time’.
This means that if you pick your job carefully, you will probably be able to manage a part-time job during term time if you want. Second- and third-year students will be able to advise whether it is likely to be possible on your course.
This can be a useful way of supplementing your income. Be aware, however, that it will also limit your social life, and you may not get as much out of university as you would have liked.
7. Some universities offer bursaries to struggling students
Some universities and colleges have ‘hardship funds’ or bursaries for students who would otherwise struggle. If you think this may be you, then it would be worth looking into hardship funds before you run out of cash. Some places, for instance, provide funding if you wish to stay on after the end of term to study, and others provide extra funds all year, or for particular contingencies.
A hardship fund is not there because you have spent all your money on socialising in your first few weeks. It is there for cases of genuine hardship, for students who might otherwise have to leave university for financial reasons. Don’t abuse it. Even if you are not eligible now, you may be in future.
8. Libraries and other shared resources can save you a lot of money
You are likely to have been presented with a reading list even before you have arrived at university.
Don’t be tempted to rush out and buy everything on it straight away, or even at all. Libraries usually carry all the core texts, and quite a number of others.
Additionally, some of the books or articles on it will turn out to be essential: your core texts for the year or for particular courses. Others will turn out to be optional reading. You will not, at first glance, be able to distinguish between the two. There are, however, a number of people who can help:
Second- and third-year students can often advise you which books are worth buying, or which you should be able to get from the library.
They may even be able to lend or sell you their copy of core texts, as their studies will probably have moved on, or there may be second-hand book sales from time to time.
Your lecturers will also be able to advise which books are essential, and where you can get second-hand or library copies.
The librarians are also very knowledgeable about which books cover which courses. After all, they have been dealing with students for years.
9. The costs of printing and photocopying can mount up
Printing and photocopying facilities will be available, but at a cost.
Be aware of what you will have to pay, and ensure that you only photocopy or print what is necessary. It may be better value to buy a printer yourself than pay for printing, especially if you are going to be handing in a large project or a number of essays.
Budgeting is dull but it ensures that you can have fun
Budgeting and thinking about how you will cope financially is not the most exciting activity, especially in your first few days or weeks as a student. It is, however, likely to help ensure that your money lasts, and you can continue to have fun throughout your student life, rather than just for a few weeks.