The typical student is often strapped for cash, especially as it’s usually the first time you’ll handle a large amount of money like your student loan, or take on the responsibility of all your living costs. With a little preparation and smart shopping, you’ll fly through first year with fewer money worries and good saving habits for life.
Apply for financial assistance
If you live in the UK, you can apply for loans to cover your tuition fees and some of your living costs. Apply on the Student Finance website affiliated to your country – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have different systems so make sure you’re on the right one. You won’t have to start paying these loans back until you’ve graduated and are earning a certain amount, and the amount you pay is proportionate to your earnings (so if you lost your job or took a pay cut, the repayments would adjust accordingly).
Sign up to the right student bank account for you
You probably already have a current account, but don’t blindly stick with your bank just because it’s easier – it may cost you down the line. Once you’ve got your university offer you can apply for a student account, which is probably your first major financial decision and is not to be taken lightly.
There are plenty of guides out there to help you decide which student bank account is the right one for you, such as this one from Student Money Saver and this one from Save the Student
Coursebooks, bills, sports club and society fees, going out… once you start university, the money just seems to flow from your account as quickly as it goes in. One of the most useful things you can do to keep track of your spending is drawing up a budget – nothing fancy, it could be anything from scribblings on a sheet of paper to an Excel spreadsheet. Work out what your incomings are (loan, part-time job, presents) and then what you spend your money on (food, your phone bill, socialising and course costs). Having it written down in front of you will help you see if you’re overspending and where you could cut back or save. Spending a little time of this groundwork could save you a fortune later on!
Wise up to discounts and savings
Once you’ve figured out the amount you have to spend on each area, there are countless ways to free up more cash. Shop savvy, make comparisons, and keep a look out for deals and offers. Your student card is your best friend, so keep it on you at all times – it can get you discounts in clothes shops, restaurants, at the cinema and the theatre and loads more places. An NUS Extra card costs only £12 for a year and unlocks hundreds more discounts – find out more here: nus.org.uk/en/nus-extra/
Sites like Student Money Saver, StudentBeans and Save the Student (as you can guess, there’s a theme here) list hundreds of offers and update regularly – you can also pop in your email address and get offers sent straight to your inbox. Check you’re getting the best deal on your phone bill, and if you’ve spotted a better one – call up your provider and persuade them to drop their price! You’ll be surprised how effective a little negotiation can be.
Make some money
It may be that you don’t have enough cash coming in to pay for everything you need or want, or find yourself cutting back too harshly. If you have time around coursework, socialising and everything else you need to do, consider the ways in which you could make money.
A part-time job is the obvious option, but make sure the job doesn’t take up too much time and that it’s flexible enough to let you structure your hours around your other commitments. If you play an instrument, you could teach, or advertise your talent to play at weddings and other events. You could become a private tutor, or skill swap, or even volunteer to get the skills you may need for a good job once you graduate (thinking in the much-longer-term, here!).
Survey sites are a slower way to boost your income, but if you check back on them daily and fill them in diligently, you should get a nice little injection of cash into your account every so often. OnePoll (onepoll.com) posts up new surveys fairly regularly and you can earn around 10p-50p for each one. Once you hit £40, you can cash out via BACS or Paypal. YouGov is also a good option, though they operate on a points system, so once you’ve built up enough points you can cash them in for gift vouchers and other perks.
The idea of being in sole charge of your money and living independently shouldn’t freak you out. There are plenty of resources out there on the good old world wide web, and you can ask around to see what other people do to manage their money. It seems like a lot to learn but it should all become habit – you’ll be saving money straightaway, to spend it on the important things!