Budgeting whilst studying at university…
Taking responsibility for your own money is a big learning curve for everyone at university. I’ve never been a perfect money-manager, but I’ve picked up a few tips along the way that I wish I’d known from Day 1…
1) Everyone bangs on about budgeting but it doesn’t work for everyone. Yes, it’s a good to have an idea of where your money will be going, but creating a week-by-week budget of outgoings never really worked for me. It was like a fad diet that lasted for a few days and ended up being forgotten about. Instead, I found it useful to always set money aside, as soon as my loan came in, for the big outgoings I was expecting for the next month or so, such as big nights out, course books, Christmas presents, tenancy payments etc. Keeping the money for these things separate from day-to-day spending helps you manage what you have left to spend (or save!). Keep in mind that loans shouldn’t be spent all in one go, the installments are supposed to last for a few months.
2) Being at university is pretty much the only time in life when it’s okay to be a cheapskate. In fact, it’s encouraged. Embrace student discounts everywhere you go, and if it’s not advertised, make sure you ask – it’s surprising how many places actually do offer discounts without telling you (sneaky!). Voucher websites such as Groupon and Student Beans are really handy and are also a good way to get out and about. Finding cheap stuff is also really, really fun!
Generally being spend-savvy saved me a lot. It’s a cliché, but little purchases do add up so doing small things to reduce them can go a long way. For instance, reusing a water bottle instead of buying a new bottle of water every day and walking instead of taking the bus whenever possible can make a huge difference.
3) Earn your own money. Even if you’re receiving a student loan and money from your family, there is nothing better than the feeling you get from knowing you have earned your money yourself. Finding a job at university is a lot easier than it might seem too – most universities look for ‘student ambassadors’ which offer very flexible work hours, events promoters always want people to flyer for them, and it is worth inquiring at campus cafes and shops. Not only is this a way to line your pockets, but it’s a good way to meet new people, gain new skills and improve your future employability too. Even if you can’t find a job, keep an eye out for research opportunities – some researchers will pay you to participate in their research projects. I managed to earn £5 in 15 minutes for completing a questionnaire, which subsequently paid for my dinner!
4) Sort out your priorities. As with everything in life, you can’t have everything you want. I had particular difficulties with shopping, so I made sure I had a shopping list and stuck strictly to buying only what was on the list. I saved eating out for special occasions, so that I wasn’t tempted to make a habit of it, and only treated myself to something when I deserved it. Occasional splurges are okay; as long as you’re aware that it’s a splurge and that you can’t do it every week!
5) Debt’s for dummies. Although debt is often associated with student life, it’s so easily avoidable, as long as you keep on top of your finances and don’t get silly with spending. Using a 0% interest bank account with an overdraft is a must for every student, but stay well away from your overdraft limit and try and get back into positive as soon as you can. Student loans, scholarships and bursaries are available to everyone, every year, so make sure you make full use of them. The key is to apply early, so that you get your payments on time.