Counting the cost: managing money at university

Of all the fears prospective students have about coming to university, personal finance seems to consistently eclipse the others. This is understandable. University is, for many, the bridge between ‘kidulthood’ and adulthood. Before, it was just your parents/guardians who fussed over the bills. Then, all of a sudden, it is you who feels the weight of responsibility in your hands. It’s a matter of treading in unfamiliar territory. Yet it need not be as fearful, if you can learn how to properly manage your money sooner rather than later.

It goes without saying that before even applying to university, you ought to have an idea of how student finance works in general. Do your research on how the funding system works, how much you will be entitled to, when you may have to begin repayment, and how much might you be expected to repay, etc.  It is vital that you understand as best as you can what it is you are committing yourself to for the next couple of years, and all its costs and benefits.

Once you’re sure about university, and have got your funding sorted, you can then begin to shop around for student bank accounts. Most student accounts come with incentives ranging from discounts on travel to food and clothing. It’s entirely up to you which bank you choose, but be sure to research plenty and compare the ones that attract you most. For example, I chose to open my student account with Santander as the incentive at the time was a free 16-25 Railcard, which has helped significantly with transport costs between university and home in London. I also know of foodies who chose another bank because it offered a TasteCard, which gave them discounts in various restaurants.

So, you’re off to university, you’ve set up your account, and student finance starts pouring in. What happens next? You resist the urge to splurge. Instead, you stop, think, and budget. As previous posts suggest, planning and preparation at university is crucial and encompasses almost every part of student life. You need to reflect on how you will spend what you receive. Will your student loans cover you, or will you need to work to supplement it? If so, how much will you need to cover the shortfall and where is this money coming from? These are the questions I asked myself at the start of the first semester. Using the Fudget app, I computed all my expected income and expenses, and then used the balance to indicate how much I will need to earn to live comfortably. I immediately began applying for part-time jobs online, I went into the town shopping centre to hand out CVs. Eventually, I decided to stick with student ambassador roles and working for the university, which offers me both good pay and flexibility. So, I currently work in the University Enquiry Management Team, answering queries by email and phone, as well as doing odd jobs as a Student Ambassador. Whatever you decide, be sure to consider all of the potential implications. Remember, being a university student means that studying is your occupation and it ought to be treated like a full-time job. Your academic commitments are your priority.

Also, in addition to a student account, I think it wise to have further separate bank accounts that will help you to be disciplined with your spending. For example, if your student loans all go into your student account, it can help you remember that the money there should go towards living costs like rent, bills and sustenance, and all other university-related expenses. Anything else, whether it be funds for miscellaneous activities or general savings, should go into a separate account. Some people leave their cards in a separate wallet at home, while others choose to have everything in one place, but carry only the amount of cash they’ll need for the day or week. You can also cut costs by preparing your meals for the week ahead of time (I do this on the weekend). I like to prepare my lunch, so I am not tempted to buy anything. Then I go home for dinner, or occasionally dine out with friends. I do often, however, carry small emergency cash which I can use to buy off-the-cuff snacks, but I mostly try to bring snacks with me from home to prevent unnecessary spontaneous spending. Whatever is wisest, safest and most convenient for you to do is what you should do.

I remember when I was just starting university and I had heard some students at other universities talking about how they had already spent well into their overdraft. Don’t be that person! Do what you ought, when you ought. But if you somehow find yourself in a tricky situation financially, do not hesitate to speak to your student union representatives or your student money advisor. There are people who will help you find a solution to get you back on your feet. Better yet, avoid the stress and budget well to begin with. Get researching because there is lots out there to help you. It really is true that there’s an app for everything!