Budgeting for student life

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Oliver Darke and family plan his move from Cardiff to Sussex University.

Managing money is one of the many new skills students have to learn.

University is expensive. It's not just about tuition fees it's about managing the day to day to costs.

These are some of the considerations for making ends meet.

Loans

Start Quote

It's only when you see it written down and start to think about the shortfall that it brings it home”

End Quote Simon Darke Parent

Students can get two loans; one covers tuition fees and another for costs like rent, bills, food and travel.

This maintenance loan can be paid out in three separate instalments which can make budgeting simpler.

Students from families on a low income or studying in London will qualify for more. Some will be eligible for a grant.

But for many, the loans they receive won't even cover the cost of rent.

Planning

National Union of Students' Welfare Officer, Colum Maguire,

"It's all about preparation, but it can be difficult to concentrate on finances in all the excitement of getting ready to go,"

"You need to find out how much you'll get from your loan every month, whether you've got savings you can use and how much your parents will contribute, if anything.

"Then work out how much your rent is and what you'll have left for other costs."

For new students (also known as freshers) this can be easier. Many live in halls of residence and pay rent at the start of each term, making it easier to see what's left for everything else.

Beware of money in the bank

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"In my day a lot of girls had hairy legs and armpits, but now they buy expensive products to remove the hair”

End Quote Rachel Gould, Student Life Team, Sussex University

Starting term with a lump sum in the bank can cause problems.

That's according to Jack Wallington from the student discussion forum, The Student Room. He wants student loans to be paid out in smaller amounts.

"A lot of students don't have much experience of budgeting and certainly won't have had to worry about whether they'll be able to eat next week.

"Most students tell us it would be easier with more regular, smaller payments.

"The important thing is to get advice from other students about what you'll need to pay for and plan everything on a spreadsheet. Also keep track of what you've spent and don't ignore problems."

He also warns students to be careful not to blow their budget on partying during freshers' week. "I definitely regret mine," he says. "Five years later I'm still paying it off!"

A blow to the pocket

Branwen Parry

Branwen Parry had a shock at UCL where she's studying geography. She says the extra loan money to cover the cost of living in London wasn't nearly enough.

"Going out is really expensive. It's about £20 to get into the big clubs and I feel like they can just charge anything for the drinks. I was texting my dad saying, 'I can't believe I've just paid £13.50 for a vodka!'

"During the first term I spent more money than I had and had to ask my parents for a loan, so that didn't go down very well. By the second term I learnt a bit more about how to budget."

She advises anyone planning to study in London to check out the costs in advance.

"If you don't know the city well try to spend time there before you start or talk to someone who's studied there. I was quite naïve and didn't know how much things cost."

Hairy legs

The Student Life Team at Sussex University helps thousands of people every year who come to them with financial difficulties. Head of the team Rachel Gould says students need to cut out the frills.

"When we look at why a student has no money, it can be something like going out for coffees.

"In my day a lot of girls had hairy legs and armpits, but now they often buy expensive products to remove the hair.

"It's these kinds of things which are integrated into our culture. We think we have to have them but actually they're just choices."

Despite that Rachel says she's constantly surprised at how resourceful students can be.

"Some are really impressive, others are very foolish," she says. "Some students who ask for help from the hardship fund are buying takeaway pizzas and expensive clothes all the time.

"On the other hand, I saw a student from Poland last year who literally lived on £20 a week and someone else who spent just £8 a week on food. Some people take pride in coping on a small amount of money."

She says the important thing is that students seek help when they get into trouble. Universities can offer emergency funds and can also give advice on managing finances.

Innovation

Money saving tips

Student at work
  • Choose accommodation that's within your budget. Don't go for luxury
  • Freshers' week can be the most expensive time at university. Have a look at the schedule and work out what you can afford
  • Don't buy food on campus every day. Make packed lunches or go home to eat. Sharing meals with housemates can also save money
  • Consider discount cards for students
  • Wherever you go ask if there's student discount
  • Car boot sales, charity shops and recycling projects can yield gems. Keep your eyes peeled for any in your area
  • Choose your bank carefully.
  • If you've got money problems get help as soon as possible

Source: NUS

Joe Pearce could be seen as the Prince of student money saving. He saved £5,600 in rent by buying a cheap boat to live on.

The Aberystwyth student bought the yacht for £800 after he split up with his girlfriend and couldn't afford to pay the rent for their flat on his own.

Living on a boat isn't a viable option for most students, but Rachel Gould from Sussex University says there are other innovative ways to cut the costs.

"There are the clever people who decide not to rent with their friends in the second year. Instead they move in with a family and help with babysitting in return for free accommodation."

She also suggests buying second hand. "There are recycling centres where you can find things for your room. You can also get a bike from a recycling scheme to save on travel.

"Some people save money by finding free stuff all the time. Feeling pressure to spend like everyone else can be students' undoing."

Other money saving suggestions from the Student Room forum include spending the day in the library in winter to help save on heating costs, walking to avoid bus fares, shopping late at supermarkets for marked-down foods and showering in the gym.

Get a job

Jack Wallington from the Student room says a job can provide extra income and a lot more besides.

"It can help you develop new skills and gain work experience.

"It can become an issue when students have to work so many hours it has an impact on their studies or mental health."

Rachel Gould from Sussex University points out another benefit of working. "If you've got a job it means you spend less because you're busy.

"You're not going to go the pub every night if you're working three nights a week," she says.

A lesson for life

However students manage to find the money to pay their way through university, the skills they learn could set them up for life.

"One of the things that strikes me, is that being able to manage your money is relevant to everybody," says Rachel Gould. "It's just a really useful life skill.

"What you see is that people who learn to manage their finances well through university either by budgeting carefully or getting a job are at an advantage in the long run.

"It's their own inner resources which count in the end."

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