Starting University is such an exciting prospect; new place, new people, new subject...new responsibilities? It all happens incredibly fast and before you know it you’ve got to pay for food, equipment and accommodation (not including the fun things in life, such as days with friends or a phone bill) all with your own money. This can be awfully daunting and admittedly rather boring, but the faster you learn the easier it becomes in the long run. It’s difficult as well because often, as teenagers, we’ve only had to manage the money we receive from minimum wage jobs. We have far less to pay for and often times parents to bail us out if necessary. Although I was always cautious with my money and I did try to keep track, I still found myself completely lost in my first semester. I was a little oblivious to the silly things we take for granted living at home...the internet costs money?! So how did I learn to budget? As a student on a more limited budget than some of my friends, I found it incredibly difficult but after a year of practise I think I’m finally getting the hang of it all without relying on the dreaded Bank of Mum and Dad.
Start off by making a plan at the beginning of the year. Try to do some calculations. Don’t worry, there’s no Pythagoras involved. You need to look at all your income and work out how much you receive monthly. This includes:
Talking of food, this is an area where you can save a small fortune. No student is going to be eating caviar every day but also don’t fall into the trap of constantly ordering take outs. One of the best budgeting tips I can give you is to learn to cook. Not only is it healthier for you but starting from scratch saves you an exorbitant amount of money. On top of this, when you’re in supermarkets look down. The bottom shelves often contain cheaper, but just as delicious, products. For baked beans, as much as you may have loved your Mum’s choice of branded Heinz I promise you, your taste buds won’t know any difference when you shift to the cheaper supermarkets own brand. If you’re that unwilling to compromise, try shopping in Lidl, Aldi or Iceland. They often have good brands for great prices. The bottom shelf or end of an aisle are always worth checking as they have items that are only going to last for a day more so are far cheaper. That’s another tip I’ve learned. Although bulk buying sounds cheaper, it’s actually counter-productive. You’re not actually going to use 10 tins of tomatoes in the 2 week period where they are edible, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s cheaper. You will quite literally end up throwing money into the bin. Meat will be one of the most expensive things in your diet so it’s worth shopping around. Although the supermarkets can be cheaper, check out your local butchers as their 2-for-1 deals can sometimes surprise you.
Something else I’ve learned is the dangers of a card. It’s so easy to beep away your money on a contactless card and before you know it you’re back to a diet of 4 week old pasta. Try to take the cash out of your account that you’ll need that week so you can physically keep track of where it is going and what is left. I found that seeing the money vanish right in front of me made me far more reluctant to buy that tacky necklace I’d convinced myself I needed.
Do your research before you go. Having your own bathroom might sound like luxury but is it really worth the extra five hundred pounds? Do you really need a double bed over a single? Could you live without a television? I’m not asking you to live in a prison cell or to forgo all comfort you ever knew, but if you’re a student on a budget you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. I chose the cheapest campus accommodation and although it wasn’t the nicest, it was the best decision as I had more spare cash to spend on necessities and on leisure activities. Consider living off campus in student rented flats as they can sometimes be cheaper. Or even living at home. I know people are often desperate to move out for that independence but if it’s cheaper to travel and you really are financially struggling, it will be much better for you.
And of course, the most obvious solution, get a job. I know it can be difficult to find especially when you’ve had no previous experience but most Universities are in “Student-centric” towns and therefore will have student jobs available, you just have to keep looking. Call centres are also always on the search for students and I promise you, are not as awful a place to work as you might expect. Try dog-walking, baby-sitting, even tutoring! Get creative. If you’re on a more demanding course or have a physical/mental health condition that makes this tricky, look into alternatives such as a Saturday job or a job with your student union. These are often a lot more lax in terms of hours but still provide a little extra income. Even if you don’t need a job for the money, it is great experience about time management and being in a work environment. If a job during term time genuinely wouldn’t work for you (and you’re not just telling yourself that so you can go on 3 nights out a week), try and get a summer job so you can save up a little extra for the coming year. It isn’t great at the time but it will be so worth it once the semester starts.
Of course, first year is about trying new things, meeting new people and having fun. It’s okay to make some mistakes with your money, just try your best to learn from them and in the 9 month term I promise you’ll be a financial whizz by the end! To everyone starting University, I wish you the best of luck in every endeavour and if you have any questions or concerns feel free to contact myself or any TWE member for help!