The first year of University is a daunting prospect for most young people, having to move away from your parents for the first time and being independent can seem scary. One of the biggest things that I see my fellow students struggle with is controlling their finances. For some people this just comes naturally, or maybe they will have a lot of help from their parents. However for the rest of us learning to live on a very small budget when you have never previously paid too much attention your cost of living is quite a challenge. I have written this article to provide you with some tips on a few areas in which students often struggle with money.
The first piece of advice I will give you is not to buy anything silly with your student loan when you get it! This might seem obvious but many people find it hard not to go and treat themselves the second they see that £1500 sitting in their bank accounts for the first time (or even the second, third and eighth times!). This is compounded by the fact that most students have a fairly sizeable overdraft nowadays, which means you could have around £3000 of available funds, possibly for the first time in your life. If there is something you really want to buy then the best advice I can give is wait until the end of the semester to buy it. This lowers the risk of any nasty surprises causing you to run out of money before the semester is up.
Remember that your overdraft is not bottomless. If you get £1500 and you are doing a 3 year course then that means you really only get £500 of loan per year! The main use of your overdraft should be to act as a buffer in case of emergencies. I would not take it into account for my normal spending. I’d also highly recommend against getting a credit card. There should be no situation for a student in which your student loan, overdraft is not enough. If this is the case then it means you are spending too much and you most definitely should not have a credit card in this case! If you are really struggling then you should get a part time job as this will give you money instead of costing you money like a credit card. You can also get financial advice from your university and many students are eligible for certain grants without being aware of it.
The second piece of advice is to be economical when going out. It’s far too easy to go out and spend ridiculous amounts of money; being drunk does not help your financial acumen at all! Try to take advantage of cheap student nights all the time. Many places offer much cheaper drinks or even all you can drink deals on certain nights, and another advantage of going out on these nights if you’re likely to be socialising with people your own age. If you like your music, don’t be tempted too much by nights advertising big names that also have big prices. I find that lesser known local DJs or bands can be just as entertaining as the famous ones most of the time. This is a great way to expand your tastes. Taxis are another big spend on nights out. You don’t have to not get taxis, but call a private hire firm instead of using an expensive hackney carriage and try to split the fare with as many of your mates as possible – this way you can often get a taxi for less than the price of a bus fare.
Food is another stumbling block for many new students. Takeaway and ready meals are the biggest temptation. You just have to remember that it’s far too expensive compared to cooking, the ingredients will be of a lower quality than what you would cook yourself (unless you spend a LOT of money on your takeaway) and it is usually very unhealthy too!
If you aren’t very good at cooking, learn a few simple recipes that you cook each week and build from there. Certain foods are particularly good for students – when it comes to meat, mince is an obvious one. If you have market nearby check to see if there are any butchers as these often do good deals on meat compared to the supermarkets. I can get enough meat to last a week for £10 from my local market (don’t forget to haggle!). The different cuts you get also encourage you to learn new recipes. Remember to use plenty of vegetables too, not only are they healthy but they are cheap and can fill out a meal for next to nothing. Potatoes are a great buy for students, get a big sack and you can use them for so many different meals, not to mention quick and easy jacket potatoes for snacks.
Don’t bother with brand names. They are very rarely worth the extra cost and you are usually paying for their expensive TV advertising campaigns or posh packaging instead of having your extra dosh go towards a nicer product. The biggest tip I can give for food though is to plan ahead and most definitely not to shop whilst you are hungry! Have an idea of what meals you want to eat before you do your weekly shop and make a shopping list that you stick to. This will make sure that you actually get everything you need and also stop you from buying things you don’t need.
Student areas often have to put up with high crime rates. This is because students are easy targets and thieves tend to home in on them. This might seem a strange section to have in a financial advice article but if you have something stolen then you will probably have to pay for the replacement. A lot of student houses can have several expensive computers or laptops, games consoles, TVs, music systems and other expensive gadgets which are very tempting to thieves.
Students also tend to be careless and leave their doors or windows unlocked from time to time. You should always be as careful as possible – don’t even be tempted nip out to local shop without locking your door behind you and checking the windows. You will never regret locking your door as much as you could regret not locking it. Keep the door locked whilst you are in the house too as thieves can strike at the most unexpected times.