How to plan your finances effectively as a student

I’ve been studying full time now for over a month and I have to say that the change of pace to my life is dramatic. I’m currently trying to balance running my household, with school runs, laundry and meals to prepare, alongside attending lectures and wanting to read as much as possible around my subject. One thing I do not like to think about is my money, or the lack thereof.

This time last year I was in a full time job and would think nothing of pausing for a drink in a coffee shop or buying lunch on the go. My income has drastically changed now and I am living on student finance which here in the U.K. is something every student can apply for in order to cover tuition fees and a maintenance loan. I know we are very lucky to have this, but at the same time this does not cover the full cost of living at the pace you are accustomed to and so budgeting has to happen.

It’s also worth noting that student loans are repayable – wherever you study – the advice on this changes regularly but it’s usually recoverable as a percentage of your salary once you earn over a certain threshold. So where does this leave students. Individual subjects and university’s can offer grants and bursaries. This is worth looking in to – I found out today that next year, students who are studying my exact course will be eligible for a £15,000 bursary because the subject is in demand. Of course this is a little sting in the teeth right now for me as I won’t get that support but it’s great for future applicants to know that this is an option.

I am of course trying to manage my “side hustle” which is blogging right here whilst I continue to study. This is perfect for me as I can fit in work around my busy schedule and being freelance, I can pause when I need to focus on my studies. Many students take a part time job to support themselves and many university towns have a thriving hospitality industry. The first time around I worked in restaurants and bars where I could get free or heavily discounted meals to avoid the student budget friendly food. Working along side studying can be tough in terms of time management but it helps cover the little perks such as that coffee shop trip which I couldn’t otherwise justify.

One thing I will say now that I am older and wiser is that it’s really easy to get stuck financially as a student. I wish I had been more savvy the first time around. Banks offer student accounts with overdrafts and credit – offering incentives such as student rail cards to open accounts – all I will say is do some research and do not spend money which you don’t have, because at some point the interest and debt will come back to bite you. There’s many online comparison sites which will help you compare different financial offers.

One of my biggest regrets first time around was getting a computer on a finance agreement. I thought I needed it for my course when in fact the University had all the resources I could need available. The technology was out dated before I even finished the course and I was still paying for it. This time around I have spent the minimal amount on a second hand laptop, only in order to work from home with online lectures. Lots of students end up having financial regrets so ask yourself “is it worth it?” with every decision you make.

Think very carefully about mobile phone contracts too. Everyone always wants the latest technology, and these contracts can tie you in for two to three years. You end up paying a monthly fee which covers the cost of the service and the device sometimes up to three fold. If you can, look for a second hand device from a reputable retailer – one upfront cost – and then invest in a sim only contract which can be as low as £10 a month. You’ll save more in the long run, and you really do not need the best device – you’ll probably drop and break it anyway. Of course try and avoid making the mistakes of purchasing items from scammers – it’s easy to fall in to this trap too.

It goes without saying: Plan your food shopping, create meal plans and budget accordingly. Do not wander around a supermarket when you are hungry. Try budget shops with own label items rather than paying over the odds for branded products. Work with your housemates to plan meals and be more cost effective. Learn to be thrifty. The same goes for clothing – there is a huge market for reselling clothes now, and if you head to charity shops in “nice” areas you’re likely to find designer brands and high quality items. In the same vein of thinking, use online apps to sell items you no longer need and earn some extra cash.

Of course leaving university with student debt can be a daunting thought but it does not have to be. There is some great advice here which will help with managing repayments of student loans for my American readers, but also applies to my U.K. readers who are struggling to manage debt too. There seems to be a real stigma applied to discussing debt, but almost every home owner has a mortgage and car owner has a finance package. People use credit cards to build up their credit rating and anyone who’s attended higher education will have tuition fee loans.

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