To meet the challenge of staying afloat financially as a student, you need to pick the right bank account, work out a realistic budget and stick to it, and always be on the lookout for discounts and ways of saving money.
University usually represents the first time young people have been responsible for their own finances. Significant tuition fees are charged in many countries, including fees of up to £9,000 per annum in the United Kingdom, but based on the UK system at least, worrying about how to repay these can be left until after graduation. Whilst at university there is the not inconsiderable challenge of successfully managing what income you have. This article gives students some tips on staying on top of their affairs.
What to consider before choosing a student bank account
It is strongly recommended that you open a dedicated student bank account at the start of your course, as these accounts are designed with the needs and concerns of students in mind. It is best to open your student account before you arrive for your first term, so you can avoid the queues at your local branch of students trying to open an account.
Important things to look for before opening a student account include:
- Which banks have a branch on or near your campus
- The level of interest free overdraft
- The interest payable on positive balances
- Whether a particular bank has dedicated student money advisers
- Introductory gifts offered – items such as railcards offered as incentives may be particularly useful
Basics of budgeting
Work out what income you can expect while at university, this may include:
- Family contributions, if you are lucky enough to receive these
- Employment income, whether this is during term time, during the holidays or a combination of both. You can enhance your chances of getting employment by doing a fact-finding mission several weeks before the university year starts, so you can get a head start and avoid competing with large numbers of other students for these posts. But please ensure you do not take on so much employment that your studies are affected.
- Student grants, if these are available to you
- Bursaries or scholarships
- Student loans
You then need to work out what your fixed expenditure will be each month, and how much is left for non-essentials like a rich and fulfilling social life! Once you have made a budget, stick to it. Essential expenditure items may include:
- Accommodation rent
- Internet and phone contracts
As Benjamin Franklin once said: "There are only two certainties in life – death and taxes". But as a student, perhaps you can avoid taxation. If your income is below the threshold at which tax starts to be paid (GBP 10,000 in the UK for the 2014/15 tax year), yet you think some of your income has been taxed, apply to the tax authorities for a refund.
Ways to save money
Interest free overdrafts
Obtaining an interest-free overdraft of this size after graduation may be almost impossible, but most student bank accounts in the UK allow interest-free overdrafts of GBP 1,000 and more.
Before going away, check carefully whether your parents’ household insurance provides the level of cover you will require when at university. If not, seek out one of the policies specifically designed for students. Suffering significant loss due to theft or damage and needing to pay to replace lost goods is the last thing you need when at university.
Keep an eye out for any retailers offering special promotions – your student union will probably highlight a number of these deals, while others can be found by keeping your eyes and ears open. Near to the university, you are sure to find many outlets that offer discounts to students. Theatres, nightclubs and cinemas may offer special deals for students on certain nights of the week. Passes giving discounted travel on public transport are also widely available to students. Bookmark websites such as Student Money Saver, Student Beans and Money Saving Expert.
Ensure you carry as many forms of identification that evidence you are a student as possible, as you will need to produce ID in many cases in order to benefit from these discounts.
Hunt down a bargain in charity shops, local markets or your campus shops.
Check out websites that offer cheap university textbooks, or try and buy from last year’s students, who will regularly advertise books and other items for sale on notice boards around campus. Also consider how feasible it is to use a reference copy of a textbook in your university library. This may work out substantially cheaper than buying a new copy of every textbook on your course list from the university bookshop.
And of course, once you have completed a year’s study, you can try and raise money by selling your textbooks to the students in the year below.
Cycling and transport
Consider whether it is feasible to cycle for short journeys, such as to and from lectures, or trips into town. You may find that the cost of buying a bike is swiftly recouped by the savings on transport fares. Some students bring a car to university, but this can prove very expensive, so before you do this, ask if it is really necessary. Student towns usually have frequent public transport services between the main student sites and the town centre.
Don’t use more energy than you need. Keep the heating turned down until it gets really cold, and turn off unused appliances.
Try buying a cheaper brand, at least on a trial basis. It might surprise you!
If you get into trouble
If you feel you are struggling to stay on top of your finances, seek advice at the earliest opportunity, whether this is from your parents, your bank or one of the university’s student counsellors.