Some student money tips from a formerly-broke fresher
They don’t teach you how to budget in sixth-form.
Before starting our university careers, I’m sure we were all familiar with the trope of the poor student, getting through revision on a subsistence diet of beans on toast, and rationing out thimbles of milk until the next instalment from the SLC saved them from total destitution.
Poverty has long been synonymous with student life, and is a common source of humour on shows like Fresh Meat, often glossing over the considerable mental and emotional distress that accompanies it. The Student Money Survey recently revealed that 80% of students worry about making ends meet, with 56% of them admitting that their grades have suffered because of their financial situation.
Personally, I now associate my first year at uni with crippling stress, given that my student loan was barely enough to cover my rent, and my parents certainly weren’t in a position to lend a helping hand. Rather than spending freshers the proper way, getting wasted and using my newfound freedom to make decisions I would regret for years, I was counting my pennies and making sure I had enough money for food. I know I wasn’t alone in this, and I’ve since spoken to students who’ve unfortunately had to drop out, or very seriously considered doing so, as a result of high living costs.
Fortunately I was able to make it through first year, and my knowledge of budgeting and personal finance I developed during it has helped place me in a much more secure position to continue my studies as a postgraduate next year. I’m certainly not a financial expert by any means, and like everyone else I’m prone to wasting sinful amounts of money on things I don’t need, but I thought it would be helpful to share some of the tactics I used to get me through those uncertain months.
If at all possible, get a job
I know this seems like a painfully obvious one, but having a part-time job at university will improve your situation immensely, even if it’s just for a few hours a week. I’m aware that working part-time may not seem like an option for those doing more intensive courses, and even as a humanities student with relatively few contact hours I worried about whether I could balance studying and extracurricular activities with work.
The best advice I can give in this department would be to consult which organisations on campus are hiring, as they usually hire year-round. Working at Starbucks, the Union Diner or the O2 is ideal, as you can curate your working hours around your schedule, and your employer will always understand that your studies come first. Failing that, bar work is always a good idea, as they tend to take on anyone, and it’s very likely that your hours will never clash with your studies or society life. Consult the vacancies page on the SU website, or try sites like Gumtree, Indeed or e4S for other work.
Cook your food and have a meal plan
This is perhaps a less obvious one, given that a £2 pizza from ASDA might seem like a cheaper alternative to buying all the ingredients required to make a chilli. But cooking your own meals from scratch will save you a fortune, especially if your split the costs by sharing meals with your housemates.
Student Recipes and BBC Good Food have literally hundreds of high-nutrition, low-cost meals which are easy to make, and the total cost for a substantial dinner needn’t cost more than £1 per head. In order to properly save money by cooking your own food, it is very important to invest some time into creating a meal plan for each week, so you know what you’re having and which ingredients you need to get. Having a meal plan not only means that you’ll get into the very adult habit of learning to cook, but also that you’ll be less likely to splurge on takeaways and snacks after a long day at the library.
Use the resources at your disposal
A lot of students who are struggling to make ends are often unaware that they may be entitled to some pretty generous financial assistance. The best starting point would be to contact the welfare office at email@example.com to see which university grants and bursaries you may be entitled to, as Leicester (and most other universities) offer a surprising range of funds to disadvantaged and struggling students.
The Complete University Guide also has a great list of all the extra funding available to UK students, so it’s definitely worth checking out, as it’s very possible you’re eligible for some extra money and just haven’t been made aware of it.
Get intimate with your central heating
Even when you’re sharing a house with eight other people, it’s alarming how much of your income will be eaten up by utilities bills. It is actually possible to stave off hypothermia in the winter without having to pawn your laptop. Other than having the heating set for times which you know you’ll be in the house for (eg. 7-9 in the morning and 8-10 in the evening), you can also adjust the settings so that once the house reaches a certain temperature, the heating will switch off, only coming back on once the house has cooled down.
If the manual for your boiler still exists, that should help you figure out the most cost-efficient ways of using it, or you can just ring your landlord, as he should (hopefully) have some knowledge of how the house works.
Tips for having fun
Although I’m a major budgeting-and-frugality enthusiast, I’m not expecting students to cancel their social life at a time where you should be having as much fun as possible before you’re spewed out into the world of 40-hour work weeks. There’s a tendency for some members of the older generation to deride and chastise young people for daring to spend £3 on a pint and then having the cheek to complain about spiraling living costs.
It is possible to enjoy an active social life on a restricted budget. First of all, it’s probably best to leave your bank card at home, only bringing out say, a £20 note and knowing that’s all you have to spend for the evening. If you’re going to a student nightlife spot like the O2 or Mosh, then this should be more than enough for entry, enough drinks to stay sufficiently buzzed (after predrinks), and your share of the taxi fare home. It’s always good practice to place limits on your spending, and you’ll thank yourself in the morning when you see your bank balance hasn’t been demolished by an average night at LetsDisko. If you decide to go to a bar, then always be well-versed in your local happy hour deals.
When dining, it’s a good idea to choose your venue based on what discounts and vouchers are being offered by local restaurants. StudentBeans keeps track of all these, so consult their website before deciding whether Pizza Express or Nandos is more deserving of your maintenance loan. Small independent restaurants as a rule tend to be cheaper than chains, so check Tripadvisor for the best cheap eats in town.
When travelling, always use Megabus for coach trips as this is by far the cheapest bus service in the UK. If you have to travel by rail, don’t use any of the big price comparison sites, as they are unlikely to offer any serious reduction in fare. Split Ticketing uses a server to figure out the genuinely cheapest rail fares available, taking advantage of the Byzantine system of British Rail by splitting the cost across a number of tickets.