Imagine….you are 18, you have never had to worry too much about money and suddenly you get £1000s arrive in your bank account. You are rich! No, you’re not. It is your student loan and you need to pay your rent first then make it last the whole of the academic year. You know nothing about student budgeting and it is all very scary!
Next month darling daughter number 3 will be going off to university. I really hope I have taught her enough to help her get through her new life without getting into debt (well, any more debt than has already been agreed with Student Finance England!) So, here are my top student budgeting tips:
Student budgeting tools
Firstly, you need to know how much money you have and how long you need to make it last. You need to understand what your outgoings will be and make sure you keep enough by for these. There are plenty of downloadable spread sheets and calculators on the Internet to help with this. They will tell you whether you really can afford another night out or need to tighten your belt. UCAS has a handy one to get you started here.
This will only take you ten minutes and it will be a worthwhile investment of your time.
Avoid impulse buying
Before spending your precious student loan, ask yourself: do I really need this? Or do I just want it? Can I afford it? There are a lot of spending habits you can sink into as a student that will eat into your funds. Sometimes it is the smaller spends that add up. Coffees out, drinks in the pub, taxis, makeup, sweets….and suddenly you have spent that £20. Similarly, don’t rush to join the university gym unless you know you will use it constantly. Wait to see how things pan out and if you can really afford it. If you are cycling everywhere, you are keeping fit anyway!
Learning to cook
If you have never learned to cook, this is the time to begin. When I dropped my second daughter at university, the freezer was already packed full of home made ready meals for a particular male student, provided by his mother! I could have felt bad for sending my daughter off with a bag of basics from Aldi, but I wasn’t concerned as I knew she was capable of putting together a decent, healthy meal. I was more worried she wouldn’t be able to fit her leftovers into the freezer!
Still, it is never too late to learn to cook and there are a lot of student cookbooks on Amazon. The Student Cookbook: Great grub for the hungry and the broke has good reviews. If you are off to uni this year and cannot cook, you still have time to learn the basics. Ask your parents to show you how. Spaghetti Bolognese, an omelette, sausages and mash, a cheese sauce (for macaroni, a vegetable bake, etc) are all simple things to try. If you cannot cook at all, the temptation is to buy takeaways and fast food – these might seem cheap, but they are a lot more expensive than a jacket potato with beans and cheese that you can make yourself in no time.
Cooking is a skill for life and essential for effective student budgeting. Even if you are going into catered halls of residence I still recommend you learn some fundamental cooking techniques.
There are many downloadable lists on line advising on the essential kitchen items to take to university. But are they really essential? When you are concerned about student budgeting you don’t want to waste money on pointless purchases.
You don’t need a set of saucepans – just one or two with lids will do. You only need a couple of plates, bowls, glasses and mugs and a small amount of cutlery. Your student housemates will be bringing these items too; as you get to know them you can share. As I am urging you to cook, you do need a chopping board and at least one decent sharp kitchen knife, a bread knife, a small wok or frying pan, some spatulas, a colander, a cheese grater, vegetable peeler, kitchen scissors, a tin opener and some plastic food storage containers with lids.
These are brilliant for freezing your leftovers so it is worth taking some freezer labels too so that you can identify your frozen creations. An indelible pen is handy for marking your stuff in the fridge and cupboards. And as you are a student you might need a bottle opener too :).
However, you don’t need to buy these all brand new. We have been scouring the charity shops and boot sales and have found a lot of items second-hand.
Food planning and buying
I know it sounds dull, but a bit of planning can go a long way towards effective student budgeting. Have a think about which nights you need food and then write a shopping list. Have at least a rough plan for what you will eat each day. It could be that you have a bit of time on a Monday but will be late back on Tuesday. Your plan for the week could be to make double the quantity of a meal on Monday that you can heat up on Tuesday. If you are likely to be out several nights don’t buy too much food that will then be wasted.
Check to see which is the cheapest supermarket near your accommodation. Aldi and Lidl are great for saving money on groceries. Is there a good street market? It is worth exploring what is sold there. If you are cycling, a decent back pack or panniers are a worthwhile investment for bringing your groceries home. For walkers, how about a good, old fashioned granny trolley on wheels?
If you make friends with other students in your accommodation, maybe you could share the cooking and buy food together? Bigger packs are always cheaper.
Tracking your spending
If you don’t already have it, get online mobile banking. This way you can check often how your balance is looking and if you need to start cutting back.
Save money on text books
Text books are a major expense. However, you don’t have to buy them all new. Amazon will have many for sale used for starters. This is useful article from Save the Student gives more detailed advice about how you can save money on textbooks.
Getting a job
If you just cannot make your student loan stretch far enough you will need to bring in some extra money. Part time jobs are in high demand in student towns and it helps if you already have some retail or bar experience. Get yourself a decent CV done and make sure you include any work experience. Ensure grammar and spelling are spot on for all your applications and the lay out is attractive. There is a lot of guidance on line about CVs and going for interviews and this will pay dividends when you are looking for a graduate job later. Keep plugging away.
Whilst you are job-hunting, you could look at making a little extra doing online surveys or mystery shopping. There are all kinds of paid opportunities once you start looking. A fantastic blog to check out to help increase your income is The Money Shed.
So, what are you waiting for? Have the most fabulous time at university, make the best of the experience and come out ready for what ever the world offers. I hope this helps you with your student budgeting so you can manage your money and avoid any more debt than is strictly necessary.