Very little can prepare you for the learning curve of being at university. Managing to be self-motivated enough to survive (and hopefully pass) your course is just the beginning. At the same time, you’re going to have to adapt to living with strangers, discover how to use the washing machine and, most importantly, handle your own money without starving.
The good news is that term has only just begun and, although your piggy bank might have taken a bit of a hit over fresher’s week, you still have plenty of time to reign in your spending and make sure you have enough money to make it to graduation.
1. Remember that your maintenance loan is for rent. When your maintenance loan hits your bank account, it’s going to look great. You’re suddenly going to be in control of thousands of pounds – which is probably more money than you’ve ever had in your life. Well, the harsh truth is that the only thing that money is going to maintain is the roof over your head. Not your food cupboard, not your ASOS addiction and certainly not your booze habit. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but you’ve got to come to terms with it quickly.
2. Get a job. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a generous bank of Mum and Dad, you’re going to need a job to survive. To be honest, even if you can rely on a bit of help from your parents, earning your own money is going to feel a lot more satisfying. Ideally, you want employment that comes with benefits beyond a minimum wage. Look for somewhere that could:
- Earn you lots of tips
- Cultivate a new friendship group
- Indulge a hobby
- Score you a discount on groceries or clothes
- Pay above minimum wage
- Allow you to study during quiet periods
Early birds might have snagged the best jobs already, but not all of them will stick it out so keep an eye open for vacancies. Here are some ideas about places to look.
3. Don’t be tempted by credit. Until you’ve got your expenses management down to a fine art, stay clear of credit cards. Even the strongest-willed people get tempted by the thought of ‘free’ money and it’s incredibly easy to slip into a cycle of debt where you’re struggling to pay off the minimum on your card and also feed yourself. Trust us, just say ‘no’ to credit cards, store credit cards and anything that is being sold as free cash.
4. Avoid taking a non-student loan. If you do end up overspending, don’t attempt to bail yourself out with a loan. Definitely, don’t be tempted to take a loan just because you want to buy something nice. The fast loans you see advertised everywhere can end up being very expensive and you will always end up paying more money than you borrow. Should you find yourself seriously strapped for cash, have a sit down and try and think of other ways in which you could raise the money.
5. Get an overdraft arranged. So, seeing as your maintenance loan is going to disappear immediately and credit cards and loans are off limits, how are you going to buy for stuff while you wait for a pay check? The answer: Your student overdraft. Student overdrafts are going to be one of the best financial deals you can make. Unlike any loan you can get in adulthood, these overdrafts are 0% interest and you don’t need to pay a penny back while you’re studying – and with some, not until several years after you graduate. Lots of high street banks offer student accounts, so shop around to find the best deal. Here’s a guide as to what you should be looking for.
6. Don’t be snobby about discount shops. Even if you were previously the sort of person that would never be seen dead in Poundland, the best thing about university is the chance to reinvent yourself. Your meagre budget is going to stretch a lot further if you get basics like toiletries and clothing from the cheaper end of town for a while, and head to the own-brand and discounted section of the supermarkets. The same thing goes for buying stuff second hand. Don’t underestimate the savings you can make from browsing the rails of your local charity shops, particularly for things like cookware, books (Don’t forget the library is a great place for these too), clothing and fancy-dress items.
7. Ignore what everyone else is spending. Finally, the hardest rule of all. If you’ve made a budget or at least set some rules for yourself about what you’re going to spend your money on, don’t let FOMO be the reason to blow it. When you see the same people hitting the town hard each weekend, or going on routine spending sprees, there’s usually something going on behind the scenes. Maybe they’re racking up huge amounts of debt, or perhaps they’re living off baked beans and rice cakes (not a recommended combination). The important thing is to pay attention to your own wallet and pace yourself appropriately.
Dennis Relojo is the founder of Psychreg and is also the Editor-in-Chief of Psychreg Journal of Psychology. Aside from PJP, he sits on the editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals, and is a Commissioning Editor for the International Society of Critical Health Psychology. A Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society, Dennis holds a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Hertfordshire. His research interest lies in the intersection of psychology and blogging. You can connect with him through Twitter @DennisRelojo and his website.