1. What advice would you give to students trying to work out a budget?
Going to university, often living away from home for the first time can be daunting, especially when you’re trying to live on a tight budget. But it’s important to figure out early on exactly how much you have to spend each week, and to stick to it. If you don’t it can mean you’re struggling through the year.
Your student loan for living is paid direct into your bank account in three instalments at the start of each term. So while it might seem like you've got loads of cash to splash in freshers' week – you haven't. That money needs to last the whole term, so spend it wisely.
First thing, add up how much you have coming in each term, including money from your loan, any money your parents may give you, and any income from a part-time job if you have one. Then, realistically allocate how much money you have to spend on each area of your life; such as household bills (if you’re not living in uni accommodation), travel costs to and from uni as well as back home, clothes, food, social activities. And don’t forget to include large purchases too like Christmas presents, laptop, holidays. All of these should add up to the total money you have available for that term. If you’ve gone over you know you need to cut back. And make sure you stick to your budget.
2. What are the best ways to budget when limited to student loan payments and irregular part-time work?
Your student loan payments should be a fixed amount, so at least you should know what’s coming in at the start of each term. Even if you don’t know what else may come in from part-time work, use this loan money to budget the essential spends like rent, food, travel and bills. Then you can think of any money you make from a part-time job as an extra bonus to spend on more discretional things like eating out, clothes and socialising.
A couple of tips to help stick to your budget…
- Instead of spending on a debit card which can be hard to track spending and easy for impulse purchases, take out money from a cash machine for the week ahead. And only spend that cash during the week. Don’t be tempted to make any further purchases on your debit card.
- Don’t buy new books – rent, borrow, or buy second hand instead. Scout around campus, department noticeboards and even Amazon and eBay for people selling books they no longer need. If no new editions have been released since they bought them, you're getting exactly the same book, possibly just with a worn-in look. Charity shops are also good for cheap textbook hunting, especially in your university town or city.
- Get a TOTUM card (previously NUS Extra) which gives student discounts at over 200 stores and restaurants in the UK. It costs £14.99 for a one-year card, so if you think you'll use it, it's a great way to save money.
- If you’re currently overdrawn, look for a student bank account that comes with a 0% overdraft, so you aren’t paying unnecessary overdraft fees. But remember the 0% won’t last forever. You will need to pay it back when you leave uni to avoid huge fees after you graduate.
3. How would you guide students who might be struggling to manage large rent/housing costs?
One tip would be to pay your large bills at the beginning of the term if you can (or at least the beginning of each month) as that’s when your bank balance will be topped up from the student loan payments. Once your big bills are paid you’ll then know what you have left for the other things. And if you don’t have much left after paying the rent, then you’ll need to cut back on other spending, or boost your income in other ways, like getting a part-time job or asking your parents for help.
Also as a student you’re exempt from paying council tax, so if you’re living in a house and everyone else living there is a student too, none of you should be paying it. Contact the council and let them know.
But remember, if you’re still struggling – don't panic. There are places you can turn and ways to find help. Most universities have hardship funds, opportunity awards and emergency options available if your financial situation changes or becomes desperate.
4. What advice would you give to students trying to boost their income?
Part-time jobs can be a great way to earn a bit of extra cash while at uni – ask your student union if they have any jobs available. Or if you already have a job, why not ask for a pay rise – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Other good ways to boost your income include selling old items you don’t use any more (clothes, cd’s, games, mobiles) on eBay or Facebook for free and getting paid for your opinion on survey sites.
For more help and information you can look here www.mse.me/studentguide.