Thursday, 24 January 2013

How to Survive on a Student Budget

Are you the typical bean-eating student or are you living large on your student overdraft? (Or both? :D)

The cost of living away from home as a student is estimated at £9250 a year. This includes a rather expensive-sounding £346 a month on rent and £51 on utility bills, with around £120 on food. It is also £500 more than the maximum student loan and grant (£8750 when living away from home, outside of London), so it's no wonder people end up skint!

My flatmate in Halls spent his entire student loan payment within a month, looking cool at expensive bars in his brand new clothes. Unfortunately he spent the next two months scrounging bread and pasta from the rest of us! How can you avoid this mess??

First of all, you HAVE to make a budget! Work out how much you have left after rent, bills and travel that you could use for food and leisure (beer). Do this BEFORE you get that lump sum paid into your bank account! See if you can put a small amount aside each month for unexpected costs.

After living in Halls of Residence in the first year most students move into a shared house or flat. Top tip: the ones closest to the University are often the most expensive and the most grotty! If you're willing to walk a bit further you'll get a much better deal.

See if your Union can recommend a good landlord. When I lived in London the landlord's mate fixed a giant hole in the roof by taping a plastic bag over it...

In Case of Emergency
Many student bank accounts come with an interest free overdraft.This is both a blessing and a curse to most students! Often a student overdraft is abused as "free money", with the student loans bumping the balance back up to zero. On the other hand, if you need to make an emergency trip home you don't have to rely on expensive credit cards. Use it as a buffer against going overdrawn (not to pay for trips to Kenya...).

Don't buy textbooks!
Ooo-errr, controversial! No, I don't want you to fail, but new textbooks are really not necessary! Your University's library will have dozens of copies of the recommended textbooks that you can check out almost indefinitely. If you really must own it, other students will likely sell theirs at a discount at the start of the next semester. Make sure you look after them and you could sell them on again!

Be a Guinea Pig
Back at Cardiff University, if you felt yourself coming down with a cold you could go to the Common Cold Research Centre and get paid to try various over-the-counter medicines to see how effective they are. If you are brave/foolhardy you could also earn hundreds of pounds from pharmaceutical companies to test new drugs for side effects (but be warned, there really can be serious side effects!)

Alternatively, you can sign up to your University's psychology department mailing list. Researchers need to test their theories on willing volunteers. For example, this week I earned £15.65 by spending an hour sat at a computer looking at coloured squares and photographs!

Students spend an average of £483 a year on travel. If you travel long distances by train, a Young Person's Railcard will pay for itself in no time! Railcards cost £28 for a year or £65 for three years and will save you a third on most train journeys (and they are available for all full time students, not just under 25s!).

Secondly, do you REALLY need a car at Uni? Most Universities are restricting undergraduates from taking their cars to campus anyway. You might think that the fuel home costs less than a train ticket, but have you factored in all the other costs? Insurance, road tax, maintenance and breakdown recovery costs can eat up massive hunks of money over time, especially for younger drivers who typically have high insurance premiums and less reliable cars!

 Most student financial advice tells you to buck up and get a job. I disagree. Students should be focussing on their education; you're spending A LOT of money to be there so make it count! You can get away with working during the first year, but make sure you focus all your attention on your studies during your final year because it makes up the majority of your final grade. 

Remember, you really do need a 2:1 or a first class degree to get a graduate-level job these days. It costs too much to go to Uni for you to not get a good job at the end of it!!

"Do you do student discount?"If your University is a member of the National Union of Students (NUS) then you can get discounts anywhere from a huge variety of companies; clothes shops, cinemas, restaurants, night clubs, mobile phones, travel companies and more! Get the full list here. Ask for discount wherever you go!

So you see, it's definitely possible to live within the bounds of your student funding without having to eat baked beans everyday. (Another top tip: Tesco own brand baked beans are infinitely better than their Value ones!). 

Students: how do you avoid the dreaded overdraft limit? Anyone have any top tips for living on a student budget?


wp2510 said...

Hi Bryallen! Really interesting read, and especially for me as a mum, too -- I've got 3 who will probably embark on the Uni. adventure in the next few years! On the subject of travel, Railcards are worth a look, depending on where you'll be based, of course. A couple of months back we got a Family & Friends one with our Tesco points -- £14-worth of Clubcard vouchers for a yearly card! I think that offer might still be running?
Great post...lots of useful information. Thanks.

Morgan said...

I've got DD16 who will probably be moving out in this direction in about 18 months or so. She may be ready, but I am not! I am beginning to wonder how my mum must have felt when I chose to go to St Andrews in Fife, about 400 miles from home. I'm going to be worried about DD16 if she is only in Norwich! Budgeting is going to be so important, and so I am getting her to be responsible for more and more of her own purchasing needs now to get her used to making choices and realising how much things actually cost. Thanks for sharing these great tips xx