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I loved being a student.
In fact, I just loved studying and school in general, so it didn’t occur to me not to go to uni. I was the first in our family to go to uni to study for a degree.
I think going away was certainly helped by boarding at 6th form (ok, I was weird though because I went to 6th form at the private school in the village, and was a boarder in my upper 6th). It meant I was used to being away from home, could make (within the rules) my own decisions about activities I did, and it also got me into the habit of having set times for prep/homework.
But the financial side of going to uni was really scary. Bear in mind this was a fair old time ago (cough, 20 years!), so pre-widespread internet. And certainly no PSE lessons at school which included discussions around student and personal finance that are more prevalent nowadays.
Instead, I was reliant on what my mum taught me. She was a bit of a stickler for saving, spending within your means and keeping money safe and accounted for. I didn’t go quite to those extremes, but with her having been really careful with money as she brought my brother and I up on her own after being widowed, I was definitely not the type to go off to uni and splurge my student grant straight away…I left that to my brother who went to uni, stayed less than 2 terms, and ended up having to pay back a year’s worth of money he’d spent!
I did enjoy spending…I properly discovered clothes (because of course I needed clubbing outfits) and bought A LOT of cds from a record shop which always seemed to be on 4 or 5 for £20. But on the whole I was lucky to be at uni during the times when there were grants. I had a full grant so I knew I could be careful with money without having to leave uni with lots of debt.
But I’ve certainly got some tips for those starting out at uni now.
1, Find a good bank account that works for you, for example like the TSB student accounts. Banks always have lots of offers to try and entice students to bank with them, but as well as looking at the freebies, check out the overdraft costs, access to money – is there a machine or even a branch on your campus or in town, is there an app or online banking offer. You don’t want to have to permanently be borrowing money off friends when you return to campus after a night out and want to buy food from the late night pizza place…essential to round off the night at my old uni.
2, Do your money planning before you go. Yes it might be boring, but you can get advice from parents and friends, and it’s much easier to follow a plan when it’s in place than trying to decide how to manage your money during freshers’ week.
3, Look out for grants and charities which give money to needy causes. Those needy causes might include students.
In our area, we heard about a small local charity which handed out money each year. I applied for it for book money for uni, and was lucky enough to get a grant each year for £300 to spend on text books. I don’t think many people knew about it, which is why I got something each year, but they’re definitely worth keeping an ear out for. Using the second hand book shop at uni also meant I got even more for my money.
4, Get contents insurance. It might seem like you don’t really need it, but for students it’s usually dirt cheap, and you don’t want to have your electronics stolen. When I was at uni we were lucky to own a BT phone card and a word processor. But in halls, when we were all in the kitchen in our flat, someone came in and stole half of my CD collection and my purse. Luckily I was covered with contents insurance, so it’s always worth getting even if you’re in halls.
5, Meal plan. You might think you can live off takeaway every day but it’s not a great idea for your budget.
I’d never really cooked before going to university…having a mum who worked mostly during school hours only, and then going to boarding school for 6th form, meant I didn’t need to. But I could get by on stir fries, pasta, bolognaise and jacket potatoes, while trying a few new meals each year. Eating pretty much the same thing each day means less food waste, buying to your needs, and making it quick and easy to cook, but is boring. If you’ve got freezer space, buy and cook in bulk which is also cheaper.
An alternative is getting together with friends and housemates to share the cooking. In our 3rd year, our flat decided to cook Christmas lunch one day, with everyone doing a bit. We had great fun cooking and eating it, plus you get to share the washing up load afterwards.
6, Use public transport, walk or cycle. I didn’t learn to drive until after uni anyway, but it’s much more sociable, it’s usually cheap to use the buses, and it’s good for the planet as well as your health. Being at Lancaster Uni meant most people were keen on being outdoors and there were some lovely walks from uni back into town, so you’ll discover a lot more around you as well as saving money. Oh, and there’s often limited parking at unis anyway, so even if you buy a parking permit, you might never find a parking space anyway!
7, Make sure you take your student card everywhere. Lots of places don’t advertise the offers, but so many shops do have student discounts, so It’s worth asking.
8, Look out for coupons for meals out, entertainment, and food shopping. It’s savvy not skin-flinty! And it means you’ve got more money to spend on what you want. We used to go to a lovely little Italian restaurant in town who did happy hour between 5-7pm, so got some great offers on pizza.
9, If you like going out clubbing or to music events, sign up for venue newsletters. Often you’ll get sent offers. At one of the clubs which did a student night, if you signed up and then went on your birthday, you got a free t shirt and bottle of wine plonk.
10, During freshers’ week and afterwards, read the bumpf you’re given. There’s usually lots of information like in TSB’s Savvy Student guide, all of it targeted at students.
Reading my tips, it sounds like I did a lot of clubbing! I swear I was quite swotty really, and played a lot of sport and music while I was there. In the end I did leave with one year of a student loan, realising that it was worth taking one out purely for the purpose of driving lessons once I left.
Did you go to uni? How did you manage your finances and what tips would you add?