Boss Your Budget Like a Pro at Uni
Posted on 14/09/17
If you’re heading to Uni this September, it may well be your first time living away from home and your first time ‘balancing the books’ by yourself.
In a cruel twist, it’s also probably the first time in your life that you’ll have a huge lump sum of cash deposited into your bank account from your student loan, with no responsible adult around to mind your debit card.
This generation of students have to be much more savvy than their millennial predecessors.
You’ve grown up in a period of economic uncertainty. Tuition fees have skyrocketed in the last few years and come with extortionate interest rates tacked on to boot.
The cost of living is steadily on the rise, meaning whatever disposable income you do have won’t stretch too far. And at the end of it all, there is no guaranteed ‘well paying’ job at the other end.
With all that going on, it no longer seems‘cute’ to blow your student loan in the first week of term and live like a pauper ‘til Christmas.
It’s time to get informed, take control of your finances and boss the heck out of your Uni experience.
Here are our top tips on becoming the NVP of student finances:
1. Make a budget
Yes it seems obvious, but you will be surprised how many of your friends don’t bother and skip straight to the spending. You can do your budget on the back of an envelope or go legit all-out on Excel but the principle is the same:
Add up all of your expected incomings (loan, grant, income, cash gifts from rels)
Then write down all your projected outgoings (rent, fees, food, clothes, books, transport, insurance, toiletries, ‘fun money’)
The golden rule here is that your outgoings should be less than or equal to your income.If they are miles apart then burying your head in the sand is not going to solve the problem.
You will need to have a serious look at your outgoings and see if there are things you can live without or do with less of. Or maybe look at maximising your income with part time work.
2. Pay yourself an allowance
Looking at your current account will never give you a true picture of what you really have to spend. Try keeping a main account for your regular big bills like rent, utilities and fees. Then figure out how much surplus you have left over to live on. Divide that amount by the number of weeks in term and pay yourself a weekly allowance into a separate account.
This should keep you covered for your day to day spends, like food, socializing etc, but should stop you from blowing all your cash some night on J-bombs for everyone.
Pre-pay debit cards like Monzo are great for this type of thing. It lets you set spending targets on the app and breaks your spending down into categories so you can see where your money is going.
Pro Tip: Monzo is a total gamechanger if you are going travelling. You can withdraw cash at local ATMs with no additional charges and the rates are generally better than the bank.
3. Ask for money off!
Sing it! D.I.S.C.O! D.I.S.C.O….unt…. DISCOUNT! Student Discount is the best thing ever! A few months in and you will begrudge paying full price for anything. Ever!
Lots of shops will just accept your student ID to give you money off, but for online shopping or chain stores, it might be worth getting an NUS Extra card or subscribing to UNiDAYS. You can get money off at your favourites stores like ASOS, Firebox, WH Smith & even Pizza Express.
UNiDAYS is free to use, all you need is an active ac.uk email address to sign up with. The NUS card isn’t free. It costs £12 for the year, but do your sums, see what discounts you can only get through NUS, and work out if you will still be coming out ahead if you buy one.
Cash is gonna be tight. Start asking yourself:
Is there a way to get what I want cheaper?
Take books. They are eye wateringly expensive but also essential for learning and stuff. The old you might just go to the shop and buy them. But the new you, ‘The Hustler’ can do better. Ask yourself:
Can I get them second hand?
Some poor sucker probably bought them at full price last year and wants to off-load them.
Are they in the library?
Your Uni Library will be pretty impressive. You should be able to look up all your books on the library computers and see how many copies there are, how many are available, and how long you can borrow them for. If you only need a book for one assignment, get in a week early and nab the book before demand is high. Extracts of your textbooks might also be available for free as Ebooks, so check and see if you can access what you need for free before parting with your cash.
You have to buy the book new – that sucks – but maybe you can ease the pain a bit. If you’ve gotten friendly with people in your module, it might be an idea to share the text book and split the costs. Just make sure you lay down the ground rules from the outset so no-one ends up hogging it.
Sell Sell Sell
If you have bought books, once the year is over its time to let them go. You will be selling them at a fraction of what you paid but chances are you will never read them again and something is better than nothing. Some book shops will even take your books off you, sell them second hand, and give you a cut of the profits. Plus, you’ll be paying it forward to future freshers.
5. 0% interest overdraft
Ok, so I know we said live within your means …. And we meat that! Do! Try to!
But life is full of surprises so sometimes you get surprise expenses or things cost a bit more than you budgeted for.
Thankfully, as a student, banks will be tripping over themselves trying to get you to open an account with them and that means you will have your pick of accounts with 0% interest overdrafts that last until you graduate.
Personal Hero and Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis has broken down all the best accounts with overdrafts for students in 2017/18 and is a great place to start your own research to find the right account.
6. Get your Tax Back
Everyone in the UK gets an allowance of £11,500 a year that you don’t have to pay tax on. If you are working full-time outside of term time, keep a close eye on your pay slips. You might be paying tax in those months even though you don’t reach the threshold over the entire year.
There is lots of info on the HMRC website to check if you are eligible for a refund and how to claim the money back.
7. Make sure everyone is paying their fair share
We absolutely suck at talking about money. But it’s super important when you’re sharing a house. Everyone needs to chip in their fair share but there will always be at least one person who thinks the fairy liquid came with the flat and they are using a never-ending loo roll. All that stuff costs money and if everyone uses it, everyone need to chip in to pay for it.
Thankfully technology can take the 'ick' factor out of talking about money. Apps like Acasa let you share out all the bills fairly with your housemates and lets everyone know what they owe and for what and could hopefully go a long way towards maintaining household harmony.
8. Be cute
There are somethings you might be able to avoid paying for if you do your homework. For instance, you might not need your own TV licence if your parents have one and you live with them outside of term time and you only watch iPlayer on a device that is not hooked up to an aerial or plugged into a wall socket.
Or contents insurance: check your parent’s policy and you might already be covered if you are only ‘temporarily removed from the home’. If you have a lot of gear especially a lot of portable tech, it might be worthwhile getting yourself gadget insurance as there will be an upper limit to the amount covered.
The most important thing is to do your research and figure out what you need but don’t leave yourself exposed.
Getting loads of takeaways or going to the Deli for your lunch will be massive drain on your spends.
As a student you are going to be eating a lot of Ramen noodles.
And that’s ok! They’re delicious!
But learning a few simple and cheap recipes take include actual nutrition will be good for your pocket and your health. Plan ahead, make big batches at a time and then portion it out into freezer bags and Tupperware so you always have something handy.
10. Martin’s Money Saving Mantra
Okay so don’t wanna come across all fan boy on you, but Martin Lewis has a spectacularly simple money saving mantra that, if used, would save you a clean fortune over your lifetime.
Every time you go to buy anything, take a step back and follow Martin's mantra:
Get a printable version you can keep in you wallet here!
Following this advice will stop you throwing your money away on things you don’t really need when you’re feeling a bit flush and help to prioritise your spending when you’re seriously skint.
P.S. Uni is the most amazing experience! You’ll make friends for life and have your mind blown with all the learning.
Take control of your finances early on and you will be forming great habits that will stay with you your whole life and might be just as important to your future success as that degree.
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