If you’re getting ready to start university, then this blog is an essential read for you. Because learning to manage your finances now can make the next few years of university life much easier, happier and fun. That’s a hat trick of joy that can be achieved pretty simply with adequate planning and preparation.
Why? With many students being more likely to worry about money than their studies, making sure your finances are in a healthy state means you’ll have more time and headspace available to get on with the things that are important to you. Things like working hard on your studies and hanging out with your friends.
If starting university for you means that you’ll be managing your finances on your own for the first time, please don’t feel overwhelmed. You’re not the only one. The reality is lots of people feel generally pretty clueless about money and personal finances in their late teens and early twenties — and especially when they live away from home for the first time. But it needn’t be scary or hard work. You’ll get your head around the basics within a month, and from there you can just build on those fundamentals as you go.
Time spent getting this right is 100% worth it because starting university with the right money attitude means you’re much more likely to graduate in good financial shape (which will help to improve your prospects after graduation). So if your ambition is to begin your independent life at uni by making positive financial decisions for the future, then read on as we share with you our top 12 tips on becoming a financially savvy student.
12 tips on becoming a financially savvy student
1. Applying for your student loan
Most students will be applying to Student Finance, the official UK government funding, to secure funds to pay for their tuition fees and also some money to go towards living costs (otherwise known as the ‘maintenance loan’). It’s important to try to get started with your application as early as possible because there are a lot of questions to get through on the form, and once submitted, it can take at least six weeks to hear back. Just be aware that it can be a real challenge to manage your finances if your student loan doesn’t hit your bank account until after the term has started. This is because bills and expenses are already going out by this point.
Here are a few useful links to help you make your application:
- Applying for Student Finance 2020/21. This application walkthrough has everything you need to know from ‘how does coronavirus affect Student Finance applications?’ to ‘how much Student Finance can I get?’
- Student finance: What you need to know. More FAQs on applying for student finance.
- Student finance: how to apply – GOV.UK. Information on how to apply straight from the government themselves.
2. Create a solid budget
I know what you’re thinking but don’t worry. Budgeting isn’t about restricting your spending and limiting your fun. I’m not aiming to be a party pooper here and I’m not going to tell you you can’t afford that big night out with your friends.
Instead, we’re going to define budgeting a little differently. Budgeting is about planning how you’ll spend your money so you can afford to do the things you want to do. It’s about being intentional and deliberate with your money. And yes, that naturally means being careful to not indulge in impulsive spending, but if that means you get what you want, that’s okay right?
My experience of university was that if you’re not careful, that maintenance loan, which feels really big when it lands in your account as a lump sum at the beginning of term, actually disappears really quickly. So be careful, and work out what your budget is. This budget calculator for new students from Which? is a really handy tool you can use to start working that out. It takes into account which university you’re studying at so it can better assess your living costs in that area.
And once you start uni, remember to track your spending so that you’re able to make sure you’re on budget, and can manage your money moving forward.
3. Contents insurance, yes you need it
The National Union of Students says one in five students experiences crime while studying at university, with the average cost of a break-in standing at £900 to repair the damage and replace belongings. This happened to a few of my friends at university, they didn’t have contents insurance, and it just really sucked. So make sure you’re protected. To get a policy you can ask your bank, or get quotes and advice from sites like Money.co.uk.
4. Build your savings
If you’re able to do so, saving money before you start university is definitely a great shout. Having a small emergency fund available to you will make you feel calmer and more confident about your ability to deal with any unexpected things that may come up. Start by saving small amounts, and regularly, to build up the habit.
5. Avoid credit cards
When I opened my student account, my bank (which shall remain nameless) automatically sent me a credit card with a limit of £500. To my immature mind, that felt like – wow, £500 I can just spend that on anything right now and no one’s going to stop me? Amazing. Luckily my best friend was with me at the time I received it, and we immediately acted on her very wise suggestion to cut the card up right then and there to stop it becoming a problem.
Of course credit cards can be really useful tools in some instances, and if you know what you’re doing with it, don’t let me stop you. But if not, be warned, they can (and do) also create a lot of problems when not used properly. And there is a lot of temptation when you’re a student. It’s not free money, the interest rates can be really high – and you can spiral into debt quite quickly. Just saying.
6. Take advantage of student discounts
I desperately miss having a student discount. It saves you so much money, and with a huge amount of retailers offering students discounts, it’s actually more rare to find a shop that doesn’t. From cinemas, to restaurants, clothes shops and even the Apple store, you can get good deals by showing your student card or typing in your NUS number (on the card) online. Make the most of it while you can.
7. Opening a student account
Make sure you shop around when looking for a student account to find one that best suits your needs. If you need to use an overdraft then make sure you look for the account with the cheapest one, but if you can budget without an overdraft then it can be better to go with that. Many banks will also offer freebies to you when opening a student account so have a look at what’s on offer here too.
8. Deposits and rent
In the first year of university, most students are spared the stresses of sorting out accommodation as they move into dorms on campus (or similar). Be that as it may, in many towns and cities, the search for your next year’s accommodation is competitive and will need to start early, probably in the spring term of your first year. This means you’ll have to decide who of your new friends you want to live with, most likely forming a group of four to five potential housemates who you’ll buddy up with to begin the househunt.
Then comes your introduction to the world of renting. Once you’ve decided who you’re going to live with, your group will need to begin searching for listings that accept students and start arranging house viewings. Again depending on what city or town you’re in and how competitive finding accommodation is there, you may find that you need to be quick to act to secure your home.
To do this your group will have to pay deposits and one (or more) month’s rent upfront. This can amount to thousands of pounds that will need to be paid as a lump sum to secure the property, so you need to prepare in advance to be able to make this payment.
I’ll mention a few other points here… As long as your whole household pays their rent on time and there are no damages to the property, you will get your deposit back when you move out. Next, as you are a student, most landlords will also require you to have a guarantor. This is someone with an income who can guarantee to make your rent payments should you fall behind. And will usually be your mum or dad.
There is a lot more to learn and understand about renting that goes beyond the scope of this blog, but a good source of support will be your university who can offer help and guidance when the time comes. For now, I’ll leave you with a few useful links to find out more:
9. Managing bills with your housemates
Another important aspect of renting with your friends is managing bills. Because this can be a complete nightmare if not set up right (think about a situation where all the bills coming out of your account and you have to chase your housemates for weeks to repay you) getting started on the right foot is essential. Nobody wants to be responsible for managing all the bills. So try not to let it happen. If you are planning to live with a few other people while at university, and you don’t want to ruin your friendships, then it’s a good idea to divide the bills between you, and work out any extra each individual is owed once all bills have been paid.
You could also set up a joint account to pay the bills out of. However you’d need to be really careful about how you work this out. Having a joint account with your housemates will mean your credit records become financially linked. This means firms can access and look at that person’s credit report as part of assessing whether to accept you for a credit agreement (like a credit card, loan, mortgage or phone contract) in the future.
For more on how financial associations work on your credit report you can check out this article from Experian: Financial Association | What To Know About Shared Finances.
10. Part-time work
Perhaps as a result of developing your budget you’ve decided that you want to make some extra income to top up your maintenance loan so you can afford to do more things. Most universities don’t recommend working more than 15 hours per week during term time, but you could do some part time work in and around your studying within that limit if you like. Typical student jobs are things like working in a shop, a bar or telesales. I did all three at some point or other while at uni and it was a great way not only to make some extra money, but also meet new people and make new friends. You can also make the most of the holidays for earning a little extra money.
11. Help is available
According to a 2018 survey of 5,000 undergraduates by Which?, 28% said they struggled with managing living costs at university, and 46% said they asked their parents for financial support. There is absolutely no shame in this, nor is there in asking for help. Going to university can be an extremely challenging time financially – everyone knows this. And as well as your friends and family, there is also lots of support available on campus and online which is free for you to use. So if you find yourself getting into difficulties with managing your money, please don’t suffer in silence.
12. Build financial health
One of the reasons you’re at uni is to put yourself in a better position to get a job by achieving your qualifications. This is because the knowledge you’re seeking to gain is valuable. In the same vein, financial knowledge is financial power and to be in a strong position to launch yourself out into the world after university you’ll want to work on your financial education and learn how to master your money now. A key thing you can do is to build your credit score. A good credit score is needed for a whole load of things from getting a mortgage, to car finance, to getting a job (in some cases) and taking out a new phone contract. Working on this is one of the easiest wins in getting financially savvy during your time as a student.
If you want to find out more about what credit scores are and how you can check yours, check out this article from our blog: Your credit score explained.
To make progress on building your credit score, first get yourself on the electoral register at your address. And secondly, you may want to try LOQBOX. LOQBOX is a free tool that helps you to build your credit score while you save. It’s quick and easy to set up. You can take a look at how it works here.
Paying your rent on time can also help you to boost your credit score. Private tenants can opt into the free Rental Exchange scheme, which records your rental payments and sends the results to the credit reference agency, Experian.
Finally, you may want to check out these books: Money: A user’s guide and Open up: Why talking about money will change your life — both of which are full of top tips and fresh ideas to help sharpen your money mindset.
I hope that was helpful! Do check back here for more advice and guidance from time to time as we regularly post tips and articles on building financial health. To stay up to date you can also follow us on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
That’s all for now, be sure to have fun in this exciting new chapter of your life and good luck!
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