It's not all caps and gowns and balancing on bicycles with textbooks underarm, but nor is it an episode of Hollyoaks! The reality of university life sits somewhere in the middle: hard work, but also a fun time. Part of the fun is derived from the freedom – it will probably be the first time that you will live independently away from your family. But with great power comes great responsibility, and aside from the newfound joys of cooking, washing and cleaning, you will also need to learn quickly how to manage your student finances.
You can tell who they are - hanging around the SU bar with a placard "will work for Snakebite and Black"; they are the students whose loans haven't come through yet because they left their applications for them a little too late. It happens every year. Don't be one of them! Apply for your student loan as soon as you can to avoid a difficult first few weeks.
After sorting your Student Loan, getting a student current account should be your next priority. Many of these offer an interest-free overdraft for the duration of your studies, which will work out considerably cheaper than more expensive forms of borrowing such as a credit card. Careful though – whatever you borrow, even if it is interest-free, still needs to be paid back eventually.
Steer clear of any plastic debt if possible. This includes credit cards, but also store cards. Store cards are credit cards in disguise - don't get sucked in to taking out more debt. Consider taking out a prepaid card instead. Read our tip Who and what is a prepaid card good for?
Save? Yes save! Over the summer, aim to save as much money as you can. For most students, debt is an inevitable side-effect of the university experience, but minimising your debt should be a priority. In particular, try to have a little money set aside for the beginning of the semester, when social costs and study materials will drain your resources. Research the best savings accounts to find a good deal.
Sit down and work out a budget with your income on one side (student loan, allowance from mum and dad, wages) and your outgoings on the other (accommodation, food, study materials, TV licence, bills etc.). It may seem quite depressing, and you may find that you have to dip a little further into the overdraft each month, but you are always better off planning ahead and knowing exactly what you are spending rather than burying your head in the sand.
There's no denying that Freshers' Week can be one of the best times at university, but minimise the hangover to your wallet by doing the following:
Lots of savvy students augment their income by acquiring a part-time job. It doesn't need to affect your studies or social life in a negative way, but will most definitely have a positive effect on your bank balance and give you some much-needed work experience. Don't work too much though; remember that your focus is to study, so make sure to limit your hours. Take a look at these useful links for details about finding a student job:
Your NUS card is a powerful ally in the quest to save pennies. It will get you discounts at many leading high street and online retailers, as well as certain cinemas, restaurants and travel companies. Even if a discount isn't advertised there might well be one, so always ask.
If you're not careful, bus and train fares could soon start chipping away at your loan, so:
This might cost you money, but not nearly as much as it would if you were burgled. First, check if you are covered (or can be covered) under the terms of your parents' contents insurance, but if not, take out a specialist student insurance. If you do opt for this, make sure to shop around as prices vary, and be sure to cover yourself adequately. For example, if you are taking expensive items with you to your student digs, check that they don't exceed the single item allowance on the policy. Also, personal possessions cover (cover for when your possessions are away from halls or your house) and pedal cycle cover may not come as standard so it would be advisable to add these, and always read the small print of your policy to satisfy yourself that you are fully protected.
The gym can be expensive, although the university gym is likely to work out less expensive than an off-campus gym. However, there are forms of exercise that can be done without spending too much. Running, for instance, is a great way to keep in shape, while student-friendly events like park runs (a free, weekly 5 kilometre running event) are springing up all over the country.
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