You’re going to graduate with massive tuition and maintenance loans. Here are some tips to maximise your money at university.
I graduated from Swansea University in 2019, and like many other students, arriving at university was the first time leaving home, and there was a lot to learn!
Every student’s background and experiences are different, and for some, they may not need to use a tuition loan, but others may have to maximise all available loans. Whatever your position, I hope to provide some general tips that all students can use to benefit their bank accounts while studying.
1. Resist the temptation
The first money tip while at university: assume you have no money.
If you’ve taken out a student loan, you will most likely receive this in 3–4 instalments throughout the year. You’ll go from eating baked beans and edging ever so close to entering your overdraft to waking up with four-figures in your account and feeling like Jeff Bezos.
These instalment are intended to keep you afloat for the next term at university. I’ve been there and fully understand how tempting it can seem to want to spend this money on university events, clothes, etc. Therefore, it is important to try to think of these loans not as spendable cash or even your own money (imagine you’re holding onto it for someone and they expect to have it all back!).
Unless you are fortunate enough to have parents who are willing to throw money at you every time you cry down the phone, or they visit one weekend, then as a student, your main focus is survival.
This leads onto tip 2…
2. Understand your bills and create a budget
Before you arrive into your university’s halls with your life in boxes, you should work out the following (and as accurately as possible, don’t cheat yourself):
- The bills you are going to be paying and when the money will be leaving.
- The money coming in and when this will arrive into your account.
- What will be left at the end of the week/month
If you’re new to creating a budget, I wrote about how to start here.
Calculating your bills
Your biggest bills will most definitely be accommodation costs and utility bills, so these will be gas, electricity, water, broadband, etc.
Now, as a first-year student, you will live probably live in university residential halls, and with these, they’ll hold your hand as everything will come under one accommodation bill. Next year, when you move into a flat or house, it will become more tricky as each utility will be have a different provider and the money will leave your account on different days.
One bit of good news is that as full-time students, you won’t need to pay Council Tax (hurray!)
Obviously, these won’t be all your bills — but, they’re most likely the largest.
What’s coming in?
Next, you’ll need to ask yourself what what be entering your bank account each month. This can be difficult as a student as it’ll most likely be coming from multiple streams: student loans, scholarships, bursaries, grants, part-time job, bank of Mum and Dad.
Maintenance loans — This is a loan to help fund your day to day expenses while at university. This money will have to be paid back but only after earning above a threshold. The loans are paid in three instalments: January, April and September, and the maximum loan available is £12,010 per annum for 2020/2021 academic year (for those living in London and away from home).¹
Scholarships/Bursaries — Try and find any chances to be accepted for a scholarship or bursary. I was fortunate enough to receive a Master’s scholarship where they took off £3,000 from my postgraduate tuition fees. I’d recommended searching your university website or places like The Scholarship Hub to see if you can qualify for some free money!
Part-time work — I’ll cover this in more detail in the next tip.
What do you have left?
Okay, so you’ve now calculated all your upcoming bills (living costs/utility costs), as well as, your incomings from all your sources — well done!
This will provide you with an approximate value for each month that you can now spend on all other aspects of living while at university. I will cover later on how you can save more money on these.
3. Find part-time work
University is a busy time, you are juggling coursework, sports, and socialising. Therefore, if you can squeeze in part-time work during term then I would highly recommend this. Even if you make £100 over a weekend working at a bar, this will cover your food costs for the next week or so.
Make the most of your time on holidays to earn more. If you did work before university, then ask if they will take you back. Part-time working is entirely up to you and you’re at university to gain a degree and make memories, so if you think part-time work may negatively affect your studies, then reconsider if it is necessary.
Ideally, you should start earning before you start at university. During college you may have yourself a weekend or evening job that brings in some money. This is a great way to save some money to provide more freedom when studying.
Also, any work can be added to your CV which is a bonus for when you’re sitting in your first graduate job interview showing off your skills.
4. Make smart money choices
You’ve calculated your outgoings and your incomings leaving you scratching your head as to how you’re going to make this money last. Well, making smart money choices when buying the essentials is critical:
- Food — We all need to eat. Therefore, learn to cook. As a student, it’s all too easy to eat takeaways, supermarket meal deals, or super noodles, but these easily cost a fortune and are generally not very healthy! Therefore, learn to cook in bulk — make a big pot of chilli, curry, etc., and you’ll be eating like a royalty all week without bursting the bank.
- Transport — Universities are generally in cities that will have good public transport systems. Buy a second hand bike and cycle around, or take the bus. I would recommend getting the 16–25 railcard for a third off train fares.
- Mobile Phone — You don’t need the latest iPhone deal costing £35+ a month. Buy a cheap phone and then compare sim-only deals. You could easily cut your phone costs down to £10 a month.
- Medicines — Being a student, you may be entitled to free prescriptions. Check out more information here.
- Interest-free overdrafts — If you do need to borrow money, then take advantage of student current accounts that have interest-free overdraft limits. These could potentially save you more during your degree. The catch here is that student overdrafts typically only last one year after finishing university… then you’ll be charged interest like the rest of us!
5. Use student discounts carefully
I’ve already advised on buying a 16–25 railcard as this is genuinely a good deal. However, other student deals may not be so kind. It seems every company now has some form of student discount, but it does not mean you still need to buy into it. Ask yourself — do I really need this?
Here are some deals that may be worthwhile²:
- 25% off university textbooks through Oxford University Press. This will only work for textbooks.
- Free Microsoft Office for Students. You will get the entire Office software suite — including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote. You just need to enter your academic email on the Office website.
- Grab 10% off your food at Co-op through the TOTUM offer.
- Through UNiDAYS, you can grab 50% off an Apple Music subscription. However, my tip would be that if you’re sharing in a house, then grab either a family subscription and share it between you all!
If you have made it this far, then thank you very much for reading. It obviously means that you care about your finances!
University is arguably the best time of your life and it will go by in a flash, so you should enjoy every second. I hope you can take some of these tips and implement them in your university life to maximise your experience!
If you have any other tips you would like to share, then please leave a comment!