Undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges facing undergraduates is managing money effectively, especially at a time of spiralling living costs and rising tuition fees. If you’re off to university and are ready to learn how to make a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise last for lunch, dinner and breakfast, then bear in mind that student finances are shrinking year-on-year and looking after your finances from the start is not only sensible but essential.
Obtaining Your Student Loan
The student loan, now called the ‘Maintenance Loan’, is the principle source of funding during your university years and will help to cover your day-to-day living costs including accommodation, food, course materials – and most importantly, your social life. Applications are best completed early as it may take some weeks for the loans to be processed and received into your account. Students who have special circumstances such as a disability or health condition may receive additional funding, as will those undergraduates who are accepted onto teaching, dentistry and social work courses. If you have dependents, check early on whether you are entitled to a little extra.
If managing your money is a challenge, or you think the cash will flow out of the ATM quickly, ask to have your student loan in three installments.
Managing Your Money
Put simply, budget. Ensure that you know exactly how much money you have at the start of the term and deduct your essential living costs (by which we mean accommodation, food and course materials NOT alcohol). Allow for your train journey home at the end of the term or you’ll be hitchhiking your way down the M1 in the cab of a lorry. Divide what is left over by the weeks in the term and hey presto! you have a weekly budget.
Needless to say this means nothing if you don’t stick to it, so if you cannot afford something then leave it in the shop. It’ll make life a lot simpler later.
And tempting though they may be, avoid credit cards like the plague. With interest rates of up to 30%, a credit card debt is only going to grow and your meager maintenance loan is better spent put to other uses.
Increase Your Income
If possible, obtain a part time job alongside your studies. Your university may have rules about how many hours you can work during term time and you need to balance your hours slaving away in the college library against making a little extra on the side, but part time work can be an invaluable source of extra money and, of course, great experience for your CV when you come to apply for graduate work at the end of the three years.
With careful money management and a commitment to not splashing out as soon as the cash in your account, it is possible to navigate your way through the perils of undergraduate finance, giving you less stress and more time to enjoy your course and social life.
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