A Fresher’s Guide to Making Your Money go the Distance
First things first, congratulations! If you’re reading this, then, presumably, your blood, sweat, tears and toil have been rewarded with a set of A-Level results fit to get you into the uni of your choice. Well, the uni of your choice, one of your back-up options, or a place through clearing, anyway. Either way, the beginning of what will, more than likely, be one of the best chapters of your life beckons.
There are a thousand articles online and a thousand tales more that friends and acquaintances will have regaled to you about what ‘uni life’ is like and what to expect when you arrive – suffice to say you will quickly realise that while some of your experiences are ones which are shared by everybody who goes, your journey through the uni years will be uniquely yours. It will likely be a period of your life that is laden with study, nocturnal activity, more than a few drinks, love life drama, and the occasional brush with grinding poverty. You will meet weird and wonderful characters, not to mention a few absolute tools, from all over the country and every corner of the world. In short, it’ll be a life changing experience.
What you’ll also find, however, is that this meeting people and mingling, the study, the heavy drinking, society jollies and all of the other stuff you’ll do during your time at university means that you’ll need money in the bank – money which, as it so happens, is in short supply. But while higher education, with its £9,000 plus annual tuition fees and increasing year-on-year student living costs, is expensive, it shouldn’t be so prohibitively expensive that it is completely unaffordable.
The key thing to remember is this: to ensure that your time at university is both successful and memorable, you will need to apply a smart, measured approach to managing what little you’ve got in your bank account. With fresher’s week just around the corner, along with all of the exciting madness which awaits you, this is easier said than done!
Here are a few handy pointers on how to make sure that you make the most of what little you have and how to avoid getting into any serious money trouble when you arrive.
Pick up the core texts for your modules on the cheap
Much of your time in higher education is going to be a whirlwind of fun and madness as you throw yourself into all that’s good about student life, but you’d do well to remember that alongside the fun there will be lectures, seminars, tutorials, and a whole lot of study time. You’re there for three years, after all, to walk away at the end of it all with a degree certificate in hand and a smile on your face so that you can go forth into the cold, harsh world and get a great job – at a time when then CIPD estimates that 58% of graduates are employed in non-graduate roles, getting the dream job at the end it all is no mean feat.
To give yourself the best possible chance of ensuring that you are not among this 58% when you finish, hard work is essential, and so too is having the study aids that you need to help you excel.
Over the next month or so before you depart to your new home you will receive various letters and documents from your university, amongst which will be a recommended reading list for the modules that you’ll be enrolling on. Some of these books will be highlighted as ‘core texts’, and you will be advised to buy them before the start of the first semester – for the love of all that is holy, do it. Your university library will stock them but not in sufficient number for you to have any chance of actually being able to borrow them, especially in the weeks running up to coursework hand-in and exam time.
As you’ll find if you pop into your local Waterstone’s, these academic texts can be pretty pricey, but you do have an ace in the hole – Amazon or your university blackboard network. Picking up your essential texts from either Amazon online, or from last year’s students will allow you to potentially pick up a book which, new, would set you back £30-50, for a mere fraction of the price. It would be no exaggeration to say that you could save yourself hundreds of pounds by doing this.
A word of warning, however: make sure you pick up the recommended up to date edition texts as specified – the world spins quickly and an older edition text, whilst cheap, may not hold all of the information you need to learn to pass your module.
Get a new laptop in-line with your needs
As far as laptops go, it is advisable to pick one up which is new and capable of meeting your study needs for the coming three years – your laptop will be your friend, ally, and #1 study partner during your time at university, after all, and the peace of mind of having a laptop which is covered by a warranty will prove invaluable. Also, a new laptop is less likely to unexpectedly die – you, like many others before, will be utterly heartbroken if your laptop goes kaput, and all of the coursework that you spent weeks and months of your life working on along with it. Picking up a flash disk so that you can back-up all of your work is also a sensible move, with this in mind.
Unless your chosen subject is graphic design based, or any other course which requires you to have a high spec machine, there is no need to invest a large sum of money in buying a laptop. So long as it can run all the necessary Microsoft and/or Google programs for you to write-up notes and do coursework, Skype, play movies and hold your music, it’s unlikely you’ll have any further use for it. Such a laptop should set you back no more than £350-400.
Get a student overdraft and credit card with a modest balance… but be careful. Very careful
Student overdrafts and credit cards are a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand they can be incredibly useful to have as back-up if, for example, your student loan payment is delayed or a series of unfortunate financial events lead to you being completely broke. On the other they can be a gateway to unmanageable debt hell, as many an unwary or reckless student has found to their detriment.
Nonetheless if you trust in your ability to manage a student overdraft or credit card well, getting one of each with a modest credit limit, say in the region of £250-500 each, could be a shrewd and useful move. If you can demonstrate an ability to use them sensibly, you can not only use them to tide you over in times of abject poverty, but also use your student overdraft and credit card to begin building up your credit file – this will prove incredibly useful for after you graduate.
Again, though, if you know full-well that you are dreadful with money and that any credit is just going to be splurged within weeks on heavy nights out, high street shopping, meals out with flatmates or course mates, or any other fun and yet unnecessary treats, stay away from credit cards and keep your student overdraft limit small. It takes a lot longer to pay these things back back than it does to spend them!
Don’t try to keep up financially with your mates who have more money – stick to your own budget
On your arrival at your halls of residence/student house, and over the course of fresher’s week and the beginning of your course, you’ll meet a diverse mix of people from every imaginable corner of the UK and across the world, from different cultures and backgrounds. Inevitably some of these people are going to become very close friends of yours, perhaps for life.
It is entirely likely that one or more of your new tribe are going to come from a far wealthier background than your own, which could spell trouble for your bank balance if you attempt to keep pace with them, financially speaking. If one or more of your new friends are getting financial support regularly from wealthy parents and you’re not, as frustrating as it might be you just won’t be able to hit the drinks at uptown bars, eat out, go shopping and enjoy the trappings of the good life in the same way that they do – you’ll only end up in serious debt if you try.
Rather than get yourself into trouble, instead be up front with your more affluent friends about the fact that you can’t match their lifestyle. If they are worthwhile friend material, they will understand. Recommend cheaper drinking holes instead of swanky cocktails, group dinners in rather than at restaurants from time to time – you can still have an amazing time with bankrupting yourself.
NUS Extra cards and Young Person’s 16-25 Railcards
Where to even begin with NUS Extra cards? If your university is NUS affiliated, you may get away with having to pay the annual £12 a year fee but if not, £12 is still an absolute bargain for this fantastic discount card.
The nationally recognised NUS Extra card opens up more than 170 discounts with various high street and online retailers, including the likes of Topshop, Apple, ASOS, New Look, Pizza Express, Frankie & Benny’s, Domino’s, and Amazon, to name but a few. Over your three years at university you’ll become pretty accustomed to asking at the till, or sniffing around online to find out if places do student discount. There really is nothing to lose by asking – not only will you save yourself hundreds upon hundreds of pounds by doing this, you’ll be very surprised at times when you find that high end retailers whom you wouldn’t expect to offer money off actually do.
Upon picking up your trusty NUS Extra card, you can then use it to get an 11% discount on the £30 price of a Young Person’s 16-25 railcard: an absolutely wonderful money saving discount card which will make rail travel a third cheaper – you will likely recoup the cost in savings within one train journey. They are well worth the money.
Get a part-time job
Unless you are getting extra financial support from some source or another, you’ll realise very quickly that the student maintenance loans that you receive from the Student Loans Company will leave you little to play with after you’ve paid rent and bills. Perhaps this is stating the obvious but they way to mitigate this is to get a part-time job.
Although study commitments will likely prevent you from taking on a job with too many hours, or one which it too high pressure, a 10-20 hour a week position in a bar, restaurant, shop, or office will earn you up to around £120 each week – tax free, it should be added. It’s unlikely that you’ll want to waste any of your glorious first year of university working but it could be the difference between you living, eating and drinking well, and wasting away with nothing but supermarket own brand noodles to console you.
Put some of your money out of reach for Fresher’s Week
There is nothing that can be said in this article or any other which will portray how utterly overwhelming and potentially drink-fuelled your Fresher’s Week is likely to be. It’s all going to be a bit of a messy whirlwind of meeting people, drinking, exploring your new home town or city, and enjoying all that’s great about leaving the familiar, comfortable bubble of your family home for the first time, and, therefore, it will also be rather expensive.
Fresher’s Week is a once in a lifetime event so it would only be proper to spend a little more than you ordinarily might to make the most of it, but they to making sure you don’t spend huge amounts of money that you can’t afford to spend is to put it out of reach – namely, in the hands/bank account of a family member so you can’t spend your life away. Get in touch with your Mum or Dad and transfer over any money that you don’t want to touch, preferably as soon as your first student loan instalment enters your bank account for safe keeping. Your future self will thank you for it.
Oh, and as a side note, make sure that the first thing you do is pay your rent for first semester before anything else. Again, this is another obvious one but it will be easy to get carried away with your spending and the last thing you’ll want to do is spend your rent and bills money.
A lot of the above advice is fairly common sense, and it is probably only reinforcing what you already know. That said, practising what we preach when it comes to financial common sense can be easier said than done.
Unless you are among the sensible minority, it is pretty likely that you’ll spend more than planned over the course of your first semester but by following the above advice you should avoid tumbling into any serious financial difficulty.
Now that all of this money advice stuff is out of the way, all that’s left to say is enjoy!
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