Money Matters Week
10th - 14th October
During my first semester of university I made an earth shattering discovery; life is expensive. I'm sure that this won't come as a shock to many of our more worldly students with further life experience; but to me as a fresh faced, bright eyed 18 year old, it shook me to the core. For the first time in my life I found myself paying for the very things I took for granted such as electric, food and road tax. Now please don't think I'm spoiled (on the contrary, before university I earned a wage slaving away in McDonalds) but I hadn't given that much thought to the fact that my hard earned pennies would have to be spent on such banal things. After overcoming this initial shock, I feel I handled my finances pretty well. I only ever went into my overdraft once, and that was after a rent payment. So how did I stay out of the red?
Emma Harris - Commercial Services Officer
How not to get skint whilst at university in 10 easy steps
1. Earn Money
I know this sounds blindingly obvious but as a student on an undergraduate degree course, I was left with a reasonable amount of spare time. It's really important that your academic work is a priority, but having a part time job at university can be fun, rewarding and can earn you thousands. Whilst at university I had five different jobs (not running all at once – that would be silly) but this included occasional weekend and holiday work back in my home town, evening and night time work at the LRV, a fixed term summer job with the university and a short term casual job at the regent theatre following a placement. If you decide to apply for a job at uni, make sure your employer knows that you have university commitments or work for the Students' Union as we are committed to putting your studies first.
2. If you can get it cheaper, get it cheaper
Again an obvious one, but one that not many students seem to put into practise. Advance tickets for Gobble are £3.50, tickets on the door are £5.00. I never once paid more than £3.50 to get in because I couldn't bring myself to pay an extra £1.50 when I wasn't actually getting anything for it.
3. When shopping, dare to go elsewhere
Don't rely on supermarkets for your weekly shop, although they are convenient they are not discount stores. Use shops like Home Bargains, Iceland and BnM. These shops often stock near sell by date products, ends of lines and products with old packaging, it might mean that it takes you a little longer to shop but the price difference is certainly worth it. When it comes to more luxury items such as clothes, books, games and dvds buy second hand. Charity shops are awesome. They are cheap, environmentally friendly and raise money for good causes. Embrace the charity shop and reap the benefits of one off outfits, retro games and dvds, and pre-loved books. Plus get that warm fuzzy feeling that your £2.50 spent on a vintage jumper will go towards saving a poor abandoned kitten.
4. Raid the reduced cabinet!
Although you shouldn't rely on supermarkets for everything, they can have some good offers on and will reduce items to virtually nothing at the end of the day. Try to notice when your supermarket reduces products and hang around the aisles for some spectacular buys. Be prepared to fight off hordes of other bargain hunting vultures but when you snatch a massive saving (I once bought a joint of organic pork to feed 6 people for £1.50) the satisfaction alone is worth the wait, never mind the money you will save. Bulk buy things that are reduced beyond belief and freeze them.
5. Do things for free
Being at university isn't just about studying; it's about enjoying the local area and taking in the culture. However "taking in the culture" doesn't mean visiting Alton Towers or Trentham Monkey forest every weekend. If you look around, there are loads of things to do that will literally cost you nothing. Take a picnic and a Frisbee to your local park; go to a museum or an art gallery. Believe it or not there are plenty in Staffordshire and they're actually quite good.
6. Limit your spending
This is an area where I had to really try hard to save money. I love shopping and in particular I love clothes shopping, a very pricey hobby. I love nothing more than buying a new dress or a pair of shoes but there will be times when you simply cannot afford to treat yourself. This is a sad fact of life to anyone who isn't loaded. If you see a luxury item that is simply must have then save up slowly, you'll appreciate it more when you buy it.
7. Don't spend money you don't have
Credit cards, short term loans, cars on finance and quickquid.com – AVOID LIKE THE PLAUGE. If you can't afford to buy something from your student loan/earnings/savings then you simply shouldn't be buying it. If you are finding that you can't pay your bills without getting into debt then come and see Money Doctors at the Student Advice Centre as a matter of urgency. The only forms of debt I can EVER bring myself to justify are mortgages, student loans and interest free overdrafts. It might seem strict but it's kept me out of financial trouble so far and I've heard so many horror stories about credit cards that the thought of using one terrifies me.
8. Make sure you're getting everything you're entitled to
After vocally expressing my views on borrowing money, I'm going to contradict myself slightly. Make sure you are getting the maximum amount of student loan, it's the only time you will be able to borrow money at such low interest and it will make life a lot easier whilst you are here. Also take advantage of any free money such as grants, loans, bursaries and tax credits that you might be entitled to. To check that your getting everything you should be go to www.staffsunion.com/advice/moneydoctors/getmoney
9. Keep a record of who owes you money and vice versa
Whether you're living in shared accommodation, you're on your own or have a household to run, borrowing money from friends, family and housemates are inevitable facts of life. When bills came through to my student house, it was paid by whoever had the healthiest bank balance that week and this was paid back in due course. However this often leads to multiple debts of different amounts, which caused a lot of confusion and probably left some of us out of pocket. Decide on a plan when it comes to paying bills and stick to it and write down who has paid what. Also keep track of when you've lent someone money when you're out, write it in your diary or on a planner. It sounds mean but even with the best will in the world friends and family will often forget that you ever lent them that £20.
10. Don't spend money you don't have to
Lots of things in life are free such as water, travelling by foot, internet games and landline phone calls after 6pm. Make use of free things. Walk into town instead of getting the bus or paying for car parking. Refill a water bottle instead of buying a plastic bottle full (it's going to taste the same). Instead of buying a book that you fancy reading or need for your course, see if the library has it (both of the uni ones and council libraries are free to use). Also avoid fines, library and university stores fines are harsh but necessary. If you need motivation to get something back to the library before you incur a fine, just imagine posting your money into a drain because you are essentially throwing money away.
Sticking to these tips are not going to make you into a millionaire, nor will they guarantee your complete financial well being whilst at university. I could have done more to keep my finances healthy, I didn't budget frequently and I probably purchased far too many dresses (albeit from charity shops). However, I did manage to be in credit throughout my time here and still had a great time. Happy saving!