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September 22, 2017

Budgeting your Student Finance

One of our team, Jools Oughtibridge works part time in our office, but is also a 3rd Year student, studying for a degree in Journalism and Digital Media at Hull School of Art and Design.  Here are a few pointers from his student life.

From my experience a student, I can try and give you a few pointers to help you along the way.  What works for me, might not work for you, but at least it gives you a starting point.

Food

Buy what you actually need, but make sure it’s healthy.

You may be away from home for the first time, but relying on takeaways every night will make your student finance disappear very quickly.

Knowing how to cook basic meals is important to keep you fed and not wasting away.

You can cook tasty and nutritious meals in a small amount of time, sometimes even quicker than the takeaway can deliver.  Eating well means that you will feel better, have more energy and avoid picking up bugs and colds through the year.

Meals with Pasta and Rice can work out cheaper as you can buy a bag of each for very little.  That together with some vegetables and a little meat if you want, is a filling meal, and if you cook a little extra, you can put them into a plastic tub and put in the freezer ready for a meal in the future.

Have some variety in your meals though. Don’t eat the same meal for 10 days in a row, you will get bored of it, probably after a couple of days.  Work out what you can realistically cook, either in terms of your skills and the space you have available in the kitchen and to store in a fridge or freezer.

Food Shopping

This is a separate entry in our list.

Deciding where to buy your food can impact on how much it costs.

A loaf of bread at the corner shop may cost £1, whereas a supermarket option could be 50p.  You have to work out how you are going to get to the shops to buy the food, and probably more importantly, how you are going to get your purchases home.

Look at what you are buying and think “Am I actually going to use it?”  If you have to throw food away because it’s gone off or mouldy, you are effectively throwing pound coins in the bin.

That brings us to the reduced section in the supermarket.  This can be a great place to pick up a bargain, but again, are you actually going to use that hummus that’s been reduced to 80p? If you are, that’s great, but otherwise it’s just a waste of your cash.

Buying own brand items at the supermarket doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting a product that’s any different to the named brand items.

Some items you will be able to tell the difference.  For example, I have a thing about coffee.  I can drink own brand coffee, as long as the jar is the same colour as the expensive stuff – So if the lid is gold, I can drink the Supermarket own brand, but any lower in price than that, I would rather go without.

Just because something says value, doesn’t mean it’s value to you, because if you throw it away, it’s a waste of your cash.

Something else to bear in mind is the size of packets, tins, and jars.  Larger items don’t always mean that they are better value.  Sometimes, a supermarket reduces the price of the smaller item to be on special offer, but not the larger item.  You might have a 100g jar of coffee costing £2, but a 200g jar costing £5.  Products on the end of the aisles are there to tempt you, they might not be the best option for your bank balance.

A website I use is mysupermarket.co.uk which is a comparison site for groceries.  You can look for all types of groceries, and you may find that some products aren’t available at some supermarkets or that they have different sizes.  You can set alerts so that if your favourite item is on offer somewhere, you get an email to tell you.

One last thing about shopping around is to bear in mind the extra cost of shopping around the supermarkets.  If you are paying out more in petrol or public transport, is it actually worth the cost and more importantly, your precious time to go around the town/city?

Travel options

Travelling by anything other than walking or cycling is going to cost you money.  Buses, trains, tube, taxi, trams etc will cost you money.

If you have a weekly or monthly ticket for one or more of the above, you have to work out if it is actually worth the cost.  If you make 5 bus journeys that cost £2 each, but your weekly ticket costs £15, then that is wasting money.

Some travel tickets cover more than one type of transport – For example, for South Yorkshire Students can buy a ticket, which costs £7.90.  This gives you unlimited travel on all buses, trams and trains for one day. Whereas, a peak return train ticket from Sheffield to Doncaster can be as much as £7.40 just for that one trip.

There are many more offers across the country, so it’s worth looking around in your area.

Student Discounts

Whether you have a NUS Extra card or just your Uni ID, you should be able to get some discounts in your local area.  It’s always worth an ask at your local shop(s).  Websites such as NUS Extra, UniDays, and others will be able to show you other specific discounts that they have been able to negotiate with companies.

As with all things, check to see if you can buy it cheaper.  If a shop has a book you need at £20 and they are giving you 10% off, would you buy it there or at a shop that has it for £17? 

Coffee Shops

In the mornings, I always have 2 or 3 cups of coffee, usually very large.  I always have them before I leave home so that I’m making the best use of my cash.  Buying those coffees in a branded coffee shop would cost me around £9 for 3 cups, whereas I can buy 3 jars of coffee for the same price.

I know it’s not the same as your Café Macchiato with an extra shot, soya milk and sprinkles, but have it as a treat, rather than an everyday item.  Let’s say that it costs £3 as a conservative estimate, and you’re in classes 4 days a week – That works out at £52 a month for one Café Macchiato per day, and an academic year is around 41 weeks – which works out at almost £500 for one drink per day during term time!

I’m not saying don’t buy your coffee, but be wary of handing over your cash when there may be other things to spend it on.

 

Computer Software

As part of your studies, you may be entitled to a personal licence of Microsoft Office 365 from your University.  You get a copy of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and others to use on your machine, which may be useful for working away from Uni, and especially if you’re having to work late in the night and you don’t want to head into Uni to use the computers there.

Other companies also offer discounts – For example, Adobe offer various levels of discount on their products, which can be up to 65%.

I bought the full Adobe suite as I use that in my degree, which worked out at around £155 for the year.  I worked out that the cost of that compared to the time going into my Uni was well worth it, especially as my Uni doesn’t operate a 24/7 policy – If I had any work to do over the weekend, I would have to wait until Monday morning to be able to use the software, and that’s if there were any spare computers available.

There are other software products out there that are available for free, but be wary of installing software from a source that you are unsure of.  You don’t want to get a virus on your computer that potentially may wipe all your hard work over the year.

Books

Books look great on bookshelves, but do you actually need to buy new ones? Can you buy second hand ones, or do you actually need to buy them at all?

University libraries have books but not an unlimited supply.  If the library has 2 copies of a book that is a requirement for your course, and there are 50 students that need to read it, you could be waiting a while after you have requested it.  The University Library may have access to electronic copies of the text, which may be good for what you need.

You will also be eligible to register for the local council run library as well for the area where you live.  They may be able to offer additional resources that you can tap into.

Failing all that, you may have to buy books.  New text books can be eye wateringly expensive but they look great.  Remember as soon as you’ve opened the book and used it, it becomes second hand to someone else.

There may be a book exchange within the University, where students in the year(s) above you, may be willing to sell their old books to you for a reasonable price.  You can also look on Amazon, Ebay, Wordery or Waterstones to see if you can pick up a bargain.

One thing to be mindful of with buying books online is the postage costs.  A second hand book on Amazon or Ebay may cost £1, but there is likely to be significant postage charges on top of that.  Always watch out for the final checkout price.

 

Working

This is probably not what you want to read, but if you’re struggling to manage with your Student Finance, then you may have to go out and get a job.

As someone who has a part time job and doing a degree, I can speak from personal experience about the struggle to balance work and study.

There will be companies in your area that are looking to employ students.  Generally, students are cheaper to employ, usually with a low hour or zero hour contract.  Be wary of the zero hour contract, if you are relying on the money to get you through your studies.  If you end up with a month with no shifts, and therefore no money, could you cope?

Another thing to consider is taking on too much work – I know someone on my course who works 12 hours a week in one job, 21 hours in a second, 10 in a third and balancing all of that with studying full time for a degree - Certainly not for the faint hearted!

You need work experience for the CV, you need the cash to keep the bank balance topped up, but if you don’t complete your assignments or the year, then what’s the point?

If we've missed anything or you have some tips that have helped you budget through the year, then please get in touch, we'd love to share with all our students across the UK and Ireland.

Jools Oughtibridge

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