Financially, being a student isn’t easy; and the decision to continue studying at university comes at an expensive cost. Student tuition fees are at an all-time high and living costs continue to rise. Often, students are forced into overdrafts and rely on family members to help fund their time at University which is a stressful situation to be in.
I have frequently found myself worrying about saving for the future, budgeting a limited income, and accumulating debt. It took numerous podcasts, google searches, bank consultations, and discussions with friends and family to put my mind at ease and determine a financial plan but, eventually, I got there. It was then a case of putting the plan into action…
Step one: Understanding my finances
Being able to manage money isn’t an easy feat but I decided to make a start by understanding what income I was generating and what expenditures I had.
To do this I created an excel spreadsheet and devised a formula that calculated:
- My total income per month, which was a combination of student finance and work earnings.
- My total outgoings per month, which I divided into essential (travel, bills, subscriptions, food, university supplies, toiletries, etc.) and non-essential expenditure (clothes, coffees, events, evenings out, etc.).
It wasn’t surprising that there was a significant discrepancy between my income and expenditure, but it was good to have an exact figure.
(If you aren’t particularly Excel savvy then either use one of the pre-made excel templates or download a money management app onto your mobile device).
Step two: Have the appropriate financial accounts in order
As soon as I started University, I changed my current account into a student account which provided me with an uncharged overdraft. It has certainly helped with unexpected spending or when funds were running low.
I would also encourage students to set up an ISA and savings account. I use my savings account for my student finance payments. Each month I transfer a, self-calculated, monthly allowance into my current account to avoid spending it all at once.
Step three: Assess whether I can decrease my expenditure
Next, I analysed my expenditure to identify where I could make savings. Simple but effective alterations to my current spending habits included:
- Using weekly meal plans to dictate my food shop, to prevent overbuying
- Walking rather than paying for public transport, to reduce travel expenses
- Challenging myself before making a purchase, to stop impulse buying
Step four: Assess whether I can increase my income
With a very demanding degree occupying most of my time, working a conventional part-time job was not feasible. I currently have two jobs (remote coaching for multi-sport athletes and creating content for the student news team at Manchester University) which I can work around my studies and lifestyle. In today’s modern society there are so many opportunities for home-work and flexible hours, it’s just a case of doing your research. Catapult is a great app that identifies one-off shifts nearby so that you can earn a wage without the commitment.
I additionally identified that during my time off University in the summer, I could commit to a regular work pattern. I am fortunate that my previous degree in Biochemistry enables me to apply for research work in a laboratory at the University. I would encourage students to use their skills, previous qualifications, and past experiences to find a job that would be of interest and offer a decent salary.
Step five: Assess whether I can save money
I began to fear that my current lifestyle meant that I was unable to save money for when I wanted to relocate, go on holiday, or buy a car. As students, we aren’t in the position to start saving substantial amounts of money, but it is feasible to get into good habits and put even the smallest amount into a savings account or ISA.
Most banks have a scheme whereby when you make a transaction on your debit card it will automatically round-up the amount spent to the nearest £1. The rounded amount is transferred from your current account into your chosen savings account or ISA. This is a very easy way to start accumulating even the smallest amount of money.
Step six: Use your bank’s expertise
There is a notion that banks are unreasonable and solely focus on making money from your misfortunes, but this is far from the truth. In reality, they are the perfect point of call when users have questions and concerns. They are very understanding that, as a student, finances are difficult to manage. I have often contacted them when I have encountered problems and they have always been very helpful and put processes in place to ease the situation. I now have an alert system setup whereby I am contacted via SMS when a payment is due or if I am near to my spending limit.
Step seven: Ask for financial support
Despite trying my best to be financially autonomous, my outgoings still outweigh my incomings and therefore conversations with my parents about extra financial support has always been essential. The University has also got schemes, bursaries, and support networks to help eligible students with their finances, so make sure you utilise them if you can.
Step seven: Understanding the repayment of student finance
I have always just accepted that student debt is inevitable, and it wasn’t until I did my own research and fully understood the repayment scheme that I could relax. The Money Advice Service is a great resource to use and understand just how student finance works.
Step eight: Don’t get ahead of myself
I am a big pre-planner. I love having goals and aspirations for the future, but I soon identified that these were only adding to my financial anxiety. Whilst it is important to have future objectives, I realised that stressing about the costs of a house and running a car was not productive. Realistically, until I graduate University, I cannot comprehend my financial position and consequently I shouldn’t be worrying about it.
Being in control of my finances has contributed to a healthier and happier mindset. I hope that you too can become at ease with your finances and start to enjoy the responsibility of money management.