Managing your finances at University

Managing your finances at University

For many people, university is the first time managing their own finances. This can seem confusing if you’ve never been in charge of your own money before, or not on the same scale! However, with a bit of organisation, getting in control of your money can be very satisfying. Look below for advice about how to manage your money at university, and some top tips from our current students.

1. Receiving Your Money

Student finance can come across as quite a complicated system. If you do still find yourself a bit confused, the video below provides a useful break down of student finance, to help you understand how the process works.

Student maintenance loans are paid in three installments, one at the start of each term. A maintenance loan is provided to help you with your living costs; rent, food etc. The exact date you receive yours depends on your term start date. Once you have sent all your information to student finance you can see your student loans payment schedule in your online account. How much you receive depends on your individual circumstances.

You may also qualify for a bursary or specific scholarship from your university. This is usually a grant given to you which you don’t have to pay back at the end of your studies. If you do receive a bursary, it’s important to incorporate this into your overall budget.

If you haven’t yet sorted your student finance- don’t panic! You have up to nine months after the start of the academic year to apply. This can be done through the government website. But it’s better to apply sooner, rather than later.

It’s important to remember that you must apply for student finance funding every year. You’ll be emailed by student finance near the end of your final term, but be aware that your maintenance loan does not automatically renew.

2. Organising your money

Once you’ve worked out how much loan you should be receiving, it’s good to create a budget of how you plan to spend it. Aim to set a budget before you receive any money – as this will help you make sure that you are spending within your means

There are lots of different ways to budget, and the internet is a great way to find a budgeting style that best suits you. How you decide to budget your money is completely up to you. Below are some different budgeting options (and tools to help you) that you may wish to try!

50-30-20 Plan

The 50-30-20 is a budgeting plan that helps you organize your finances:

  • 50% of your income goes to necessities i.e. rent, food, bills, subscriptions
  • 30% goes towards your wants i.e. new shoes,
  •  20% gets put towards savings (or debts) i.e. going on a fieldtrip, paying off your overdraft, your house deposit for next year.

For example: say you receive £1880 for your maintenance loan in your first term (the average student gets approximately £5640 per year, according to Save the Student

  • £1880:
    • 50% – £940 for essentials
    • 30% – £564   for wants
    • 20% – £376 for savings/debts

You can then take this model and experiment with different sums before you commit. For example, if you have seen a room that you like for next year, you can ask yourself, can I afford to rent this room, and add all my bills on top, and still only spend 50% of my income on necessities? The same can be applied to wants – can I really afford a new pair of new shoes if they cost £400 (will I have any money left after for the rest of the term?)

The Envelope System

If you feel the 50/30/20 system leaves too much flexibility, and would like a budgeting plan that is slightly more rigid, the envelope system may be for you. The envelope system works by creating multiple envelopes (or Monzo Pots) and dividing your money between each one. You use the money in each envelope for a different thing ie bills, groceries, coffee. This makes it easy to see how much you’ve got left for each type of spending, so you don’t accidentally spend your rent on new shoes.

This budget helps you to stop spending money on small things, and also means you don’t have to keep track of every transaction you make. The envelope system traditionally uses cash, but with new online banking systems like Monzo that let you create ‘pots’ instead of envelopes, this budgeting style can be used if you don’t like cash.

Online budget planner

If you don’t like the pen and paper budgeting style, there are lots of fantastic online resources.  The Money Helper online budget planner is a fantastic tool. It is recommended by the government and is really easy to use. You fill in all of your monthly spending to create a tailor-made budget for you with visual graphs to help you see exactly where your money is going. It also provides some advice based on your spending habits to help you make your money go further

Year-long budgeting

It’s also good to think about future payments as well when you are budgeting. For example, if you decide to move out of university halls in your second year, most student rooms or houses require you to put down a deposit before you move in. This is usually 4-6 weeks rent up front. For example, if you are renting a room in a student house that costs £500 per month, you may be required to pay a deposit of £750 before you move in. It’s good to save for this early and have it stowed away for when you need it.

Side note: Whilst we are on the topic of student housing and deposits, if you do move into a privately rented student house, it’s a good idea to take pictures of the property (any marks on the walls or furniture for example), as a record of the state of the property when you move in. This will help to prove that you didn’t cause any damage to the property whilst you were in it, and should help you to get more of your deposit back once your lease is over.

You might also want to plan a trip for your longer summer holidays, or attend a specific event with friends. Budgeting for these larger payments throughout the year will make this easier for you.

3. Storing your money – Student bank accounts:

Once you have your budget laid out, it’s good to know where you’re going to keep it. A piggy bank is probably not going to suffice. You will need to set up a current account. If you already have one, that’s great, but it may be worth considering opening a student account.

Student current accounts are designed for university students and usually offer benefits and interest-free overdrafts.

Sites such as Money Saving Expert can be useful in helping you to decide which account is best for you. It’s definitely worth doing your research and finding out which account best suits your needs.

4. Spending Your Money

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Now you’ve sorted out how much you have to spend, it’s still important to spend wisely. Coupons are very useful for students. Apps like UNiDAYS, and Student Beans require your university log in and offer discount codes for many high street and online shops including; meals out, cosmetics, clothing and technology.

Many companies also offer student discounts, such as link: Spotify and headspace for students. National rail also offers a 16-25 railcard which helps you save 1/3 off rail fares (some banks offer this for free when you open a student current account with them, so it’s worth investigating if you’re interested).

You’ll also be amazed what people give away for free. OLIO is an app where people post free food and other items, to save them going to waste. Too Good To Go is another app that is linked with restaurants that sell their food at discounted prices, rather than let it go to waste. It’s also worth seeing if your uni has a students sell/swap page on Facebook. This is where students sell or swap their belongings at a discounted rate!

Eating In

See our page on ‘how to eat well at uni’ for some hints and tips on how to save money by learning to cook for yourself.

One of the best tricks to saving your pennies is meal planning and preparation in advance. One way to do this is to create a week-long calendar and fill in the meals you would like to have on each day (and list the ingredients you’ll need on a shopping list). Then do a weekly shop buying only the ingredients you need for your week’s meals- this can go a long way in helping you save. It avoids the temptation to order a take-away when there’s nothing else in, because your shelves will be stocked. On that note, be sure to get some long-life snacks for when you need a proper snack.

5. Earning more money

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Part-Time Jobs

Some students like to get a part time job to supplement their student loans whilst studying. Before looking for a job, you’ll need to check with your chosen university how many hours a week or term they recommend that you work whilst studying for a full time course. At Oxford, it is recommended that you consult your college tutor before undertaking any part-time work, and that you don’t take on more than 20 hours of work per week, to make sure you have time for your studies. This will vary depending on which university you are going to,.

If you do decide to get a part-time role, there are lots of different options to suit your needs. Websites like advertise part-time jobs from cleaning roles to tutoring that can be filtered by postcode so you can find something close by. Most local newspapers or newsletters will also have a jobs page with different jobs advertised and the details of how to apply.

Alternatively, many businesses in university towns will have a good relationship with student workers – you need them, and they need you! So, keep an eye out for part-time jobs advertised in Café windows, restaurants and shops. You can also take a more proactive approach and take copies of your CV into places and see if they are looking for new members of staff.

If you don’t think a job in term-time will work for you, you can always look for jobs during the university vacation period. This usually lasts a few months over the summer. Companies sometimes offer summer internships or vacation schemes, specifically for university students. Many websites where you can search for jobs have a filter option for summer internships:

It is also worth checking with the Careers Advice Service at your university, as they will often be able to recommend good local employers (who have a history of employing students), and relevant internship programmes for you.

Many internships close their applications in December for the following summer, so be sure to keep an eye out and apply early! If you are interested in a summer internship, this article by Forbes highlights 10 ways to find an internship on the internet.

Scholarships, bursaries and grants

Scholarships, bursaries and grants don’t have to be repaid, and they can offer another form of financial support at university. Although the words ‘scholarship’, ‘bursary’ and ‘grant’ are often used interchangeably, they most often refer to:

  • Scholarship: offered by Universities and Colleges, based on achievement in academics, sports, arts or music
  • Bursary: offered by Universities and Colleges, based on low household income, background or personal circumstance
  • Grant: offered by charities or trusts, based on low household income, background or personal circumstance

Many universities and colleges offer these types of financial support, and you should get in touch with the finance team at your university or college to see if there any that you are eligible for. You may have to apply by these (in which case there will be a deadline you will need to consider), or you may be considered for them automatically, based on your application. It is important you find out which.

Additionally, you can look at employers (companies, professional bodies in your field of expertise, and organisations); these often offer scholarship or bursary programmes – some of these may be linked to summer work placements or other opportunities too.

Finally, you should investigate charities and special interest groups, who may also offer support to students.

Click here to view more information on scholarships, bursaries and grants, on the UCAS website.

6. Advice from St John’s Students

Watch the video below to see some top budgeting tips from St. John’s undergraduate students.