Heading away to college or university for the first time is a rite of passage for many young people. Every day, you get to explore a whole new city, meet interesting new people and gain exposure to new ways of thinking; this newfound sense of independence can be extremely liberating.
However, it also means that you become responsible for a whole lot else, too, chief of which is the art of financial management. As various loans and grants start to flood in, many students suddenly find themselves with the kind of spending power that they’ve never experienced before and, as a result, they do what they want. It’s important to maintain control, therefore, and learn to balance your lifestyle costs without stretching beyond your means.
Sorting your finances and establishing a student budget is an essential part of this process, so we’ve put together a few tips to help you out.
This is how to save money at college or university…
1. Start Saving Early
As tempting as it may be to exchange your newfound wealth for nonessential clothing, copious amounts of alcohol and various other assorted gadgetry, putting a small amount to the side at the start of the month is a hugely sensible idea.
Not only is it an essential ‘adulting’ skill that forms the basis of future financial security and independence, but it also has the short-term benefit of ensuring that you will never run out of money come the end of the month. It’s easier than you think, too; even if it means putting all your coins in a piggy bank in the corner of your dorm, it’s still a start.
2. Learn to Cook
One of the easiest ways to burn through cash without realising it is by eating out every day, something that many students are guilty of. We’re not talking about three-course meals in the evening, either, but about simply buying lunch at the nearest café or fast food restaurant in between classes.
The occasional snack from the campus canteen is fine, of course, but you don’t want to be spending all your money on food. It’s far cheaper, therefore, to cook your own meals in the evening, as well as prepare your lunches in advance. It’s also far healthier, too, which will benefit your brain as well as your body.
3. Plan Your Budget
It’s impossible to effectively manage your finances if you have no idea what state they are in; therefore, it’s vital to create and maintain a weekly or monthly budget plan. There are numerous online resources and software tools that can help with this, as well as several approaches you can adopt. You can decide to restrict yourself to a maximum spend of $15 or £10 a day, for instance, or commit certain amounts to different needs, such as grocery shopping, transport costs and nights out.
Be disciplined, though. Budget plans only work when you stick to them, and if you do stray, you need to account for it. An impulsive clothes purchase or an unplanned night out is not the end of the world, after all, but it might mean walking to campus or living off noodles instead to balance things out.
4. Travel Smarter
Ideally, you should try to live as close to your campus as possible; even if the rent is a little higher, it might still be cheaper overall because you won’t be paying transport costs. But if this isn’t feasible, then consider ways in which you can minimise your commuting outlay.
If driving is your best option, consider a car share where you can split parking and petrol costs; alternatively, look for student deals and offers on public transport, such as rail cards. Depending on your arrangements, this might mean mixing and matching, such as utilising a Park and Ride scheme; either way, try and find that sweet spot that works best for you.
5. Pay Your Own Way
Although balancing a job with full-time study can be demanding, it can be rewarding, too – and not just in the financial sense. It gives you something tenable to put on your CV, as well as helps you develop various skills and attributes that will serve you well when you graduate.
In the short term, though, it’s all about the money, and having that extra cash in your pocket at the end of each month can help you tackle your extra expenses or even just live life a little more comfortably.
6. Ask for Help
If you’re really struggling to stay on top of things, then you can always ask for advice. Nearly every college and university on the planet provides dedicated student finance advisors who can talk you through your options, and you won’t be the first person to seek their guidance.
Consider other possible routes, too. You could apply for another loan through a reputable company or you could even obtain a student-specific credit card, allowing you to build your credit score while you study.
7. Avoid Unnecessary Expenses
It may sound like common sense, but if you’re smoking 20 cigarettes a day or living in your own flat, then your financial situation is going to be a lot more difficult than it needs to be. Of course, while some expenses are unavoidable, many can be negated; every time you spend money, ask yourself if you are paying more than you need to.
In most cases, the solution is obvious – quit smoking and get a roommate, for instance – but sometimes you need to pay attention to the little details. As an example, combining your costs with others can often help, such as sharing laundry loads or chipping in with your housemates for one shared Netflix account.
8. Review Your Spending
One of the best ways to stay within your budget (see Tip 3) is to review your spending at the end of each month, either through the collection of receipts or through your online banking system. This will allow you to see where exactly your money is going and if you’re adhering to the boundaries you’ve set yourself. It also allows you to tweak things if you find you’ve over- or under-budgeted for a particular cost.
Having all this information on an Excel or Google sheet means that you can analyse your outlays and even restructure your budget to better reflect your spending habits. It might sound a bit intense, but your bank balance will definitely reap the benefits.
9. Search for Discounts
Possibly the easiest way to save money as a student is to take advantage of the countless discounts that are available to you, from clothes, groceries and haircuts to cinemas, transport and restaurants. Some benefits might be relatively trivial (such as 10% off a burger), but in many cases you can make some serious savings. For example, a UK student rail card includes a third off all fares, while in the US there are entire college textbooks that you can claim for free.
For a full list of retailers that offer discounts, you can ask at the student’s union or search online but bear in mind that many companies don’t actively advertise their discounts. Therefore, make sure that you always ask before you pay, as you may be pleasantly surprised.
10. Live at Home
No matter what stage of life you are at, your biggest monthly outgoing is always likely to be your living arrangements, so it makes sense that staying at home will save you a large chunk of money. Indeed, many students who live close to their chosen universities pursue this option.
Being a home bird doesn’t need to signal the end of your social life, either, nor does it mean that you’re missing out on the complete student experience. In fact, if you prefer the quieter life, it can actually be preferable. Besides, you can always stay at a friend’s place on campus when it’s time to party.
Living on a budget can be restricting – especially as a student – but as you can see, with some due care and attention to your financial outgoings, you don’t need to compromise on having a fun and successful time at university. In fact, planning your finances in advance makes it easier to tackle any issues that may arise along the way, minimising unnecessary stress levels and allowing you to be thoroughly prepared to take action.
What budgeting tips served you well at university? Let us know in the comments below!