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A graduate’s tips on surviving the costs of university

6th September 2019

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Recent graduate James Pratley from our Marketing team discusses surviving tuition fees, living costs and the hidden financial toll of studying at university.


Having just graduated from university, I’m no stranger to cereal for dinner, midday naps and Freshers freebies. Based in Guildford, the staggering cost and not-so-fabulous condition of rented student accommodation are also familiar to me.

Managing your money between study, societies and socialising can be a bit overwhelming. Here are a few simple steps which helped me push money further during my studies.

Make friends with your money

As you might have guessed, the first step is to know your costs. That’s pretty hard if you’ve only just started studying. In fact, it can be tough even beyond the first year, when you’ll probably be in private rented accommodation and bills will not be included.

When it comes to finance, the rule of thumb is to start sooner rather than later. For example, finding your accommodation for second or final year, early on, will allow you to snap up a property with lower rent, or perhaps closer to campus so you’ll have lower travel costs.

Your money needs will be changing all the time as you go through the academic year - freshers week and exam season are very different - but having a rough idea of those monthly costs and revisiting them as they change will help you stay on top.

Once you have a monthly budget, consider opening a bank account that has features to help you. For example, with the Starling app you can put money aside into Goals. You can organise and ring-fence your funds into digital pots and release them back into your account when you need them.

By doing this as soon as your student loan arrives and creating Goals for each month until the next loan payment, you can avoid spending all of it too quickly. Even if you’ve not taken out a student loan, putting money aside for essentials like bills and food shops as soon as you get paid will give you extra piece of mind. Just remember to release the funds as you go - you can’t spend money that it’s in your Goals until you transfer it back to your main account.

Know your time

Another thing to consider is time and it’s a constant balancing act. Some courses, such as biochemistry, will have lots of contact hours. With a more rigid timetable, it may actually be easier to allocate your money for the week as you can work meal prep into your routine - just make sure to allow some time and money for coffee before those 9am lectures.

Other courses, such as media, tend to be far more coursework focused and that means fewer contact hours. It’s a little bit trickier to calculate a financial budget here, but you can use that extra time and flexibility to save on costs. For example, walking to campus instead of getting the bus. Find what works for you.

Watch out though, with everything going on student life can feel pretty hectic. Leave some room in your week for a cheeky middle-of-the-day nap. You’ll thank yourself later.

Harness what’s on offer

The other way to save on costs? Use what you’ve got! When you’re paying so much to be at university you’ll want to make the most of everything it has on offer. Universities will usually host a Freshers Fair at the start of the academic year - these are a fantastic way to find out what opportunities there are for you and get plenty of deals and freebies.

Beyond that, make sure you stay in the loop with all the goings-on via your university’s social media accounts, student emails or by visiting your Student Union. Most universities have hundreds of different societies that you can get involved in. These are a great and low-cost way to learn new skills, de-stress and make new friends. Plus, societies look great on your CV too.

You can also save on equipment and software costs too. Most universities allow you to download software like Microsoft Office for free. If not, you can find discounts on sites such as Student Beans and Unidays. Just try to avoid impulse buys if they’re not within your budget. Again, you’ll thank yourself later.

Stretch your spending

Once you’ve got your bearings with all of the above, try to make some savings along the way.

For example, boring things like energy and broadband bills needn’t cost the earth. If you’re paying for your utilities directly, then you’re perfectly entitled to switch to a cheaper supplier. Just a quick search on any comparison site will help you find a cheaper supplier who will often do all the heavy lifting for you when it comes to letting your old supplier know and switching you over. This could save you and your housemates hundreds of pounds. If you choose renewable electricity, you could also be saving the planet too.

When it comes to food, a weekly meal plan can work wonders, but if you don’t have that kind of time then stock up on frozen and dry foods with long dates - pasta, rice, meat-free mince, frozen stir fry mixes, etc. This will mean you always have something quick, easy and filling to eat after a busy day and less food waste too. If you can, try to avoid convenience stores in favour of larger or budget supermarkets and online grocery deliveries.

You can find more student money saving tips on sites like Save the Student and Money Saving Expert and to get a better idea of your costs, you could check out the Which? student budget calculator.

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