This week, thousands of you will have ben celebrating going to university. Congratulations on your achievements so far, and I hope the next stage of your education is hugely enjoyable. For many, the last thing on your minds will be getting your finances in order and thinking about budgeting ahead of the new academic year. After all, your course fees and accommodation are taken care of by your student loans, so why should you worry?
Without wanting to put a dampener on your celebrations, it is important to start thinking about the costs associated with going to university. A bit of forward planning will definitely pay off and help you avoid the depressing scenario of sitting in halls on your own whilst everyone goes out, because you can’t even afford the cheap club night entry at the union.
There’s no denying that university is expensive, and I don’t just mean the obvious (and partly postponed) expenses of course fees and living costs. Many students find out the hard way about the ‘hidden costs’ of higher education: joining societies and clubs, buying books and course materials, printing and photocopying, and, if you’re lucky, the snowboarding society’s Christmas get-away. The trouble is that all these things add up very quickly to drain away your student loan. Interest-free student overdrafts used responsibly can be helpful, but it’s important not to make so much use of them that debt is a source of extra stress on top of finishing that 500-page novel for your seminar tomorrow or completing your lab reports.
Finances Not Always Made Clear…
Not all universities make clear the costs of all sorts of valuable services, equipment and experiences which greatly benefit your learning as well as adding to your enjoyment. At Bucks New University we realise the strain on student purse strings these costly extras can have, so we’ve created the Big Deal, whereby we foot the bill for many of these additional extras. This is a unique package of benefits, though, so what can you do to make sure your bank balance remains healthy if your university does not subsidise your academic, sporting and social life?
I would like to see a big increase in transparency about the additional costs associated with your course; for example one university study found that the average undergraduate spent nearly £250 on course materials over the course of a three-year degree. The more aware you are of costs such as these upfront, the more accurately you can budget for them.
In terms of advice about managing your finances, you’ve probably heard it already: don’t join every society that takes your fancy during Freshers’ Week; wait a week or two and be selective with your choices. If the books at your university bookshop seem too pricey, hunt for them on websites such as Amazon and Abe Books, which often have great discounts, or on social networks where last year’s students may be advertising their old text books. If there’s a core text for your course that you need but can’t afford, consider buying a shared copy with your mates or borrowing it from the library and photocopying a few key sections to keep for reference.
Get A Student Bank Account…
Very importantly, make sure that your money’s going into the right bank account as the last thing you want is to be unable to access funds in your early days at uni. Get a student account well in advance of arriving at university and your first student loan installment. Shop around for student bank accounts as many come with additional benefits such as interest free overdrafts, free national railcards (which will save you a third on off-peak rail travel, handy for those trips home), or free vouchers. Check the dates that your loan instalments will be going into your account. Money is deposited three times a year, at the beginning of each term, so you will get a lump sum as opposed to a salary-like income. Avoid the temptation to feel rich when you first get your loan, and blow it all in a matter of weeks. Make a workable budget, and keep it under review!
Financial planning is more common sense than rocket science, but it can go wrong for all of us. If you ever do find yourself having problems with money then don’t be afraid to ask for help. The sooner you recognise you need to deal with a problem, the more quickly and easily you can solve it. Your university’s student services office is a great place to start, and they’ll be ready to help with advice and resources.
Take these next few weeks before the start of your course to get organised. Then, when you arrive, you’ll be able to jump straight into student life and make the most of it.
Professor Shân Wareing is Pro Vice Chancellor, Learning and Teaching, at Bucks New University (www.bucks.ac.uk).