By her own admission, when Sarah Armstrong started studying at Newcastle College, she made an error of judgment over her student loan. “I thought: ‘I’ve got all this money, I can just spend it.’ It was a big shock when I ended up overdrawn.”
This year, new students have a huge financial black cloud hanging over them. Higher tuition fees — up to £9,000 a year — mean that students paying the top rate could graduate £53,000 in debt, according to research for the National Union of Students.
Some costs (rent, bills, food and books) are unavoidable, but there are ways to save. Now in her final year, Armstrong says that she has learnt to make her money go farther by planning. In her first year she did not draw up a budget. Now she knows exactly what she has to spend.
Jake Butler, who runs SavetheStudent.org, a website offering financial advice, agrees. He likens a bank account to a leaky bucket. A budget sheet will help you manage leaks before you run dry, he says.
There are simple budget sheets online: the internet is a student’s best friend. Armstrong cites a Facebook page entitled “10 ways to have more money as a student without getting a job”, which details deals, discounts and freebies. Check voucher sites, too.
Amazon offers cheap stationary if you buy in bulk, says Armstrong, who also sells clothes and other possessions on eBay. Butler adds: “You can compare the prices of anything online now, from USB sticks to household insurance.”
And how can you avoid living off baked beans? Amy Murnan, in her second year at Cardiff University, blogs about student life, focusing on eating well. As well as common sense tips (take a shopping list, buy in season, cook from scratch) she advocates foraging — blackberries are in season. But no matter what you save on fruit, supplementing your income is inevitable. SavetheStudent research shows that student loans cover only two thirds of costs. But instead of pulling pints, think outside the box.
Butler suggests private tutoring for GCSE or A level students as a good way to earn money. Babysitting, too.
Andre Moses owns FreelanceStudents.co.uk, a website that lists freelance work, part-time jobs and work experience. “It is a place where creative students can find opportunities,” he says. While studying, Moses, a web developer, built websites for friends, a move that led to a full time job.
Hushpreet Dhaliwal is CEO of the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs, which unites student entrepreneurs. “Young people are now recognising what their skill set is, and selling it on,” she says, citing social media, marketing and graphic design.
Students at Barking & Dagenham college in London produced promotional brochures for the college and an onsite café is student-run.
A blog can also be a source of cash. Murnan is seeking advertising on her site which will pay a few pence every time someone clicks on an advert. She cites social networking as the best way to increase blog traffic.
But while social media may pay off, being social may not. Armstrong advises students to avoid boozy nights out. “You have to ask: ‘Do you want to go out for a night or eat for a week?’”
Do open a second bank account for your student loan, set your budget and transfer this amount to your current account by direct debit each week or month.
Do beg, borrow or buy a second hand smart phone — then get a sim-only deal.
Do freeze your credit card. You’ll avoid impulse purchases as you have to defrost it if you want to buy something.
Do get free stuff. Find furniture and more on Freecycle.org and Streetbank.com. Use OpenOffice software, Skype instead of calling — and check out the freshers fair where you will find freebies from condoms to USB sticks.
Do get an NUS Extra card. It costs £12 but will save you much more.
Don’t take the first bank account you see. Shop around for the one that has the best overdraft deal.
Don’t be shy. Ask for a student discount even if it is not shown.
Don’t take your cash card on a night out, just cash and ID. Then you won’t be tempted.
Don’t buy new books. Use the library, second-hand stores and noticeboards — students often sell on their books. Websites, like readitswapit.co.uk, are good too.
Don’t pay full price for transport. Get a 16-25 Railcard and buy weekly or monthly bus passes.
Useful websites savethestudent.org, freebie-finder.co.uk, freelancestudents.co.uk, nacue.com, moneysavingexpert.com/students.
This article appeared in the September 2012 edition of Graduate Career.
View the online version of The Times supplement.