When you head off to university or college you may think your lectures will contain the most important information you need to learn for your future life.
Certainly your subject is going to be important, but living away from home for the first time will also require learning other things like cooking an edible meal and learning how to use a washing machine! (I did!)
Another important, but sometimes over-looked topic you will definitely be learning over the course of your degree is money management.
Money management is one of the most important lessons to learn when you first move out of home and get your own place away from your parents. When you first receive your student loan it may be the most you’ve ever had in your bank account, but the funds will need to last you all semester!
It might be boring but setting up a budget can be really helpful.
Open up a spreadsheet (Google Sheets or Excel work great) and make a list of all the things you need to spend money on. By writing things down you can see what you can and can’t afford. You don’t have to be super-specific –broad categories are fine, but update it now and then to check you’re still on track. It can actually get quite addictive and fun, (honest!), and the control will help you feel less guilty about spending money on all those nights out!
A budget is particularly important as many higher education students who are not budgeting find it difficult to manage their money because their loan and grant payments are made each term, whereas bills are often due monthly or weekly. This can often result in money running out towards the end of term.
This happened to me once or twice when I was at university. Thankfully, my kitchen cupboards were relatively full so I didn’t go hungry whilst I waited for my part-time job to pay me, but it certainly made me get more serious about money management!
Get help if you’re in trouble
If you’re encountering any financial difficulties, seek guidance as soon as possible. It’s usually easier to fix things the sooner you deal with them. You could also consider using a service like Smart-Pig for student-specific same-day loans. You can borrow up to £350 until your next UK student finance, NHS bursary or SAAS payment. The interest rate is higher than a bank overdraft, but the interest is capped, unlike other same-day loans, so it could be useful to help avoid going hungry when you need help.
Consider how to increase your income
Getting a job is best way to top up your bank account, meet people, and gain skills. During my time at university I worked on campus asking graduates to donate to the university over the phone. I gained confidence; have hundreds of conversations with graduates about what they had done after university; raised hundreds of pounds for the university; and got paid higher than the minimum wage, which felt like an achievement at the time!
Keep your eye out for jobs on campus in the student union, or in local businesses near the university. You don’t want a job to get in the way of your studies too much but a part-time job can be great.
Think out the box too. Can you generate cash with a skill? Perhaps you can tutor other students, or can build a website for someone, or design something? When I was at university I got a few singing gigs (yes, really!) which supplemented my student loan and meant it wasn’t always baked beans and rice every night.
Lastly, don’t overpay income tax
You may think students don’t have to pay income tax but they do. Thankfully the personal allowance (the amount you can earn in a year without having to pay tax) is quite high: £11,000 for the 2016/17 tax year. If you are paying any income tax but haven’t earned as much as this, make sure you claim the tax back from HMRC.