I graduated from University fourteen years ago. That officially makes me old, doesn't it?
The Class of '01 was the very first in the UK to have to pay tuition fees, and to help us pay them we were offered all manner of grants and loans from different official bodies. As well as that we had all just turned eighteen! That mean we could get overdrafts! And credit cards! And boy did I take advantage.
I'm not proud to admit that I racked up a lot of debt while I was studying. Of course I had my fees, accommodation and bills to pay for, but the majority of my money went on bottles of Hooch, shots of Aftershock and boob tubes and black trousers from Morgan and Karen Millen. Banks were very keen to lend in those days - which might have seemed great at the time, but ten years later, when I was still paying off a £30 TopShop dress bought with a store card, I realised I hadn't been bright at all.
With the benefit of hindsight, I think I'm a pretty good person to offer advice on managing finances while you're at university (or in life generally) so here are a few tips on keeping in control of your money:
(1) Do your research when it comes to banking. Read the Savvy Student Guide. Shop around for the best rates. Have you had a look at what the TSB Student Accounts have to offer?
(2) Budget. I know this sounds boring but if you know what you've got coming in, and what out of that has to go back out again, then you can keep on top of your disposable income. Almost twenty years too late I am now the QUEEN of budgeting.... and actually get quite a kick out of it (don't laugh).
(3) Meal plan. I hate food waste, not just because its so TERRIBLE for the environment, but also because when you throw away food you are literally throwing cash into the bin. Plan ahead, share cooking responsibilities with your house mates (its so much cheaper per portion when you cook in bulk) and use up leftovers! You can read my guide to reducing food waste here.
(4) Get a job! In my third year of university I worked 55 hours a week in my local pub. Everyone said it would interfere with my finals but it didn't at all. I had 10 hours of lectures a week and would have spent most evenings in the Student Union Bar anyway if I hadn't been working. It helped me out massively after I'd gone a bit credit card happy in my first two years and was fun and sociable too. If your course takes up a bit more time than mine did you can still supplement your income - why not sell your old course books, or your old clothes/furniture, on eBay? Or take part in mystery shopping or market research focus groups. Temping in the holidays is also a great way to earn extra money and if you can find work in the right industry, it can also be great experience when it comes to job hunting, post-studies.
(5) Shop around for bargains and use coupons, reward cards and your student discount cards. There will be times when you want to treat yourself and reward all your hard work. Rather than buying things on a whim, look around for the best deals and remember you've been given a discount card for a reason - don't forget to use it! Ditto using coupons and reward cards - you can save heaps of money doing this.
PS On the subject of universities in the nineties, if you want a laugh, take a look at this!
This is a collaborative post.