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Essential guide for students – How to have university fun AND remain in budget

Starting studies? Abi Keay, financial support manager at Keele University, offers her advice

Stay in tune with your finances

Starting university can be a busy time, filled with excitement, hopes and dreams.

There’s lots to look forward to – meeting new people, getting involved in societies and learning more about a course you’re passionate about. However, it can also be quite scary, especially if this will be your first time living away from home and managing your own money. You certainly won’t be alone if you’re feeling nervous about starting university, but there’s plenty of help available.

With the cost-of-living crisis continuing to bring more unwelcome news, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the thought of money – but it’s never been more important to talk about it. Having a solid plan in place for your finances from the beginning will mean that you can hopefully stop worrying about money and start focusing on all the fun stuff.

Here’s my advice for getting your money ready for university:

1. Creating a budget

Planning your budget probably isn’t going to be the most thrilling part of your pre-university prep, but it could be the most important and could save your future self a lot of worry. The first step to planning your budget is to work out your income across the year – this could be from Student Finance, from a part-time job, or perhaps from family. The next step is to estimate your outgoings; remember to be realistic and to include the non-essential things too. Now it’s time to compare – will you have enough income to cover your estimated outgoings across the year? If not, you might need to reconsider some of your outgoings, or explore other opportunities for income. If you’re struggling to balance your budget, reach out to your university’s student services team.

2. Managing your money

Creating your budget is just the start – sticking to it is often the hardest part, especially since undergraduate Student Finance is paid termly and not weekly. Thankfully, there are lots of budgeting ‘tricks’ to help you to keep on top of your money. One of the most useful tricks is a technique called ‘drip-feeding’, where you can set up a standing order for a certain amount of money to be transferred from your main account to a second bank account each week. This way, you only need to manage your money one week at a time – much more manageable, and a lot less scary. Managing your money is a life skill that everyone must learn at some point. It’s OK to make mistakes but try to not to let things snowball out of control. There’s no shame in asking for help with budgeting – trust me, we’ve all been there.

3. Getting a student bank account

Many banks offer ‘student bank accounts’ - bank accounts which are exclusively available to university students. Some banks offer tempting freebies or interest-free overdrafts for student bank accounts as incentives to switch. So how do you choose? Although a good overdraft facility is useful if you need to borrow money short-term, the best bank account is the one which helps you to manage your money most effectively.

If you prefer to speak to someone face-to-face, look for banks with branches close to your campus; while if you like to manage your money on the go, look for a bank with good app facilities (and if you can set spending limits in-app too, that’s a bonus!)

If you do decide to make the switch, remember to update your bank details in your Student Finance portal to make sure that you can get paid.

4. Build an emergency fund

Even the best budgeter can experience unexpected emergencies. The unexpected train journey home or the broken laptop screen – you can’t plan for everything. Keeping a small emergency fund can come in handy in these situations, even if it’s just £50 in a piggy bank. Overdrafts can be a useful alternative to an emergency fund, but if you start to find that you’re spending more time in your overdraft than out of it, it’s time to ask for help.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

The best piece of advice I can give is never be afraid to ask for help.

Many universities, including Keele, have financial advice and support available to students who are experiencing unexpected financial difficulties.

This could be through a ‘hardship fund’ or there might be alternative support available. Whether you’re experiencing problems with your funding or struggling to make ends meet – we want to help.

Take a look on your university’s website to search for information about the advice and support available to you or get in touch with your student services team.

Finally, all the best of luck for your university experience.

Three years might seem like a long time right now, but time flies when you’re having fun.

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