How to manage your money while studying at university
From the moment your ‘A’ Level results are known to the final exam of your course, the question of money is sure to appear throughout your studies. Everything from the cost of a sandwich at the student union shop to working out how much your student loan will be worth will no doubt be at the back of your mind.
If you’re worried about being able to manage the costs of living away from home whilst studying full-time or part-time, how do you look after what money you do have? Is it possible to afford the basics such as food and electricity whilst having enough left over to pay off your tuition fees? Could you have enough loose change to finance a night out in town?
While you might not be able to live like a millionaire playboy during your time at university in Leeds (barring a Lottery win), it’s possible to live within your means with a little careful planning. In this guide, we go through all the expenses you’ll face, as well as what money you’ll have coming in. On top of that, we’ve got tips to help you make your cash go further.
What do you have to pay for?
Typically, you’ll face the following expenses at university:
- Tuition fees, although their cost is covered by your student loan
- Rent for student accommodation, plus a deposit
- NUS membership, although this is optional
- Transport costs
- Food, drink and toiletries
- Stationery and, in some universities, extra printing credits
- Textbooks and other learning aids
Fees, rent and food are the three biggest expenses any student will face. Whether through your student loan alone or by adding extra income through part-time work, you’ll need at least enough to meet the costs of your accommodation, education and food.
For some of the other expenses you’re likely to face, costs can vary wildly. This is where you need to keep a keen eye out for a bargain, but it’s possible without having to look too far for student discounts.
If you need to get around Leeds by bus if, say, you live near the city centre but study at Leeds Trinity or the Headingley Campus at Leeds Beckett, you can get a 16-25 MCard. For £189, you get unlimited bus and train travel throughout West Yorkshire for a full term. The 16-25 Railcard, meanwhile, gives you one-third of the cost of train tickets nationwide.
What don’t you have to pay for?
Where your accommodation is concerned, there may be other costs besides rent you might worry about. Water, electricity, broadband, gas, contents insurance and even the dreaded council tax may come into play. Fortunately, by living in an all-inclusive property through RentInc, you’ll get the following included with the cost of renting a student property:
- Gas and electricity bills
- Contents insurance
- Water bills
- Electrical appliances including a washing machine, fridge freezer and cooker
- Furniture such as beds, chairs, tables and a sofa
Having all of this as part of your rental package will ensure you don’t have to buy too much before moving in. As for council tax, if you do get a bill in the post, it’s possible to claim a rebate. To do so, visit this page on the Leeds City Council website and follow the instructions. Please note that this only applies to full-time students.
Aside from all that, there are a few other freebies that you can expect to take advantage of during your studies. It’s free to loan any books from the libraries at the three universities, although printing and photocopying costs a few pence per piece of paper used. Other freebies on campus include:
- Parking space for cars and bicycles on campus
- Use of gyms on-site at the University of Leeds
- At the University of Leeds, up to five free downloads of Office 365 for email and the MS Office suite
- Computer use in the libraries of the three universities
- Up to three free visits to the West Yorkshire Playhouse, using your student ID card
- Free admission to selected Opera North performances in Leeds
What money do you have coming in?
The bulk of your income is likely to come from two loan types - tuition fee loans and maintenance loans. The former is for your tuition fees only, while the latter covers rent, food and so on.
Maintenance loans are the important ones when it comes to paying for things and are to come in for students starting their courses from September 2016 onwards. Current students receive maintenance grants, which typically award around £3,387 per year. Maintenance loans are £4,047 per year, spread out over each term.
For disabled students, there is the Disabled Students’ Allowance, which pays out up to £1,305 per year for part-time students and £1,741 for full-time students under ‘general allowance’. If specialist equipment is needed to make studying easier, these amounts go up.
To supplement whatever loan or grant money you have coming in, there are three main options. The first is to persuade your parents to lend you a few quid, while the other two involve working either during the summer or on a part-time basis while at university. For part-time jobs in Leeds, all three universities have their own job shops, advertising vacancies.
Student discounts in Leeds
Being a student-friendly city, there are many discounts available, whether or not you have an NUS extra card, student ID card or no card at all! To make sure you stand every chance of saving a few pennies, it pays to have both with you - an NUS extra card costs just £12 for the standard version and £14.99 for the NUS/ISIC one.
With the NUS extra card, you can get discounts of anything between 5% and 35% on all sorts of things at a variety of shops, bars and restaurants. Just be sure to check websites and shop windows to see how much, if anything, you can expect to see taken off your final bill.
Some venues, such as the Carriageworks and West Yorkshire Playhouse, offer discounted or even free entry to some productions if you have your student ID card handy. This means that, if you fancy a night at the theatre, you don’t need to take your NUS extra card!
On campus, your cards can give you discounts at some of the shops for lunch deals, clothes, textbooks and stationery, but it’s best to browse before opening your wallet. Alternatively, coupon sites such as Groupon and PinkGorilla will have discounts for everything from three-course meals to haircuts and live music.
Top tips for budgeting during your course
This is often the most difficult bit to get right money-wise is budgeting. However, with a pen, paper and calculator or, better still, a blank spreadsheet to work with, you can make this mundane task a little less of a pain. To budget effectively, here are the basics:
- Tot up how much money you expect to have in your account - student maintenance loan money, earnings from working part-time, money from parents etc.
- Once you’ve worked that out, divide that estimated amount by three to have an estimate for each term or by the number of months you’ll expect to be in your accommodation for
- From the termly/monthly total, subtract whatever you expect to spend on rent, food, clothes, toiletries, entertainment and transport
It makes sense to subtract whatever you’re paying in rent from your termly or monthly income when budgeting. That way, you’ll know what you have left to work with for the rest, particularly food and transport.
While we’re on the subject of food, it’s well worth setting a limit on the amount you spend on the weekly shop. If living in a flatshare, it’s worth buying staples like pasta, beans, cereal and tinned tomatoes in bulk if you can. This will save room in the boot of your car and save you a little extra on future shopping bills.
A useful way of cutting down on food costs is to invest in appliances such as slow cookers. In a slow cooker, you’re able to make several portions of foods such as soups, curries, casseroles and stews, while sandwich toasters can make a quick and easy lunch on a lazy Sunday.
In case of emergency
In case of an emergency or for something like a night out, it’s worth setting aside any loose change. Get a large glass jar and use it to store all your 1p, 2p and 5p coins and, once you get to say £5 or £10 worth of coinage, take it to the bank and put it in your account. Doing this throughout term-time will help to keep overdrafts at bay.
A final tip for budgeting at uni is to check your bank statements whenever they come in the post. Look at them forensically to see if there are any unusual spending patterns. If so, get in touch with your bank and they should be able to sort it all out for you.
Money can occasionally get a little tight, but with a little careful planning and awareness of what you’re entitled to by way of loans, discounts and benefits, you’ll make your cash go further. It also pays to shop around, particularly with your mates.