Amidst all the revelry, independence and excitement (complemented, in an ideal world, by some studying) that is synonymous with student life, it’s easy to get carried away. The world is at your feet, the student union may as well be at your door and, perhaps most importantly, the student loan is, allowing for any Student Finance-related error, in your bank account.
Student loan day has become something of an institution in the calendar of students nationwide; though not quite on a par with a bank holiday, the payment – often reaching £3000 – invariably culminates in purchases not quite tallying with the collective student’s actual income. Whether it’s a night out, a lavish new television or, as in the case of a friend of mine from my university days, a deluge of DVD boxsets, it’s practically a given that you are bound to make some ostentatious buys quite incongruous with the squalor of your surroundings.
As easy as it is to denounce this behaviour, it’s just as easy, as a student, to fall into the trap yourself. After being deprived of something for such a long while, it’s human nature to maximise the level of enjoyment produced by that certain thing once it comes your way. At least, that’s how I found myself justifying it after finding myself reduced to my staple student diet of ham sandwiches day and night, just a couple of weeks after the loan came in.
For that very reason (unless you’re particularly fond of ham sandwiches), and even ignoring the fact you have to pay the loan back, it’s definitely worth your time attempting to budget. After all, loan day is only so celebrated amongst students as said students have ran out of money by that point; if they had budgeted, it would just be another day where some more money arrives into your account.
But how do you start with these penny-pinching schemes? Surrounded by a plethora of temptations – temptations that invariably cost money – is budgeting really feasible?
Naturally, it’s no walk in the park and the occasional transgression is perhaps inevitable, but it can be done, and here’s how you can do it in ten (fairly) easy steps:
- Work out your income – Obviously, it’s difficult to work out how much you should be spending if you’re not sure how much you’re getting. Take into account your student loan, your maintenance grant, money from your parents – anything that will definitely fall into that bank account of yours over the course of the year.
- Work out your essentials – Naturally, these items take precedence over anything else you may buy; for instance, if you don’t pay your rent, it basically goes without saying that, to appropriate an internet meme, ‘you’re not gonna have a good time’. You can add phone bills, food, drink, travel costs and utility bills to the rent, completing a list that makes for important, if slightly dull, reading. With these essentials accounted for, everything else tends to fall into place.
- Prepare for the unexpected – It may be a cliché but, as with most cliches, it endures for good reason. It’s particularly pertinent when it comes to budgeting for student life as, without wanting to alarm any prospective students, the unexpected expenses come thick and fast. Whether it’s family emergencies, library fees or heated disputes with unreasonable landlords (that one still rankles, as you may have guessed), it’s always best to keep some money aside for occasions such as these.
- Keep track of your expenses – Once you’ve actually formulated the budget, it’s paramount that you keep note of how much you’re spending on a daily basis, adapting to any unnecessary expenses (or, thinking optimistically, spare money) that may pop up the day before. During the first half of my initial year at university, I actually found myself under budget most days, meaning that, thanks to the meticulous attention I afforded to my budget, I could spend more in the second half of said year (though the less said about the second and third years, the better).
- Treat yourself – This may seem like an odd one, given the frugality of all the above, but think of it like junk food (an apropos analogy for students, in fact); if you swear off it for a long time, you’re much more likely to splurge upon its reappearance in your life. Allow yourself a minor treat from time to time and the avoidance of a blow-out shopping trip becomes ever more likely.
It’s fairly easy to deduce the underlying principal behind the above five tips: be frugal. Remember that the preoperative word in student loan is, in fact, loan – you’ll have to pay it back someday and the last thing you need is more debt to deal with. So prepare in advance and nothing can surprise you – except, with any luck, the amount of money you find in your account at the end of the three years!