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5 golden student money rules

Every university employs a student money adviser. These are experts in helping students manage their money, and should be your first port of call if you’re having trouble making ends meet. However, you might never have to call on them at all if you follow the five golden rules to managing your money, courtesy of Lynne Condell of the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA).

1: Apply for your finance at the right time – and for the right amount
You must apply for your student finance by the end of May. You don’t need to have a confirmed place at university before you apply, so the earlier you do this the better. If you miss the deadline you won’t be guaranteed your money by September, which will cause problems for the start of term and throughout the year. Don’t worry if you change your mind about where you’re going, or even decide not to go at all, because you can always change your details on the application at a later date.

Also make sure that you’re applying for everything you’re entitled to. Remember to tick the box asking if you want to be ‘income-assessed’ on the application. If you don’t tick this box you will only receive the basic student finance package, without any means-tested loans or grants. Once you have a confirmed place, ask your university if they have any additional grants or bursaries you can apply for as well.
2: Plan ahead
Tempting as it might be to blow your money on a new pair of trainers when you first see it in your bank account, remember that it’s got to last you until the next instalment. This means building a budget, which isn’t the most exciting thing to do with your time, but is essential for ensuring you’ve got enough to live on.
3: Track your spending
All those odd £10s drawn out from the cash machine can soon add up to £100s if you’re not careful. Keep a track of how many times you visit the cash machine each week and make sure the amount you draw out is within your weekly budget, and try and spend what’s in your purse and wallet before you go again. And always use cash over credit cards if possible. It’s much easier to get sense of how much you’re spending when you’re actually handing it over rather than swiping some plastic, and could spare you a nasty shock when you’re next credit card bill comes through the door. Remember to keep an eye on your bank balance as well. Some student bank accounts won’t let you draw out more than your interest-free overdraft limit, but others might, and you’ll get hit with hefty charges if you go over it.
4: Use ‘free’ money first
Always use your student loan and grant before thinking about getting money from elsewhere, and use your interest-free overdraft before considering any other kind of borrowing. This should be enough to live on if you’ve budgeted correctly, but if you do find yourself short go straight to the student finance adviser at your university. All universities have discretionary funds like Access to Learning or bursaries that they can help you to apply for to make ends meet. Money advisers will also be able to give you a ‘wealth check’ and help you with budgeting so you don’t fall down a financial hole again. It’s much better to go to them than be tempted by offers of ‘easy credit’ or ‘payday loans’: which might be a short-term fix, but come with such heavy interest rates that you’ll actually just be digging yourself deeper into trouble.
5: Prioritise your payments
If the unpaid bills are mounting up, you need to pay them off in order of importance. Much as the idea of getting your mobile or internet cut off might sound awful, it won’t be as awful as not having anywhere to live, so make sure you always make your rent payments first. And scary as final demands can seem, don’t be too intimidated by all that red writing and certainly don’t just sweep them under the doormat, because your university’s student money adviser is always there to offer practical advice and support.
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