If you’re a student and you’re bad at making your loan stretch, you’re not alone. More than half of students regularly run out of money by the end of term, according to research by Campus Living Village. The same study of 2,000 people also revealed that almost a quarter struggled to buy food and essentials during that time.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for quick fixes, such as loans or even gambling, says Eva Crossan Jory, vice president for welfare at the National Union of Students (NUS). This is dangerous because high-cost lenders may target students in the period before their next loan arrives. The Gambling Commission, meanwhile, estimates more than 100,000 students are in debt due to gambling.
“During exam season, managing money might be at the bottom of the priority list,” says Lee McLean, chief executive of Campus Living Villages. So we spoke to experts and students to get their money tips – here’s what they said.
Set a budget
Create a budget and don’t spend all of your loan as soon as it comes into your account. It’s a common mistake to make, says Eesha Mohindra, senior money analyst at Money Saving Expert. “It might seem like you’ve got loads of cash to splash at the start of each term, but you haven’t,” she says. “That money needs to last until your next instalment, so spend it wisely.” To do this, add up how much money you have, then “realistically allocate” how much you have to spend on each area of your life: household bills, travel costs, clothes, food, and social activities. “Don’t forget to include large purchases like Christmas presents, laptops and holidays,” Mohindra says. You can use a spreadsheet, a budgeting app or the Brightside student calculator.
Pay large bills first
You can budget more realistically if you pay big bills straight away. “Pay them at the beginning of the term, or at least the beginning of each month, as that’s when your bank balance will be topped up from the student loan payments,” Mohindra says. “Once your big bills are paid you’ll know what you have left for the other things, like clothing and socialising.”
Take out cash or use prepaid cards
Take out cash for the week and use that rather than paying by card. “It’s easier to manage and keep on top of your money that way,” says Gareth Pearse, vice chair of communications for the National Association of Student Money Advisors (Nasma) and student support coordinator at Bath Spa University. You could also use a prepaid card, such as Monzo, which lets you load money on to it and it has an app which monitors your spending.
Buy food in bulk and cook with housemates
Bulk buy food with housemates and cook together occasionally if you can. “At assessment time you’re not going to go out as much, so it’s a prime time do things like that,” Pearse says. Dawid Giermak, 21, a graphic design student at the University of the West of England (UWE), says initially he was bad with money, but he’s gotten better. One thing he now does is buy in bulk. “For some students it’s scary to spend £60 on a shop,” he says. “But if you divide it up for the day it’s nothing.”
Sammie Scott, 19, studying at the University of Gloucestershire, says she also tries to be as careful as possible. “My housemates and I have shared soap and washing up liquid,” she says. Scott also has a part-time job and avoids buying expensive brands. “Just get the cheapest versions of everything,” she says. “For the most part it tastes the same.”
Make the most of student discounts
A Totum card will give you discount at more than 200 stores and restaurants across the UK. It costs £12 for a one-year card, £22 for two years and £32 for three. It’s also a good idea to use food store cards in supermarkets, and to make the most of websites like UniDays which have discounts. Even if there’s not an obvious student discount, it’s always good to ask, Scott says. “It’s better to ask and be embarrassed for a second and for them to say no. What’s the worst that can happen?”
Ask your university for help
If you’re struggling, don’t panic. “There are places you can turn and ways to find help,” Mohindra says. Most universities have hardship funds, opportunity awards and emergency options available if your financial situation changes or becomes desperate. “The key message is to come forward and talk about things,” Pearse adds. Money can feel like a taboo topic, he says, but it’s definitely better to ask for help than to struggle alone.