How to stretch your student loan
The first time you get your student loan payment into your bank account can be a magical moment.
For some people, it’s the first time you’ve ever had so much money land in your bank account in one go, so it’s easy to get carried away and overspend in those first few weeks.
But even if you’re careful with your money from the off, things can get tight very quickly. With maintenance loans averaging around £9,000 per year (that’s less than the minimum wage for a full-time job), accommodation to pay for and food to buy, the stereotype of the skint student makes a lot of sense.
Don’t despair though - even those without a generous stipend from the bank of mum and dad can make their student loan last with a bit of planning and these easy tips.
Don’t buy all your textbooks
If you’re the type of person that likes to be prepared, like I was at university, you might want to go out and buy everything on the reading list before you even sit down for your first lecture. Don’t.
Textbooks can be pretty pricey, so save your cash and only buy those that you really need. Ask your lecturer once the course starts which they think are essential and add them to your shopping list. Any others can be borrowed from the library.
It’s also worth checking if you really need the most up-to-date edition - earlier editions can be bought for a much lower price tag. You may also be able to pick some up second-hand, whether from students from previous years or on sites like eBay.
Then, at the end of the year, if you don’t need them anymore, sell them on.
Track your spending
All of these lists about managing your money will include the recommendation to budget, but that can definitely be easier said than done. Thankfully, there are a bunch of apps and services that you can use to track your spending and help you find ways to cut down.
I’m a particular fan of Yolt - it syncs with my bank account and categorises all my expenses so I can see exactly where my money is going. It’s a little scary the first time you check and realise just how much you spend on McDonald’s and Deliveroo, but it’s really helped me to keep my spending in check.
Speaking of Deliveroo, eating out is a serious drain on your finances, especially if you make it a regular thing. Learning to cook doesn’t just give you an important life skill, it makes it much easier to save money.
If you’re living in halls, you’ll have a group of flatmates there that you could share the cooking with. Take it in turns a few days a week to cook for each other, the perfect opportunity to build a friendship. Plus, it’s a lot easier to cook for four people than it is to cook for one, so even if you’re eating alone, cook in bulk and freeze the rest. That way, on the days when you just can’t be bothered to cook, you can just bung some home cooking in the microwave. Sorted.
We’ve got some great recipes on our blog - check out some of these:
- Hidden veg pasta bake
- Chilli con Carne
- Spicy sausage rice
- Lemon and honey chicken
- Slow cooker pulled pork
- Christmas Dinner
Stock up on the basics
There are loads of simple recipes for a wide variety of meals, but there are some basic food items that you’ll always need. Stock up on these in bulk, share them between your flatmates and you’ve got super cheap meals for a week. In my first year, we bought a massive bag of potatoes from a market for a few quid and had jacket potatoes on hand for months.
Here are a few essentials to get you started:
- A big bag of pasta - it lasts forever, so you don’t need to worry about it going off if you don’t use it. It’s quick, it’s easy and most importantly it’s cheap. The same goes for rice.
- Onions - almost everything you’ll make that involves a sauce will have onions in it. If you don’t want to buy fresh because you’re not sure how often you’ll use it, buy a bag of chopped frozen onions. The same goes for garlic, but a bulb of garlic will last you a good while.
- Stock cubes - a good base for every sauce
- Frozen veg - it won’t go off, and you’ll always have a healthy side for when you need one
- Frozen pizza - if you can’t stay away from the takeaways, this is a cheap and easy alternative. You can cook one in less time than it takes to get a more expensive one delivered. Essential for hangover emergencies.
- Vegetable oil - for cooking. Cheap as anything and easy to share with the flat.
- Tinned tomatoes - in fact, tinned everything. Especially if you’re fighting for freezer space.
- Instant noodles/pasta - sometimes you just can’t be bothered to cook and you need a quick snack. Buy the packet stuff (rather than a pot) and you’ll save on cupboard space too
Break the shopping habit
Do you really need that pair of shoes? Those fancy speakers? Whatever else it is that’s caught your eye? The answer is, probably not. But denying yourself every luxury isn’t fun, so if there’s a big purchase you’ve got your eye on, work it into your budget.
It’s not just expensive items that can trip you up though - it’s those little-and-often purchases than can quickly add up. Things like buying your lunch every day rather than bringing it from home or picking up a couple of added extras in the supermarket.
Of course, you’re never going to stop spending entirely. Get yourself an NUS card for student discounts in a range of stores, and sign up for Unidays for your online shopping. Hunt around for the best deals - services like Spotify and Amazon Prime offer discounts for students, so you could save a lot of cash if you use these services regularly.
Just remember, getting twenty per cent off a £100 purchase doesn’t mean you’ve saved £20 - it means you’ve spent £80. Budget wisely!
This won’t apply to everyone, but if you are a smoker this could be the time to seriously think about quitting. Living on a student budget did for me what years of health warnings couldn’t - on a £60 per week budget, a £30 per week cigarette habit just wasn’t feasible.
Find the right student bank account
There are heaps of student bank accounts available, with banks keen to lure you in hoping you’ll become a customer for life. Some of them will offer freebies, like a student railcard, whereas some will offer great financial incentives.
MoneySavingExpert.com has a good list of different student bank accounts and the conditions for each, so you’ll be able to quickly find one that works for you. Don’t just look at the size of the interest-free overdraft - see how long you’ve got to pay it off, and how much interest you’ll have to pay on your balance once you’ve finished studying.
Get a part-time job
Getting a steady income on the side of your student loan could really help you out when you’re reaching the end of each term. Our careers and employability service advertise some vacancies, but you can also use sites like Indeed to find some part-time work.
When we say part-time, we really do mean it - you’re at university to study, so if your job is eating up all your free time you’ll find it a lot harder to achieve the grades you’re aiming for.
You might also be able to pick up some extra cash as a student ambassador.
Speak to our student funding team
We have a dedicated team on hand to help with a range of funding issues. From help managing your budget to advice on scholarships, they’re the go-to people if you need some support with your money.
Some extra tips:
- Discount supermarkets are your friend - if you’re based on our main Wrexham campus, there’s an ALDI just across the road at Plas Coch.
- Do paid surveys
- Become a mystery shopper
- Use Freecycle to pick up free, unwanted goods from local people
- Phone contract up for renewal? Haggle like mad - networks don’t want to lose you, so they’ll often drop their prices as a “loyalty discount”
- Look for free things to do - museums, galleries, beaches, the great outdoors - there are heaps to do in North East Wales and the surrounding area that won’t cost you a penny
- Stay away from pay-day loans - if you need to bridge the gap between your empty bank account and your next loan instalment, speak to our funding team for help
- Sell your old stuff. CDs, DVDs, games, clothes - if they’re still intact, you can flog them.
- Book train tickets in advance to reduce the cost - or try splitting your tickets to reduce the fare (TrainSplit can help)