Tony Levene is a renowned financial journalist, who has previously been a columnist for Guardian Money. He has written several books, including 'Investing for Dummies' and won the ABI Lifetime Achievement award and the Headline Money award.
Waving your brilliant exam passes, you've waltzed into that glittering university course. Great. Now comes the hard part – keeping body, soul and possessions together, probably for the first time, on a fixed sum.
The first rule – one student advice handouts rarely give – is that you will make mistakes. Everyone does. Leaving aside the complexities of personal relations and academic life, you may suffer a theft or two, you will overpay for items, you will almost certainly regret wasting money on things which you cannot even remember the next morning. Older people such as your parents made errors when your age – and probably still get things wrong.
Rule number two is to try to minimise the inevitable mistakes with planning. Making a list before heading off to the shops and sticking to it is not creativity-denying – it will cut waste, save money, help you eat better and maybe leave some cash over for the other things in life.
Older people such as your parents made errors when your age – and probably still get things wrong.
Open a student bank account as soon as you can. You don't need loan or grant money to do this. Also set up an instant access savings account at another bank. Don't expect interest from this – as its function is to put money out of immediate temptation for later in the term. It's all too easy to spend it all by the end of October or sooner.
Budget but dividing your money into exact months is a waste of time. The first few weeks will see heavier than average spending. Besides Freshers' Week (find as many free activities and avoid costly bar crawls even if you get a commemorative T-shirt), you'll need to spend money on books and, possibly, equipment and sports gear. You might find a university or student union shop selling second hand items. Find out before you go as bargains disappear fast – it's always handy to have a chat with someone who has been to the college before. And depending on your journey, you may need to spend on a student discount bus or rail card.
You might find useful free things such as computer parts or clothing on giveaway sites such as Freecycle – there is one for almost every location.
Your first year may well be spent in university accommodation. This should give broadband access. If not, find out where there is free wi-fi – a library, other communal centre or perhaps a share with a neighbour but not a pub or coffee bar which will cost more in drinks on a daily basis that the price of a contract (as well as being noisy). Some wi-fi deals are pitched at students so they don't have to pay during the summer vacation. You don't need to buy a TV licence if you only watch “catch-up” such as BBC iPlayer or Channel4ondemand on a computer.
An old laptop will probably work just as well for your needs as a new top of the range model. It is less likely to attract thieves and it won't matter quite as much if someone pours beer over it accidentally. In any case, the real loss will be your work. No insurance will replace this so always back up what you do – memory sticks are very cheap. There is plenty of legally free software such as word processing, spreadsheets and photo storage.
Likewise, an old bike plus a strong lock (pay at least £50) make a good combination. Thieves target student areas but will go for easy pickings so that locked less than perfect bike or your past its best computer hidden away (in a non-computer bag) will be safer.
Halls of residence usually have some insurance against theft as well as a policy for fire, and other disasters. This should cover flooding – sprinkler system and accidents such as someone leaving a bath tap running above your room are possible risks.
This won't cover valuables outside. Check the contents section of your parents' or guardians' home insurance to see if it extends to college living. Policies differ greatly and may require additional premiums. There are standalone student policies as well.
But no matter how good the insurance, leaving things around unsecured is an invitation to disaster. Many policies won't pay out if you have not taken basic care of your belongings.
And rule number three? If you have financial or other problems, talk about them. Don't bottle them up. All colleges have student money advice centres and help with personal difficulties.
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