At Carbon we are privileged to work with some very bright young people through our graduate and intern programmes. Finnian Nelson, a second year Economics student from the University of St Andrews, has just completed an internship with us, experiencing a little of what financial planning is all about. We asked Finnian what his advice would be to anyone trying to manage money as a student. We hope you like it!
A recent study carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that in the UK today, three out of four students will reach their 50s still owing debts of around £30,000, accumulated from tuition fees. Whilst this figure will be dramatically less for Scottish students at Scottish universities (with the government paying for their tuition), the growing difficulty of post-university challenges, such as getting onto the property ladder, means that it remains prudent for students to consider how they manage their finances in education in order to graduate in the strongest financial position possible.
The need to save up for an impending holiday with friends often demonstrates just how cheaply one can get by if you are prepared to compromise. But however appealing beans on toast in a dark, cold flat might be, there are other ways to save (or earn) too, often with minimal effort.
The most obvious solution for money problems whilst at university is a part-time job. The disappointment of having to miss out on something every now and again because you are working is far outweighed by the benefit of income. As simple as it sounds: when you’re working, you’re not spending. Which means, when you are with your friends, you can spend less time worrying about money. Budget a small amount to keep aside each week, and, if you discipline yourself, you will be thankful to have the safety net.
The alternative to earning is an overdraft. Banks offer a variety of tempting student accounts allowing you to borrow money, and it can be interest free – but only until you graduate, so steer clear if you can. However, if you are disciplined enough, most student accounts do have perks, such as the four-year free railcard with Santander’s student account. Also, if you can, avoid other high interest forms of debt such as credit and store cards.
One of the biggest outgoing costs at university is food. Aside from the well-known evening supermarket sweep of all reduced items, savings can be made here without compromise. Planning ahead and cooking with friends or flatmates can split food costs into negligible amounts, and the saving continues when only one sink of hot water is needed to clean the dishes. If you are cooking for just yourself, make an extra portion and keep it in the fridge or freezer.
The student card can provide endless savings, but often these are not advertised. It is always worth asking, be it at a restaurant or a clothes shop, if a student discount is offered. Additionally, when shopping online, companies often have generic promotional codes that can be entered at the online checkout – a simple search on the internet can quickly save £10. Check for student card savings on public transport too. If they aren’t available, consider walking – it’s healthy, and free!
From broadband to gas providers, comparing prices to get the most suitable contract for your usage can save a lot of money over time, and price comparison websites exist for a huge range of products and services. If you are sharing private accommodation, discuss with your flatmates how often you will have the heating on so you can find the contract which is most cost efficient.
Ultimately, the best way to manage your finances at university is to keep a close eye on them – ideally weekly. If you are taking out a student maintenance loan, calculate online how much money you will need to pay back down the line in order to help you budget. Limit your spending, perhaps more than is necessary, to leave some leeway for spontaneity; for remember, student living should be fun, but it can also sometimes be unpredictable.
Finnian Nelson is a second year Economics student from the University of St Andrews.