How I saved, spent and made money as a student

14th May 2015

Managing student money

On Monday I finished university, although I’m technically a student until my course ends (June or July, I think).

Anyway, one aspect of my student life that I haven’t talked about is money. Money can be a difficult subject at any time, but particularly when you’re a student. However, I’ve never gone into my overdraft, I’ve never asked to borrow money off my parents, and I have even managed to have enough left over after paying bills and buying food so that I can treat myself.

“How?!” I hear you cry over your Tesco Value Chicken Noodles as you huddle under the duvet because you can’t afford heating. Well, today I am going to share a few of my tips for making, spending and saving money as a student.

*Please note: I totally get that the loan system in the UK is rubbish and that because it is means tested some people will not get enough to live off. It’s not a system I agree with at all.*

I made a budget and stuck to it

I can’t stress the idea of budgeting enough. The very first thing I did when I started university was work out how much money would be going into my account (from loans and bursaries), and how much would be going out (such as for rent and bills). Then I did the calculations to work our how much that would leave me with each week to buy food and necessities. I made sure to avoid going over this set allowance for food and other things, but if I did go over the limit I would have to deduct that extra spending from the following weeks allowance.

My top tip for those of you who feel like you are rubbish at managing your money is to take that allowance out of the bank at the beginning of the week. I find it a lot easier to control physical money than virtual money.

If you can continuously under-spend on your allowance, the money will add up, and by the end of the year you might have saved some money.

I learnt to shop around for the best deals

Ah, the amount of times I would pop to the corner shop instead of walking in to town to buy a loaf of bread and losing out on 50p in the process…

But those 50p’s soon add up. Tyrone and I learnt to be really clever with our money, especially when it came to buying food, and became aware of where the cheapest places to buy certain foods were. But we have never sacrificed the quality of the food we eat. We have never gone hungry and we’ve never ate bland food. I guess what I’m trying to say if you don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat well.

We also found that planning meals and doing weekly shops not only saved us money, but also prevented food waste.

I got a job (or two)

The harsh truth is if you want more money than what you get from student loads and bursaries you are going to have to work for it.

I moved home for the summer after my first year of university and got a part-time job (but I ended up working almost full-time) in a supermarket. It was the worst job I have ever had, and not only did it encourage me to do well at university so I wouldn’t be stuck working as a cashier, it also allowed me to earn lots of tax-free money.

This money allowed Tyrone and I to move into our apartment in Liverpool earlier, and make my second year of university a little more pleasant.

At the end of my second year I then got a part-time, work-when-you-like job as an Insight Leader, and while it may not seem like I earn a lot from this job it soon adds up.

I forced myself into the mind set that my parents couldn’t help me out

Even if your parents can help you out financially, don’t think about this too much or else you will always turn to them when you don’t have enough money. I’m of course talking about those who go out every night and spend a fortune on drink and new clothes, and then tell their parents they’re poor. I know I’d feel so guilty if I did that.

You can’t live like that forever, so don’t make a habit of it.

I saved money in an ISA

Yes, I saved some of the money from my loan into my ISA (savings account) which may not make any sense at all. Why save money you’ve borrowed?!

Without saving I wouldn’t have been able to stay in Liverpool while looking for a job now that I have finished my degree. That money I saved will pay my bills and buy me food until I get a job. Without it I would have had to move home, and it would have been a giant step backwards.

Believe me, it was worth missing out on money-wasting opportunities to still be living in Liverpool now. But I guess it all depends on what your priorities are.

Do you have any tips for saving money, even if you’re not a student?

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  1. Great tips.

    And especially the one about the parents, though I’m guilty of doing this every so often XD However, one thing I did learn while being in uni was that I’m glad I paid for some or all of my tuition each term because that encouraged me to keep up my grades — after all, since I paid, I didn’t want my money or my dad’s money to go to waste!!!

    • Holly

      I couldn’t afford my tuition fees at £9000 a year. Everything has been covered by a loan which I will only have to start paying back once I start earning £21,000 or more. But even the thought of a loan encouraged me to do well. I wouldn’t want all that debt for nothing.

      • I didn’t do any loans. My parents helped me pay for undergrad doing a 60-40 deal, and I paid as I went with postgrad X___X; Let’s just say I was pretty broke! At least I didn’t have loans in the end!

        • Holly

          If it weren’t for loans I wouldn’t have been able to go to university. Also, the way the crazy UK student loan system works means that if you pay your fees off while you are studying you will actually be in a worse off situation financially. This country makes no sense at times!!

  2. Definitely agree with these even though I am a girl who still lives with her parents. My parents used to never ask to pay them back when they bought things for me, even if it was food and stuff. I’ve somewhat forced myself into letting me pay for my own things, and thus I have been spending more than I usually do, but it makes me spend a bit wiser and think more before purchasing something.

    Student loans are great – I have one that you don’t really need to pay off until you are working full time. Loans are there to be used, and you totally have a point in saying that using it to help you step up will in turn help you pay it off in future!

    Budgeting is really good when done right, and I can tell you certainly have done it right. :) It’s not hard when you stick to it – I think the problem with a lot of people is that they slip and then they forget about it.

    • Holly

      My loan is the same. I don’t have to start paying back until I’m earning over £21,000. At which point I think the amount of money they take back each month is pretty insignificant anyway.

      It can be very tempting to ignore the budget, and there have been times when I’ve thought “stuff it” and treated myself, but I always feel guilty.

  3. It’s great that you managed your finances and stayed within your allowance.

  4. Like Georgie said, if you live with your parents, parents don’t ask us to pay for food and stuff. For me, because I don’t have a job yet I have to live on my parents money, so I try to reduce my own expenses as much as I can. Now my student fee is not that great that I would require a student loan for it… but I am planning to take one any how from the upcoming year.

    It’s good to have a budget and stick to it…. the sticking to it part is most important! :D

    • Holly

      If I lived at home I would have given my parents money each week to help with food costs etc, because that what my brother’s did when they lived at home. It gets you into a good habit of managing your money. But that’s just my personal view.

  5. Great tips!

    I budgeted, but wish I had saved more. I went to America between second and third year of undergrad and managed to drain my money but it was my first time travelling and I learnt a lot. During my MSc I had to use everything I earned to get by. My paid for PhD has made life easier but I spent my first 2 years paying off an overdraft from my Masters year so we could buy our house (I didn’t want the blip on my credit rating). Now I’ve started saving again for the just incase impending unemployment come september thing….

    • Holly

      One of the factors that put me off a masters was the money. I always said if I did do a masters I would work for a couple of years before to fund it, but now I’m not sure I want to go back into education anyway.

      The fear of not getting a job is awful! I’m finding it mentally draining, but I’m glad I have the money saved to get me through. :)

  6. Alice

    i think there’s this difference of mindset when it comes to western parenting and asian, or particularly the chinese. i don’t know. living in indonesia, part-time jobs for students isn’t as… how do i say it, isn’t something that is casually done unlike in foreign countries. hm, it’s a different culture so it’s tough to explain. once, i was offered a job as a web designer in a company but my parents went batshit (sorry for the language) crazy rejecting the idea because they think my duty is to focus on college and that they’re still able to pay for me. so yeah, they told me to reject the position. i have online friends saying – accusing more likely – that i should go get a job if i want to buy all the things i want, like video games for instance and their intonation was annoying, man…it’s like, “you’re probably searching for excuse not to work part time because you’re lazy” when that’s not really the case.

    like i said, it’s not easy to explain through words typed but there are differences in culture from countries to countries. there’s no such thing as summer jobs here either – that kind of stuff doesn’t happen so yeah. and in this country, they most ask for full time employees, not part time so that kind of “college student balancing multiple part time jobs at once” lifestyle doesn’t really apply here unless of course, you’re talking about going on internship but that’s another story in itself.

    sometimes, i envy people in other countries where they can get summer jobs and go to school while also work. i do want those in order to be able to buy video games for myself :S hence, the only thing i can do is save allowance and not buy unnecessary things. my parents are still paying for my fee and they’re still the ones paying for my needs and sometimes, when i admit this, people from other countries accuse me of being spoiled and lazy….it’s annoying for me because things are not the same for everyone and every country. of course, i know i can’t always rely on my parents which is why when it comes to stuff i want, like video games, i’ll use my own money to buy it. and the best way is to learn how to budget myself through the allowance given to me.

    i mean, sometimes i read this kind of post and people from other countries balancing work and school and i feel like i’m such a loser compared to them? (and the fear of being called spoiled brat by others who think everyone’s situation must be equally the same) lol i end up blabbering. i hope i get my point across though.

    • Holly

      Wow! It’s definitely the opposite here. I always felt pressured into getting a part-time job, because if I didn’t I would be turning to my parents all the time. Balancing work and school is really tough, and I’m glad the job I had in my last year of university didn’t take too much time up. But I know people who had to work almost full-time while studying to pay for rent. This is because a) living in the city is so expensive and b) if your parents earn too much money, you don’t get any support from the government. It’s a crap system.

      Also, part-time work while studying is one of the few ways you can gain experience for jobs in the future. I rely on that experience when applying for jobs and going to interviews.

  7. Wow! You should be really, really proud of yourself! I have been trying to set a budget for years and haven’t managed it.

  8. Jamie

    You’ve said a mouthful, but I do agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve noticed that now since I have a car payment to make every month with my boyfriend, we have to be very wise with our money. Our car payment is in the $400 range, plus $100 for insurance. We’ve been lucky enough to not have to ask to borrow money. Unlike his grandparents. His grandparents asks us constantly to borrow money, because they try to pay their bills all at once and that leaves them with nothing at the end of the month. I keep telling Tristan, they need a financial manager like him.

    I’ve always been really good about money since I’ve lived on my own. Before, my money would be blown before the 5th of the month. *Guilty face*. But, being older and wiser, I’ve learned to set aside some money for a rainy day. Ya know? It was hard at the apartment, because I was on a set income and that really left me with nothing after paying rent, electricity, entertainment, food for me and my cat. Etc. Sometimes, I had to wash my clothes in the bathtub (like the olden days). But it’s made me wiser about money.

    • Holly

      If I had a car I’d be so screwed financially. I’m lucky that I live in the city centre so I can walk every where, and the rare times that I do need to leave town I use public transport.

      I’m glad you managed to learn about managing your money along the way.

  9. […] tough, but I’m trying not to get too stressed about it. As I mentioned in Thursday’s post, I purposely made sure I would have enough money to get me through this summer without a job. […]

  10. Agent Q

    I like the part where you suggested taking out your allowance since due to more control over the physical currency over the virtual one. What I did back in college when I didn’t get to enjoy my mom’s cooking is plan my meals and prepare recipes based on ingredients I was going to use.

    For example, you will have some leftover ingredients from one recipe that could be use for the subsequent ones. Mix and match them, cook for multiple meals, and the savings on food add up over time. :) The question I always ask myself is: am I saving enough for food? I LOVE eating and would be sad if I end up not spending efficiently on food. I’m not worried about buying other things because I tend to live minimalistically anyways.

    Great post!

    • Holly

      Taking my allowance out of the bank at the beginning of each week helped me to manage my money so well. I don’t need to do it any more as I feel that over the years I have got quite good at managing my money in virtual form. Online banking all the way!

  11. I disagree about relying on parents – my father’s view is that I have the rest of my life to work and he doesn’t think I need to work now. Nor does he want me working now, he’d rather I focused on my studies. (Maybe it is a cultural thing? I’m South African. Going to university is quite a privilege and is seen as my priority) I’m really grateful and I take him up on it – I don’t really have time in term time anyway, and over the summer I like to relax. I know that by working hard at my degree, as does my father (or rather he expects), that I will be able to get a job with a salary I can use to support my parents when they are older and need it – they can afford to dip into their savings at this time of life. Apart from that, I do wish I had budgeted more while at uni. I was quite good with money in first year but in second year I went to live in Malaysia and cost of living was so low that I kind of didn’t have to think of money! I came back to the UK and never quite managed to deal with the limitations the high cost of living here imposes on one. XD

    • Holly

      Yes, as Alice pointed out I think there must be cultural differences. In the UK, kids can start delivering newspapers at 13, and this is very common. We are encouraged to work and gain experience as soon as possible.

      Going to university isn’t such a privilege any more in the UK. It use to be, but I think there has been a change in this view in recent years. If you are clever enough to go, you can go, and people from low-income families get incredible financial support.

  12. […] Admittedly, travel is expensive, but one thing I’ve learnt in life is that if you really want something then you have to prioritise and make sacrifices. I have made decision to help me save money especially for travel, some of which I wrote about in this post. […]