Managing your money at uni

Hundreds of thousands of 18-year-olds are leaving home for university for the first time. Natalie Stanton rounds up the top money-saving tips for new students.

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The bills can quickly add up

Most students will be trying to make a very limited amount of money stretch as far as possible at university yet more than a third of students don't budget, according to a survey by Natwest. Here's how to get started.

First, draw up a list of income and expenses. In the "income" column, add every source of money from grants or bursaries, to gifts from your parents. The "expenses" column should record each and every outgoing, including rent, bills, books, course materials, food and drinks, travel, nights out and laundry.

It's likely that your first attempt will see your spending outstrip your income. So you'll need to increase your income, or decrease your spending. Ensure that you're not missing out on any grants or bursaries you may be eligible for. Make full use of student discounts (see below) and look for other sources of income (see below).

Next, organise your money. If you receive funds in a lump sum, such as a grant instalment, put this into a second account. Ringfence some to be used for rent and bills. Once you know how much is left over, you can calculate the amount you'll have to spend on other items each week. Set up a standing order to drip-feed this into your student account.

Lastly, monitor what you spend. It may help to put a weekly cap on certain spending for example, £100 on food and drinks and £20 on course materials. This may prove difficult at first, but stick with it and keep a close eye on what you spend. Check your statement regularly and jot down every single expense. This will encourage you to think twice before splashing out and will also adjust your habits to fit your budget. There are smartphone apps that can help with this we look at some below.

Three ways to save

Travel: Get a 16-25 Railcard, which will give you a third off all train travel at the cost of £30 a year, or £70 for three years. A Young Persons Coachcard offers a similar deal on National Express coach fares. Look for student bus pass deals in your university town, which may include free shuttle buses for students.

Discount cards: Sign up for an NUS extra card. For just £12 a year, you'll be eligible for more than 200 deals including 25% off student ticket prices at Odeon cinemas from Monday to Friday, 50% off Spotify Premium, and 10% off ASOS. Student discount cards UNiDAYS and Student Beans also offer similar deals.

Freebies: If you need to furnish your student digs, don't pay for new furniture and appliances. You'll find all sorts of items up for grabs on websites such as Gumtree and Freecycle.org. There's also a dedicated "Freeloved" section on Preloved.co.uk offering everything from washing machines to sofas.

Top student bank accounts

The Nationwide FlexStudent has a £1,000 interest-free overdraft, rising to £3,000 in the third year. It charges no fees if you go over your overdraft, but the account will be frozen until the balance is back within the limit. It pays 1% interest on balances up to £1,000. You must pay in £1,500 per year.

The HSBC Student Bank Account comes with an interest-free overdraft of up to £3,000 and pays 1.75% interest on balances up to £1,000.

The Santander 123 Student Current Account offers an interest-free overdraft of up to £1,500. It pays 3% interest on balances between £300 and £2,000. You must pay in £500 per term.

Apps to help you manage your money

These three free apps for iPhone and Android will help you keep track of your spending.

Wally tracks what you spend and reviews whether you've stayed on budget. It uses your smartphone location services to analyse where you're spending your money, while notifications remind you of upcoming payments and when you have reached a savings goal.

Splitwise is useful for those living in shared houses. It keeps track of who owes what so you don't end up arguing over the bills.

Tabis built for painlessly splitting the bill in a bar or restaurant. It enables you to take a photo of your receipt, claim the items you ordered, and pay what you owe.

What to do if you're running low

If it looks like you might be running out of money, don't panic. There are plenty of ways you can get your bank balance back into the black. The first and most obvious option is to find a job. Your university careers centre should have a list of vacancies in the local area, and may be able to advise on suitable jobs to fit around your studies.

If you live in a shared house, it may be possible to save a significant sum by switching your internet, gas or electricity providers. Spend an evening shopping around online, using websites such as Uswitch and Money Supermarket to ensure you're getting the best deal.

If the problem is more serious, turn to your university. Most institutions offer hardship funds or similar alternatives. Search your university's website or visit the welfare office for details.

Try to avoid going into debt (other than student loans, which almost all students will now have). A low-interest overdraft can be tempting in emergencies, but it'll need to be paid back eventually. Beware of 0% interest credit cards. They may look attractive, but it's easy to lose track of repayments and get into more debt than is comfortable. Problems with debt will affect your credit rating and may make banks reluctant to lend to you in future.

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