Money management at University — finding the right method for you

It’s important to know how to manage your money at University but there’s no universal way to do it — everyone’s experiences and circumstances are different. Read on to learn how 5 students from different backgrounds and at different stages of their education manage their money.

Worried about your money? Understanding your money, how to budget, how to make more of your money and knowing what to do if things are going wrong are essential skills for life. Here are links and guides to help keep your finances on track.

Name: Phoebe

Studying: Final year, Bachelors in Languages

Living situation: Six-bedroom shared house

On average, my monthly incomings, excluding maintenance loan, are £500 and my essential outgoings (rent, bills, food and extras) are £700.

Whilst at University, I use my Monzo card to track how much money I spend. It gives you a daily breakdown, allows you to set budgets, and will notify you if you have exceeded your budget.

If I am going on a night out, I will try to take only cash with me, stopping me from spending liberally as I would do if I had my bank card.

I think in terms of buying food, it is important to be conscious about where you shop and not just opt for the supermarket that is easiest to get to — pick a supermarket that offers good value for money. I make as many packed lunches as I can. This can save you so much money in the long run as the price of meal deals does accumulate.

Name: Saluka

Studying: Final year Masters in Writing for Performance & Digital Media

Living situation: Mature student and homeowner, currently living alone but sometimes with lodgers

This semester, I only have one module, so I have taken on four part-time jobs to survive and still have plenty of time to study. I keep my eye on the university jobs emails as things come up all the time. A qualified teacher of 20 years, I now work for employment agencies which means I can also prioritise university studies and say ‘no’ to paid work if necessary. You don’t have to be a qualified teacher to sign up to some education agencies in Leeds — there are many different roles available.

Being a mature student, I’ve had decades to perfect the skill of ‘financial juggling’. Not doing a giant monthly shop out of habit actually saves money, with less or no food waste (as I found out recently when I was fridgeless for a month). I buy reduced price/yellow label food and freeze it as soon as I get home. I always chop up and freeze fruit and veg before it goes off — instead of staring at grapes trying to be raisins!

My local halal butcher is cheaper than the big supermarkets and you can ask for £2 worth of chicken/meat as that might be all you have to spend — it’s better than being forced to buy ready packaged amounts that cost a lot more. You can find cheaper fruit/veg at some local stores in the urban areas around the city. In Chapeltown, I managed to bag 20 salad tomatoes for £1 which I chopped and froze for a later date.

Name: Thomas

Studying: PhD in Chemical Enginering

Living situation: Living with a partner

I just moved in with my girlfriend, but before that I lived in shared housing with my friends.

One thing I wish I had known at the start of my degree was how to cook properly with fresh ingredients to make larger meals that last for a few days. This can be both a time and money saver.

I would also invest in a bike or rent one from the Bike Hub, buy a pair of waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket to save on the cost of transport.

Most of my income comes from my PhD stipend, which comes to around £1300 per month. I also sign up for market research surveys, and though you have to apply for around 20 surveys just to be accepted for one, it seems to pay between £40–60 per hour. You can only do one survey every 6 months, but you can apply with different companies to do them more frequently. This provides maybe £20 per month on average.

As a postgraduate student, there are a few other money-making opportunities at the University. I teach in undergraduate labs, which, while seasonal, pays around £150+ per month. Seasonal work is also available in the form of marking tests or invigilating exams. Invigilating pays hourly and for marking, you get paid a set amount for a given number of papers, so working quickly and accurately is essential.

I spend around £850 a month on rent, bills, food (including occasional eating out) and other essential expenses. After that I have enough to live on comfortably and engage in hobbies. I save the rest of my income and invest some of it.

Name: Holly

Studying: Law LLB

Living situation: Shared house

Most of my income comes from Student Finance and working part-time at the University of Leeds Libraries. I work 18 hours per week and that allows me to live comfortably. I am also on the Plus Programme, and that helped when it came to funding societies. They provide a fund which can help you pay for memberships, travelling costs and equipment, so it is well worth looking into as it can make a big difference!

One of my best tips that helped me budget were student deals from apps such as UNiDAYS or Student Beans, and getting Clubcards or More cards for the shops where I was shopping for my food. These are small things, but they add up.

However, the most important thing I’ve learnt is not to overwork yourself. Having a little more money in the bank is very helpful, especially if you are struggling, but not at the sacrifice of your mental health. If you can, don’t overwork yourself. University is a big enough task in itself, let alone with multiple hours of work.

I have experience of extreme budgeting: during my first year at University, I managed to live on £100 per month, excluding accommodation costs. Currently, I don’t keep a strict budget, but I know roughly how much I spend on my essentials such as my rent (most of my rent is covered by my maintenance loan), my house bills, phone bills, Netflix and Amazon Prime bills, car insurance and petrol and food bills. After this, I have enough to not worry about saying no to social events, for example, because of money.

Name: Emilia

Studying: Recent graduate from Masters in Art Gallery & Museum Studies, now working as a student intern

Living situation: Shared house

During my course, I was a recipient of a Leeds Masters Scholarship, which awards £5000 to UK fee-paying students from underrepresented groups. My biggest tip for students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be to apply for scholarships. Receiving a Leeds Masters Scholarship made a massive difference in my life! A Masters degree was hard enough, I don’t know if I’d have made it if I had to work any longer and face more financial stress.

My degree was funded by Student Finance. After paying my tuition fee, I had about £3000 to support my day-to-day life. As I did my undergraduate course at the University of Leeds, I was eligible for a 10% alumni tuition fee bursary. I also worked part-time as a barista for around 16 hours per week. On average, my income was around £1200 per month

Additionally, I was occasionally selling clothes and home décor on Depop and took part in a few market research panels. I’d say this came up to £30 per month on average.

As I had a rather irregular income, it was important for me to track my income and expenses. At the beginning of the month, I would calculate all of my fixed expenses (rent, phone bills, transport, Netflix, food, gym etc.), take into consideration irregular expenses (birthday gifts, seasonal clothing etc.) and designate a certain amount of money for my ‘wants’, such as clothes and takeaways. After that, I would immediately transfer anything that was left to my saving account. I usually managed to save around £100 per month. The University’s guide to budgeting is a good starting point if you want to stay on top of your finances.

My other tips on managing money are to buy clothes and homeware bits from charity shops and buying groceries in cheaper supermarkets like Aldi or Lidl.

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