University challenge - get a first in student finance

Saturday 19 September 2015, 01:00 PM

Sam Barratt
Financial Journalist , Freelance

Gaining a degree can be expensive, with figures from the Sutton Trust suggesting that some of this year's freshers will graduate with debts of around £53,000. But, with graduates earning an average of £12,000 a year more than colleagues who skipped university, it's a debt many consider worth racking up.

As the repayment of this debt can potentially stall plans such as buying a house and starting a family, being smart with your finances at uni is essential. These tips will help you - or a son, daughter or grandchild - get the most out of university without costing them a fortune.

  • Pick the right bank account - look beyond the freebies at the overdraft details, going for an account that offers a chunky interest-free overdraft. For example, this year HSBC and Halifax both over interest-free overdrafts of up to £3,000 compared to the norm of £2,000 or less.
  • Skip the credit - whether it's a credit card from your bank or a payday loan, avoid it at all costs. While the interest rate on a payday loan can run into three or four figures, even on a credit card you'll pay around 18% a year if you don't clear your balance regularly.
  • Set a budget and stick to it - the easiest way to make the money last all term is to sit down in week one with details of your income and a calculator. Deduct any essentials such as rent and then divide it by the number of weeks it needs to cover. Chances are you'll be left with a tiny weekly budget but at least you'll know what you can - and can't - spend.
  • Work, work, work - as long as it doesn't affect your studies, earning while you're learning can help balance your finances as well as put some useful experience on your CV. Your student union will have details of vacancies or check out job sites such as StudentGems.com, StudentJob.co.uk and Flair Event Staffing and Management, for festivals, sport and music events.
  • Get extra - or rather an NUS Extra Card. Flashing this can get you discounts of as much as 40% on everything from your Amazon shopping to a day out at Alton Towers - all for the princely sum of £12 a year. Even where something doesn't have a chunky discount, turn to the internet. A few minutes surfing could throw up a better deal.
  • Feed your bank balance - restaurants, cafes and the uni bar can all eat into your finances so it pays to develop a savvy way to shop and eat. For starters, do your food shopping online. This can save you lots of hassle and help you avoid those little, expensive treats. Cooking your own food will help you cut costs too, especially if you do this with your friends to spread the expense.
  • Travel for less - whether you go to a university close to home or miles away, chances are you'll want to travel. Take advantage of a third off fares by investing in a railcard - £30 a year or £70 for three years - or a young person's coachcard - £10 a year or £25 for three years. And, although we all love a spot of spontaneity, try to plan in advance as much as possible as it'll save you a small fortune.
  • Insure your kit - thanks to laptops, smartphones and stereos, the average student has more than £3,000 of kit with them at university. Hardly surprising that student accommodation is often a bit of a burglary black spot. You might be able to include this on a parent's household policy at no extra cost or investigate taking out your own cover. Having to replace this kit is an expense you really won't need.