So, I had taken the leap I had always dreamt of.
I had quit my full-time job after an 11-year career in Financial Services, managed to get through my Access course and coped financially (just!) and now I was heading to university. Money was a worry.
I had worked for so long and had been used to my pay arriving in my bank each and every month. Was I going to cope financially for 3 years at university? Would I have enough money? Could I provide all the things my daughter would need? Would it all be worth it in the end?
Well, the short answer to all of those questions was ‘yes’. With careful planning and budgeting, everything was fine.
My first shock was when I got my student loan award through the post and realised that I would only get a payment 3 times over the course of the year.
For me, it was one in late September, one in early January and one in April. The payments were not spread evenly, with a much larger gap over the summer months.
I wondered how I would manage this and realised I would need a plan. Follow my plan of budgeting and money tips and you too can manage financially during your time at university.
- Open 2 student bank accounts and pay yourself each month
I opened up 2 student bank accounts. All of my student finance and any additional funds were paid into one bank account and then I divided the amount by 12 and set up a monthly payment into my main bank account.
This meant that I did not run out of money and was not reliant on getting paid work over the summer months. This really worked for me and I always felt like I still got paid each month.
I did have a friend who went on a lovely shopping spree when she got her first loan payment but as Christmas approached she realised the 3 pairs of trainers she had bought meant she now didn’t have enough to cover Christmas.
- Find ways to increase your income
I was really surprised at the many different options for getting extra money whilst at the university.
If you have dependents, there are a number of extra students finance payments which will make finances more manageable, so make sure you check your entitlement.
Make sure you research the scholarships and bursaries on offer as soon as possible. I was lucky enough to receive an entrance scholarship of £1000 and I was also awarded an academic achievement scholarship in my second year which added another £1000 to the income for those years.
Other options for raising more funds include getting a part-time job. I didn’t think it would be possible to work during my time at university. I wrongly assumed the only jobs available for students would be bar or restaurant jobs which would require me to work evenings and weekends.
I discovered a great scheme called Earn As You Learn at the University of Worcester where I was able to gain valuable paid work experience relevant to my degree. I could choose hours to fit around my studies and family and will be lucky enough to have my name published in a journal recognising the research I completed as part of my role.
- Find ways to save money
One thing I overlooked was ways in which I could save money. I did not get a student discount card (NUS card) until my second year. This saved me a LOT of money.
I was able to save 10% every time I shop in co-op, which is a 2-minute walk from my house. I also realised that I could get 25% for up to 6 people every time I dined at Zizzi’s, 25% off at Pizza Express on Monday and Tuesdays and I also found a small shoe shop which sold Clarks school shoes and managed to get 20% discount there as well.
This is a great way to save money on everyday items and means you can still enjoy some of your favourite things despite being on a student budget.
Other ways to save money are to cut back on non-essential items. When my phone contract was due for renewal, rather than having a new phone as I used to, I kept existing phone and reduced the cost of my contract.
I also cancelled my SKY tv subscription and switched to Freeview. I purchased a bike and rode to uni rather than drove. This was actually quicker on occasion due to traffic in the city and I found a route which was all off road using the river paths so I felt safe and relaxed.