Taking a college course or university degree can be a rewarding and fulfilling adventure, but it’s not without costs. On top of tuition fees, you also need money for your living costs and, with the work involved in study, it can be difficult to find the time to work enough to make ends meet.
With some careful forethought and planning, though, you can budget your way to success. We take a look at some of the key things to consider.
Too many people rush into a decision to start studies. The idea takes them and they book themselves on a course, assuming that everything will sort itself out in time.
However, without planning ahead, many students find themselves in financial difficulty. To avoid this, you should take your time to make a decision to study; consider if it’s worth putting it off for a year. This will allow you to work and save up money that will stand you in good stead when you start your course.
If you decide to do this, you’ll need to be ruthless with your budgeting; often when we start saving for something ahead, unexpected expenses crop up and we fritter a lot of our money away on useless expenditure.
Create a budget plan and stick to it; cut out all of your unnecessary expenses and reduce your bills where possible (items like TV and broadband can usually be found cheaper and it’s worth shopping around for good prices on your utilities too).
Work out what you’ll need to spend
You should sit down and make a forecast of how much you’ll need to spend while you’re studying. The key expenses will be your living costs such as rent, utilities, food and other essential bills.
On top of that, you’re going to need to factor in travel costs. If you’re travelling to study, it’s worth looking into pre-booking tickets for bus or rail, getting a season ticket or investing in a railcard, as you can usually get considerable discounts this way. While you’ll need to shell out this money in advance, you’ll be thankful once you start your course.
Remember too that you’ll probably need to spend money on textbooks. These are often very expensive to buy as new, but if you have a look around online, there’s a good chance you’ll find much cheaper, second-hand copies available. Cut costs like these wherever you can.
Try to keep money aside for consumables like stationery, notebooks, printer paper, photocopying and all those other little expenses that crop up.
Now that you know roughly how much you’ll spend over the course of your studies, you can start saving. With your budget in place, you’ll know exactly what you can afford to put by; set up a standing order or automatic payment to take these savings directly from your current account before you have the chance to spend them.
Get your benefits
Students can usually open up a student bank account which gives you an interest-free overdraft; ideal for difficult times, just don’t become too reliant on it. You’ll also get discounted travel, and often your student card will get you deals on purchases, meals and other expenses; use them where you can as the savings can really add up!
Working during study
The harsh reality is that unless you save for a few years, you’ll probably need to take on some kind of paid work while you study. Just be careful here; most part time work is around 21 hours a week, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for your classes.
All courses, and especially degrees, also require a certain amount of personal study. This means you’ll have even less time in which to take on paid work. Try to find a job that is flexible or casual and consider freelancing, ideally doing something related to your course.
Freelancing while you study is a great way to keep yourself afloat; you can manage your own time and, if you work on something that’s related to your qualification, both work and study will a positive effect on each other. Just make sure that you’re realistic about how much work you can handle and ask for help if you find things are getting too much for you.
Most colleges and universities offer hardship funds (and maintenance grants if you’re a single parent, for example) to help you through tough times; talk to student services about your situation before it gets out of control and you’ll probably find they have a number of ways to help you.