Organise your finances from day one to avoid debt
Money is tight for students, but careful budgeting can help to relieve some of the stress, says RCN senior welfare adviser Claire Cannings.
Money is tight for students, but careful budgeting can help to relieve some of the stress, says RCN senior welfare adviser Claire Cannings
Familiarising yourself with your finances early on in the academic year can have a positive impact on your overall experience at university.
Continuing students will have the bursary paid monthly as usual, but funding arrangements for new students are very different this year to previous years, with student loans paid in termly instalments. If you are entitled to any placement expenses, these can take several weeks to be reimbursed.
Upfront planning will make it easier to manage these sporadic payments, giving you a clear overview of what you can budget for each month. It will also help prevent you lurching between periods of feast and famine, which could affect your ability to concentrate on your studies.
The starting point to budgeting is to work out what your total income is from all sources, then divide this over the year. Doing this at the start of the year, and again on a regular monthly basis, will help you plan accordingly.
Budgeting tools are available to help with this, or you can use a spending app. There are lots of free, highly recommended apps in the Google and Apple stores, some of which are specifically designed for students.
Online motivator tools, such as www.thedemotivator.co.uk, can help you cut down on spending on certain items – a week-day latte and bottle of water, for example, could be setting you back more than £800 per year.
If you have dependants, ensure you are getting any tax credits, universal credit or housing benefits you are entitled to. The rules around student entitlement to benefits are complex, so check out the RCN Student Money Guide or speak to your student union if you think you may be entitled.
If you need a job to supplement your income, planning ahead can help you work little and often, rather than doing a crazy number of hours when you unexpectedly find yourself without your rent money. Working a few hours regularly is also likely to have less impact on your studies.
Even with the best budgeting skills in the world, there may be times when using credit is unavoidable. If you do have to borrow money, try to do it as cheaply as possible. Speak to your bank about an interest-free overdraft to tide you over until you next get paid, and make sure any credit cards you take out have low or zero credit. Try to pay them back in full before interest starts accruing.
Payday lenders, who are increasingly targeting students, are to be avoided at all costs. The interest on payday loans can be extortionate, and you could end up in a stressful and exhausting debt spiral.
If you do find yourself with unmanageable debt, speak to someone sooner rather than later. Your student union will usually have a money adviser, and RCN members can speak to the RCN Welfare Service by calling 0345 408 4391.
Claire Cannings is RCN senior welfare adviser