The Fresher Refresher on Finances every new student needs

Iona Bain

Recently, I was on Woman’s Hour discussing what every student needs to know about money matters before hitting Freshers’ Week.

It was a short item, with not enough time to expand on some of the points I raised…good job I write a blog where I can cut loose then!

So here is my refresher on Fresher finances for you to peruse – maybe when you haven’t got a hangover though?

Some of these tips are oldies but goodies, others are newer hacks I’ve learned in recent times, hopefully all will be super-helpful if you’re starting uni this Autumn. Even if you aren’t – or you’re a student in the good old “university of life” – this advice will hold you in good stead down the years and can’t be repeated enough. So here we go…

Manage your expectations and train for change

Students are very often surprised when they discover how much of their student loan gets swallowed up in accommodation costs, then by basics like utilities and food. You can cope with this shock to the system if you have trained for change.

Start to actively monitor your daily spending, even before you step foot on campus. Whether you’re currently receiving a parental allowance or income from a job, treat this money as a substitute for your student loan and role-play how you would spend that money in day-to-day life at uni. Bonus points if you can ask your parents/guardians’ permission to do the weekly shop and prepare a few meals in the interim. You could download an app linked to a prepaid or debit card that shows you exactly how much you’re spending.

Some apps (like Loot) actually allow you to set a daily or weekly cap on spending and provide a visual cue (like a pie chart) that will help you see when you’re nearing your limits. This will soon get you in the budgeting zone. Alternatively, you might prefer to keep a spending diary. If you love your stationery porn (and who doesn’t), a lovely Moleskin or other type of smart notebook could boost your motivation.

Writing down what you’re spending will also help you see your choices starkly in black and white. Plus, it has the advantage of separating your finances from your smartphone (after all, getting distracted by Instagram, Youtube and the like…it happens to the best of us).

Knowledge is power

How much will your student loan be per term? What will your rent and utilities cost? How much will transport be (if you’re taking transport to campus and back?) Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted. Get to know the likely costs of  student life and put it all down on paper/on an app. If you’re not sure, check out your uni cribsheets or online information/forums, which are likely to provide some clues. Compare your likely income to the basic estimated outgoings and you’ll be left with a ballpark figure for spending. Break that down into a monthly and weekly amount. Now shit just got real!

Pay yourself a “salary”

Students usually have one bank account…and, er, that’s about it. But there’s a lot to be said for having two bank accounts, or at least one bank account and a separate prepaid card. Your main account can receive your student loan and pay all your basic bills (ideally by direct debit). Budget for the basics and make sure you ALWAYS have enough in the main account for what matters. You can then choose to shift a certain amount from your primary account into a secondary account for your food, travel and discretionary spending, or you could load up a pre-paid card with the amount you think you’ll need per day. Practice erring on the conservative side and seeing how little you can manage on – after all, you can always transfer some extra cash from your main account if you’ve been a bit too austere in your calculations. But this technique is a real budgeting lifesaver because it means you never have to worry about the basics (as you’ll already have them covered in the main account) and you’re physically distributing your student loan into separate “pots”.

Cash is your fwiend

It’s so easy to tap-tappity-tap away on contactless machines in pubs and shops, we forget that we’re spending real money. So keep it real folks – take out some cash from those old-fashioned things called ATMs whenever you’re planning a night out or heading to the shops. Leave your card at home and enjoy the safety of knowing you won’t blow your entire student loan (and dignity) on sambuccas, Ubers and Dominos all in one evening.

Embrace Home Eccie 


Trust me when I tell you that having a few basic recipes under your belt will make you feel like a superhuman who can take on the world. It’s not just the financial boost that will help you feel more confident and capable – though the cost difference between rustling up your own meals and calling up Deliveroo is sizable. You’ll also feel so much better and able to cope with uni life if you’re not living on junk. Taking shortcuts in this area really ain’t worth it. There’s lot of excellent advice and help out there which I won’t replicate here but an original tip is to make sure you have a capsule fridge/cupboard. Stock up on versatile basics you can mix and match with lots of different meals – especially long-life ingredients you can just bung in the cupboard. Do a weekly shop (old-fashioned but it works) and plan your meals, making sure you can put your ingredients to hard work (if that fennel is only going to get used once…) And get to know your freezing prerogative. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff can be kept fresh by putting it in the freezer, and this opens up so many possibilities – cooking in batches at a quiet time, for instance. Prepping meals in advance means one have one less thing to worry about at the end of a long day in lectures/le Pub/the weird-ass society you joined in Freshers Week and are too polite to quit…

Got any more tips? Let me know – leave a comment or tweet @ionayoungmoney

This Post Has One Comment

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    Shelly Chadha

    Great post Iona! I wish I came across this article when I was a fresher, would’ve saved me from a lot of unnecessary spending! I think back and cringe about how reckless I was with my money, when simply just meal-prepping or taking cash out before a night out could’ve saved me from being swallowed up in student debt, but you live and you learn ey? I am curious though, were you always this money-savvy? Also, totally agree with you on prepaid credit cards, they are great for budgeting and I don’t think I could go without one now! Thanks for sharing, and I am looking forward to reading some of your other posts 🙂

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