MIDWEEK MONEY: Young, gifted and fighting to stay in the black

New students face a struggle to make ends meet. A budget is essential.
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The Independent Culture
According to the artist Jacques Lipchitz, "real richness is how you spend your money". While a good subject for an essay, it would be a very insensitive tutor who would propose the title for discussion. The simple fact of the matter is that today, student finances are stretched.

If you are starting university this term, it will probably be the first time that you have been entirely responsible for your entire living expenses.

Of course you will have managed your finances before, but this is different. Many things which until now you have taken for granted will no longer be there. Call it the toothpaste syndrome if you like. From now on when the tube is empty, you will have to go out and buy some more.

There is no formula which can guarantee your time at university is free from money pressures, but there are a few steps you can take to help avoid financial headaches. By now you should know what your resources are - your grant (if any); the contribution from your parents and any other sum which is available to your own savings and promises of cash from relatives. If you do not, then find out quickly.

If you are really on the ball you will have worked out some form of budget by now. It sounds old-fashioned, but when funds are short it is the only way forward. Whether you do your calculations on the back of an envelope, in a note book or on your PC, do something. Also, do not regard your first draft as a tablet of stone.

To work, a budget has to be monitored. Check at least once a week to make sure that you are on course. Keep a record of what you spend. Ideally you should have a list of priority expenditure - in other words differentiate between what you really have to have and things you would like in an ideal world. It is a good idea to keep a running total of your bank balance in your chequebook - do not forget cash machine withdrawals and any spending with your credit card.

One of the first hiccups that you are likely to discover is that in the real world income and expenditure do not always coincide. If your grant cheque is late, do not panic.

Students union welfare officers are used to sorting out problems with late grants swiftly and efficiently. Take any paperwork that you may have from your local education authority (LEA) along and ask if they can help.

Your parents may have promised to make a monthly allowance to you. However, your largest expenditure falls at the beginning of term when rent and tuition fees have to be paid and books bought. Should you find yourself temporarily embarrassed at the beginning of term stay calm, the problem can be solved.

If you are living in university accommodation, you will probably find that they are sympathetic with your request to pay both your rent and tuition fees in instalments.

Private landlords are not always so benevolent. If you cannot delay making payments, ask your bank for an overdraft.

All of the banks' student packages feature overdrafts, but it is important to ask before overdrawing. They will be impressed if you can produce figures showing what you will be spending the money on and future payments to the account.

Make sure you know the procedure form applying for a student loan. Forms are available from your university and you will need your original birth or adoption certificate as well as your National Insurance number - the award letter from your LEA will help speed up the process.

University life is not just about studying. To make the most of the experience allow some money for recreation and pleasure.

However, remember that your primary reason for being there is to obtain a good degree, so, do try and get the balance between socialising and work correct.

Finally, do not become prone to the "street credibility to the point of absurdity" syndrome. Acknowledge that if things go wrong financially your studies will suffer.

Seek advice quickly either from your bank, university welfare officer, tutor or parents. The longer a problem is left, the harder it will be to resolve.

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