Student finance: Soup and a busy social life

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The Independent Online
Helen Jones, 20, is an undergraduate studying for an HND/BSc (Hons) in media technology at Leeds Metropolitan University. Her first year at university has led to a deepening hole in her bank account

"I was really excited when I discovered I'd been accepted onto the course in Leeds. My mother and father are both careful with their money - a characteristic that hasn't been passed on to me. So they were apprehensive about me managing my own finances. Phrases like `Helen - don't waste your money', `economise', and `budget' were mentioned during my financial planning pep talk. I knew I had to watch what I was spending as my parents couldn't offer me a lot of financial support. To economise I had to `make lots of soup', because it's cheap and nutritious.

"I'd had a bank account before I went to university, so when it came to finding a suitable student account I went straight to the bank I was already with.

"I had a meeting with my account manager and we agreed to change my current account to a student account. They offered me a pounds 500 overdraft for the first year, pounds 1,000 for my second year, then a negotiable pounds 1,500 for my third and fourth year.

"The money I had for the year didn't quite cover my rent, so I took out a student loan. You can either have the money in three instalments over a year, in two instalments, or in one lump sum. I was very restrained and opted for the three-instalment payment.* It automatically goes into your bank account at the start of each term. I also got a part-time telephone job offering customers insurance on their credit cards. I worked shifts from 5-9pm on Tuesday and Thursday nights, for which I earned pounds 23 a week.

"At the end of my first year I have a deficit of pounds 2,000. I've never been in debt before and feel a bit concerned. But lots of my friends are in a similar position, which makes me feel better. I'm sure it will be alright when I get a job. I've got the summer to try and pay back my overdraft.

"I think I allocate money in the right amounts in relation to food, etc. It's taken a while to get my head round paying bills; I seem to spend loads on the phone bill. I've got a big family and a few friends down in London, but they usually phone me or I ring them during off-peak. My phone bill is still twice the amount of the others in my house!

"I go out about three times a week. Special student nights are run during the week by various pubs and clubs, and they do really good offers on drinks. In our student union on a Wednesday night, vodkas are pounds 1.75 for a treble with mixer. As a result, Thursday morning lectures have a low attendance.

"I'm going to be more careful with my money - I really don't want to find myself getting into too much debt."

* Helen has a mortgage-style loan, which is no longer offered to new students. Students starting after September 1998 are only eligible for student support loans, which are paid in three instalments. See page 3 for further details