Make your cash last the course

Student finance: how to keep your spending under control and which banks to turn to for the best deals on borrowing

Students who've secured a place at university this autumn have to learn to love their bank. No one pretends the maximum student loan of pounds 3,635 is going to cover all expenses - let alone pay for student leisure pastimes. You need to sort out your basic living costs before you go up to college, so you know how much you are likely to need to borrow.

Dr Monty White, student adviser at Cardiff University, estimates a student in the city will spend pounds 3,240 a year on just living, including rent. A pounds 3,635 maximum loan leaves pounds 13.17 a week for R&R - that is before up to pounds 1,025 for tuition fees. He says bluntly: "Students haven't got the money for expensive clothes, holidays or cars." Many get into trouble as they never had to budget at home. The sensible ones seek help from campus student advisers.

Connie Craig, student financial adviser at Belfast University, says: "The first thing I do when students come to me is to establish their income and expenditure position. This involves ensuring the student is receiving everything to which they're entitled, and discussing a realistic budget with them."

Most universities provide a budget planner. If you don't get one, check Sussex University's Student Financial Health Guide website (see below for address).

As students get three large loan payments, not a monthly income, budgeting is particularly hard. Dr White says: "Students have what is called a 'lumpy income', while their expenditure is far from lumpy. Budgeting can be quite difficult." A lump sum creates illusions of wealth. Ms Craig says: "Often new students find their spending spiralling out of control."

Pressure to spend starts in Freshers' Week, when various societies and promotions vie for your cash. You need to be absolutely firm about what you can spend before you start college - and don't pay up-front for a club membership you may never use. Wait until life has settled down before you decide.

Jim Thompson, welfare adviser at Edinburgh University, says: "If students feel they're going to struggle, they should contact the welfare services as soon as possible. If they've got into a mess, they should never feel it is too late to seek financial help."

Students seeking a place via Clearing need to consider location. Inside London they can get a loan pounds 622 a year more than those outside. But living costs in other large cities can also be high. Graeme McAulay, president of Edinburgh University student association, says: "The Scottish Parliament may decide to give an extra allowance for students studying in the capital like those in London get extra."

The Alternative Guide to British Universities, 2000, published by the Royal Bank of Scotland and Virgin, gives an idea of costs in different places around the UK. Andrea Aiken, the bank's head of student banking, says: "Students [need to consider] how much the whole experience is going to cost."

The guide says private accommodation in Edinburgh can cost up to pounds 50 a week, against pounds 35 in Staffordshire. Cardiff students will find a pint of beer can costs up to pounds 1.90. If you have only that pounds 13.17 leisure money you could buy two rounds with two (loyal) friends each week.

If you're short of cash, you could get a part-time job. Sarah Douglas, a Rights and Advice centre adviser at University College London says: "Limited work not only helps [students] pay their fees, but also gives them valuable work experience." But she adds: "Time spent on a job should not interfere with their [academic] work."

James Leighton, now studying for a masters in economics at Cardiff, found work via Uni-Staff, the university's own job shop. Uni-Staff mainly finds students menial work on campus, but also has links to city firms. With no grant, James found a full-time, second-year summer job at a department store. He now works 71/2 hours a week for Uni-Staff. He says: "If I need more hours, I can get them."

John Sander, student employment officer at Sussex says: "Given an increasing number of students are working, there is a growing interest in providing opportunities for students to improve their skills and employability." Napier University now runs a module encouraging students to reflect on their work experience, focusing on team work and key skills. If you pick your work placements carefully they can significantly help with finances (see story, left).

Links: Sussex University 'Student Financial Health Guide', www.susx.ac.uk. For full listing and links to uni job shops, try Manchester's www.man.ac.uk.

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