Where did all the money go?

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The Independent Online

Welcome to the real world. Leaving the cosy, padded nest of your parents' home and moving away to university or college can a be a real shock to the system. Many first-year students soon realise that living costs are much higher than they anticipated and drastic measures have to be taken by Christmas in order to pull their finances back to some kind of order. But it doesn't have to be a complete nightmare; there are over a million students in full-time higher education this year so it is far from impossible.

Welcome to the real world. Leaving the cosy, padded nest of your parents' home and moving away to university or college can a be a real shock to the system. Many first-year students soon realise that living costs are much higher than they anticipated and drastic measures have to be taken by Christmas in order to pull their finances back to some kind of order. But it doesn't have to be a complete nightmare; there are over a million students in full-time higher education this year so it is far from impossible.

One of the first things you'll find is that there are all sorts of costs attached to services you took for granted while living at home. For example: no more lifts from your parents means taxi fares; it costs at least a fiver to do a load of washing in the launderette; a television licence costs over a hundred quid (and yes you do have to get one if you are a student); and the daily expenses of living really mount up. Many students also find that scraping together the thousand pounds a year for course fees is a major drama, though this can usually be paid in instalments, which can lighten the load.

You will soon learn to adapt to life as a poverty-stricken student; give it a term and you'll be bargain-spotting in the shops. When times are hard and you get fed up of pasta and peas, just remember that in a few years time it will all be worth it - you may even look back and laugh.

Travel costs can be reduced if you live in London by applying for a student travel discount card, which gives you a discount of up to 30 per cent on tube and bus fares. But probably the best way to save money is to buy yourself a push bike and get some exercise in too! Flashing your NUS card at every opportunity is the best way to try and get discounts on everything from pizza to swimming.

Of course, the easiest way to make your money last is to drop any expensive tastes or habits you may have. Get rid of your mobile phone, forget about running a car and give up smoking (it's a filthy habit anyway). You can help yourself out by taking on a part-time job, if you are prepared to learn to manage your time as well as your money.

To avoid added financial hardship make sure that you apply for your student loan as soon as you receive the request form from your Local Education Authority (LEA), then (fingers crossed) your loan cheque should be there waiting for you when you get to university. If you apply late then it will only be you to blame when you are still waiting for your cash in December.

If you do get into trouble, don't try to ignore it, as debt doesn't go away - it just gets worse and worse. Seek advice from your parents; they may well understand as student debt has been well publicised in the media recently. If your parents are not able (or willing) to help you out of your debt then you should approach your student union for advice, as many offer hardship funds to help you out. If you do screw up your finances in your first term, take solace in the fact that nearly everybody does.

Being a student will teach you more than just the subject you chose. How hard the lessons are depends on how careful you are with your funding.

Lola Brown is Communications Officer at South Bank University

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