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Managing on a shoestring

Money Matters
With celebrations of exam results still under way, you're already dreaming of your new-found freedom away from the family home - but the chances are you haven't yet have given a thought to the financial aspects of your new lifestyle. Learning the monetary facts of life can be painful - and as a new student you'll be particularly vulnerable.

The chances are that until now you've lived all your life within the family environment. Then you are suddenly given a bank account and what's almost certainly the largest sum of money you have ever had and told to fend for yourself.

It's a far cry from managing your pocket money. "I've had a great time, but I just do not know where this term's money's gone," was a remark overheard outside a lecture theatre. The words of a first-year student - spoken not at the end of term, but at the end of the second week.

There will always be irresponsible students - but even the cautious can find it tough when thrown into a new lifestyle. One of the problems is that both you and your parents are entering the unknown. The starting point for estimating the costs of university life is often the total level of state funding - the full grant and student loan. But this covers the absolute basics and ignores regional differences in the cost of the largest outlay in any student budget - accommodation.

So head for the phone. Ring the accommodation office or the students' union to discover the average rents or hall fees. After that, work out the cost of food, travel, laundry, toiletries, insurance, entertainment, books and equipment. Perhaps there is someone from the year above you at school who is now back at home after a first year as a student. Invite them round - preferably when your parents are home - and you can all learn from their experiences.

By now you should know the level of grant you will receive (if any), the parental contribution you are expecting and the maximum student loan for which they may apply. Bringing these parts of the equation together, you and your parents can see the overall picture. It is unlikely that income and estimated expenditure will balance. Can spending be cut, do they have savings, can you get a part-time job? By exploring the situation together, you will have a greater appreciation of the problems involved.

While parents like to do the best for their children, this has to be within their financial means. So you have to look for savings that will be comparatively painless. For instance, you don't have to buy every book on a reading list. You can save pounds by making use of the library and buying second-hand.

The last thing you may want is a lecture on how to budget. But you and your parents will benefit from detailed research and serious discussionn

John Andrew