Student finance: A budget is key to your survival

A little self-restraint can go a long way when it comes to managing your money

When your first student loan payment arrives in your new student bank account it can feel like you've just won the lottery. The temptation to blow a substantial chunk of your apparent windfall on non-stop partying in the first term can be hard to resist. So how can you make sure you have some left after a dizzying first term?

If your account withstands the gargantuan flood of alcohol in freshers' week, you will have made it over the first big financial hurdle. You may even be grateful that you went down with freshers' flu by the Thursday and spent the next three days in bed, lacking the energy to go out and buy so much as an outdated prawn sandwich.

Top tips on surviving freshers' week and your first university year

  • Never take a credit card out on the town. When the cash in your pocket or purse is exhausted you will just have to resort to tap water.
  • Avoid the temptation to buy popularity by announcing: "The next round's on me." Even '50p a pint nights' aimed at students can empty your wallet.
  • "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Follow Polonius' advice to his son in Hamlet. New friendships can quickly fade if debts are not repaid.
  • Don't try and match the spending of students who come from wealthier homes. You will find it hard to keep it up over the year.
  • Budgeting is a dry-sounding concept to anyone of student age. Yet working out how much you will need to live on each week and sticking to it is the key to financial survival, without having to appeal to your already over-stretched parents (see weekly budgeting tips in the box below).
  • If you are renting a room in a shared house or flat, make that sure you squirrel enough away to cover your likely contribution to the electricity, gas and water bills. There's a lot to be said for the traditional piggy bank tucked away under the bed that you feed daily with your loose change.
  • Don't forget about your monthly standing orders. Mobile phone bills can also provide shocks. Make sure you shop around to get the best deal for the type of plan that suits your usage and avoid nasty surprises by asking your provider to cap your spending each month, if they offer this service.
  • With online banking it's easier than ever to keep track of your spending – check your account regularly, don't put it off for months and then get a terrible surprise when you see how reckless you've been. Don't consider your overdraft as free money. Zero interest rates can seem very appealing, but the day when you will have to start paying it back is closer than you think.
  • Take up an extracurricular activity rather than hanging out in cafés or shopping to pass the time. But don't join every society or club that sounds up your street, be it tiddlywinks or extreme sports. Subscriptions soon add up.
  • Search for second-hand textbooks. www.unilist.co.uk is a useful site. Also consider cheaper electronic editions.
  • Keep enough money back for some healthy foods to sustain your energy and brain power. It's always worth checking out the section of your local supermarket offering food about to go out of date, and pasta is always a good stand-by. Try to avoid buying lunch out every day. Make sandwiches instead. If you are in catered accommodation and want to supplement the food on offer, don't overdose on expensive sweets or snacks, instead, buy some fruit. www.graze.com offers good value healthy snacks for students delivered to your door.
  • Finally, think ahead. It's always a good idea to plan to have some money left over for your return home during the holidays or for travelling during the summer months. If you are canny enough to have had a good time while staying in the black, avoid the temptation to blow what you have left in the last week of term just for the sake of it.
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