To be brutally honest, student life is expensive. Being at university, often not working in term-time, yet expected to go out as much, if not more, than your average non-student, will place an inevitable strain on your finances. Following my first year at university my bank balance certainly reflects this strain, but by paying some attention to my financial situation before starting university and continually throughout the year, I have managed to avoid total disaster. By combining the funds from your student loan, money earned through paid work, parental support, and a little self-restraint, it is possible to have a great time at university without spending it all in the red.
Parental support has been essential to me. At Oxford, the academic workload means that part-time work during the term is not a viable option, and students are advised to work for limited stretches in the holidays. I am fortunate that my parents still feel responsible for ensuring that I am housed and fed, but I try not to depend too much on them.
A monthly allowance has however been quite indispensable, given that I spend almost all my student loan immediately, paying my termly "battels" (Oxford-speak for bills to the college for accommodation, and some food). Receiving money from my parents in monthly installments works best for me because I do not have the self-discipline to budget across a whole term. The danger of receiving a lump sum at the beginning of term is that you will probably spend it a lot faster than you anticipated. While I have friends who are capable of budgeting by the week, I have to admit that I tend to spend with gay abandon until the cash point bluntly refuses to permit a withdrawal.
Because my reserves dwindled towards the end of the month, I have to monitor my outgoings carefully, usually using internet banking. Expenditure can be reduced dramatically by going out less, or by avoiding the temptations of the high street.
Having worked for several months at the end of my gap year, I was fortunate enough to have a fairly substantial amount saved up, which I came to appreciate mid-year. Some sort of fund from which you can draw throughout the year is very useful. An overdraft serves the same purpose, but I have tried to avoid becoming heavily overdrawn, despite it being interest-free; the experiences of friends have shown it is difficult to climb out of the red.
I have found that a summer job not only brings in the cash, but also gives structure to the long summer vacation. Most of my friends have also worked for at least part of the summer, because parents cannot be viewed as an eternal source of beer money. Taking control of your finances, and responsibility for your spending is a liberating feeling, and whilst office work in the summer months may not seem that appetising, it makes you feel like you really deserve that first drink of the term.
Zoë Flood is studying history and politics at Keble College, OxfordReuse content