Keep an eye on your income and spending and you’ll find it much easier to manage your money

For many of you, university is the first time that you will be entirely responsible for handling your own finances. It can be a confusing time, especially when your student loan arrives: it is all too easy to feel artificially rich and blow the lot. Getting a clear idea of your incoming and outgoing finances throughout the year should help you to keep the pounds and pennies in order; here’s our handy guide…



OUTGOINGS

Tuition fees

As the name would suggest, these fees cover the costs of your course and, essentially, pay for your tutors to turn up and teach you. The cost of these fees varies enormously depending on which university, degree subject and area of the UK you choose. Tuition fees could be anything up to £3,225 in the 2009/2010 academic year and it’s unlikely to get any lower any time soon. So, check the details of what your course costs on the UCAS website.

Accommodation

Unless you buy a tent, your accommodation will probably be your biggest outgoing. In your first year you should be able to get university accommodation, which will keep the costs down. When you move into second year you might have to rent a house; this will be more expensive, but sharing with other students can spread the costs. Also bear in mind that if everyone who is living in a property is a student you don’t have to pay any council tax; your student union will be able to advise you on this.

Food

Unless you’re living in catered halls, your food bill will be one of your biggest expenses: most students expect to spend around £40-a-week on shopping. To keep costs low you should find the cheap supermarkets nearby or bulk-buy from a cash and carry.

Course equipment

Text books and lab equipment for your course are just some of the big costs you might have to cover. In each case, keep an eye out for student retailers and remember that your NUS card provides a range of discounts. Another good idea is to check departmental noticeboards to see if students want to sell their old stuff.

Social life

Everyone knows that an active social life is an integral and enjoyable part of the university experience. When planning a night out, try and stick to hard cash rather than paying on plastic and plan a few big nights out rather than getting into the habit of nipping into the union to celebrate Tuesday afternoon.

Travel

Buy a cheap bike (with a helmet and a bike lock), or a travel card that covers a whole term, to reduce travel costs. Or, cheapest of all, walk everywhere!

INCOMING

Bursaries

If you are paying maximum tuition fees but you are also receiving the full maintenance grant then your university should automatically offer you a bursary to help cover the cost of your fees. The size of these bursaries varies widely, so when checking the cost of your course don’t forget to see what your university offers in this regard.

Scholarships and other grants

A wide range of scholarships and grants are available based on a diverse and sometimes bizarre set of criteria, such as subject studied, place of birth and even whether your parents were airline pilots! Details of scholarships are on www.scholarship-search.org.uk, while the Educational Grants Advisory Service at www.egas-online.org.uk/fwa/index.html can also reveal what payments you might be eligible for.

Employment

Forty-one per cent of students do some part-time work, but most universities recommend you work no more than 15 hours-a-week. Your university careers service is a good place to find employers who will allow flexible working to fit in with your studies, and don’t forget that if you earn less than £6,035 during the tax year (which runs April to April) then you won’t need to pay any tax on earnings. Speak to your employer about filling in a P38(S) form before you start work to avoid any complications.

Bank overdrafts

Many banks do not charge interest on student accounts while you are studying. However, don’t forget to check what the charges are if you go over your overdraft limit, and find out when the interest rate changes after you graduate. Shop around!

Any other income

Don’t forget that there are thousands of offers open to students and even a whole load of freebies available from sites such as www.moneysavingexpert.com and www.freecycle.org, all of which could save you some serious cash.

STUDENT LOANS AND GRANTS

It seems like every year the system behind student loans and maintenance grants is changed, meaning that many people are left confused about what they are eligible for and how to access cash that is rightfully theirs. However, follow our handy guide and you will find yourself right on the money…

Student loans

For English students studying full-time in higher education, there are two types of student loans available. The first is to cover the cost of your tuition fees and can be anything up to £3,145. This loan is paid directly to your university so you’ll never even see it – until it comes time to pay it back!

The second is to help with your living costs, 25 per cent of which is means-tested, based on considerations such as your parents’ income, where you are studying and whether you live at home. Everyone can apply for 75 per cent of the full loan regardless of household income. For the current academic year the full loan is anything up to £6,475, which is paid into students’ bank accounts at the start of each term.

You need to repay all of your loan but the interest rates on this borrowing is linked to inflation (3.8 per cent for the current academic year) and is only repayable once you have graduated and are earning at least £15,000.

Maintenance grants

Maintenance grants are an allowance of money paid by your local authority to help you cover the cost of your education. The best bit about grants, which could be anything up to £2,835, is that they don’t have to be paid back.

How much you’ll get is dependent on your household income – in most cases this is what your parents earn but it can also include any of your own earnings. If your household income is up to £25,000 per year then you could qualify for a full maintenance grant, but even when household income is anything up to £60,005 you should still qualify for a partial grant (even if it’s just £50 per year). If you do qualify the grant will be paid straight into your bank account.

How do I apply?

To find out whether you’re eligible and how much you can get, the easiest thing to do is visit www.studentfinancedirect.co.uk, which has calculators on the site to allow you to work out roughly what you should get.

You can also fill out a PN1 form online, which will automatically cover your application for your student loans and maintenance grants, and alert your university if you're eligible for any bursary payments to help cover the costs of your tuition fees.

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