Updated: Jan 3, 2021
By Dr Amy Kitchen
Starting university is a very exciting prospect, however the cost can be a little bit daunting. You are a sixth form student one minute - with little or no money to your name – and then the next you are handed a big loan from the government to do with as you please. It is tempting to run out and buy everything you could want, but each instalment of that money has to last you a few months, so it’s important to be careful with it.
Let’s talk about the overdraft. This is the money you’ve agreed you can borrow from the bank without interest, should you run out of money. This should be viewed as a back-up, a safety net, and not as an extra £1000+ to spend. Many banks will offer deals on “student accounts” including free things such as railcards, so shop around for one that suits your needs. They will explain in much better terms what your overdraft is and the conditions in which you can use it. Sometimes, the rent will be due before your loan comes in and you will have to dip into that overdraft, but as soon as the loan enters your account, it should put you back into the positives. Some people are forced to use their overdraft due to the cost of living, but it isn’t wise to intentionally use it for expensive holidays and electrical items, only to find out you literally don’t have enough money to eat.
Every student is able to get a set amount of student loan; however, some are eligible for higher amounts based on a number of factors such as household income. Some students will also be able to claim grants and it is worth looking at the university pages to see if you might be eligible. I was not eligible myself, but I know several people who really benefitted from these schemes. The idea of the schemes is to bridge the gap between students and ensure equal opportunities. For example, those who come from households that wouldn’t be able to afford laptops and textbooks are able to get funding to acquire those things.
Some people work so they can earn more money and make ends meet or live a little more luxuriously. I worked in college as a sales assistant and carried it on into my second semester of university. I did find balancing university and paid work tiring, particularly as I had to travel home for my job, however I appreciated having a financial cushion. There are plenty of jobs on and around campus in many universities, so if you want to earn a bit more cash, it’s worth keeping an eye out for them. Just remember that you also need to focus on your studies, as these can be very demanding.
Capitalise on the student deals. Everyone wants your money, but they realise you don’t have as much of it as their other customers. Many places offer discounts, vouchers and sometimes even completely free food. I can’t count the number of free Dominoes pizzas I’ve been given over the years.
Shop smart. I very quickly realised that big brand food tasted suspiciously similar to supermarket own brand versions and that a shop at Lidl or Aldi compared to most other stores cut my weekly grocery cost substantially. Part of the reason I know this is because I happened to be walking through Manchester when I was plucked off the streets by a marketing rep who was experimenting on taste of branded vs unbranded food and presented me with digestive biscuits, crisps and cola from own brand vs big brand. I couldn’t tell the difference, but my back account could. I’ve since been told that many of these items are made in the same factories and branded differently, but don’t quote me on that.
What about a car? No one can dispute the convenience of a car, but they are very expensive to run. If you’re in a city and everything you need is easily accessible, you can often go without one. I didn’t have a car for any of my time at university; I waited until I had qualified and had more reliable money coming in. However, one thing I did notice was that cars became a lot more common to own during clinical years, where placements would be further afield. Generally if you own a car in the clinical years, you are more likely to be sent further away to your placements, although some places will reimburse you for the petrol cost.
There are also competitions available for essay submissions or academic achievements. I had friends who earned themselves an extra couple of hundred pounds for such entries. I never entered these things; however, it is certainly something you could consider at your chosen university.
The elective placement. This is a placement that people undertake in their clinical years and usually involves several weeks working somewhere new. Most people take it as an opportunity to work abroad for a short time, but naturally it comes with a lot of costs. I decided not to go abroad for my elective and stayed at my current hospital. I had picked up a summer job between my fourth and fifth year to earn some extra money, as I was saving for a wedding. With the expense of a wedding on the horizon, I couldn’t justify the spend on an elective. However, it is a rare opportunity to try something new and there are plenty of options. There are charities and companies that support electives at discounted prices and the option to go to somewhere a little more local should not be overlooked. If you’re keen to go somewhere exotic in your elective, I’d start saving for it early and have a separate savings account. It’s much easier to save money when it isn’t in your current account. You can also enter competitions for bursaries to help with elective costs, although I’d be cautious about relying on these as the sole source of funding.
Living at home. Some people live close to their chosen university and therefore have the option of staying at home with their parents. There is no denying that this is the biggest money-saving move you can make as accommodation accounts for most of the cost. This is not a viable option for everyone, although plenty of people do take this approach. It may not provide the classic “university experience” that you’ve been looking for, although there’s no rule saying you can’t have a year of university accommodation and then return home for the remainder of the course. There are certainly benefits to living on your own, in terms of learning to cook and look after yourself, but if the option to live at home is there, it’s worth considering.
Medicine is one of the courses which almost certainly guarantees a job once you qualify. You might have to be frugal with your money as a student, but remember you are working towards a career with good pay. Just remember to budget your money and avoid unnecessary purchases. Apps might be helpful to track your finances and people do use them to good effect. I’ve not got a financial background myself, but I thought it might be helpful to share some knowledge and tips I picked up over the years of being a student. For me, university was a wonderful experience. Although money is an important consideration, also remember to just enjoy yourselves.