Get Your Students Serious About Finance
“Money, money, money,” as Abba once posited so philosophically, “is an absolute nightmare.” Or something to that effect, at least. All the things we could do if we had a little money, eh? As teachers, we know the feeling.
But you know who’s often even skinter than teachers? Students. Sure, there might be a few youngsters in the mix whose parents have bought them a house to live in during their studies, and who will receive a regular shoe and booze allowance, but they are definitely in the minority. For the majority of students, finding a quid down the back of the sofa is like winning the lottery, and when things are really bad, money worries can even interfere with studies. Potential financial barriers to learning include a hungry stomach, the inability to pay for transport to campus, and the stress of a red utility bill.
With all that in mind, here’s the lowdown on giving your students a healthy dose of financial education. It’s not just for university; it’s a lesson for life.
A penny in the piggy bank
Setting off to university can be expensive, with a number of things to pay up-front. Rent should be covered by their maintenance loan, but textbooks, bedding, travel season tickets etc. are all out-of-pocket expenses at the start of term. Saving up in advance can be a real lifesaver here.
Encourage your students to put aside a set amount of money each week in the lead up to their degree starting. If they can save just £5-10 a week (from a part-time job or an allowance) from January, when their UCAS forms are submitted and things are ramping up, then by the end of September they should have between £200 and £400 to get them set up in their new digs and their new life.
Parents can even get involved, picking an affordable ratio to supplement those savings (for comfortably-off families, they might match or double savings each week, while others might add £1 for every £5 saved, for example).
And don’t forget interest! Checking out a range of savings accounts and ISAs to find the best rate will boost the final sum a smidgeon, and every little counts.
Most students will be taking out loans for tuition fees and maintenance, but it might not cover the cracks entirely. If the maintenance loan leaves no room for living, there are other ways to borrow money.
Make sure your students know about the full range of funding available. During the application process, they should check out any bursaries offered by the uni itself, as many institutions give a lump sum - no strings, not repayable - to students with low household incomes.
Banks are typically falling over themselves between June and October to secure the business of students, so they might offer interest-free overdrafts as part of their attractive packages. Of course, borrowing money is a serious responsibility, and should only be utilised if the student is confident of their ability to repay within the timeframe.
Additionally, family members might be willing to offer interest-free loans (though they should also arrange a deadline and repayment schedule to ensure that everyone’s intentions are good).
Pick up a pay packet
Some jobs might prove too disruptive to studies (serving in a club until 03:00am is going to seriously impede a person’s ability to learn in a 09:00am lecture, for example) but there are a whole host of part-time opportunities around. From Saturdays in retail to evenings waiting tables, weekends in a call centre or an hour here and there as a cleaner, there are many flexible jobs to fit around studies.
Other ways to earn money include signing up to the university’s psychology trials (think along the lines of £10 for a 30 minute instruction-following task, or £15 for keeping a week-long food diary); selling last year’s textbooks (if they know they won’t be used in future modules); and taking part in online survey sites.
Hey, big spender
Saving, borrowing and earning will all boost a student’s income, but it’s not much use if it’s all getting blown on Sambuca and steaks. Careful spending is crucial in maintaining a sustainable student lifestyle, and it starts with a budget.
Because student income is sporadic (e.g. monthly wages, thrice-yearly maintenance loans, occasional psychology studies) it makes sense to create a budget to allow for these financial fluctuations. There are a number of excellent templates available to make the whole thing a piece of cake, so whether it’s an Excel spreadsheet or an iPhone app, there’s no excuse not to keep track of cash-flow. It’s especially helpful in preparing for pinch-points, such as needing to buy textbooks or equipment at the start of the year, or presents at Christmas.
Speaking of supplies, if the correct editions are available, it can be much cheaper to buy books secondhand, either from other students or on Facebook, eBay or Amazon.
Transport can be expensive, but most students don’t need to run a car, which is easily the biggest money-pit around. With good timekeeping, students can probably walk most places they need to go, especially in cities. It’s not always going to be possible, especially with heavy books or if they’re coming home late from work or the library, so get them to look into ways to cut costs on public transport. A student railcard will save them a third off train tickets, and almost all bus providers offer discounts if you buy long-term travel passes in advance.
If their tenancy allows it, students should use a comparison site to find the best value supplier for their water, gas, electric and internet. As for mobile phones, contracts are usually better value than pay-as-you-go, and if they set up the campus wifi on their devices, they won’t have to use so much data. Utilities need not be hideously expensive.
One major expense is food, of course, and there are dozens of ways to spend less on eating (that don’t involve, well… not eating). It starts with choosing an inexpensive supermarket: spending £2 on a bus ticket to Aldi, which might be five miles away, is going to save a lot more money overall than just popping to Waitrose because it’s only down the road.
Looking high and low on shelves - literally - will reveal the cheapest products, as supermarkets tend to put the pricier versions in the shoppers’ eye liner. A tin of sweetcorn from a supermarket saver range might be hidden away by the floor but could be 30p instead of 80p.
Offers are good, but only if they don’t get carried away. A BOGOF (buy one get one free) on a cupboard essentials such as rice, pasta or toilet roll is worth snapping up, but multi-buys aren’t always good value, especially when shopping for one. No individual could eat 10kg of potatoes before they start sprouting at the end of the week.
Cooking from scratch is always cheaper. Maintaining a stock cupboard with a few basics such as oil, mustard, mixed herbs, paprika and garlic will make it possible to cook tasty food cheaply, without having to resort to expensive ready-made options. The same goes for tinned beans and chickpeas, frozen peas, and dried noodles and pasta.
Housemates might choose to club together for certain items, as buying in bulk often works out cheaper. A whole chicken (instead of fillets), a huge bag of rice, or large bottles of olive oil will be cheaper per gram than the smaller alternatives.
Former scouts know to always be prepared, but do they spend too much on meals? Taking a packed lunch will usually be much cheaper than an impulse visit to a coffee shop, fast food joint or buying sandwiches from the shop. It doesn’t need to take long to prepare, either: a humous and red pepper wrap, or a cheese and tomato sandwich are both cheap and easy. A reusable cup of coffee saves £2-4 too: money which could be better spent elsewhere.
Loyalty cards are great for students, too. Whether it’s a free coffee in Costa (if they really can’t do without!) or Tesco Clubcard points which can be converted into days out, train tickets and magazine subscriptions, it’s always worth keeping them handy and saving points wherever possible.
And now, an uncomfortable truth: students do have the unfortunate stereotype of being drunken hedonists, playing drinking games and collecting roadsigns, and whilst this couldn’t be further from the truth for many, there’s no smoke without fire. For a lot of young people, going off to uni is their first taste of independence, and they go a little… wild with it. Getting utterly wasted isn’t a particularly cheap pastime, however. Here are a couple of suggestions to cut the entertainment costs:
- Most cinemas offer cheap days or mornings when tickets are a fraction of the price compared to normal.
- Students can explore their new stomping ground at a low cost by enjoying walks, picnics, free open-air concerts, museums etc.
- Students heading out for drinks should make the most of cheap campus bars, or time their trip to coincide with happy hour.
- Alternating drinks with tap water still provides the same amount of social time in the bar, but their livers and their wallets will be extra grateful. Additionally, they could try heading to the pub an hour later than usual, meeting first at home or outdoors, to reduce how many rounds they are likely to buy over the course of the night.
Live in the present
When it comes to gift buying, they can keep it simple. Most family and friends will be happy that they just remember and send a card, with no need to a gift, but if a present is called for, they should think outside the box. It could be an evening of free babysitting for the big sister, a wash and hoover of Mum’s car, or breakfast in bed and a foot-rub for the love interest.
The takeaway message when it comes to financial fabulosity is that it’s all in the planning. Budget in advance, shop for groceries carefully, pack lunches, time evenings out with forethought, buy termly bus passes… Fast is often not frugal, so get your students thinking ahead to make sure they have a fantastic, not frantic, study experience.