Starting college is a time for firsts: This could be the first time you’ve lived away from home, the first time you’ve had to manage your money, or both.
One of the main questions is what you should take with you. Do you really need a pack of four strainers? Is it worth buying an ironing board? When money – and space – is tight, you don’t want to buy things you don’t really need but some items that will improve your life while you’re there.
Another way is how to make the most of your money while studying. In the Save the Student 2020 Money Survey, 71% of respondents said they wish they had a better financial education before they started college. One in four was not aware of the many scholarships, grants, and bursaries available to fund their education, which means they are likely to miss them.
Guardian Money has a financial guide for students, starting with advice from people who have had college life experience. We asked them what financial advice they would give their former selves, and what was the most useful item they bought for university.
Anthony James Noumenin, 22
Fourth year Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen
Know how much money you have and keep track of what you spend. Even if you don’t jot down the budget (in your phone notes, for example), try to get a rough estimate of your financial condition in your head. Also, cooking at home really saves you money.
As silly as it may sound, a decent half skillet will get you far. You can cook most things in a skillet, from curry to bacon and eggs. It can be tough spending 15 pounds on it now but trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.
Goodkind Summer, 21
Graduated in June 2021, English at the University of Nottingham
If I could give myself some fresher advice, I would do it in two parts: Object I – do whatever you want to do (within reason, of course). One of the biggest lessons covid gave me was that I have to take every opportunity when it comes – you only go to uni once and so if you want to go to the club night everyone is going to but you also want to save, try and make it work. The best way to do this would be my second tip, though: budget every week or month. Don’t underestimate the value of organizing and limiting how much you can spend. It can seem a little confusing in the first few weeks of uni when you see your student loan come off and a great balance that you think you can spend all at once. Break it down and find out how to spend it better.
Oh, and also shop at Aldi.
My best investment has to be board games. With countless lockdowns and isolation, my housemates and I have constantly had to find new ways to entertain ourselves. You can only watch TV for hours on end, and once you’ve reached your limit, backgammon is the perfect solution.
Matilda Head, 20
Third year Psychology at Cambridge University
Don’t get too excited about an overdraft or student loan. Be reasonable and set aside a certain amount of money for each week or month. It’s OK to shell out money once or twice a week on takeaways or a night out, and it wouldn’t be a college experience without it, but the overindulgence will leave you scrambling for cash very quickly – I speak from experience.
After I lost my room key on the night of the second renovation, my sister gave me the great idea of attaching the bracelet to a bracelet I could wear every day. I could never live without it because I would constantly lose my room key. Walking the odd pajama-clad, usually without shoes, to pick up the spare key is an embarrassment I don’t want to put up with.
Aoifke McGuire-France, 20
Third year English literature at Durham University
Have a separate account where you keep a small amount of cash – maybe £20 – and use it as your ‘exit card’. My college town is very cheap for a night out, that’s why the amount is kinda small; You spend less at night but also if you lose your bank card or wallet you will lose only £20 instead of the entire student loan.
Wireless headphones. I bought some for about £30 and they cover my ears – perfect for cold mornings on the way to lectures as they keep the ears warm. When you’re in the library, the design blocks more sound and is more comfortable to wear too. Plus, noisy roommates or neighbors are often inevitable – if you want to blast some music when you’re cleaning or need to focus when studying with good sound quality, it’s ideal. I use mine every day
Lauren McGonn, 20
Third year American Politics and Studies at the University of Nottingham
Shop smart. There’s a lot you don’t factor in when starting a uni, like expensive textbooks, community membership, and unexpected nights out, so really thinking about your priorities is important from the start. Also, despite the temptation to buy Tesco Finest takeaways, these items can add up very quickly and I spent a lot on this in the first year. Although budgeting is a pain and something no one wants to do, I wish I had stuck with this in my first term as I had no real idea of what I was spending, which meant I had to cut back in my second term.
Storage Bins: There’s nowhere near enough closets in single rooms – although buying several storage boxes can be expensive, they’re well worth the investment. They have been very useful for me to store everything from clothes to books and stationery. You can also stack them on top of each other to save space and use them when needed.
Mansi Vithlani, 21
3rd year Journalism, City University London
As a student living in London, the lifestyle can be very expensive. Even if I did open a student account I would recommend getting another card like Monzo – every month I would set aside money in that account for spending like travel and small food shops and only extra money if I’m low on my existing student account. This also helps with budgeting and can ensure that you never reach zero pounds during the semester, and can help you avoid getting into an overdraft.
One of the best things I have invested in is the snack drawer, which was especially useful during my first year and turned into a snack basket the second year. Also, it may sound a little cheesy, but I can’t live without the comfort of home like my favorite teddy bear (or multiple).
Joel Rosen, 21
Third year, history at Cambridge University
Never buy a book that you can borrow from a library.
Friends are more important than anything you can buy on Amazon. For the first few weeks, try to find the people you click with. Things can make a room feel like home, but people who will come without warning will make it feel like home.
Fourth year Journalism, Media and Communication at Cardiff University
Don’t waste all your money on luxuries once the first loan falls. We’ve all wanted to go and buy a new Fifa, or a new phone, but the budget is tough and a whole new experience for most people, so you’ll want to get as much money as possible for food, nights out, and bills.
Detachable laptop stand, keyboard and mouse. It makes you more likely to work at a desk rather than in bed, giving you a critical distinction between work time and rest time.
Anna Suffolk, 20
Third year English and Film at the University of Birmingham
Create a separate bank account or card for your loan or spending money. I use Monzo, which I transfer money to on a weekly basis. It tracks all your spending in categories, so you can budget more easily.