Thursday 18th April 2024

How to talk to your kids about money at university

Money University

What do the UK’s students think about money? The truth is, many don’t think about it much at all until they land on campus – by which time they’ve already shelled out for rent, books, and bills, and have a long term of cut-price beans to look forward to.

Lots of students tell us they arrive at uni unprepared for the challenges of money management – which is why they rely on sites like Save the Student to plug their knowledge gaps, from building a budget to making cash at uni or scraping by on student finance!

Whether your kids are at uni, or are thinking about going, here are the most common things students (and parents) want to know: the answers may be illuminating, or they may just give you a way to kick-start the money conversation at home.

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How am I going to make it through this term?

It’s not until you get to university that the reality of living on the maintenance loan kicks in – and, for most students, it’s just not enough to get by. So, how do you cope when cash is in short supply?

Start by finding out where you stand: grab a bit of paper and list all your income in one column, and all your costs in another.

The balancing act: keep your costs in check with your income. Ditch anything non-essential and look for ways to slash the price on everything else.

The goal: to cover your costs and have enough left over for fun (and emergencies!)  – and that means finding ways to spend less, or earn more.

The secret sauce is that there’s extra student finance you may not know about:

  • The university’s hardship fund may be able to help if money woes are the result of something unexpected, such as losing a part time job. To find out more about this, contact your university’s welfare office.
  • Some charities have funds that could bail you out. Search the Turn2us grants calculator.

Other sources include scholarships (including those for sporting talent, and specific subjects), career incentives, and council cash. If you – as a parent or partner – have been a member of a trade union or other professional body, there may be funds you can access through them as well.

Should I borrow if I need extra cash?

Borrowing usually makes lenders better off, so it’s not something you want to do without a plan. Unless you’ve got regular employment income, be especially wary of high-interest loans of any kind.

  • Arrange a 0% overdraft (only available with student bank accounts): managed properly, they can be a way to borrow from the bank for free.
  • Don’t be scared of credit cards (but don’t go nuts with them, either!). Paying for items of £100+ by credit card gets you ‘Section 75’ protection against problems with the retailer, even if you only pay for the deposit by credit card.
  • Read the small print, and budget for repayments. Most forms of credit come with charges for missed or late payments – set calendar reminders so you never pay more than you need to.

Learning how to manage credit well can pay off for years to come. A good credit history can help you secure essential borrowing (and on better terms) when you really need it – for a mortgage, for instance. And when you know how it works, it doesn’t have to be a rip-off.

Can I ask my family for help?

With almost 70% of students listing their parents as a source of income in our National Student Money Survey 2016, it’s a question many families have to deal with sooner or later. Here’s what it boils down to:

  • Can you afford to drop any more cash in the pot? The Student Finance sums are based on what they think parents should be contributing, but that isn’t going to magic any more money into your wallet!
  • Don’t feel guilty if you can’t hand over cash. Even packing up leftovers into (healthy, balanced) ready meals makes a big difference to students who might be tempted to skip meals to pay bills.
  • Get to grips with how Student Finance works and you’ll spend less of your life listening to call centre music trying to get answers.
  • Learn how taxable and non-taxable income affects Student Finance (and, later on, loan repayments) – it’ll stop you being short-changed or over-charged.
  • Challenge yourself to be clued-up about money management; from working a budget to always getting the best deal on spending, seeing it done for real makes it an easy habit to copy.
  • What happens if it goes wrong? It’s easy to blow an entire term’s allowance on stationery and stickers when you’ve never had to manage your cash before. Can your kids tell you they’ve bungled it? What’s the back-up plan?

Putting it into practice

What’s the best way to lessen hardship while studying? It’s about getting an accurate idea about how much living at university costs before you get there, and planning ahead to get the resources – and cash – you need, when you need them.

It’s never too late to start, though. From inventive ways to earn money, to ensure you’re never knowingly under-funded, there’s tonnes of help out there, so make sure you grab it!

Ruth Bushi

Guest blog written by Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student. Featuring the kind of straight-talking advice you won’t get at school, the site has everything you need to know about managing money without the migraines: student finance explained, insider info on careers, plus ways to save and scrimp without the stress.

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