College life costs more than you think - but budgeting helps

Once that hard-won college offer has been accepted, figuring out paying for it is next step


It may be the best days of your life, but going to college may also be one of the most expensive times, particularly if you are not in a position to take on a part-time job. Food, travel, accommodation, books, computers, not to mind a hefty student contribution charge and a packed social life, can all conspire to make third level a pricey experience.

But doing a bit of research, and remembering the word “budget” – and how to apply it – can stand you in good stead to make the most of these years.

Your bed

If you still have to make a decision on where you are going to college (or have it made for you perhaps in round two of the CAO offers this week), it might be wise to take a quick glance at how much studying in various cities around Ireland will cost you.

A cursory look at the table shows that it is typically far cheaper to live off-campus with a bunch of fellow students than it is to pay for an on-campus residence.

However, for first-year students in particular, the security of living in a campus residence with its proximity to college and the ease with which it can be booked, compared with finding off-campus accommodation, means it will always be a popular option.

One thing to note however, is that residences can be strict when it comes to overnight guests; good if you don’t want to end up living with your flatmate’s boyfriend as well, but not so good if you want to bring someone home yourself, or have a friend stay over.

Most student residences request that you sign in any “guests” you wish to accompany you home. Residents of Trinity Hall for example, must sign in overnight guests before 11.30pm, while DCU now offers an online guest check-in service.

But back to the costs. If you plan on attending UCD, you have a selection of on-campus accommodation. The cheapest option is the college’s Blackrock Halls which costs €4,901 for a single room for the academic year, including utilities. If being well-fed is a priority – and you don’t want to yet rely on your culinary skills or live on beans and toast for a year – then Muckross Halls and Roebuck Castle could be an option. Both offer breakfast and dinner mid-week in the on-site restaurant, with brunch and lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and cost €7,277 and €9,067, respectively.

Alternatively the new Ziggurat residence, developed on the site of the old Jury’s Montrose Hotel across from UCD, promises three-to-four star standard hotel accommodation. It has 192 ensuite bedrooms built in a series of five and eight bedroom “cluster flats”, with students sharing living and dining facilities. Standard rooms cost €180 a week, rising to €230 for a “superior room”, and €265 for a penthouse, based on a 43-week academic year (ie, €11,395). Note that construction of the building has been delayed however, and two floors will not open until two weeks into UCD’s autumn term, affecting 58 students.

Outside of Dublin, student residences are still expensive. In Limerick for example, a room in a six-bed riverside apartment in Dromroe Village will cost €4,680 a year, rising to €5,070 for a room in a less cluttered two-bed apartment. In UCC’s University Hall, you can expect to pay about €4,600 a year.

Further afield and prices drop. At GMIT’s Castlebar Campus for example, accommodation in Nephin Halls costs €60 a week, or €3,030 per academic year, including electricity and utilities.

If the words “penthouse” and “hotel-style” student accommodation don’t mesh well in your mind however, you could consider renting a room in a house near your chosen college. In Clonskeagh for example, which is close to UCD, you can expect to pay upwards of about €100 a week, plus utilities, for a single room in a house.

Down in Limerick, you can rent a room in a six-bedroom house in nearby Milford Grange for €65 a week (€2,795 per academic year) with the added benefit of choosing the people you live with, while in Castlebar, if you opt for private accommodation, you can expect to pay upwards of about €45 a week for a room.

A potentially cheaper option, when you factor in the cost of bills and food etc, is to opt for digs. Renting a room with a family will cost you about €130-€150 a week on the southside of Dublin, and a bit less closer to DCU on the northside. Digs usually include breakfast, evening meals and all utilities but tend to be Monday to Friday. This option is most likely to suit students who intend travelling home to their families every weekend and those who don’t mind sharing a home with another family, and their potentially noisy children.

If you will be living at home while going to college, you won’t have to meet the significant cost of accommodation. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to cost your parents anything.

A survey by Dublin Institute of Technology estimates that it costs a student €787 a month to live at home. That is based on monthly socialising costs of just €132, so it might actually be north of that! And with water charges due to come in in January, you might find your parents encouraging you to bring your shower gear to college as well as your books in an effort to contain costs.

Your money

Banks offer students deals to capture their business early. Yes, you may not make the bank a lot of money now, but when it comes to more profitable products such as mortgages and life assurance, the bank is hoping to have you as a captive customer. So, they’re willing to offer you some incentives to win your business.

Try and ignore Bank of Ireland’s offer of 20 per cent off a range of goods and services when you use your BoI debit card, or AIB’s free Student Leap Card, and focus on what you really should be looking for – free banking and, should you need them, cheaper loans.

All the banks offer free banking to students, but charges still arise for certain services. For example, Ulster Bank will charge you upwards of €3.81 for a duplicate statement, and Permanent TSB charges 14 per cent interest on an authorised overdraft.

When it comes to loans, if you’re thinking of borrowing enough to finance a J1 Visa next summer, one option might be BoI, which is offering an interest-free loan of up to €1,500 over 12 months – but you must get a parental guarantee if the loan is for more than €500.

If you are offered a credit card – and BoI claims to accept eight out of 10 applications from students – try and resist and opt for a Visa debit instead.

If you must get a credit card, at least get one which is at the lower end of the interest rate scale, and try not to use it for cash advances from the ATM, as these charges will hurt you.

The cheapest “student” credit card on the market is from BoI at 18.1 per cent, which has a credit limit of €1,500; avoid Ulster Bank which has a rate of 35 per cent and a credit limit of just €450.

Finally, you could actually get a cheaper rate if you qualified for a regular credit card. AIB’s Click Visa card, for example, has an APR of at 16.8 per cent, better than the bank’s student rate of 20.3 per cent.

Your health

Once you turn 18, the cost of being covered by a private health insurance policy goes up. For example, VHI’s One Family Plan Level 2 costs €200.68 per child, or €209.80 for a student, while Aviva’s We Plan Level 3 costs €687.30 for a child, or €944.90 for a student, a significant differential.

If neither your parents’ nor your own budget stretches this far, and you want to keep some level of private cover, you could consider opting for a cash plan, which gives money back on a range of medical expenses.

Glohealth for example, has just launched a new range of cash plans, which cost from €13 a month (€156 a year), and are designed to help meet the costs of everyday healthcare expenses, such as dental, GP and optical fees.

Depending on the type of plan you opt for, you can get between €8-€35 back on the cost of up to five visits to your GP, or between €25 and €75 on a visit to A&E. The plan can be upgraded to a full hospital insurance policy, with the holder simply paying the difference between the cash plan and the insurance policy.

HSF offers a similar cash product. Its One Scheme 3 plan for example, which costs €156 a year, will give €8 cash back on up to 12 GP or A&E visits a year.

Finally, if you do have to go to the doctor, try and attend the one on campus. The doctor at UCD for example, costs €25 a visit, while a repeat consultation with a nurse for contraception will cost €15. At UCC, visits to the student health doctor are usually free, but last year charges for certain services, such as a contraception consultation (€20), or travel consultation (€30) were introduced.

Your stuff

To find the best savings, you can familiarise yourself with tools such as PriceSpy. A survey conducted by the online price comparison service found savings of €641.91 on a range of gadgets typically used by students.

For example, it found a difference of €40.42 on a La Cie hard drive, with Currys charging €124.98 for the product, and PC Systems just €84.56.

Similarly, an Apple MacBook Air will cost you €1,364.85 with Format Computers, but € 1,010.97 with Eurieka, leading to savings of €353.88. And if you’re looking for a Beats Beatbox, opt for Arnotts – it costs €349.99 in the Dublin department store, compared to €489 with Littlewoods Ireland.

Your education

While 40 per cent of students qualify for a grant and don’t have to pay the so-called “student contribution” fee for attending third level, everyone else will have to stump up €2,750 this year. This has been climbing steadily since it was introduced, and is up by 10 per cent on last year. Not only that, but it is scheduled to rise further to €3,000 in 2015-16.

Of interest to your parents is that this charge is typically not deemed to be tax deductible, as there is no tax relief (at 20 per cent) granted on the first €2,750 spent on tuition fees (including this charge). If, however, your parents are paying fees for more than one student, they will get full tax relief on the student contribution charge for the second and subsequent claimants.

If you don’t qualify for free fees, but reside within the EU, you will pay significantly more than this contribution charge.

Law and Business in Trinity College Dublin for example, will cost €5,779 a year. If you are resident outside the EU, fees are even in higher again. Psychology in UL for example, will set a non-EU resident back €15, 358 a year.

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