Counting the cost of college
The cost of everything is on the rise, but good budgeting can keep you in college
The cost of college is a shock. Unless you are lucky enough to have wealthy and generous parents, you’ll have to learn to manage on a tight budget, and fast.
According to figures released last month by the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), the cost of going to college has risen to its highest level since 2008. A student living away from home can expect to spend a minimum of €10,980 per year, spread over nine months, on rent, bills, food, travel, books, clothes, mobile phone, social life, and a student contribution charge – a lot more if they’re paying rent in Dublin. DIT’s figures indicate that living at home is nearly €4,000 cheaper, with costs adding up, so expect to spend around €7,083 a year.
The cost of everything seems to be on the up. Around 18 per cent of students are in “serious financial difficulty”, according to a survey released last month by the Higher Education Authority. The cost of public transport has risen, and the price of energy now looks set to rise too.
The student registration charge is only heading upwards, leading this year to a 4.6 per cent increase in the cost of education, which follows on from a 4.5 per cent increase last year. Some students can’t afford to pay their fees and have to withdraw, despite their college allowing them to pay in instalments. Some colleges, notoriously, have called in the debt collectors on their students.
Meanwhile, the cost of rent is soaring, especially in Dublin. Ireland is in the throes of a student accommodation crisis. There is growing evidence of students commuting daily to Dublin from extremely long distances, says Laura Harmon, president of the Union of Students in Ireland. “There’s been a 13 per cent increase in rental costs for on-campus accommodation. There is already growing evidence of students commuting daily to Dublin over extremely long distances.
“If you’re fortunate enough to find somewhere to live, the likelihood is that it’s costing significantly more, at a time when student finances are already past breaking point. Some opt to spend multiple nights sleeping on couches or in hostels every week, others aren’t even able to attain that. There is now a real danger that this will start to impact on retention rates and it requires immediate attention from Government.”
Brian Gormley, manager of DIT Campus Life, urges students to book their accommodation as soon as possible. “The most significant issue this year is the increase in rents, particularly in Dublin, and the biggest cost is rent,” he says.
It’s nearly enough to drive students away from Dublin. Figures compiled by the Budgetary Advice Service at University College Cork put the annual costs of college for a student living away from home at between €8,100 and €9,000 per year, depending on accommodation.
Unfortunately, students are dropping out of college due to financial pressures, says Evan Healy, student budgetary advisor at UCC. “Some of them were not able to access funds due to delays in processing their grant applications, or they were not eligible for funding and couldn’t remain in college.”
If students fall into financial difficulty, what should they do? “Ask for help,” says Healy. “Colleges want the best for their students, but we can only help them if we know there is a problem. In my role as budgetary advisor, I am happy to help any student who may be struggling financially and needs advice in terms of accessing available funding and managing their money efficiently.”
Healy meets UCC students daily, providing one-on-one advice and guidance, including assisting them with funding such as student grants, scholarships and the Student Assistance Fund. His role includes liaising with and directing students towards student counselling and development, fees office, the students’ union, the Student Assistance Fund office, and specific support services including mature student offices, disability support services, international offices and graduate studies offices.
At UCC, the budgetary advice service runs information workshops specifically for first year students about managing their money as college students, covering topics such as budgeting, available funding and practical tips and advice which can help the financial transition to college.
TOP TIPS FOR STUDENT LIFE ON THE CHEAP
Refer back to what you learnt in business studies. Figure out your biggest and most important expenses first. Rent comes first, followed by bills, and whatever is left is yours. If you’re in rented accommodation, don’t assume that you have to stick with the gas and electric providers that were hooked up when you moved in. Check out bonkers.ie to compare prices of the different utility providers.
If you have a car, work out the cheapest insurance deal and, wherever possible, try to buy petrol in the cheapest station – possibly a Tesco or Applegreen. That difference of a cent or two on a tank won’t save you enough for a holiday, but it will eventually pay for a few grocery shops or nights out.
A common fresher mistake is rushing out to buy the core texts on your reading lists from expensive bookshops. Most of them should be available in the library or the college’s secondhand bookshop. In any case, it’s bad form for lecturers to insist that students buy a book: You’re an adult and can make your own study decisions, so if you feel you can get by without that purchase, ignore them.
Shop around, we’re told. That’s all well and good if you’ve access to a car, but if you’re hauling groceries across town on a bus or through the rain while battling time pressures, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of picking up what you need in the local convenience store. If you are going to the local convenience store, go for cheaper own-brand products, and look out for anything on special.
Still, if you can make it to a Lidl or Aldi, they will help you to pay your way through college. They’re easily the best value supermarkets in Ireland, and are particularly good for fruit and veg, canned foods and condiments and deli items for lunch.
But fruit and veg stalls and ethnic food stores also have great bargains. You can, for instance, pick up a huge big bag of chillies in an Asian food store, freeze them, and use them through the year in your cooking.
Euro value shops such as Dealz and the One Euro Fifty store shouldn’t be sniffed at. Pick up cheap brand name shampoos and shower gels at Dealz, or cut-price branded ketchup. There’s no fresh food here, so you can stock up on what you need for a few months without worrying it will go off.
Planning a big weekly shop is ideal, but don’t do it if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle. Figure out how many dinners and lunches you’re likely to need during the week – bearing in mind you might get the odd takeout, go out for dinner, or be fed by family and friends – and shop accordingly to avoid waste.
Don’t be dazzled by special offers. Supermarkets have a very big bag of tricks aimed at parting customers and their money, and they’re far from concerned that you’re a broke student.
Often, a product marked is being on special offer because it’s reduced from, say, €2.99 to €2.59. This is meaningless unless you know for sure that it really was €2.99 for at least a few months before the price “fell”.
And just because the price has fallen, does that mean that you want to buy it? Don’t grab two bags of salad just because one comes free. Unless you’re feeding a family of rabbits, nobody ever manages to get through this much lettuce. That advice applies to any special offers, particularly on fresh food.
Finally, carry that student card everywhere you go to avail of discounts.
It’s very tempting to bury your head in the sand and simply not check the bank account. Bad idea. Keep tabs on what you’re spending, especially if you’re using a debit card, otherwise you won’t notice your money evaporating.
Don’t just go for whoever offers the most free sweets. Check out their overall service, ATM availability, interest rates, loan services, and interest banking services.
And then go t to the credit union and open an account. If you can manage to put a small amount aside every month, the credit union will let you borrow up to three times what you have saved. You’ll be glad you did it if you spend a summer working abroad, or simply if you have to cover some unexpected medical or dental bills.
Be wary of taking out loans from the bank. Don’t get a credit card. You’ll never manage to pay it back and the interest is outrageous. If you need a card for booking tickets, get a Visa debit instead. Scholarships Are you eligible for any scholarships or grants? At UCD and NUI Galway, for instance, there’s a number of scholarships for students in performing arts and sports.
The UCD Ad Astra Elite Athletes Programme is open to students who are competing and succeeding at the highest level of their sport, and includes a scholarship, mentoring, and a range of tailored supports. DCU also has an elite sports programme, while Trinity has a Choral Scholars programme.
At Trinity College, students with limited means can apply for a sizarship, which allows them a free evening meal every night for the first two years of college.
Make sure to check out what your college has on offer: Not many people know that if you’re an NUIG student from Co Mayo, you’re in with a shot of a €1,500 scholarship, or that up to five students at Trinity College who hail from Co Kerry can be awarded €6,000 per year, a free evening meal and a laptop.
THE COST OF ACCOMMODATION
When looking for a place to live, compare the price of other houses and apartments in the area to see what the going rate is. Once you’re in the door and sharing with flatmates for the first time, how can you cut costs?
“Many students use a kitty on a weekly basis, where each housemate puts in some money at the start of the week for groceries, such as bread and milk,” advises Evan Healy of UCC’s Student Budgetary Advice Service. It’s generally a good idea for students to have thier own shelves for their own food, but it does make sense to share things that go off fast, such as bread and milk or bags of salad, or items that are impractical to label, such as toilet roll.
“Students often work out a cooking rota for the house where each student cooks on a given evening, and this will save you money and help acquire valuable life skills,” says Healy.
AND NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS . . . JOBS
Don’t despair – there is some good news. Even last year, it was very difficult for students to find part-time jobs, but this is changing. If you do have trouble getting work to help pay your way through college, it’s a good idea to visit the college careers service and see if they can help you brush up your CV. And LinkedIn profile. Don’t assume you have to tread the well-worn path of waiting tables or working in a shop; there may be companies that are looking for students to work in areas related to their courses, including business, communications or public relations, or science research. Follow IrishJobFairy on Twitter, and you’ll find all sorts of interesting jobs.