Money saving and budgeting tips for students
Estimating your costs and budgeting accordingly will pay off in the long run
By having a planned budget, you can allocate spending money for going out for dinner, coffee dates, cinema trips and nights out, and not worry afterwards that you went too wild. Photograph: iStock
For many people, starting college gives the first taste of a semblance of financial independence. For some, the prospect can be daunting – some people might avoid spending money on anything other than the bare necessities while others might splash out on whatever their hearts desire. The key to finding a balance is creating a budget that works for you.
Finding a bank account
The first step in managing your student budget is opening a student bank account. Opening an account means you won’t be charged bank fees or for ATM transactions, although your card can still be charged if you use it overseas – so watch out if you’re on holiday!
When it comes to choosing the right bank for you, all banks can look the same, and some will try and attract you with special offers for new student accounts (like KBC offering €75 when you open an account). Two things worth considering when deciding on a bank are whether the bank in question has a branch near or on your college campus, and, if you are reliant on someone such as your parents for money, consider choosing the same bank as them as it means the money can be transferred more quickly.
To open a student account, you need proof of address (a Government- or bank-issued letter such as correspondence with Susi), proof that you are a student (most colleges have a system online where you can find official documents such as a statement of enrolment), and official ID such as a passport.
Once you’ve opened your account, set up online banking and download the bank apps. This gives you an easy way of keeping track of the money in your account.
Before you start
Whether on a grant or not, you will have to consider the cost of attending college. Make a plan of how you think you’ll spend your money. Sit down and make a list of all the things you think you’ll spend money on in a week. Include bus fares, going for coffee, nights out, groceries. Compare this with how much money you’ll have on a weekly basis and you’ll get an idea if you’re planning on living over or under budget, and you can adjust your spending plan accordingly.
Your first month
For the first month, track your spending. Keep all your receipts and keep an account of where your money has been spent. Compare this spending with how much you thought you’d be spending, and what you thought you’d be spending it on. If your spending was wilder than you expected, see if you can cut something out for the next month.
Most transport companies offer student concessions but do require student ID so ensure you have your student card with you.
Outside Dublin, think outside the box for your transportation, Bus Éireann isn’t the only bus company in Ireland. Other companies might have cheaper tickets, stops nearer to your home, or faster routes. On some routes, you have the option of buying a multipass ticket which can be used for 10 trips in one week, saving you money if you’re commuting to college.
The cheapest way to eat in college is to cook your own food so if you don’t know how to cook, learn. Figure out the locations of the best-value supermarkets near where you live and plan what you’re going to cook for the week before you shop. That way you buy what you need, and not too much of anything.
BYOL – bring your own lunches. Invest in a lunchbox and a water bottle and take time each morning or evening to make your lunch. Buying your food when you are out-and-about can leave you spending €5 on a sandwich. A sliced pan can be bought for about €1, and whatever sandwich fillings you choose could come to €5 for the entire week.
Many colleges have microwave facilities so you can have a hot meal if sandwiches or salads aren’t your thing. You don’t have to specifically prepare a hot meal for your lunch – just cook larger portions for your dinner and then bring your leftovers for lunch to be reheated.
Keep track of the coffee you purchase. Some coffee shops offer discounted beverages if you bring a keep cup (a reusable transportable cup). Alternatively, you can bring a flask of tea or coffee with you and avoid the long queues altogether.
Whether or not there will be recommended and/or required reading for your course is entirely dependent on your lecturers. There will be some textbooks you will be expected to have access to, but if the cost of a new textbook is off-putting, you can buy secondhand books very easily online or from past students, so be sure to check student noticeboards where books might be advertised.
If you worry whether it’s worth buying the book and how much use you’ll get out of it, then remember, libraries are your friend so use your library. The library database can be checked online to see if the book you’re looking for is in stock, where it’s located, and if it’s checked out you can reserve it for when it’s returned. If relying on borrowing library books for an assignment, be sure to get there early so you’re not stuck without the book at the last minute. Some books can also be borrowed from the library online as ebooks, and depending on copyright issues, others can be found on Google books.
Some books are coupled with electronic access to e-learning hubs when purchased and access to the e-learning hubs may be a requirement for some courses. You might not need to buy the book for the e-learning access as most of the time it can be purchased separately.
Being a sensible budgeter doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. By having a planned budget, you can allocate spending money for going out for dinner, coffee dates, cinema trips and nights out, and not worry afterwards that you went too wild.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a student discount. Keep an eye out for student deals which can make your social life cheaper. Don’t be afraid to flash your student ID card as you will find it useful when seeking discounts in clothes shops, hairdressers and other retailers. When joining societies in college you’ll get cards that qualify you for discounts in certain restaurants and shops, such as two for one on main courses in Wagamama.
Some cinemas have student days where student tickets are reduced or coupled with a popcorn meal deal. Odeon cinemas have a €6 day every Wednesday for all tickets.
Night clubs will have student nights or deal nights, and a lot of places operate a free entry before 11pm.
When going out, decide beforehand how much money you want to spend and be sure to remember to budget for getting home, whether by taxi or night bus. Sharing a taxi with friends is a good way of keeping costs low for everybody. If you really think you can’t be trusted to stick to your budget, bring only the amount of money you want to spend and leave your card in a safe place at home.
Trying to watch your money can be difficult, but planning your spending will help keep you out of tight spots.
Many students will take a part-time job to help boost their income. When devising your budget, you will work out what your incomings and outgoings are. You will quickly learn what your shortfall is each week or month and that should, in turn, inform how many hours you need to work to make up the difference.
One unforeseen upside in taking a part-time job is that you will gain valuable experience of the working world. You will need to draw up a CV and, if you are selective about the job you get, it could well improve your future employability. If you can get a job related to the course you are doing all the better, but typical part-time jobs range from barkeeper and barista to pet walker, tutor and telemarketer. Don’t go crazy with the hours though as you still have to study and do well in your exams.
If you find yourself in financial difficulty, don’t be afraid to seek help. Most universities have support staff who will help you manage your finances. They will have information on student banking, interest-free loans and general financial advice. Also consider contacting your student union’s welfare officer.
Keep an eye out for student discounts wherever you are (most shops have them), try and keep money aside each week for something nice and don’t spend money stupidly. College is an exciting time with all sorts of possibilities, and by having a sensible budget plan, you can ensure you have the money for the fun adventures that come your way.