New students: Welcome to the school of budgeting

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Last year, we reported the cost of college had risen to its highest level since 2008. This year, figures released by four colleges – DIT, DCU, UCC and UL – show the situation is worse. And students are spending less on their social life than ever before.

Rents have returned to 2007 boom levels, according to the cost-of-living guide compiled by DIT's Campus Life, which looks at the national picture. Despite fare capping, travel costs have increased dramatically for the second year in a row, rising by 13 per cent. And, this year, the annual student charge has hit an average of €3,000.

DIT’s latest figures demolish that creaky stereotype of students as a bunch of feckless boozers living the high life.

"One very noticeable difference this year is the significant drop in the amount of money allocated for social life and miscellaneous costs," says Brian Gormley of Campus Life.


“The drop in expenditure on social life is for a number of reasons. Firstly, fewer students have part-time work and therefore have less money to spend. Secondly, drinking patterns have changed and, rather than going out, students are buying cheaper alcohol in supermarkets and drinking at home. There are positive trends too, as Irish students seem to be drinking less. There has also been a significant drop in the number of students who smoke, which also saves them money.”

The figure allocated to social life has been revised downwards based on results from the Eurostudent V survey, which showed student expenditure has decreased significantly since the 2006 and 2009 surveys.

Unprecedented squeeze

But where will students find a space to drink at home? This year’s unprecedented squeeze on accommodation means a growing number are moving, by choice or compulsion, into digs. This involves renting a room in a family home, sometimes on a self-catering basis and sometimes with breakfast and dinner provided. Digs were popular until the 1990s but became less so with the growth in on-campus accommodation and young people’s wish for more independence. Gormley says students rule them out at their peril. “They can cut rent costs dramatically and may be cheaper than distance commuting every day. Staying in digs can also give students time to get to know a group of friends, to share a house in second year.”

Conor Clancy is welfare officer at Trinity College Dublin's students' union. "The maintenance grant has been dropping, the postgraduate grant was axed altogether and the amount paid to students based on their distance to college was reduced – all at a time when prices are rising," he says.

“The grant doesn’t even cover the basics, and the poorest students are the hardest hit.”

Students are turning to part-time work to cover the shortfall but, for most of them, they still need financial support from parents. Most parents have had a huge hit to their income as well. College registration fees are about €3,000 on average, according to figures compiled by DIT.

Over the past few years, there have been some horror stories about students waiting for months for their grant through Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi). These problems appear to have been ironed out and, from the start of this academic year, students will get their grant in monthly instalments from September.

Regional differences in costs

Accommodation, rent, bills and food are the main costs facing a student, but these vary from city to city. Dublin is clearly more expensive. Every year, DCU compiles its own figures. These show a three-bed private rental in Galway will cost €979 a month, but students in Dublin 3 will pay €1,655 for the same.

Deirdre Moloney, senior student support officer at DCU Student Support and Development, says students living away from home should expect to spend about €5,000 in semester one between fees, accommodation, deposits, food, travel and other expenses. Of course, it's much cheaper for students who can live at home with their families, with the average monthly cost at about €432.

In Cork, students can expect to shell out €90 to €150 a week for accommodation, with the average about € 110. The cost of living, according to Olive Byrne, manager of UCC's Plus+ Programme, is about €1,000 to €1,200 per month. She points out the cost of accommodation has increased over the past few years, as has the student contribution fee for those not on a grant. In the past two years, more students have been working part-time, but competition is tough and they can be under pressure to work long hours.

Byrne says that because of financial support systems at UCC – including a student budgetary advisor, a student assistance fund and a student union hardship fund – the number of students dropping out of college because of money problems is low.

The cost of living in Limerick is generally cheaper than Dublin, says Ciara Corcoran, welfare officer at UL students' union. "But students still face financial pressures. The primary ones are often hidden costs such as books, stationery, compulsory field trips and transport. There's a lack of part-time jobs for students; the jobs market is almost nonexistent, with many students having no form of income."

Rent off campus is, on average, €70 a week. As in most parts of the country, the introduction of water charges will increase the cost by €5-€10 a week. UL has a range of supports for students who fall into difficulty. The students’ union offers an interest-free hardship loan of up to €500 for students, at the discretion of the financial aid committee. There’s also a student assistance fund and a childcare bursary for students with children.


  • Plan ahead: "Get prepared now," says Conor Clancy, welfare officer at Trinity College students' union. "A lot of students land in college and figure it out towards the end of the first semester. But it's a good idea to sit now, just when the first round CAO offers come out, and talk with your parents or guardians about how you will budget." Deirdre Moloney, DCU's senior student support officer, says the cost of college comes as a shock to both students and parents. "It's ideal to project your budget for the coming year by creating an income and expenditure spreadsheet. The website provides useful tools. Talk to your parents or guardians about how much financial help they can give throughout the year."
  • Get a job: register with the college careers office and students' union. Watch out for interesting jobs: DCU students can, for instance, apply to be a student ambassador, representing the university at events and conducting campus tours for visiting schools.
  • Banking and saving: the banks will woo and lure you with all sorts of promises but let's be clear: they don't love you and they never will. Your first port of call should be your local credit union. If you open an account and can set aside a bit of money each month, the credit union will let you borrow up to three times what you've saved – very helpful if you're really stuck or need a loan. Credit unions are a much better source of loans than a bank. And don't get a credit card: if you need credit, get a loan, not a bill you'll be paying high interest rates on. Do also keep an eye on the bank account. One good thing about internet banking is online money manager tools, which allow you to track how much you are taking in every month, how much you are spending and what you're spending it on.
  • Financial support: for most students needing financial support, the Susi higher education grant is the first port of call. Students should also be aware that, if their family income falls (due to unemployment, death or incapacity of a parent or guardian), they can apply to be considered for a grant or an increased grant at any stage of college; this is assessed on the current family situation rather than income in the last financial year. Mature students may also be eligible for a grant. Virtually every college has some help for students in financial difficulty. The students' union welfare officer may direct you to a student budgetary officer. There's usually a student assistance fund to help students in dire straits to make up a shortfall. Some third-level institutions, including UCC, hold workshops and information sessions on budgeting and money management at the start of term. Finally, check whether you are eligible for a scholarship or grant through your college. UCD and DCU are among those with an elite sports programme; NUI Galway offers a scholarship for students from Mayo, while Trinity has up to five scholarships for Kerry students.
  • Reduce rent: Yes, rents are up in Dublin, but rent tends to be cheaper north of the Liffey. Look outside the hot spots, but be aware that, if this means a longer commute, travel costs may be higher.
  • Travel bills: cycle to save money on parking or public transport. The bike-to-work scheme has led to an explosion of bike shops, so shop around to get the best deal on a new or second-hand bike. Bike theft is a serious problem, particularly in Dublin, so get two locks – yes, two.
  • Cut the grocery costs and bills: "Saving money on food can be easier than you'd expect," says Ciara Corcoran, welfare officer at UL students' union. "Buying own-brand products and shopping in stores such as Lidl and Aldi can save lots of money. Cooking as a group with your housemates can also reduce costs. Whether it's cooking collectively or taking it in turns, it can help not only your pocket but also make for healthier meals. Fruit and veg stalls and ethnic food shops can also have bargains, while euro value shops such as Dealz have cheap name-brand shampoos, shower gels and nonperishable foods. Beware of special offers and "buy one, get one free" deals: there's no way you'll eat two bags of salad. By turning off lights when you go to bed you are automatically reducing your electricity bill. By putting your central heating on a timer you will get the most out of your oil or gas. If you're in private rented accommodation, you can save on the gas and electricity by comparing prices on