Updated: Jun 1, 2020
This blog post contains tips and tricks I wish people had told me before starting university. It includes how to earn money, how to save money and what-not-to-do’s with your money. Everyone's experience is different, and mine was a tough one financially. I had to work part-time to support myself throughout university, and still ended up without much ‘spending’ money.
I have always worked part time during my studies, which has helped me fund my social life (which some might call a not-so-social life). However, for me, even that one pint that one time would not have been possible had I not worked. Friends used to joke and call me a flake, which is fair enough, because sometimes I had to be - due to lack of money and time. When money to spare is rare, I prioritise how I spend it, and would save for things such as surf trips, gym classes and visits to friends. So what is the best way to make, save and prioritise your money at University?
Well, after 5 years at uni, and -£2000 of an overdraft later, I am here to tell you what NOT to do with your money, and the best ways to get it (from my experience! I am sure there are other ways as well, but this is what I found).
Part-time work at university
Benefits of agency work: More money, flexible hours and being your own boss.
Working with an agency has by far been the best decision I made at university. I have had my fair share of working with companies such as Bill's and Barons pubs. But, when working at a restaurant or pub, you are expected to work a certain number of shifts and don't get much say about when that is. If you are lucky enough to agree on when and how much you work, that is fab and well done you. However, I know for a fact some managers can be absolute power trolls, and like to make life super difficult for you, even when there isn't much logic behind their decisions. I have personally been really lucky and actually loved all my managers throughout university, but I know from friends this can be an absolute pain, and actually quite stressful!! Becoming friends with your colleagues is great - and makes work more enjoyable, however, can be upsetting when you have to let them down. So, how to avoid this? Don’t make friends at work? - that would be miserable. This is what I found working with an agency:
1. You don’t owe anyone anything, and less is expected of you in terms of when you work. You are not affiliated with a company, and in agency work, you can switch and change who you work for. You can still be friends with your managers, as I did, who in the end offered me full time positions, however you are not obliged to take this up at all!
2. When studying and working part time, you need to have power over when you can work, and also the power to change it to suit you and your studies. For example, over the holidays, you may want to increase your number of shifts, or during exam season, stop them altogether. But this can be tricky if you have hours expected to work. Agencies don’t even need to hear your life story - don’t want to work? Then just don’t sign up to any shifts.
3. With an agency, you pick and choose your shifts as and when you want. You can choose to work pretty much full time over the holidays, or when money is a bit tight, you can pick up one more shift a week. When exam season comes, you don't have to answer to anyone why you won't be in at all over the next month. Trust me, working 4 shifts a week a month before the exam season is not a good idea.
Normally agencies pay you better per hour. On top of that, when they are desperate for staff, sometimes they offer £10-£20 bonuses just for picking up a shift!
A few examples of agency's could be local catering companies, so be sure to google or facebook search that. A couple of agency apps I know of are listed and linked below but there are many more!!
Best way to save money at university
Saving money can seem like a super impossible task, but it's actually about having good habits! Here are a couple of things I did during my time at university that were effective in saving money!
1. Charity shops, charity shops, charity shops!!
Benefits of charity shopping: Someones old can be your new, the money goes to charity, things for a fraction of the price it is worth, and, it is far more environmentally friendly and ethical than buying fast fashion.
Most people are super put off this idea, as they don't like the thought of wearing granny's old clothes. However, this is a huge misconception. Firstly, all clothes donated are checked and washed before being sold, and anything not worth selling is donated for its materials, recycled or thrown out.
People give away clothes for loads of reasons - they don't fit, they don't like or they have too much stuff. I have come by many nice designer brands with the labels still on!
Your best bet is to find the cutest nearby town, and go to the charity shops there. For Manchester, it would be somewhere like East Didsbury or Chorlton. In Surrey, my favourite is Oxted and Caterham. I have found many steals there, both clothes and decor! In the long run this will save you loads of cash. Yes I know urban outfitters is fab, but after coming out the other side, it’s super overpriced and all the girls in Fallowfield will be wearing the same stuff.
Finding those steals in charity shops will give you a more authentic, honest and original look at a fraction of the price, and at the same time your money is going to a good cause!
2. Go to local shops, Lidl or Aldi!
I actually cannot stress how important this is. It's just cheaper, don't waste your money! There are so many times I was lazy, went to Sainsbury's and ended up spending £20 on a couple of snacks, and the next day spent £14 on a whole weekly shop at Aldi's. In addition to this, fresh foods are actually so much better at local shops and its important to support local stores. Don't be scared to try that small corner shop! If you must, only go to the big stores when you are really craving something that you can't buy elsewhere, for me that was Ben&Jerries ice cream!
3. Get a Bike and cycle!
Benefits of cycling: good for you, good for the environment, quicker, wakes you up, save money on gym, way more fun!
Another one I wish I knew sooner. It may seem like a no-brainer to some people, but for someone like me, who have never owned their own bike, this can be pretty daunting. In my first three years of university I spent £300 on a bus pass each year. In total, that's about a grand of my overdraft I could have saved.
In my third year, my boyfriend helped me invest in a road bike. It cost £100 and I haven't looked back since. In addition, you need a helmet, lights and a lock, so maybe another £100 if you get the good stuff.. This may seem like a lot of money, but it's a one time investment! I used to spend an additional £180 (ish) on a gym classes, and when my studies got tougher and I could no longer afford to work, and bye bye expensive gym membership. However, cycling made up for missing workouts and endorphins. Everyday you are somewhat forced to exercise, which may seem like a bummer in the rain, however, all you need to do is get a dedicated pair of 'I don't care' leggings, bring a spare pair of bottoms to uni to change into! In addition to feeling great, cycling can actually be faster than the bus (definitely true for Manchester). It's also super environmentally friendly!!
Get yo-self a bike! And remember - always wear a helmet and lights.
Hints and tips for becoming a cyclist (and how not to be an idiot)
- Wear a helmet ALWAYS (people who don't look stupid no offence)
- Wear lights unless you literally want to get hit by a car (I've been on both sides and you are a fast moving dark object so drivers really cannot see you!)
- Get a D-lock and cable (check whether or not your wheels are quick release - if they are, make sure you chain it up to your D-lock and please do not lock up someone elses by mistake! There is nothing worse than doing a twelve hour day to find your bike having been locked to someone else's bike by mistake!)
- If you can, get a reflective jacket or tags for your bag.
- Get water proofs, for you and your bag!
- DON'T GO THROUGH RED LIGHTS! just don't - you are a vehicle, NOT a pedestrian. again, you look stupid.
- Please don't take up the entire cycling lane (or road for that matter!) and if you are slow and steady, good for you, but please stick to the left so people can over take you!
If I have missed anything you cyclists would like to share, please let me know!
Press this link to a suggested D-lock and cable!
4. Be social, not silly
Know when to say yes, and no
I am one of those people who are hard to get out, but once I have one drink, I’ll never want to go home. So here is some advice for myself and you guys. Know when to say yes, and know, in terms of what you can afford - both financially and time. Also, you don't have to drink to be sociable. In fact, some of my favourite people at university don't even consume alcohol. However, if that's not you (certainly not me) - try not to get carried away.
It's perfectly OK to go to the pub and have one, half or no pints. Just being present is amazing and you might even find that the atmosphere buzz gets you giddy anyway. Know when it's time for bed, bid your pals good night, and take your responsible-tempted ass home.
Be social, not silly. Too many times I have gotten too excited and ended up in some club or bar full of freshers who don't have deadlines that week. Sometimes this is necessary - you need a break! But it's also important to know when to say yes, and that its OK to say no.
Give yourself a balanced social life, and get used to saying yes to a couple of hours to catch up with mates, without it leading to a full on night out - This will strengthen your wallet and will power. For nights out, plan in advance and have it to look forward to. This for me works, only because I know myself, and take it too far when its not planned.
Knowing when to say yes is just as important as knowing when to say no. We all probably have had those days when you get home from the longest day at uni ever, and all you want to do is consume yourself into pillows and Ben&Jerries ice cream. You’ve just started watching something on Netflix and you get a text reminding you of that thing you planned two weeks ago. The last thing you want to do is go. I have one bit of advice. Listen to your inner and do what you want. Its OK to cancel plans, but don’t make this a habit. Going out and meeting friends will always make you feel better. It can be the perfect distraction from that bad day, and you’ll come to realise everyone is in a similar boat, and it's good to talk about it! Don’t isolate yourself! If you really feel you need to cancel, don't lie to your mates. Be honest and open about why. They will be more understanding and may be able to help you.
5. Meal plan and don't buy coffee out!!
You know those really nerdy kids with huge backpacks and you think - what could they possible have in there. Well, I'm one of those kids and let me tell you...
... Everything you could ever need for a 12 hour study shift.
Lets dive straight into this one.
- Please just don't go to the shop everyday and buy a meal deal. They are so expensive and so bad for you!
- Coffee fix? Get a flask dammit and bring your own coffee into uni.
- If you are super lucky, there may even be kettles and microwaves within your department - if there inst, get in touch with the faculty and demand one! Be the change you want to see! This way you can bring in tea bags and instant coffee to keep you going all day, as well as pre-made meals which you can heat up! Remember those kids with the bags? - yup, they have lunch, dinner and snacks for daaaayz - you've been doing it wrong.
When I say 'meal plan' what do I mean?
When you make dinner, make enough for two, get some tupperware and pack the leftovers for dinner or lunch the next day.
Buy fruit, veg, seeds and nuts in bulk, and bring as snacks for uni.. good examples are almonds, walnuts, broccoli, apples, bananas and easy peelers (oranges) - don't like any of these things? Well you should probably man up and train yourself to like them because they are good for you and are fab snacks!
6. Exercise alternatives - Don't gym it
I've kind of covered this in the above, but if it isn't obvious, you don't need a gym membership to stay fit, healthy and active - this is a luxury and probably isn't worth your money or time - unless you can really afford it.
Cheap alternatives: Google, or YouTube indoor workout routines or yoga. Invest in some ankle weights or a dumbbell. You only need a small space to get your heart rate up so no excuses. If you are really stuck for space, walk down to your local park! Don't be embarrassed to exercise in public! If anything, people will be mentally cheering you on!
Group or pair up: If you are part of a society, try and get some team mates to all go do an activity together. Even something super simple such as a morning run together. You will find you are more motivated to do it, because the other person is counting on you!
An example, a friend of mine was training to be a personal trainer, and needed experience, so he offered the surf club free circuit training weekly! Another example, myself and a couple of friends organised Yoga4Water, as part of the surf society, which offered free yoga classes in association with a charity for water, which people could donate if they had the spare change.
Another fab thing to do is to organise group trips such as cycling trips! This is always such a nice thing to do and turns into an entire day trip - people are more on it than you would think!
Prioritise your money!
Think about what really matters to you, and invest your money into those things.
For example, before purchasing something, think back to yourself, do I really need this? Will it bring me pleasure or happiness? Pleasure will not last, but happiness is something to strive for. Is it long lasting? Is it memory or material? Go for memory.
I find that the best places to put your money are the obvious important things such as health - so exercise and healthy food. However, this does not mean you need to buy an extravagant gym membership - learn to save money and do exercise indoors, in your, room, living room, or go outside dammit! Go for a run or organise a Sunday cycle with some mates!
Food - save money on food - go Vegan or veggie ! There is some strange conception that going veggie/vegan is more expensive, but if you compare the price of meat to veggies, rice and beans etc, it is so much cheaper! I'm not talking about the processed vegan alternatives - because they aren't healthy either and can be expensive! This will save you money and benefit your health. Meal prep and plan to save money on lunches etc.
Save up for a special occasion such as a weekend trip or night out! Don't splash it without consideration!!
What NOT to do with your money
To finish off, here is just a list of simple DO-NOTS in terms of my on personal mistakes!!
- DO NOT LEND MONEY - People may have every intention to pay you back - and then don't.
I had this problem during my second year, when someone owed me a rather large amount of money, when going on holiday together. It meant I had to go deeper and deeper into my overdraft just to get by - nothing a student should have to worry about. I also have friends who have been screwed over in similar ways.
Unless you have a friend who you can really trust, I would be very careful who you lend money to - a lot of money to you may not be a big deal to them!
I would also like to offer some advice when it comes to paying shared bills etc. If you are in charge of your house bills, get everyone to send you the money a month in advance. This way, you won’t be out of pocket, and it gives them a full month to come up with the money - so if its ‘late’, it’s actually two weeks early as opposed to a month.
- DO NOT BUY ROUNDS - just don't do this. Students tend to 'forget' when it's their round.
- DO NOT SPEND MONEY YOU HAVEN'T GOT - Overdraft, credit cards etc. It's not free money, and you will have to pay it back.
If you can resist, for as long as possible please do. I didn't get an overdraft until my third year only when I really needed it to pay rent. I was lucky enough to have help from my parents with food and rent, however, when times were tough the overdraft did help me out. Whatever your financial situation, do not get an overdraft unless you really need it - because even when you start to pay it off, you think you have money when you don’t. Some people are really good and manage to stay in the positives. I was never this person, and its painful when people really don’t understand what I mean when I used to say ‘I have no money’ - not meaning money I am not willing to spend on this or that, meaning, I literally have 0.01p available. Not a nice feeling. Congrats to those legends who managed to stay in positives.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post! Please let me know if you have any questions or want me to delve into any more details!