It wasn’t until after Fizz finished her GCSEs that it really hit me: She’s probably going to leave home before long. A sense of loss comes over me when I think about this! It’s the beginning of an empty nest. She wants to do ‘A’ levels and then university. I’ve always thought this was inevitable and whatever the student finance system is, we will have to put up with it. Whether it’s loans, grants, fees, begging letters, selling the family silver – we will have to find a way.
I’ve never been too worried about cost because I know she can get student loans and pay them off later. Maybe I haven’t thought about student finance properly! *We do think about our own future as the kids grow up and move out, and found some ideas on this dream shopping basket from Sunlife. There are a number of things we need to spend money on in addition to student finance.
Parents top up student loans
When a child goes to university, the parents will have their income means-tested. According to MSE, all parents jointly earning over £25,000 are expected to contribute their child’s student finances, from a few hundred up to almost £4700 per year for people earning around £62k or above. The parental contribution isn’t covered by a student loan; the bill is on us. Fizz might not be the only one borrowing money!
This official parental contribution is the minimum which we parents are expected to pay. In truth, we might get squeezed for more. We can teach Fizz to budget but life can be unexpected.
Student finance tips from the “olden days”
To try to manage money and keep living costs down, we could revive some student finance ideas from our undergraduate days. The same system of parental contribution existed back in the 1990s, although we had grants and no fees or student loans to pay back. We also had cold, grotty and basic accommodation and a relentless social life. So how did we do it? Could our old-school tips still work for student finance today?
1. Sponsored students.
Some companies will give cold hard cash to selected students in return for working with them in the holidays. That means having a guaranteed summer job too and earning even more cash. I used to enviously resent the sponsored students but then I married one, so had to change my tune! Large finance or engineering companies commonly offer sponsorships, but you have to be studying for a relevant degree.
2. Monthly standing orders.
It’s a good idea for parents to pay their contribution in monthly chunks rather than at the beginning of term. This means that the student has more chance of staying afloat and avoids overspending. Make sure any big bills are covered first, as in some places student rent has to be paid up-front for the term.
3. NUS card, Railcard, other discount cards
All students can get an NUS card and they are magical things which get discounts all over town. Do the maths to see if a railcard or other paid discount card will be worth it. I always took the train several times per term and got my money’s worth from the railcard.
4. Take all the advice.
All institutions have some kind of student support office, perhaps a specialist finance advice service too. That’s on top of the NUS office for each place. Check for any info on students’ rights and you might save some cash on bills and fees.
5. Haggle on the high street.
This might not come naturally but it’s worth a go. I remember I had to buy a camera for my photography course and I simply asked for a discount in the shop and got one. It’s not uncommon to get 2.5% off for trade so that shows there is definitely wiggle room. It’s worth it for bigger purchases.
6. Learn to cook
This is a big one, and can save a student from serious debt. Takeaway culture is so deeply ingrained nowadays but when I was a student we had tiny overdrafts and no scope for going into debt. Credit just wasn’t allowed. We scraped through mainly by cooking cheap food. Students can pool resources with flatmates to buy a term’s worth of store cupboard ingredients in bulk from discounters or shopping clubs.
7. Brew your own beer
Not only is it cheaper to brew your own beer but it’s a great way to make friends! Homebrew kits come in a variety of methods and some have done all the hard work for you. I recently had a keg which makes lager if you just add water. I reviewed one in this blog post – Boozy Valentine’s Gift Guide.
8. Go out on a weeknight
We went to nightclubs on free nights rather than the weekend. Student promotions are usually well advertised around campus. Of course the chances of making it to lectures the next morning are fairly slim, so time it carefully.
9. Get some part-time work
This can be a bit of a minefield as the hours have got to fit in with the lecture timetable and still leave some time to do assignments. Several of my friends took early morning cleaning jobs and that was a bad idea as they were always too tired. Temp agencies are a good way of getting short term work such as waitressing at one-off events.
10. Set up a student club
Official clubs of an NUS branch may get a grant to help with running costs. For example we saved on cinema costs by setting up a movie club on campus. Most big educational institutions have a theatre where you can project films. But be warned; you have to pay for a special copyright to show a film in a public place. The bonus is you have access to cinema releases early, often just 8 weeks after they first come out.
It’s not too early to plan
There’s lots of help and advice available about student finance. Still, it’s good to be well prepared both mentally with ideas and financially with savings. Despite the rise of student debt, some student finance tips and tricks are the same as they always have been. If you have any tips of wisdom on preparing for student finance please share them in the comments.