5 ways to help hard-up students

It’s not easy for students on a budget at the best of times. Now the National Student Money Survey has revealed many are caught short by student finance to the tune of £250 every month. Here are some financial tips to help students and their parents.

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The average maintenance loan for a student living away from home and outside London is £540 a month. But, according to the survey, their average monthly spend is £790, leaving a £250-shaped hole in the budget. That’s a lot of spare change to find down the back of the sofa – but there are ways to minimise extra borrowing and hardship. Here’s our pick of the best ways to help hard-up students.

1. Be tax savvy

It’s only taxable income that counts for means tested student finance (including some of the maintenance loan, and certain bursaries or hardship funds). When and to what degree student loan repayments kick in also depends on taxable income.

Including non-taxable income when you don’t need to in calculations and applications can mean getting less support or making repayments earlier than necessary.

2. Re-think rent

Although it’s not possible for everyone, living at home can save thousands every year. With the survey pegging average student rent at £385 (easily half or more of total income), it’s a prime place to start shaving costs. One student told the survey: ‘I get a lot from my maintenance grant and loan and I still only have £11 a week to live off once paying my rent.’

Sharing rather than going solo also means less to pay, including for bills and groceries. And knowing your rights as a renter and how to use a deposit protection scheme are crucial if you want to avoid being ripped off – see Shelter.org.uk.

3. Find hidden funding

Most universities have non-repayable bursaries for students from lower-income backgrounds, with payouts often awarded automatically if you’re eligible for means-tested Student Finance. There are also hardship funds for students struggling to get by or who have unexpected difficulties, such as losing a job: the Welfare or Student Support department can point you in the right direction. Don’t discount scholarships, either – not all are for academic achievement (although that helps!): some are awarded for sporting talent, gender or even nationality. Start with scholarship-search.org.uk

Many businesses, industry bodies, charities and even individuals also put up bursaries, grants, scholarships and hardship money: try the Turn2us grants calculator.

4. Budget…

With a quarter of students saying they never budget, and the majority overall saying they wished they’d had better money education at school, it’s easy to see why many find money management overwhelming. If you’ve never had the Talk – that’s how to balance a budget, not the birds and the bees – now’s the time.

5. …and get the right banking tools

Knowing how to work a bank account is a must if you want to be better off at uni and beyond – forget the idea that a student account with a free railcard is job done! Although rewards and incentives can be lucrative, a zero per cent overdraft can be worth far more in the long run, especially if staying in the black proves sticky later on, as you’ll be able to dip into the bank’s buffer without running up costly extra charges.

Siphoning income across multiple bank accounts is also a brilliant way of keeping things on track: it’s much harder to blow your rent or bill money if you keep it separate to spending cash. Apps and online accounts aren’t just for show, either – being able to check your balance before blowing it can be a real money- (and stress-) saver.

The bottom line is that managing daily living costs at university isn’t easy, but planning and saving ahead can make for a much smoother ride. Either way, you’ve got options, from extra ways to make money to charity funds and university advice. Just make sure you know how to get at them if you ever need to.

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