Everything You Need to Know About Money at University

Avoid payday loans at all costs and consider getting a weekend job (or a paypig).
An advert for 'Hot Male Models, Pays Cash' on the street, photo by Bob Foster
Image: Bob Foster

If you’re a student in 2022, congrats on being young and learning new things! What a time to be alive! That said, not everything is going to be plain sailing. You might not see a nutritious meal for a while. You might start using frying pans as bowls and sometimes throw up in places that aren’t the toilet. But seriously, you also now have to function independently in a country that treats people’s lives and finances like an unhinged game of Monopoly. 


Being a student has never been the most luxurious of times, unless you have rich parents. But the cost of living crisis has left a lot of students cutting back even more than usual. Today, 82 percent of students say they have “major money worries” (which is, er, nearly all of them).

Nonetheless, university applications in the UK were at a record high this year, which means that many of you will now be leaving home for the first time and having to learn magic tricks to make your maintenance loan last longer than freshers week

If that fails though, here are some money tips to get you by. 

Don't get hypnotised by your student loan

It’s wild when you start uni and loads of money simply… lands in your account overnight. The average maintenance loan for students in the UK right now is roughly £5,820 a year (although you can get up to £9,706 outside of London and £12,667 if you live in London – a portion of which you’ll get three times a year). Don't get too excited though – this money doesn't get you very far once you start having to actually live off it. 

“Students don’t always realise that what they’re getting from the government isn’t enough,” says Jake Butler, Operations Director for the student money website, Save The Student. “Often it won’t stretch far enough to get you to Christmas.” Once rent’s paid, a few Deliveroos and nights on the lash could finish you. 


With that in mind, try to eke it out a little. If you’re hungry for chicken nuggets at 5AM fair enough, but there’s no need to take all your cash out in one go and fling it around the club. You’re in Bournemouth, not The Godfather

Plan your meals!

I’m serious. Make sure to bulk buy essentials (rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, lentils, herbs and spices) from a cheap supermarket like Aldi or Lidl at the start of term. Don't make the classic mistake of blowing a huge chunk of your student loan on loads of boujie stuff like king prawns and sundried tomatoes before realising you have about £2.36 to last you for the rest of the year. 

There are loads of useful thrifters online you can learn from. Nicola Richardson has a money-saving blog, The Frugal Cottage, and once spent £10 on a weekly food shop. I’m not saying you should live like it’s medieval times, but knowing what ingredients can go far is helpful.

Richardson says one of the meals she’s most proud of used just two slow cooked bargain chicken drumsticks with peppers and tomato sauce. “It wasn’t fancy, it didn’t have a million ingredients and I didn’t spend ages on it,” she says. “You have all the juices from the slow cooked chicken to flavour it instead of spices.”

Be aware that there are loads of rich people at uni 

Guess what? There are loads of people at uni who's parents pay for all their stuff. So be aware that you may suddenly find yourself in a house full of people who like to say things like “let's just get every single thing on the menu including champagne and then split the bill afterwards.”

These people tend to be fine at uni because they're rich – but if you’re not, don’t try to keep up with them just for the sake of your social life. Learn how to say: “No, I'm not going to that really expensive cocktail bar on a Tuesday.” 


Get a weekend job if you can

I know there will be more important things to do – like endless rounds of ring of fire and staying up all night mainlining energy drinks – but it’s definitely worth getting a weekend job if you can. The best places to work while at uni are those that give you free shit and extra tips, like bakeries and cafes etc. Or just skip the CV handouts and find yourself a paypig

Treat landlords with suspicion

Whether it’s letting black mould fester on the ceiling, presenting a room with a mattress and calling it “furnished” or trying to force beds into places that beds shouldn’t go, landlords simply love taking the piss out of bright-eyed, desperate students. 

“A lot of students are almost too trusting with landlords,” says Butler. “Some landlords will take advantage of students not really knowing their rights.” For example, landlords are responsible for the majority of repairs in your home: heating, hot water, showers, windows, wiring etc etc. They’re also obliged to carry out repairs within a reasonable period of time. 

With that in mind, get well acquainted with your tenancy rights. Take photos of everything before moving in so they can’t accuse you of destroying a place that was already falling apart. And make sure you read your contract until the end, no matter how dry and boring it is. Finally, don’t let your letting agency charge random fees – they’ve recently been banned.


Bills, bills, bills

Unless you’re moving into halls, you’re about to spend an unlawful amount of time on WhatsApp group chats going over which bill goes into which Monzo account. Butler recommends assigning each housemate a bill to be responsible for and checking in regularly. It’s never fun to chat money, especially with mates, but it has to be done, unfortunately. 

When it comes to gas, electricity, water and wifi, don’t just go with the first utility company you come across. Compare the market. It’ll make a difference to your year ahead. “Sometimes just clicking the shopping tab and searching a product on Google is a great way to do it,” says Tommy McNally, CEO of the tax refund app Tommy’s Tax.

And don't just use the wifi provider that the house you’re moving into is already signed up with. “There might have been an introductory fee discount which you’re not getting anymore,” Butler points out. “A lot of broadband companies are fighting over customers at the moment – just switching your broadband provider could save over a hundred pounds within the year.”

Actually learn about taxes

As a student, you don’t have to pay council tax. You also usually don’t have to pay income tax if you earn below £12,570 per year. That said, if you’re making freelance money on the side you will have to register as self-employed and file your taxes, regardless of whether it’s a small amount. Filing taxes is an absolute ball ache for every single person on this godforsaken island, but the sooner you learn how to do it, the better. Your future self will thank you. 


Also, if you have a job which pays tax through PAYE (pay as you earn), make sure to check your paycheque regularly. If you notice that you’re paying unnecessary tax for whatever reason, you can fill out a form and claim it back here

Avoid payday loans at all costs

Payday loans from companies with names like “Fast Loan” and “Cash ASAP” love to throw money at students, but taking one of these out is like making a deal with the devil. I don’t care if you want to order an extra round or shots or suddenly think investing in a VR headset will change your life. You’ll usually end up paying back way more than whatever you took out. 

“Interest rates can be quite extreme and very confusing,” says Matt Megens, CEO of the company HyperJar, a financial technology company. “Don’t be rushed into debt. There are normally more options in delaying a bill than resolving a debt.” 

If you do get into debt, try not to let the anxiety of it swallow you. There are plenty of organisations that can help and give proper advice, like Citizens Advice. Debt is literally designed by evil corporations to scare and confuse you – don’t let them. 

Keep one eye on your overdraft limit

Bank accounts tend to offer students a range of benefits to try and get you to sign up with them for the rest of your adult life. You might opt for a free railcard, or an account that gives you a hundred pounds in cash. Most will also offer an interest-free overdraft – which can be around £1500 of money you can borrow.

If you’re out of money, this is the only debt you should ever consider dipping into. Just don’t go over your interest-free limit, otherwise you’ll have to pay more back. And try not to rely too much on your overdraft if you can help it. 


Be imaginative about socialising

Drinking isn’t cheap. The average price of a pint in London, for example, is around £5.50 – enough to get you a meal. But it's also hard to not go to club nights or the pub when you're trying to have fun and meet new people. 

That said, there are cheap alternatives to getting wasted and spending all your money. There are usually a load of student societies and classes at uni that are worth signing up to. After graduating, you’ll have less and less time to learn how to pole dance or get into life drawing, so make the most of this chaotic, sprawling era.

And finally, uni is supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be a time of freaking out. Accept the fact that you’ll probably make a few mistakes and drop cash on things you’ll later regret. Just try not to do it every single day.