For those of you about to embark on a new chapter of your life at University, I have 6 tips for you to help you navigate that first year, and beyond! Before I jump into the tips, let me tell you a bit about my chequered University story.
I studied art & design at college, both my best friend (at the time) and I applied to two different uni's in the same city, Cardiff. We both got in. All was set, we were going to house share not far from her uni. Then about a month or so before we were due to leave I realised I had no savings to take whatsoever... what money would I live off until my loan cheque arrived? So, I decided to defer for a year. That decision ended our friendship (sadface) but set me on a different path (happyface). I worked for a year, saving up money where I could, so I had some money to go with - it ended up being around £500, not a great deal, but enough to buy food and essentials until the first loan cheque came through.
My first year was in halls, and I hated it. I nearly quit dozens of times as I was really homesick, and of the 7 other people I shared a flat with, none of them liked me or spoke to me. See, the first night there (the night before our first day at uni), they all went to kick off freshers fortnight - I went out for dinner with my mum and stepdad instead - and that was enough for them to never really talk to me.
Fast forward nearly 3 years, I'm in my final year just about to start my 2nd semester, my dissertation is done, handed in and passed (whoop). I have an obscene amount of debt in the form of an unauthorised overdraft (to the tune of £3.5k) and the lecturers asked to come back and repeat the year.
That never happened - by the time it was time to come back, I had a secure job and I was clawing my way out of debt, I couldn't afford to return. Luckily by this point I'd met my future husband, literally about 3/4 weeks before that. If it wasn't for him, I'd have ended up back in West Wales, working in pubs and living with my family. First thing I needed to do was find a job and get some of my debt paid. It took a while, a few months, the whole time I'm getting behind in my rent - see my next loan cheque was due when I was asked to repeat the year, I used that for my rent.
After a few months I landed a full time job working in an office with a reasonable salary (the equilivant of about £13k now), but I learned some hard lessons in that time and I found myself living off about £10 a week #truestory. So if you're heading to uni in the next few months, please have a read of my tips before you go, they might just save you from making some bad decisions :)
1. Get yourself a part time job - it doesn't need to be loads of hours, perhaps just a Saturday day, freeing you up for the weekend, but that might just be enough to pay for your booze money for the week, saving you from dipping into your loan, grant or savings. When I was in uni, stacking shelves in a 24hr supermarket overnight was one of the best paid student jobs around :)
2. If you get a part-time job, it might well be paid to you at the end of every month - so if you can, set up all your bills (mobile phone, rent etc) to come out on the 1st of the month - that way you'll know right at the beginning of the month that all your bills are taken care of :)
3. Do one big food shop every month, stocking up on stuff that lasts a long time and taking advantage of offers (BOGOF etc), that way each week you only need to shop for the stuff that goes off (milk, bread, eggs etc). There's loads of great food you can cook on a tight budget too - don't be like me and just live off tomato pasta and cheese on toast!
4. If you get into financial difficulty, don't be afraid to talk to your bank, they'd rather that and help you come up with a plan, than to let things get really out of control. And if you can, I'd really really urge you not to even consider payday loans. I did and it got me into a repetitive cycle that was hard to break, I need to borrow money from my boyfriend to pay them off :/
5. If you're planning on buying anything online, always do a quick Google search for voucher codes and check cashback sites too, it might only been a few pence or pounds here and there, but it all adds up over time :)
6. Also, make sure you're on the best student account for you - make sure you research which one meets your needs the best, whether that's one with a decent overdraft or interest rates - try not to be duped by freebies, you're money might be better off earning you some interest :) Also, if you switch with TSB, they'll switch your bank accounts over in 7 days, nice and quickly, which makes it pretty easy as they do everything too.
This isn't so much a tip, but a piece of advice. Uni really changed for me when I moved into a shared house, I really didn't do well when I was in halls, I felt isolated and depressed, and mostly lived in my room as I didn't get on with any of the other students in my flat. If this is you, don't be afraid to change to a house-share, my whole uni experience changed so much when I house shared :)
And most importantly don't forget to have bucket loads of fun! Go to freshers week/fortnight, endless late nights at the student union bar and local clubs - the friends you make at uni, will be your friends for life (nearly 15 years on my best friends are still my uni friends).