The Royal Bank of Scotland got in touch recently and asked if I’d be up for collaborating with them to create a blog post and video with my personal tips on how to best maximize your money as a student. As I say in the video, this is something I definitely got wrong at first – and I’m sure loads of people do. It’s daunting when you go to university for the first time and you’ve suddenly got books to buy, socializing to do, rent to pay and your parents aren’t doing your weekly shop anymore. It’s a whole lot of responsibility and it’s not the type you get any training for – one minute you’re your parents’ responsibility next thing you’re out there tackling the world alone. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way between starting my undergrad and now so I feel I’m probably one of the best people to give out advice because it has been a journey for me, so hopefully I can save you guys making as many stops at alternative destinations as I did!
Open A Bank Account
Tip number one might seem a bit basic – but open a bank account and, more specifically, open a student bank account. The Royal Bank of Scotland student account (link here - http://goo.gl/RA0sem ) comes with a tonne of benefits that are specifically designed with students in mind; which I’ll come to as I run through my different tips but for now the main thing to start you on the road of keeping on top of your money is to have it all in one place. I made the mistake of having a student account and a non student current account and it meant I had money coming in and out of both and I couldn’t keep it all straight, so learn from my experience and don’t do that!
The Royal Bank of Scotland also has mobile banking facilities and I honestly don’t know what I’d do now without my mobile banking apps – I’m constantly on the go and it means I can check my balance and transfer money any time. It’s all about maximising the ways you can keep in control of your bank and having that information on your phone is literally the handiest way to have it, because, as the millennial generation, when do we ever not have our phones to hand?
Also, get a job and get your salary paid in to your bank account. I know that sounds basic as well, but we had it drummed into us at school that uni was going to be so hard and so tough and it would take over our lives and we had to study all the time and would have no time for anything else and the truth is yes, when it gets to third and fourth year that is true, but in first and second year you can 100% balance your three or four classes a week with a job.
Having a job in the first few years of uni gives you a safety net for third and fourth year when your marks actually start to count towards determining your degree classification and the workload doubles out of nowhere. It’s all about balance – don’t ditch classes to take extra shifts in work (I had a friend go down that line – he failed and had to re-sit an entire module on top of the rest of his work the next year), but trust me when I say you can definitely balance uni with a part time weekend job – even just to begin with!
It also means that when you graduate you have some experience on your CV and you’ve shown you can balance more than one commitment at a time. Even if your job isn’t in the field you want to go into having an understanding of a work place will go a long way over someone graduating with the same results as you whose never done a day’s work in their life.
Also – having your own source of income and not being reliant on parents or student loan is is an amazing feeling and the best way to maximize your money if to properly learn the value of it. When you stop considering something as £70 and start considering it as ’10 hours of serving customers’ – you value it so much more!
Budget & Plan
This really is the main thing you can do to make sure you’re on top of what’s in your bank account after you’ve opened it – budget and plan! Understand what you’ve got coming into your account and what you’ve got going out – made a whole lot easier to keep on top of by having the mobile banking app to hand. I actually prefer making a basic spreadsheet on excel and writing down my main outgoings of each month vs. my income to let me know what I need to budget for and what I have left to play with.
I never used to plan for day-to-day life but I always planned for holidays – when Scott and I go on holiday I use the Envelope System for our budget. Calling it the Envelope System makes it sound a whole lot more sophisticated than it really is – I basically write an itinerary for every day of the holiday that includes how much I need to budget every day for everything – food, taxis, meals, tips, entry fees to attractions – everything. I then take the allotted amount of money and put it in an envelope so that for each day of the holiday I have an envelope of cash that means than even if I’ve gone crazy in Kate Spade the day before and have no spending money left I know I have enough money to eat and to do everything we planned to do.
So then I sort of had an epiphany and realized – if I can plan like this for holidays I can plan like this at home! I know! It was a light bulb moment for me too. Now realistically you’re not going to kill the environment by going through 365 envelopes a year, but you can sit down and plan your big expenditures at the start of the month and put the money for those things aside (for example this month I was going to London so I allotted a certain amount to my holiday and put that aside from the rest so that it was accounted for and I knew what was left over for the rest of my expenses).
Big expenses aside at the start of each week if you know what’s on the agenda for that week you can also take out that amount in cash and just have that in your purse – leave your card at home and you’re 100% less likely to chip and pin all the small things (coffees between lectures anyone?) that add up to explaining where all your money has gone at the end of the month. With Royal Bank of Scotland Get Cash you can withdraw funds without using your card at Royal Bank of Scotland or Tesco ATMs if you do get caught short, so you’ll never be in an unsafe position but it’s capped and it puts one more barrier between you and chip and pinning your crisps and your can of juice that you won’t remember tomorrow, but that you might be regretting when you need to do an actual weekly shop.
Speaking of weekly shops food is an area where you can save a fortune if you’re smart. As a lot of you know I’m currently on Slimming World and if you’ve watched those videos I talk a lot in the earlier ones about the massive lifestyle change between eating out and on the go a lot (both the perk and the drawback of my uni being in Glasgow’s West End and surrounded by too many amazing food places) and planning my menus and making my own food. Not only am I eating a lot healthier I am saving a ridiculous amount of money. You don’t realize how quickly all those ‘let’s go for a coffee’s between lectures at £5 a time and ‘let’s just grab dinner on the way home’s add up – even spending £5 a day 5 days a week adds up to £100 a month, which I know I’d rather put into a new pair of shoes than on meal deals and coffees.
If you plan your menus in advance you can bulk cook, which will save you loads of time and mean you have meals conveniently at home that just need to be microwaved to heat up and you can take stuff with you to uni (even if you like a can of juice for your morning break you can buy a multipack in the supermarket and take one a day with you and it’s still cheaper than spending 75p a time, it is 100% all those stupid non-considered expenses that add up, I promise!)
I’d also say make sure you have a freezer, I always thought everyone did then my friend got a flat that just had a fridge with a tiny freezer box at the top. If you go to the supermarket later at night when the reductions have been done you can save so much money, go home, bulk cook and freeze till you need it – or even freeze the stuff as you’ve bought it till you decide what to make with it. Minimise the take aways, the meals on the go, the coffees and the cans of juice and I promise you will see a massive difference in your bank account. And you’ll probably also avoid the ‘freshman fifteen’, as our Amercian counterpart say!
Travel is another thing you can plan – with Royal Bank of Scotland you get 1/3 off standard adult fares with Scottish Citylink services when booked through National Express & 1/3 off standard adult coach fares in the UK with National Express. If you’re not a regular user of the coaches though you might even want to consider the various transport cards – you can get 1/3 off train fares with a Young Persons 18-25 Rail Card that might be worth investigating and there’s also the Zone Card, which you can pay in various intervals (to last 1 week, 4 weeks, 10 weeks or a year) and that might work out to be better value for you. For me I would have to pay to get to the city centre then pay the subway return every day on top of that so the Zone Card was definitely the best option for me as it’s valid on buses, trains and the subway.
It’s also worth considering cost vs. value – even if it doesn’t save you a massive amount is it worth buying at the start of the month, or even at the start of the year so that you know for the next period of time that you’ve chosen you don’t need to consider budgeting in travel? When you first go away to uni it can be so difficult to try to and get into budgeting your money properly and maybe taking away that daily expense will make that a bit easier as it’s one less thing to plan for!
What are your big expenses and how are you going to make it happen? I love holidays – so I didn’t do a lot of nights out, I’d always rather go away for a week at the end of term than go to a club three nights a week and waste all my money on entry fees and taxis home. That’s my choice, you need to make yours. It’s a bit harsh but no one gets to do everything they want so make the choices for what your big things that are non negotiable are.
If it’s travel then I’ve already mentioned the discounts on the coaches through the Royal Bank of Scotland account but they do also offer 10% off coach fares to lots of European destinations with Eurolines, which could make the possibility of a summer holiday or an Easter break a bit more realistic. For more far flung destinations
use sites like Student Universe where you’ll get exclusive cheap flights. However, it’s always worth doing the research and pricing up the cost of booking your flights and accommodation separately and as a package – every time I’ve done New York it’s been cheaper to book as a package, every time I’ve done DLP or WDW it’s been cheapest to book flights myself and book the hotel and tickets as a mini package straight with Disney, but European city breaks seem to change every time.
If big holidays aren’t your thing but you want lots of experiences I really recommend signing up to Itison, Groupon and Living Social – you can get deals on everything from spa days, hotel stays, theatre tickets – literally everything.
And if festivals are high on your agenda then the Royal Bank of Scotland Student Account also gets you 10% off travel to selected festivals and events in the UK – so another way you can save.
There are loads of ways to save on whatever it is you want to prioritise, but the main thing is – no matter what you’ve chosen to prioritise – that you do prioritise it, plan it in when your doing your budget and planning from point two and remember that bigger things like holidays are going to affect your budget for more than just one month. But if it’s worth it to you to put that money aside and save for something you just need to accept that by prioritsing on that you’ll sacrifice on something else. There’s some parts of being a grown up and budgeting that even I can’t sugar coat I’m afraid.
So after the sad and serious chat above about sacrifices and priorities let’s talk about something more fun – shopping. Because just because you’re on a budget it doesn’t mean you stop shopping – but you have to shop a little bit more savvy.
First of all use your student card! You get discounts on most high street retailers and it’s also well worth signing up to My UniDays and get that student discount when you’re shopping online. If you’re buying online check out cashback sites like Quidco – a friend of mine is amazing at using these and gets everything through them, from clothes to booking holidays and she gets money back at the end of every month.
Secondly, shop with retailers who value you as a customer and offer you rewards – like stores with loyalty schemes. If you’ve watched any of my Boots Hauls you guys will know I’m obsessed with Boots points. Not only do you get points on everything you buy, you also get vouchers through the mail for bonus points and you can use the app to get even more opportunities to boost your points balance. When it’s the end of the month and you’re really skint but you just want something nice because you’ve been in the library till 3am every night that week doing dissertation research, you can spend the points guilt free. John Lewis, M&S, House of Fraser, Debenhams Beauty Club – loads of stores have loyalty schemes and they’re pretty much all worth being signed up to because every pound you spend generates something.
I also massively recommend shopping with a supermarket with a loyalty scheme – Waitrose, M&S & Tesco all have these and you’ll be so surprised how quickly it adds up! You get vouchers through the mail that you can either spend in the store (I recently got GOT Season 5 on Blu Ray without spending a penny!) or with Tesco they have lots of partners so your can convert your Tesco points into vouchers to spend at restaurants or on cinema tickets – whatever you want to prioritise.
Speaking of the cinema it’s not exactly a loyalty scheme as such but both Cineworld and the Odeon cinemas have a value card – where you pay a set amount by direct debit every month and you get to go to the cinema as many times as you like. If you and a few of your friends are all signed up to one of these it means you can all have a night out at the cinema, even if you can’t afford a night out in the traditional sense. I only have a Cineworld card so I can only comment properly on that but I’ve definitely had my money out of it – Scott and I go all the time – but similarly to Tesco and their Clubcard partners Cineworld cards also get you a discount at various restaurants so you can get extra savings in there too!
After budgeting and planning this is the next most important of the five points I’m making today. Nobody, I repeat, nobody gets everything right the first time. It will take months of trying and failing to find out what works best for you. But the main thing is to sit down at the end of the month and make sure you take the time to figure it out, work out what worked well, what saved you money, what made you spend money you didn’t need to (Maybe you’ve signed up to the ASOS mailing list to be notified of when there’s discounts, but actually you’ve clicked through and bought things five different times this month that you were impulse purchases enabled by the mail shot?) and adjust accordingly.
With Royal Bank of Scotland you do have the interest free overdraft (£500 in your first term and up to £2000 thereafter) if you’re over 18, so you can have that safety net to fail a few times and to make the mistakes without running up huge credit card debts; but make sure you are always reviewing your money and your spending habits because the only way to make it better is by figuring out what you did wrong and what you did right and maximize on that!
I know that, a bit like when I was banging on about prioritizing, this is maybe a little bit boring but it took me years of living in my overdraft and asking my parents for extra money every month before I managed to figure out that analyzing where I was going wrong was the only way to fix it, rather than just blindly starting every new month like ‘I need to somehow make my money last longer this month but I have no idea how so I’ll just try not to buy anything and everything I do buy I’ll stick on my credit card so it doesn’t actually affect my bank balance’. Yes, that was literally my thought process. So I’ve come a long way, and hopefully by sharing these points with you today I can save you from having to come the long way that I did and hopefully you can all just avoid the two and a bit years worth of mistakes I made before something finally clicked. Because I promise, being in control of your money and making good decisions might seem a bit boring when you’re supposed to be being a wild and free student, but when you’re financially in a good place there’s a freedom there that can’t be replicated. And yes, I’m totally aware that I’ve turned into my Gran!
If you’re interested in the RBS student account and reaping the benefits of it do check it out here - http://goo.gl/RA0sem