Going to college

Going to college is an exciting time, whether you are staying at home or moving away. But it can be tough financially if you don’t have a regular income and you are on a tight budget. With so many new costs and financial decisions to be made, it can be hard to manage your cash.

Our five steps help reduce the stress of managing your money during your college days and help you to get the most from your cash.

Step 1: Finding somewhere to live

One of the first things to think about is where you are going to live. Student accommodation is in short supply so if you need to find a place to live, prioritise your property search.

Things to consider

  • Talk to your student union or college representatives for tips and advice on renting locally. Many colleges have a list of approved landlords in the area and also a list of digs available. Digs are a type of housing where a student stays in a family home and pays a flat rate for lodgings and board. It normally includes main meals.
  • Check the location of any property you are considering using online maps and make sure you are happy with the area.
  • Make sure you view the property and check it before you pay a deposit. Write a list of questions before you view, including how much the deposit is, whether other bills are included or extra, is there secure parking for a bike or car? Make sure you get a receipt for any money you pay.
  • Shop around for the best value and consider what type of accommodation would suit you best. Look at what campus accommodation is available. Sometimes this can work out cheaper as the price of the rent can include your bills too.
  • Most landlords ask for a deposit – usually one month’s rent. You get this back at the end of the tenancy as long as you leave the property in good condition, pay any outstanding bills and give proper notice. Make sure you get a receipt for all money paid and avoid paying in cash. Use reputable, trusted sites when searching and if you have any concerns contact your college accommodation office.
  • Watch out for rental property scams. One of the most common ones is where the scammer copies listings of actual properties available to rent and advertises them with their own email or phone number. Often they will refuse to show you the house, saying they are out of the country, but may send you photos and fake documents or keys in the hope of getting you to pay rent or a deposit. Often victims do not realise they have been scammed until they show up at “their” property to find someone else living in it.
  • Another one to look out for is when the scammer rents a property themselves for a short period of time. They then advertise it as being available for rent and show potential tenants around the property while they live there. They will agree to rent the place to you, look to collect the deposit along with the first month’s rent and disappear with your money. Again, you may not know you have been scammed until you’re unable to access the property you viewed and the scammer is no longer contactable.

Know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. For information about renting and your rights and responsibilities, check out www.threshold.ie or www.citizensinformation.ie.

Don’t go off to college without contents cover

Contents insurance is probably the last thing on your mind, but the chances are you have some expensive items such as laptops or music equipment that could be stolen, lost or damaged, so it’s worth considering protecting them. Paying for a replacement laptop, for example, could put a big dent in a limited budget, so it is important to make sure you have insurance. Whether you get your own policy or get cover under your parents’ policy, be sure to ask what is and isn’t covered. For example, will you be covered outside of the college term? Before you choose a policy, ask if there are any exclusions and what excess applies.

It may be difficult for you to get cover in your own name but it may be possible to get cover as a top-up to your parents’ home insurance policy.

Step 2: Student banking – keeping your money under control

Open a student account as soon as you can so you can keep track of your spending.

When choosing a student current account, don’t be dazzled by freebies from banks. What you really need to look at are the fees and charges. Most banks offer fee-free banking to students, but this doesn’t cover overdraft or late payment fees, which can be expensive. If you think you’ll use this service, choose the account with the lowest fees. Check out our student current account cost comparison and compare student accounts from different banks. Always keep track of what’s in your account and make sure you have enough money to cover any direct debits or payments to avoid penalty charges.

Be careful with credit

If you can avoid using a credit card, do! If this isn’t an option for you, then make sure you chose a credit card with a low annual percentage rate (APR). Remember your credit limit is not a spending target, so only use your card for essential purchases and try to pay your bill in full each month.  When it comes to loans, you should look for a low APR and try to borrow over as short a term as possible – that way you will pay less interest.  If you are considering getting a credit card, use our student credit card cost comparison to compare fees and charges.

For information on student loans, check out our student loans cost comparison to see what’s right for you.

Don’t ignore debt

If you’re in financial difficulty, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether you are living at home or away from home, you can speak to your bank or the student welfare officer at your college.  Ignoring the problem will only make things worse. Remember, if you miss repayments on loans now this will impact on your ability to get credit in the future. For example, if you need a mortgage, loan or credit card in the future, a bad credit record could mean that you are refused.

Step 3: Counting your cash – set a realistic budget

Making a budget and sticking to it can make a huge difference to your finances.  Check out our Budget Planner  to help get you started.

  • List your income and expenses – income could be money from a student loan or grant, savings you built up if you were working during the summer or your parents may be giving you a regular allowance to meet your day-to-day expenses.
  • For expenses, include items that you spend your money on. If you are living away from home, you will have additional expenses such as rent, food, heating and electricity to think about. For an idea of student expenses check out the Dublin Institute of Technology cost of living guide 2015/16. If you are living at home you should consider how much money you will need to cover lunches and snacks, transport, entertainment and mobile phone costs. Don’t forget to include loan repayments, under expenses.
  • Don’t underestimate your budget. Regularly update your income and costs to ensure you won’t overspend!
  • Have a look at our spending calculator to see how much you are spending on smaller everyday items like lunch or coffees. For instance, if you spend €4.95 on lunch, five times a week, you may be surprised to find that you are spending €107.62 a month and even more surprised to find that this works out at €1,291.31 a year. This is just one example where you could possibly make savings.

In order for your budget to work, your total expenses should not be more than your total income. Otherwise you will need to revise your budget. Check out our money saving tips for more ways to save. 

Step 4: Pay your bills on time!

You can pay your regular bills (gas, electricity and broadband) by standing order, direct debit or credit transfer. Each of these will have a different cost and will vary by provider, so check out the cost before you decide which one to use and make sure to ask if there are any special rates for students. Make sure that you have enough money in your account to meet these bills or you might be landed with a penalty fee.

Use our current account comparison to compare fees, interest rates and other features on student current accounts before choosing the most suitable option for you. Don’t waste your money on penalties for non-payment or referral fees.

Living with others?

The best way to deal with bills is to agree what costs you’re going to split between your housemates (from utility bills to milk) before you move in, or immediately afterwards. Have an agreed day for when rent and bills are to be paid. Once the bill comes in, sit down together and go through it, dividing it out equally. It might be an idea to share the responsibility out between each housemate, each taking on one of the household bills, ensuring that they are paid on time. This will give everyone an understanding of the work involved.

Step 5 – Money saving tips

  1. Look for student discounts – many shops offer discounts for students with a valid student card, so it’s worth asking. Check with service providers if they have any offers available to students. Buying online you’ll often find better deals on clothes, music, books etc. Sign up to group discounts sites for deals on everything from meals to hairdressing.
  2. Save on everyday bills – check advertisements for regular special offers and check our money saving tips for more information.  Make a list of your meals for the week and stick to it, and use all the money-off coupons you can get your hands on.
  3. Plan your weekly shop – be clever with what you buy; be a smart shopper and do up a shopping list in advance of your weekly grocery shop. Find out when your local supermarket tends to reduce items and arrange to do your shopping around that time. If you are living with other housemates it is usually cheaper to do one big shop and share the expense rather than going to smaller shops. Always ask if there’s a student discount, whether you’re buying a pair of shoes or a burger. You’ll be surprised at how many places offer them.
  4. Check out what’s available at your college – most colleges have student unions and social/sports clubs which offer good deals.  This is also a great way of meeting other students and familiarising yourself with your college! Volunteering at college events is also a great way to get involved and you are often paid for your time with vouchers or meals. Your local student newspapers are a good way of finding out about events and freebies.
  5. Don’t be tempted to eat out all the time – even if your college canteen is subsidised, you could end up over-spending on food. Bringing in a packed lunch, going home for lunch or simply bringing in your own tea and coffee can help you cut back on unnecessary costs. Have a look at the safefood website for some interesting recipes that you can use for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try to avoid convenience food and pre-prepared meals, as making your own is cheaper and healthier.
  6. Don’t buy all your course books in the first week – try to either get them from your college library or buy them second-hand. Sell any books you don’t need at the end of the college year.
  7. Update your wardrobe – check out second-hand and charity shops for clothes and accessories.
  8. Take care of transport – think about getting a monthly student ticket for the bus, train or Luas. The student Leap card gives you a reduction on travel and in some cases retail stores nationwide. Consider getting a bike – once you’ve got it, it’s completely free (and often quicker) to get around. This will help you cut down on travel costs.
  9. Accommodation advice – don’t jump at the first rental accommodation that you view; first you need to make sure it ticks all the important boxes. For example is it conveniently located, is it in a secure area and does it have the facilities that you require? Have a look on citizensinformation.ie for more information on your rights as a tenant and the minimum standards of accommodation. If you are renting, look after your accommodation. The landlord is entitled to take any damage or breakages out of your deposit at the end of the year.
  10. Store your spare change in a jar – it can add up fast. When it’s full, take it to the bank or coin-to-cash machine which you can find in some convenience stores.
  11. You may be entitled to a student grant – check out citizensinformation.ie for more details. For information on financial assistance schemes available in Ireland check out the Higher Education Authority’s website.
  12. You may be entitled to a tax refund – if you worked over the summer. Check out revenue.ie for details.
  13. If you have a credit card – make sure you get one with the lowest interest rate possible with no annual fees and just enough of a credit limit to get you by in an emergency. Don’t carry it with you, instead keep it in a safe place known only to you.
  14. Save money on your mobile – by shopping around for the best deal and using messaging apps. Compare costs on the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg)’s website and consider carefully which deal is best for you.

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