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How we budget as college students

Budgeting a student can be a big challenge. Often its the first time budgeting. Having a budget and sticking to it is the key to being successful with your finances at all stages in life and being a student is no exception. However, due to the intermittent nature of income and expenditure it can feel overwhelmingly challenging. When this post goes live I will be in my last ever exam in Law school and though Im done with my studies Chris still has a few more years on his Engineering degree. As students there a few things we have learnt along the way that can be done to make the whole process easier and more manageable.

As well as sharing some tips we have learnt that have helped us budget we are also including in this post an editable excel budget spreadsheet that is tailored towards student budgets. Click on the image below to be direct to Google Drive where you can download the spreadsheet

1. Knowing when all payments are going in and out.  
They key to managing a budget where this are intermittent is being in the know and consequently in control. In our budget spread sheet we note when our income streams are paid in by adding the comment boxes to annotate. Knowing how long a payment needs to last you helps you avoid big fluctuations in finances.
Things that count as income in a student budget include:
- Student Finance
- Grants/Scholarships
- Part-time work (term time)
- Holiday work
- Parental financial assistance
We also have on our calendar the dates of all our bills that come out through the month via standing order and direct debt and we have the amounts of each bill next to the date. I do this because before we were married I could just about remember the dates for all my expenses, but once we added Chris' stuff into the situation it just became too much for me to remember and left me feeling stress. Now I wonder why I didn't use a calendar before as it just makes life so much easier. For bigger, infrequent bills such as annual insurance we put a reminder on the calendar the week before its due (so if money needs to be transferred we have time) and then a note on the day its due.

2.  Budget for an academic year
When we make our budget spreadsheets we budget from September for 12 months rather than following the normal calendar year which most budgets apply. This allows us to see our expected income and expenditure over an academic year and avoid having to deal with two academic years at a time. We do this because it is easiest for us to project that time frame as most of our income is grants and scholarships and these are paid on an academic year basis. Taking this longer term perspective (rather than just looking at term time) allows you be aware if you need to make any changes for your budget to keep your balance in the green.

3. Pay your self a monthly income
We get student finance in three instalments and scholarships in two and they all come in at awkward times. We have easy access savings accounts linked to our current account and we divide up our total anticipated income over the year and pay ourselves a 1/12 each month. This works for us right now because we have 12 equal rent payments but when I was in halls my rent was paid in three instalments (the same as student finance) so what I would do is wait for the rent to go out (as it was only a day or so later) and with the remaining money divide it into the number of months it needed to last and put the other months money in an easy saver. To make things even easier (so you don't even have to remember to 'pay' yourself set up an automatic payment for each month.

How do you help keep your budget organised with the fluctuations of student life?
Disease Called Debt

5 ways to get the most value from your degree

The end of the academic year is rolling around. For some this will mean the end of a journey, whilst others have several years to go. Getting a degree is an investment and an expensive one at that the average UK student will graduate with £44,000 in student finance (click here to learn more about UK student finance). Like all investments it is important to work to ensure you get the maximum return but sometimes its hard to understand return on investment in relation to education. The key return on investment in relation to a degree is the increase earning potential is provides over your working career. However, this can be difficult to appreciate this whilst you are studying and in the increasingly challenging employment market  makes it harder. There are things you can do whilst completing your degree that boost the value of your time at univeristy.

1. Attend the best university you can
Everyone has different academic abilities and not all universities offer the course you wish to pursue. But consider carefully the reputation of the university you are attending especially considering most universities in the UK charge the same fees. Also if you find you are doing much better academically at your degree than you did in your secondary education consider transferring to a better university. Though not particularly common it is not hugely difficult to transfer universities and is worth discussing with their admissions department. Also when deciding the subject you want to study consider the employability it brings.

2. Keep the cost of a degree low
Though the reputation of a university is important this should be viewed in light of the comparative cost. While tuition fees are likely to exactly the same (unless you are a non-English UK student) there are other areas cost occurs. Consider whether there a good university near by you could commute to allowing you to save on the cost of living. Consider if there is an equally reputable univeristy in a more affordable city? Cost of living is one the costs that varies the most between institutions but is commonly most overlooked when selecting a university. I know in hindsight I should have considered more the cost of living in Brighton before choosing to study here(though having expected to study in London everything seemed cheaper). While Chris was fortunate enough to be able to commute from home to univeristy before we got married doing this saved us considerable amounts on rent. It is also important to look at what scholarships and grants are available at those universities and which if any you may be eligible for. This may significantly reduce the cost of the degree and for me was one of the reasons I chose the University of Sussex as they offered a good scholarship scheme for those who are the first in their family to go to university.

2. Get the best grades you can

Graduating (on time) and with good grades is key to attributing value to your time at university. Though there is so much more to the experience graduate jobs will often require a degree with a certain grade. If you are looking to go into a certain field then look at the educational requirements that you will need. The value of your degree increases and opens more doors the better grades you achieve and yes you can always supplement bad grades with work experience but its just easier to work hard and get the best grade you can. When deciding modules try to be strategic, find a balance between subjects you find enjoyable, are likely to get the best grades in and those an employer would want to see.

3. Join clubs and societies.
University gives you the opportunity to join so many different activities the list is almost endless and the costs are often very low. Subject orientated societies are also a great way to learn more about career options, attend networking events and obtain internships. Being on a club/society committee allows you to develop practical skills that are beneficial to employers.

4. Complete work experience and internships
During you degree your unlikely to have little financial commitments and as such it makes it the perfect time to undertake unpaid (or if your lucky paid) work experience and internships. These can really make the difference and make your job application stand out from the crowd. Take advantage of the careers help offered at your university and put this valuable resource to great use when applying for internships (or your graduate job).  Undertaking work experience will also help you to gain a greater understanding of whether a career is for you as it is far easier to change your direction early on in your education that upon graduation.  You may choose to do a year in industry, these are a great opportunity to learn more about a sector and may result in an offer of full time work. Though it is important to remember whilst they are normally paid, you also have to pay tuition fees for that year (though normally at a reduced rate).


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    Why it made financial sense for us to marry in college

    Often the cost of marriage puts young couples off trying the knot. When we decided to get engaged we started to think about whether getting married whilst we were both still in college was a feasible option. A big part of the decision was the financial impact of marriage and if it was something we could afford to do whilst both studying. But we were luck to discover that getting married whilst in college made great financial sense for us and has saved us money. Today we are sharing some of the reasons why getting married as students has been financially beneficial for us.

    • Our living costs are reduced. Rather than renting two separate rooms which in Brighton often cost £400-500 p/m we have a 1 bed flat that gives us so much more space than shared student housing for £750 a month. We  found that being married generally means living off campus which is typically cheaper accommodation anyway. Also we are able to share the costs of food, transport and laundry that would have been separate. 
    • Grants and scholarships. As we are both students presently we are considered a low income household and so our eligibility for grants and scholarships is based on our joint income. This means we have been eligible for money that we would not have got had it we been assessed on our parents income. As we are assessed on what we take home, as although many students do part time work the income from this is unlikely to surpass parents income. Even once I start work following graduation our household income will not surpass many thresholds for assessment. This can make a huge difference to paying for the cost of college as we have gone from receiving the minimum amount of grant  to the maximum (£3000) plus Chris got a £2000 scholarship from his college that we didn't even have to apply for simply because we're low income. 
    • Tax benefits. Married couples cam get a tax break worth up £432 if one spouse is a non-tax payer (earning £11000 or less) and the other is a basic rate rate payer (its backdates so many can get this years and last years allowance). This tax situation is likely to occur if one of you is still studying whilst the other is working. To apply for this head to HMRC website 
    • Less student finance. Chris has just completed his first year of a 4 year engineering programme and I am about to start work following Graduation. We are fortunate to be in a position where my salary provides us with enough to live off and that the money Chris brings is is out savings. Because of this we have taken the decision to only take out a maintenance grant and not a maintenance loan this means Chris will owe less on his student finance when he graduates.
    • Different perspective. Being married we have both found ourselves moving away from the typical student scene. This has benefitted both our grades (both of us averaging 1st class degrees (4.0 GPA)) and our bank balance. For me knowing the outcome of my grades and getting a job not only impacts me but my husband motivates me to succeed so that I can provide for him whilst he completes his degree. 
    • Independence. Though we were pretty independent from our families before marriage being married has made us completely. This is unusual for college students but is a super important life skill. Though independence brings challenges we have also relished in it as it has provided the opportunity for us to set our own goals ands aspirations.