Freshers’ tips #2 and #3: Budgeting and books


Make sure you don’t get caught out by one of the biggest financial mistakes students make. Check out the previous tip to learn how you can avoid falling into this trap!

Tip #2: Budgeting

If you thought insurance was interesting, I bet you’re dying to find out about how best to budget at university. No? Like many of these tips, these things seem incredibly unimportant at the start of freshers’ week but, trust me, by the end of first year you’ll be glad you spent three minutes reading them. That’s all I’m asking for, in exchange for you being able to survive first year without mountains of credit card debt and safe from the wicked grasp of those bilious old ladies at some awful pay-day loan company. Three minutes. Okay? Good.

Budgeting does not have to be as stringent a task as sitting down for hours at a time laboriously adding up your shopping receipts, creating fancy pie charts and self-imposing a daily spending limit. Nobody enjoys that – not even Management students (they pretend they do but we all know they’re lying).

Budgeting is all about self-discipline. In my experience, the best attitude to have is the same one that worked for you for revision. If that fancy colour-coded timetable was the only thing that kept you from going off the rails, then go ahead – bring out the glitter and stickers. If you (like me) abandoned your schedule on day two, don’t worry – just pay attention. The most important thing is that you ensure that what you spend on a night out tonight won’t affect your ability to pay rent or buy food tomorrow. Here are my four golden rules for budgeting:

1) Don’t ignore it. Many freshers employ the strategy of never checking their bank balance. “If I don’t know the extent of the problem, it doesn’t exist – right?” The easiest way to avoid mess is to stay on top of your bank balance. It’s much harder to overspend if you know the consequences of your actions. Don’t spend what you don’t have.

2) If too much money is going out, find some way of getting some more in. Getting part-time work in St Andrews is a great way of making sure you have enough money to last through the semester, but taking a job is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Make sure you read Camilla Henfrey’s advice before you start applying.

3) Prioritise. Bills come first. After those are paid, make sure you buy the essentials first – food, books, etc (see tip #3) – and then use what’s left on going out and entertainment. This all sounds obvious, but if you’ve got some money set aside for bills then please don’t use it on the next round of tequila shots; being hungover and broke is much worse than just being hungover.

4) Don’t throw away money. Here’s a hint: you’re throwing away money if you’re paying more for the same product at the same time than you somebody else. If you’re going out to eat and pay twice the price for the same pizza as the person sitting on the next table, who printed a voucher from the restaurant’s website before the meal, then you might as well have used that extra £5 note as toilet paper. There are a few things you can do that can really help you to stop this awful practice – one of these is keeping up to date with the Money section online and following @saint_money on Twitter.

Tip #3: Books

Arguably the biggest source of wasted money at university.

Please try not to pay full price for your books. As a fresher I made the mistake of paying over £60 to buy a Latin dictionary and a Greek lexicon that I have barely ever used (there are much better ones in the library and online). A lot of courses have fairly long reading lists and it is tempting when starting a new course to spend hundreds of pounds on stocking out your bookshelf. Find out which ones are essential and which ones you will only need for a few lectures – speak to people who have taken the course previously or, if that fails, email your future lecturers. Buy the essential ones second-hand (there are bound to be people who used them last year and no longer need them) and borrow the others from the library when needed. First-hand text books are rarely worth the money; resist the urge to relentlessly scribble and accept that the information is the same whether they were pre-owned or not.

Likewise, don’t keep hold of books you’re never going to need again. Reclaim some of the money you paid for them and do somebody else a favour at the same time. This cycle of buying second-hand and selling them on could potentially save you up to £1000 over the four years of your degree compared to buying first-hand and shelving them, depending on what modules you take.

If you really have to buy first-hand, shop around. If you buy online you can often (but not always) get the same books, delivered to your door, for a significantly lower price.


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