Money on my mind: Tips for managing finances


Hannah Carley offers some advice about how incoming freshers can effectively manage their finances at university.

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By Hannah Carley

For most students, university marks the first time that you will be living away from home. This comes with the daunting task of managing your finances. Having just finished my first year, I know how challenging it can be to take on the stress of rent, travel, food and course costs – to name just a few. However, over that time I’ve also picked up some tips and tricks that will hopefully help you to manage your finances as well as possible.


It sounds simple, but one of the most important things you can do is know exactly how much you can and are spending. Work out how much you can afford to spend on a weekly or monthly basis and do your best to stick to it. It is tempting to go on a shopping spree when that student loan drops, but remember it needs to last the whole term – you don’t want to be the person living on nothing but beans on toast by December!

A great way to keep an eye on your spending is through mobile banking. Most of the major banks have apps that will let you see how much you’ve spent and what you have spent it on. Alternatively, you can use a free budgeting app such as Mint or Pocketguard which can be linked to all your financial accounts. Also, don’t forget to keep some money aside for emergencies. I broke my phone during my first term - if I had not had some spare cash on hand, I don’t know what I would have done!

Academic Costs

By the time you are reading this article, you will have probably seen some very long reading lists for your modules. Don’t rush out to buy all those textbooks at once. You will realise quickly that you don’t need to read every book on the list, and most required reading will be accessible electronically. When advancing beyond required texts check if your desired book or journal is available online, in the library or second hand before paying full price.

The same goes for stationery. Only buy what you will use. You may think you need that pack of rainbow gel pens right now, but future you will likely think otherwise. It is also a good idea to consider buying in bulk - it may cost more initially, but will save you money over the course of the year. Besides, if you are like me and you handwrite your notes, you will get through more pens than you think!
Food and Drink

This is one of the easiest areas in which to overspend, particularly for students who are new to the kitchen. As simple as it would be to rely on restaurants, ready meals and takeaways, it’s a lifestyle that will not do your wallet any favours. Make sure you are cooking for yourself. Learning how to prepare a few basic recipes (pasta, stir fries etc;) will save you a lot of money. Checking out the recipes from last year’s MUSE cookbook may be a good place to start.

Also, if you are catered - GO TO ALL YOUR MEALS. I know so many people that regularly skipped catered breakfast or dinner and instead ordered in or cooked for themselves. This is a huge waste of money as you are essentially paying for all of those meals twice. Besides, a cooked breakfast is rumoured to be a great hangover cure, so get out of bed after a night out and get your money’s worth.

Another way to save money on food is to avoid buying lunch on campus all the time. As nice as it is to enjoy a meal from one of the many outlets here at York, doing so regularly can add up quickly. So prepare those packed lunches or fill a thermos up with soup or leftovers. The same goes for coffee lovers. Save a few pounds by filling a flask with your beverage of choice before heading to your next lecture. And if you really can’t go without a store bought coffee, then invest in a Yorcup to avoid the 20p latte levy and help the environment.


I hail from London, so I know firsthand how expensive rail travel can be. If you are regularly travelling home to see family or love a day trip to Scarbrough, make sure you invest in a 16 - 25 railcard. They cost £30 a year, but will save you one third off of every train journey. Book in advance when you can too, and avoid travelling at peak times.

When staying a bit closer to home, make sure you have the FirstBus app on your phone. With this you can buy 10 single trips on the 66/67 Bus for just £10. This will halve the price of a return journey to the town centre or York station than paying by contactless when you board, so make good use of it! Or if cycling is your gig, hop on your bike for some exercise - but be sure to get a good lock!

Socialising and Going Out

For many, nights out are a staple of the university experience, however going out can also be a huge drain on your finances. If you are prone to spending beyond your means whilst out, consider setting a budget for the evening and only take this amount with you in cash. Alternatively, you can purchase a prepaid card that you can load a set amount onto each time you head into town. This removes the risk of waking up to a shocking bank balance the next morning!

There are also plenty of ways to make savings outside of bars and clubs. When going to the cinema for instance, try to attend outside of peak hours and take advantage of concessionary prices or 2 for 1 deals. Be sure to also check out York Student Cinema - they show a wide variety of films at reasonable prices, especially if you pick up a membership. If live theatre, music or comedy is more your style, take advantage of the great talent we have right here on our campus. There are a huge variety of societies putting on fantastic performances at low prices throughout each term. From Comedysoc to Bandsoc, there is something to suit everyone. Many in fact are the lowest price of all - free!