Graduate with a First in student finance

29 August 2008

With September literally around the corner, thousands of students will soon be leaving the safety of the nest and heading off to university to embark on three years or more of further study. While my degree set me up for my future career, I honestly believe that getting to grips with managing my money at university was the best skill I ever learnt.

As soon as you get to university, you'll be inundated with 'freshers' events to go to, social clubs to join, book lists to buy for, not to mention your first instalments of rent and those dreaded tuition fees. Not only will your first few weeks be exciting, they have the potential to burn a serious hole in that first student loan cheque. By all means enjoy yourself, but remember – it has to last a few months. I found that sorting out a budget for the essentials such as food and rent proved to be a real lifesaver, and if you don't want to live on a diet of beans on toast don't ever underestimate the cost of socialising with your new friends!

A handy tip though – never buy new. Eager students (myself included) often rush off to the local Waterstones to get core textbooks. Unless you're sure you'll really need it, and if your campus has one, check out the second-hand bookstore first, chances are it'll be packed with the previous year's unused ones. And if your study permits, do try and get a part-time job. Working in a bar, in the library stacking shelves, or even flipping burgers or grilling chicken in Nando's like I did – it all pays off.

My first year flew by, but before I knew it I was suddenly scouring student accommodation ads to move in with friends – but this is when the real money test comes in. You'll have to sign a tenancy agreement, but make sure you take it to your union to check it's legitimate before you sign on the dotted line – the majority of landlords are fine, but I heard some real horror stories of mislaid deposits, freezing homes and broken boilers...

Once you move in to your new home, you'll be responsible for gas and electricity, water rates, TV licence, perhaps a home phone and line rental, broadband (an essential!) and your rent. You'll be clued up as to how much you need per week for food and fun, but I found setting up a separate bank account for all of these essentials really handy – and no matter how tempting a student night hosted by Timmy Mallett is – never touch it!

And finally, be very careful with your bank details and debit card. It seems obvious, but don't ever tell your friends your PIN, keep all statements safe and if you are using a shared computer to check your bank, always make sure you are securely logged out. And, as my friend found out to his cost – don't keep any personal details on your laptop or computer – if it's stolen a fraudster will have all they need to steal your identity or even worse your student loan.

If you get the skill of managing your money right and you'll graduate with a first in student finance – get it wrong and you'll start your working life with a mountain of debt to climb. Good luck!

Liam Tarry is the staff writer at Moneywise