Making Cents: A financially stable start to third level

Consumer advice with Gráinne McGuinness

This is a big week for school-leavers in Ireland, as those who intend to go on to college find out if they have got the places they want. If the first-round offers yesterday brought good news for you or a student in your family, congratulations.

From now until freshers’ week will be a hectic time and ,while it is great to get caught up in the excitement, there are a few key moves students and their families can make now to ensure a financially stable start to college.

The first step is to understand exactly what your financial position is – whether you are paying for college using grants, parental help, loans, savings or a combination.

Make a list of all the expenses you will encounter between now and May. Obviously include all the big things like fees, accommodation, bills and travel. But also factor in things like Christmas, car insurance or any other annual bills.

When thinking about utilities remember to include costs like your mobile phone, internet usage and renter’s insurance.

When it comes to daily living costs, don’t just estimate the cost of a weekly food shop – think about whether you will have to eat some meals in college. Consider taxis and other incidental expenses when working out how much to put in the budget for socialising.

Now calculate all your sources of income and set that against your outgoings column. If the numbers match or you are left with a surplus, great. If not, you need to go back to your expenses and see where you can make savings.

Most colleges and students’ unions will offer incoming freshers advice on ways to save. For example – don’t rush out and buy the reading list, many of the titles will be available second-hand or accessible in the library.

If you have cut your budget to the bone and are still coming up short, you need to earn some extra income. The good news is by working it out now, you will get a head start when it comes to looking for a part-time job.

The best advice from colleges is not too work too much in term-time, your priority is your studies. But 10-12 hours a week should be manageable for many students and will improve your financial position.

If this is not an option for you, next week I am looking at other sources of student finance in more detail. Once you know your budget, work out how you are going to manage it on a monthly basis.

It is very easy to overspend if you are new to this, particularly in the heady early days of college, with so much to see and do.

Whether you are relying on a fee payment, wages or a transfer from parents, try and separate money for rent and utilities from your day-to-day spending.

The simplest way to this is ensure these bills are paid out as soon as money comes into your account but if that is not possible consider a separate account for major items.

It is also worth considering spending some money now in order to save during the academic year.

A water bottle, Keepcup or travel mug and containers for sandwiches, soups and salads will all make you more likely to prepare in advance and bring your refreshments for the day with you.

These items are increasingly popular as they are better for the environment as well as budget-friendly, so don’t worry about anyone else passing comment. Another good investment in a student house is a clothes horse.

Many residences will have tumble dryers but they are a major culprit when it comes to guzzling electricity. Similarly, get a high-tog duvet for the winter months and bring comfy jumpers and cardigans for lounging around the house.

Winter electricity and gas bills can come as a very nasty shock and the SEAI estimate that lowering your thermostat from 21c to 20c could save around €150 per year in an average house. You may be used to relaxing in a t-shirt in the family home but that privilege comes at a high price.

There may be a steep learning curve involved in getting to grips with your own budget but learning to take control of your finances and live within your means is just as valuable a lesson as any you are likely to learn in lectures.

Deal of the Week

The good news for students is that all the major banks will offer you fee-free banking, in the hope of bagging a customer for life.

Many of the Irish banks also bring out annual incentives for third-level students and this year KBC are first out of the blocks, with a cashback offer available since yesterday.

Students who open a new KBC Student Current Account before October 31 will be rewarded with up to €75. You can open an account on the KBC app and will have €15 transferred within 24 hours (or 20 business days where you open your account via other account opening channels).

In addition to this, if you make 10 debit card transactions on your KBC Student Current Account in any calendar month you will receive a reward of €15 per month. You may earn up to four rewards, adding up to a maximum of €60.

As with most students account, KBC will also waive quarterly maintenance fees and ATM fees and offer free cashback and contactless debit card transactions. Find out full details at

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