Eight lessons to learn to survive on a student budget

As the first round of CAO offers are considered, Grainne McGuinness sets out 8 essential tips on financial survival for students. 

LAST week we looked at the various options available for families who need to borrow for third-level education.

Whether students are taking out loans, using savings and/or working while in college, it is vital that they manage their finances to last the year and avoid unnecessary debt.

This can be challenging for some, particularly those living away from home for the first time, but these 8 simple facts can help build good financial habits.

1. The most important thing students need to know is exactly how much money they have, and budget for that amount.

Add up savings, any grants, money to be earned from part-time work and any other sources of income.

2. Once you know how much you have, divide that amount across the college year so you know exactly what you have to spend each week/month.

Every year some students cut loose once they hit campus for the first time, spending whatever they have without a thought for the long year ahead.

You don’t want to make it to Christmas and realise your account is in the red and you are going to have to borrow more to make it through the year.

Ration money to yourself on either a weekly or monthly basis to ensure April is much the same as October, rather than a barren wasteland of baked beans and no social life.

3. Pay for the important stuff first — that means rent and utilities rather than Jagerbombs.

If a student is very new to managing money then accommodation that includes energy, bins, and other bills in the rent is a good option, if possible.

If not, set aside money each month so you don’t get wiped out when a bill is due. Ideally, rent and utilities money should be kept separate from other funds so there is no temptation to dip in.

4. Next on the budget list should be food, college supplies and travel. Whatever is left is your available budget for activities, hobbies, and socialising.

It can come as a big shock to the system to be without access to a stocked fridge and not to have a dinner cooked for you every evening.

Some students fall into the trap of eating takeaways and junk food at the start, but the novelty wears off fast.

As well as the cost to your health, even cheap fast food is more expensive than making your own meals.

The discount supermarket is your friend; a weekly or fortnightly shop should set you up for less than the cost of a Chinese takeaway.

If you’re not confident in the kitchen, now is the time to learn a few simple recipes. Consider combining food plans with housemates or friends.

Cooking for one can be boring and more expensive; pool your resources and culinary skills for a more varied diet.

5. Don’t rush out and buy your entire reading list; it will cost you a fortune and is unnecessary.

Most of the books will be available in the student library for you to access as you need them.

Find out which books you do need your own copies of and try to get them second-hand.

Student Unions often run used book exchanges; if not, try bookshops nearby.

6. Many students return home regularly during term and travel costs add up.

Find out if there is a local bus service to your college; many private operators do weekly runs.

If you are going to be using public transport make sure you only pay the student fare.

Bus Éireann and Irish Rail both list the student IDs they accept on their websites, or you can apply for either a Student Leap card or an International Student Identity Card (ISIC).

Both of these will be accepted for student travel and will also give you access to a range of other discounts.

7. Businesses know that offers for students can lead to customers for life and offer generous discounts in a range of areas.

Shops, restaurants, cinemas and more — make sure you take full advantage of student status. This applies to banks too (see panel).

8. If you do get into difficulty don’t worry in silence; the Student Assistance Fund may be able to help.

Students can ask for assistance with either temporary or ongoing financial dificulties, although not for tuition or the Student Contribution.

Contact your students’ union or student support staff on campus for more information.


Every year banks do their best to woo students to them for their third-level current account, knowing there’s a good chance that the one you choose will end up being your bank for life.

KBC is pulling out all the stops with its offer; giving students €100 in two payments if they choose the KBC Student Current account.

Students will get €40 lodged when they first open the account. Once they then activate online banking and carry out 10 debit card transactions by the end of the year, the remaining €60 will be paid in January.

As with most student accounts, KBC also offers fee-free banking.

It’s worth noting there is no overdraft option with this account. Student overdrafts can be a useful cushion in case of emergencies, though students should avoid ‘living’ in their overdraft; at some point it will have to be paid off.

If you do want an overdraft, AIB and Ulster Bank offer students interest-free overdrafts of up to €1,500.


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