Making Cents: Smart planning will help with college cash flow

Students should take their finances in hand from the start, writes Gráinne McGuinness

THOUSANDS of households will be nervous tonight, as Leaving Cert students await tomorrow’s results. For many of them, this will be the start of higher education, leaving the family home and becoming independent. Course choices, saying farewell to family, and getting to know new people will be the priorities in the coming weeks.

But students should take their finances in hand from the start. Mistakes and splurges early in the academic year can come home to roost after Christmas — don’t be the housemate living on packet noodles from February until May.

First things first: If you haven’t applied for a SUSI grant yet, and think you may be eligible, apply immediately. You have missed the deadline and will have to wait on a decision, but they do accept late applications; find out all you need to know at susi.ie.

Accommodation is the other pressing issue. I covered it several weeks ago; read my advice here.

The most important thing about finances is to know your budget and plan accordingly. You may be the type to spend until your ATM card has no more to give, but now is the time to learn new skills. Figure out exactly how much money you have for the year — any grants or scholarships, support from your parents (if they are offering it), savings, and any money you plan to earn during the year.

Now, sit down and work out your costs. Factor in rent, bills, travel costs, and college and living expenses.

Allow for spending at Christmas and any one-off bills, like car insurance.

When factoring in utilities, remember that heating will drive bills up during the winter. Check your income against your outgoings. Do you have enough to last the year?

If you do, great. If not, work on ways to increase income, while trimming outgoings.

If you will have to work, start searching for a job now. If you are tempted to spend until you run out of cash and then look for work, you will be fighting for the leftovers.

Better to look now and work a manageable number of hours each week. Having to take on a lot of hours toward the end of the year, if you can find them, could affect your exams. When looking for a job, factor in time and money spent getting there and back.

Taxis home, after late-night shifts, will eat into the money you have earned. The sooner you start looking for a job, the better chance you have of finding something that suits your schedule.

Unless you are in accommodation that includes utilities, consider ways to reduce your monthly bills. Smartphones costs vary widely; research the best option for you. Comparison site, bonkers.ie, suggests 48 and iD Mobile have good options for students.

No matter what phone you have, spend a few minutes making sure you can trace it. Setting up Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager could save you the cost of a new handset.

Banks will be tripping over themselves to sign up students in the next few weeks. They will all give you free fees, so go for whichever current account offer you like best. Ones with cash back, after a set number of transaction or a travel card, can help boost your budget.

Overdrafts and credit cards will also be available. Even if they are without charges, remember, it is not free money. Going into debt is to be avoided, unless absolutely necessary. Don’t be tempted to get a credit card ‘just in case’.

Banks are not the only ones who will be offering discounts and freebies for students. From clothes to computers to nights out, keep your eye out for student offers and take full advantage of them.

Travel costs can also add up, so ensure you are getting the best value possible. The Student Leap Card is accepted for Dublin Bus, Luas, DART, Commuter Rail, Bus Éireann, and as student ID by Irish Rail.

Deal of the Week

Virgin Media is offering an alternative to long term contracts in the the broadband and TV market, with new packages that may be of particular interest to third-level students. Its new 30-day ‘no strings’ contracts give customers the option to sign up for only as long as they choose, with no commitment to a 12- or 18-month deal required.

The Freedom Broadband and Home Phone package comes with 240Mb Broadband, a wifi box and unlimited calls from your home phone to Irish landlines and mobiles plus 400 minutes to 22 countries. At €55 per month, it is not the cheapest deal around but may suit those who want to be able to cancel at short notice.

For an extra €20 per month customers can add in 20 TV channels plus access to 3 Player, RTÉ Player, 4oD, Sky On Demand and TG4 Customers who sign up will be able to access download speeds of 240Mb, as well as all of Virgin Media’s On Demand movies and box sets.


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