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Money matters

In this article you explore your relationship with money and how you can make small changes to improve your budgeting skills ready for uni.
photo of woman buying groceries, looking at the labels
© University of Reading

At university, it can be difficult to balance paying for essentials for everyday living (eg food) with going out with friends. If you plan to take a Student Loan, you’ll probably receive your money each term and will need to make your budget last over many weeks.

It’s important to understand our relationship with money so that we can identify the factors that influence how we spend it, and what prevents us from saving for what we want. Understanding this is what helps us to maintain self-control and to manage the impulse spend.

Money represents the possibility of being able to acquire things that we value. We desire money because it helps us achieve things that we want in life. When we buy something our brain’s reward system responds with a positive feeling that makes us want more. So, how much money is enough? It depends on what’s important to you. Having money allows us to afford the things we need. One reason for wanting more money is so that we can cover our expenses and still have some left for non- essential things such as paying for gifts, travelling, and having some comfort.

The value of saving

As we grow up, we learn to associate different meanings to money: having it or not having enough. In a consumer society, there’s a lot of emphasis on being able to afford items that are promoted as being essential to a comfortable and successful life. When we want to buy something, we have a need in that present moment. If you find yourself tempted to buy things, pause and ask yourself – is this something that I need now or is it something that I’d like to have? Can I afford it? Does it help me to achieve my goals?

To save requires self-control to be able to manage the impulse to buy. It’s very important to have energy to be able to apply willpower, particularly when feeling frustrated, sad or stressed. Some may have developed the habit of buying things as a way of lifting their mood. However, this is short lived and as a result may create a bigger problem as it escalates into debt.

If you notice that it’s difficult to control the impulse to buy, stop for a moment and try and identify your feelings. Then, think what would be best to do. For example, if you’re feeling low as a result of a relationship problem talk to a friend or family member so that you can get support and another perspective. It could be that your mood is affected because your studies aren’t going well. Talk to your Tutor or Study Advisers about ways of managing your assignments and developing your study skills. Identifying what you need to do differently will help you to make progress rather than buying something to lift your mood in the short term.

Tips to save money and prevent debt

  • Make the choice to save money for a particular purpose. Knowing what you’re saving for will help prevent spending money impulsively.
  • Use online banking to manage your money – there are apps available to make tracking your spending easier.
  • Having a student bank account with a no interest overdraft doesn’t mean that this is free money – overdraft counts as debt. Monitor your spending and try to pay off your overdraft as soon as possible.
  • To maintain a good credit score it’s important not to exceed your overdraft limit.
  • Have an accurate picture of your funds and evaluate how much money you need for the day, the week, and the month.
  • When you have the impulse to buy something, pause and take time to ask yourself if you can afford it without getting into debt later.
  • Don’t buy – try borrowing or swapping instead! If you can’t borrow — shop second hand, it’s good for the wallet and the environment.
  • Get cashback on purchases if you need to buy. Be smarter with your shopping and sign up to cashack sites.
  • Set boundaries to help you when you’re out socialising. For example, agree with your friends to pay for your own food when out for dinner.
  • When you go out socialising, take the sum that you think you can spend in cash, so that you don’t go over your budget.
  • Explain to your friends that you need to economise so that you can manage to get your basic needs covered during the term. Good friends will understand and support your goals.

We’ve listed below further resources for you to look at to help you budget at uni.

© University of Reading
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