For some, having to live on a student loan, isn’t a prerequisite of life as a student, however for most students, having a limited income, based around your maintenance loan is the standard – so knowing how to maximise this, plus being able to stretch it further or make a little extra, can help you transform your life from noodles and beans in a cold room to something a bit more comfortable! 

First place to start, is to make sure you are making the most of what’s available to you through your student loan – and any other scholarships or bursaries you might be able to apply for.  

Generally, for students in England, if your household income is less than £25,000 – you should be entitled to a maintenance loan of £8,700, with this amount decreasing as your household income increases. You might also be entitled to various other forms of governmental help, depending on your circumstances – and these include Income Support, Parents Learning Allowance, Childcare Grant, Adult Dependants Grant, Child Tax Credit, Disabled Learning Allowance, to name just a few.

Depending on your course, university, circumstances etc, you might be eligible to apply for various bursaries, scholarships, and hardship funds. These do not have to be paid back, but you will need to do some work to find out what’s available for your specific circumstances. A good place to start with this is your university student services department - they will have access to lots of knowledge about the options available locally to you!

Once you have this covered, it’s time to think about how you can make any extra! It’s important that if you need to consider ways of making extra money, you consider your studies first – after all, by getting a good degree, you’ve got better options for your career in the long run – so make sure you don’t prioritise any part-time work above your studies (although this is tough, and we all slip occasionally!)

Some good ideas to start with include:

  • Approach your university – some universities have a careers service that also advertises part time jobs available to apply for in the local community. What you can make: Generally minimum wage, but higher rates available for more specialised work
  • Keep a keen eye open for part-time jobs on the notice boards of local newsagents, along with online sources such as gumtree. What you can make: Generally minimum wage, but higher rates available for more specialised work
  • Mystery Shopping and retail merchandising can be convenient flexible way to find work that fits in with your studies – especially if you can drive and have access to a car! Very often this kind of work is done on a self-employed basis, so you need to keep an eye on your tax and national insurance, but generally, if you can go to the stores during opening hours, whether that be at 7 am or 10 pm, you can be sure to find occasional jobs! What you can make: £8 - £10 per hour on average.
  • Whilst you’re never going to become a millionaire, doing surveys online can be a handy way to make a little in your spare moments – from on the bus, or having lunch – filling in a questionnaire or two about your daily habits can reap rewards from PayPal payments to amazon vouchers and more! What you can make: depending on how much you commit, maybe £10 – 20 per month.
  • Become a participant! Again, whilst this isn’t right for everyone (and indeed, not every university has the option available!!) becoming a participant – from everything from psychology studies to vaccine development – can reap a bit of extra cash. You would need to participate in various studies that contribute to research, PhD studies and more; this might mean a simple half hour psychology trial to a more longer-term study over a period of months which involves trialling new vaccines. If you look at university noticeboards, department sites, or even local website and their volunteer sections, you should find the occasional call for help! What can you make: You can expect around £5 for simple half hour psychology studies, but longer trials involving new drugs or vaccines can run into the £££…

Lastly, once you have explored your options of making a bit extra, it might be time to look at your budget – you probably won’t make great savings, but it might make the difference! It’s a good idea to make a short list of your incomings and outgoings, marking the essentials, such as rent, any utilities, food and council tax, along with other expenditure, such as a gym membership or tv contract. As you know, it’s important to make sure your outgoings don’t go above your incomings and remember – your money will have to stretch to that next loan payment! A budgeting app can help with tracking, or alternatively, you could think of Kakeibo – the art of Japanese budgeting!

Some top tips for budgeting, and sticking to your plan include:

  • Try to take out a set amount of cash for the week, if you can – and stick to it!
  • If you can get your hands on an NUS Extra card, you will find you have access to lots of discounts across several brands and high street shops.
  • Keep on top of the best deals for mobile phone contracts, broadband and the like by regularly reviewing your contracts and checking through comparison websites – and if you can get it for free, such as by using the internet on campus, then try to utilise this…
  • You can save money on your food shopping by looking out for those yellow stickers! This is a great way to get your shopping for less, and with some thought and a freezer(!), can stock up on essentials. Meat, milk, even bread can be frozen, so it’s worth finding out when your local supermarkets reduce their stock.
  • Plan your meals and make bigger saving by cooking together with your housemates – sharing the bill in the process!
  • Don’t use cash machines that charge fees!
  • Make sure you keep an eye on your tax situation – if you do any part-time work and earn less than the current tax threshold of £11, 850, you don’t need to pay any tax. If you happen to have tax taken off your earnings and will be working for the rest of the tax year, you can claim a refund from HMRC at the end of the tax year. If you know that you are only going to be working for a shorter period, you can claim a refund on your tax using form P50, four weeks after the end of your employment.
  • If you can avoid buying textbooks, you can make some big savings – check out lending them from your university library, or even buying second hand if this is not possible. Lots of universities hold department sales, where you can pick up texts for a fraction of the new price.
  • Finally, you might find you have access to free software through your university. Generally, this will include Microsoft Office and Microsoft OneDrive, but you might find you have access to more, including industry specific titles – check with your university IT department or department office.

Managing your student budget, and living well on it, might seem an impossible task, but with some time and care, you might find you have a better standard of living, and learn some important life skills in the process!