As record numbers of young people flock to university this September, student life looms on the horizon in all its exciting, terrifying glory.
There are hopes of making new friends, attending fun gatherings and wild days out, all the while becoming a stronger, better-informed and more independent person. Finally, you're flying the nest!
But alongside all the inevitable, intangible expectations, there's a more sobering aspect of student life to consider: personal finance. Cause whether you're raving or behaving, living independently comes at a price - and that student loan, bottomless as it seems in the beginning, will deplete faster than you can say "skint" if you're not careful.
But never fear. Dull as it sounds, budgeting doesn't have to involve adhering to a strict plan - there are smaller things to bear in mind when sticking within monetary limits once you've worked out how much you can legitimately spend.
For a start, remember that as a fresher, you're a prime target for clubs and societies. That doesn't mean you should be suspicious of them - on the contrary, they can enrich the university experience. But be selective: most will have annual membership fees, and some will start badgering you to pay up before you're even out the door of your first taster session.
Take your time to decide what you're really interested in, evaluate how often you're likely to attend, and don't feel pressured into paying up straight away - no matter what they say, most societies won't turn members away, even if you leave officially joining until a later date. Remember, they want you!
Secondly, it's worth checking out how far your student discount is likely to get you. Sign up to websites such as studentbeans and UNiDAYS for a daily dose of discounts, and be strategic: ASOS, for instance, offers a 10% student discount all year round, but if you're willing to wait a bit, this rises temporarily to 20% every few months.
Then there's the social life of freshers' week to consider. When you first arrive on the university scene, it's unlikely you'll find your comfort zone immediately - you might know a few people, but essentially, spending money is going to be an unavoidable social lubricant. Even if downing £1 shots and partying your way through the getting-to-know-you phase isn't your thing, attending a meet-and-greet or going on a flat shopping trip to Tesco will still have you reaching into your pockets.
It's tempting to want to make your room feel homey, but tread carefully and don't go on mad spending sprees adorning your new living space with matching curtains, cushions and laundry baskets - you won't care about these things a few months down the line. Similarly, don't make rash offers to buy a round of drinks for your seventeen new chums. Carry a set amount of cash on the night and don't take out your debit card.
There's also the question of food. Once you've taken off accommodation costs (which may in themselves be astronomical), you'll probably have to feed yourself. Without going into the obvious - namely, buying from cheaper supermarkets - it is worth noting that keeping a stock of basic items will provide you with a good starting point for meals, such as rice, potatoes, noodles and lentils, curbing the temptation to just buy a takeaway for convenience after a long day.
Try to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, too, which are generally much cheaper from market stalls than supermarkets. Visit blogs like Student Recipes for inspiration, and to help you keep on track with a weekly food budget; if you're eating out, go to student-friendly places like Pizza Express, which offers a whopping 40% student discount on your entire bill (including drinks!) on Mondays and Tuesdays.
And some practical advice. If you're the kind of person who requires mental barriers in order to stop spending, a good way of going about this is to have two bank accounts (and make sure you pick the most student-friendly bank).
Part of the problem with loans is that they come in sizable lump sums, making it difficult to determine how much you can really afford to spend - so one solution is to treat it like an allowance. Keep your student loan, savings or other form of income in one account, then transfer a weekly "stipend" into the account you use for everyday things. That way, you'll sense that there is a limit, because even though you know you could just transfer more, the very action of doing so will act as a deterrent - or at least prevent accidental binge-buying.
What it really boils down to is taking your time. Explore the area with friends to suss out the cheapest places to buy groceries; plan your nights out by only going to events you really want to and by limiting yourself to a £20 spend; most of all, don't feel pressured into buying things you don't need. We are creatures of habit, so if you can get into some good ones early on, you won't have a problem further down the line. Good luck!Suggest a correction