Before beginning my year as a postgraduate, I was filled with excitement for the coming year. However, I was also slightly anxious on how I was going to make it through the year financially. Funding and finances work a little differently for postgraduates.
Undergraduate vs postgraduate
Unlike with undergraduate degrees, student finance does not automatically pay your postgraduate tuition fees. Instead, you just receive a total amount from student finance to manage yourself. This requires you to manage more large sum payments independently. I received my payments in instalments. For me, this meant I needed to work over the summer before starting my course. That way, I would have enough money for rent and living expenses after paying off tuition.
Getting a job
Luckily, I managed to get a job over summer as a street fundraiser for Amnesty International. This job allowed me to develop certain skills as well as prepare myself for a MA course on Human Rights. From this job, I managed to save up approximately £2,500 in total. This was from full-time work over three months prior to starting my course. Thankfully, that was now my tuition fees, rent and bills covered! But there was still a lot to manage in terms of my living expenses which I had to finance throughout the year and dip into my overdraft for.
I made sure I had an idea of what my year would look like financially in order to budget for rent, living and other expenses. To do this, I got a diary and tracked how much money would be going in and out of my bank account. I also tracked when that would happen in order to figure out how much to budget each month. If you’re more tech savvy, this could easily be done on an excel sheet as well. This really helped me feel more in control of my finances. I relieved some stress about how much of a financial challenge I thought the year was going to be. It was all much more do-able than I imagined.
Top tips for being friends with your finances
You can pick up a lot of financial habits and budgeting tips from undergraduate years. It just becomes much more apparent and crucial throughout postgraduate studies. Here are a few more tips below to make ensure you prevent any long-term disastrous damage to your bank accounts during your time at Uni!
Use the student and wider community to look for creative sources for money saving
If you’re reading this, you’re already starting on the right track. A lot of blogs and social media platforms will give advice on things like comparing student accounts and their interest rates, student budgeting and meal hacks. I would definitely follow some blogs and social media accounts on student living and finance tips.In terms of food, places like Aldi and Lidl are definitely the way to go in order to minimise your grocery shop expenses! However, food saving apps such as ‘Olio’ and ‘Too good to go’ were big money savers for me. They were also eco-friendly in minimising food waste, so I would definitely recommend you check out!
‘Scoop’ in Wentworth College is also a great service to have on campus to buy items for cheaper. You buy them in bulk straight from producers or other co-operatives and they cut out any of the environmental problems that arise from a supermarket shop. A lot of societies also run clothes swap events to get rid of your unwanted clothes and swap them for ones you want for free!
Use multiple bank accounts and regularly check in on them
Throughout my undergraduate degree, I held three accounts with my bank. This really helped me to be finance conscious and budget effectively. It was now more important than ever in my postgraduate year, where I needed to consider the extra payments of tuition fees. I personally used Nationwide to manage my finances with a current account, student account and savings account.
I used my normal current account for everyday spending such as groceries, going out and eating out every now and then.
My student account, which had an arranged tax-free overdraft, would be used for large payments such as rent, bills and tuition fees. This made my finances a lot easier to keep track of as I would have a set amount from my student finance account that I would transfer into my current account. I would then know that was how much I had to spend for the month.
Although not essential and not doable for everyone, I also had a savings account. I began saving before university and tried to put £100 into it each month. I made sure I didn’t spend it unless absolutely necessary; but it was a good financial back up for me. Choose a good bank with an overdraft that works for you and keep track of your finances. This is definitely my top tip as it gets you into the habit of checking in on your finances regularly; something I know I will benefit from beyond my studies.
Get a part-time and/or university job alongside studies
For some, a part-time or weekend job will be essential in order to fund your year as a postgraduate. For others, it might be a way to be more comfortable with your finances. Although you might have to learn to time manage your workload more effectively, many postgraduates at York are hired at various restaurants, cafes, shops and other places in the city. They are able to work around their studies, especially as the course contact hours for postgraduates aren’t as high.
University jobs in particular are great, as they are very conscious of how you work your hours around studies. For example, alongside being a Postgraduate Student Ambassador, I worked as a YuCall fundraiser for my University’s Philanthropy and Alumni Department. This was only in the evenings so would avoid daily contact hours. Although some jobs won’t be enough to fund your year alone, it’s a great way to top up on finances with flexible hours and gain skills and experiences for your CV.
Research financial services from the University – the earlier the better!
Although postgraduate studies don’t come with many bursary opportunities, a lot of universities will offer scholarships for postgraduate students. This will come from different sources and for certain groups of people. This could be scholarships that are course-specific (offered by the Department) or one that the university offers across courses.
Some scholarships are also only for international students or taught postgraduates. These scholarships tend to be fairly competitive as there are a limited number of scholarships on offer; so it’s important you research these options as early as possible when you’re applying. You should engage with the university services on what financial options are available.
Don’t compare yourself to others
Like with undergraduate, a lot of people will be coming from different financial backgrounds. However on a postgraduate course, this will become more apparent. Ranging from those who may have saved up from a year of work, or even a whole career to save up in order to do a Masters, to those coming straight from doing their undergraduate course with a much greater reliance on student finance (like myself).
A lot of people will be coming to their postgraduate studies with different intentions and expectations from university, so try your best not to succumb to pressures of spending from others by comparing how you spend your money. Whether that be spending too much on nights out to the type of places people are using to buy their food, eg the dangerous path of too many flat takeaways. As long as you’re mindful of your own financial priorities and capacities and stick by them, your bank account will thank you later.
Finances in summary…
These are all things that I tried to do in order to stay away from going too deep into my overdraft and staying independent from loans and grants from my family members. I did however have the privilege of having my parents lend a financial hand every now and then. For birthdays and special events I would usually ask for cash rather than presents. But I would say, don’t feel too disheartened if you feel like you’re overusing your overdraft. Just make sure you’re aware of how your money is moving around by checking in on what your bank account is looking like regularly. That way you will avoid any surprises and know where your future finances will be coming from.
At the end of the day, a lot of us will be coming away from an undergraduate and postgraduate studies in a lot of debt. We shouldn’t beat ourselves too much on the financial strain and make sure we’re making the time here worth every penny instead.
Check out Katy’s tips on postgraduate fees, funding and finances.
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