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Making the most of your money

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Studying and being in debt seem to go hand in hand, so at some stage you are likely to feel the pinch. Clare Lomas outlines ways you can get more money and make what you have go further

Student nurses are no strangers to financial hardship. ith the UK in the grip of a recession, and the cost of living on the rise, making it through three years of college without experiencing any financial difficulties is becoming increasingly unlikely.

According to a survey by UNISON, more than half of all health students have considered leaving their course, with 78% of these citing financial difficulties as the reason.

“More than 90% of health students were in debt, with almost a quarter owing more than £10,000”

The survey also revealed that more than 90% of health students were in debt, with almost a quarter owing more than £10,000.

“Morally, we should not be condemning students to years of poverty when they graduate,” says Gail Adams, UNISON’s head of nursing. “There are still high attrition rates [among nursing students] and debt has a big impact on this.”

She adds: “All students should be seconded to nurse training and paid a proper salary.

“The current bursary is not enough to live on, especially if you are studying in London,” says Louise Reynolds, final year nursing student at King’s College London.

“Once you have paid for things like rent and bills, there really isn’t much left. If you don’t work, you end up spending money that isn’t yours because you have to take out loans.”

Working part time is one way in which many students supplement their income. According to the UNISON survey, 70% of the two-thirds of health students financed through a bursary took on extra paid employment in 2008.

Fidelma Gallagher, a fomer student nurse at Thames Valley University in London, worked as a carer in a nursing home for 12 hours a week when she was studying.

“It can be tough on top of placements and studying, but I’ve been able to buy books with the money I’ve earned,” she says.

But Claire Cannings, welfare adviser at the RCN, believes that part-time work should be considered with caution.

“Part time work is frowned upon by a lot of universities as it is likely to interfere with your studies,” she says.

“The average age of a student nurse is 28, and many have families. Doing a full time course, looking after children and also doing part time work can be very difficult.”

So what can students nurses do to help juggle their finances more effectively?

Rule number one is to work out a budget. “Sit down and work out exactly what you have available so you know what you’re dealing with,” advises Ms Cannings.

“Then shop around for the best deals on bank accounts and try to choose one that offers a staggered overdraft facility to avoid getting into too much debt too soon. Also, look at price comparison websites to get the best deals on utilities.”

Top tips for managing your money

  • Make a budget and stick to it. Take out all the money you need at the beginning of the week to avoid using your bank card, and keep a diary so you can keep track of your outgoings
  • Shop around for the best deals on bank accounts, credit cards, loans and utilities
  • Find out if you are entitled to any benefits and look at the NUS website to see what student discounts you can get
  • Do a big weekly food shop and try and stick to buying supermarket own brands
  • Download and share information from the internet. If you need to buy books, get them second hand
  • Join a union and attend events like RCN Congress where you can pick up things for free
  • Try to avoid eating out and take a packed lunch when on placements
  • Check out different modes of travel and find out if you’re entitled a discount. Always claim back travel expenses if you can

Knowing what you are entitled to is also important Ms Canning stresses. “If you are working part time, the first £6,035 of any money you earn is tax free, so make sure you fill out the relevant forms to ensure you are not being taxed.

“As a [full time] student, you are exempt from council tax and, if you have children, you may be entitled to full child tax credit, so make sure you find out what is available to you, from both the government and your university.”

Outgoings such as rent, travel and books can be very costly but, if you get to know your fellow students, you can share books and downloaded information.

It is also worth finding out if any final year students are selling their books so you can buy them second hand and save money.

“You may be entitled to travel discounts or to claim back expenses.”

Depending on where you study, you may be entitled to travel discounts or to claim back expenses.

“Travel can be up to £30 a week in London - it’s particularly expensive when you’re on placements,” says Ms Reynolds. “If you can, try and get placements in the hospitals closest to where you live and, although it can be a bit of a complex process, do try and claim your travel expenses back.”

Sharing a house with other student nurses can help cut the cost of food and make budgeting easier.

“In our house, we all put money in a kitty every week for food and bills,” says Ms Gallagher.

“Getting a bottle of wine and staying in was much cheaper than going out.”

“We also shopped and cooked together sometimes - getting a bottle of wine and staying in was much cheaper than going out.”

For most students, a certain amount of debt is unavoidable and it has become part of student life. So, if you have to take out loans or credit cards, make sure you get the best deal you can.

“Commercial debt is significant, so avoid credit cards with excessive rates of interest,” warns Ms Adams. “And if you do get into trouble, contact your student welfare department or a free debt advice service straight away.”

Universities have an access to learning fund for students. You may be entitled to money from this if you are struggling.

If your circumstances change, contact the student welfare department who can review your entitlements.

Discounts and student deals

  • NUS cards offer discounts at Odeon, Play.com, Rymans, Blockbuster, Topshop and on AA driving lessons. See tinyurl.com/NUS-NT for more details.
  • National Express offer a student card at £10 a year, which gives 30% off travel. Click here for more details
  • Apple offer a good discount on computers and software. Click here for more details
  • Nursing Times provides a round up of the best discounts on the web each week. See nursingtimes.net/off-duty for more details.
  • Forums are a good way to get information on discounts and tips on getting the best deals. Go to moneysavingexpert.com and click on “forum” to discover more.
  • Many websites list student offers and provide helpful articles on how to save money with discounts. Some of the best can be found at studentbeans.com, wealthystudent.co.uk and s-k-i-n-t.co.uk
  • Snapfax provide a range of offers, including discounts on eating out, entertainment and food shopping, once you buy an annual card for around £3-6. See snapfax.co.uk.
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