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College support

This page should be a guide for all those interested in the financial side of Oxford, and want to find out what help is available but don’t know where to begin! Whilst this page might be most helpful for freshers, it should also be helpful for anyone who finds themselves suddenly in need of this information. This information was correct as of March 2020, but exact figures may be subject to change over time so please check the embedded links. If you have any questions, feel free to email jcr.access@merton.ox.ac.uk for more information!

How to budget

Budgeting is difficult, but possible. Many people, when first moving to Oxford, might be scared that it’ll be extremely expensive. However, if you know how to manage your finances, living costs can be quite cheap! There are several steps to budgeting, which are outlined below.

Calculate your ‘income’

Your income, whilst at uni, is all the money that you receive. This is likely from your maintenance loan payments, any savings, any money from jobs during the vacation, or any money from bursaries, grants or scholarships. Add all this up!

Calculate your outgoing costs

The outgoing costs include everything that you might spend money on. Really brainstorm and consider all the little evasive things that you’ll have to budget for, and split them into essential and non-essential.

Essentials:

  • Accommodation costs (including vacation residence!)

  • Food

  • Books

  • Stationery, printing

  • Laundry

  • Travel (bike maintenance, buses, trains etc.)

  • Miscellaneous (shower gel, batteries, medication etc.)

Non-essentials:

  • Social activities (nights out, drinks, coffee, whatever this may be!)

  • Beauty costs (makeup, luxury beauty items)

  • Clothes

  • Gym membership

  • Gifts

  • An emergency fund, just in case you have to pay for anything unexpected!

Estimate how much you think you’ll spend on all of this, and add it up. Your budget is essentially your income minus your essential outgoings divided by the number of terms/months/weeks you’ll be using it for. That’s the basic method.

A more complex approach would be this: split up the total from the basic method and work with it, creating sub-categories if you’d like, to monitor each type of expense (ie. food, accommodation, travel, etc.). This will allow you to have greater control and see exactly what you’re spending, but requires a lot more time and monitoring! (see ‘Monitoring your spending’).

Timing is key

The timing of your outgoings and ‘income’ payments can be key. Is the payment in a one-off, or will it be a regular income? Does the payment occur once a year, once a month, or once a week? How often will you have to pay off those battels (college bills)?

You can choose to make a budget that lasts a term, a month, or a week! Different lengths of time may suit different people: if you want to be stricter with yourself, sometimes having a seemingly more ‘concrete’ smaller amount in a week can be useful if you want to control your expenses.

Monitoring your spending

Many people like to be old-fashioned and keep their receipts, or write down what they’ve spent. If this isn’t for you, there are plenty of budgeting apps out there that allow you to keep track of how much you’ve spent, and what you’ve spent it on. You might find that you need to revise your budget: maybe you gave yourself way too much for your food budget, or perhaps the price of doing laundry went up. Either way, adjust your budget accordingly.

See where you can save

This is the hard bit. What can you say no to? If you chose the basic method above, your aim will be to cut down that overall budget to a smaller amount. If you chose the more complex sub-category method, it’ll be to cut down some of those smaller areas to decrease your overall outgoings. Below are some tips to help minimise what you spend

See where you can save

This is the hard bit. What can you say no to? If you chose the basic method above, your aim will be to cut down that overall budget to a smaller amount. If you chose the more complex sub-category method, it’ll be to cut down some of those smaller areas to decrease your overall outgoings. Below are some tips to help minimise what you spend.

Student bank accounts

To begin with, student bank accounts and finances may seem frustrating, but with some consideration the whole process can be a lot easier.

What makes a student bank account different from a regular account?

  • An interest-free overdraft

  • Different interest rates

  • Freebies (eg. a student railcard!, welcome goodies etc.)

How to choose a student bank account?

  • Use a comparison site!

  • Check the small print, including charges and interest rates.

  • Look for overdraft limits - an overdraft is involved when your bank balance reaches zero and you keep spending. The bank will allow you to spend up to a certain amount - this is your overdraft limit.

  • Check overdraft charges - banks can charge you for spending into your overdraft, but most student accounts will give you a certain sum for free.

  • Don’t necessarily be tempted by the free goodies - as good as a Coachcard/welcome pack may seem, what counts is how your money is managed.

Accommodation

You can’t alter the price of your accommodation much in Oxford, but you can save on vacation residence (the price of staying in your room outside of term time). Mertonians can apply for vacation residence, in which college allows you to stay in their accommodation. The deadlines to apply for vacation residence are quite tight though so check your emails for this!

Food

Top tips for how to save on food costs include;

  • Shop and cook for yourself with food from a budget shop, like Aldi.

  • Avoid ‘express’ or ‘convenience’ stores (eg. Sainsbury’s on St. Aldates and near the Magdalen roundabout).

  • If you want to eat out, check to see if a restaurant has happy hour deals or student discount (you may need a form of student ID for this!)

  • It’s UK law to give out free tap water in restaurants, so don’t feel bad asking for it!

  • Pack a lunch instead of buying one out, and make sure to pack a water bottle in your bag.

  • Most delivery places do collection or student deals, or have voucher codes online - make sure to use them.

  • Get a Tesco clubcard: it’s the biggest supermarket in the city centre/Cowley, and you can spend the points you earn on other things, like railcards! (check out their website for more info!)

  • Buy a Keep Cup. They’re the only portable coffee cups allowed in Oxford’s libraries; you can get a customised one online, or buy them from your library/JCR. They can then be used in coffee shops for money off takeaway coffee.

The main supermarkets in Oxford are Tesco Metro, as well as two Sainsburys ‘to go’. There is also an Aldi slightly further out of the centre (about a 45-minute walk and approx. £2.80 for a return bus ticket) that is slightly cheaper. A recent initiative, OxUnboxed, offers bulk buying of dry ingredients on Little Clarendon Street. There are also two main markets in Oxford, the Covered Market and Gloucester Green Market. The Covered Market has stalls that offer fresh produce everyday, whilst Gloucester Green Market is open Wednesdays to Saturdays, with an occasional cheap fruit and veg stall.

Books

  • Do you really need to buy that book for your course? Or do you just need to read it once? In the latter case, just get it from a library.

  • Check the (second-hand) bookshops in Oxford for copies of your set texts.

  • Use the libraries. If you only need to read a text once, borrow it from the library.

  • Merton Library will pay for any publications you request (within reason), so if you need a copy nearby, ask the librarians to buy your book (although this may take a while).

  • You can download the Kindle app for free - many older novels and books are free to download due to copyright expiration. Download them and save a ton of cash.

  • Ask finalists/older students if they have unwanted copies of your textbook.

  • Check online for second-hand copies of your text (Amazon/Ebay etc. are good places to start).

  • If all else fails, just use the book grant of £100/year that Merton offers.

Stationery/printing

  • Printing is free at Merton, but not in all departments: print closer to home where possible!

  • Save the environment and your wallet by printing double-sided and in black and white.

  • Check: do you really need to print off these lecture notes?

  • You’ll be given lots of free pens at Freshers’ Fair and at careers fairs. Save them.

  • Keep an eye out for sales and offers at WHSmiths, Rylan’s, Tesco etc.

Laundry

  • Learn how to do your laundry. Mistakes made are expensive to fix.

  • At Merton, you have to buy a laundry card and then top it up with cash to work the machines. One load of washing/drying = £1.50. Most people use laundry pods in the washing machines.

  • If you’re friendly with the people you live with, agree to buy laundry supplies, like detergent, communally.

  • You don’t need a fabric conditioner at Merton; it’s bad for the environment and there’s no way to use it in the washing machines.

  • Save up your washing for a big load-you’ll get more out of it.

  • It is fairly rare that colours run, but do be careful.

  • Consider hand-washing delicate items, like underwear - you can do this in your sink, and your room will smell great.

  • Buy/borrow a laundry rack or repurpose the bannisters to dry your clothes on, rather than spend money on the drying machines.

  • Pro tip: please don’t put clothes over the heaters. They will set on fire.

Travel

  • Book any trains to Oxford in advance, and make sure you catch them - the cheapest tickets are non-refundable.

  • Get a railcard if you can - they often pay for themselves quite quickly.

  • If possible, book a coach or carshare. They’re often cheaper.

  • Download travel (rail apps/National Express) apps to keep an eye on prices and deals.

  • Whilst in Oxford, walk or cycle wherever possible.

  • Second-hand bikes are always being sold. Make sure to take advantage of the college’s and the SU’s bike provisions to get free lights and check-ups.

  • Get. A. Bike. Lock. You don’t want that thing to be stolen.

Miscellaneous

  • Keep that student ID with you - it can save you so much cash!

  • Consider buying a TOTUM/NUS card. It does have an initial cost, but can often earn the money back quickly. Also some retailers will only accept that as student ID.

  • Download Student Beans/Unidays for great deals.

  • Ask relatives and friends to gift you toiletries and other useful supplies for uni.

  • If you regularly need medication, it’s worth buying an NHS Prepayment Certificate for your prescriptions. It has an initial cost but can save you so. much. money.

  • Ask those you’re living with if they want to chip in for communal supplies-eg. Pots and pans, a shared laundry rack, washing up liquid.

Social activities

  • The same recommendations apply for eating out: time-based deals (eg. happy hour, lunch deals), student discounts, loyalty cards.

  • Try cooking dinner for someone instead of going for a meal out; it’s often more bonding anyway.

  • Try not to spend too much time in coffee shops - whilst there are some pretty ones in Oxford, they can get pricey. Instead, make your own coffee at home, use JCR supplies or buy a cheap one from a supermarket. At the very least bring your keep cup for money off takeaway coffee.

  • Try to pick activity-based, rather than spending-based, activities to do with people. Going for a walk, watching Netflix or chatting in the JCR is free, whereas seeing a film or going for a meal out can be expensive.

  • Check Facebook for free events to attend with friends.

  • Club entry can get expensive if left until the last minute: you can follow club nights on Facebook, and receive a notification when the cheapest tickets go on sale.

  • Pre-drink (sensibly!!!). Buy alcohol with friends rather than at a club.

  • Make sure you know how you’re getting home: is it safe to walk, or do you need to budget for a taxi?

  • Valuables are expensive to replace: make sure you either don’t take them on nights out, carry them with you or be prepared to pay the cloakroom fee.

Beauty/hygiene costs

  • Consider buying ‘male’-branded razors to avoid the tampon tax.

  • There should be some provision in the instant welfare pidge for pads and tampons; make sure to use them!

  • Ask relatives and friends for makeup/perfume/cologne as birthday presents.

  • If you feel comfortable doing so, consider reducing the amount of makeup you wear. Not only will it save you time, but also money!

  • DIY your own cosmetics: a lot of lotions, exfoliators, face masks and deep conditioners can be made with cheap ingredients like oil, yoghurt and sugar: look online for cheap, natural recipes!

Clothes

  • Buy from second-hand or charity shops. Oxford has a lot of vintage and kilo sales, so keep an eye out for them on Facebook and in the markets!

  • Buy on sales or from outlets.

  • Repair wherever possible: it’s a lot cheaper to buy a small sewing kit (or borrow one) than to buy a completely new item.

  • Be careful with stash: whilst some stash comes free, some can get quite pricey. Evaluate how much having a puffer jacket means to you.

Gym membership/fitness

  • Do you need a membership to an external gym? Merton has its on-site gym and the Sports Pavilion on offer. It may be possible for you to maintain fitness for free in Oxford.

  • If you take fitness classes, choose carefully: do they offer student discount? How often do you go? Prices can rack up quickly.

Gifts

  • Again, shop in charity or second-hand shops.

  • Consider making a gift, or giving an experience, rather than buying a physical item.