3 Money tips for a first year student

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

After twelve (12) years of wearing school uniform, adhering to prescribed study times and what seemed like endless rules, procedures and processes; preparing to be a first year student was a breath of fresh air.

I remember it like it was yesterday- the excitement of receiving the admission letter to study a Bachelors of Commerce (BCom) degree, to the administrative process of applying for a loan bursary with the National Manpower Development Secreteriat (NMDS). Toiling with the idea of having unlimited freedom, deciding how I wanted to live my life, when to study and having absolutely no curfew was a reality I could not wait to experience.

I yearned to be my own person, to wear whatever was an expression of my personality and meet new people- different people!

As rosy and picture-perfect as my reality seemed, the financial challenges and money mistakes I experienced during my first year left me very wounded. I wished someone had taught me how to manage not only my time, but the large sums of money that came into my bank account as a first year student.

In this article, I will share three money tips that I believe every first year student should know as they prepare for what will be the best years of their lives. University is truly a great place to discover yourself, to create memories, make mistakes and learn from them.

How best can I avoid making money mistakes you may ask?

Growing up, the reality for many of us is never being taught how money works or how to best manage it. We weren’t given a lot of money to manage so we can practise money concepts such as using and managing a budget. How then are we expected to manage a lump sum of LSL 6,000.00 without falling prey to money mistakes?

Manage the mind-set

I believe that it starts with managing your mind and controlling your emotions. Money can be overwhelming, especially if we are not used to it. It is very important to stay calm and think things through in a rational and practical manner. How can you do this?

Start by defining the financial goals you’d like to achieve, understanding the purpose of the money and what it should be used for. This money is meant to cover your textbooks, living expenses and other resources needed to make your university experience pleasant. Like Dave Ramsay says, “You must gain control over your money or the lack of it will forever control you”. It is thus very important that you are not controlled by the lump sum in the bank account, thinking that it is there to be spent on just anything. Don’t be that person!

Learn how to budget

What is a budget? A budget is a financial road map that helps you navigate your way through the financial speed humps, potholes and junctions in order to get to your financial goals. A budget is a summary of income and expenses that helps you to plan and prioritize how you will allocate and spend your money, which is important when making financial decisions.

Your income can be your monthly allowance from NMDS and additional pocket money from family and friends. Typical expenses including groceries, toiletries, stationary and printing expenses, airtime and data and entertainment (sports and recreation) expenses.

A budget can be prepared on a daily, weekly or monthly basis by writing it down using a pen and paper, an excel spreadsheet or a budgeting application for the techno savvy ones. Learning how to budget can help you better manage your money without being overwhelmed and help you make informed financial decisions.

DescriptionBudgeted AmountActual spendDifference
NMDS Allowance   
Pocket money from family & relatives   
Total income   
Total expenses   
Saving for rainy days   
Food & takeout   
Airtime & data   
Printing costs   

Start saving as early as possible

“Small amounts saved daily add up to huge investments in the end” Margo Venter

The common mistake many students make is assuming that you need to have a lot of money before you can save. The other common lie students tell themselves is that they cannot afford to save and/or have no money left to spend.

As a result, many do not save and often struggle to make ends meet during the difficult financial months. This a mistake you need to avoid as a first year student. How can you start saving?

I believe it starts with a savings goal. What is your reason to start saving? This goal can be anything really i.e. to start a business after university, to work towards investing or pursuing a postgraduate degree.

The second important step is to start and be consistent! You can start with a small amount for example LSL100.00 and save it consistently. With time, the money will grow.

Lastly, save the money in an interest bearing account. This is a savings account that you can open from your bank that allows you save money and earn an interest.

Final Remarks

University is a great opportunity for you to discover yourself and create amazing memories. It also comes with a lot of peer and academic pressure. Learning how to manage your money better will ease this pressure and allow you time to focus on your studies. So spend time to teach yourself how money works, use a budget, save consistently and have fun!