Abide | How To Manage Your Student Finances
Managing money is one of the most significant tasks we will face as students. Katie guides us gently through a practical guide of student saving, spending and giving in a way that honours God. We hope it challenges and blesses you to think through this topic.
How do you feel when you check your bank account? Maybe, like me, you do that thing where you sign in, squeeze your eyes shut, squish all of your hopes down to the floor, and then open them really slowly so you aren’t surprised by the number sitting there.
Managing your money – especially when it comes to giving – is quite a sensitive topic. This is especially the case at university, where many students are depending on money from their student loan to cover all their living costs. We are called to be good stewards of our money, but it can be hard to know what this looks like at university. Here are some practical tips to help you think about money wisely and with God’s word at the forefront.
Saving money is the hardest thing to do as a student, but it is also one of the most important habits to get into. In Proverbs, we read: “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has” (Proverbs 21:20). Putting money aside for a rainy day (or other emergency) isn’t immediately rewarding, but you will thank yourself later if you find yourself in sudden need.
Saving money doesn’t have to be complicated – these days, most banks allow you to have a checking and a savings account. Transferring money to that savings account straight away when your loan comes in is a great way to save for any future disasters. If you are blessed with a disaster-free term, you can reward yourself with a treat or save that money even further – after all, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22). While you may not be thinking about your future generations just yet, having a bit of money spare is one way to show thoughtfulness and care to financial gifts.
What can I do?
o Create a termly budget early and try to stick to it. I used a spreadsheet to keep track of my weekly spending, but there are some great apps that allow you to input a purchase straight away and recommend weekly savings goals!
o Set up your bank account to automatically transfer a given amount over to your savings account as soon as your loan, allowance, or paycheck comes in.
o Set realistic savings goals. For some, the prospect of saving for the long term is frustrating because it is intangible. So, think of something you want to save for – maybe a holiday with friends or a new phone – and do it! Getting into the habit of motivating yourself to put money aside for a reward later is a good way to grow into the fruits of patience and self-control.
One of my biggest weaknesses is falling to the temptation of spending money when I don’t need to. No matter how much I budget when I’m looking at my bank account at home, I just can’t resist when I see brand-new postcards in Paperchase or fun shoes that I’ll probably only wear once.
Of course, we all need to buy things in order to survive at university (chocolate digestives, for example). But being careful about how you spend your money, and on what, shows that you are honouring God’s commands.
Matthew 6: 19-21 tells us “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In an age where so much importance is placed on what our own material possessions, challenge yourself to live distinctively. Before you buy something, ask yourself why you are buying it – do you really need it? Is it going to make your life better in a way that Jesus can’t?
Spending money carelessly or with the intent to bring about greater happiness (for example, “retail therapy”) is one way that money takes influence over our lives, even if we don’t mean it to. Don’t let it become your God!
What can I do?
o Shop at charity shops or local businesses as much as possible – this can help to keep costs down and puts your money towards good causes.
o Challenge yourself to limit your spending habits. For example, in my last year of university I only allowed myself to order something online on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday morning between 9-12pm. I felt that these were times of the week when I was thinking clearly, and if I’d put something in my cart on a Saturday evening (after a long ASOS binge) but wasn’t really feeling it on Monday morning, that’s £30 saved!
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”(Acts 20:35)
As we read in this passage from Acts, it has always been better to give than to receive. Giving can be a bit of a contentious topic for students; after all, we barely have enough to support ourselves on our student loans, let enough support others.
Tithing (giving away 10% of your income/student loan to church) may not be feasible in an age where university accommodation costs are skyrocketing and your maintenance loan might not even cover your weekly food shops. However there are many other ways to give, and it’s your motivation that counts the most! If a regular monthly donation to your church or CU feels like too much, try committing to a smaller act. When you’re out for coffee with a friend or a housemate who asks to borrow a few pounds, offer to pay or help them out with no expectation of return. Having a bit of ‘float’ in your budget (like £10-£20 per term) dedicated to this kind of generosity will allow you to offer financial gifts without losing sight of your savings and spending habits.
What can I do?
o Commit to one act of charitable giving and stick to it. Maybe this means saving up your spare change during the week and bringing it all to church on Sunday for the offering. Maybe it means a fixed monthly donation to your church or a charity that is close to your heart.
o Be practically generous. Offer to buy coffee for a friend, a drink in the bar, or the next round of toilet paper for the house (you won’t believe how fast it goes!)
So, next time you are considering a big purchase or asked for a donation, try asking yourself this: is the way I am using my money in the heart of God’s desire for His kingdom? Being aware of your habits and putting God’s word at the forefront of your financial decisions allows you to become a responsible steward of your money.
Katie graduated from Durham in 2016 and now works at a girls’ boarding school in Kent, where she runs the weekend programme and assists in pastoral care for the students. She loves coffee shops, knitting, and catching up with friends (any combination of the three is a bonus!)