Young Money: Big cities on small budgets


One of a series of blogs from real people sharing real experiences, observations and advice about being good with money. 

Zoe Russell is a 22-year-old student at Victoria University of Wellington. She is studying towards a double degree in Law, Public Policy, and International Relations. Zoe also enjoys science writing and activism.

Leaving home for a new city is an incredible experience. When I moved to Wellington from a tiny rural town, I quickly found that starting classes was just one aspect of the new student lifestyle; outside the lecture halls, there was suddenly so much more to see and do.

All of this was fantastic, but it also required me to learn one very important skill (very quickly): how to manage money. Here are the four most common pitfalls new students fall into - and how to avoid them.

1. Shops! So many shops!

Especially when you’re from a smaller town, the lure of Wellington’s shops can be almost irresistible. If your whole urban retail experience prior to university consisted of bi-monthly trips to Hamilton with your mum, suddenly living five minutes’ walk from Lambton Quay and Cuba Street is pretty exciting. You definitely need that new dress, right? Oh, and it’s on sale!

This is particularly difficult in the first few months, when many students have readily-available money from savings or scholarships. When you want to make new friends and live the cool city life, new clothes and Apple products can seem pretty much essential.

The big thing to avoid is impulse purchases. Plenty of shops have 30-50% off sales almost constantly, so try not to buy things just cos there’s a discount on the tag (anyway, all the cool kids get their clothes second-hand. Vintage, yeah?)

2. Latte #3

Cafes, bars, and restaurants are everywhere in the city, and like retail shops, they’re all super tempting when you’re new in town. Buying food and coffee out can be really easy to justify - after all, you do need to eat.

But it is so worth learning to cook. You can make tasty food at home for a fraction of the cost of takeaways. Share recipes with your flatmates, and have a look online. Go to the vege markets. Maybe buy a coffee plunger. Sandwiches are your friend.

3. Dentistry

As I write this blog post, I’m eating sugar-free sweets. I made the switch after receiving a $900 dentist bill.

Unlike most medical costs, dentistry isn’t covered by tertiary health services. Fillings cost between $180-$300. Root canals and wisdom tooth extraction can add up to thousands. According to Student Finance Advisor Nicky Roesink, both are alarmingly common among students.

While there isn’t much you can do to avoid wisdom teeth, try to look after the rest. Brush, floss, try to curb the sweet tooth - and if anything hurts, see a dentist! The earlier you get a check-up, the lower the bill will be.

4. Assuming you’ll be good with money (tomorrow)

I did this all the time in first year. I’d look over my transaction history, see a bunch of taxi fares and Vicbooks coffees, and think “Oh no! I need to cut back! From now on, I’ll definitely be good. Yeah. For sure.”

If you have money (or credit) and you’re surrounded by temptation, just promising to be better isn’t going to stick. What worked for me is setting up real restrictions. Any substantial savings could go in a term deposit (where they’re much harder to access). Try to work out a reasonable weekly budget, and make sure that only this sum is directly linked to your cheque account.

Managing your money can be tough at first, and everyone splashes out sometimes. But buying fun stuff just feels so much better when you can do it without worrying about next week’s rent.

If you are studying or training and want to know how BNZ can help you manage your money, read more about our tertiary benefits for students and apprentices.

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Young Money: Dad was right
Young Money: The art of managing money - tales from a teen

Young Money: The stuggle is real - when to save and when to splurge
Young Money: Fortune favours the thrifty
Young Money: Own it, don’t loan it
Young Money: Haunted by the ghost of mismanaged finances past


I soooo relate to the ‘first year fail’ when it comes to managing your finances as a student. I made the mistake to taking advantage of Living Costs from my student loan during my first year at Uni ($150 per week, that you have to pay back) but instead of putting that money to work I spent most of it supporting nights out on the town and shopping! Bad bad choice. Wish I had been smarter about it, but when I was 18 I just wasn’t thinking about the future or the consqeuences of my choices. My tip for new students would be to take money management seriously, because choices you make in your late teens/early 20s can set you up or let you down for years to come. 


Whilst I worked part-time throughout University to fund my lifestyle (I lived at home), I did pull the Living Costs stunt in my final year when the workload seemed unbearable… but I’m pretty sure most the money went on clothes! And the annual $1000 for Course Related costs was way to easy to claim with just a quote; no one I knew ever spent that $1000 on what they claimed for, and it can amount to thousands in extra debt by the time you leave.

On the flipside, I had a cousin who diligently worked every summer to fund his uni year, claimed the interest free Living Costs and invested the entire amount, AND lived away from home. He paid off his loan when he graduated, using the interest and his savings. I have always admired him, and his willpower!

Paying back your student loan is such a low priority for students, and even most new graduates don’t concern themselves because they don’t pay interest and the money dissapears from their pay cheque before they get their hands on it.