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Money matters: Preparing for your kids to head off to university and independent living

Jill Smyth

With university graduations underway, many families will be preparing for their children to fly the nest and head off to university or college after the summer holidays. This can be a very emotional time for families as well as a very expensive one. But with some forward-planning and careful budgeting, it can be an enjoyable and exciting experience for everyone.

Banking and budgeting

One of the first things to do is to ensure that your child has a student bank account and that they will be able to access this account easily in the place that they are studying.  They will need a plastic card to enable them to pay for things and lift cash from the ATM. They may also need an overdraft facility to tide them over while they are waiting for their student loan to come through.

·        Encourage them not to use cash machines that charge for withdrawals. Find out which ATMs charge and which don't.

·        Teach them how to budget their money before they leave home; there are lots of useful apps to help them do this and it will make life much easier for them when they go.

Accommodation and food

If they are in self-catering accommodation, you will need to ensure that they are equipped to cook for themselves and that they know how to keep their rooms clean and safe

·        Introduce them to ‘value’ brands and show them how meals can go further e.g. adding vegetables to meat dishes will bulk them out and make them go further.

·        Teach them how to make a selection of easy-to-cook meals such as chicken curry, pasta bake and homemade stew.

·        Take them shopping to let them see how much essentials like toilet roll, shampoo and washing powder cost.

·        Show them how to use a washing machine, and how to sort their clothes to ensure that there are no colour-run disasters and show them the basics of cleaning and ironing.

·        Make sure they have contents insurance that will cover all their possessions and gadgets – don’t assume that the landlord will sort this for them. Student Unions can usually help with this.

Travel costs

If your children are studying outside Northern Ireland, you will need to factor in travel costs for getting to and from university during the holiday period.

·        Do some research online through the airline or ferry sites, or contact the university directly to see if they can provide this information

If your kids are not living on campus daily travel costs can also add up and eat into the budget. Look into cheaper options such as student travel cards, discount bus and rail cards or car-sharing opportunities. University websites will provide this sort of information.

Keeping in touch

Keeping in touch with your kids will be reassuring for both of you; so look into the cheapest and most cost-effective ways of doing this:


·        Mobile phones are probably the most popular method - consider sim only mobile phone tariffs, or pay-as-you-go options instead of contracts.

·        Check and see if the accommodation has internet access available or if you need to arrange this yourselves – shop around for the best tarrifs and deals.

·        Make sure that they understand how to keep themselves safe when shopping or banking online as well as on social media sites.

MoneySense is a free, independent programme by Ulster Bank for schools and parents covering topics including banking, borrowing, budgeting and running a small business. www.moneysense.ulsterbank.co.uk

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