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Struggling to Make Ends Meet at Varsity?

South African universities recently opened for the first term of the year—but for many students, money worries have overshadowed the excitement of returning to campus.

Education costs typically increase at a higher rate than general inflation, and affordability is a major issue for most students. The average cost of a South African university education could be around R107,600 per year by 2025, and R254,700 by 2035, according to Marius Pretorius, head of marketing: retail savings and income at Old Mutual.

Students from families with an annual household income of less than R350,000 are eligible for funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), a bursary and loan scheme funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training.

If annual household income exceeds R350,000 but is less than R600,000—a category referred to as the ‘missing middle’—students can apply for a loan through the new Comprehensive Student Funding Model.

Whether a student is self-funded or state-funded, the cost of tertiary education, in addition to general living expenses, is increasing steadily. It’s therefore essential for students to educate themselves about financial matters, reduce their money worries, and make the most of university life.

Here are 16 savvy money tips for students:

1. Work out a budget: Calculate your total income for the year from all sources, whether a bursary or student loan, personal savings, contributions from parents or other relatives, a scholarship, and/or part-time work. Then list your expenses, covering fixed costs such as tuition fees and variable expenses, such as food and clothing.

2. Apply for grants and scholarships: Regularly search for scholarships and grants to offset educational expenses. There are also opportunities for South African students to study or undertake research in other countries. Get your applications in early.

3. Buy used textbooks: Purchase second-hand textbooks—or use digital versions, which are often cheaper.

4. Visit university libraries: Check out books and other materials from the library instead of buying them.

5. Cut transport costs: Use campus shuttle services, walk, or cycle instead of relying on a car or e-hailing services. Find out if the university provides transport for field research, sports, cultural activities, and other official trips.

6. Unlock discounts: Many local businesses offer special deals for students, from tech to printing services. Download apps such as Varsity Vibe, which has information on exclusive student deals, and Fomo, which finds the latest specials on food, drinks, and activities in a particular area.

7. Make the most of low-cost entertainment: Campus apps are ideal for keeping up with the latest on-campus events. Join a club or society to meet people, boost your confidence, and grow your network and leadership skills.

8. Check out university health services: Use campus gyms, health clinics, and counselling services instead of expensive private facilities.

9. Share living expenses: Share accommodation with roommates to split rent and utility costs.

10. Choose store-brand products: Don’t be brand loyal when shopping for groceries and household items. Compare prices online, and choose generic or store-brand products, which are cheaper than name-brand items. You may also be eligible for a monthly pack of basic foods if you meet specific criteria. The University of Johannesburg, for example, has a social feeding scheme that distributes monthly food parcels to qualifying ‘missing middle’ students.

11. Plan cost-effective meals: If you’re staying in university-catered accommodation, make full use of the meal plan you choose. If you have your own accommodation, prepare home-cooked meals. Avoid eating out or ordering takeaways.

12. Monitor your use of lights and appliances: Small actions such as turning off lights, selecting a short cycle for washing clothes, and not overfilling the kettle, will save money.

13. Find a part-time campus job: Apply for a part-time or casual job—for example, as a tutor, library or lab assistant, administrative officer, or dining hall assistant.

14. Secure an off-campus income: Explore income-generating opportunities, such as working as a barista, waiter, bookstore assistant, social media consultant, au pair, or babysitter.

15. Become a ‘studentpreneur’: Many universities have resident business strategists, and offer free workshops and business programmes. Government agencies such as the Small Enterprise Development Agency and the National Youth Development Agency provide support to small enterprises, and address youth development issues.

16. Plan ahead for travel: Book transport home for the holidays well in advance to secure cheaper rates.

Avoid unmanageable debt

Finally, avoid getting into unmanageable debt. A loan to cover tuition fees and other education costs can be ‘good debt’, in that it’s an investment in your future—provided this debt is paid back promptly under the loan terms.

Your bank overdraft and credit card should not, however, be treated as income. Such funds are for emergencies only, and should be paid off at month-end. These loans incur high interest and, when not paid off promptly, can lead to a cycle of unmanageable ‘bad debt’.

Potential employers, landlords, and insurers frequently do background checks.  These include accessing your credit report, which is a detailed breakdown of your credit history, prepared by a credit bureau. It’s worth checking your credit report and credit score regularly to ensure that the information is correct.


Sarah Nicholson is a sales specialist.

While every reasonable effort is taken to ensure the accuracy and soundness of the contents of this publication, neither the writers of the articles nor the publisher will bear any responsibility for the consequences of any actions based on information or recommendations contained herein. Our material is for informational purposes.

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