Having a manageable student loan is the first step to future happiness

Frugal university students have more fun. That's because they can make the same money go further.

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Students are generally young, lack experience in life and financial matters, their brains aren't fully developed and they're breaking out into the big wide world independently for the first time. It's a recipe for the mother of all student debts and half a lifetime of financial worry.

There are many financial home truths, or "hacks" as they're called these days, that students can follow if they want to leave university with below average debt.


1. Borrow wisely.

Life is hard for a student. You're making it harder for yourself if you spend your loan on lunches, coffees, the latest iPhone and so on. Society isn't forcing you to borrow all of that money and the student debt you end up with will be largely of your own making. Sure, you need a good chunk of it for living costs. But students who choose to live frugally will come out the other end in a better state to start their financial lives. Chances are you only notice the big spending friends. There will be others getting ahead in life on a modest budget. Pick their brains about how they do it.

2. Beware of banks.

Student and graduate banking packages are dangerous. Financial adviser Tony Walker says, "Banks 'groom' young people to have bad financial habits." Free overdrafts and cheap or free credit cards are part of their student packages. Sometimes it is hard to resist these poisoned apples, says Walker. "The consequences can be with them for a long time after they graduate and find employment."

3. It's not an honour to get a credit card.

Trust me -- the bank isn't doing you a favour when it gives you your first credit card. It's lining its own pockets at your expense. Your misery equals its profit. Don't assume that "everyone has a balance". Some students only have debit cards. If you do succumb to the credit card, think twice every time you go to use it. Even then, limit your limit and never let the bank increase it. It's really important to remember the money you're spending isn't yours. It's your future income and you may live to regret profligate choices at uni. If managing your credit card debt gets hard, get help from Student Services.

4. Get a job.

Part-time jobs are plentiful if you set your heart on getting one and don't fall into siege mentality. Someone has to get the jobs. The average full-time student works 14 hours a week, according to a 2014 survey by the Union of Student Associations. Work is more likely to eat into your drinking and socialising time than your study.


5. Earn more than the minimum wage.

Plenty of students do. Look at your interests and ask yourself how other people with these skills make money.

You might need to get some qualifications such as a certificate in personal training or teaching English as a foreign language. Even if you work at McDonald's, you can become a shift supervisor. Ollie Crush of Tutorly.co recommends tutoring, which can pay twice the minimum wage. "It's flexible, relatively high-paying and parents love hiring an undergrad to help their teenager out with high-school subjects."

He also suggests looking for part-time jobs right under your nose at your university, such as being a writer aid for disabled students. If you'd rather work from the comfort of your couch, websites such as Upwork or Freelancer allow you to bid for all sorts of virtual administration, transcription and basic research jobs. For those that know their way around graphic design and video-editing software, Fivrr and 99designs are the niche markets for you.

6. Set up a Trade Me business.

Plenty of Kiwis make money wheeling and dealing on Trade Me from their bedrooms or garages.

I'm forever interested in what people sell on Trade Me and, thanks to the likes of Aliexpress.com and Alibaba.com, anyone can do it. I've seen LED shower heads, cloth nappies, bento boxes and even fat-burning thermal waistbands and clothing sets that can be bought a few at a time and resold on Trade Me.

The more narrow your niche the greater the potential profit per sale. Trade Me seller Dragonfly81 makes money selling menstrual cups at $20 a pop, compared with $40 to $50 at chemists and eco-style shops. Her supplies can be bought from China for $2 or less per piece including postage. Don't forget you'll have to pay tax and possibly import duty on your profits, but it can add up to a tidy income for little time input.

7. Work your neighbourhood.

Whether you're in downtown Auckland or studying at the Waiariki Institute of Technology in Tokoroa, there will be people in the community who need work done and are prepared to pay for it.

Can you waterblast paths (with your parents' water blaster), thread eyebrows, wash windows, fix PCs or clean ceilings? Set your price and put notices up at the local supermarket or in people's letterboxes and spread the word on social media. Unless you're overpriced, unlucky or don't put the legwork in to get your first clients, you will make money.

8. Spend less.

Stay home, make a brown bag lunch, give up caffeine, downsize your phone package, buy secondhand or simply don't buy. You don't need that Tank juice, Amazon shirt, Dr Dre headphones, a Netflix subscription and so on. Your limited resources will go further and debts remain manageable the more you resist such temptations.

In particular, remember that booze costs big money even if it's a rite of passage for the young to party hard. If you're boozing on your student loan or other credit, you're mortgaging your future to the bottle. Don't fool yourself that you're spending your student loan on education. Having a few on a Friday night is no sin or crime. But accept that the student debt you leave university with was of your own making.

9. Don't have a cup-half-empty outlook.

If you find yourself thinking "it's not fair", "only rich kids can study", "it's impossible to pay back a student loan" and other negative thoughts about your study and finances, get help now.

A lot of your financial success comes back to what's percolating around your head. People who think positively -- see the cup as half full -- get ahead in their career and financial life. Most tertiary institutions offer some sort of counselling. Take advantage of it because this will cost you big bucks later in life. The University of Auckland, for example, offers a limited number of free individual counselling sessions to students and free wellbeing groups.

10. Make a budget.

Keep a spending diary to help cut unsatisfying expenditure and then hone the art of budgeting. If you can get budgeting down to a fine art at university, you're likely to sail through life financially. Your bank almost certainly offers a budgeting tool.

Otherwise download a spreadsheet from your university's website, or you could try a smartphone app such as Wally, Toshl, YNAB or Goodbudget.