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For nursing students, bossing your budget is a skill as vital as learning drug calculations and pressure area care. Survival as a student depends on having enough in the bank to pay the bills, manage the rent and fill the fridge.

And it’s definitely not easy. No one goes into nursing for the money but for many students, cost-of-living pressures have made a difficult situation even worse.

RCN Scotland published a report last year which found that nearly 3/4 of nursing students believed serious financial hardship was having a major impact on their mental health. Nearly all of those questioned said their finances were causing them some level of concern and 90% were working 11 or more hours a week to supplement their income.

Navigating the system

Single parent Cat Sadler is a second-year nursing student. Financially, she’s managing better than some of her peers, in part because she knows exactly what support she is entitled to and how to get it.

The welfare system is complex and Cat says she sees social media posts every day from students who are struggling with Universal Credit, for example, and whose benefit has been miscalculated or who are being told incorrectly they’re not entitled.

3 top finance tips

Second-year nursing student Cat Sadler shares her best advice.

  • Talk about it. Many people will have been in a similar situation and may have helpful ideas to share.
  • Make sure you are claiming everything you are entitled to.
  • If you’re struggling, seek support sooner rather than later. Reach out to the specialist money advisers at your university and explore the RCN advice and resources to help you feel more in control of your finances.

When Cat queried her own benefit payment after spotting a significant discrepancy, she was told she was mistaken. But she persisted, using her Universal Credit journal – part of a claimant’s online account – to make her case. She repeated why the calculation was wrong and explained that as a student nurse clarity over her finances and what was owed to her were essential.

“And somebody replied instantly and said, ‘Yes, your calculation has been done incorrectly. We’ve sent you the money we owe you and we’ve sorted it out’.”

Understanding the rules

Claire Cannings, senior welfare adviser with the RCN’s member support services, says that although some students can claim benefits while studying, the rules around what income is taken into account for Universal Credit can be complicated. “And they vary depending on what type of funding you receive,” she adds.

Students who can claim for Universal Credit include:

  • those responsible for a child
  • those who have a partner eligible for Universal Credit
  • students who are disabled and were assessed as having limited capability for work before starting their course and are receiving Personal Independence Payment or Armed Forces Independence Payment.

Claire says that if you believe an error has been made in calculating your benefit, it’s vital to have it checked. “Last year, the RCN Welfare Service helped more than 80 students to get their benefits decision changed. In one case, the student had a back-dated payment of over £11,000.”

Talk to your peers, even if you think it's embarrassing to be open about money

The RCN website has a section devoted to students and benefits, including details of a free benefits advice clinic. You can also read Rachel’s story, explaining how an RCN student member’s benefits increased by up to £2,000 a year after she sought help from the RCN’s welfare service

For most student nurses, seeking practical ways to save money will be second nature. But beyond the obvious – dialling down the thermostat, trying to avoid hefty credit card bills – where else can they save? 

Finances thought bubble

Think about who you rent with. “Even though as a student you will be exempt from council tax, if you live with someone who is not a student, the household will still be jointly responsible for the council tax for that property,” Claire says. “So, if you’re looking for a house-share, be aware that if you’re sharing with non-students, you may find yourself still having to pay towards the council tax bill.”

If you succeed in finding somewhere you can afford to rent, exercise caution over landlords offering inclusive bills. “Utility bills have increased hugely over the past few years so a property with bills included might seem like a good deal,” Claire says. “However, do check what the limitations are for the utility services. If you’re only given hot water for a few hours a day, is that going to be enough for your household? And is the rent more expensive than if you were paying the bills yourself? If so, it’s worth working out if this really is worth the extra rent.” 

Budget, budget, budget

The RCN Student Money Guide is full of tips that you may not have considered, along with guidance on budgeting on a student income. The guide also links to the Money Saving Expert website. Claire points to its How To Get Free (Or Cheap) Food as one example that nursing students might find useful. Money Saving Expert also includes 10 Things You Need To Know about student money. For example, does your parents’ insurance cover you against theft or loss of a laptop, phone or other personal possessions?

Cat’s top tip regarding money is to talk about it: “Talk to your peers, even if you think it’s embarrassing to be open about money.” Many of them will have been in a similar situation and may have ideas to share that can help.

If your circumstances change during your course, your entitlement may also change, so make sure you’re getting everything you’re owed. For example, if your partner has lost their job during term time, you might now be able to claim dependants allowance for them. Contact your funding provider and ask to complete a ‘change in circumstances’ form.

And don’t forget to check out ways to save through RCN member benefits

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