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It’s not uncommon to hear talk about students graduating with more than $25,000, or even $50,000, in student debt. There are so many financial choices to consider when studying and figuring out the best way to use interest-free student loans. Drew, 19, shares the financial choices she’s made while studying to be a primary school teacher. 

Staying at home to minimise borrowing

The whole university experience away from home wasn’t important to me. I’m grateful and fortunate to be able to stay home rent-free (I pay for my own living costs), where I’m close to campus. I don’t see university as a party scene and would rather just get on with my studies. ‘Do it once, do it right’ is one of my personal values.

Moving cities and going flatting during uni was never a big thing for me, as I already have my own freedom while living at home. So for me, it was a no-brainer to stay at home and save what would be huge amounts on rent over the years I’m at uni.

I know this isn’t for everyone; my older sister moved to Wellington to study at Victoria University, living in a shared flat, which was important for her independence. She's loved it.

Balancing work and study has worked for me

I have had a job since I was 15, starting with weekend work and then moving to a job that also provided after-school work. I worked full time through most summers and always worked public holidays to help get that extra money. I’m not too shy to say I’ve always had a strong work ethic.

I have maintained a job throughout university. I’ve learned ways to do it efficiently, so it’s not too hard to manage my time and the juggle of work and study.

I work around uni. For example when I was working at Kmart last year, I would work evenings and a full day on Sunday. Now I’m working at a café close to campus and will be working most evenings and both weekend days. My workplace only operates in the afternoon into the evening, which gives me my mornings to myself.

I like to be busy. Having a jam-packed schedule really helps me to stay motivated and be my best self. I may as well get used to working full days now, so my body can handle the amount of work required to be successful in the career I am pursuing.

Scholarships help keep my student loan down

I had a bit of money in savings from my part-time job during high school and received a scholarship for $5000 to go towards my second year. I found out about this through the many times Waikato University came and spoke at my high school, and all the ongoing support from past teachers at college.

Finding out about and being granted this scholarship has made such a big difference to my money situation. It will pay for the majority of this year’s fees, and I’ll put the remaining $2000 on my student loan.

I am also in the process of applying for a teaching scholarship that would pay for all my fees, so that will determine how much I need to borrow next year, if anything (here’s hoping!). The one I am currently in the process of applying for is from TeachNZ and was discovered through talks at the university, as these scholarships are specifically for teaching students.

I encourage everyone studying to explore all available options for scholarships, as they can make a huge difference to how much your student loan is when you graduate.

Making the most of interest-free student loans

I have a student loan that helped cover the costs of my first year, which made complete sense to me, given it’s interest-free. But because of the choices I’ve made with planning my finances and saving, I’m really motivated to minimise my debt during the rest of my time at uni. That way it feels less of a burden and I’m more confident with my ability to pay it back faster once I’ve graduated and am working as a teacher.

Cody (my boyfriend, who is studying accounting) helped sort out all my student loan things. My family has never really had values around money as such, so Cody has been a big influence on my thoughts around money. He’s been really helpful in organising our money, our monthly budgets, all of that kind of stuff.

I didn’t grow up with money, so I limit my borrowing to the essentials

I would say I’m really careful how I spend my money because I know how quickly money can disappear if you’re not careful. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money; my parents had working-class jobs throughout my childhood and we lived in a rented house. My parents worked hard starting their own business over 10 years ago, which eventually helped them buy their own home.

There is no factor that drives me to not borrow more than I need, other than the fact that it is not my money. Since the money is borrowed, I keep that firmly in my mind and only spend it on the essentials I really need. Working the amount both Cody and I do allows us to pay for our weekly expenses and have a bit left over for ourselves each week for fun and the things we may want.

I am not entirely sure where I got that mindset from. I rarely talk about money with my friends or family. I guess I see some of my friends spending lots of money on going out every weekend and racking up big tabs at bars, but it's not something I have ever really been interested in, so I can see how my preference to stay home on the weekend can save me a bit of money. 

Our goals keep us motivated

My boyfriend and I are currently in the final stages of creating our own business, so funds have been extremely tight. We’ve kept our spending at an all-time minimum as we try to save for the fees and costs involved in starting a business.

Over time, I’m really hopeful that this business will provide enough money to cover our bills. Then any excess income from working while at uni (approximately 30 hours a week) will go straight into savings to invest in a tiny home after we graduate.

Having goals like these set out keeps me motivated to keep my student loan to a minimum. It helps make it really clear what is important and necessary to spend money on, and what can wait.

Here’s more on making informed choices around studying and student loans.

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