As a student you become accustomed to tightening your purse strings and a lighter wallet.
I’ve had my fair share of beans on toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It isn’t always easy living off your student loan, so here are my six best tips to help you save more money and shop more carefully.
1. Set your money foundations with a student bank account
Student bank accounts are a product to take advantage of while you can as many offer an interest-free overdraft. This is handy because there may well be times in your university-life where you find yourself strapped for cash. If you have an interest-free overdraft you can borrow money from your bank without feeling the sting of interest.
Of course you do need to pay off any overdraft eventually. Each bank has different terms and conditions, so make sure you’re clued up on when you’re going to need to pay off yours. Read the Moneywise guide to the best student accounts for 2018/19 for more info.
You should also beware of entering unarranged overdrafts. Your arranged overdraft is the one that the bank offers you – you can accept all, some or none of it. I chose to set up a £500 limit even though I was offered £1,000, as I didn’t feel I’d need it all and I could easily apply to increase it later. But if you exceed the amount you agree, this becomes an unarranged overdraft and you could incur fees for going over your agreed limit.
Student banks sometimes come with other perks, such as free entertainment subscriptions or railcards, which can be an added incentive to get one. Use our comparison tool to see our Moneywise Best Buys and find the best student account for your needs.
2. Budget, budget, budget
Budgeting might sound boring but it really could save your skin - especially as the months roll on and you find your rent is due, but you’ve spent all of your loan.
You can budget for the whole year just before you head to uni in September and keep a spreadsheet saved on your computer to ensure you stay on track until the following summer.
Have a look at our article on how to make a budget and decide which method would be the most beneficial for you. I personally use technique five, which is using multiple accounts for different purposes. My student loan, for example, goes into my student account and that’s the one I use to buy essentials such as groceries, as well as to pay for rent and bills. I then have another current account into which I transfer any money I have left over at the end of the month.
This account’s card is the one that I take shopping and on nights out: it has no overdraft so I can’t spend money I don’t have on non-essentials, and it isn’t attached to my student account so the money I do need for essentials is safe when I decide it’s a good idea to buy everyone a round.
You can budget to your heart’s content, but you may still find there comes a time when you run out of cash. Don’t panic and get a payday loan – this is the worst thing you can do as they tend to have extortionate interest rates and may damage your credit score. If you’ve maxed-out your student overdraft and your parents can’t help, speak to your university as it should be able to give advice and may offer crisis loans.
3. Save on household bills: be savvy with subscriptions
One of the great elements of university life is living with other people, not just because your friends become your family, but also because you can share costs.
Do all six of you need separate Netflix accounts or can you team up and pay for one subscription with access to multiple screens? A basic Netflix subscription, for example, starts at £5.99 and gives you one screen. But if you think you’ll want to be watching different programmes at the same time you can upgrade to two screens for £7.99 or four for £9.99 – still saving you money when split between you.
As long as the person who signs up with their bank account can trust that everyone else will pay them back, there should be no problems and the pounds you save each month will add up substantially.
Alternatively, if one of you has NOW TV and the other has Amazon Prime, you can save by using each other’s accounts – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
4. Cut your food shop by ditching the big brands
Food shopping is such a chore and I dread the £30 to £40 bill at the end of it. There are, however, a few ways you can save when stocking up for the week.
Firstly, make a list. It’ll help you remember the things you do need, but also reminds you of what you don’t – if it’s not on the list, is it really necessary?
Don’t shop on an empty stomach because your thrifty brain will be overruled by your rumbling tummy. Grab a snack, stick to the list and resist temptation.
Ditch the brands. Well, maybe not all of them – my heart stops when my housemates buy mayonnaise that isn’t Hellmann’s, but you don’t need everything to be branded. Own-brand groceries are cheaper and usually pretty much the same (well, except mayonnaise).
Lastly, the best piece of advice my mum gave me when I left home was “it’s only a deal if you needed it before”. Don’t be fooled by ‘buy-one-get-one-half-price’ offers when you didn’t need the item to start with.
5. Arm yourself with student discounts
Unless you’ve been living under a university rock, you have probably already jumped on the student discount band-wagon, but there are a few different options and providers available:
- NUS extra has 42,000 international discounts and you can apply for it online from just £12 a year. You’ll receive both a student ID card and a login to access loads of discount codes for online shopping.
- UNiDAYS is another option if you don’t want to pay for the NUS extra card. It’s a free app and website that gives both online codes and an in-app ID to use when you’re out and about.
- Student Beans is another free app and website that offers further discounts to loads of your favourite shops.
6. Let’s make some money
Being a student isn’t all about saving money, you may find you need to earn some too. Not only can you apply for jobs in restaurants, cafes and shops, but often universities have student jobs too. Find out if your student union has any jobs going.
If you don’t feel like you have the time or energy to have a part-time job alongside your studies, there are lots of other ways to make a bit of extra money with minimal effort. My personal favourite is using cashback websites. These pay you money or other rewards, such as gift cards, when you go through them to shop online.
TopCashback, for example, is the one that I use and it’s free to sign up. It has a useful browser extension that you can download to automatically notify you about cashback offers when shopping online. Once the transaction has processed (usually a few weeks), the cashback will arrive in your TopCashback account for you to withdraw when you meet the minimum threshold.
Retail items have smaller rewards, while larger purchases, such as insurance and mobile phone contracts can pay a substantial amount more. The main thing to remember is to withdraw the money from your cashback account as soon as you reach the minimum threshold, as it’s not protected if the cashback provider goes bust.
Find out more information about cashback websites with our handy guide.