Ten tricks to cut your costs at uni

16 August 2019

A university education can be dismayingly expensive, but there are many ways to avoid breaking the bank

Ten tricks to cut your costs at uni

Did you know that a three-year undergraduate degree from the University of Bristol costs £60,642, while one from Regent’s University London costs £103,458? That’s according to financial services comparison website GoCompare’s Degree of Value research, which breaks down the cost of attending individual UK universities.

Its figures, based on living in university halls in your first year and private accommodation thereafter, take tuition, accommodation, travel, social, book, food, clothing, gym and laundry costs into account. Student finance is available in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but even if you’re eligible for this, you might find it doesn’t stretch far.

Courteney Sheppard, customer experience manager at UCAS, the UK university application process operator, says: “A student loan that comes into your bank account at the start of each term may seem like a lot of money, but it can be difficult to make it last.”

However, if you are a current or prospective student (or a parent of one), fear not: there are plenty ways for savvy students to save and earn cash while at university.

1 Consider unorthodox accommodation options

To save money on accommodation, you could look into lodging with a live-in landlord or becoming a property guardian, where you live in a property to keep it under observation and in a good state. UK-headquartered property guardian company Ad Hoc has rooms from £160 a month, with bills included. Alternatively, if you’re happy to chat and help around the house in return for an affordable place to live, you could be matched with someone with a spare room under the Homeshare UK scheme, which helps householders live independently at home for longer.

2 Volunteer

At first glance, volunteering might not look like much of a money earner. However, it often comes with a surprising number of perks, such as free food or entry to events. If you volunteer to work at a university cinema society, for example, you could find yourself watching the latest film releases for free. Alternatively, by volunteering at your university’s student newspaper or magazine, you could find yourself reviewing a restaurant you have always wanted to try or rubbing shoulders with celebrities for free.

3 Plan ahead

Determining a budget is the key to keeping your finances on track, according to Mr Sheppard. He says: “Knowing your income and how much you are spending should put you in control of your finances.” This means knowing how much you will need for rent, bills, food, going out and so on.

Planning ahead and knowing what your day has in store can also help you avoid overspending.

Mr Sheppard’s money saving tips include avoiding pricier supermarkets, sharing shopping and cooking with housemates, and using public transport whenever possible (or sharing taxi fees with friends). You could also try preparing meals in advance and investing in a flask or tupperware to avoid buying more expensive food and drink when you are on campus.

4 Take advantage of discounts

Sign up for a National Union of Students card, which offers more than 200 UK student discounts and a year’s worth of 42,000-plus international discounts. If you will be using the train for trips home, check your eligibility for a National Rail railcard. The 16-25 Railcard and 26-30 Railcard discount most rail fares in the UK by a third.

Loyalty schemes such as those run by supermarkets offer discounts and special offers. And check your eligibility for the NHS Low Income Scheme, which can help you with healthcare costs.

5 Go teetotal, vegetarian or vegan

It’s not for everyone, but quitting drinking or eating meat at university or not using animal products could help your finances. According to a menu from a pub operated by UK pub chain giant Wetherspoon in a prominent university city, a pint of Pepsi costs £2.15, a pint of R Whites lemonade £1.99 and a J20 £1.89. Compare these prices with those of a single Bombay Sapphire gin with a 200ml bottle of Britvic tonic water (£3.80), a pint of Shipyard American Pale Ale (£2.55) or a double Smirnoff (£4.35). Clearly, there are savings to be made here.

As for going vegetarian or vegan, evidence suggests that your finances could benefit significantly. According to a study commissioned by Linda McCartney Foods, cutting down on meat saved Brits more than £2.8 billion in 2018. What’s more, financial advice firm Cleo claims that after three months, meat eaters who go vegan end up paying out £21 less a month on groceries and eating out.


Model student

Freddie Pearson (left), a student at The University of Manchester, has a model way of making money while he studies. The business management student from South London is signed up with several modelling agencies – including the prestigious Elite Modeling Agency Network.

He also earns money by promoting companies on his Instagram account, @freddie_pearson, which has more than 110,000 followers. Freddie, a former water polo player for Great Britain, has also netted cash through his website, Freddie Pearson Fitness, where he sells fitness plans.

The 20-year-old admits to finding it strange that “you can literally post a photo and then make money from it”. But he says the income from his ventures has helped fund his university degree – and he hasn’t had to ask his parents for cash. He feels he is fortunate to be able to work while studying and then travel during the holidays. He adds :“It has been a weird experience, but also a lucky one.”

6 Work, work, work

Depending on your course, you might have enough time for a part-time job. Sophie Phillipson, founder of student and graduate support network HelloGrads.com, suggests brand ambassador roles, work with children and work with local start-ups. Universities also often offer part-time employment opportunities. You could pull pints in your student union bar, take prospective students on university tours or become a university mystery shopper in exchange for pay and complimentary goodies. University research groups may offer rewards for participating in their trials, but only sign up to those you are comfortable with.

7 Buy second hand

Buying second hand is a great way to save money while preventing waste and the depletion of raw materials. Get hold of the reading lists for your course and see which books you can buy cheaper online. Hit the charity shops and car boot sales for new threads and homeware. You can even get food second hand: UK initiative The Real Junk Food Project saves edible food from being binned and makes it available under a ‘pay as you feel’ system. This initiative, established in 2013, incorporates 127 cafes that offer ‘waste’ food in seven countries, and 10 ‘social supermarkets’ that gather, store and distribute surplus food on a bigger scale.

8 Explore grants and bursaries

Check whether location-specific grants for university students are available in your local area and whether you’re entitled to other grants that depend on personal circumstances. Universities often offer bursaries to those with lower household incomes. Also investigate bursaries set up through legacies.

A number of grants, scholarships and bursaries have very specific eligibility criteria. Although stipulations might seem odd, you’ll be laughing if you fall into any qualifying categories. For example, several universities provide scholarships for those who want to undertake a degree taught and completed in the Welsh language. At Cardiff University the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol awards 150 undergraduate scholarships worth £3,000 across three years. The Vegetarian Charity offers grants to vegetarians and vegans who are under 26 and attending university.

9 Enter competitions

Winning competitions can be lucrative for those who strike it lucky. Serial ‘compers’ have sometimes managed to bag themselves thousands of pounds in prizes in the shape of holidays, gadgets and even hard cash. Try Competition Database and ThePrizeFinder.com for contest listings.

10 Consider studying abroad

University students can save more than £13,000 by spending time abroad, according to research by HSBC. Find out whether your university offers the opportunity to spend time abroad, where tuition fees may be cheaper or free and living costs may be lower.


Pet project makes a difference

After moving to the UK from Botswana to study medicine at the University of Leicester, Dimpho Mme Gosenyang (left), 22, found she missed her dog back home. So to get some four-legged company and earn some extra cash, she set up a profile on pet-sitting website Pawshake.

Dimpho now charges £45 for overnight house-sitting and £12.50 for a dog walk or single home visit. The money, she says, supplements her income (mainly during holidays) and has helped her find “stability”.

“I get to have peace of mind knowing that I can provide for myself, and my parents don’t have to worry about me,” she says. “I get to enjoy amazing things such as travelling the world or much smaller things such as not thinking twice before agreeing to go out for dinner with a friend. Sure, pet-sitting doesn’t pay all my bills, but it makes a difference, it gives me life experiences I probably would never have otherwise and it’s something I really enjoy.”

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