Surviving on a student budget
Living on a student budget is tougher than you might think. Your maintenance loan and any grants or bursaries you are eligible for can definitely help, but if you don’t spend them wisely you can run into difficulties. This page has a number of tips for how to survive on a student budget and how to make the most of your money.
INVESTIGATE AND APPLY FOR EXTRA FUNDING
Investigate fully any bursaries or scholarships, which your university may be offering. Each university has a different system for allocating money which it gives its students, and you may be eligible for non-repayable money without even knowing it! Here are some examples of financial support packages:
There may also be various charitable organisations which offer grants dependant on your circumstances, location or course. Search online or browse these grant websites unigrants, Money Saving Expert Education Grants and turn2us. It doesn’t take long to investigate, and if you do you might be thousands of pounds better off!
USE YOUR STUDENT CARD
When you get to university, you will likely get offered a National Union of Students membership. You will get an ID card which you can use for all sorts of discounts wherever you go. Hairdressers, clothing stores, and electronics shops will often give you 10% off. Before paying for anything, anywhere, always ask “Do you offer a student discount?”. You will save huge sums of money.
Avoid takeaways and ready meals. Over time, these costs will add up. Try clubbing together with housemates and allocate a day for each person to cook a meal. This will mean you don’t have to cook every night and when you do, the food you buy will be in larger quantities and therefore better value. Aside from that, it’s a great communal activity and a nice way to get to know your friends better.
Try to buy in bulk as this will get you better value. Find out if there are any “cash and carry” shops in your area. They are great for student staples like pasta, rice, tinned food, cereals etc. For fruit and veg, avoid the supermarkets. Go to your local market for better prices and a more personalised shopping experience. For meat, go to your local butcher or market for the same reasons. If you must go to a supermarket, wait until the evening and see if anything has been reduced before it goes past the sell by date. Buy it and pop it in the freezer, that way it won’t go off and can be defrosted whenever you fancy it. Always look for special offers and experiment with buying non-branded goods. Often, you won’t be able to tell the difference.
STUDENT BANK ACCOUNTS
These can be very much better than most current accounts. They often offer an interest free overdraft which can be a real help if money is tight. They also usually have added extras like Young Person’s Rail Cards. Do always be careful and monitor your account carefully, with particular care for the date when your rent goes out. Monitor your account online and install an app on your phone to keep track of your balance. For more information and a guide to the best student bank accounts go to Money Saving Expert’s Student Bank Account Guide.
SAVE ON GAS AND ELECTRICITY
When you move out of halls and into private accommodation, you’ll need to start dealing with energy companies. Be skeptical of their claims in advertising – compare them using price comparison websites and get advice from Money Saving Expert on cheap energy. Once you’ve done that, start looking at ways to save in your daily routine. Do full loads of laundry, have short showers instead of baths, hang up laundry rather than using a tumble drier, only use as much water as you need in the kettle, seal doors and windows in winter to keep the heat in…every little helps!
DON’T PAY FOR SOFTWARE
Word processing, database and publishing software are available for free through open source providers like Libre Office so you don’t have to pay for more mainstream providers. If you can’t live without paid software, do try to find out if there are any student discounts available. Some universities offer heavily-discounted software packages to their own students.
You’d be surprised how much you can save just by negotiating. Lots of shop owners, mobile providers and any other business which are there to take your money can be haggled down. No harm in trying at least – check out this guide and start practising.
GET THE RIGHT MOBILE TARIFF
So many people are locked into expensive contracts with their mobile phones. Billmonitor examines your phone usage to evaluate which contract and provider is best for you.
GET A 16-25 RAILCARD
Going home for holidays and visiting friends at other unis can cost you big if you don’t get one of these. They might seem expensive initially but they have paid for themselves once you’ve made about 3 journeys because of the money you’ve saved! You can get them free with certain student bank accounts, or you can buy one online or at your train station.
DON’T GET A CREDIT CARD
Avoid these; they can get you into severe financial trouble. If you have a student bank account with a good free overdraft facility, there should be no need for a credit card. If you have to get one in order to hire cars/equipment then don’t use it for anything else.
GET A PART-TIME JOB
Having a part-time job is a matter of necessity for a lot of students. When you start looking for one, consider whether it will look good on your CV. Working as a Student Ambassador for your university is a great experience and will give you skills which make you substantially more employable than shelf stacking or bar work. You might be able to find other jobs which are relevant to your course or career ambitions. Investigate thoroughly, take the advice of your university’s careers team, and choose wisely.
GET HELP FROM THE STUDENT’S UNION
Your student’s union will have a free advisory service which can help you with all sorts of financial (and other) problems. If you have difficulties with your landlord, deposits, or debts they can give you great advice. If you run into serious financial difficulty they may also be able to provide you with hardship funds.
SAVE ON BOOKS
Books can prove to be a major expense while at university. There are a couple of ways in which you can cut down on the costs. Consider simply using the books in the library or get second-hand copies which aren’t as expensive. Be careful here, though; many courses require you to use particular editions of important texts so always ask your tutor’s advice. If you must buy the books at full price, share them with your coursemates.