With September on the horizon, back to school season is officially here. Getting ready to head back to school, college or university can be expensive, but it’s especially pricey if you’re a student.
During your university years, it goes without saying that you’re going to be low on money for a while – that’s the nature of being a uni student! Although you can get a job while you study or try to avoid spending too much on a night out, you will be a bit skint and unfortunately, the cost of living price hikes haven’t helped this at all.
As Deals Writer and Shopping Expert at T3, I’m always looking for ways to save money on everyday purchases, including the weekly food shop, streaming services, broadband packages and more. I was also a student not too long ago and during my time at uni, I picked up a few tips and tricks to keep my spending to a minimum while still getting the full university experience.
Below, I’ve rounded up the best 10 hacks that can help you cut the costs during your university years. For general school money saving tips, check out my guide on 5 ways to save money on back to school costs (opens in new tab).
1. Set a budget
The first way to save money as a student is to set yourself a budget. Having a budget is so important as you can see what you’re spending money on, what income you’re bringing in and how much money you’ve got left over at the end of the month.
Start by creating a weekly or monthly budget for yourself. To make it simple, have columns for money coming in (student loans, money from your parents, jobs, grants, etc…) and money going out. For money going out, stick to regular expenses like rent, phone bills, broadband, gym memberships and streaming services. Other expenses to add here include food shops and any ‘one-off’ purchases like nights out, clothes and course supplies. Once this is all mapped out, you can see how much money you’ve got left over each month which you can put into savings or spend.
2. Choose a student bank account with an overdraft
Before you head off to university, it’s a good idea to set up a student bank account. Most student bank accounts offer interest-free overdrafts, which is where your bank lets you spend more than you’ve got, up to a set amount at no extra cost. For example, if you have an overdraft of £500, you can use up to £500 and once you hit that limit, you can’t spend anymore. When you put money into your account, you’re effectively paying off your overdraft. When signing up for a student bank account, try to get the biggest overdraft you can. While I encourage you not to dive into your overdraft too much as you could become too dependent on it, it’s good to have a bit of money that you can use in case of emergencies.
3. Save money on your weekly food shop
Due to the cost of living crisis, the weekly food shop has become more expensive, with essentials like milk, bread and oil hitting record high prices. A great way to cut the costs of your food shop is to make a few small changes to save extra money each week.
First, shop at a cheaper supermarket. Aldi and Lidl are the best budget supermarkets in the UK and their lower prices can help cut your weekly food shop in half. Once you’ve picked your supermarket, keep an eye out for discounted items, bulk buys and price reduction sections. Buying own-brand products like Lidl’s own breakfast cereal is also much cheaper and tastes almost identical to the big name brands but at a fraction of the price. Finally, if you’re sharing a house with people and you tend to eat together, do a big food shop as a group and split the costs.
4. Be smart about house costs
Second and third year is when students tend to move out of halls and into rented accommodation. Rent and living costs can get pretty expensive, especially if you’re a student, so stick to these tricks to keep your housing costs down.
Firstly, make sure to take pictures of the house when you move in. Before you officially move in, you’ll typically be asked to pay a deposit. In order to get this money back, the house will need to be in good condition. Of course, if you accidentally break something while you’re there, you will have to pay for this but if there’s an imperfection in your room which was there before you moved in, it’s important to have proof of this so you don’t get charged for it.
Next, live with multiple people to cut down on how much rent you pay each month. Another handy trick here is to get a joint bank account with your housemates to make paying bills easier. If there’s any money in the account at the end of the year, you can split it between you and this account gives you some extra protection if you need to replace anything.
It’s also a good idea to consider rent without bills included. Setting up and paying for your own electricity, gas or water bills separately can be much more cost effective and gives you more control. With this in mind, try to avoid using too much electricity or heating where you can as this can massively increase your monthly bills. When you’re all out of the house or away for the holidays, make sure to switch everything off to keep the costs down. See my guide on how to save money on energy, water and electricity bills (opens in new tab)for more.
5. Switch to SIM only
Phone bills can massively increase how much you spend each month. If you’re about to get a new phone, rather than lock yourself into a 2-3 year long contract, consider switching to a SIM only deal. The best SIM only deals (opens in new tab) come with a huge amount of data, no upfront costs and super cheap prices. Smarty, Three, Vodafone and EE are the best providers to look at for this.
6. Buy second-hand & certified refurbished
At university, you’ll be taking notes, reading books, writing essays and watching back lectures, so you’ll need quality tech and supplies to help you study for your degree. Buying a new laptop or tablet can be pricey so to avoid spending too much, consider buying second-hand or certified refurbished devices. I’ve already listed my top reasons to shop certified refurbished (opens in new tab) but in general, second-hand and certified refurbished products are revitalised to a ‘like-new’ condition by the manufacturer, are much cheaper than new products and can last you throughout your university years if you take care of it properly. Retailers who often have good deals on second-hand or refurbished items include Amazon Renewed (opens in new tab), eBay (opens in new tab), Apple (opens in new tab), Box (opens in new tab) and select mobile phone providers.
7. Take advantage of student discounts
Thousands of stores and retailers offer student discounts, where you can get money off on all your purchases throughout your entire degree. The majority of the time, you can use your student discount as proof of your student status for money off your purchases but for more specific and online discounts, you can sign up to sites like UNiDAYS or Student Beans for free. Many of the retailers we’ve included on T3 discount codes (opens in new tab) have special student discounts so have a look at your favourite stores on that page for more.
8. Get student travel tickets
If you travel to university or often go away on the weekend to meet friends and family, sign up for a student travel pass on buses or trains. If you regularly take a specific bus route, look up online or ask the driver about a student bus pass. You’ll typically have to pay a small lump fee each week or month for your bus pass and you can use it as much as you like throughout the month without having to pay extra. For trains, the 16-25 railcard can cut the cost of your train journeys in half and you can use Split Save where you buy multiple small journeys rather than one ticket to get your travel cheaper. Sites to look at for this include Trainline, Transport for London, Stagecoach, First Bus, Arriva Bus and others specific to your area.
9. Use the library
One of the biggest costs at university is course books. As an English Literature graduate, I had to read 3-5 books a week for my degree, which if I was buying them new, would have cost me a small fortune. To avoid spending half of your student loan on course books, use your university library. Here, you can find all your books for your course, as well as other scholarly titles for your essays and dissertation work.
Your university library will have printers where you pay a small fee to print off your work. This is extremely handy if you’re running late or if you don’t have a printer handy, but I’d suggest checking out our guide to the best student printers (opens in new tab) to save money on a printer if you often print things out. The library is also a good place to go to use the free Wi-Fi if you’re particularly low on funds that month.
10. Sign up for Prime Student
Finally, sign up to Prime Student (opens in new tab). Prime Student is the student version of Amazon Prime, which offers members free unlimited delivery, access to lightning deals and other exclusive student offers, like 10% off textbooks, clothing, stationary and more. As someone who took their university binge watching very seriously, I know how much TV and films students watch, so with Prime Student, you’re going to want to make the most out of Prime Video. This membership also comes with Amazon Music and Prime Reading.
The best thing about Prime Student is that it’s free for 6 months for students, before you pay £3.99 a month. Students can cancel it at any time but if you want to keep it, see my guide on how to save money on Amazon Prime (opens in new tab).