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The ultimate student money guide

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Written by:
12/08/2014
Little tricks here and there could save students hundreds of pounds. We reveal some of the best.

As A-Level results day approaches and September draws closer, many young adults will be looking forward to the start of the autumn term, whether as a fledgling fresher or a seasoned student.

One thing is for sure, no matter where you are in your studies, you’ll probably be cash-strapped at some point.

We’ve gathered a few top tips to help get you save money:

If you’re going to spend it, do it smartly

It’s unrealistic to tell you not to spend any money. You will probably drink alcohol, buy take-aways and make some unwise purchases. These are your university years after all. 

But while it may seem boring to focus on looking after the pennies, if you know you’ll be spending, why not shop around for the cheapest deal?

Every student has access to the internet in some form or another; doing a quick price comparison online could save you hundreds over the course of the year.

Use your student discount cards like the NUS card or your university’s own student ID to get money-off shopping as well as to get heavy discounts on nights out and entertainment. Some of the discounts are genuinely worth it – like getting money off the latest Apple laptops or discount tickets for the National Theatre.

On that note – beware of laptops offered as freebies for something else, such as insurance. These deals are rarely anything but a money-maker for the provider.

Bulk-buy wherever possible if you know that it’s something you will use, and try – just occasionally – to cook your own meals. They’ll be healthier (most students put on nearly 15 pounds in the first year of uni just by eating rubbish!), and save a nice packet at the end of the month. The same goes for toiletries, loo rolls and cleaning products.

Pre-drink – student nights aside, going out drinking can be expensive, so if you’re planning a night out clubbing, drinking sensibly before you head to the venue could save hundreds of pounds a year.

Books – try and buy your books second hand wherever possible. Ask around at your university too; you’ll probably find someone from the year ahead who’s desperate for the cash. Also try Amazon.co.uk or abebooks.co.uk.

Sell your stuff – if you want to make a little extra cash, then it’s worth considering selling anything that’s in good condition you no longer use. Also, consider doing this with things you’ve left at your parents and won’t use – a great way to make money as well as get in your parents’ good books.

Have a look around discount voucher sites for money-off vouchers on services like haircuts or meals out. Often the deals are for top name salons and restaurants, but at a fraction of the cost. Before signing up to a deal – do a quick review check of the place just to make sure it’s all above board.

Healthcare – Students generally aren’t exempt from paying for their own healthcare. Obviously there are some exceptions to this. Click here to read who is eligible for free medication.

Remember that generic brands (the own-brand stuff at Superdrug and Boots etc) are just as good as the brand medication, but at a fraction of the cost.

Council Tax – households where everyone’s a full-time student don’t have to pay Council Tax. If you do get a bill, you can apply for an exemption.

Eye care – the cost of contact lenses and glasses can rack up. If you know your prescription (you have a legal right to ask for it) then you can find a good deal by shopping around online from a reputable site. Try here.

Get the right grant – there are a whole host government grants and university bursaries that go unclaimed every year purely because students have no idea they exist.

Ask around your university department or careers office. They should know what you can apply for. If not, a quick online search aimed at your degree field should get some results.

Income tax – it’s a common misconception that students don’t need to pay income tax. Everyone who earns a wage needs to pay tax; however, you only pay tax on earnings above a certain amount – currently it’s £10,000. As students rarely work enough hours to rack up income above this threshold, they tend to not pay income tax.

At one point you will run out of money, and may look for part-time work. One way of saving/making money is to work at the retailer or establishment that you really like. That way you will probably get work perks like a discount as well as an income. Just make sure you don’t blow everything you earn in store, which defeats the whole point. Make sure that you get the national minimum wage. Check here.

TV license break over the summer – if you’re heading back home over the summer holidays, make sure you apply to get a refund on the proportion of TV license you won’t be using during those three months. You can pocket around £37. Read this for more details and where to go to apply.

A TV license is required for when TV is watched as it airs, so – live TV. If you are only watching or downloading programmes that have already been broadcast using the iPlayer or other internet on-demand services, a licence is not required.

Get the right travel card – Travel is not cheap. Therefore it makes sense to get discounts where you can.

The 16-25 national railcard gives students and under 26s a third off rail journeys, but make sure you carry your railcard with you when using a discounted ticket otherwise the fine will undo the savings.

Have a look around for other travel discounts – in London you can get a student oyster card that helps alleviate the high price of travel in the capital.

And make sure you plan your trips well ahead of time to benefit from early booking savings. Read this to find out when is the cheapest times to book a holiday.

Don’t buy contents insurance until you’ve checked with your parents first. No, I’m not telling you to ask permission first, merely that the ‘contents away from home’ section of your parents’ household policy may already cover you, or you might be able to get it extended for a little extra cost.

Read the T&Cs to make sure the exact value of your stuff is fully covered.

Some insurers may refuse to payout on a claim if they find that the possessions were not in a locked room, and where evidence of a violent entry was not demonstrated for the claim to be settled.

Additionally, if you end up making a claim, your parents will most likely lose their no claims discount so make sure you discuss this with them.

If you want to save, do it wisely – if you are one of the few students who manages to put away money every month – well done. Make sure you shop around for a good savings account to park your money, even if the interest rates in the market are pretty poor.

One smart trick is to put your savings every month into a cash individual savings account (ISA). That way you get the effects of compound interest and tax-free benefits. Read this.

Stay away from payday lenders – payday lenders have been heavily criticised in recent months for trapping people into a cycle of debt, and at the beginning of your adulthood, you really don’t want to get into debt that you can’t break out of.

Remember that actions you take now can have a major impact in the future – as such, getting into huge levels of ‘bad’ debt like these can have an impact on you being able to apply for loans, mortgages and even mobile phone contracts in the future. Read this.

Store cards – another trap for students. If you can’t afford to pay for the item now, you can’t afford it – full stop. Don’t sign up for a store card no matter how badly you want that pair of boots.

Money mules and ID fraud – beware the words ‘Money Transfer Agent’ or ‘Payment Processing Agent’ when looking around for a job. Increasing numbers of students are being targeted by fraudsters to be money mules for them. The pay may seem attractive, but a criminal record and time behind bars is not. Stay well clear

Segments of this piece appeared on YourMoney in August 2013. 

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