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Nine tips to help students to tackle the cost of living crisis

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As energy prices soar, consumer group Which? outlines its top tips to help students to make the most of their money this year

With the start of the academic year only a few weeks away for students across the UK, it has never been more important to keep an eye on your outgoings, particularly as energy bills soar this winter. More than ever, it is important to create a budget and to try to stick to it.

A recent study by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that a third of students are living on less than £50 a month after paying rent and bills. It also found that 96% of students are cutting back their spending as a result.

Here, Which?’s outlines its top tips to help students to make their money last longer this year:

  1. Choose the best student bank account

Finding the best student bank account should be a priority. Which? recommends finding one with a generous 0% overdraft that lasts for the length of your course. Student bank account providers offer different perks and offers, so it’s worth making sure you get the deal best suited to your needs.

For example, Santander offers a free four-year railcard which is worth around £90 but it doesn’t offer the largest interest-free overdraft and you’ll need to pay in £500 per term. While NatWest offers one of the largest overdrafts for first-year students, the freebies, such as its one-year Tastecard membership, aren’t as valuable. Other accounts offer cash incentives of up to £100.

  1. Consider what kind of laptop or computer you need

Most students find a laptop, rather than a desktop computer, better for university as they’re easy to carry around and don’t take up too much space. Don’t overspend on a laptop that’s too powerful for your needs. Between £250 and £400 should be enough if you’re only going to be researching and creating Word documents or Excel spreadsheets.

It’s worth searching for student discounts and deals on laptops. For example, Lenovo offers up to 30% off for students, but you may need to show a valid student ID. You can often find the best deals direct from manufacturers’ websites. For example, HP offers £150 cashback if you trade in an old laptop for a new one. Buying second hand or refurbished laptops is another way to save cash.

If you plan to work from home most of the time and you’re on a tight budget, a desktop computer could be a cost-effective option, especially if you already have a computer monitor, keyboard and mouse. Desktops typically have a faster processor, more ports and more RAM and storage, compared to the same-priced laptop.

Most universities have computers around campus for students to use, and some have laptops that can be used in their libraries.

  1. Find out what additional support is available

Most universities offer additional financial support, particularly (but not exclusively) for students from lower income families. The most common examples are bursaries and scholarships to help with some or all of a student’s tuition fees or living costs. Companies, charities and special-interest groups are all common sources of funding, too. Bursaries and scholarships may be awarded based on academic merit (i.e. achieving high grades at A-level), a talent or skill, and extracurricular achievements.

If you have a disability or dependants who rely on you for care or financial support, you might be eligible for grants or allowances to help you.

  1. Share subscriptions with your flatmates

Lots of student accommodation doesn’t come with a television or TV licence, and many students rely on streaming services as a result. You can cut this cost by sharing streaming subscriptions within a household. Most services have plans that could help users save money, without losing their personalised features.

For example, Spotify offers a Premium Duo plan for £13.99 a month for two people in the same household, saving £71.88 a year compared to the price of two individual subscriptions. Amazon Prime also allows users to share benefits with another person in their household, halving the cost of having two separate accounts.

  1. Buy books second hand

Students will no doubt be presented with a long list of books to buy for their course. Tutors often insist you buy them all, but it might be worth checking how many are mandatory and how many are ‘nice-to-haves’. Find out if any necessary books are available in your library to borrow, or if the relevant parts are available online to download for free. Some departments have their own second-hand book schemes, and many university bookshops sell second-hand copies as well. It could also be worth searching for cheaper second-hand copies via online marketplaces.

  1. Find student discount codes

It’s always worth checking if you can pay less with a student discount, whether you’re going out for a pizza with friends or treating yourself to a new pair of jeans. Discounts can range from around 5% to 40%, so there are often big savings to be made.

While students can typically use their physical student card in shops and restaurants, there’s also online cards and schemes you can sign up for such as Totum, Tastecard, Unidays, Student Beans and International Student Card. Each service offers its own exclusive online discounts, so you’ll get different deals with each.

  1. Look for freebies

Several companies offer freebies for students, so it’s worth taking a look. For example, Amazon Prime offers six months free when you sign up to an Amazon Prime Student Trial. Students can also sign up for Microsoft’s Office 365 Education for free with their university email address. McDonald’s also offers a free cheeseburger, mayo chicken, or McFlurry Original when you buy any extra value or wrap meal and show a valid student or Student Beans ID.

  1. Save money on bills

While those living in student accommodation will likely have their utilities included, students living off campus usually need to pay for this themselves. Think about ways you could reduce energy use to lower bills, such as cooking with housemates, charging your laptop on campus and not leaving gadgets on standby. Students are also exempt from paying council tax.

  1. Save on transport

There are several ways to save on transport as a student. For example, the 16-25 railcard provides a third off rail journeys for just £30 per year, or £20 a year if you purchase via the Trainline before the end of August 2022. You can also buy a railcard with £10 of Tesco Clubcard vouchers.

National Express offers a Young Persons Coachcard for £15 that grants a third off journeys as well. It’s worth checking if you can get local travel cards or bus passes, as different cities around the UK will have different options. It might also be cost-effective to take a bike with you to save on transport costs. Some universities have their own bike loan schemes, so it’s worth checking when you arrive.