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The ultimate student money saving guide

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

With A-Level results out today, thoughts turn to university – the start of freedom, further education and financial responsibility. We reveal some of the best student money saving tricks to save you hundreds of pounds.

It’s crunch-time today as anxious students open their awaited A-Level results. For many, you’ll be starting university this autumn, leaving the family home for the freshers’ halls to begin the first day of the rest of your life.

But even if you’re already a year or two into your university studies, there are some little-known ways and simple tips to make sure you don’t blow your budget in the first term and to help your money stretch throughout the semesters.

So our ultimate student money saving tips should help you on your way:

Get the right student finance

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.

Save The Student suggests Student Finance should be your first port of call and then check your university in case it offers any emergency funds or bursaries, turn2us for charity grants for all manner of circumstances, as well as business and career organisations for scholarships, sponsorships and awards.

Get the best student account for your needs

Banks and building societies are keen to win students’ custom as you’re seen as the high earners of the future. Some offer perks and freebies while others offer bigger interest-free overdrafts. See YourMoney.com’s Banks unveil student account deals: how do they stack up? to compare.

If you’re going to spend, 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? By doing a quick price comparison online, you could save hundreds over the course of the year.

Student discounts

Make the most of any student discounts available to you. Perhaps the most well-known is the NUS Extra card for giving discounts, but discounts are also available through Student Money Saver, MyUnidays, Savethestudent and StudentBeans which give you savings on every day purchases, as well as big one off items, everything from free cinema tickets, to 25% off National Express and free food. Jonathan Watts-Lay, director of Wealth at work, a financial education in the workplace provider, said the savings could be significant.

Store cards

One way shops entice you with a discount is to take out their store cards. 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 or a discount on your shop.

Avoid payday lenders at all costs

Payday lenders have been heavily criticised 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. See YourMoney.com’s How a bad credit rating affects you guide.

Save on your commute

Travel isn’t cheap so it makes sense to get discounts where you can. The 16-25 national railcard costs £30 for the year gives anyone aged up to 25, or over 25 and in full-time study, 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.

Save The Student says the biggest savings lie in timing the purchase. For example, buy a three-year 16-25 Railcard just before you turn 24 and you can keep saving on rail fares until you’re 27.

Have a look around for other travel discounts – in London you can get a student oyster card that gives you 30% off the price of adult-rate travelcards and bus season tickets.

Save on medical costs

If you’re going for dental treatment, check you’re signing up as an NHS patient, not private, as costs are much lower. The NHS low-income scheme can get you reduced or free prescription charges, and is based on your income, rather than that of your parents. If you have less than £16k coming in (including from student finance), you could be eligible.

Don’t pay for software

There are heaps of ways to save on computer kit:

University computers may be stuffed with more software than you can shake a stick at, so you may not need to shell out for much (although access may vary depending on your course or subject).

Save The Student says freeware is often just as good as the paid stuff: LibreOffice or OpenOffice for writing, slideshows and spreadsheets, GIMP for image editing and Avast for antivirus.

Do you need the latest mobile phone?

If your phone contract is coming to an end, Wealth at Work says you could consider a SIM only deal rather than upgrading to the latest phone. With a contract, you are effectively borrowing money for the phone, and repaying this loan through your monthly bill. Also, check your tariff as there are some very competitive deals available.

Check with your parents in case you need contents insurance

The ‘contents away from home’ section of your parents’ household policy may already cover your belongings, 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 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 first.

Do you really need to take everything with you?

If you’re moving into shared or furnished accommodation, hold off on buying kettles and toasters until you see what’s there or what others have brought.

Pace your book buys

Buying your entire reading list on day one can wreck your first loan instalment. Instead, get what you can from the university or local library and only shell out for the books you really need or find useful.

Find second-year or grad students offloading set texts, or scour charity shops to get the rest for less and Save The Student recommends using Project Gutenberg to hunt out free downloads of public domain works.

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 £11,000. As students rarely work enough hours to rack up income above this threshold, they tend to not pay income tax.

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 a council tax exemption.

TV licence break over the summer

Firstly a word of caution – from 1 September, if you watch or download BBC programmes on demand, including catch-up, you need a TV licence.

If you’re heading back home over the summer holidays, make sure you apply to get a refund on the proportion of TV licence you won’t be using during those three months. You can pocket about £36. Read YourMoney.com’s guide on how to reclaim a TV licence refund.

Could you make money by selling your stuff?

If you want to make a little extra cash, then it’s worth considering selling anything that’s in good condition that 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.