Christmas is just around the corner, but..university is so expensive! There’s rent to pay, text books to buy and pub crawls to fund, all on a very limited budget.
So how are you supposed to have enough in the kitty for those all important Xmas gifts? Not to mention any socialising you take part in over the festive break.
If you only just started studying for your degree a few months ago, you may not have been prepared for the financial black hole that is university life. Even the third year veterans get caught out by unexpected bills and over-spending in the first few weeks of term.
To help students old and new navigate the murky waters of fiscal responsibility, and save a few precious pennies to put toward Christmas commitments, we’ve put together this list of tips. You’ll be amazed how far you can stretch those pounds and pences.
1. Make a budget
Responsibility is cool! At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
In all seriousness, making a budget is one of the smartest things you can do. It only takes an hour or so at the beginning of term and will save you getting into a rut later down the line.
Create a simple spreadsheet with your monthly incomings and outgoings and then you can see exactly how much spending money you have leftover for ‘luxuries’.
2. Treat yourself at the end of the month
It’s tempting to go on a shopping spree when your loan has just come in and your bank account looks healthy but this is a one-way ticket to overspending.
Hold-off until the end of the month, see what you’ve got leftover and then burn that cash on clothes, music and video games (or Christmas presents!).
3. Cook from scratch
Ditch the takeaways and meals out, yes, even the ones with student discount and free drinks. Shopping in bulk and cooking all your meals from scratch saves you an incredible amount of money.
There are people who can eat like a king on just £2 a day. That’s £14 a week, or £140 for a whole ten-week semester.
While that kind of budgeting isn’t possible for everyone, if you cook from scratch anyone can realistically expect to spend just £20 a week.
4. Go shopping in the evening
This is when most supermarkets start heavily reducing prices on items they need to shift by the end of the day.
Make a shopping list anyway, but if you’re flexible on brands and flavours you could get fresh produce that’s still plenty good to eat, but for pennies. Just don't shop on an empty stomach!
Remember that it's OK to buy stuff which is past its best before date. Unlike 'Use By' dates, 'Best Before' dates are only recommendations for food quality, not safety.
You'll also find that supermarket international food aisles are home to some big savings on staples including rice, lentils, beans, spices and sauces.
Foreign brands are as much as 75% cheaper, and are often more authentic than domestic equivalents.
However, the quantities will normally be different, so check the price tag for the price per unit of measurement.
5. Don’t buy stationery
Pens, notebooks, highlighters – you can get all these for free (or do away with them altogether), so don’t waste your money.
If you prefer to work with pen and paper, scope out the freebies at Fresher’s Week for stationery.
If you’re more technologically minded, use a laptop or tablet to keep notes during lectures and seminars.
6. Walk everywhere
Save money on travel costs and gym memberships by walking as much as you can. Get together with a group of friends and walk to lectures or the pub, it’s safer and makes the trek more interesting.
For longer journeys home, invest in a 16-25 Railcard which can save you up to a third on train tickets.
7. Cut your bills
Every few months, it's worth sitting down at a computer and looking to see if it's cheaper to switch your gas, electricity or phone/internet provider.
Comparison sites such as uswitch.com and lookaftermybills.com will help you do this.
Although it may seem like a hassle, it can save you (and your house mates) hundreds of pounds in the long term.
8. Do your research
Before buying anything (and we really mean anything), shop around.
If for example you’re investing in a new laptop, compare prices online and in-store. Ask for a student discount or use a coupon to knock up to 20% off the price.
Never plump for the first price you find, even if it looks like a great deal. You can always come back to it if you don’t find better.
9. Reduce your entertainment costs
There are many ways you can save money on socialising and entertainment while studying at university. These include:
- Getting free app downloads with Amazon by signing up for their Underground service.
- Applying for Compare The Market's Meerkat Movies scheme for 2 for 1 on cinema tickets (or visit the cinema during off-peak times when tickets are cheaper).
- Ditching your TV licence (great if you have super speedy internet access and a Netflix/Now TV/Amazon Prime account).
- Cancelling your gym membership.
- Signing up for newsletter discounts on music gigs and other events.
- Stop smoking or drinking so much
- Looking for free alternative software (instead of Microsoft Office and other costly packages).
- Only take cash with you on a night out.
10. Check out student discounts
Get yourself a discount card to hoover up any student savings going.
You'll need to pay for the NUS Extra card (the three-year card is the best value), but you could recoup your costs in as little as one spend with 50% off Spotify, 10% off ASOS or discounts on Amazon.
If you enjoy meal's out, then it's also worth adding a tastecard to get 50% off at thousands of restaurants.
If you don't want to pay for your discounts, you can still use your student ID instead at a range of places, from clubs to cinemas. Take a look at Save the Student's directory of student discounts.
Oh, and don't worry if you've already finished uni – find out how you can get a NUS Extra card when you've graduated!
Good luck with your budgeting, and enjoy that extra cash in your pocket!
For more tips and advice on saving money at university, please see: