Sticking to a student budget can be difficult, but there are ways to keep costs down when at university. Read our money-saving tips, guide to student banking and advice on dealing with debt
Money-saving tips for students
It's important to keep track of your spending. Create a spreadsheet of your finances so you can see how much you have to spend each month. Include your income from student loans, scholarships and bursaries, any parental contributions and part-time jobs, as well as regular outgoings such as your rent and mobile phone.
You'll need to be smart with food shopping. Do a cost-effective 'big shop' at the start of each week and minimise the number of takeaways you have. Buy supermarket value products rather than well-known brands, and shop at the end of the day when many items are discounted. Share the cooking with your housemates and plan your daily meals in advance. You'll save money by making packed lunches rather than buying a sandwich or going to a coffee shop.
Don't overpay for transport. Most universities are either city-based with excellent public transport links, or campus-based with everything on your doorstep. You probably won't need a car while studying. Instead take advantage of student discounts on travel.
If you take the train regularly, a 16-25 railcard will pay for itself. Costing £30 for one year or £70 for three, this will give you a third off all rail fares and will save you around £199 per year. Mature students can download the digital-only 26-30 railcard, costing £30 per year while also offering a third off fares, saving you around £125 a year.
Local buses remain one of the cheapest ways to get around. Check whether you're entitled to any student discounts or weekly/monthly passes on the services you use.
You can benefit from more than 200 student discounts ranging from essentials to fashion, music and technology if you sign up for TOTUM membership. This can be enjoyed for free with TOTUM Lite or starts from £14.99 for 12 months if you're looking to take advantage of the full range of offers. Savings include 10% off at the Co-op and ASOS and 20% off at Pizza Hut. View the full list at TOTUM - All offers.
Once you know your reading list for the academic year, buy your course books second-hand wherever possible. You won't need to buy them all and can borrow set texts from the library. You'll find cheap second-hand copies online or through your university and can sell the books when they're no longer required.
If you're sharing a student house, you'll be responsible for your gas, electricity, water and Wi-Fi costs. Use comparison websites to get the best deals and keep costs down by saving energy. Set up direct debits for regular bills, so they're paid automatically each month. This will help you to avoid any late payment charges.
Sharing bills among housemates can be effective if this is managed carefully. Make sure people are paid back as quickly as possible. This will avoid any unnecessary tension should anybody consistently fail to pay their share. Read more about living in student accommodation.
Simple student banking
The way you bank as a student can make budgeting effortless and even earn you extra money. Here's how to make the most of what's on offer:
- Don't just stick with your current bank - All high street banks offer dedicated student bank accounts, so it's worth shopping around. Choosing wisely can help you to save money with freebies and discounts, pay less for borrowing in an emergency or if you overspend. Regularly compare offers, and switch banks if you need to, in order to take advantage of the best deals.
- An overdraft typically beats freebies - Having an overdraft in place means the bank won't charge you fees if you overspend. With a student account, you won't pay to get an overdraft and the money borrowed won't accumulate interest like with some regular accounts. If you don't have savings or family support, a student overdraft means money to fall back on, plus you may save more on fees and interest than with freebies like railcards and gift vouchers. You'll only benefit from an overdraft by sticking to the terms - keep to the limit and always repay what you borrow on time.
- Have more than one bank account - Student accounts come with decent extras so you can only have one at a time. That doesn't mean you can't have other bank accounts. You could put your student loan and wages in one account, then transfer money to a separate account for paying bills and direct debits. Your savings can be held by another bank if it offers better interest rates or cash bonuses. As long as you meet the account conditions, there's no reason you can't mix-and-match.
- Use lazy saving to stockpile cash - This is an easy way to save for holidays, emergencies or anything else you might need cash for in the future as your bank or savings app does everything automatically. With an auto-saving, round-up or save-the-change function whenever you pay with your debit card, the amount is rounded up to the nearest pound and the extra few pennies are moved into a savings or side account. A growing number of digital banks and independent apps now offer auto-savings functions, which securely work with existing accounts.
- Use credit cards wisely - Taking out credit to spend more than you have should only be used when it's the cheapest means of borrowing. 0% credit cards are a bit like student overdrafts in that you won't have to pay interest on the money borrowed. Some cards give cashback on spending so by using one specialist card this can result in a decent refund at the end of the year. Again, the only way to benefit from credit cards is to stick to the conditions. Once you start paying interest, fees or penalty charges, your credit effectively costs you more.
Dealing with debt
With a low income and tight budget, it's hardly surprising that many students run into debt. The strain of owing money not only has a negative impact on your mental wellbeing, it can also affect your academic studies.
To get debt free, follow these steps:
- Don't panic - Seek help as early as possible as your situation may be quickly resolved with the right guidance. Don't let letters or emails pile up. Open and deal with all correspondence to make sure that you're clued up on your finances. Keep all correspondence in case you need to produce these at a later date. Family, friends, university services and outside agencies won't be able to help if you're not honest about, or aware of, the extent of your problems.
- Prioritise your debts - Separate your priority from your non-priority debts. Your priority debts include rent or mortgage arrears, utility bills such as gas and electricity, income tax, TV licence and court fines. The non-payment of these debts can directly affect your wellbeing, as you could lose your home or have essential supplies cut off. Your non-priority debts cover bank overdrafts or loans, credit or store cards, unsecured personal loans and money borrowed from friends or family. While it's still important to clear these debts and take them seriously, penalties for not paying are generally less severe.
- Talk to people - While being in debt may feel isolating, don't suffer in silence. Share your money worries with family and friends as they can offer moral, if not financial, support. University student services are also there to offer help and advice, as student money advisers can often provide one-to-one support. Don't feel embarrassed about your debts. Get in touch with university money advisers at NASMA - Institution contacts. If your institution can't offer the help you need, contact professional debt charities such as the Money Advice Service, Step Change or the National Debtline, where you'll receive free and impartial advice.
- Take control of your finances - After receiving professional advice, specialist university advisers can check your entitlement to statutory student support. Most institutions also have hardship funds to help students facing a change in circumstance or unexpected financial problems. Set yourself a realistic budget to avoid getting into further debt and start repaying priority debts as soon as possible. Budgeting means cutting back on social and leisure spending, so be prepared to make this change. There’s lots you can do to maximise your income – like considering a part-time job. Learn how to balance work and study.
- Tackle existing debts - Draw up a financial statement containing details of your current circumstances, including all incomings and outgoings. Outline all unpaid debts and repayments due. If you have any available income, calculate how much you can afford to repay each month and apportion this among priority creditors. Write to your creditors proposing a new repayment offer. Attach a copy of your financial statement and make them aware of any exceptional circumstances that affect you meeting the previously agreed repayments. You can request that creditors freeze the interest on any debts while you renegotiate terms. Avoid using quick-fix, pay-day loans at all costs.
Find out more
- Get more information on student loans and finance.
- Read useful advice on university life.
- Discover more savings at MoneySavingExpert.com.