Going to university: Money saving tips for students

If you’re about to start university this September, here are some tips to make your money go further.

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As things change rapidly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this guide will be updated regularly to reflect changes in rules and regulations.

With COVID-19 stubbornly refusing to die down, chances are you’re starting university in unusual circumstances.

Whether you’ve moved into halls of residence, a shared house or still living at home, there are plenty of simple things you can do to save money and take advantage of student life at the same time.

But by making sure you keep a strong grip on the purse strings, there’s no reason why the next few months cannot be both enjoyable and rewarding. We’ve gathered some ace tips to help your money go further, whatever your living circumstances this autumn. 

Budget for living costs

Setting and sticking to a budget makes sure you do not spend more than the money you have coming in - this is especially important if you need to survive off a single student loan instalment each term.

If you can resist splurging cash on things you do not need it can keep you out of financial trouble and maximise what you can do with your money.

We have a free budget planner tool to put you in control of your spending. You keep track of your loan instalments and your regular outgoings in one place. You can save your budget plan spreadsheet and return to it at any time.  

Download (PC)

Download (Mac)

You may also want to make use of our ultimate student budget planner, which helps you budget for all aspects of your student life. It helps you keep track of everything from personal spending, household costs, transport and nights out.

There are more tips in our Coronavirus budgeting guide.

Tracking your spending

There’s also a range of easy-to-use smartphone and online apps which help you keep track of your spending on the go. 

Here are some free tools that you can use:

These services pull in information from your bank account using a system called ‘open banking’. Read more about how open banking works.

Getting a student bank account

Many large high street banks offer current accounts just for students. These accounts typically offer features like more generous overdrafts than standard current accounts. A large number also offer freebies and other perks just for student account customers.

These can include free student railcards, gift vouchers, cash rewards and discount cards like the NUS Extra Totum card.

Read our guide on how to find the best student account.

Students at Scottish universities can start their courses aged 17. But by law, banks cannot lend money to anybody below the age of 18. So they will not be able to offer you an overdraft if you’re below that age.  

If your student account offers you an overdraft, it’s worth noting that your overdraft will only be interest-free for a limited time, although most last for several years. 

You can check how long each account's overdraft is interest free for, using our student bank account comparison

Take advantage of student discounts

Many high street stores, online shops, and restaurants offer student discounts to get your business. So if you fancy grabbing lunch with your friends, check if you can get money off.

Discounts for students can range from 5% to 40% off products and services, and sometimes even more. In many retailers and venues, all you need to do to get the discount is to show them your student card. 

There are also a handful of companies offering a  One easy way to grab student discounts when you’re shopping or out and about is to sign up to a student discount card scheme. There are three main schemes catering to UK students. These are:

You can register for a free Totum account online and find out about a range of discounts and freebies. But you’ll need to pay for a full Totum membership to be able to access the platform’s complete list of discounts and exclusive deals. 

Prices for an annual Totum membership start from £14.99. Signing up for StudentBeans and UNiDAYS is free. Both platforms allow you to access discounts through their smartphone apps.

If you’re not sure if your favourite shop offers student discounts, why not pop in-store and ask?

Cutting your household bills down to size

Sharing the costs fairly

If you’re going to be living in university halls of residence, then it’s likely that most of your household bills will be included in your rent. Although this can sometimes work out more expensive than living in a shared house or flat, it does at least make budgeting pretty straightforward. 

If you will live with others and have to pay your bills separately, work out exactly how you will split and pay the bills in advance to avoid falling out.

There are a range of smartphone apps you can use to split your bills and keep track of who owes whom, and how much. These include Splitwise and Splittr

TV Licences

Whether you need to pay a TV licence or not is a bit of a fiddly one. But basically, the law says you need to be covered by a TV Licence to do any of the following:

  • Watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV (on any channel)

  • Watch or download any BBC programmes in iPlayer

  • Watch or stream programmes as they are being broadcast on online services like ITV Hub, All4, YouTube Premium, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV and Sky Go 

This applies to any device you use to do any of these three things, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, or digital TV box.  

If you have a TV in a communal room in your halls of residence, you’ll need a TV Licence. If you also have a TV in your private room then you’ll need to get a separate licence for that one too.  

But there is an exception:

A quirky loophole in TV Licensing rules means that you do not have to pay for a TV licence if these three things are true:

- Your out-of-term address (e.g. your parents’ house) is covered by a TV Licence, and

- You only watch TV content on a device that is powered by an internal battery

- Your device is not plugged into an aerial or mains electricity while you’re watching  

A standard TV Licence costs £157.50. You can pay in one go, or you can spread the cost over the year by Direct Debit. 

If you don’t need your licence for a full 12 months, for instance if you go back to your parents’ house for summer, you can apply for a refund. 

Full details on how to pay for a TV Licence

Reducing your energy bills

If you’re living in a houseshare, or even if you’re living at home with your family or guardians, there are plenty of ways you can cut the cost of your utilities.

First of all, it’s worth checking your bills to see how much you’re currently paying for your electricity and/or gas supply. 

Once you’re armed with this information, why not do an online comparison to see how much you might be able to save on what you’re paying now. 

Compare gas, electricity and dual fuel deals to switch and save energy deals

There are a few things that affect the amount that you’re paying for your energy. For example:

  • Is your bill based on your actual energy use or an estimate? If your bill is estimated, it's based on typical usage rather than what you've actually used. Take a new meter reading and contact your supplier to update your account. 

  • Do you pay your energy bills via direct debit? It's usually cheaper to pay for your energy by direct debit, and it means you won't fall behind because you've forgotten to pay your bill.

  • Is your energy charged at a standard variable rate, or are you on a fixed deal? If you haven't already, consider fixing the cost of your energy when it's time to renew your tariff.

For full details on how to reduce the cost of your heating, read our Worried about the cost of your heating? guide.

Saving on your uni course costs

Course textbooks

According to one recent report, the average student pays the equivalent of £60 per month for books and university equipment. That all adds up!

So it’s worth looking into how you can cut the costs of the things you need to carry out your studies. Once you know which course books you’ll need, check if you can get them at a discount. 

For example, if you have a UNiDAYS account, you can get a 10% discount at Waterstones when you buy online. 

Or, why not look at getting the books you need second hand? Sites like Gumtree, AbeBooks, Alibris, and BookFinder can be great places to find second hand textbook bargains.  

Your university department might also offer a way to buy course books cheaply from students who do not need them any more, so it may be worth getting in touch with them directly.

If you’re very organised, you might also want to check if your university library has copies of the textbooks you need, but you’ll need to be fast. Competition can be fierce!

Travel

Whether you’re going to be living on campus, in an off-campus flatshare, or staying at home, there are some things you can do to cut your travel costs.

A 16-25 Railcard can be a great way to cut your transport costs as it offers one third off all rail travel across both peak and off-peak travel times. It costs £20 per year, but is well worth it when you consider the amount of money you can save.

Callout Box: Over 25? You might still be eligible for a 16-25 Railcard

If you’re a student over 25 years old you may also be eligible for the railcard. Mature students can use the 16-25 railcard if they meet the following requirements: 

  • Attend a recognised university or further education college for over 15 hours a week, at least 20 weeks a year*.

  • Have a National Union of Students (NUS) card or a college or university photocard as proof of identity.

  • Have an NUS card or College/University photocard as proof of identity.

*Sadly if you’re a mature student studying a part-time or distance learning course, or you’re enrolled at The Open University, you will not be eligible for a mature students’ 16-25 Railcard.

Full details for mature students.

Financial help for students

Benefits 

If you’re a student with a low income, you may be eligible for extra financial support beyond any student finance and maintenance grants you may receive. For example, you may be able to apply for Income Support

Students with disabilities may be able to get extra financial help via the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs). DSAs can help cover some of the extra costs that arise from mental health problems, long-term illnesses or any other disability. 

For example, DSAs can help cover the cost of assistive technology, (like note-taking software) or extra travel costs linked to a disability. DSAs do not need to be repaid and you can receive them on top of your other student finance. 

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has detailed information on how to apply for DSAs and what kind of help these payments can provide. 

Full-time students with childcare responsibilities or other dependents can also get extra financial assistance. These include: 

Childcare Grant

Parents’ Learning Allowance

Adult Dependants’ Grant 

Medical, social work and teacher training students can also access additional grants to cover certain costs. For example, travel to a medical or training placement. 

You can find out more about extra support available to students on the GOV.UK website.

Further help 

If you find yourself in a difficult financial situation while you’re studying, you may want to get in touch with a student money adviser. Your university may be able to put you in touch with an adviser. 

Alternatively you can find information on how to contact a local adviser via the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA) website