Living costs are rising, you’re paying eye-watering fees to be a student and hidden course costs conspire to suck up what’s left of your income. There is hope - follow these tips to shop smart and slash your spending, to squeeze the most out of your student loan.
1. Get budgeting
If your student loan seems to be slipping away like sand through your fingers, try drawing up a budget on a spreadsheet to keep track. Work out your incomings (student loan, grants, money from parents, gifts, part-time job) so you know roughly how much you can allocate to your outgoings (food, socialising, travel, phone bill, etc.). This can help you realise where your money’s going and see where you can cut back. The free Brightside student calculator (studentcalculator.org) can help you out.
2. Savvy travelling
Train ticket prices are climbing, but visits home and to friends needn’t leech your bank account. If you haven't already, sign up for a 16-25 Railcard to take a third of the price off your ticket. Book in advance, as it’s often much cheaper, and use sites such as SplitTicket.com and FareSaver.org to check if buying your tickets separately for each leg of your trip could save you money.
3. Flash the plastic
You’ve got your student card - use it! Many shops and restaurants offer decent discounts for students, and if you invest in a £12 NUS extra card (www.nus.org.uk/en/nus-extra), you can save even more. Other sites like UNiDAYS (www.myunidays.com), Student Beans (www.studentbeans.com) and Student Money Saver (www.studentmoneysaver.co.uk/) track down discounts and freebies from across the internet and high street. Always ask for discounts when you’re out - some places don’t advertise their student offers.
4. Hit the books
Your course textbooks are one of the heftiest demands on your budget. Many of us queued up around the university bookshop on the first day of term laden with about a hundred pounds’ worth of books, feeling like an utter mug. Ditch glossy new books for secondhand copies on Amazon, AbeBooks (abebooks.co.uk) and Alibris (alibris.co.uk), and keep an eye out for book sales on campus and in Facebook groups. At the end of the year, stick them on eBay or trade them in on Amazon for a gift card. The library is your friend, and you should check whether there are electronic copies of the books you need.
5. Save on your food shop
Eating is obviously essential, but smart shopping can slash your food costs. The most obvious way is to learn to cook - takeaways and ready meals soon get blisteringly expensive! Plan your meals in advance, and stuff a shopping list in your pocket before you head out to the supermarket to curb spontaneous buys. Try swapping in products from the basics ranges, and lurk in the reduced section late at night to pick up yellow-stickered bargains.
6. And on that note - pack your lunch to go
Buying coffees and lunches on campus will swiftly sap your bank account and if you’re feeling the pinch, it’s the easiest area of your budget to cut. Pack a thermos hefty enough to hold a day’s worth of your hot beverage of choice, and fill a lunchbox with homemade sandwiches and snacks. If there’s a microwave on campus you can use, even better - take in what’s left of last night’s dinner!
7. Loyalty has its rewards
There are some fantastic loyalty schemes out there to help you save money. Yes, it’s a way for shops to nose at what you spend your money on, but it’s often worth it for the rewards. With a Tesco Clubcard, for example, you can collect points that can be traded in for vouchers for meals out, experience days and cinema tickets. If you do your weekly shop here, the points will quickly add up. The Boots Advantage Card is another generous scheme on which you can earn money off your purchases.
8. Keep control on a night out
Once a few drinks have put a dent in your inhibitions, there’s nothing stopping you making an even larger hole in your bank account. Curb spending on a night out by sticking to cash, keeping your taxi money (and you bank card!) separate. This might also deter drunk-you from your regular post-clubbing kebab, saving your waistline as well as your cash.
9. Put on a jumper!
If you’re not living in halls, prepare to pay for comfort! If you can bear it, turn down your thermostat to save on heating bills, flick lights off when you’re not using them, and reconsider your daily contemplative half-hour in the shower. As the evenings get longer and chillier, pull on a cosy jumper and stick a hot water bottle in your bed, or decamp to the library for free warmth and electricity.
10. Battle your bills
Give your phone contract a makeover. Check over your last few bills to pinpoint your data, calls and texts usage, and use this to search for a better deal. If you’d rather keep your service provider, get on the phone and haggle. Your bill isn’t fixed - if you’ve seen a better deal elsewhere, tell them that, and often you’ll get the result you want. You can also reevaluate your insurance, internet and energy providers to make sure you're getting the best deals.