7 student budget hacks for saving money at university

Your first student loan payment looks like a lot of money. But you soon discover it doesn’t last as long as you think.

3 teenagers on a sofa in front of a grey background

Eating nothing but cold beans for the last two weeks of term is a university rite of passage. But if you don’t want to do it more than once, you will need to learn  how to make your money go further.

Here are seven money saving tips for student life.

1. Have a budget

Planning an actual budget is the best place to start. Then you can see if you’re spending too much, or still have cash to spare.

Start by working out your income: your loan, bursaries, grants, anything from the Bank of Mum and Dad, and a part-time job if you’ve got one.

Then note down all your regular expenses – rent, phone, broadband and so on. Don’t forget to budget for food and any irregular outgoings like course books and clothes.

Anything that’s left, you’re free to spend.

2. Get a finance app

The next step is sticking to that budget – which can be harder than it sounds.

The age-old trick is to only take cash with you when you go shopping, or down the student bar. But in an increasingly cashless society, that’s not necessarily practical.

A good finance app has two advantages over sticking to cash. Firstly, it can help you define your budget in the first place.

Secondly, many allow you to use that budget to put spending limits in place. They won’t block you from making payments, but you will get an automated nag.

3. Use your overdraft wisely

Banks know that once you’ve got an account with them, you’re likely to stay for life. That’s why they fall over themselves to attract students.

They’ll  tempt  you with a sizeable free overdraft. Take it. But only use it as a buffer. £0 is still £0, you’ve just got a bit of flex when you need it.

The common mistake is to treat it as free money. That might work while you’re studying, but it won’t look so free once you’ve graduated.

4. Be smart in the supermarket

After rent, food will be one of your biggest expenses. Thankfully, unlike rent, there’s a lot you can do to spend less in the supermarket.

Teach yourself how to cook. The ingredients for homemade food are vastly cheaper than takeaways and shop-bought sandwiches.

Do a big weekly shop. You’re less likely to buy more than you budgeted for, and it encourages you to think more about what you’re eating.

A good tip is to  shop at the end of the day  when supermarkets often reduce items they can’t sell as fresh tomorrow.

You should also  buy supermarket own brands. Try the value option. And buy in bulk. Everything’s cheaper in larger quantities – as long as you’ll actually use it.

5. Keep an eye for student discounts

Student discounts are everywhere. Start by getting a student card, which entitles you to thousands of discounts on everything from food and clothing to beauty products and college essentials.

Don’t be afraid to ask if a shop has a student discount when you get to the till. Even if it’s not advertised, they’ll often have a policy of giving 10% off for students. You often only need to show your normal student card.

And don’t forget the tools of your education. Computers and software often come at steep discounts for students. If you’re a budding photographer or musician, now’s the time to invest in the latest software.

6. Buy second-hand course books

Inevitably, there are never enough copies of your key texts in the library, and not everything can come as a digital reading list. Sometimes you have to buy course books. And university textbooks are expensive.

Thankfully, there’s usually a thriving second-hand market from students who no longer need them – people who took the same course the year before and now have no use for the book.

Your university bookshop can probably point you in the right direction. Otherwise, they’ll doubtless be a forum topic. Just be sure to get the correct edition – textbooks do go out of date.

7. Get a 16-25 railcard – and buy split tickets

If you’re likely to ride the rails a lot – going home for the holidays, or visiting friends at other universities – get a 16-25 railcard. It costs £30 for the year, but saves you 1/3 on most journeys.

And it works with split ticketing. The UK’s rail system is so fragmented it’s often cheaper to buy multiple small journeys rather than one ticket, often by quite a large margin.

The website SplitTicketing.co.uk does the hard work for you, or the TrainSplit app for iOS and Android.