Getting a degree is expensive, but you can make the most of your uni days without being overwhelmed by debt if you know how to make every penny count. Students are notorious for their money management skills, with stories of loans and overdrafts being fully spent within the first few weeks of term. Whether you’re in your first or final year, the temptation to spend is everywhere – especially in big cities like London.
Alex Wilson gives us five money saving tips for city-living students to avoid the worst financial rip-offs and pitfalls.
1. Eating healthy for less
For most students, university is the first time they’ll be food shopping and cooking for themselves. It can be daunting balancing academics and a social life while trying to eat healthy and avoid gaining the “fresher fifteen”.
Planning your meals ahead of time can keep you on track financially and physically, and can help you resist getting into the expensive habit of grabbing a bite to eat after lectures. Doing your shopping at local markets and reducing meat in your diet can also be great for your wallet and the environment.
If you do decide to become your own personal chef, it’s best to shop around before settling on any one brand or product. The cheaper, ‘value’ or ‘basic’ items offered by most supermarkets are often just as tasty as their brand name competitors. While the packaging on these value items may not be as flashy, that 50p ketchup may be just as good as or better than one that’s five times the price.
2. Rent smartly
City living isn’t easy on your bank account, particularly because of extortionate rent and housing prices. Many students will move out of halls and rent privately in flat or house shares after their first year.
It’s always better to rent directly from a landlord to avoid unnecessary and costly fees from estate agents. You can rent some properties with bills already included in the price and luckily, students are exempt from paying council tax until graduation as long as you provide a valid university enrolment letter.
Location is key, and living just outside the city can save you hundreds each year but comes with higher travel costs. Be sure to calculate the cost of your commute ahead of time to see if it’s worth it.
3. Earn some extra cash
Your best chance of not living in your overdraft during university is having some extra income. While student loans can be a massive help, they often don’t cover the total cost of the student experience.
There will be thousands of part-time jobs available no matter what city you study in. Check with your university’s careers centre for job listings on and off campus, and advice on CV writing and interviews when you decide to apply.
Almost every university will have a student ambassador programme that offers flexible on-campus work, usually with a generous salary. It’s a great way to get involved, earn money, and gain transferable skills to impress potential employers down the line.
While having that extra cash is good for your wallet and your stress levels, it’s recommended you only work 15-20 hours a week to keep up with your studies.
4. Student discounts
Milk your student title for all it’s worth by registering for Unidays and NUS to get discounts from major retailers and companies like ASOS, Topshop, Apple, and Spotify. Depending on your travel habits and where you live, it may also be worth investing in a 16-25 railcard to save a third off your journey.
You’re often eligible for in-store discounts just by showing your student card and many clubs and bars will offer discount entry and drinks for students during the week.
5. Have fun without breaking the bank
With endless choices for entertainment in big cities, it can be tempting to exhaust your student loan on concert tickets and cinema trips.
Look out for discounted theatre tickets or cinema membership cards, and try volunteering at a music festival to see all of your favourite acts for free.
Remember that some of the most established museums in the country don’t charge entry and many cities like London hold free walking tours to help you get acquainted with your home while having a nice day out.
Whether you spend a sunny day relaxing in the park, or perusing a local art gallery, there’s plenty to see and do in the city without wrecking your bank account.
Photos: Annie Kruntcheva