Spending money at university

  • If you’re worried about money at university, your first stop should be our Can I afford to go to university? page (spoiler alert: yes, you can).

    You might hear horror stories about student budgets, but here are some realistic tips to help you make the most of your money.

    Spending money at university - wallet and calculator illustrations

    1. Research extra funding

    Check all the bursaries and scholarships your university offers. Every university has a different system, and you may be eligible without even knowing it. You don’t have to pay back bursaries or scholarships.

    There are charitable organisations offering grants dependent on your circumstances, location or course. You might be eligible. Search online: unigrants , Money Saving Expert Education Grants and turn2us can help you find options that are right for you. This is worth doing - you could be thousands of pounds better off!

    2. Look into student bank accounts

    These can be much better than most current accounts. They often offer an interest free overdraft (this can be a real help if money is tight). They also usually have added extras like Young Person’s Railcards. Always be careful and monitor your account, especially around the date when your rent goes out. Keep an eye on your account online or get your bank’s app to keep track of your balance. Money Saving Expert have a great student bank account guide.

    3. Get a 16-25 railcard

    Going home and visiting friends at other unis can cost a lot without one. They might seem expensive at first, but they pay for themselves after about 3 journeys because of the money you’ve saved. You can get them free with certain student bank accounts, or you can buy one online or at your train station.

    16-25 railcard

    4. Use your student card

    You’ll get a student ID when you enrol at university. This means you can get all sorts of discounts in all sorts of places. Always ask if they have a student discount! You can also buy an NUS extra card (from £12) for more specific discounts. This can pay for itself, but check if you’d actually shop in the places you get discounts before getting one.

    Brookes student card icon - lime

    5. Save on books

    Books can be really expensive at university. Try to only use the books in the library or get second-hand copies which aren’t as expensive. Be careful, though; many courses require you to use particular editions of important texts so always ask your tutor’s advice. If you have to buy the books at full price, share them with your coursemates.

    6. Shop for food wisely

    • Buy in bulk as it’s better value.
    • Find out if there are any “cash and carry” shops in your area. They are great for student staples like pasta, rice, tinned food, cereals etc.
    • For fruit and veg, avoid supermarkets. Go to your local market for better prices. It’s a more personalised shopping experience too.
    • For meat, go to your local butcher or market.
    • If you go to a supermarket, wait until the evening and see if anything has been reduced when it’s nearing it’s sell-by date. Buy it and freeze it - it won’t go off and you can defrost it whenever you want it.
    • Look for special offers and buy non-branded goods. You usually won’t be able to tell the difference!

    There are loads of good supermarket shopping tips here, including what time most of the big shops reduce their food.

    7. Cook together

    Avoid takeaways and ready meals. They add up! Try clubbing together with housemates and take it in turns to cook. You won’t have to cook every night and when you do, the food you buy will be in larger quantities (and therefore better value). It’s a nice way to get to know your housemates better.

    8. Don’t pay full price for software

    Some universities offer big discounts on software packages to their own students. Some providers will have sales with specific student discounts. You can also get word processing, database and publishing software for free through open service providers like Libre Office (so you don’t have to pay for more mainstream providers).

    9. Get a part-time job

    Lots of students need part-time jobs to get by or for some extra cash. Consider what kind of work will look good on your CV too. Working as a Student Ambassador for your university is a great experience and will give you skills that make you more employable than shelf stacking or bar work. You might be able to find jobs which are relevant to your course or career ambitions. Research thoroughly and take the advice of your university’s careers service.

    CV icon

    10. Get the right mobile tariff

    So many people are locked into expensive contracts. Billmonitor examines your phone use to work out which contract and provider is best for you.

    11. Avoid credit cards

    They can get you into serious financial trouble. If you have a student bank account with a good free overdraft, you shouldn’t need a credit card. If you have to get one to hire cars/equipment then don’t use it for anything else.

    12. Save on gas and electricity

    If you move out of halls and into private accommodation, you’ll start dealing with energy companies. Compare them using price comparison websites and get advice from Money Saving Expert on cheap energy. Also look at ways to save in your daily routine. Do full loads of laundry, have short showers instead of baths, hang up laundry rather than tumble drying, only use as much water as you need in the kettle… every little helps!

    13. Get help from the students’ union

    Your union will have a free advice service which can help you with all sorts of financial (and other) problems. If you’re worried, they can help. It could be anything from landlords and deposits to debt and budget advice. If you run into serious financial difficulty they may also be able to provide you with hardship funds.

    Brookes Union logo

    More student money saving tips and discounts: