Freshers: our 7 best budget tips for starting uni

  • Emma Finamore
  • Last updated 21 Oct 2015

It's ok, thank us later. 


If you started university this year, you'll already have worked out that organising your money can be tough, and even harder if your cash is running out quickly. Follow our easy steps to budget your life, and have a happy wallet. 

Get an NUS card

One of the quickest ways to save money: bag yourself an NUS card ASAP and enjoy money off all the things you’ll no doubt spend at least some of your student loan on, such as clothes, food (pizza, mainly) and toiletries.

Stores offering a generous NUS discount include Miss Selfridge, Topshop, Office and Superdrug, as well as Pizza Hut, Pizza Express and ASK Italian.

Pretty much all cinemas offer a student discount too, so if you want a cheap night out, the NUS card is most certainly your friend.

Plan meals in advance

Walking back from uni or in breaks between lectures you’re likely to want to pick up lunch and a coffee with your mates. Be careful with the frequency of this – if it turns into a daily habit, the costs will quickly mount up and have a significant impact on your finances.

Preparing your lunch at home is one of the easiest ways to save money over the week, and you’re more likely to make healthy choices.

Similarly, keep a healthy stash of snacks (for example cereal or pitta bread) that’s quick and easy to prepare after an evening at the pub – this could help you avoid late-night stops at the kebab place: cheaper and healthier!

Buy non-branded

The quality of supermarket value ranges is often indistinguishable from that of branded produce, the only difference is the price tag. Avoiding household names can mean a big saving, it’s worth looking beyond the labels.

This goes for everything, from clothes to medicine: branded pain killers for example are significantly more expensive than supermarket versions, which are often less than £1.

Get a 16-25 railcard

If you’re aged 16-25 you’ve probably got this one sussed, but for all those clueless kids out there: a 16-25 railcard will get you a whopping THIRD off all standard anytime, off-peak, standard advanced and first class advanced train trips.

Priced at just £30 for a year, you only need to take a few trips before this little number has paid for itself. Especially handy for students who’ve moved far away from home, or just miss their mum a bit.

Be book savvy

Ok we know not all of you are taking English Literature, but there’s a strong chance whatever course you do you’ll be required to buy books for different modules and years.

Instead of buying them new, keep an eye out on the message board in your department: lots of students in other years (and sometimes even ex-students) will be trying to get rid of their old books, selling them cheap. This can save you potentially hundreds of pounds over the course of your degree.

The university bookshop might also facilitate a book swapping venture, where you can exchange the books you no longer need for ones you need for your new modules. Think of it as academic recycling.

Avoid cash machines that charge

Cash machine charges may seem small and inconsequential, but added up over weeks and months they can really have an impact on your cash flow.

The typical charge is £1.50, although there is no limit on the amount that can be charged. Some machines charge up to £2 per withdrawal, with a rare few charging a whopping £5.

If you withdraw small amounts (£20 or less) regularly with a charge of £1.50, you’ll be adding around 7.5% to the overall cost each time.

To avoid this, and save money by not paying charges, make sure you have cash on you when you need it, and withdraw from machines inside or outside any bank or building society – remember it doesn’t matter if it’s not your bank, they will allow you to withdraw cash for free. Those most likely to charge are machines located in petrol stations, pubs, clubs, newsagents or Post Offices.

Get a job

It might sound obvious but – for most university courses at least – there is plenty of space in your week for study AND paid work. Not only will you avoid getting in trouble with the bank by topping up your student loan, but your shifts will be time you aren’t able to spend money, and if you work in a pub, cafe or restaurant your meals could well be included too, which all adds up to a healthier, happier wallet. 


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