5 tips for surviving university on a student budget

School your way to becoming a savvy student with our money-saving tips for living on a budget.

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Whether you’re soon to start university or you’re already used to living on a strict student budget, it’s important to make your finances stretch by saving where you can.

Here are our top tips to help you become a savvy-student-saver.

1.       Find the right student current account

When choosing a student account don’t just base your decision on the freebies offered. Although they can be tempting, it’s important to look at what else the account offers, such as the size of the overdraft.

HSBC’s student account, for example, offers a guaranteed interest-free overdraft of £1,000 when you open your account. You can then request an increase of up to £2,000 in year two and £3,000 in year three*.

The account also comes with an £80 Amazon gift card and 12 months membership of Amazon Prime Student if you open it before 31 December, 2018.

NatWest’s student account, meanwhile, offers an interest-free overdraft of up to £500 in the first term, and up to £2,000 after that.

You can also choose from either an Amazon Prime Student membership for a year, a third off coach travel with National Express for four years, or a tastecard which is valid for four years, so long as you sign up to online banking and select to receive paperless statements.

And Santander’s student account offers an overdraft of up to £1,500 interest-free for three years, or up to £2,000 if you’re on a five-year course**. To qualify, you’ll need to pay in at least £500 a term and register for online banking. Santander is also offering a four-year 16-25 Railcard which entitles you to a third off rail costs, so long as you pay in £500 or more each term and register for online banking.

If you’re feeling a bit baffled about which student account is best for you, take a look at our student account article for more detail.   

2.       Learn how to budget

Budgeting is a tricky thing to master, but once you have, it will help you to understand what you can afford.

One way of doing this is to make a list of your income (such as your student loan) and your outgoings each term. Your outgoings should include everything that goes out of your account, including student fees, course supplies, bills, rent, food, etc. The amount you are left with is your budget for the term.

It’s a good idea to divide this figure by the number of weeks in the term, so that you’ll have an idea of how much you can afford to spend on a weekly basis.

Try not to exceed your weekly budget. If you see yourself overspending, consider small ways you can cut back. Maybe you turn down a cinema trip one week or have lunch at home rather than buying it out.

It’s small changes like these that will help you stay within your budget and you’ll soon learn where you can afford to splurge, and where you need to cut back. 

3.       Batch cook meals or share with friends

Another way to help you stay within your budget is by batch cooking meals. Preparing lots of food in one go means you can put leftovers in a fridge or freezer for a later date.

You could even invest in (or ask your parents to invest in) a cheap slow cooker for a quick and easy way to prepare nutritious meals for a relatively low cost. Throw in the ingredients in the morning before your lectures begin and be welcomed home to a wholesome meal when you get back.

You could also share with your flat mates and all chip in with the cost, or another way is to cook together and split the weekly food shop bill.

4.       Hunt down the best mobile phone deal

As a student, you’re probably going to need a smartphone. However, this obviously comes with a cost.

If you don’t mind being tied into a contract, you could pay for your phone and contract monthly. 02, EE and Vodafone all offer a 10-20% discount for students, so it’s worth comparing what they have to offer. If you are currently with a different provider, why not ask them if they can offer a student discount too?  

A SIM-only plan would be your cheapest option if you already own your phone. You can choose how much data and minutes you are likely to need, and as most SIM-only deals are on a 30-day rolling contract, you can change your deal whenever you need to without worrying about expensive early exit fees.

5.       Sign up to a student discount card

The NUS extra, or TOTUM, card, gives you discounts on more than 200 brands online and in store. It costs £12 for a year, £22 for two years or £32 for three years. It’s well worth the investment if the stores on the list are places you shop, considering you can save 10% at ASOS, 25% on student tickets and Odeon, 10% at the Co-op and more.

Many shops will also accept your university ID card as proof that you are a student, which is a free way to get certain discounts on the high street.

If your university is away from home and you will be using trains to go home when terms end (or in between), it might be worth in investing in a 16-25 railcard. They cost £30 for the year and you’ll save a third every time you buy a ticket.


All overdrafts are subject to status and approval.


*Representative example (assumed overdraft £1,000): 0% EAR variable.

** Representative example: 0% EAR (variable) arranged overdraft. No arranged overdraft usage fees apply. Assumed arranged overdraft credit limit £1,200. Actual amount may differ.

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