Being a student can be ridiculously expensive — here’s five tips to save money on groceries, bills and more

Students studying

Being an international student from Canada, I thought it was expensive back home, but then I came to the UK. It was shocking to learn how much more expensive everything is (partly thanks to the brutal exchange rate I have to deal with, but in general as well). The same is true for domestic students studying away from home: as students, it is incredibly difficult to have a social life and afford basic things like groceries and a cell phone without breaking the bank.

The student life is hard and whether you’re in your first or last year, the temptation to spend little bits of money here and there is difficult to avoid. When these little amounts add up into substantially large chunks, it then becomes an issue, which is why it’s important to not only use discounts as much as possible but also save a bit of money as a “just in case” fund.

Here are a few tips to take a load off your wallet without having to extremely change your habits:

Be smarter with your grocery shopping

Fresh fruit and veg stands

We generally don’t think about what time we should get our groceries — just grabbing them when it suits our busy schedules — but to score the best bargains on perishable items like vegetables, pre-made meals and bread, it’s best to hit the store around an hour before they close. There’s a couple of reasons why something might be marked down in store, which could be because it is due to reach the best before date soon, is being discontinued or too much was made. Money Saving Expert has a  breakdown of when retailers start to reduce products, but generally between 6-8 p.m. is when you’ll begin to see the yellow discount labels being slapped on.

It’s also smarter to buy in-house brand labels when possible which can allow for massive savings on grocery bills. A 500g pack of spaghetti noodles at Asda, for example, is £1 for the Napolina brand, but only £0.45 for the Asda variety and £0.20 for the Asda Smart Price option. Even given the quality differences, if any, that’s an insane difference in price! There’s a common feeling of distaste for purchasing budget house-brand products, but according to Mirror Online (and someone who’s worked in a major grocery store chain for four years) a lot of the time there’s no difference between in-house and brand-name products except for the price. Products that are in-house branded can sometimes even be produced in the same factory as their brand-name counterparts.

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing frozen food and vegetables and because it is produced directly for freezing purposes, it’ll be as healthy and nutritious as fresh veggies. In a University of California study it was discovered that green peas lose half their vitamin C between 24-48 hours after picking and a different study found that there is no consistent difference between fresh and frozen corn, broccoli, spinach, carrots, peas, green beans, strawberries or blueberries. In fact, vitamin C was found to be higher in frozen corn, green beans and blueberries than their equivalents and though they may taste a bit different, freezing food essentially “pauses” it in time, protecting it from rotting or becoming mouldy.

Save money when travelling

Tickets for trains

Purchasing a Railcard no matter your age is generally a good investment if you ride the rails more than a couple of times a month, costing £30 for one year or £70 for 3-years with the 16-25 card. The card not only gets you discounts on train tickets, but also access to Virgin Experience Days, National Rail and discounts on admission to major attractions, discounted hotel stays and 2-for-1 offers. (Plus, if you buy a 3-year Railcard before your 24th birthday, it’ll stay valid up until you turn 27).

It’s also smart to shop around when you have to travel somewhere, either to visit home, go on vacation, a day out or something else. Though it can take longer, coach travel tends to be cheaper than taking the train but isn’t ideal if you’re in a rush to get somewhere.

Take advantage of discounts for students

Students studying

There are lots of shops that offer student discounts and it’s always worth asking whether there is a discount at the till when you pay. StudentBeans is a free service for students granting discounts of usually between 10-20% off, though your school needs to be enrolled in the program, and NUS TOTUM is a card costing £12 for a year granting discounts on movies, clothing, groceries and over 200 other discounts. UNiDAYS is a free service that offers a good choice of discounts across a variety of online and physical stores, which must first be signed up for using your student email address.

Get on the line with the retention department

Mobile phone and coffee

There are sales on TV, internet and phone plans all the time and if you find one that’s at a better value than what you’re currently getting, tell your provider the deal you saw and explain that you’re considering walking. Most companies have a dedicated team whose sole job it is to keep customers with the business because, according to CMS Wire, loyal customers pay off more than new ones and companies are usually ready to offer substantial discounts to keep you as a customer.

The same thing goes for bad experiences you’ve had with a company, which might be worth calling to complain not only for them to make it right (usually through a discount) but to correct their behaviour. Just note that when you call to complain, they are real people working at these companies — don’t call to complain about something that didn’t really happen, because this could impact someone’s job or their day!

Make your money work for you

Five pound note

When looking for a bank to start with, it’s tempting to be lured with free products that are being offered, which are generally worth less than something like 0% overdraft (meaning when you spend more than you have in your account, you’re paying only for the money you go over, with no other added fees).

Save the Student lists the Santander 123 Student Account as the best one available in 2018, offering 0% overdraft on up to £1,500 to year three, then £2,000 up until year five, depending on your credit rating. You’ll receive a free, four-year 16-25 Railcard too, and up to 3% interest on the balance in your account. Nationwide doesn’t offer any freebies but does guarantee £3,000 in 0% overdraft once you hit year three, and 1% interest on balances of up to £1,000.

The best thing to do when you receive your student loan or pay cheque is to put a small part of it into a high-interest savings account, allowing it the chance to slowly build up and to have an emergency fund, if needed.

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