Top moneysaving tips for cash-strapped students

Just arrived at university? Here are my top 10 tips on how to save yourself some cash and still have fun.

I love rooting around the MSE forum for tips and tricks. I recently came across an old thread where people gave their best moneysaving tips for university students and it took me right back to when I started my law degree more than a decade ago.

While my student days are way gone, I thought I’d share the savings tips that got me through uni without busting my overdraft.

1)      Learn to cook. Make a meal as if it was for a family of four, but freeze it into portions for future dinners. I couldn’t live without my slow cooker at uni – you can stick food in it in the morning and not think about it again until you’re back from lectures. It also makes cheaper cuts of meat taste amazing. You can get a Cookworks 1.5L slow cooker at Argos for £11, which is a bargain.

2)      Be careful at the Freshers’ Fair. Stay away from the stands offering credit cards as a university bar is no place to be making snap financial decisions – check out MSE’s student page before signing anything. Also take your time before signing up and paying for social clubs. I remember getting pretty carried away and signing up to lots of expensive societies I never went to.

The best thing about the fair is that it is THE place to grab freebies. Loads of companies want your business so they will be giving away items (often with their brand on) to make that happen. So get what you can!

3)      Hunt out those yellow stickers. Go food shopping late in the day when food is likely to be reduced in the fridge section and search out the shelves where you find dented tins and broken boxes – that’s where the bargains are. Also, keep an eye out for the icicle sign on the food packaging which means it’s freezable, and so will last much longer.

4)      Get an NUS card. You don’t know how good a student card is until you no longer have one. It’s the best £12 you’ll spend as a student. But even if you don’t have one, ask shops and restaurants if they do a student discount – it’s worth a shot even if it’s not advertised or if you don’t have the card on you.

5)      Don’t be tempted by those kitchen starter packs. You know the type; the kind with six sauce pans, including one especially for milk. They do seem like good value, but you probably won’t use 90% of it and it will take up valuable kitchen space. Wait until you get there and see what everyone else has before buying kitchen stuff. The odds are that everyone else in your flat has brought the same and no house needs six toasters.

6)      Share your food. If you like your housemates enough consider sharing food – especially stuff that goes off quite quickly such as bread and milk. At the beginning of the year (or whenever your loan comes in) stock up on those huge 3kg+ bags of pasta (3kg of penne pasta quills are currently £2 at Tesco), sacks of rice (5kg Shahi long grain basmati rice is £6 or two for £8 at Asda), or UHT milk that lasts ages (50p a litre at Asda) and you’ll never go hungry.

7)      Don’t buy new books. I spent £100s on new textbooks that I rarely read. Don’t just buy the whole reading list, see if you really need it first. Check the library – if it is a core textbook there’s likely to be a few of them stocked in there. Also keep an eye on eBay, university notice boards, Freecycle and local charity shops for old students selling them off cheaply.

8)      Get a union job. Keep an eye out for union jobs. There are likely to be loads to choose from, anything from student ambassadors to bar work. They tend to be more flexible and understanding of your studying needs than job  in the local town, or city.

9)      Make a budget and stick to it. You’ll meet all sorts of people at university and some may have more money than you. Don’t try to keep up. Know what you can spend and use our MSE Budget Planner to make sure you don’t go over it.

10)   Splash out on Freshers’ Week. This is the opposite of moneysaving, but our forumites and I both agree that this is going to be one of the best weeks of your life, so don’t worry too much about saving money – you’ve got the rest of university to do that. So go ahead and buy the fancy dress outfits, drinks and club entry, just make sure you get back to being savvy after the week is over.

These are just my top moneysaving tips. For a full list, check out our student checklist with 50+ tips. If I’ve missed any great tips out, please do comment below or in our forum.