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How to save money at university

There are foolproof ways to collect cash at school through watching your spending on food, textbooks, alcohol and credit cards.

Freedom! That’s the phrase on the lips of first year university students around the country. These joyous exclamations soon turn sour, however, when, after a few weeks, the student realises how this freedom is not all it’s cracked up to be. University is often when students are away from their parents for the first time, and while this means more freedom, it also means more responsibility, especially in the finance department. The typical university student is either broke or about to go broke. These tips for saving money at university mean more pounds in your pocket and less requests for donations from your ‘rents.

Manage it

If you have any money, it’s going to go quickly if you don’t manage it from the beginning. It’s important to make use of online banking, even if it’s as simple as being aware what’s in your account to prevent overdraft fees. Your debit card may not always get declined if you have insufficient funds, which means you may unknowingly get slammed with charges later. If it’s possible with your bank, set up automatic overdraft protection to keep this type of thing from happening.

Avoid credit cards

If you must have a credit card, be sure to get one with the lowest interest rate possible and only have a limit high enough to get you through a pop-up emergency. Many financial institutions will try to get students to invest in a credit card because students are vulnerable and credit cards can be appealing. Do your homework, read the fine print, and if you do get a credit card, don’t always carry it with you. They are a good way to manage your money if you pay the total amount off every month, but if you’re not going to do that, think long and hard before getting one – can you really afford to pay the interest rates every month? Wouldn’t it be better to save up and get what you want without having to pay for the item and then pay for the charges after getting it?

Get serious about saving

The easiest way to save money is to be hyperaware of your spending. A splurge weekend can wreak havoc on your hard-earned savings. For one week or month, save every single receipt of your purchases, from groceries to haircuts to gas. At the end, tally up what you’ve spent and take a hard look at where majority of it went. Exposing your evils is the first step to cutting down.

Another good strategy is to set up your paycheck to automatically transfer a certain amount or percentage to your savings account so you have less discretion on whether to save each month.

 A useful budget calculator for expenses you’ll most likely see at university can be found here.

Alcohol made me do it

Not spending money on alcohol is the easiest way to not spend money…. obviously. There are some not so obvious ways to save money if you feel the urge to drink, including buying cheap, buying in bulk and researching which bars are having the best deals before you go out. If you want to have a few drinks with friends, consider the cheaper option of buying alcohol at the supermarket rather than the pubs and bars. And when you go out, always bring your student ID for additional discounts on cover or drinks.

Textbook woes

Your campus bookstore may not be the cheapest option, despite any promises they may claim. Your biggest saver: buying used textbooks. Sometimes the scribbles in the margins and highlighting may even help you understand the material. Finding used copies is easy on online sites such as Amazon, eBay or just a plain Google search of the ISBN number. Renting is cheaper than buying new as well, and some places such as Chegg (not sure if we have this in the UK?) even pay for the shipping to return the book.

Most of the time, professors list the most recent edition as the required textbook, but only a few words have been changed from the previous one, yet the price is tremendously more expensive. Another great resource are the people who’ve already taken the class. See if any have a book they’d be willing to let you borrow for the semester. Put up noticeboards in your common rooms or intranet to advertise your used books and search for some from others. Alternatively, consider book sharing and buying books that you won’t need to refer to all the time with your room-mates.

Food for thought

Food is not only a necessity, but also a priority in many students’ lives. Eating fast food can be just as expensive as trying to eat healthy all the time. The most important thing is to be nutritious, but to be smart about it. Don’t buy brand name products—the supermarket label is often made with the same exact ingredients and half the price. Eat healthy things that will fill you up such as oatmeal, rice, peanut butter, yogurt, bagels, noodles, eggs and yes, even ramen.  

Make your own coffee if you can’t resist a daily coffee fix. If you need that high-end taste, it’s better to invest in a decent coffee maker once than a decent cup of coffee everyday. It’s also better to invest in a nice water bottle than to buy packs of bottled water every week.

There are tons of other areas you can save money in, including movies, television, residential living, shopping, transportation and travel, to name a few. The main thing to remember is to always ask if you’re spending your money in the cheapest and most effective way possible before every purchase. Being money-conscious is the easiest way to make sure you leave university with a degree rather than a huge overdraft. 

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