How to keep the costs down at uni

Students at Oxford University

Over the next few weeks, upwards of half a million people will start a university degree course - and, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, they'll emerge in three or four years' time with a staggering £50,000 of debt.

Most of this, of course, is down to sky-high tuition fees, now running at £9,000 a year, and there's not much you can do about that.

SEE ALSO: How much student debt will ever be repaid?

SEE ALSO: Poorer students 'far more likely' not to apply for university over debt fears

However, a good chunk of the debt is run up on basic living costs - everything from rent to books to beer - and, here, a bit of financial savvy can work wonders.

There are all sorts of offers that aren't available to the rest of us - here are eight ways that students can cut costs.

Pick a bank account wisely

There are some great student freebies out there, from cashback offers to Santander's free student railcard. However, picking a bank on the basis of this can be a mistake. MoneySavingExpert points out that most students are likely to be overdrawn at some point during their university career, and that the costs associated with this can be pretty big. Over the course of three years, the financial advantages of a free overdraft are likely to outweigh any iTunes voucher. Go for the biggest free overdraft limit you can find, it suggests: there's a list of student bank accounts here.

Apply for travel discount cards...

If you're making more than three or four journeys a year by train or coach, you'll probably be able to save money by snapping up a discount card. The 16-25 railcard, for example, it costs just £30 a year, but gives a third off the price of tickets. Similarly, the National Express Young Person's Coachcard gives one-third off fares for just £10.

...and other discount cards too

More wide-ranging is the NUS Extra card, which costs £12 a year or £32 for three years. This gives discounts on products in every category imaginable, from stationery and travel to restaurants and even beauty products. The savings can amount to 40% or more.

Check for individual discounts

Plenty of retailers, from Apple to McDonalds, offer discounts if you have student ID with a photo. Some are only applicable at certain times, though, so you may have to get used to having your big night out on a Wednesday. Even better is Microsoft's offer of Office software for students, available here and completely free. We've also got plenty of student discounts on our own deals page, here.

Don't overspend on insurance

There's a good chance that your stuff will be covered on your parents' insurance, as long as their home is your main permanent address. If you do need to take out your own policy, make sure you shop around: so-called student policies aren't necessarily any cheaper.

Don't pay council tax

A group of students living together don't have to pay council tax at all, however many of you there are. If you're sharing with a non-student, they will be liable - but if there's only one of them, they'll be able to claim the single-occupier discount, as you still don't count for tax purposes.

Don't buy a TV licence

It's no longer possible to get out of paying the licence fee simply by sticking to BBC iPlayer rather than watching real-time broadcasts. However, you still may not have to pay. If you live with your parents outside term time and they have a licence, you should be covered by theirs. You must, though, be watching on a device that doesn't have an aerial and isn't plugged into the mains at the time.

Check whether you have to pay for prescriptions

If you're 18 or under, you shouldn't have to pay for medical prescriptions, dental treatment or sight tests. Even if you're older than this, though, the chances are you'll still get them for free, on the basis that you're on a low income. You can apply to the NHS Low Income Scheme here.

Don't overpay income tax

If you work while you're studying, during the vacations, say, you may well have tax taken at source through PAYE. The amount you pay is calculated on the assumption that you'll be earning this amount every week of the year. However, income tax is only payable if you earn more than £11,500 a year - so if you're expecting to make less than this, you shouldn't have to pay. You can either fill in a P50 form after each stint of employment or wait until the end of the year and apply for a refund from HMRC.

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Save money on shopping: ten great tricks
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Save money on shopping: ten great tricks

The more work you are prepared to put in, the more you stand to save. If you put your shopping list into mysupermarket.com, you can identify where each individual items is cheapest, and can technically buy every single item at its lowest possible price.

If that sounds a bit too much like hard work, a reasonable compromise is to shop at two supermarkets: once at the weekend and once mid-week. You can buy each item at the cheapest of the two shops, and save money without devoting hours to shopping.

There are several deal-sharing sites, including hotukdeals.com and latestdeals.co.uk. Most of them have a ‘freebies’ section, where you can get items completely free, and all have a section where they post fantastic deals that are well worth taking advantage of.

They will often point the way to coupons for brilliant discounts too.

The more time you have spare to spend looking for these, the more you can save.

It’s worth following your favourite brands on Facebook or Twitter. It’s also important to pick up in-house magazines, try your free local paper, and check any letters from supermarket loyalty schemes for your vouchers. If you have a Nectar card, visit the website before you shop, so you can upload the latest deals to your card.

While you’re in-store, keep your eyes peeled for promotions on packets, and on receipts. Often the deal-hunting websites will offer a short cut to many of these, but if you have the opportunity to do some legwork, you will find plenty of others.

Compare the price of your branded goods (after you use the coupon) with the cheapest supermarket alternative. If the discount makes it the cheapest option, then feel free to use it immediately.

However, if it doesn’t bring the price down below the own brand price, then don't throw it away. Hang onto the coupon, and check Mysuupermarket.com every few days to see if there’s an offer running on the brand at any time before the coupon expires. A deal plus a coupon is often the cheapest option.

Prices change all the time, but it pays to have a shopping list annotated with the usual price - or an old receipt - on hand when you are shopping. When something is on sale, compare it to the usual selling price from your list, to decide if it’s really as good value as it purports to be.
The frugal experts have decent storage areas at home, so if there’s a very special deal on washing powder or toilet paper, tins or toiletries, they can stock up for a few months at a knock-down price. It’s not generally worth doing on fresh produce, or packets with a short shelf life though, because throwing something away that’s out of date will undo all of your good work.
There can be some incredible bargains in the ‘yellow sticker’ sections of the supermarket. Most stores will have a spot for fruit and vegetable reductions, somewhere for chilled food price cuts, one for bakery products, and a final one for those with a longer shelf life that may be a bit battered, or separated from the outer packaging. Check them all for a possible discount.

The ’yellow sticker’ items will usually be reduced at least twice a day: once in the afternoon and once later in the evening. If you can wait to shop at around 7.30pm or 8pm you can get astonishing discounts.

If you want to time your shop exactly, then your best bet is to ask in store when they do their final reductions - don't be shy!

Get to know the rules around freezing ‘yellow sticker’ items, so you can buy when they are cheapest and use over the following weeks and months.

Don't assume something is perishable without checking. Everything from cheese to beansprouts is fine to freeze as long as you treat them correctly (beansprouts need blanching, chilling in ice water, and freezing immediately).

It’s never worth buying something just because it’s cheap: you also have to be able to factor it into your life. If you can't immediately think how you would use that over-ripe avocado, a pack of cut-price tongue or kippers, then don't buy them.
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