Get free condoms
You’re all going to be having loads of sex, amirite guys? And being modern, responsible, 21st-century types, you’re going to be using condoms. At a tenner or so a box, that’s going to be a serious income drain. Or it would be, if you couldn’t get them free from your university or the government.
Your university SU will have welfare officers who can give you some, or more likely a big box full of them that you can just make off with. Meanwhile your local sexual health (GUM) clinic will give a bundle and throw in a free (recommended) STI test. Failing that, at most freshers fairs, people will literally be wandering around chucking them at you.
flickr (Flying Cloud)
Whatever you do, make sure you get an NUS Extra card. It might cost £12, but the savings you’ll make will be well worth it. You’ll get discounts of 10-20 per cent at hundreds of high street shops, including most big fashion retailers and restaurants, as well as books, electronics and at cinemas. Always bring it with you and make sure to ask if shops do student discounts – you’d be amazed at how many places offer them on the down low.
Then there are discount sites like StudentBeans, which have further savings for savvy students. Beyond that, almost every high street restaurant has decent money-off online vouchers just a Google away. Use a dedicated email account to sign up to everyone’s mailing list and never pay full price again.
Earn a little money from home
No, we’re not about to tell you that one little trick that has allowed so many suburban moms to earn thousands from home. That isn’t real. However, there is a way to earn a modest amount of cash not doing very much, and that is to do online surveys or turn up to special focus group events. You’ll be paid in cash or vouchers, a few quid at a time online and more in the flesh, to complete surveys for marketing firms or political pollsters.
MoneySavingExpert has a comprehensive guide to the companies and the tactics. It’s not going to keep you in platinum-plated tiger menageries, but it’ll underwrite a night out or two per term.
Do your food shop online
There is literally nothing worse for your line, be it your waistline or your bottom line, than to be meandering around a supermarket on an empty stomach. Your basket will mostly contain chocolate, crisps and deli meat, which is expensive and will make you fat.
Try and be disciplined and plan a weekly shop, and do it online if you can. That way you can plan a week’s cooking in advance, and you can stick to a budget and a list – it’s much harder to impulse-buy a kilogramme of Dairy Milk when you’re sat in front of your computer with your housemates around you. If you get food delivered, you can buy in bulk, too, which is cheaper all round.
Cheap rail travel
Yes, you know about the Young Person’s Railcard. In the unlikely chance you don’t – it costs £28 and gets you a third off your rail travel for a year (or £70 for three years). However, what you may not know about are all the other sneaky ways of getting money off rail travel.
For instance, did you know that you can get group discounts if three or four people are buying the same tickets? Four people taking the same route will get half off. Booking in advance gets you loads of money off, with the biggest savings happening if you do it 12 weeks early. Then there’s Tickety Split, which finds you the cheapest route to your destination on the day by splitting tickets.
Find the cheapest utilities
This one’s boring - but it’s very important. Your bills – gas, electricity, water and Internet – will be account for a big whack of your loan every month, so it really pays to shop around. Don’t be afraid to switch suppliers if there are better rates elsewhere; you don’t owe these big companies any kind of loyalty.
Consider going on a meter for water, and winter fuel will sting you hard if you’re too fresh with central heating. And if you’re the poor sod lumped with the task of shaking your housemates down for the bills every quarter, take a look at a company like Glide, which packages up all utilities for a household and then itemises them for each resident into one monthly lump. It’ll save you headaches.
Make your phone pay – buy it outright
So you need your mobile, but they can be a bit of a cost centre, especially if it’s a shiny new smartphone on a pricy 24-month contract. Consider, if you can, buying the phone outright, and then getting on a SIM-only contract. It’s a bit of an initial outlay, but you’ll save a couple of hundred over the course of the next two years.
For instance, Google’s excellent Nexus 4 is just £239, and 24 months of a GiffGaff contract will cost you between about £10 and £15 per month, for a total cost of £480 - £600. Now compare that to the £888 that a new HTC One or Sony Xperia Z will cost you on a £37pm 24-month contract. And when you’re done, you can usually sell your phone on to somewhere like Fonehub for further savings.
Why pay for software?
A lot of proprietary software can be pretty pricey, but in this digital age it’s increasingly necessary for students. There are ways around it though – and we don’t mean turning to piracy. Nearly every useful programme these days has a free, open-source counterpart that works just as well.
Photoshop, for instance, costs hundreds – but GIMP does exactly the same stuff for nothing. There are loads of compatible free counterparts to MS Office, Like OpenOffice or LibreOffice, while platforms like VLC will play your media back at you just fine. And never, ever buy horrible, bloated Virus software: Microsoft Security Essentials is free and far, far better.
Watch TV for free
Your TV license will cost you £145.50 every year. But if you use the BBC’s iplayer on your PC, provided you don’t watch programmes as they are broadcast, under the BBC’s own terms and conditions you won’t have to pay a penny. If you do insist on owning an actual TV, make sure to claim one quarter back for the summer holidays. You’re entitled to it.
Shop around for a student account
You need a bank account and an overdraft, but don’t pick your bank because it’s got the prettiest colour scheme or the best freebies – pick the one that gives you the biggest interest-free overdraft. Free stuff can be nice, but £50 of vouchers does not remotely compare to an extra couple of hundred pounds’ worth of 0 per cent interest wiggle-room.
It’s a sad fact, but you’ll be living in your overdraft for at least the next three years, so you need one that isn’t going to cost you in the long run. It’s also worth checking what the penalties are for going over your limit – all banks will gouge, but some are more painful than others. If all things are still equal, then you can make your decision based on free stuff.
Do not, whatever you do, use payday loans
This is a booming industry, but the only people it helps are the lenders. The APRs are usually thousands of percentage points – borrowing money like this is mad expensive. If you’re running out of money, talk to your bank first, or your parents, or look for a job.