Collecting vouchers and cutting out coupons may once have been associated with prudent housewives and penniless pensioners, but it's becoming increasingly popular with a generation of savvy students. Struggling to make their money last the duration of their courses, many are turning to internet vouchers to help stretch out their student loan. The proliferation of online vouchers for everything from theme park tickets to free cookies means there's no excuse for three years of baked beans and pints down the pub.
"I use voucher websites a lot," says Lawrence Eagling, 20, a second-year student at the University of Southampton. "It means I can go out more often, because things that are usually expensive, like going to the cinema or eating out, become more affordable."
Like many of his friends, Eagling rarely goes out for a meal without downloading a voucher first. "It's well worth taking the time to look for one if it cuts your bill in half," he says.
One of the most popular places for student vouchers is studentbeans.com. More than 500,000 students have registered since it was founded by graduates Michael and James Eder in 2005. "Students can save a huge amount of money looking online or offline," says James. "We are committed to finding the best deals for students, so whether that is going out and negotiating deals on behalf of students, or bringing together some of the best deals on the web, we try to make sure we do the searching so students don't have to.
"Make a rule to only buy with a discount voucher, code or similar. You'll be hard-pressed to find an online shop that doesn't offer some student or new customer discount."
Popular voucher downloads include two-for-one cinema tickets and meal deals at restaurant chains, but it also promotes cheap gym memberships, insurance deals and discounted newspaper subscriptions.
James advises students to buy items online rather than in shops. "As a rule, nearly everything is cheaper online, and students get extra benefits on top of standard online prices. Laptops, textbooks, meals, gigs – you can save on essentials and treats."
The National Union of Students gives its cardholders cheap deals online, as well as offering discounts on the high street. Their website, nus.org.uk, has links to offers ranging from books at Amazon to burgers at McDonald's.
Students can also take advantage of a variety of voucher websites which, although not specifically targeted at the student market, offer worthwhile discounts and savings. As a rule, it is better to use reputable, well-known sites as some smaller sites host broken links or out-of-date vouchers that are not accepted in stores.
A good source for vouchers is moneysavingexpert.com/vouchers. Dan Plant, from moneysavingexpert.com, says: "Retailers regularly release vouchers online now, which can either be printed off and taken into stores, or used as a discount code on shopping websites. Gap, H&M, American Apparel and loads more often have these – we collect all the legitimate ones."
The vouchercloud.com website is also useful. You can search for items and services within a specified radius of your location and, if you own a smart phone, you can download a mobile discount app from vouchercloud.com/download to check for discounts on the go. It's the first app of its kind in the UK.
Following these websites on Facebook or Twitter is an easy way of staying up to date with the latest offers. Social networking websites themselves often advertise offers and deals aimed at students, but Plant advises: "Do your research to make sure you're getting a genuinely good deal. This can be looking at other sites, or going out into the real world to compare prices."
Shopping for discounts on the internet isn't all about vouchers, however. Comparison websites are a helpful tool for students to find the best deals, which is especially important when it comes to buying more expensive items, such as laptops.
"If you're shopping for a particular item, 'shopping robot' websites such as foundem.co.uk and pricerunner.co.uk search multiple online shops for you in one click to find the cheapest price for CDs, gadgets, clothes and more," says Plant. "We've built a special free tool, at megashopbot.com, that combines all the best robots to get the biggest range of shops in one click."
Music fans who want to buy songs and albums cheaply online should go to tunechecker.com, which allows you to search for an artist or song title and then compares the results from different online retailers. Better still, music can be listened to for free on spotify.com, which is becoming increasingly popular thanks to its huge range of genres and artists – providing you don't mind listening to adverts.
Another website great for getting you free stuff is freecycle.org. It enables members to give away unwanted items, allowing you to pick up a washing machine, barbecue, or anything else that you might want but cannot afford absolutely free. You also gain environmental brownie points, as it helps the environment by reducing the amount thrown into landfill.
Students can also save themselves some money by getting cash back from their online purchases through websites such as topcashback.co.uk and quidco.com. These give you a small percentage of your money back whenever you make purchases with an online retailer that you have reached through their website.
If you're still struggling to balance your finances, there are some free websites that can help you to manage your money. A quick and easy way to balance your income with your spending, ensuring that you don't lose track, is offered by www.studentcalculator.org.uk.
Shopping around and planning ahead are two of the main ways that students can save money by going online, and the widespread use of vouchers among students means that there is no stigma attached to them, assures Eagling. "No one thinks you're cheap, it's just the normal thing to do," he says. "I'm a student – I'm not going to pay full price when I don't have to."