The basics
THE UK: Once you arrive

5 ways to save money as an international student in the UK

Covering living costs can be one of the trickiest things when it comes to surviving student life in the UK – but there are loads of ways to save those pounds.

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This article was written by Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student. Featuring the kind of straight-talking advice you won’t get at school, the site has everything you need to know about managing money without the migraines: student finance explained, insider info on careers, plus ways to save and scrimp without the stress.

Without further ado, here are our top tips on how to save money in the UK:

 

1. Make the most of student discounts

The student discount is an essential part of budget living in the UK – and the good news is, it means you can pay less on almost everything, from bus fares and text books to cinema tickets.

 

 

Your student ID card, or library card, is usually enough to ask for reduced prices in local shops, cafes and restaurants. You don’t have to buy an NUS Extra card (from £12 for a year), but getting one unlocks more or bigger discounts, including online. NUS Extra also comes with a year’s ISIC card, which lets you claim reduced prices around the world.

 

There are other standalone discount schemes out there, such as the 16-25 railcard for cheaper train travel, and the Young Person’s Coachcard for discounted fares on National Express (intercity bus routes). It’s worth adding that you can often get these cards for free with some student bank accounts.

 

If there’s a fee for joining a scheme, just check the discounts are things you’ll really use, need or can afford. Don’t get sucked into buying things you don’t need just because they’re cheaper: you still have to pay for it all!

 

2. Try to haggle on rent

Accommodation is by far the biggest student expense. Rents vary depending on where you live in the UK and what kind of housing you go for but, either way, it’s a substantial amount over a year.

 

Haggling – asking to pay less than the advertised price – doesn’t guarantee cheaper rent but, given the costs involved, is worth trying!

  • Compare prices for your type of accommodation and location: you’ll have something to negotiate with if your landlord charges more than the market rate. If they say no, your research will still help you get the best price for your budget.

 

  • When the lease is up for renewal is another good time to negotiate a discount (or stall any increase). If you’ve been a reliable and tidy tenant, it may well be worth your landlord encouraging you to stay on – so now’s the time to ask.

 

Whether you haggle or not, being informed is the key to saving money on student housing. The earlier and more expansively you research, the more options you’ll have.

 

3. Regularly review your bills

Unless your rent is inclusive of bills, you’ll have to arrange and pay for your own heating, water, broadband, and anything else that keeps you cosy and contented at home. In fact, while having ‘all inclusive’ rent might seem like a time saver, sorting things out for yourself means you can regularly shop around for, and change to, better deals.

 

  • If you don’t need a new mobile phone, steer clear of expensive year-long contracts. There are plenty of cheap pay monthly sim cards with decent calling, texting and data allowances, with new arrival Smarty particular worth a look.

 

  • You need a TV licence (£150/yr) to watch programmes at the same time they’re being broadcast or streamed, or to watch any BBC shows, even online. You don’t need a licence if you only ever watch ‘catch-up’ TV (not BBC) or on-demand streaming services, or if your accommodation is already covered by a licence (i.e., halls of residence). If you pay for a licence, but move back home over the summer, don’t forget to claim a refund.

 

  • Make time once or twice a year to compare prices for all your regular payments. Does the price work for your budget? Is there something cheaper out there? Contact your supplier and ask if they’ll match the best price, or make a note to switch when your contract ends.

 

4. Find cheaper alternatives at the supermarket

Most supermarkets in the UK stock their own versions of popular items – everything from frozen ready meals to pots and pans to cook them in. These are often far cheaper than premium brands, especially if you look for the supermarket’s ‘value’ or ‘basic’ ranges. They’re often just as good as the premium varieties but, thanks in part to the no-frills packaging, cost a lot less.

 

 

That’s not the whole story, though: sometimes you’ll find items with a lower price tag just because they’re in a different part of the store. Cotton buds and cotton wool, for instance, usually cost less in the baby section than in the beauty aisle – so head there first! Similarly, long-life fruit juices or milk are cheaper than the same items stored in fridges. The ‘world food’ aisle is also worth checking for hidden bargains on rice, lentils and tinned vegetables.

 

Finally, find out when your store discounts the goods they need to get rid of – it’s often in the evenings, but some supermarkets have set days for clearing out stock. Then time your shopping trip to snap up reduced items.

 

5. Get cashback to save money on everyday purchases

‘Cashback’ involves paying for something and then getting part of the price back later – a bit like a delayed discount.

 

Some retailers offer cashback on their own products (or utility bill contracts) as an incentive to get you to sign-up. Read the terms carefully! If you have to claim the money back at a certain time, put a note in your calendar so you don’t forget.

 

An easy way to find cashback offers from multiple retailers, utility companies and insurers in one place is to use a cashback website, such as Quidco or Topcashback. Some banks also offer cashback every time you use their credit or debit card, which means you can earn a percentage back on all your purchases, rather than just those from selected stores or brands.

 

It’s possible to earn a lot of money from cashback offers over a year or longer, but it takes discipline and common sense. You usually can’t use a student discount on top of a cashback offer, so check first which is cheaper. As with discounts, don’t be tempted by the reward alone: make sure you can afford and use what you’re paying for. Finally when using a credit card to earn money back, 100% make sure you repay your bill on time – accumulating interest can swiftly derail any cashback you earn!

 

Now that you’re clued up on how to save money there, why don’t you have a look at studying in the UK?

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About Author

Raif is a huge football fan and loves an infographic. He studied on the NCTJ-accredited University of Sheffield Journalism course, which has recently been voted the UK's number one for journalism in the Guardian's University League Table. Raif will look out for any mentions on social media, and will always be happy to help with any queries on your study abroad journey.