There are lots of money-saving tips and handy apps to help you manage the cost of living

Your tuition fees are sorted, you’ve bought everything you need for uni and maybe you’ve started on the reading… but there are other costs to consider, so you’re not quite finished yet.

The good news is that there are lots of money-saving tips and handy apps to make the cost of living as cheap – and easy to manage, as possible!

Accommodation: it’s worth deliberation

Over 20% of students live at home, which can be a great money-saving exercise.

However, if you’re planning to leave home for pastures new, you’ll be pleased to know that there should be a range of accommodation options for you to choose from.

Staying in halls is a great way to meet new people as well as being affordable places to live. Being surrounded by other students will help you to create a friendship / support network – valuable in your first few months away from home.

Take care to read the contract in full before signing it, paying attention to any restrictions. Some universities provide term-time only contracts, meaning you’ll need to remove your belongings at the end of each term. If you’re comparing costs between different universities, look at the total cost (rather than the weekly cost); and remember that ensuite rooms are more expensive.

Your university accommodation service will be able to provide you with an approved list of available properties (private halls or rented housing); alternatively, look for specialists in student housing (such as UNITE) or landlords who are members of your local student accommodation accreditation scheme.

Private accommodation, on the whole, can be more expensive – but can give you more freedom (and a break from campus life). Before committing to somewhere, spend some time in the area if you can – and get answers to the following questions:

  1. How safe is the area?
  2. What are the transport links like? How long will it take you to get to your lectures each day?
  3. How much will travel cost you to and from university?
  4. Are there other students living nearby?

Shared housing is another option for first-year students, and is sometimes offered directly through the university.

This type of accommodation tends to be offered on a self-catered basis only, so you’ll have to cook your own meals. This does mean that your house will have a communal kitchen and bathroom though, which might feel more homely than halls. You might also feel that you have more independence if you’re living ‘out’.

In shared housing you’re normally required to pay bills separately to the rent, so there’ll be some admin involved in carefully working out with your housemates how to split the costs fairly.

Consider the area you would be happy living in

Tenancy agreements

Signing a contract seems like a big commitment – and it is - but it’s usually unavoidable when it comes to accommodation, both private and halls. Here are some important things to consider before signing on the dotted line:

What type of contract is it?

Joint / individual

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Will I need a guarantor?

Probably

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Will I need to pay a deposit?

Yes

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What’s an inventory?

A list of items and damages

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Split your bills without splitting hairs

Managing bills for the first time can seem scary, but it needn’t be – even if these bills are going to be shared between you and your new housemates.

It’s important to make a plan together, split bills fairly and pay them on time.

Dividing up the bills is often the easiest way to manage your payments. Typically, each housemate will take responsibility for a particular bill – electricity, gas, water, etc.

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  1. Make sure that you take monthly meter readings – allocate this job to one person, or create a rota. The more frequently you take meter readings, the more accurate your bills will be – eliminating the possibility of a big bill when you least expect it.
  2. Put the names of all housemates on each bill. Not only will this make your accounts much easier to manage (as any housemate could speak to the provider), it also means shared responsibility. This will encourage all housemates to make their payments in full and on time, and avoids one person bearing the responsibility if a bill isn’t paid (which could damage his/her credit rating).
  3. Set your bill paying accounts up as soon as possible. Many providers have contract terms of 12 months minimum, which means that if you’re slow to set them up, you could end up paying for months that you don’t need. It can also take providers weeks to activate your accounts – so don’t leave it too late.

Mobile, broadband and TV: get the best deals

Staying up-to-date is essential if you’re a student. There are great savings to be found for mobile, broadband and TV – you just need to know where to look.

Shop around

Check out comparison websites such as uSwitch, Money Supermarket, and Compare the Market for an impartial overview of current offers from a wide range of brands.

Hunt for incentives

Don’t only look at what you’ll be paying out each month – think about what you might get back, too.

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Bundle it up

Most providers offer the cheapest deals if you sign up for TV, phone and broadband services all at once.

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Look out for special student deals

Three key providers – BT, Sky and Virgin Media – currently offer broadband deals designed for students.

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Don’t forget to budget for a TV licence!

It used to be the case that you only needed a TV licence if you were planning to watch live broadcasts.

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Pay 'em with payM

Whether you’re splitting bills with housemates or paying your brother back for the drink he bought you last week, transferring cash doesn’t need to be complicated.

With platforms like PayM, you can send money to friends, family members and even small businesses just by tapping in their phone number.

Here’s how it’s done:

  • First, you need to register with your bank or building society. 17 institutions – including Barclays, Halifax and Nationwide – are part of the PayM scheme. To join, just visit PayM’s ‘How to Register‘ page, find your bank and click on it – you’ll be taken to the relevant page.
  • Download the mobile banking or payment app for your current account.
  • Login as normal and head to the payment section. Select a friend’s mobile number or type in manually (no need to search for fiddly account or sort codes!).
  • Enter the amount of money that you’d like to send.
  • Check the name of the person you’re sending the money to. PayM will display this so you can be sure that your cash will end up in the right place.
  • Confirm the name and press send.
  • To receive the funds, your friends will need to be registered for PayM too.

Council tax doesn’t need to be taxing!

All residential properties in England, Wales and Scotland are subject to a tax – known as council tax – which is collected by the local authority. The money is used to fund their services (e.g. rubbish collection, recycling, roadworks, etc.).

However, if everyone in your house is a full-time student, your property will be exempt – meaning that you don’t have to pay anything. There are a few things to check, though, to make sure that you’re exempt:

  1. Your course must run for at least one academic or calendar year.
  2. Within that year, you must be required to attend the course for at least 24 weeks.
  3. Your course must involve at least 21 hours of study, tuition or work experience per week.
  4. If you’re under 20 and are studying for a qualification (up to A Level, for example), your course must run for at least three months, and must involve at least 12 hours of study per week.

If you receive a council tax bill and you meet the criteria listed above, it’s easy to apply for an exemption.

Do I really need insurance?

In a word: yes!

Spending money on insurance might seem a bit excessive, but it’s a necessary cost. From smaller threats like spilled drinks to larger ones like leaks in the roof (or even a break-in), your belongings will thank you for a bit of protection.

What cover do I need?

There are different types of ‘home’ insurance – contents only, buildings and contents, or buildings only. Contents insurance covers your belongings; buildings insurance covers the fabric of the property (like the roof). Wherever you’re living, your landlord (or university) should cover the ‘buildings’ part.

A contents insurance policy should cover your stuff if it’s stolen, lost, or damaged by storms, fires, burst pipes, etc. It’s worth adding ‘accidental’ damage to your policy, too.

Don’t forget to read the small print

You might feel safe in the knowledge that your contents insurance covers you for £5,000 worth of stuff, and the most expensive thing you own is a laptop – but often there are hidden restrictions. For example, laptops may only be covered up to certain value (or sometimes not at all), as may mobile phones and tablets; and you may be covered for theft and damage but not loss.

Location can be a factor, too: your car insurance may not be valid if you’re living away at university or if you don’t let them know you are at a different address to that stated on your policy. The excess figure is also something you must pay attention to: you’ll pay this part of any claim that you decide to make, and the insurance company will pay the rest.

Top up with a part-time job

If you’re running low on cash, there are lots of part-time jobs out there that won’t interfere with your study time (or social life). Getting a job whilst you’re a student can also look great on your CV.

It’s important to strike the right balance, so flexible, shift-based jobs are a safe bet. Most universities recommend working no more than 15 hours a week.

Finding the perfect part-time job:

  • Search online. Google is your friend.
  • Register with a recruitment agency. Recruiters have a collection of jobs waiting for you, and their aim is to fill their vacancies with your skills. An online portal like All4Jobs is a good place to start.
  • Check out job boards. There are sites that have been set up just for students, such as employment 4 students.
  • Make the most of your university. Most universities hold regular job fairs, allowing you to meet employers directly. Some even have mini-employment centres on campus to help students find jobs (either within the university or outside), so it’s definitely worth taking a look at what’s going on.