Monday, 4 May 2015

How I Avoided Debt During My First Year at University

As my first year of uni draws to a close, I can't help but feel a little bit smug about my positive bank balance. I might not be loaded, but I managed to keep out of my overdraft for a whole nine months, which isn't bad going.

Here are my tips on how to keep in the black while at university.

1. Get a job
I do realise that this isn't an option for everyone, and I was incredibly lucky in the job which I managed to get. Depending on your location, there may be roles within the university or as a part of the student's union, many of which are zero hours contracts meaning maximum flexibility for you. It's worth looking around the city you're studying in too, as lots of places are willing to take on students. As well as giving a financial boost, a part time job alongside studies also looks great on your CV.

2. Take advantage of student discount
An NUS card is around £30 for three years, but you make that money back almost instantly. Also sign up for Unidays which offer fantastic student offers and is completely free. Get smart on which discounts are offered when and try to keep shopping splurges to double discount periods. It might feel a little awkward to ask for student discount in shops and restaurants, but it's absolutely worth it.

Some of my favourite student deals are:
Free standard McFlurry when you buy a medium or large meal at McDonald's
40% discount at Pizza Express on a Monday and Tuesday
10% discount on Topshop/Topman including sale items

3. Sign up for a Santander student account
Santander student accounts come with a free four year rail card which would cost over £70 to buy yourself. A rail card entitles you to a third off all fares, which is a massive saving over the four year period. If you're with another bank, you can either swap your account or just keep two accounts running. I personally recommend the latter as with simple online bank transfers it's easy to separate your money for important things or larger purchases, such as saving up for a holiday.

4. Pre-book train tickets
This doesn't just apply for students, I recommend it to anyone, but it's still an important one. Booking train fares even just a few days in advance can result in a huge saving. But check first: it can sometimes be cheaper to buy a day or open return, it all depends on your journey. Having a quick look on nationalrail.co.uk is an easy way to find the best option.

5. Don't buy the entire reading list
This is the one where I messed up, and I urge you not to do the same. The university will send out a huge reading list, insisting that 75% of it is 'mandatory' and the other 25% is 'highly recommended'. This is probably complete bull, so wait until you have your more individual reading list before filling your Amazon shopping cart. Also, lots of universities hold book sales, where students in the year above sell used copies for a fraction of the price. It may also be worth seeing if your textbooks are available as e-books from the university library.

Are any of you going to university this year?

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