Making the most of your money
Our Financial Support Team has pulled together a bank of information, tips and tricks to help you to get the most of your money while you're studying. Here you'll find information about how to start a budget plan, how to stay on track, and how you can reduce your living costs while still having a fantastic experience at university.
Student living costs and creating a budget
Particularly if university will be your first time living independently, it can be difficult to estimate what your living costs will be. It can be useful to reflect on others' living costs to understand more about the costs you'll encounter while you're studying.
Every year, students at universities across the UK are invited to take part in the National Student Money Survey which asks students to estimate how much they spend on various categories. It's important to keep in mind that personal circumstances can differ significantly between different students (for example, a student living with parents will likely have lower rent cost but higher travel costs).
It's unlikely to be the most exciting part of preparing for university, but creating a budget will be one of the most important items on your to-do list. Student income can fluctuate across the year, so having a budget plan will be crucial to make sure that your money can last across the academic year.
We've created a new budget planner which you can download for free below. If you need any help creating your budget, our Financial Support Team can support you to create your budget and put in place some handy budgeting techniques to help you to stay on track throughout the year.
Tips and tricks to reduce your living costs
We've pulled together some tips and tricks to help you to reduce your living costs. Please note that this webpage is currently in development and more content will be added soon!
Accommodation is often the biggest living cost but there are steps that you can take to try to reduce this cost as much as possible. It's important to consider these steps before you sign any tenancy agreement, as this is a formal contract which you may not be able to exit.
You could consider:
- Is an en-suite room your only option, or could you consider a room with a shared bathroom? If you have a health condition which means that you need access to your own bathroom at all times, then this is likely to be non-negotiable. However, if en-suite is only a preference then downgrading could save you thousands across the year.
- Is it possible to reduce the length of your tenancy agreement? If you will only need the room for 9 months across the year, signing up to a 52 week tenancy agreement could mean that you will be paying for a room you won't be using.
- Could you cope with smaller or less modernised accommodation? You should consider how much time to expect to spend in your accommodation across the year. For example, if you plan to study mainly in the library then you may not need as much study space within your bedroom. Similarly, if you plan to meet up with friends regularly then you may not need as much social space within your accommodation.
- Could you live with family for a cheap rate of board? If you have the option to stay with your parents or another family member, this could save you a lot of money on accommodation across the year - as long as your travel costs of getting to university don't exceed the potential cost of renting nearer to the university.
Once you're ready to start looking for accommodation, you may want to take a look at KeeleSU's guide to house hunting and tenancy agreements.
For students living on campus, utility bills are included within your accommodation fee. Some private landlords and accommodation services also include utility bills within the rent which can make it easier, although it's important to check the usage limits associated with this.
You may have a tenancy agreement with your landlord that your utilities are within your rental charge, which may be cheaper and less hassle to include all bills in the overall figure for your monthly rent payments. But do keep track of what your monthly bills usually are (or make an educated guess) and see how the cost compares to the landlord's offer of including it in the rent. There's a chance they'll be trying to overcharge you.
If from the start of the tenancy, you are responsible for paying for the energy used supplied by the existing provider. Please consider these tips in trying to keep your costs down:
You could consider:
- Could you save money by switching to a cheaper provider or tariff? You can use online comparison sites to compare the prices of different suppliers and tariffs, and switch using a free seamless switch service.
- Is it possible to turn down your thermostat by 1-2°C? Turning down your thermostat by just 1°C can save up to 10% on your annual energy bill, and significantly reduces carbon emissions.
- Could you try 'heating the human' instead of 'heating the home'? This is particularly useful during the periods immediately before and after deep winter, when it's tempting to put the heating on but not always essential. You could try an electric blanket or wearing more layers, such as thermal socks and hoodies.
- Are you able to charge your devices on campus? If you will be bringing your laptop and mobile phone to campus everyday, you could charge them for free in the library while you study. There are charging ports throughout the study areas on campus, which you can use for free.
- Could you take shorter showers? Nearly 40% of the water we use at home is from the shower, so reducing the time you spend in the shower can significantly reduce your water bill. Some water companies have introduced shower playlists filled with 5-minute songs to help you stick to 5-minute showers.
- Is your washing machine able to wash clothes on a lower temperature? There are lots of ways that you can reduce the cost of laundry, including switching to a cheaper detergent, washing only when you have a full load, and washing on a lower temperature. If you live off-campus, you could also dry your clothes on a washing line or clothes airer, instead of a tumble dryer.
Energy costs are closely linked to sustainability. The more you reduce your energy usage, the more you will reduce your carbon footprint and your energy bill!
You can use the WWF's handy Carbon Footprint Calculator to work out the size of your carbon footprint and to create a tailored plan to reduce it.
Food is an area where spend can vary significantly between students, as everyone will have different lifestyle choices.
One of the best ways to save money on food is to make a meal plan and write your shopping list based on it. This will mean that you're only buying what you need, and that you're less likely to waste food. You can find pre-prepared low-cost meal plans on the Save the Student website, where you can also find pre-prepared shopping lists. Before you head out food shopping, check in your cupboards to remind yourself of what food you already have which needs using up.
You will likely find that some supermarkets tend to be cheaper than others. We have a number of different supermarkets in the local area - do your research and shop where it's cheapest for you. You can also register with supermarket loyalty cards (and add these to your smartphone's virtual wallet) which can sometimes give discounts on certain items.
Here are our top five tips:
- Once per week, schedule time to plan your meals for the week ahead (taking into account the food you already have at home), write a shopping list, and do the week's food shop in one go.
- Don't go food shopping on an empty stomach - you'll be more likely to buy snacks that you otherwise wouldn't need.
- Look for the "yellow sticker" items in the reduced sections, for items which are close to their sell-by date. You can usually freeze these items to make them last much longer.
- Remember to take your reusable shopping bags with you, as buying new plastic bags every time will become very costly and also very impactful to the environment.
- Cook in bulk and save portions in the freezer - this will mean that you have a stock of meals easily available for days when you're too busy too cook. You can buy relatively cheap tupperware or re-use clean takeaway containers.
The Money Saving Expert website has many more useful tips and tricks to reduce the cost of food.
However you usually travel, there could be a number of ways for you to reduce your spend.
- Check the best fare either online or in app before travelling on the bus. Under the Affordable Fares Scheme by Stoke on Trent City Council, the Young Person's ticket is now available to anyone under 19, so in some cases you could get a return for cheaper than a standard Adult ticket.
- Work out how many days you plan to use the bus over the academic year - could you save money long-term by purchasing a monthly or yearly ticket?
- If you will be using trains to travel to university regularly, you may want to purchase a student railcard to get 1/3 off train travel. The student railcard is usually called the '16-25 Railcard', but mature students can access this railcard too.
- Rail tickets are often released 12 weeks ahead at reduced prices for advanced bookings. If you know that you'll be travelling by train in advance (perhaps to travel to family during vacation periods), it's often worth purchasing these cheaper tickets in advance.
- Consider whether you need to travel by car, or whether you could use other methods of transport. The cost of car maintenance (including insurance, tax, MOT and repairs) can add up very quickly, and so we'd recommend only using a car if you need it for commuting from a family home, placements, parenting or caring responsibilities or if you have a disability. If you decide to save money by not using your car, you can formally register your car as "off the road" online.
- Fuel prices can fluctuate on a daily basis, but you’ll also see different prices at different fuel stations. You can check petrol prices local to you using online comparison sites, to get the most fuel for your money. Supermarkets usually have the cheapest fuel available.
- Always shop around for car insurance instead of automatically renewing, making sure you read the small print to ensure your insurance covers everything you need.
- Consider whether you need to travel by taxi, or whether you could use other methods of transport. Although it may save some time, the cost of using taxis regularly can be extremely high.
- If you will be travelling with a group of friends, it can sometimes be cheaper to travel together using a taxi and split the cost, instead of each paying for bus tickets.
As a student, you may be able to apply for help towards healthcare costs through the NHS Low Income Scheme. This could provide support towards the cost of NHS prescriptions, NHS dental treatment, the cost of sight tests and glasses / contact lenses and the cost of travelling to receive NHS treatment. You can apply for the NHS Low Income Scheme online on the NHS website or complete a paper HC1 form (which you can order online).
Depending on your circumstances, you may be entitled to free NHS prescriptions. You can check online to find out who can get free prescriptions.
If you're not entitled to free NHS prescriptions and need to pay for multiple prescriptions, it might be cheaper to purchase an NHS Prescription Prepayment Certificate. This would cover the cost of all your NHS prescriptions during the time that the certificate is valid. You can purchase a Prescription Prepayment Certificate online on the NHS website.
If you're experiencing unforeseen healthcare costs which are causing you to struggle financially, you may wish to consider applying to our Hardship Fund.
Full-time students should be exempt from council tax. If everyone in your household is a full-time student, you can apply for an exemption from council tax. If you live with someone who is not a full-time student, you will still get a council tax bill but you may be able to apply for a discount. You can find out more about this on the UK Government webpages.
It's a legal requirement for students to be covered by a TV licence if you will have access to TV.
You may not need a TV licence if you meet the 3 below criteria:
- Your ‘out of term’ address has a TV licence (e.g. your parents/guardians' home)
- You’re watching on a device purely running off its own internal battery, for example phone, tablet, laptop
- The device is not connected to an aerial or to the mains
If this is the case, the TV licence at the ‘out of term’ address will cover you. There is a useful video, produced by the TV Licencing agency, which explains more about this.
If you’ve paid your TV Licence in full for the year, you can apply for a refund for any full unused months at the end of the academic year.
There are lots of free and affordable ways that you can enjoy yourself and have fun, while still sticking to a realistic budget. Although entertainment and leisure isn't a necessity, it's important to factor this in to maintain your wellbeing and build relationships with your friends at university. Challenge yourself to some "no-spend weekends" across the year and look for ways you can reduce your spend - here's some ideas to get you started:
- Plan a board games marathon with your friends. There are a huge range of board games you can use for free at the KPA, and at the Residence Life board games nights. Or, if you already have some of your favourite games, you could host a board games night yourself.
- Create your own cinema night at home. A single cinema trip can become quite expensive if you add together all the costs involved. Ticket, snacks, transport - it really does add up! As a Keele student, you can use the Box of Broadcasts streaming service for free, which includes lots of shows and films. Turn the lights down, get cosy and watch the latest releases in the comfort of your own home.
- Make the most of the outdoors and the amazing walking and hiking routes in the local area. You can make it even more interesting if you incorporate some geo-caching! Taking a break from technology to enjoy the great outdoors can do wonders for your physical and mental wellbeing. Even within the campus grounds, we have plenty of walking routes including the woodland walks next to Keele Hall.
- Check online for free-entry gigs and events, and take advantage of discounted entry prices for students. Check the Keele App for up-to-date information about events taking place on campus, and use sites such as Enjoy Staffordshire to find out more about things going on in the local area.
So, what is a student discount? These are discounts that you get access at hundreds of stores (including many online stores) simply for being a student! This can be for clothes, groceries, technology and so many more items. Before you make a purchase, always check to see if you could get a student discount.
Some stores may accept your Keele Card as proof of your student status, but most will require you to be registered with a student discount provider. There are a number of different student discount providers, including:
You might also be able to access extra discounts using store discount cards, such as the Co-Op membership card and the Tesco Clubcard - there are lots of others available for various different stores. These cards are often free to access, and you can save the details in your virtual wallet on your smartphone so that you always have access to them.