10 money tips for starting uni or college

With the cost of everything from a flat white to fruit and veg at an all-time high, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But there are things you can do to feel more in control of the situation. Here are 10 practical steps that can help.

No matter how excited you are about studying at university and building your long-term future, day-to-day money worries can cause a lot of stress. And with the cost of everything from a flat white to fruit and veg at an all-time high, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But there are things you can do to feel more in control of the situation – and this doesn’t include deleting your banking apps and hoping for the best. Here are ten practical steps that can help.

1. Create a financial plan

Creating a budget can help you feel more confident starting uni or college. Having a budget doesn’t mean your money will be all sorted, it just means you have a plan so that you always know where your money is going rather than wondering where it went.

One tip is to consider “ring-fencing” some of your maintenance loan in your student bank account and then sending yourself a pre-set amount each week (e.g., £70) to a cash payment card like Monzo, which you can then use to pay for your everything, while keeping in budget.

2. Check out Government support available

Check out the info for your home nation - see details for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The government has pledged an additional £15 million in hardship funding this financial year (2023/2024) so that unis can provide extra support to students that need it most, so you may find that you qualify for extra cash, in addition to the tuition fee and maintenance loans that you can get for each year of study.

3. Make sure your uni or college has the full picture about your finances

Sharing the details of your money situation seem scary, but if an institution doesn’t have your true data, they won’t know if you’re eligible for extra support. University of Liverpool, for example, has created a ‘Liverpool Bursary’, which will see around a third of its UK undergraduates being given either a cash bursary or a fee waiver of up to £2,000 per year.

This should make a real difference. If you’re unsure of how to submit up-to-date financial data or apply for support, contact your institution’s student finance office and ask them for guidance.

4. Look into scholarships

Check out The Scholarships Hub to see what might be available. A scholarship is money that you don’t have to pay back, and whilst traditionally they were awarded for academic, sporting or musical excellence, nowadays they are also awarded on the basis of personal circumstance, financial need and even representation.

Some scholarships are open to second and third year undergrads, so don’t worry if you didn’t apply before your first year. Keep an eye out and keep applying as – surprisingly – many organisations struggle to get enough applicants, so you could be in with a good chance. Find out more.

5. Get a part-time job

From bar work and waiting tables to gig economy jobs like being a live customer service agent or a takeaway food delivery person, there are nifty ways to make extra money while you study. Whatever role you take on, make sure any employer is giving you minimum wage before you sign up.

If you’re not sure how many hours you can spare without your studies suffering, try splitting your week into sections. There are seven days, each with a morning, afternoon and evening. Could you afford to dedicate five sections of the week to part-time work? If it does, then go for it. Add or subtract units of time as your course workload changes.

6. Monetise your side hustle

Whether you love painting, ceramics, making macramé plant holders or painting and decorating, there’s someone somewhere who will want to pay for your talents. Sell completed projects on Facebook Marketplace, Etsy or Instagram.

And if you have a skill that you can share with others, like teaching guitar, dancing or music to children, advertise on-line or list your services in a local Facebook group in your new city or town. You’ll need to take care of invoicing and provide necessary criminal reference checks, but it’ll be well worth it when you get paid to share your passion.

7. Take advantage of student discounts

There are tons of student discounts available in the UK. From travel and food to entertainment and shopping, student discounts can help you save money on everyday purchases. You can check out our student discounts. Lots of places also offer discounts simply by showing your Student ID, so always ask.  

8. Get more food for your money

Start-up Too Good To Go works with retailers like Pret, Greggs, and Morrisons to offer bags of unsold food at cheaper prices at the end of every day. We downloaded the app and found a ‘surprise bag’ of food at Morrisons in Hertfordshire for £3.09. Collection times are often extremely off-peak, but fresh, bargain food on your way home from the pub sounds like a good idea to us.

9. Register for loyalty cards everywhere

The consumer group Which? estimates you could save between 50p and £10 for each £100 spent at a supermarket using loyalty schemes. Tesco reserves cheaper prices for its Clubcard customers. And it’s also worth shopping at strategic times of day. Asda, Sainsbury’s and Aldi start “yellow stickering” food around 7pm. And while you’re there, try supermarket own brands. You may have been brought up on Heinz or Hellman’s but own-brands often have the same ingredients for a fraction of the price.

10. Be smart with your money

If you’re in a supermarket and there’s a £2 bag of pasta next to an 80p bag, buy the 80p bag. You won’t notice the difference. Equally, have a good time but don’t feel you always need to say yes to everything. If friends are going out but you’ve spent your weekly budget, tell them you can't make it. Do something for yourself while they’re out spending – go for a run, use your gym membership or have a nap. Uni is expensive, but with a few mindset and practical changes you can feel less stressed, fast.