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How to save money as a student

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It’s no secret that managing your money at university can be a challenge. In fact, the National Student Money Survey 2023 revealed that 82% of you worry about making ends meet, which is the equivalent of four in five students. With the cost of living increasing, we know it’s more difficult than ever to save money.

How is the University supporting students through the cost of living crisis?

The Students’ Union here at Sunderland is working with other unions across the country to try and gather support from local MPs. This includes trying to get more student-targeted financial support and increased maintenance loans to sit in line with the current inflation rates.

The University itself has also invested additional money into the Student Support Fund, which is open to students facing financial difficulties. This is available through Student Journey and is awarded to students based on their individual needs.

Two sets of hands at a table, one holding a cup of coffee and one drawing a finance plan on some paper. A laptop, cameras and plants are beside them.

Our top student money saving tips

We’re sharing some useful student money saving tips to help you try and keep on top of your finances. If you’re really struggling to manage your money at university and want to speak to somebody, please contact our Student Financial Guidance team who are always happy to help and offer advice.

1. Budgeting

One of the most effective ways of saving money as a student is creating a budget – and sticking to it! Luckily, we offer a free tool called PANDA, which is available exclusively to our students as part of the University of Sunderland app. PANDA allows you to enter your income and outgoings across the term so that you can calculate how much money you have left over to spend, which can be shown as a daily, weekly, or monthly amount. Implementing a budget will help you keep track of your finances more efficiently, making sure that you don’t overspend and get into financial difficulty. You can also watch our podcast on how to budget as a student.

As well as PANDA, the Student Financial Guidance team is on hand to provide expert assistance to both current and prospective students on a wide range of issues – so you can seek help even before you apply for university. The service is free, confidential, impartial, and non-judgemental. The team can help you apply for financial support, provide tips on banking and budgeting, and share information around the student support system.

2. Transport

When it comes to getting around, there are lots of things you can do to help you save money as a student. One of the benefits of Sunderland being a smaller city is that it’s easy to get travel on foot or by cycling. Our two campuses are both within walking distance of each other and you’ve also got accommodation, the city centre and beach close by.

Another great way to save money is to make the most of Sunderland’s fantastic public transport links. Rather than bringing a car to university which would be an additional expense to keep running, take advantage of the Sunderland Connect 700/701 bus services, which are free to use when you show your student ID card. The services operate between both our campuses, as well as other areas of the city. There’s also a free SU circular minibus which runs between the campuses and our accommodation. When using the Metro, there are several concession tickets available to students, including the Pop Blue card and the Student Season Ticket.

If you regularly travel by train, it could be a good idea to invest in a 16-25 railcard, which costs just £30 a year or £70 for three years and will save you a third off rail fares. Another top tip is to book your train tickets around 12 weeks in advance to make sure you’re getting the best deals. If you prefer travelling by coach, National Express also offers a Young Persons Coachcard where you can save a third off your tickets for just £15 a year or £35 for three years.

A male student with a rucksack on, walking towards the Sunderland Connect bus on campus

3. Utilities

Another top tip on how to save money as a student is to be more mindful of what you’re paying in the way of utility bills. Some accommodation contracts may include these as part of the rent, but if you rent privately then you need to be aware of your gas, electricity, and water bills. Agree with your housemates on how you’re going to divide the payments – the best and cheapest way is to set up a direct debit and spread the cost, which will help you avoid any late payment charges.

If you think you’re paying too much, explore other options if your tenancy agreement allows you to. Given the current climate, it’s very difficult to switch energy providers and find a better deal, but it’s always worth taking a look around websites like Moneysupermarket and Compare the Market just in case. Some suggestions on how to be more cost effective with your energy usage include always doing a full load of washing, turning off lights, switching off phone and laptop chargers when you aren’t using them, and being more efficient with your heating by only turning it on when you’re all in the house to avoid waste.

Although the cost is almost always covered in halls of residence, if you’re renting privately, then something you will have control over is your broadband. Prices are now more competitive than ever, so switching to a different internet provider could save you money. Something else worth considering is your mobile phone contract. Do you really need a brand new phone at the end of every contract or could you be saving money by switching to a SIM-only deal?

4. Food and drink

One of the best ways to save money on food and drink when you’re a student is to cook your meals for yourself at home, rather than spend your loan on going out or ordering a takeaway. If you’ve never cooked before, there’s never been a better time to learn, and there are plenty of useful step by step guides available online. It can be cheaper and more enjoyable to share the cooking with your housemates too.

When you’re doing your food shop, come up with a weekly or monthly meal plan so you aren’t tempted to buy more than you need. It’s also worth going for your shopping at the end of the day when supermarkets have reduced many of their items. With anything that you buy, always check the price per 100g to be sure that you get the best value. Branded goods will always cost more, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their quality is worth the price, so it’s always worth going for a supermarket’s own brand and buying in bulk where you can. Getting into these habits can be good for the planet, as it is helping reduce waste by buying things you don't need. You can read more about sustainable shopping on a budget here.

Take your lunches with you whenever possible so that you don’t waste money buying it somewhere else when you have enough food at home already. Carry a reusable bottle of tap water around and a reusable cup if you want hot drinks on the go – many places offer a discount on tea and coffee if you do this. When you do go out for food or drinks, take cash to try and limit what you spend. If you’re on campus, we’ve recently introduced some low-cost menu options in our cafés too. 

Three students sitting in an on-campus cafe, drinking coffee and laughing together

5. Student bank accounts

Something you might not have thought about when starting university is your bank account and whether your current one is suitable for your needs as a student. Try using MoneySavingExpert to make a comparison so that you’re with the best possible student account. The main things to consider are the overdraft allowances and sign-up incentives. Opt for an account that offers a bigger interest- and fee-free overdraft – although always remember to use an overdraft carefully, only when you really need it, and make sure to pay everything back on time. Some banks offer cash or other incentives to open an account with them.

Even though the interest rates on savings accounts don’t match the current rates of inflation, it’s still always worth trying to put some money away into savings whenever you can so that you’ve got some funds to fall back on if you’re struggling.

6. Student discounts

One of the best perks of being a student is undoubtedly the student discounts, which are a fantastic way of saving money on everything from food and travel to clothing and toiletries. TOTUM (previously NUS Extra) is a student discount card and app which entitles students to over 400 discounts on a variety of high street and online brands. You can sign up for free digital membership for one year, or pay extra to upgrade to a different bundle. You can also find great deals on sites like Student Money Saver, UniDays and Student Beans.

7. Part-time jobs

If you feel that you have time and it’s something you’re interested in doing, it could be a good idea to contemplate taking on a part-time job. It can be a great way to earn some extra cash between your studying, even if you only pick up a couple of shifts a week. University cities often have openings in the retail or hospitality sectors where you can work hours around your timetable. If you think working and studying will be too difficult to manage, taking on a summer job whilst you’re away from university could be another option to help you make money as a student.

8. Scholarships and bursaries

Lastly, you might not know it, but you could be eligible for a scholarship, bursary, or grant which, unlike loans, don’t have to be paid back. See the full range of scholarships and bursaries we have to offer to our students at Sunderland.


Whether you’re a current or prospective student and would like to discuss your finance options, please get in touch with our Student Financial Guidance team now.

Published: 25 January 2024