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Money saving: a student guide

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 Undergraduate Kirsty Cameron offers up some money savings tips to fellow students.

So what do students blow their cash on? Yes, you've guessed it– alcohol, travel, food, accommodation – but not necessarily in that order.

As a student myself, and about to enter my final year, I know that budgeting can be tough. But there are a few sneaky ways to make sure you're left with some money (and dignity) at the end of the year:

Book travel in advance

Most people know that by obtaining a young person's railcard, you automatically receive one third off all rail travel, but you can lower your costs even further by booking in advance.

I know it's often hard to know what you are doing next week, let alone next month, but a lack of organisation costs. To give you an idea, a Virgin train from Leeds to London will only cost you £10 if you book a month ahead, while setting you back more than £50 if you book on the day. You can travel from London to Manchester with Megabus for the ridiculously cheap price of £1 if you book about six weeks early. If you know you are heading home for a specific weekend, be prepared.

Free rides

I arrived at university with wheels and I quickly found myself ferrying friends from A to B all too often for free, with the mindset that

"they'll pay me back later". Oil prices are rising again, so if you have a car, ensure people contribute to petrol costs if you give them a lift.

Even better, if you're the active type, or even if you're not, get a bicycle. It's free and chances are, quicker than the bus. If you are a student in London using public transport daily, you would have to spend £98 monthly to travel in zones one to four. Using a bicycle as much as possible could save you £1,176 a year.

Stick to the list

In our first month of living together, my five housemates and I spent an embarrassing £200 each on food and drink – £1,200 altogether.

There were a couple of reasons for this. First, we never stuck to the shopping list, but would end up strolling the aisles haphazardly adding pointless items such as endless condiments and herbs that sat in a cupboard for the rest of the year.

Second, we all thought meat was an essential part of every meal. Plan your meals carefully and only buy what you need. Try to buy the cheaper store brand when possible. Buying your food and cooking it together as a house is far more economical and enjoyable than hoarding your own food stash in a plastic bag in the fridge.

Go vegetarian

In a moment of financial crisis, going vegetarian can be a massive cost-cutter. A meat-free diet may not sound appealing at first, but there are some great vegetarian recipes online at sites such as www.jamieoliver.com. The amount of free time students have is staggering, so use it to make an exotic new dish.

Find discounts

If you are going out for a meal, the internet abounds with discount vouchers that halve the cost of your meal. Tootsies, GBK and ASK all have offers www.vouchercodes.co.uk/restaurants .

Make the most of your student card by finding the latest deals on www.studentbeans.com – it has offers such as two for one cinema tickets, 50pc off selected fashion retailers and even a half-price eye test. The Bargain Hunter page in Your Money regularly lists discounts and vouchers; it's on page 10 of this section today.

Beware too much booze

At four in the morning it seemed like such a good idea to blow your remaining £30 on a round of tequila slammers. But your hangover will be even worse if you've got money problems to worry about as well.

While boozy nights out are an integral part of many students' lives, bouts of memory loss and an empty bank account don't necessarily equal a good night. Party within your funds and within your physical capability – it's actually not as much fun as it sounds to hit the town every night of the week.

Daily pub sessions can be a further drain on your finances. Stay in with friends for a cheaper night. A bottle of wine from an off licence will cost you the same as a glass in the pub.

Martin Lewis, the money saving expert, advised students to "go out at the end of the month, when you know you've covered all your financial necessities. Unless you are a single woman who may need to take a card for a taxi home, only take out the cash you intend to spend."

Be careful with your possessions, particularly when you have been drinking. I unwittingly thought it would be safe to leave my bag on the floor next to me in a nightclub, allowing someone to steal my iPhone and wallet.

If you are going out, don't take all your cards with you or even better, just carry cash. Insure your personal belongings – Julie Owens, head of home insurance at moneysupermarket.com said: "As students are three times more likely to be a victim of theft than any other age group, it is essential for them to have adequate insurance in place to protect their belongings."

Buy cheap books

University libraries can be infuriating. Every time I am preparing for a tutorial and manically searching the library for one particular book, it is always on loan. Some superhumanly organised student has taken it out weeks before.

Unless you are always 10 steps ahead of your lectures, there is often little option but to buy the reading material at extra cost.

Amazon.co.uk is the cheapest way to purchase well-known books.

For under £3 you can buy a second-hand copy of the book you need and even sell it after you've used it.

But university libraries are certainly useful for one thing. DVDs. It's free to borrow them from the library, and there's often a pretty satisfying collection. So next time you are contemplating a night in, hit your library, not the nearest rental shop.

Get a job

A holiday job or part time work at university will boost your funds.

Plus if you earn less than £6,475 – the current personal allowance for everyone aged under 65 – it is tax free. Ask your employer for a P38 form.

Alternatively, why not help run a student night? The most popular and cheap nights at university are often on a weekday and attract large crowds. Helping promote club nights around campus could earn you some pocket money.

One enterprising friend of mine earns £50 a week solely by persuading her friends to come to the club she promotes on a Thursday night.

Don't overspend

My boyfriend had a disastrous relationship with his landlord after two rent cheques bounced due to lack of funds.

If you know you will have to pay bills at the end of the month, always deduct the relevant amount from your bank balance and mentally separate it from spending money.

If you are living in a student house, it could be an idea to get a joint house bank account for utility and rent bills. That way the money can be safe from rash or inebriated decisions to spend above your budget.

I found online banking was a great way to curb my overzealous spending – you can constantly see what is going in and out of your account and what bills have already been paid.

Loans are cheap

Moneysavingexpert.com tells students: "You should always borrow the maximum student loan every year, even if you don't need it. You may need to borrow more later or you can make money from it. This is very cheap debt; in fact, it's so cheap, if you were to borrow it and save it in a top savings account, as these pay more interest than the loan costs, you'd make a profit."

Student overdrafts can be useful as well – each bank has a different overdraft limit so compare them and see which is best for you.

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