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How to save money at university: top tips for success

Student life is full of ups and downs, with one of the toughest challenges being understanding how to save money at university. If you’re unsure where to begin, this guide will show you a few tried and tested techniques to help you thrive on less. After all, there are far better ways to make your money stretch than eating plain pasta every night.

Learn more about our top tips for successful saving below:

1. Save money by minimizing living expenses

Drastically reducing your living expenses is an efficient way to save money at university, and it’s important to recognize the need to cut out luxuries if you want to set aside funds. For example, while food is essential for survival, dining at Michelin star restaurants once per week or ordering take-out every evening can really upset your bank balance.

Instead, if you’re prudent with grocery shopping and meal preparation, you can really reduce your weekly spend. And by being careful with the money you spend on sustaining yourself, you’ll learn to also cultivate healthy financial habits that will benefit you for years to come:

Bulk buy groceries from cheap supermarkets

Mainstream supermarkets, specialist bulk-buy stores and zero-waste shops often offer discounts if you buy goods in larger quantities. If you’re living in London, this is particularly helpful as it allows you to buy more for less, and prepare a home-cooked meal that you can eat over a few days.

Find cheap student recipes and cook large portions

For half the price of eating out, store pre-made lunch in tupperware for days, or even longer if frozen. This way, you’ll always have food at home when you come in hungry so you’re not tempted by the overpriced take-out down that road. For example, within most EU countries, €2.50 covers five portions of a basic-but-tasty chili made from the following ingredients:

  • 500g of kidney beans
  • 1kg of carrots
  • 1kg of onions
  • 500g tomato passata
  • 500g of rice

Shop private label brands to save money

These days, the quality standard of private label goods is just as high as those offered by big brands. In fact, supermarket-owned brands now account for 41% of supermarket sales in the UK, 36% in Germany, 42% in Spain and between 27% to 32% in other EU countries.

Use student discounts when eating out

Many restaurants and popular chains offer discounts on specific days each week, so make sure to invest in a student card and research the latest deals. For example, did you know that the Hard Rock Café offers a 20% student discount on food in most major EU cities?

Save money at university by cutting small daily costs

All the small things add up. For example, the average Starbucks in Amsterdam is €3.75. And while one coffee per day might not seem excessive, skipping the cafe and brewing your own saves €26.25 per week, €105 per month, or €1,260 every year!

Knowing how to save money at university with food and drink is a great start. But it doesn’t end there—you can cut back even more by reducing your spending on the following living expenses:

Cut back on public transport costs

Apply for a student discount if you regularly use public transport. If you’re studying at a university in one of these major cities, your student status can offer you the following travel costs:

  • London: £172 per month
  • Amsterdam: €97.50 per month
  • Berlin: €63.42 per month or €180 for a semester ticket
  • Paris: €75.20 per month
  • Rome: €53 per month
  • Madrid: €20 per month for 7 to 25 year olds.

If you want to cut out fees altogether, you can even start walking or cycling to university.

Buy second-hand clothing

While a student card goes a long way in offering you discounts, it's often not enough. So, if you’re trying to save money at university, you should also consider opting for cheaper brands in general.

On top of this, you can also find great deals at vintage stores, buy second hand clothes from thrift shops, and even sell any unwanted items. By doing this, you'll save some cash and can even put the money earned towards new outfits.

Skip the gym and exercise outside

Campus gyms often offer cheap deals for students, but it's also worthwhile looking for other ways to workout for free. For example, consider going for a run, exercising in your local park and skipping the gym altogether.

Additionally, there are plenty of free sports clubs around that you could join—and you can even bring your friends!

2. Save money on accommodation and bills

The easiest way to save large sums of money in university is to live in shared, student accommodation, instead of a private apartment. Although you may crave your own space and may have to invest in ear plugs for those noisy nights, not only does shared housing allow you to bond quickly with flatmates, but you’ll be able to cook meals together, and split costs on utility bills such as the internet, electricity, heating.

Another factor to consider is the location of the university itself. On average, the cost of shared accommodation in major EU cities is a third of private accommodation, but prices vary depending on location. Average shared rental property costs for students are:

  • Lisbon: €306 per month
  • Madrid: €428 per month
  • Barcelona: €405 per month
  • Paris: €607 per month
  • Berlin: €463 per month
  • Rome: €475 per month
  • London: €680 per month
  • Amsterdam: €522 per month.

3. Save money at university by reducing mobile phone costs

Contacting friends and family back home, organizing get-togethers, managing your finances, keeping up-to-date with social media… in the digital age, mobile phones are essential—try telling any other millennial otherwise. However, if you’re exploring how to save money at university, your mobile phone contract is a good place to make savings.

Costs aren’t cheap. Across the globe, the highest average phone bill is in Canada (€50 per month.) However, a number of EU countries also aren’t far behind, including Switzerland (€42), France (€40), Holland (€35) and Spain (€30.) Choose the most basic plan available and save money at university by reducing data usage with the following habits:

  • Choose apps which use WiFi, such as WhatsApp, for video calls and messages.
  • Avoid calling or texting overseas numbers.
  • Download podcasts, music or videos while connected to WiFi.
  • Minimize streaming while on mobile networks.
  • Search for student deals with most major networks.
  • Buy a secondhand phone and find a cheap SIM-only deal.

4. Make better use of your funds by sticking to a budget

Our emotions sometimes encourage us to make impulse purchases, but thankfully there are tools out there to help you keep on top of your spending. A basic budget monitors what comes in and out of your account, taking rent, living costs and other expenses into consideration. This leaves you with a clear understanding of your weekly allowance, giving you pointers on essential and non-essential items, as well as which social activities are worth your time.

However, if the thought of Excel spreadsheets, equations, and receipt-saving sends chills down your spine, N26’s free bank account can also help you organize your funds, all under one app. Plus, with Spaces—a feature that lets you create sub-accounts alongside your main account—you can set savings goals to encourage better financial habits.


Your money at N26

We want to simplify banking for everyone. We’re bringing you a series of articles that shine a light on the basics of money, student life and all things banking-related—it’s often a lot simpler than you might think.

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