When the new academic year begins in the autumn many thousands of students will be looking for ways to keep control of their finances. To help you prepare, here are a selection of quick money saving tips for masters students.

Work out your budget and stick to it

Most masters students should be experienced in living on a student budget. However, if it’s been a long time since you had to do this, or perhaps you are coming to the UK to study then it’s important to plan.

The biggest cost is undoubtedly the tuition fee. A loan to cover your tuition is available to UK students and others who have settled status. For international students there are special scholarships and bursaries on offer from the main universities.

The NatWest Bank has published a ranking survey of the most affordable UK cities for students for the last eight years. This gives a useful guide if you don’t know much about the regions of the UK, but there are always local differences. Always check with the student accommodation team at your university.

You won’t know how expensive it will be at first, and if you are sharing with other masters students then it will take a bit of time to agree the ‘house rules’ about shared expenses. Remember that once you have worked through these steps then you are responsible for your own living costs, so be prepared to be organized while you are completing your degree.

There will be a number of costs to factor in to your budget. These are the main responsibilities you will have to manage:

The big one – Energy Bills

Saving money on energy costs will probably be the hardest challenge in the new academic year. Students that have accommodation offered through their university will be in the best position because their rental agreement should include utilities in the monthly repayment.

If you are planning to live on campus to study a masters degree in the UK then check that the energy costs are included in the offer.

If you have to live in privately rented accommodation then check how the costs of your energy are going to be charged. The service may be provided by one of the big utility companies, which means the billing will probably be charged ‘in arrears’ through a bank account. Someone in the household will be responsible for paying this bill each month.

However, the property may be fitted with a pre-pay meter, and this will mean that the people sharing will be responsible for their energy as they use it.

There are a number of practical steps you can take to keep your energy costs down, such as:

  • Do full loads of washing every time. If you have to use a launderette plan with your flat mates how to organise this together.
  • Layering up your clothing is always very sensible and better for your health and the environment than extra heating.
  • Turn off unnecessary lights when you can – obviously take care with hallways and stairwells.
  • You would be amazed how much energy is used on charging phones and laptops and leaving devices on standby. Don’t forget set top boxes and games consoles.
  • Only boil as much water as you need in a kettle, or if you are making a drink make enough for everyone.
  • Take care with air circulation. It’s temping to block up drafty windows, but air has to flow freely in living accommodation to prevent serious health issues. Stopping fresh air entering a shared property is a serious health hazard – remember safety first at all times.

Shopping for food

It’s a simple rule to follow, but don’t shop for food when you are hungry. You will be tempted with impulse purchases and end up wasting the trip to the store with only a few expensive items.

Bulk buying for the household is a very common arrangement with students. If your student house has a decent sized freezer you can freeze smaller portions until a later date. Work out a system which allows you to meal plan, even for part of the week because this can save you money.

Think about days of the week where you will all be home for dinner at the same time and a meal that would work for everyone. It may be cheaper to buy ingredients for one large meal than 3 or 4 smaller individual deals.

Try to buy groceries by weight rather than price. Many of us try to eat healthily and adopt vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. You might be tempted by supermarket produce offers that look like good value.

So a pack of fresh tomatoes could be £3.00 or £2.00, but if you check the pack by weight you could find that you are spending far more on the £2.00 version than the £3.00. Of course, you may only need a small amount but it’s much better to have more of a commodity that can go further than one which won’t stretch for the week.

Try to have a day when you don’t spend any money!

This might seem impossible, and its not an excuse to blag free meals from your mates, but with careful planning and practice it may be possible to do this on perhaps a couple of days each month.  

When you get into the routine of keeping track of your daily expenses you will be surprised how you can avoid falling into bad habits with impulse purchases.

Certain days of the week will always be expensive ones, especially if you have to travel, but other days will be spent just studying or on leisure time at home, so there won’t be the temptation to reach for your credit cards.

Lots of cash gets used up with lunchtime drinks and snacks. Though it can be dull preparing your meals in advance is easy to do with a bit of thought. Having a flask of you favorite healthy drink is better than reaching into the chiller cabinet.

Using a pushbike or walking to campus is good exercise. Many university campuses offer cycle loan schemes to get around.

Paying the right amount of tax

Make sure that you are receiving any Council Tax discounts. The arrangements depend on who you are sharing with because the rules are aimed at a household where everyone is a student, so take care to ensure you are compliant.

This also applies to working part time. In the UK there is a tax threshold called a Personal Allowance which everyone is entitled to. At the moment (June 2022) this is £12,570, which means any income you earn for paid work up to this figure is free of income tax. However, there are always important details that apply depending upon your particular circumstances.

Students from overseas have to take great care that they don’t run into difficulties with the terms of their Study Visa. Always check with the university welfare team first or online if you are not sure.

Student Discounts – check you are getting a real bargain

Student discounts are widely available and there are a number of online providers who specialise in finding the best deals for shopping and services. Remember that the big brand stores and leisure services are wise to the spending power of students, so check that thet deal on offer is as attractive as it appears to be. It may be possible to receive the same level of discount just through purchasing at certain times.

Avoid in- store credit cards. They may appear to be great value and the store staff are incentivised to get you to sign up, but the interest rate on any outstanding debt can be very high, and not worth the hassle when you compare them to normal credit cards.

Sometimes the simplest quick money saving tips for masters students are the obvious ones. Try to use cash if you can! As you spend you can see the notes going down, so once you run out then you have to stop!

Obviously this is much harder to do since we have been discouraged from being in person to person contact but waving your debit card around is a dangerous trap to fall into, particularly if you can’t remember what it was that you were buying when you check your account at the end of the month.

Insurance and Travel tips

Don’t forget that you will need insurance cover for your personal items and any travelling that you plan to do. Remember to shop around because the schemes that are targeting students do not always give the best value for money, particularly if you are a graduate or maybe returning to study as a more mature student.

When you travel on UK national rail its often cheaper to buy two singles for a long trip rather than one return. There are unusual deals that can be found where you can buy single tickets for different parts of the same journey (without leaving the train).

Make sure you comply with the booking conditions regarding the date and time of any train service and remember if your train is delayed that may cause problems with the on-board ticket staff.

If you need a bank account remember the same rules apply as far as tempting student deals. Generally, it’s best to aim for the longest 0% overdraft deal rather than flashy signup offers.

Make friends with the folks in finance

A complex organisation like a university attracts sources of funding and support from many different locations, This comes from research bodies, regional businesses and wealthy benefactors. There may be hidden bursaries or scholarships within individual departments, so make time to keep up to date with any news regarding additional support or student welfare schemes. Remember that there are lots of Charities and Trusts that offer generous study bursaries each year.

We list Masters and PhD study funding opportunities on Postgraduate Studentships, so check back regularly if you are looking to study at a particular university or subject because universities often announce extra support for students who are looking to begin a programme in the new academic year.

And finally – avoid buying new if you don’t have to

One of the simplest quick money saving tips for masters students is to buy secondhand.

The UK has thousands of charity shops on its high streets, and these places have terrific bargains if you know what to look for. They include all sorts of items including cooking utensils as well as items of furniture and electrical as well in certain stores.

Any textbooks you may need for your programme are almost certainly available within the university library, either in physical form or through access to the VLE.

If you have to make a purchase then there are always secondhand editions of well-known texts available through the main providers. Check that the edition offered is correct for your course.

Last thoughts

If you do get into difficulties remember that the student welfare services at the university are there to support you. They can direct you to sources of help and legal advice if you need it.

Living on a budget as a masters student is tough at times. Being organised and prepared to compromise will pay dividends in the long run. We hope you find a use for our quick money saving tips for masters students. Good Luck!