For students returning to university, this year will be very different to the last. And for those only beginning, the pandemic has taken away many of the freedoms they should have welcomed when they left home.

But despite local lockdowns of some universities, and bans on parties in others, there is one constant – the struggle to stick to a budget.

A recent survey from the advice site Save the Student put the average monthly cost of going to university at just under £800 – most of that being spent on rent. With part-time jobs thinner on the ground due to coronavirus, many students will need to be especially prudent.

There is help at hand – sites such as Save The Student, UNiDAYS and Student Beans all point out deals that can be found from brands, attractions and services which are eager to get business from both freshers and those returning to college.

So in these extraordinary times, what are the best ways to save during term time?

Choose the right account

Banks are ready to throw any number of perks at students in order to get their business, in the hope that they will continue to bank with them once they leave university. Cashback, awards schemes, free Amazon Prime student membership, free railcards and TOTUM student discount cards are all on offer depending on which bank you go with.

For many, however, the main attraction will be the interest-free overdraft. Both Halifax and Santander offer the most, with up to £1,500 from the start of year one. The other main banks offer similar, if slightly different, amounts – Barclays, Nationwide and HSBC give up to £1,000 while at Bank of Scotland and Lloyds it is £500 in the first six months then £1,000 in months seven to nine.

“It is worth noting that overdrafts are not guaranteed, and they will need to be paid back once a consumer ends their studies,” says Rachel Springall of financial data site Moneyfacts. “It may be tempting to dip into a generous interest-free overdraft, but students would be wise to consider taking on a part-time job and perhaps thinking of ways to save some cash.”

On the main student accounts, Bank of Scotland offers a free TOTUM card worth £25 for three years while its parent, Lloyds, has the same promotion. NatWest gives an Amazon Prime student subscription or a National Express Coachcard or a Tastecard worth £35 – while its stablemate, Royal Bank of Scotland, offers the same. Barclays’ offer is a free 12-month subscription to online library Perlego. At Halifax there’s up to 15% in cashback from certain retailers, and at Santander it is a free railcard. HSBC, meanwhile, offers preferential savings rates. All offer interest-free overdrafts for amounts ranging from £500 to £3,000 depending on what year the student is in.

Making a smart laptop choice

It’s likely that a laptop will be one of the biggest outlays in the first year of university and which one to buy is very much dependent on what the demands of the course are. Some subjects will not need the same level of investment in software as an engineering or computer science degree, for example.

The best cheapest laptops are Chromebooks, which are great if you can do what you need using web applications such as Google Docs. The Lenovo IdeaPad 3i Chromebook 14 is one of the cheapest from £249. It has a fairly average 14-inch screen, reasonable performance with an Intel Celeron N4020 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The keyboard and trackpad are reasonable, too.

There are significant discounts, depending on the seller, which should ease the impact on your wallet. These can vary depending on product and university. Apple gives discounts of between 5% and 10% and also free AirPods right now. Microsoft has a 10% general discount for students on both hardware and software. It also offers free Office 365 Education (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Teams).

There are many more discounts on subscription services available – searching sites like UNiDAYS and Student Beans will turn up a few. Spotify, for one, gives half price on its premium service – at £4.99.

Ensuring books don’t break that bank

Again, depending on the course, buying books can be a heavy burden on your bank account. There are time-honoured ways to reduce the bill – by using the library or buying in second-hand shops close to the university.

Amazon offers a six-month free trial of its Prime Student service – similar to the standard Prime with free delivery, access to videos and photo storage amongst other features. Students get 10% off what the retailer says are thousands of books, with dictionaries and physiology books amongst the most popular. After the six months, the price goes to £3.99 a month with students able to sign up with their .ac.uk email address.

Waterstones gives 5% off via its plus student scheme. With the Waterstones plus card, which you can apply for online, students can earn one stamp with every £10 spent and then get £10 credit after 10 stamps. Academic book retailer Blackwell’s has a student price-match guarantee for any books found in Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith. Audible, the online audiobook service owned by Amazon, has a 50% discount on a three-month membership via Student Beans.

Other options are to use Google Scholar, which has articles, theses, books and abstracts from academics. Online trading of academic texts is possible through sites such as BookMooch and BookCrossing, where you can search for the texts that you are looking for.

Looking for cheap entertainment

Getting away from the books is key, but it doesn’t always have to be two-for-one deals in the local. Museums, too, are keen to attract students.

The free Tate Collective gives access to £5 exhibition tickets for those aged 16 to 25, with 20% off in its cafes as well. The V&A has a membership scheme for £45 (normally £75) for those under 26 which gives free entry to all exhibitions, amongst other perks. The British Museum has a similar scheme at £44. The £5 student art pass from the Art Fund gives free or reduced-price entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic houses.

Student discounts are available in many cinemas meanwhile but using the TOTUM card in Odeon cinemas will give an additional 25% from Monday to Thursday. Another well-known trick is to sign up for MeerKat Movies, Compare the Market’s two-for-one ticket promotion, by buying the cheapest insurance available. Or take out student contents insurance, which will cover for damage or theft of belongings from accommodation and costs about £70.

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