8 top money-saving tips for international students in the UK

From shopping second-hand to buying split-fare train tickets to student discounts and free (to cheap) grocery giveaways - there is so much you can do to save money as a student in the UK.

Here are our top tips to help you keep your living costs down during your studies, while still enjoying all that the UK has to offer and making memories that last a lifetime.

International student at Tate Modern in London.

Watch out for student discounts anywhere in the UK, from galleries to Spotify Premium.

1. Seek out student discounts in-person and online

Make friends with student discounts. Many places in the UK - from restaurants and cinemas, to galleries, gyms, high street stores, and online subscription platforms such as Spotify - offer student discounts. Most of them openly advertise their discounts, but if you're not sure - just ask.

As a first step, it’s worth getting yourself a National Union of Students (NUS) TOTUM card. Membership gives you access to hundreds of student discounts, with more great brands joining every month. UNiDAYS also offers free membership for discounts for university students.

Screenshot saying 'You just saved a meal fro being wasted!' with a Too Good to Go grocery bag with vegetables sticking out beneath it.

Too Good to Go offer 'Magic Bags' of surplus groceries and restaurant meals at a fraction of the original price.

2. Shop smart and sustainable

In most cities and towns you will find a selection of supermarkets. There will be large superstore-style shops where you can find almost everything and the opening times vary substantially. If it gets a little late and you need to grab something, you can always get food and other basics at a 'metro' (or smaller) version of a supermarket or a convenience store which are usually open until 11.00 and beyond.

Shop at low-cost supermarkets

However, when on a student budget it is also important to shop tactically. ‘Local’ smaller stores will often be a lot more expensive, so we recommend going to Morrisons, Lidl or Aldi - three of the most student-friendly supermarkets in the UK. A basic weekly shop in these places can cost as little as £20-30.

Buy in bulk and shop at store closing times

To keep your grocery costs down plan your meals in advance, make a shopping list and buy in bulk if it makes sense for you. Try not to go shopping when you're hungry and go to the supermarket at the end of the day or just before closing to see what's in the reduced section. To save further, look to buy supermarket-own brands as they are much better value.

Quality food items without the price tag

And, if you want high-quality fresh ingredients or don't feel like cooking but want to save on the cost of 'eating out' - try TooGoodToGo. You can purchase a 'Magic Bag' which is made up of items that haven't sold that day, so it's a surprise until you pick it up. All items will be nearing their best before or use-by date and you get them for a fraction of the original price

For example, Costa Coffee sells its Magic Bag for £3. It gives you the chance to rescue a generous and delicious mix of food of the value of up to £10 ranging from sandwiches, toasties, salads, pastries and cakes. You can even freeze them and save them for later.

Healthy middle eastern mezze dish with chickpeas, olives and peppers, figs, bread and a salad.

Cooking at home can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds per academic year.

3. Prepare food at home and cook your own meals

If you want to save hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds per academic year - start preparing the majority of your meals at home. It will bring your costs down immediately and if you don't already cook, you'll pick up a new life skill. For some, cooking is not just good for the bank balance - but is preferable as you can choose what you cook, when, and make it exactly to your taste and specific diet. There are lots of student recipes available online to help you cook quickly, healthily and on a budget, for example from BBC Good Food.

Batch cook to save time and money

Batch cooking, or cooking in bulk, is popular among students. If you don't have time to cook every day or want to use up specific ingredients in one go, it's a great way to make sure that you have meals ready when you need them. You can use some of the 'leftovers' as weekday lunches - there will always be microwaves available on campus where you can heat up your own food. Some students do 'batch cook swaps' with friends so they can have more variety in their meals with very little effort. Or split the cost of ingredients and take turns cooking and washing-up.

Table at a charity-shop with a few items laid on it - some tops, boots, jeans and a beanie hat. The table is wooden and it's within a store.

Buying second-hand items is a quick, easy and sustainable way to save money.

4. Buy textbooks, clothes, and furniture second-hand

Shopping second-hand, is a quick, easy and sustainable way to save yourself a significant amount of money for almost anything you might want or need to buy during your studies - from academic textbooks to household items and furniture, to clothing.

Second-hand textbooks

When it comes to buying textbooks online (or any other book you might be interested in reading) beyond Amazon second-hand, eBay, AbeBooks and the Book Depository are good places to look.

Charity shops

You’ll be able to find good value - for all sorts of things (books included) - at charity shops. Whether in high street locations or online stores, there’s nothing like a charity shop bargain. It’s a win-win situation as you get what you want and contribute financially to the causes the charities are set up to support. Some of the most well-known charity shops in the UK are Oxfam, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Shelter and Mind.

Buy and sell second-hand clothing online

When it comes to buying and selling second-hand clothing and accessories, Vinted and Depop are popular amongst students who are financially savvy and environmentally conscious.

Find and sell (all kinds of) used items online

With Gumtree, Ebay and Facebook Marketplace you will be able to find a whole manner of second-hand things from kitchen utensils, to furniture, to the kitchen sink (literally - though you probably won't need one).

Bakery produce from rolls, to bns, to breadloafs and croissants.

In the UK, you can get high-quality, fresh food for free - if you know where to look.

5. Get food and household items for free

You may be surprised to find out that platforms exist in the UK where you can get good quality and sometimes high-value items completely for free from food, to clothes, to plants and other household items that people and businesses are giving away. You can also gift your own items to give back to your community during the year or at the end of your studies.

Neighbourhood freebies

Olio, for example, connects people who have food to share that they no longer want or need with neighbours who would happily receive it. Many large supermarkets such as Tesco, local bakeries and restaurants - among other local businesses - advertise food nearing its sell-by date for you to take home at no cost. You can also list your own items, for example, any food you might have left that you can’t finish before you go out of town for a few days or longer. Someone will be happy to take it off your hands.

Community 'freecycling'

Freecycle is another winner when it comes to the free exchange of items - though predominantly clothing, electronics and household goods. You can join one or more local town groups and keep an eye out for anything you might be looking for, or proactively post about things you want to gift or receive. Other members can then reply and you can arrange a pickup time and location.

Plant in intricate east Asian pot in window sill with lots of condensation in the background.

Check out Olio and Freecycle in your area to see what's on offer for free (and cheap).

Three students having a discussion outside student accommodation.

Have a discussion about energy consumption with your housemates so you can save together.

6. Be conscious of your energy consumption

Save money on bills by being conscious and cutting back on the energy your student household consumes on a regular basis. If you're in a shared apartment it's worth having a discussion as a group as you'll be splitting the costs, so you can share the savings.

Keep warm and track your spending

In the UK, if you dress up warmly at home, drink hot drinks regularly and always have a fresh hot water bottle to hand, you might not even feel the need for heating. But if you do, make sure to be mindful of your usage bills to a minimum - auto-timers and smart meters show you your usage as you spend, which can help you keep to budget.

Simple tips and tricks to reduce your household bills

Some other hacks include making sure none of your devices are left on standby, using draught excluders under doors, turning off lights when you're not using them and upgrading to LED light bulbs. Don't run the kettle with more water than you need and use the washing machine only when there are enough clothes and - where possible - use it on a 30-degree cycle instead of higher temperatures. And switch your bath for a short shower.

A train going over Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland.

A train going over Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland.

7. Invest in a National Railcard to save 30 per cent on train travel

A National Railcard will save you 30 per cent on almost every train journey you take throughout the UK. If you take one long journey during the year, or a couple of shorter ones, you’ll already have made your money back. There are a couple of options available, depending on your age - but if you’re in full-time education in the UK you are eligible for the 16-25 (student) railcard regardless of how old you are. If you study part-time, check out the National Railcard website to find the best option for you.

Link your National Railcard and your Oyster Card (London)

If you live in London or ever spend time there - you can ‘link’ your National Railcard and your Oyster card to get a 34 per cent discount on single off-peak pay-as-you-go fares on London Underground and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) services.

Peak times are from 06.30 to 09.29 and from 16.00 to 18.59 on Monday to Friday. During peak travel times, some journeys will cost slightly more and your additional discount will not be applied. Find out more about discounts and linking your railcard and Oyster card on the Transport for London (TFL) website.

Railway track with different lines covering other ones and with autumn leaves on both sides of the image.

Save money by split ticketing - buying multiple tickets to cover different parts of your journey.

8. Save on train fares with split ticketing

To save further, try split ticketing. It might sound strange, but instead of buying one single ticket to cover your full journey, you buy multiple tickets to cover different parts (or legs) of your journey. In many cases, you don’t even have to change trains.

Split Ticketing gives the example of a day-return trip a customer made from Derby to Liverpool, where they made a saving of 66 per cent (£40.80). The cheapest online fare was £61.50, but by splitting it into two journeys, they made the saving. One ticket was from Derby to Crewe (for £10.30) and the other from Crewe to Liverpool stations (£10.40).

Check out Train Split, Split Ticket, Split My Fare and My Train Pal, who - among others - offer this free service saving you time and (sometimes lots of) money.

Two students walking and talking in Manchester

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