Student Money Advice – What would I say to my 18-year-old self?

Student Money Advice

September 2023 marks 28 years since I first arrived at university. How did that happen?! By the age of 46, I have learnt a lot about money, made a lot of mistakes and some sensible decisions. So offering some simple money guidance to students starting what I did 28 years ago feels right! I wish I had done these things back in 1995.

It is tough from a financial perspective going to university now, so much harder than back in the 90s. Most graduates I know are leaving university with £40-50k of student debt. But see it as a good debt, an investment in your future where you should earn more money than if you didn’t have a degree. I certainly earned far more money having my maths degree than if I hadn’t had that qualification.

When money is tight its important save the pounds and do all you can to make extra pounds to supplement your money from parents, loans & possible grants.

I went to Brunel University from 1995 to 1999, I studied Maths with Statistics and Management. There’s me fourth from right with ugly shoes. Even then I was obsessed with saving money and getting a good deal. I always had the best bank account giving ‘free’ overdrafts, I would always yellow sticker shop and I always worked. In fact I’ve ever had a break from working since I was 14.

I am grateful to have gone to university before tuition fees were payable and got a lower parental income grant every year. By the time I was 19 both my mum and dad had died so there were hardship bursaries available that I could apply for, and I got them. I worked two days per week for M&S in their head office throughout my final year which paid me a HUGE £15 per hour. I negotiated that job and pay very well, following on from a third year work placement. There were also four loans and I left university with debts of £8k (yes much less than todays debt I know). They were repaid by the time I was 26, after working in the city for HSBC, where I trained to become an accountant.

Top 5 Tips to Make money at University

Get A Job

Possibly obvious but do it, get a job! I was a bar maid for two years at the Six Bells in West Drayton (loved it, great tips on top of the hourly rate!), I worked at WH Smiths at Heathrow airport (great for celebrity spotting, I sold an Observer newspaper to Alan Rickman RIP), I worked at Penzance Dorothy Perkins in the holidays when I went home.

Best of all was studying a four-year sandwich degree (rather than traditional three years) and was employed for two different six-month business placements on a full-time basis in my second and third years. This provided essential financial support, and the hourly rate was much better than a bar maid!  It also provided me with an income through my final year.

M&S, whom I worked for in my third year business placement continued to employ me two days per week. I wrote my dissertation for them, ‘Statistical Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Year 2000 IT Re-structure’ and got a first for it. I took a chance and asked them if I could carry on working for them after my six month placement ended and they said yes. If you don’t ask you don’t get. A good philosophy in life.

Set Up a Cash Back Account

Set up an account with Top Cashback asap. Buy everything you need through via this website :- broadband, mobile phone, insurance, laptop, kitchen stuff, bedding, the list goes on and on but always check on Top Cashback first to see what extra money you can save. You can add a browser extension to your laptop that will always remind you of Top Cashback discounts.

It’s free to join Top Cashback and the money you get is free cash. I have written a whole article about it here Once your account is credited you can transfer cash straight into your bank account. A brilliant way to save money on all online purchases. If you use my referral link to set up an account I will earn a small referral fee, if you do, thank you.

Sell anything off you do not need before Univerity

Sell off anything you don’t need on EBay/Facebook selling sites before you go to university. If you’ve not used something for 1 year or more so you really need it? If not sell it! Designer, decent branded clothes sell well, anything ‘vintage’, worn shoes, technology goods sell well. Consider using a free Facebook page in your local area to sell stuff as well, no EBay fees or postage hassle. I set one up in Knebworth where I live, 7000 members after six years, lots of people making hassle free money.

most profitable eBay sales
My last pile of stuff I sold

Get rid of old Technology, DVDs, computer games

Sell your old DVD’s and CD’s (does anyone have these anymore!), books, games, phones, tablets. Music Magpie is easy. I have used them in the past for phones and cd’s. I got £70 for 150 CD’s and £90 for an old Samsung phone. You scan everything via an app on your phone, they come to collect your box of goodies and transfer the money to your bank account. In fact I have a few tech good hanging around in kitchen drawers, I’m going to Music Magpie them today and make some cash!

Mystery Shopping.

Use a company like ProInsight register your details and get mystery shopping. You can mystery shop gyms, spas, bowling alleys, coffee shops, groceries. They have an amazing selection of mystery shops. You can earn maybe £10 to £20 for the visit and completing a questionnaire afterwards. I have recently had four months of gym membership, been paid to go to a spa, checked popcorn stands at McColl’s, bought Yorkshire puddings at Co-op. If you’re going into town anyway why not check for mystery shop visits and make some money whilst you are there.  

Top 5 Tips to Save Money at Uni

Shop Around and compares Prices

Shop around for big purchases. Mobile phone contracts and Broadband are possibly the biggest purchases when you add the 24 months contract up.  There are lots of offers around at the moment with back to university time. Maybe you can get away with a hand-me-down phone from mum and dad. In that case just get a cheap sim only deal, try this one EE Mobile.  Uswitch is a great comparison tool for comparing mobile and broadband deals.

There are lots of voucher code websites now that offers really great deals that can save you so much money. Never pay full price when you are buying something as there is always a voucher to be had for clothing, accessories, Electronics items, office supplies, travel bookings and health supplies. Definitely worth a look to see what you can save.

Save on your food and meals out

Food shopping and cheap meals out. Take full advantage of shopping vouchers and loyalty schemes. Tesco Clubcard, Sainsburys Nectar, Boots Advantage get them all. What I would recommend is to get your weekly shop from Aldi. When I swopped from Tesco to Aldi I save 40% on my shopping bill every week, for me that was £40 per week. It made a huge difference to my budget. Aldi food is great quality and amazing value.  Whenever you are eating out do a search for a voucher, is a great place to find half price deals. Most food places have loyalty apps as well, Toby Carvery, Prezzo, Costa, Subway, MacDonald’s, often with discounts and freebie offers.

Aldi Roast Dinner – British Pork, Yorkshire Pudding, Roasties and Veg
Cheap as chips Aldi Roast Pork

Accept Second hand items

Beg, borrow and ask nicely as many people as you can for stuff before you leave for uni. People will help and give you kitchen stuff, an old TV, maybe a laptop they don’t use anymore. Never be afraid to ask. People will be so proud that you’re off to university they will want to help you. And this is all free stuff! I love a non matching set of kitchen plates!

Get the best bank account for free overdraft, savings rates and freebies

Get the best bank account and check important stuff like the free overdraft limit. You may well need this so ensure that it is interest free. Keep an eye on this overdraft and avoid going over your limit, as you will be charged hefty fees. Next think about the best freebie going. Rail cards appear to still be the norm, exactly the same as all those years ago. So useful if you are regularly travelling home by train, a railcard for three years is worth £70 and gives you 1/3 off rail travel.  There are also great deals where you can get Amazon Student Prime, here is a link to get six months for free, £3.99 afterwards.

Have Fun!

Most of all have fun. University days are some of the best three to four years of your life. I would hate to see financial issues or running out of cash affecting it. Go to those student nights where drinks are a bargain price. Watch all the bands for cheap ticket prices at the student union. And don’t forget to do some studying.

This post contains affiliate and sponsored links where I will earn a small commission if you decide to buy the product.


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Lynn Beattie

Aka Mrs MummyPenny

Personal Finance Expert

I write about personal finance made simple, lifestyle choices that will save you time and money, as well as products and services that offer great value.

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