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20 top money tips for students

Be smart with your money while you get your qualification with these top student money tips.

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While heading to university to get your diploma, degree or Master’s is an exciting time, being a student means that you have to learn how to survive on often minimal income.

There’s tuition fees, rent, food and utilities to think about, and of course, having some money left over for entertainment is essential.

To help you manage your money better during your study years, we’ve put together 20 top student money tips that will help you save and make every dollar count.

Sign up for a tertiary package at your bank

Most major banks in New Zealand have special banking packages for tertiary students. These packages often include:

  • no fees on your transaction account
  • an interest-free overdraft
  • a low-rate credit card
  • a discounted interest rate for personal loans.

Even if you don’t need a credit card or personal loan, having no fees on your account can save you a chunk of money over the course of your degree. You can find out more about what banks have to offer in this guide.

Find out what scholarships, allowances and grants you are eligible for

All universities in New Zealand offer various forms of scholarships that can help cover your tuition fees and/or your living expenses. Competition is usually pretty tough but there are a range of options available for different areas of study, backgrounds and achievement levels.

StudyLink provides student loans and allowances to students. Depending on your age and circumstances, you may be eligible for the student allowance and accommodation allowance. These don’t need to be repaid.

There is also a student loan for living expenses that you can apply for if you don’t meet the criteria for the student allowance. But keep in mind that you will need to pay this back.

StudyLink offers one-off grants for students that need additional financial support for things like:

  • dental treatment
  • car repairs
  • utility bills
  • bond and rent arrears.

These grants may or may not need to be paid back, but could help you out if you have unexpected expenses that you can’t meet.

Look for student discounts and freebies

Being a university student opens up a range of discounts across various retailers, entertainment and hospitality outlets across the country.

Your student ID card that you use on campus may automatically provide discounts at local businesses and you’ll be able to use it to get a discount on your public transport costs.

Some universities have special loyalty programmes for students to use at campus outlets, so find out if your university has one.

There are so many places that offer deals and discounts for students – including mobile phone companies. 2degrees gives students 500MB of free data each month on prepay and pay monthly plans.

You can also sign up for the Student Card and UNiDAYS, which can be used all around the country and for shopping online.

Student Card gives you discounts and offers for places like Rialto Cinemas, Noel Leeming, The Iconic, Dominos and Jetts, and UNiDAYS helps you save at Sephora, Apple, Boohoo, and much more.

Opt for secondhand textbooks

Depending on what you are studying, you may need a lot of textbooks. Brand new books can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 each. If your line of study requires 4 textbooks for each course over a 3-year degree, you’re looking at possibly paying $1,200-$3,600 just on textbooks.

By opting for secondhand textbooks, you can save as much as 50-80% compared to new books. This difference is quite substantial and leaves you extra cash for your all-important living costs.

The book may be a bit tattered, but as long as there are no pages missing and it doesn’t have hundreds of written notes, it still does the trick.

To find used textbooks, there are a number of avenues to try:

  • your university bookshop may have a section or table for secondhand textbooks
  • many universities in New Zealand have a dedicated Facebook group for the sole purpose of buying and selling textbooks
  • check university noticeboards
  • tradeMe often has used textbooks for sale.

Many other students will also be wanting to save money by purchasing second hand textbooks, so start your search as soon as you know what the requirements are – even if it’s well before the semester starts.

Just make sure to check the version before purchasing. Often there won’t be much difference between the latest and the most previous version, but there could be if the old version is from a number of years ago and there have been significant developments on the topic.

And when you’re finished with your textbooks, put them up for sale and use the money you earn to buy the next semester’s books.

Prepare meals at home – and that includes coffee

As tempting as grabbing a coffee and muffin from the local cafe before heading to your lecture is, the cost of eating out easily adds up.

Instead of spending $10 a day on breakfast, you could save a good chunk of that by having it at home. The same goes for lunch too. Making your lunch to take with you to uni could save you $25-$50 a week.

You can get up five minutes earlier to prepare a sandwich, or cook more than you need to at dinner time so you have leftovers to take with you the next day. Many universities have microwaves that you can use to heat up your meal.

Don’t have time to drink your coffee before you head out the door in the morning? Invest in an insulated mug with a lid that will keep your coffee warm while you travel to your class. And if instant coffee is not your thing, see if your flatmates will chip in to buy a coffee maker.

Make a weekly meal plan

Following on from our student money tip about preparing meals at home, one way to make this easier is by making a weekly meal plan.

This should include all meals of the day and will help immensely when you head to the supermarket. You will know exactly what you need to buy and not be tempted to purchase things that you don’t really need.

Doing your grocery shopping once a week rather than every other day will save you money over the year, and having food in the fridge will help avoid ordering in.

You can also ask your flatmates if they are keen to share meals – by doing this you will only need to cook one or two nights a week and you’ll spend less overall on dinners.

Sell belongings that you no longer need

Spend some time going through your belongings and work out if there is anything you no longer need. Items like electronics, clothing, furniture, games, shoes and books can often be sold, earning you some extra cash to put towards your living expenses.

Trade Me and Facebook Marketplace are great places to sell your items online. If your listing doesn’t sell the first time, you can list it again until it does.

You can also find out if it’s possible to sell your things at the local market, or look for secondhand shops that will purchase from you and onsell to their customers.

Take advantage of student perks and subsidised services

One great thing about being a student is that your university is likely to have some useful perks that will help you to save money over the time that you are studying.

You might have access to:

  • free Office360
  • free gym access
  • free mental health services
  • subsidised dental and healthcare
  • free help with CV writing
  • free cooking classes.

Make sure to find out a full list of what is on offer and take advantage of everything that will be useful.

Make a budget – and stick to it

Budgets certainly don’t sound exciting, but creating and managing a budget is an important practice for anyone that is dealing with income and expenses.

You may have already learned how to put a budget together from your parents or at high school, but there are plenty of online resources that can help.
Using a budget allows you to work out how much money you need for various things when your income or student allowance comes in, and how much you have leftover for entertainment and adhoc expenses.

Your budget should include:

  • rent or halls of residence payments
  • utilities – power, gas, broadband and phone bills
  • food – grocery shopping
  • insurance
  • transport costs
  • savings
  • debt repayments
  • miscellaneous expenses such as doctors bills, medications, car repairs and clothes.

Once you know how much money you need for your important expenses each week, fortnight or month, you can understand how much disposable income you have to spend on enjoying yourself.

Be smart about your flatting situation

If you’re opting to go flatting over staying in the halls of residence, you’ll be rewarded with extra freedom throughout your uni years. However, setting up and managing a flat comes with its own set of responsibilities, and if not done correctly, you could be spending a lot more than you need to.

  • Renting through a private landlord rather than an agent often works out cheaper.
  • Opting for a furnished home will save the hassle of making expensive purchases setting up your flat. Plus, it makes things easier when it’s time to go back home at the end of the year.
  • Setting up a flat account for bills that everyone pays an equal amount into each week or month means that you have funds ready to go when bills are due and you are not left paying bills yourself and chasing others for the cash. If there is money left over at the end of the year, you can treat yourselves to an evening out.
  • Find the cheapest provider for power, water, gas and broadband by comparing your options. You could end up saving hundreds of dollars over the course of the year by taking some time to do your research.
  • Talk with your flatmates about being conscious of their power use. Small things like turning lights off when you are not in a room, charging your laptop at uni rather than home, and using energy-saving lightbulbs can all add up to savings on your electric bill.

Take out contents insurance

Contents insurance may not seem like such a big deal when you don’t have your own home and don’t have many possessions, but it can be a lifesaver when something goes wrong.

Would you be able to cover the cost of a new laptop if yours was stolen? What about if you damage someone else’s property?

Depending on the provider, contents insurance can cover a lot more than you think including:

  • damage to your personal items whether you are at home or somewhere else in New Zealand – repair or replacement
  • theft of your belongings both at in and outside of your home
  • legal liability if you damage someone else’s property or accidentally injure someone
  • food spoilage costs
  • emergency repairs to your building.

Your insurance policy doesn’t need to be expensive either – some insurers have policies that cover the essentials while you are living away from home. Paying a small premium each month could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Check out your contents insurance.

Compare – and think – before you buy

Getting money each week from a student allowance or part-time job definitely tempts you into wanting to shop for that new gadget or piece of clothing you have had your eye on.

But before you do so, think carefully about whether you really need it or not. Is it something that you really can not live without? Can you actually afford it once your bills and other expenses are paid?

If there is something that you definitely need, make sure to compare prices across different retailers. You might be able to find the same item at another store on sale, or you could find a promo code here on Finder that will help you save even more.

Find free (or cheap) things to do in your spare time

Whether you are staying in your home town or moving to another city to attend uni, there will no doubt be plenty of free and cheap things to do when you’re not hitting the books.

Google ‘free things to do in (city name)’ and you’ll no doubt be presented with a ton of ideas to keep you busy without making a dent in your wallet. Check out the ‘what’s on’ guides for your city for something new to do on the weekend.

At the start of each semester you can sign up to university clubs. Depending on the uni, you’ll probably have a range of club options to choose from including politics, hiking, wine lovers, gaming and so on.

Joining a club is a great way to meet new people who share the same interests, and they often organise events and activities at a subsidised cost.

Get a part time job – and work during the summer

Studying is a full-time gig, but if you manage your time well, you might find yourself with some extra time on your hands. Why not use that time wisely and earn some cash?

Student Job Search is one place to look for part-time jobs that will work with your study schedule, plus you can check out local noticeboards, Facebook groups and online classifieds.

The summer break can be as long as three or four months, and while you’ll no doubt want to relax and head to the beach, this is the perfect time to work and get some money behind you. There are plenty of businesses who hire students over the summer period around the country – you may be able to find one through your university or Student Job Search.

If you get a job at minimum wage (currently $18.90) and work 40 hours a week, you would bank $9,072 before tax for 12 weeks’ work. This could be enough to cover your rent payments for the whole next year.

Just don’t forget that if you have a part time job and are receiving the student allowance, there is a limit to what you can earn before your allowance reduces.

Consider living at home until you graduate

Living at home may not be the cool thing to do when all your friends are going flatting for the first time, but if you’re attending university in your home city, you’ll be able to save a bunch with this student money tip.

While you may still be required to chip in with expenses, your parents may keep your costs to a minimum and allow you to live rent free as you study hard for your degree. This of course may not be suitable for everyone, but consider how it could work for you.

Flatting or living in the halls of residents could cost you anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 a year. If your parents charge you $100 a week for board, you’ll only pay $5,200 a year.

Just keep in mind that you may not be entitled to a student allowance, but check on the StudyLink website to see if you meet the criteria in this situation.

Know how to lower your grocery bill

While living at home you may have gotten used to certain brands of food, but sticking with these on a student budget is often not feasible. Instead of opting for the brands you know, look for the home brand alternatives at your local supermarket for things like bread, snacks and canned goods.

For example, the cost of a can of baked beans (a staple in many student’s pantry) can differ greatly between brands. At Countdown, a can of Watties baked beans costs $2.00 at the time of writing. For the same size can of Countdown’s own brand of baked beans, you’ll pay just 0.70c.

At New World, a loaf of Molenberg Original Toast Bread will set you back $3.59, but a loaf of Value Wheatmeal Toast Bread will only dent your wallet by $1.20. You could buy three loaves of the Value brand toast for the same cost as one loaf of Molenberg.

Another way to save at the supermarket is by signing up to the store’s loyalty programme.
If you have a New World Clubcard or Countdown OneCard, you can take advantage of special deals by swiping your card at the checkout.

Find out more about shopping at New World or Countdown in our guide.

Grocery shopping alternatives

An alternative to shopping at the supermarket is by checking out weekend farmer’s markets or local fruit and vege markets. You can get fresh produce and food items at lower prices than you’ll find in the supermarket and also support local sellers at the same time.

Also check out if your university does any special food deals for students too. Victoria University of Wellington has a fruit and vegetable cooperative that gives its members a bag of fruit and a bag of vegetables for just $12 a week.

And if you are 18 and like to drink, purchase your beverages from the supermarket as you’ll find lower prices than you would at an independent liquor store.

Think twice about buying a car

While having your own car means you have the freedom to easily go anywhere you want at any time, students often don’t realise the cost of owning a vehicle.

First of all, as a student, you are likely to opt for an older car that costs less to buy upfront. However, older cars tend to need more repairs, especially if they haven’t been well looked after in the past.

Repairs can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and it may be hard to scrape together that cash when you’re on a tight budget.

As well as repairs, you’ll need to factor in the ongoing cost of petrol, plus the car registration and warrant of fitness fees. And then there’s the cost of car insurance. While not compulsory, it is recommended if you don’t want to be left with hefty bills should you get into an accident.

Even though not having a car will restrict your freedom to move around, there are usually pretty decent public transport systems around universities.

You can also consider purchasing a bike or sticking to walking – both options are great forms of exercise in between lectures and studying at home. Plus, exercise and fresh air is good for your mental health when everything gets a bit stressful.

Not convinced with this student money tip? Check out our guide to student car finance.

Don’t take on anymore debt than you need to

Banks are notorious for promoting credit cards to people who have just turned 18 and you may be offered one with your tertiary package.

While it may seem like an adult thing to do, having a credit card can lead you into a nasty spiral of debt if you are not careful.

It may make sense to have a credit card for emergencies, but try to keep the limit as small as possible and ensure you have the means to make repayments.

Once you turn 18 and are able to access credit, you’ll be starting to build a credit report. Any issues you have now will stay on your report for years and could affect your chances of obtaining credit when you start working full time.

Payday loans can be an appealing way to get cash fast, but with high interest rates and fees, you can end up paying a lot more than your original loan cost.

Take advantage of financial support services available

As a student, no one is expecting you to have complete control of your finances and stay on top of things

There are plenty of support options available – whether you need budgeting advice, help to get out of debt or be able to put food on the table.

  • StudyLink offers one-off grants for students in need that may or may not need to be paid back.
  • MoneyTalks is a free financial helpline where you can get advice on your money matters.
  • Your parents may be able to offer advice or help you out in a tight situation.
  • Citizens Advice Bureau offers financial advice and can point you in the right direction for specific assistance.
  • Your university will likely have a student centre that can provide financial guidance and budgeting advice.

Remember that being on a tight budget isn’t forever

Being a student is tough enough with lectures, assignments and exams, and feeling like you’re broke all the time is another challenge that many have to face.

However, this phase of life is only for a few years, and it won’t be long before you can enjoy a full-time paycheck with more money to spend and save.

Consider your student years as a learning curve on effective money management. Adopting these student money tips will help set you up for being able to manage money efficiently and a good financial future.

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