saving money

How to Save Money When You’re a Struggling Student

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save money as a student

For many of us, the first day of university coincides with the first day of freedom, but with that freedom comes financial responsibility. All of a sudden we have to house, feed, and clothe ourselves, not to mention pay for textbooks and transport.

I worked part-time (sometimes several part-time jobs at once) to pay for uni. I think this is much more common these days. Tutoring is always a popular option for uni students. Most of my friends at uni didn’t work, so sometimes it was a drag having to go to work when they went off to the beach or the movies, but you do what you have to do.

They say these are the best days of your life (and they’re not far off) but the life of a student can often be a poor one, so here are some tips on saving at uni.


The cheapest option is to stay at home. Mum’s still there to cook your dinner and wash your clothes. If home not an option, the next best thing is college. I lived in a college for four years. College is a good half way house between home and your own home. The upfront cost can put people off but consider what this amount covers:

  • Accommodation
  • Furniture, household goods like kitchen ware
  • Meals
  • Electricity etc
  • Cleaning
  • Reduces the need for transport
  • Social life – reduces the need to go out – you’re living with friends and colleges often put on social events
  • Easy way to make friends if you’re new

When you consider the additional costs that a college covers, you end up saving money. There are a variety of college options now to suit your preferences, from fully catered to on-campus share accommodation.

If college just isn’t your thing, then share accommodation will mean that you’re sharing the cost of housing, utilities, furniture and household goods.


Learning to cook can mean the difference between an inexpensive meal and endless nights of 2 minute noodles. Avoid the takeaway as much as possible. Brown bag your lunch and snacks to uni and when you do buy takeaway food or coffee, buy it on campus and make sure you use your student card to get student discount rates.


Textbooks can be a huge expense at uni. If you can, buy second hand. You can usually find second-hand books on university notice boards or here at the textbook exchange, where you can also sell your books. Selling books that you will no longer need is a good way of supplementing your textbook budget.

Whether or not buying second-hand books is an option will depend on your course. Some subjects like law or medicine require the latest release book to ensure that you’re getting up to date information. As an English literature student, I could buy my copy of Wuthering Heights for a few cents at the local Vinnies shop.

For new books, join the Co-op Book Shop to take advantage of their discounts. I joined 12 years ago, and can still get member’s discounts (and they sell ‘regular’ books for interested non-students). For me, the $20 membership cost (I think it was around $10 back then) has well and truly been covered in discounts.

The other source for textbooks is the university library. This is the best source of “recommended reading” material, not so good for the set text. Usually, the set text is in reserve, so you can’t take it home, and if you’re in a big course, checking it out can be difficult. You may plan to read the next chapter in your lunch hour, but you sometimes have to be pretty lucky to get the book first. Still, the library is a free source for books.

Printing and Stationery

Photocopying can add up to be quite an expense. Consider investing in a multipurpose printer so that you can scan material to read on screen, rather than photocopying. I avoided photocopying as much as possible by reading the articles I needed at the library and making copious, well referenced notes. The upside to this (besides reducing the cost of photocopying) is that what you’re reading sinks in better. If you’re note taking properly and adding your own commentary on what you’re reading, then you’re actually processing the information.

If you need to photocopy, take the time to be selective about the pages you need to copy rather than just copying the whole article / chapter / book (yes, I’ve seen people photocopy whole books – it can be cheaper than buying the textbook, though).

While some people might keep their uni notes for prosperity, 12 years on and I don’t have a single page. So buy the cheapest, nastiest stationery that does the job. Alternatively, type your notes straight into a laptop.


Public transport is usually (but not always) cheaper than buying, running and maintaining a car. Take advantage of student discounts and weekly / multi passes to reduce the cost. If you are driving, consider posting an ad on the notice boards to car pool to reduce costs.


At the end of the day, this is what university is all about, isn’t it? Despite the seriousness of getting good grades, at no other time in your life will you have so much freedom, so little responsibility and be spending time with others your same age in the same circumstances.

Save on entertainment by taking advantage of on-campus entertainment, which can often be much cheaper than “regular” entertainment. Universities often get pretty good bands and have great social events. I remember going to see the Whitlams (they were big back then), and always enjoyed Karaoke night, jug night (beer served in jugs), cross dressing night, retro night…

Part of the university fees that you pay each year covers the union, which provides all sorts of services. You have to pay your fees anyway, so take advantage of on-campus services and clubs. My first year saw me join the Scottish Country Dancing club, daggy but fun.


HELP / HECS is a wonderful way to defer the cost of university. Be warned though, as soon as you’re earning above the tax office set threshold, HELP debt repayments come out of your pay automatically.

My DH worked full time for a couple of years before starting university and paid his HELP (HECS) up front. I on the other hand have a $24,000 HECS debt. Sigh. At least it’s interest-free (although it is indexed every year to match the inflation rate).

Currently, if you make up-front payments of $500 or more each semester, you get a 20% discount (ie, $100 discount on a $500 payment). Voluntary loan repayments (not upfront) get a 10% discount (this includes voluntary payments whilst in the workforce). Choose the right courses, and you will also get a discount on your HELP fee.

Apart from the Government’s HELP/HECS scheme, you may also be eligible for Youth Allowance and/ or rent assistance and/ or a health care card

As far as help with compulsory fees go, see if your university offer scholarships or incentive programmes, which will also help with textbook costs. At the very least, universities will offer payment plan options to spread the cost of fees over the course of a semester.

And finally, maximise your student discounts. Not only will you get on campus discounts, you may also get discounts on transport, entertainment, magazine subscriptions, software, electronics… You won’t know if you don’t ask.


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