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A practical guide on how to save money as an international student in the UK

25 Mar, 2024
A practical guide on how to save money as an international student in the UK

In this article, we explore ways to save money and make the most of your student life in the UK. Our top tips will help you reduce living expenses while fully enjoying all that the UK has to offer.

Table of Contents

Choose the right student bank account

Look for student discount schemes

Save money on food shopping

Avoid food waste

Find a part-time job

Purchase clothes and textbooks second-hand

Save money with public transport

Optimise your student accommodation

Create a budget and stick to it

1. Choose the right student bank account

Student bank accounts are similar to standard current accounts, but often come with additional benefits, such as discounts on shopping and travel, vouchers and cash (often in the region of about £100).

Most also offer interest-free overdrafts. These can be particularly helpful when you're studying and don't have a full-time income. If you don't have savings or family support, a student overdraft means you always have money to fall back on in an emergency, and unlike when you use credit cards, you won’t be charged interest.

You'll only benefit from an overdraft by sticking to the terms - be sure not to exceed the limit and always repay what you borrow on time.

All high street banks in the UK offer dedicated student bank accounts, so it's definitely worth doing your research before committing to one so that you get the best deal.

A good source of information regarding student bank accounts is

2. Look for student discount schemes

Student discounts are everywhere in the UK. A whole host of retailers and establishments offer them, including restaurants, cinemas, galleries, gyms, shops and online platforms like Spotify.

  • Start by getting a National Union of Students (NUS) TOTUM card, which gives you access to thousands of discounts on everything from food and clothing to beauty products and travel.
  • Other student discount card schemes include Unidays and Student Beans, which offers student discounts and deals on takeaway and fast food.
  • It’s often possible to get large student discounts on essential tools for your studies - such as tech products and computers - so be sure to research your options before part with your money!

3. Save money on food shopping

Photo by Marques Thomas on Unsplash

There are lots of ways to save money on food shopping as a student in the UK, including the following.

  • Shopping at low cost supermarkets: when on a student budget it is important to shop tactically! ‘Local’ smaller stores will often be a lot more expensive, so it’s generally better value to do the majority of your shopping at large supermarkets. Some of those known for offering the best value are Morrisons, Lidl or Aldi.
  • Buying supermarkets’ own brand items: for staple items such as toilet roll, laundry detergent, dairy products, shampoo and medicines it is often possible to buy supermarket own brands, which are generally less expensive.
  • Buying in bulk and shopping at store closing times: to keep costs down, try plan your meals in advance, make a shopping list and buy in bulk if possible. It can be a good idea to go to the supermarket either at the very start of the day or at the end, just before closing time, to see what's in the 'reduced' section. This generally consists of items that are soon to come off sale or are nearing their best before date.
  • Get a points card: most supermarkets in the UK offer some kind of loyalty scheme, and it’s wise to sign up for a free points card. These cards usually give you deals and you collect points as you spend to cash out as vouchers, saving you money in the long-run.

4. Avoid food waste

Knowing how to prepare and use food before it goes to waste can save a lot of money. Here are a few tips:

  • Cook extra dinner to give yourself leftovers for lunch the next day.
  • Cook in batches and, if you have access to a freezer, freeze it in portions. It’s a good idea to plan your daily meals in advance if possible.
  • If possible, prepare packed lunches rather than buying a sandwich or going to a coffee shop.
  • Apps such asToo Good to Go and Karma help you find discounted surplus food from shops and restaurants; you can 'rescue' food that otherwise go to waste, and get yourself a great deal in the process.
  • For fresh produce, Oddbox is a subscription service that delivers boxes of fruit and vegetables that are the wrong shape or too big or too small for supermarkets to sell. What’s more, the surplus that doesn’t make it into its boxes is donated to FareShare, a charity redistributing food to prevent hunger across the UK.

Love Food Hate Waste has more resources and ideas to help you reduce food waste, including recipes and ideas for using leftovers. It also shares useful information about what types of foods you can freeze - some of which may come as a surprise!

5. Find a part-time job

If you want to add a bit of extra money to your account, you can explore working in the UK once you are at university.

  • Your student visa will usually allow you to work part-time up to 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during the vacation period.
  • Verify the conditions of your visa and the requirements of your role or student job.
  • You can also consider a paid internship or work experience programme for additional income and improved CV prospects.
  • Ensure you have a valid contract, are paid at the legal rate, and confirm details with your university careers or international office.

6. Purchase clothes and textbooks second-hand

Shopping second-hand is a simple, sustainable solution for all your needs as a student. From textbooks to furniture to clothing, you can find some real bargains and do your bit for the environment.

Second-hand textbooks

When it comes to buying second-hand textbooks or supplementary course materials, websites such as Amazon second-hand, eBay, AbeBooks and the Book Depository are all good options.

Second-hand clothes

Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

There are various ways to buy (and sell) second hand clothes in the UK, both online and in person.

  • Charity shops: Whether in high street locations or online stores, charity shops are a great place to find cheap clothes that are still in good condition. And of course there’s the added benefit of being able to 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, Cancer Research, the British Heart Foundation, Shelter and Mind.
  • Websites and apps: When it comes to buying and selling second-hand clothing and accessories, Vinted and Depop are both popular platforms. You can also use Ebay, Gumtree, and Facebook Marketplace to find not only clothes but a whole range of second-hand things from kitchen utensils, to furniture.

7. Save money with public transport

Most universities are either city-based with excellent public transport links, or campus-based with everything on your doorstep. You probably won't need a car while studying, and thankfully when it comes to public transport options there are plenty of student discounts on offer.

  • If you’re planning on getting the train a lot, whether for daily journeys or travel around the UK, you should get a 16-25 railcard. It costs £30 to get one for the year and it saves you a third on most journeys.
  • A railcard also works with split ticketing. The rail system in the UK is divided between dozens of train companies, which means it’s often much cheaper to buy multiple small journey tickets than a single, long journey ticket. The website or the TrainSplit app can do the hard work for you.
  • Local buses are a feature of every town and city and remain one of the cheapest ways to get around. Check whether you're entitled to any student discounts or weekly/monthly passes on the services you use. For instance, Stagecoach - one of the UK’s biggest operators - offers a Unirider student bus card - you can also buy seven-day and 28-day passes.

8. Optimise your student accommodation

Generally, university students have the option to either live on campus in a residence or shared apartment, or off campus (close to the university) in a shared house or apartment.

Each option comes with its benefits and drawbacks but both have ways to minimise costs and improve savings.

On-campus living

The most common type of on-campus accommodation (although there are others), are halls of residence, or ‘halls’ as they are usually known. These are large blocks of flats housing hundreds of students, with individual furnished bedrooms organised around corridors or apartments with a shared kitchen. In some cases, bathrooms are also shared, although en-suite rooms are increasingly available.

  • Bills are usually included, so you know exactly what you are budgeting for, and it's easy to arrange your accommodation by applying directly to the university.
  • While your bedroom may be small, all the facilities you need (for example a laundrette) are usually on-site, and the university accommodation team is on hand when it comes to maintenance, both of which save you costs.

To find out how much you'll pay in rent, see your university's website, as costs vary significantly depending on location and facilities.

Off-campus living

Off-campus accommodation usually involves renting a room in a privately owned house, usually with four or five other people. Most students do this from the second year onwards as standard, but some first year students choose to also.

  • Usually, the rent is cheaper than halls, but you'll pay bills on top. If you are careful about energy consumption, and choose providers of other utilities (such as broadband and contents insurance) wisely, it’s possible to keep costs down. Comparison websites such as are a great way to get the best deals.
  • Bear in mind too that most household bills will be split several ways, depending on how many housemates you have.

9. Create a budget and stick to it

Making (and sticking to!) a budget is an effective way to keep finances in check, prevent overspending, and even put money aside.

Creating a spreadsheet of your finances is one good way to keep track of how much you have to spend each month. Be sure to include your income from:

  • student loans
  • part-time jobs
  • scholarships and bursaries
  • any parental contributions

You'll also need to monitor regular outgoings such as your rent, utility bills and mobile phone.

Another useful tool when it comes to budgeting is a budgeting app such as Emma. As well as helping you to plan your budget, they can also help with things like setting spending limits for different categories and automatically putting spare change away in your savings.

Finance and budgeting apps come in all shapes and sizes, so research carefully to find the right one for you and your needs.

Learn more about living and studying in the UK

We hope that this article has given you some useful tips on how to save money as a student in the UK.

Further articles about life and study in the UK, covering topics such as the benefits of studying in the UK, UK culture and the best UK universities for international students can be found on our blog, Kings Life.

At Kings, we offer a range of pre-university programmes at our four UK colleges, from A-levels to specialist foundations for international students, such as the Advanced Level Foundation.

By selecting to study at our UK schools, you will maximise your potential, and be sure of a place at the best possible UK university.

For those who require English preparation, we also offer a range of English language programmes, from general English tuition to exam preparation courses and specialist English for career success.

If you would like receive more detailed information about the Kings and our programmes, please get in touch with us at