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Students — sort your life out

If going to university means your first time living away from home, then you'll probably need to brush-up on the basics of personal finance and home utilities. It's time to do some life admin...

The uSwitch editors have collated their best student-friendly tips on getting the most for your precious pounds.

Insurance

table with gadgets Whether you’re packing light or bringing everything but the kitchen sink to university, it’s likely your gadgets will be coming with you. But are they insured against theft, damage, or being left on the bar of the students’ union?

Gadget Insurance

With a specialist gadget insurance policy, you can safeguard your gadgets, including your:

  • Mobile phone
  • Laptop
  • Tablet / e-book reader
  • Games console
  • Camera
  • TV

You can get a 10% discount if you insure two gadgets, and 15% off if you insure three or more. Plus, get an extra 10% until 20th September with code USWITCH10.

Extra 10% off gadget insurance

Protect your gadgets from £5.99 per month. Don’t forget to use code USWITCH10 for an extra 10% off

Insure your gadgets

And while you’re thinking of insurance, it’s important to consider your car too. If it will be staying with you in student residences during term time, it’s important to inform your insurer of your new address. Bear in mind this might change the cost of your premium, but you could be committing fraud if you don’t declare your move.

If your insurer tries to hike your costs too much, you might be able to get a cheaper deal by shopping around and switching insurers. Run a comparison for your new address.

Compare car insurance

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Energy

pylons

Years of living with your parents means you’ve probably only ever had to glance at an energy bill when it’s in your line of sight as you open the fridge door. Unfortunately, you now have to get to know those confusing pieces of paper a bit better.

Change supplier

If you are moving into a student rental where you’re responsible for paying the energy bill, you are entitled to shop around in order to find a cheaper supplier and tariff for the home’s gas, electricity, or both (dual fuel).

  • Ask your landlord or letting agent who the last energy suppliers to the address were
  • If they don’t know, you can call these numbers and find out

With an average saving of £292 a year per energy switch, you could save yourself enough money to buy around 390 pots of instant noodles — necessary reserves for when you’re penny pinching at the end of term!

Take back control of your energy bills with uSwitch!

We make it easy to compare and save up to £679

If you’re not sure where to start with reading and understanding your energy bill, our helpful videos should answer any questions you have about what all the different sections and jargon means.

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Mobiles

mobile phone

Cheap SIM only deals are out there. Track one down.

Happy with your phone? Not fussed about owning the latest smartphone with all the bells and whistles? Good for you — that means you can take advantage of a SIM only deal.

Not only are you not tied into a lengthy contract with SIM only, but at the value-end of the market, you can get pretty generous data, calls and texts allowances for around a fiver per month.

  • Budget option giffgaff will include the option to tether your phone to your laptop and share your data allowance between device
  • The People’s Operator’s SIM only deals are similarly keenly priced and allow you to switch to a higher or lower tariff whenever you like

Find a cheap SIM only deal

Use our SIM only comparison

Compare deals

Look for student discounts

A caveat: not all smartphones are included in O2’s offer and you’ll need to register your claim for money-off within 28 days of signing up.

See what your broadband provider offers mobile phone customers

The more services you take from a single provider, the less you'll pay for them than you would if you took them from separate providers.

  • BT broadband customers can get a SIM only mobile phone deal from BT from just £5 per month more
  • Virgin Media, EE and TalkTalk SIM only deals are comparably priced too
  • Better yet, TalkTalk broadband customers who also take Plus TV on-demand TV service get a free SIM with usage that’d normally set you back £90

Use Billmonitor.com

Approved by the telecoms regulator Ofcom, this service lets you take control of your usage. It does this by showing you how much of your texts, minutes and data allowance you get through every month next to what you’re actually paying for.

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Broadband

broadband

Consider dedicated student broadband deals

Instead of the standard, minimum 12-month contract term, larger providers like BT and Virgin Media, offer broadband packages tailored specifically to students that run for nine months.

The chief advantage of these is that you don’t pay for broadband during the long summer holidays. At which time you’re probably back in the parental homestead biting your tongue, as one by one all your freedoms are removed.

Find cheap student broadband

Use our dedicated student broadband comparison

Compare deals

Don’t rule out standard 12-month deals either

Sometimes, 12-month broadband packages actually work out cheaper than 9-month deals that are marketed at cost-conscious students.

That’s especially apparent when, for the sake of example, you compare a 9-month fibre broadband deal from the likes of BT and Virgin Media and a 12-month contract for a no-frills ADSL broadband service.

This kind of entry-level ADSL broadband deal, which is a speciality of TalkTalk, over 12-months could work if there’s only one or two people in your accommodation.

What’s more, while sweeteners and freebies, such as high-street vouchers, are hard to come by on nine-month student broadband offers, they’re relatively common if you don’t mind signing up for 12 months.

Three or more in your household? You’ll need an unlimited download allowance and fibre

In multiple occupancy student homes, the sheer range of laptops, smartphones, games consoles and set top boxes connected to the internet simultaneously puts significant strain on your download allowance and on the speed of your connection.

For that reason, if there are three or more occupants in your digs you’ll almost certainly want to choose a broadband package with no usage limit and that delivers a speedier fibre broadband service.

Mobile broadband can be a viable option

Depending on your university's location and the quality and speed of mobile internet provision, you could try ditching a home broadband service altogether and opt for mobile broadband instead.

The major advantage of mobile broadband over home broadband is that you won’t have to pay landline rental, which means more money to spend on alcopops, weighty Russian novels and liquorice roll-ups.

The downside is that 4G dongle and MiFi deals that feature unlimited downloads are quite rare, so you’ll have to ration your usage — plus, 4G is a slower service than home broadband and it’ll be a less robust connection too.

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TV

television

Football’s free on BT

Watching Premiership football on TV can be an expensive habit. But, if you’re signed up to a BT TV package, live coverage of Premiership games is free of charge on BT Sport channels.

From August 2015, BT is airing UEFA Champions League and Europa League games on the BT Sport Europe channel too.

It’s worth noting that while BT Sport 1 and 2 are free to BT broadband customers, BT Sport Europe isn’t; that's an extra £5 per month.

Pick and choose the Sky games you watch on NOW TV

Is there a lack of choice on BT, or is a contract too much of a commitment? The answer could be a NOW TV Sports Day Pass priced £6.99, which offers you 24-hour access to all Sky Sports channels.

Free Netflix is on offer with your broadband

Time-limited promotions from TalkTalk and Virgin Media have included a subscription to Netflix as a freebie. At the time of writing, this wasn’t available, but we expect it'll be back soon so it’s worth keeping an eye out.

Or just use your parents’ Netflix account

We won’t tell if you don’t!

The same goes for your parents’ Sky Go account

Sky Go lets you nominate two devices on which to watch Sky’s TV output live. As long as you’re studying in the British Isles, you just need to make sure the laptop or tablet you’re taking with you is registered.

Make sure you claim your TV license refund

Planning to watch BBC output live on your laptop, smartphone or tablet? Or record programs live? Then sorry, but you do in fact need a TV license. While a halls license will cover you in communal areas, it won’t when you’re holed up in your own room.

The good news is that you’re not liable to pay for it during the summer months when you’re home. Over three months, that’s a saving of £40 or so.

The less good news is to qualify you’ll need to claim it back when there are three calendar months or more remaining on your license. And you’ll need to be sure you won’t need it again before it expires.

In the market for a broadband and TV bundle?

Choose from our picks of the best

Compare deals
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Banking

paying with card

Get a student bank account

Make sure to get a student current account. Banks offer lots of perks to students, like large interest free overdrafts or travel cards.

Overdrafts - what to look for

The main perk for students is a 0% overdraft, giving you an interest-free borrowing buffer. However, make sure you always stay within your limit and, if you can’t, ask your bank for an extension.

Also consider if the account offers an interest free overdraft after your graduate. This can be very handy to get you on your feet when you leave university.

Get a 16-25 rail or coach cards

You could be offered a student railcard or coachcard with your bank account, saving you a third on all journeys. This is very useful if you’re travelling home a lot.

For example the Santander 123 student account will give you a 16-25 railcard free for four years with the account.

But always measure out your estimated savings against other deals (like a bigger overdraft limit).

Pay the bills and improve your credit score

Your credit score is like your financial CV, the better it is, the easier it is to get the best credit cards and loans in future. The key to a good credit score is to show you can pay back debt, so don’t leave the bills to your flatmates. Even paying the TV license will stand your credit file in good stead.

Should you get a credit card as a student?

Your bank may offer you a card, but you could get a better deal somewhere else — and as a rule don’t take cards you’ve been offered in shops, bank branches or in the post (the same rule as applies to sweets from strangers, really), you’ll need to apply for the best cards

The main (and arguably only) reason to get a credit card as a student is to improve your credit score by spending responsibly (ie only spend what you can afford to pay back each month). But it can also provide a last-resort emergency fund (but really this is what your overdraft should be for).

Unfortunately, most students won’t have a good enough credit history to qualify for the best card deals. So, a good bet is to pick a no-frills card with the lowest interest charges (referred to as APR), or a ‘credit builder’ card used carefully.

Find a starter credit card

Compare credit cards suitable for people with no borrowing history

Compare credit cards

Don’t use payday loans

If you do find yourself over your overdraft limit, avoid using a payday loan at all costs. Interest rates are extortionate, and the cost of the debt can easily skyrocket.

If you're struggling to make ends meet, contact the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA), who will be able to advise you on the alternatives.

Get an NUS Extra Card

An NUS Extra card, which costs £12 a year or £32 for three years, offers over 170 savings with online and in-store retailers, including Amazon, Co-op and Odeon.

Pay the right tax (ie none)

If you get a job while at university, providing your total earnings for 2015/2016 come to less than £10,600, you don’t have to pay income tax. If you have paid tax, visit the HMRC website for advice on how to apply for a refund.

If you're a full-time student living alone or with other students you don't need to pay council tax, regardless of how many of you are living in the property.

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