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Freshers

21 student life hacks

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Looking for quick ways to save time, energy and money? These life hacks will make your day-to-day life much easier.

Man with pasta, a coin, a timer, a book, a sponge and a mobile

Credit: ViDI Studio, Hutsybo, vladwel, Pretty Vectors, smx12, Legend_art – Shutterstock

Whether you're looking for smart ways to reduce your spending, improve your productivity or avoid unnecessary tasks, we've found some life hacks that will make a big difference.

Combine these hacks with the essential skills to survive university and you'll be in a great position to succeed as a student.

Best student life tips

Here are the top life hacks:

  1. Vacuum pack your belongings when moving

    Vacuum packing your things (particularly your clothes) before moving house will allow you to fit so much more into your suitcase.

    This hack also works well as a way to save space when packing for a summer holiday.

    If you're not familiar with vacuum packing, it's essentially where you place things in a specially-designed bag and then remove the air from it to shrink it down. As the name suggests, you often need to use a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out.

    However, we've seen some bags from Argos that don't require a vacuum cleaner. You just roll them up to squeeze the air out. At the time of writing, you can buy two of these vacuum bags for less than £10.

    And, to make your life easier still, make sure you know what to bring to university (and what to leave behind).

  2. Try passive cooking

    Pasta in a pan

    Credit: Nanisimova – Shutterstock

    If you're looking for clever ways to cut down on your energy usage at home, try passive cooking.

    Pasta and vegetables are good foods to try this hack with. All you need to do is start boiling the food on the hob for a few minutes, and then put the lid on the pan and turn off the hob.

    The idea is that the food will continue to cook in the hot water without the hob needing to be on for the whole time.

  3. Use supermarket cashback apps for free food

    Not yet using supermarket cashback apps? Now's the time to start. They can be a great way to get free food.

    Shopmium, in particular, is brilliant. The hack is to refer your friends to the app so that they each get a freebie when they join, and you get £3 of referral credits each time.

    Your referral credits can be used to get money off purchases, which often makes them essentially free. We say 'essentially' free, as you do have to pay the full price of the item first, but you'll later be reimbursed by the app.

    Better yet, you can get 100% cashback on a bag of Malteasers when you join Shopmium with our promo code (click the link for details).

  4. Follow a meal plan

    Meal prepping is an amazing way to save money on food. It involves planning out all of your meals for the week (or even the month) in advance.

    By following a meal plan, you can focus on only buying the ingredients you need at the supermarket. This saves you money by avoiding unnecessary purchases and reduces the risk of food going to waste.

    If you have a big enough freezer at home, buy the ingredients you need in bulk and freeze as much food as possible. This should save you money in the long run.

    Looking for ideas? We have a meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and works out at around £3 per day.

  5. Get a part-time job that offers freebies and discounts

    Part-time jobs are very common ways for students to earn an income at university. In fact, 62% of students in our latest National Student Money Survey said they had a part-time job.

    Not only are they a great way to make money, but they can also come with brilliant employee perks that help you save money.

    For example, if you work in a restaurant, you might find that you get free food during your work breaks. So, the earnings from the job will help you keep up with living costs, and you can make your money go even further by spending less on food.

    Or, if you work in a shop that you would otherwise buy from, this will likely give you access to an employee discount that will save you money throughout the year.

    Think about where you shop and eat regularly, and see if these companies have any part-time job vacancies near you.

    For more money-making ideas, check out the easy ways to earn cash quickly.
  6. Have monthly budget meetings with yourself

    calculator and pen

    Credit: eamesBot – Shutterstock

    To take control of your finances, set aside time to have a budget meeting with yourself. It's good to do this on a regular basis, such as once a month or even once a week.

    In these 'meetings', start by looking back at how you managed your budget over the previous month. Did you keep within your planned spending limit? Have you made any purchases that you now regret?

    If you've gone over budget, scrutinise your spending. Check to see if you're paying for any memberships that you rarely use, and cancel them if so.

    Even if you're keeping within budget, you could still make more savings in the coming months. Look out for anything that you're spending more than necessary on. Where possible, see if you can find ways to buy what you need for less.

    And, when thinking ahead to the next month, consider whether you need to adjust your budget. Try to account for potential extra spends, such as train tickets home or a meal out with your friends.

    The more prepared you are for the month ahead, the easier it will be to manage your money.

  7. Use an app-based bank like a prepaid card

    When budgeting, it's a good idea to get an app-based bank account and use it in a similar way to a prepaid card.

    Once you've worked out how much you can afford to spend over the coming month, it helps to move that amount from your main student bank account over to your app-based account. Then, only use the app-based account for your purchases.

    This will make it much easier to track your spending and budgeting throughout the month.

    And as an added bonus, app-based bank accounts often come with handy features that help you budget and save money. This can include notifications on your phone each time you spend money and analytics that help you track your spending habits.

    We go through the top accounts in our guide to app-based and online banks.

  8. Buy discounted gift cards

    Discounted gift cards might sound too good to be true, but you really can get them if you know where to look.

    For example, CDKeys.com often sells gift cards for reduced prices. They're not usually hugely discounted, but they can still let you save a bit on something you'd otherwise pay the full price for.

    To give you an idea of how much you can save, we've previously seen a £40 PlayStation gift card on sale for £34.99 from CDKeys.com.

    Tesco sometimes sells discounted gift cards, so look out for these. You may find a wider variety of options there compared to CDKeys.com.

    And check eBay and Amazon to see if people are selling their unwanted gift cards for cheap prices.

  9. Try the 1p Challenge

    Doing the 1p Challenge is such a good life hack. It's a really easy way to save over £660 in a year.

    On the first day of the challenge, you put away just 1p into your savings account. On day 2, you put away 2p. On day 3, it's 3p, and so on. You continue until day 365 when you put away £3.65, at which point your total savings for the year will be £667.95.

    In a leap year, you can save even more if you save another £3.66 on day 366. This takes the total up to £671.61.

    Head to our guide to the 1p Savings Challenge for more info. We've even put together a chart that helps you track your progress throughout the year.

  10. Use cheap alternatives to the gym

    people jogging in park

    Think that a gym membership is the only way to get fit? Think again.

    There are loads of ways to exercise cheaply or for free. Here are a few ideas:

    • Start running – Whether by yourself or with friends, going out for a run is a great way to get some fresh air and work on your fitness. If you haven't already, try out a 5k parkrun in your local area. They're free to join, open to runners/walkers of all abilities and tend to have a really supportive atmosphere.
    • Do online fitness tutorials – There are loads of great exercise videos on YouTube. Yoga With Adriene, for example, has 30-day challenges that help you get into the regular habit of doing yoga at home.
    • Make a home gym – This is a cheap alternative to going to the gym. Find tips on putting together a home gym on a budget in our dedicated guide.

    These are just some of the many ways to get active without paying for a gym membership. Find more ideas in our guide to getting fit for free.

  11. Study at the library to reduce home energy bills

    To cut down your energy bills, try to spend more time at uni.

    By going to the library instead of working from home, you can reduce the number of hours that you need to put your heating on. On top of this, if you charge your phone and laptop at uni, this will save you yet more energy at home.

    In response to the cost of living crisis, we've also heard of some unis opening up communal areas on campus where students can go to stay warm. These might include microwave and shower facilities to help you minimise your home energy usage.

    If you have to spend a lot on travel to get to uni, this may not work out as cost-effective. However, if you're able to walk or cycle to campus, or if you're already at uni for a class, staying there for the day can be a great way to save money on bills.

    To find out more about the support that's on offer to help with energy bills, see our guide that explains the £400 energy rebate and more.
  12. Get an energy-saving plug

    Do you tend to leave things on standby rather than switching them off at the wall? If so, investing in some energy-saving plugs could be an excellent life hack for you.

    They let you turn devices off fully (rather than just putting them on standby) with your remote. This means the plugs can save energy and reduce bills, plus they're super convenient.

    We explain more about them in our guide to reducing your carbon footprint.

  13. Buy a long mobile phone charging cable

    We all know how annoying it is when you need to use your phone but it's low on battery. At times like this, you'll usually find yourself limited to sitting right beside your mobile while it charges.

    But, luckily, it's possible to buy phone charging cables that are two, or even three, metres long. This means you can sit across the room from the plug socket but still use your phone.

    You can find long mobile phone charging cables on sites like eBay and Amazon.

  14. Look in book bibliographies to find more sources

    woman on laptop

    Credit: Atanas Bezov - Shutterstock

    If you're ever struggling to find sources for a university essay, there's a very easy way to approach this: look in the bibliographies of books you've already read.

    When you find a book useful, check to see what texts are referenced by the author. Make a list of the most relevant titles in that book's bibliography and look for these in your uni library.

    By doing so, you'll discover new academic texts and quickly expand the bibliography in your essay.

    On the topic of books, check out the best ways to make money from reading (yes, it really is possible!).
  15. Use Google Scholar for referencing

    To speed up the process of referencing in essays, try Google Scholar.

    It's quick to do. You just need to look through the search results on Google Scholar, and alongside each text, you'll see a button that says 'Cite'. Click it, and you'll see a list of citations in various referencing styles.

    Make sure you check what style of referencing you need to use.

    Google Scholar includes common ones such as Harvard and Chicago. But if your uni requires you to use one that's not on the list, you'll either need to write the citations yourself or try an alternative tool like Cite This For Me.

    We explain more about Google Scholar, Cite This For Me and more in our guide to the most useful websites for students.

  16. Set timers on your phone for study blocks

    A great productivity tip is to set timers on your phone for each block of study you do.

    For example, when you sit down to read a text or write an essay, you could set your timer for 30 minutes. Focus on doing as much work as you can before the time's up, and then give yourself a break of 10–20 minutes. Once the break is up, set the timer again and get back to work.

    By giving yourself clear amounts of time to study and relax, you'll hopefully be able to get more work done and stay motivated throughout the day.

  17. Block social media apps on your phone while working

    If the above tip isn't enough, you can go one step further to improve your productivity by blocking social media apps on your phone.

    With apps like Instagram and TikTok, you can open them with the intention of scrolling through for five minutes, but then find yourself still flicking through posts and videos an hour later.

    They might be entertaining, but when you've got work to do, they can be huge time wasters.

    When you're in the habit of regularly picking up your phone and checking social media, you might find you keep opening the apps without even thinking about it. To keep yourself off them, try blocking them on your phone.

    Or, for extra incentive, get the Hold app. It lets you earn points for staying off your phone. And, once you've earned enough points, you can then redeem them for freebies.

  18. Tackle quick tasks on your to-do list first

    checklist

    Making a to-do list is, in itself, not the most surprising life hack. But it's how you approach it that matters.

    At the beginning of each day, write down everything you need to do. Even if a task is really small and you're confident you'll remember it, write it down anyway. It will help you plan out what to do, and when.

    When you have a particularly big task to get through, break it down into chunks.

    On a to-do list, instead of writing "revise", put something like "read through lecture notes", "make revision flashcards" and "answer a practice question" as separate points to check off.

    Once the list is finished, work out how long you expect each task to take. If something only takes five minutes, start with this before moving on to the jobs that will take longer.

    You might also find it helpful to do some quick tasks throughout the day to break up the bigger and more challenging ones.

    Crossing off tasks from a to-do list, even small ones, will give you a boost and make you feel more productive throughout the day.

  19. Use a coat hanger with clips to hold up study texts

    When you're flicking through university textbooks, it can be hard to keep the book open with one hand while typing with the other.

    To avoid this issue, get a coat hanger with clips, and use it to hold the book open in front of you.

    Even if you don't have anywhere in front of you to hang up the book, you can keep the book open on the right page with the coat hanger and place it in front of you on your desk.

    If you don't yet have any coat hangers with clips, you can usually buy cheap ones from sites like Wilko.

  20. Hang up clothes in the bathroom to get creases out

    You can often avoid the need to iron by hanging up your clothes in the bathroom while you shower. The steam from the shower helps to get creases out of clothes.

    For very creased clothes, this technique might not be enough to completely smooth them out. But it should at least help. And given how easy it is to do, it's always worth trying this to avoid the time (and energy) required to iron clothes.

  21. Make your own cleaning products

    To save money on cleaning products, look into making your own.

    You'll likely already have a lot of the key ingredients for natural cleaning products in the cupboard. Here are some examples:

    Homemade cleaning products can be great for descaling shower heads, unblocking drains, cleaning ovens and loads more. We go through the key things to know in our guide to making cheap cleaning products.

Looking for more life tips? Find out how to survive shared living.

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