Cost of living crisis: 20 ways to cope
The cost of living crisis in the UK has had a huge impact on so many of us. If you're struggling with money at the moment, here are 20 things you can do to keep up with the rising prices.
With inflation hitting a 41-year high in 2022, keeping up with the cost of living is difficult for people across the country.
It's never been easy to manage money at uni – hence why Save the Student exists. But this is different. The cost of living crisis is posing financial challenges on a level that we hoped to never see.
While there have been bigger increases to the funding in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Maintenance Loans in England have risen by disappointingly little in the 2023/24 academic year. Yet, we know from our National Student Money Survey that it has already been difficult for many of you to make ends meet, even before prices began to rocket.
The responsibility lies with the government to help us all through this. And at Save the Student, we'll be working hard to highlight the realities that you, as students, are facing, and calling for additional support packages to be introduced.
The situation will get better. And we'll do what we can until then to make sure you're informed of your options, and have people in your corner in the wider debate on the cost of living crisis.
What's in this guide?
What has caused the cost of living crisis?
2022 saw the highest rates of inflation for 41 years. A lot of daily essentials cost noticeably more now than they did a year ago.
Worryingly, the average increase in earnings isn't keeping up with the rates of inflation.
There are also concerns that Maintenance Loans aren't increasing enough to account for inflation.
As an example, the maximum loans for students from England increased by 2.8% in the 2023/24 academic year. But, with CPI inflation standing at 6.7% in August 2023, it's looking unlikely that Maintenance Loans will be big enough to help students beat inflation.
On top of this, although energy prices have started to come down, they are still significantly higher than they were before the price hikes in 2022.
With many people not earning enough or receiving enough financial support to keep up with the rising prices, we are experiencing a cost of living crisis in the UK.
20 ways to cope with the cost of living crisis
Here are 20 tips on how to keep up with the rising cost of living:
Contact your university about hardship funds
If you're struggling for money, contact your university immediately.
Each uni will have money set aside to help students who are in need of emergency cash. This is known as hardship funding.
We explain the key things to know about how to apply, and how much you can receive in our full guide to hardship funds.
If you have any questions about it, get in touch with the money advisors at your uni. They will be able to help and point you in the right direction.
Ask for a pay rise at your part-time job
As we mentioned earlier, one of the causes of the cost of living crisis is that people's earnings aren't generally increasing enough to keep up with inflation.
So, if you've got a part-time job and haven't yet had a pay rise this year (or if you have, but only by a small amount), ask your employer if your earnings could increase in line with inflation.
Also, make sure that you are definitely getting paid the minimum wage. If there are any hours you spend working that aren't accounted for in your pay (such as time spent preparing for an event), talk to your employer about this. They legally need to pay you minimum wage for the hours you work.
We also have a part-time job search tool to help you find student jobs near you.
Get a heated blanket for winter
As energy bills continue to rise, keeping up with the cost of living over winter will be challenging. To avoid putting the heating on around the house too often, you could buy an electric blanket.
It can help you save money on energy bills, while ensuring you stay warm and comfortable during the cold months.
You can usually get a single heated blanket for around £20–£25. By using the blanket instead of putting the radiator on, you should save more than that in bills over winter.
See our full guide to buying cheap electric blankets for more details, including how to use them safely.
Look into scholarships, grants and bursaries
Alongside Student Finance, see if you're eligible for extra funding in the forms of scholarships, bursaries and grants.
One example is Disabled Students' Allowances, which can help students who have a disability, learning difficulty or health problem. This includes mental, as well as physical, health problems.
There are also loads of scholarships for students from ethnic minorities.
And some grants might surprise you. For example, you can get a grant for being a vegetarian.
Try ways to make money from home
If you're looking for more ways to make money, you could consider doing easy tasks from home that earn you cash in your spare time.
And we have lots more ideas in our big guide to making money.
See if your parents can offer any financial support
Money is tight for many right now, and your parents are likely feeling the pinch too. So, for some, this won't be an option. However, if you think your parents might be able to offer you a little money, it's worth asking them.
One of the key issues with Maintenance Loans is that they're based on household income. As a general rule, the more your parents or guardians earn, the less money you'll receive from Student Finance.
As such, the government calculates loan amounts with the assumption that parents on higher incomes will give their children more money at uni.
If you're unsure how to approach the conversation, we have some tips on how to ask parents for money.
Also, we know of some great ways that you can actually make money from helping your parents. They're worth looking into if you feel uncomfortable about directly asking for money.Unsure how much the government 'expects' your parents to give you at uni? Use our parental contributions calculator to find out.
Sell things you no longer need
Do you have any old belongings that you no longer need or want? You could try selling them to earn a bit of extra cash.
You can even sell some things that you might otherwise throw away like empty loo roll tubes.
We go through loads of ideas in our big guide on things you can make money from selling.
Put any spare cash into savings
Due to inflation, any money you have will effectively be worth less now than it did this time a year ago. This is because living costs are higher, so money isn't going as far as it used to.
To try to beat inflation, put any spare cash you have into savings to help it grow.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find savings accounts with interest rates that match the current rates of inflation. But, any money that you can save will help.
If you have any money that you can afford to put away and not use for a while (such as for a year), look into fixed-rate savings accounts. These tend to have higher interest rates than easy-access accounts.
However, if you want to dip into your savings as and when you need to, an easy-access account will likely suit you better. These come with lower interest rates, but give you more freedom to access the money when you need it.
To compare fixed-rate and easy-access accounts, see our guide to the best savings accounts.
Set a budget
Keeping to a budget can sometimes feel easier said than done, but it makes such a difference when money is tight.
You can find our full list of tips in our guide to budgeting at university.
But, one approach that can be particularly effective is using an app-based bank account as a second account.
Once you've calculated how much you can afford to spend each week or month, set up a standing order to send that amount of money to your app-based account. Then, only use that card (rather than the one for your main student bank account).
This will help you keep track of how much you're spending. Each time you check that account's balance, you'll immediately know how much more you can afford to spend that week/month.
A lot of apps like Monzo have useful features to help with budgeting. Have a look at our guide to the best app-based and online banks for more info.
Switch to a better student bank account
Finding the best student bank account for you is an important decision. Two of the main things to consider are the overdraft allowances and the sign-up incentives.
We'll start with the overdraft. If you see another student bank account that offers a bigger interest- and fee-free overdraft than your current one, switching to that account could help you get by during the cost of living crisis.
When money gets tight between Student Loan instalments, student overdrafts can make a difference.
Use overdrafts carefully. You want the overdraft to be there when you need it, so try to use it sparingly and keep track of how much you're spending.
And remember that it's not free money – you will need to pay it back eventually. After you graduate, it will likely shrink, and only remain interest- and fee-free for a limited period (usually a few years).
Our guide to student overdrafts talks you through the key things to know.
As well as the overdraft, think about whether you could get a good sign-up incentive for switching. Some student bank accounts offer free cash, Railcards and in-credit interest. All of these will help with the cost of living crisis.
Switch your broadband
Due to the current climate, it's very difficult at the moment to switch energy providers to get a better deal. Because of this, it's important to think about what bills you can save money on, such as broadband.
Broadband prices are actually more competitive than ever this year. See if you can save money by switching to a different provider.
We compare the top broadband deals for students in our dedicated guide.
Some broadband providers offer incentives for joining, like vouchers. But, be careful not to choose a broadband provider just because of the sign-up incentives.
We've taken the incentives into consideration in the guide and calculated the effective monthly cost. This will help you identify which offers really are good value for money.
Before switching, thoroughly check the terms of the contract. Make sure you know if there are any hidden costs, how long you'll be tied into the contract, and whether there is a fee to terminate the contract early.
Try a meal plan
It's worth following a meal plan to ensure you're eating well each day, while saving as much money on food as you can.
Planning out all of your meals for the week/month ensures you arrive at the supermarket with a clear idea of what you need. This will help you avoid the temptation of picking up overpriced ready meals or buying food that you'll struggle to use up before it goes off.
Our free meal plan helps you make breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for a few pounds a day. You could either follow that, or use it as a guideline to work out the best meal plan for you.
Bulk buy own-brand food products
It can be tempting to stick with brands you know and love when food shopping. But, by doing a supermarket downshift to only buy food from the store's budget range, you can save a fair amount of money.
Also, look out for yellow-sticker items in supermarkets. Even food that's usually quite expensive can be on sale for less than own-brand food if it's approaching its sell-by date.
Try to get packs that include large quantities of food. Buying food in bulk is usually the best way to save money.
Look at the price tag to see the cost per weight/volume, and compare this with different versions of the product on the shelf. This will help you identify which products offer the most food for the price.
It's easier to bulk buy dry food that lasts a long time in the cupboard, like pasta, rice and tinned food.
But, if you're fortunate enough to have a good-sized freezer in your student accommodation, this will help to keep food fresh that otherwise has a short shelf life.
We have a guide that lists some foods you can and can't freeze to give you an idea of what foods you can buy in bulk and store in the freezer.
Use websites that sell reduced or free food
There are some brilliant apps and websites to help you save money on food. Here are some examples:
- Olio – For free food, try Olio. On the app, you'll find people nearby who are giving away food to avoid it going to waste.
- Approved Food – This site sells food that's past its best-before date (but not its use-by date) at reduced prices.
- Too Good To Go – On here, you can buy food from businesses like cafes and restaurants that would otherwise go to waste at the end of the day.
If you're not yet using supermarket cashback apps, these are worth trying too. It's sometimes possible to get 100% cashback on food and drinks, meaning they're essentially free.
Research local food banks
If you're really struggling for money, please don't feel like you have to go without food.
As well as contacting your university about hardship funding, as we mentioned above, you could look into food banks near you.
There's a handy map on the Trussell Trust's website with details about their food banks around the UK. If you click on your local food bank on the map, you'll find their contact details so you can get in touch and ask any questions.
We also have a guide to using food banks, including who can access them, how to do it and what food you're likely to get.
Save money on train travel with a 16–25 Railcard
16–25 Railcards give you a third off rail fares.
Unless you get a free Railcard with your student bank account, you'll need to pay an initial cost to buy one. At the time of writing, they cost £30 for a year or £70 for three years.
Look out for deals to save money on the Railcard.
You can usually use Tesco Clubcard points to get money off them.
Plus, you can sometimes get 33% off digital railcards when you buy them via Trainline. Check if this deal is currently available before buying one.It's also possible to get a Coachcard. Find out more in our guide to getting cheap coach tickets.
Have a no-spend day
Factoring in a no-spend day into your week can help you cut down your overall spending.
By this, we don't mean going without essentials like food and toiletries for a day. It's about planning your week's spending so that you don't need to spend anything that day.
You'd need to bring lunch with you to uni, walk or cycle (if possible) instead of getting the bus, and cook dinner from food that's in your fridge.
If you find it easy to have a no-spend day, or if you already go a day without spending anything each week, try to extend it to more days.
Ask about free sanitary products at university
Many universities in the UK offer free sanitary products to students. If you're unsure if yours does, ask your tutor or a student union representative.
It may be the case that your uni doesn't yet give away free pads or tampons. But, if so, ask if it would be possible for them to start.
For the times when you do need to buy them, we've compared the cheapest sanitary products. In that guide, we've included menstrual cups. These have a bigger upfront cost than pads or tampons, but they can last years. So, you should quickly start saving money compared to buying new packs of sanitary products each month.If you haven't already, look into the top free things you can get from university.
Use sites that sell discounted products
We're sure you do this already. But we thought it was worth highlighting a few sites that can help you find the best deals in case there are any you've not tried yet.
For example, on Amazon Warehouse, you can find open-box and preowned products that are on sale for discounted prices. As long as you don't mind that an item has some cosmetic damage and/or a missing part, you can find great deals there.
Also, have a look at online outlet stores for heavily discounted clothes, shoes, stationery and more.
And Freecycle is brilliant for finding free things that others are giving away like furniture, bikes and clothes.
Reach out for debt advice
If you're struggling with debt, help is always out there.
As we mentioned earlier, when you're short on cash, reach out to your university immediately to enquire about hardship funding.
There are also some debt advice charities that you could reach out to for free advice, such as:
It's a good idea to talk to your loved ones about your situation and how you're feeling.
Even if your family and friends aren't in a position to lend you money, they can offer you emotional support as you navigate your way out of debt.
You can find more info about managing debt at university in our guide.
And if money worries are impacting your mental health, reach out for support for this too. Take care of yourself during this challenging time.
For loads more tips, see our guide with over 80 ways to save money.