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Back to school: How to save on university essentials

As a new cohort prepares for university consumer group Which? has prepared top tips for new students to save money. Photo: Getty

As a new cohort prepares to head off to university, consumer group Which? has prepared top tips for new students to save money and make smart financial choices to beat the cost of living crisis.

Choose the right student bank account

Many banks offer perks to students opening a new student bank account with them.

According to Which? analysis, NatWest (NWG.L) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) offer the most valuable perk. Both offer a £100 incentive for signing up — plus a four-year Tastecard membership (worth £34.99 a year), which works out as a saving of £139.96.

Elsewhere, Natwest, Halifax, RBS, Nationwide (NBS.L), Lloyds (LLOY.L) and HSBC (HSBA.L) are offering new account holders £100 in cash.

Santander (BNC.L) offers a free railcard for four years, granting passengers a third off rail travel. The card usually costs £30 for a year, or £70 for three years.

Read more: Is going to university worth the money?

Student bank accounts tend to offer interest-free overdrafts. Which? found the top student accounts offer £3,000 interest-free overdrafts by year three of study. These are currently offered by Nationwide, HSBC, NatWest and RBS.

However, students may not get the maximum overdraft limit, as most banks will assess eligibility on an individual basis based on credit score.

While a student overdraft is interest-free for the duration of a course, the loan will start to attract interest, usually two years after you graduate. So you'll need a plan on how to pay it back, ideally before the interest kicks in.

Buy a great value laptop for £250

Most students opt for a laptop at university over a desktop computer as they are smaller and portable.

However, students don’t need to overspend on a laptop that is too powerful for their needs. Which? suggests between £200 and £400 should be enough for a student primarily using the laptop for research and creating text documents.

Read more: What next for savings rates?

Which? found several laptops that performed well in its tests, including the Acer Spin 311 CP311-3H for £209, which was commended for its battery life.

The Acer Swift 1 SF114-34 also impressed, and is priced at £389, but is often on offer for less than £300. Which? experts commended its long battery life, which makes it ideal for heading out and about.

Another high-performing laptop is the Lenovo (0992.HK) IdeaPad Slim 3 14-inch Gen 8. While it is a bit more expensive at a typical price of £449, it’s one of the "nippiest" sub-£500 Windows laptops Which? experts looked at, making it perfect for the student who likes to have a few things on the go at once. Users will also get more than six hours of use from just a 30-minute charge.

Finally, the Asus (2357.TW) Vivobook 16X impressed with its speedy performance thanks to its six-core AMD processor and generous 16GB of Ram. It costs £479. Its large size means it has lots of ports for accessories.

Smiling woman preparing fried egg while standing by friends at kitchen counter in house during weekend
Students can save on household items when getting ready to go to university. Photo: Getty

Find great value everyday items

For the kitchen, Which? recommends Dunelm’s (DNLM.L) Essentials stainless steel frying pan, priced at £9.80. It has a non-stick surface and is easy to clean.

To cook crispy cheese toasties, the George Foreman 25810 Small Fit Grill, £23.73 from Amazon (AMZN), is an affordable option. It heats up quickly and has a handy drip tray to catch melted cheese or butter. It’s easy to clean with a wipe of a damp cloth.

The Braun MQ100 hand blender from Robert Dyas was the best one Which? tested. Costing £25, it was awarded a Which? Best Buy as well as a Great Value endorsement. Testers found it to be the best blender for smoothies, blitzing frozen berries with ease.

Read more: How to check if you’re owed up to £2,000 you never knew existed

Another household suggestion to keep students warm without turning on the heating is the Comfort Control Electric Underblanket from SilentNight. The blanket is £35 and costs around 3p an hour to run. It heats up evenly and is available in different sizes.

Which? also granted a Best Buy endorsement to Ankerspace’s noise-cancelling Soundcore A40 headphones. Costing £79.99, they are at the pricier end of a student’s budget but testers found they provided great sound quality and comfort overall.

Be wary of student deals that are too good to be true

At the start of term, students can find themselves bombarded with student deals and offers from an array of companies, but they might not always be as good as they appear.

It’s worth doing research to ensure a deal is genuine.

Compare prices from a number of retailers when searching for laptops or other university essentials, as student discounts are often overstated at best and can, in some cases, even promote products that are more expensive than previously listed.

Watch: Is it financially worth going to university?

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