Fare Is Fair – How to get the lowest price for your rail travel

A survey of over 700 university students in the UK found that 99% overestimated the lowest possible price of a single ticket between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly.*

How often do you see low priced tickets though? I did loads of train travel as a student and the long distance journeys were pretty costly. Not having enough money, I had to seek out the best prices.

photo by R~P~M

photo by R~P~M

The student survey, for, discovered that 72% were aware that a Young Person’s (16-25) Railcard can save a third off fares, but only a quarter of the respondents knew that more savings could be made by booking ahead.

I was hot on the cheap advance tickets. Even after I found the cheapest fares, I still got another third off the price with my 16-25 Railcard.

You have to be quick to get the very best prices. Tickets for the next long holiday may not be the first thing on your mind the moment you arrive back from the last holiday, but advance legwork may be the best way to save some serious cash.

Ian Hildreth,’s Marketing Director, says, “The cheapest Advance train tickets for travel in the Easter break go on sale up to twelve weeks in advance”. He advises students to sign up to their Ticket Alert email so you get the lowdown on when the tickets you want go on sale. That way, you’ve got the best chance to grab a great deal.

Another way I search for the cheapest deals is through the National Rail website, where they offer a cheap fares finder. They check the different train operator’s prices for you and they can vary a lot. Be flexible about dates if you can, because you’re more likely to find the best deals that way.

Even if you have to book at the last minute, it’s still worth seeking out a cheaper advance ticket a day or two before the journey. In fact, Martin Lewis says on, “Always check if advance tickets are still available, even if you’re on the way to the station”. Check out the MoneySavingExpert section on rail travel for more tips, including hardcore tactics such as splitting your tickets for even bigger savings.

*If you’re wondering, the lowest priced fare from London to Manchester is £12. I did check a date in the future to see this for myself. Those prices were available, but they can go fast. And remember, with a Young Person’s Railcard, that price goes down even further to £8. Good times!

Yet More Money Saving Tips

Not content with my previous posts on saving money, here are some more tips to get stuck into when trying to survive on a student budget:

photo by woodsy

Shopping & Eating

  • Cut down on convenience food – I’m not talking about ready meals, I’m talking about buying food when you’re on the go and when you haven’t planned your day.  Stop spending on takeaway meals, ready-made sandwiches, coffee/tea/bottled water, cafe grub and pasty purchases.  They eat up valuable cash.
  • Buy special offers – I like a bit of variation, so I don’t mind trawling the supermarket for what’s on offer.  It’s cheaper (for me) than making a list of specific items to buy.  Then again, if you’re tempted by too much when you don’t write a list, you may prefer to stick with just the items you know you want…
  • Go to more than one supermarket – If you can get to a few different places to buy your food, it’s worth seeing what’s on offer in each place.  I used to go into town to get just the special offers from Sainsburys, Tesco, Somerfield, Marks & Spencer and even the convenience store.  Those shops all had different special offers, so even an avid writer of shopping lists should come out with most (if not all) they want at a good price!
  • Don’t give in to impulse buys – Okay, I admit, some special offers will result in an impulse purchase.  But most buying on impulse is because the product is tempting you as you wait by the checkout, or it has a big presentation associated with it down an aisle.  The food may look better than anything you’ve ever had, but it’ll only end in tears and a premature parting of your cash.
  • Haggle for a discount (even over any student discounts you may already be eligible for) – Student discounts are great, but there’s no harm in asking if the seller can go any lower in price.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive item and you don’t have to be buying anything else in order to ask.  It doesn’t even look cheeky if you’re serious about saving money.  The worst answer you’ll get is “No”.  I’m sure you can live with that.  You weren’t going to get a discount anyway if you hadn’t asked.  No harm done, eh?
  • Check the charity shops for bargains – Forget about stigma and start enjoying the fact that you’ll help a good cause and get some good, cheap clothes/books thrown in.  It’s worth spending a few minutes looking around for a bargain, even if you come out with nothing.
  • Check prices online – What you can buy for £20 on the high street, you could get for less than £10 online.  Some things may even be free on the right promotion.  The Web is awash with brilliant prices on almost anything you want to buy (even your shopping!).  Always see how much you can save online.  I know a lot of you do already, but I still don’t see everyone doing it.
  • Cut back on your shopping habits – Do you need to visit the hairdresser so much?  Are you buying posher brands than you really need?  Have you even tried to buy a cheaper version of something as a test? Are you carelessly texting and calling on your mobile (be it PAYG or contract…) without considering the cost? Do you buy expensive glossy magazines for a quick 10 minute fix? Are you subscribing to services you don’t really use?  Claw back all the money you can and you’re bound to save a bit here and there.


Student loans & broke graduates

I’m amazed at news that around a third of graduates who took out student loans are still not paying them back.  The payback threshold is £15,000.  So there are around 400,000 graduates out there with loans, earning less than £15,000 a year.

photo by svilen001

photo by svilen001

As I’ve said before, university isn’t just about the piece of paper at the end of three years to help you find the perfect job.  Neither is it an excuse to have fun and forget the ‘real world’ for a bit longer.  Higher Education is full of opportunity, but you have to be ready to find it and to take it.  It doesn’t always come to you.  Without some conviction on your part, it’s easy for the university dream to fall apart and come to nothing.

That said, I’m still truly amazed that so many graduates are still earning lower than the £15,000 a year required before the student loan begins to be paid off.  I dread to think how much interest is piling up as the years go by (more on that below).

To make real sense of the data, we need more than the numbers.  A third of graduates who have taken out a loan sounds incredibly high.  But would it make more sense if the figures were broken down by each university, the degree taken, the grade each student received…?

Far less surprising to me was NUS President Wes Streeting‘s mention of a graduate with £12,000 in loans to pay off.  In one year, the graduate paid £650 on loan repayments, just to find that £580 of that was just interest payment.  That leaves a paltry £70 off the original debt.  Chipping £70 a year off a £12,000 (or, worse, £20,000) loan is madness, but I’m used to that myself.

I’ve been paying my debt off and it feels like I’ve achieved precious little.  I don’t notice the money coming out of my pay packet, sure, but I wish more of the money went toward the actual payment.  When you consider that you start paying interest as soon as the loan hits your bank account, your final account balance will be higher than the amount you borrowed, even if you pay it all back pretty sharpish.

Student loans are adjusted by the Retail Prices Index (RPI), but the interest rate isn’t based on an average RPI over the year; it’s whatever the RPI stands at every March.  Last year, the RPI was at an unusually high level in March (4.8%), so interest on loans was also high.

I’m now antsy to pay back my loan more quickly, despite what the brilliant Martin Lewis may say

Do you think I’m right or wrong in wanting to try and pay the debt back more quickly?

TheUniversityBlog a year ago: October 2007

Welcome to October.  Hopefully most of you are happily settling in to the new academic year.  You lucky things!

October last year was a busy month on TheUniversityBlog.  I covered homesickness, conversation, employment, and money, among other things.  Here’s my pick of the highlights:

Help for the Hopelessly Homesick

Moving away from home is already a big move.  That’s before you consider the amount of change you’ll encounter in your first few months at uni.  Inevitably, homesickness happens.  This huge post covers all sorts of advice.

Turning Smalltalk into Bigtalk: 7 ways to find things to talk about

Striking up a conversation is difficult enough, but getting into a flow of ideas to chat about can be boggling.  With a few pointers, you can boggle no more.

Pushing Toward Employment Nirvana Series

Who says you have to wait for the end of your degree before seriously considering your future employment?  As an increasing number of students need to work part-time, the CV isn’t unheard of.  So why not make it as good as you can from the outset?

Your Money Series

The world’s economy may be looking scary, but you can do your bit to look after your own pennies…