Students need to be smart and find the best deals
Finances will always be tight when you start college this month, and it kicks off an important phase in your life as a consumer, says John Cradden
If you got the CAO points you wanted, the start of your third-level education this month will be a hugely exciting time, particularly if you'll be living away from home.
But with all the new freedoms that come with being a college student come new responsibilities, not least making those boring but important choices about essential utilities like banking, mobile phone tariffs, broadband, energy and insurance.
According to DIT Campus Life's 2016 survey, you're likely to be spending around €300 a year on mobile phone bills, plus another €250-€300 in contributions to home utilities such as gas, electricity and broadband access.
So given that money will always be tight, looking for the best-value and most flexible choices and hunting down all the student discounts you can find will make a big difference.
Like everyone else, finding the best-value mobile tariff that fits your usage profile is a serious head-scratcher, but the excellent KillBiller app can help you out. Shane Lynn of KillBiller says that the key is to know exactly what your needs are.
"Bear in mind that the average-use figures show that people use approximately 200 minutes and 110 texts per month, plans with anything over 400-500 mins or SMS are effectively unlimited unless you love to speak on the phone. People tend to use about 2-3 GB of data."
Although it's not covered by the KillBiller app, Lynn suggests looking at the 48 Months network (aimed at 18 to 22-year-olds), but also to check out the value in the unlimited data offers from Three, and the high-data prepay deals from iD and Meteor.
Where you can, look to get a good smartphone and pay upfront, so you can change your plan at any point with a prepay or 30-day contract.
Avoid the most expensive smartphones with high-price bill pay contracts. "There are amazing smartphones available for less than €300."
Broadband access will be an essential utility as a student, but costs can be the sting in the tail if you don't choose your package wisely. You could just rely on the college broadband access or free Wi-Fi wherever you can find it, but there will be plenty of times when you'll need broadband at home.
Most fixed-broadband packages usually come with contract of at least 12 months, which won't work for most students in rented accommodation. However, there are now contract-free options available.
"These are generally slightly more expensive per month than standard broadband contracts, but could save students money in the long-run by helping them to avoid early exit fees if they move out of rented accommodation and have to cancel a 12- or 18-month contract early," said Eoin Clarke of price comparison site switcher.ie.
Virgin Media's Freedom Broadband has speeds of up to 240Mb and costs €50 per month, while Magnet also offers a contract-free service starting at €42 per month for speeds up to 24Mb. You can cancel with just 30 days notice and save around €100 compared to a 12-month contract, says Clarke.
If you're renting, you'll need to sign up for electricity, gas, or both. Check with your landlord to find out what plan is currently in place in the house, as you could probably make savings by switching to a new supplier. At the moment, the difference between the standard plans and the cheapest deals on the market is €360 a year for the average dual-fuel customer, according to Bonkers and Switcher, and switching is simple and quick.
You may need insurance for valuables like your laptop and smartphone if you're in rented accommodation. However, you could be paying up to €50 a month for standalone contents cover, so try and see if you can keep your contents insured on your family's home-insurance policy. Most home policies provide cover for items temporarily removed from the home and usually it'll work out cheaper than getting a new policy.