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 longrun 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,"
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.
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 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.
AIB gets A grade for student account
Banks have always been keen to capture students as customers as they will traditionally stick with them for life.
Of course, that's not so true now thanks to how relatively easy it is to switch banks, so your choice of bank as a student is no longer as significant as it once was.
Not so long ago, banks were offering sign-up incentives like free flights, interest-free travel loans and even cold, hard cash, but these offers have fallen by the wayside, according to Simon Moynihan of price comparison site bonkers.ie.
"But times have changed, and banks are offering much more rounded accounts to students that allow them to do the bulk of their banking online and with their mobiles. "
All accounts are free of maintenance and transaction fees, there are interest- free overdrafts, low-cost loans and rewards programmes."
Moynihan nominates AIB as the bank that has thought hardest about students this year with, among other things: fee- free banking, a contactless debit card and a clever sign- up offer.
"AIB have recognised that starving students need to eat, and their sign- up incentive is 20pc off JUST EAT every week for the entire college year."
He adds that " they are also offering a range of credit options that could really help students through the lean university years", including an interest- free overdraft with up to €1,500 credit and a Mastercard with a low initial rate. There's also contribution charge loan of €3,000 a year for four years at 8.45pc APR, with the option of interest- only repayments.
However, it might be wise to avoid debt, unless you really have to.