A diet of baked beans, dealing with dodgy landlords, and spending your loan within the first few weeks of term have long been hallmarks of the cash-strapped student experience. But one University of Manchester graduate is using his entrepreneurial drive to change that by setting up an online business dedicated to helping students save money and manage their finances while studying.
Learning to manage
In the final year of his International Business, Finance and Economics degree, Joe Levi began assembling the building blocks of StudentMoneySaver.com, which launched when he graduated in 2010. After struggling to find reliable financial help and support tailored for students, Joe developed the website to offer impartial financial advice to undergraduates, collate the best money-saving deals, and provide them with a platform to discuss their financial concerns with their peers and experts.
"Money is very tight when you're a student because you have to pay your expenses without a full-time job and stretch your student loan as far as possible," explains Joe. In the current climate of rising living costs, it's becoming even more challenging for students to manage their money, and many are increasingly concerned about exceeding their overdraft and running up large amounts of debt.
"The other key issue is that many students will be financially independent for the first time when they leave home to go to university, and they'll be very inexperienced in managing their personal finances," says Joe. To help, there's a bank of articles on the site to guide you through everything from the basics of bill paying, to decoding insurance policies, and understanding your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.
Downs - and ups
Since the idea for StudentMoneySaver.com was conceived in autumn 2009, Joe has worked tirelessly to overcome the potential pitfalls that many start-ups face. Limited business experience, funding issues and technical problems were some of the challenges he had to confront during the development stage, which caused the website to go down for a period of six months. "The most valuable lesson I've learnt over the past two years is that it's very difficult to achieve anything completely independently, so it's essential to work alongside a strong team," he said.
Joe used his networking skills to recruit student writers from the university, and he also sought advice and feedback from fellow members of Manchester Entrepreneurs, the university's entrepreneurship society. "I've always been very entrepreneurial," says Joe, "from a really young age I was always interested in commerce, whether I was setting up stalls in the park, or selling jeans on eBay, so I've always ultimately been interested in starting my own business." For other students keen to follow in his footsteps, Joe advises: "If you have a good idea, are willing to work really hard, and have a lot of belief, then anything is possible."
StudentMoneySaver.com currently receives around 10,000 unique users every month, and the site has a loyal base of over 6000 fans on Facebook , but Joe is committed to developing the site further by attracting new members with exclusive deals and services. The website relaunches this month for the new academic year with a selection of brand new features, including a partnership with uSwitch to help students to compare utility providers and find the cheapest deal, and a range of exclusive offers tailored to the student market, such as a term time-only broadband deal with Orange.
Looking forward to the year ahead, The Gateway asked Joe for his top three money saving tips. He advises students to budget well by planning ahead and being realistic; to pick the right student bank account, rather than the one with the best freebie; and to take full advantage of student deals and discounts.