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According to savethestudent.org, an estimated 84% of the UK’s student’s worry about money troubles and making ends meet throughout the year. Next to rent, food is the highest cost a student has to factor into their budget during term time, leaving some students unable to afford food at all, because their rent has swallowed up nearly all of their loan. With 61% of student’s claiming their diet is suffering and a whopping 50% of those student’s saying its affecting their mental health, leading to a drop in grades, I think it’s high time we did something about it!
Being a mature student myself, I still live in my home city with my boyfriend, not far from the city centre, so I don’t have quite the same student experience as most. But I do know what it’s like to be reliant on your loan and how much it can affect your daily life when it doesn’t last as long as you expected it to…
A lot of students do opt to stay at home for University these days, due to the fact that it is a hell of a lot cheaper. Although this is a great way to not have to rent out a flat or a room in student halls, it can change the experience entirely, and you could be at risk of losing the independence of living away from home and fending for yourself. Which is, of course, a key part of the big bad world that’s ready and waiting for you when you graduate. (Spoiler alert.)
Below are 6 money-saving tips that every new student needs to know, as well as anyone and everyone who just wants to have some money left over each month, put away for a rainy day, or even start to save for their future.
Probably the most important tip anyone could give you. When you get your student loan every 3–4 months and after you’ve paid your rent, don’t just leave the rest sitting in your current account! Doing this will make you spend unnecessary amounts on unnecessary things because you know you’ve got some money in there. Believe me, we’ve all done it!
Divide up how much you get by how long it needs to last you. Open up an everyday saver account, where you can access it if you really need to online, but if you can’t see it all the time, you’ll put it to the back of your head and forget about it until next month. So, now you’ve got this month’s budget, do a big shop. That way you know how much you’re likely to spend and how long that food will last you. It’s also cheaper to do a shop with your flat mates. Everyone puts in a certain amount, write a list of things you all eat, and anything else pay for separately. Yes, okay, it’s a bit of a faff, but doing it that way means that three of you don’t end up with mouldy bread because you didn’t finish the loaf in time.
2. Scope Out Your Nearest Discount Supermarket, and Your Nearest Market
Lidl’s has been my SAVIOUR since I moved out! When living at home, our local shop was Asda. We would spend upwards of £60 near enough every visit, lasting 3 of us only a week or so. Almost everything we bought was branded, making the bill sky rocket, even when there was some sort of elusive offer on. Now, the shampoo and conditioner I buy are only £30 each and are actually twice as good as the branded stuff I used to buy. So just because something isn’t a big brand, doesn’t mean it’s not as good. Lidl’s is also really good value for its fruit, veg, and meat. But your local market (there’s usually one in and around town centres) is more than likely going to be better for your money. Aldi is also a great discount store compared to the leading supermarkets, but personally I’ve found their prices to be slightly higher than Lidl’s.
I know, it’s SO easy to just pop down to your local express shop which are literally on every corner these days, but these stores charge higher prices, because they’re express stores. Since moving out and changing where I shop, my monthly food shop has more than halved. So do a bit of research into your new home town and find your local discount store!
3. Learn to Cook
This is something everyone will (or should) come to do at some point, so what better time to start than now? Your first time living away from home and with new friends to impress with your culinary skills, no one is saying you have to be Master Chef, but if you’re serious about saving some pounds then learning to cook is definitely the way forward! Not only is buying ingredients a lot cheaper than microwave meals, pot noodles, and dry pasta, but it’s also a lot healthier too, and with the internet at our finger tips, it doesn’t take long to find a recipe you’d like to try and put your mind to it. And hey, who knows, you might discover a new passion!
4. Make Big Batches/Meal Prep
A great way to make food go further is to make big batches for you and your flat mates, instead of just cooking for yourself and throwing away leftovers. If you make big enough batches to still have leftovers after you have fed your mates, portion the rest out into Tupperware boxes and use them for lunches or freeze to have as another meal, another day. If you do freeze them though, be sure to organise/label your meals, otherwise they’ll all end up looking the same and you’ll be reluctant to eat any of them. If you and all of your flat mates took turns in doing this every other night, you’ll all stay well fed and should find your food lasting longer.
5. Freeze Everything You Can
I know a lot of halls of residence and rented properties tend to come with tiny freezers, meaning you can’t start stocking up in case World War 3 hits, but there are certain things that will do well to make room for in the freezer. Number one being your leftover meals in Tupperware boxes. You’ll only really need to freeze your leftovers if you or anyone else doesn’t plan on eating them within the next 2 days. So plan what will and won’t get eaten to avoid any wastage. Number 2 is bread. Like I said earlier, if everyone buys their own bread, you’re likely to end up throwing it away, because you can’t get through it in time. But if a whole house is relying on one loaf to see them through, then it definitely won’t last long. So if you bought 1 or 2 for the house, try and squeeze a second or third in the freezer to avoid that emergency trip to the express shop when you’re hungover and want a bacon sarnie!
Another great tip to save space in your fridge, and reduce wastage from use by dates is to buy cheap soya milk; Aldi and Asda do a great one for around £50 you can bulk buy, as the use by dates tend to be over a year away, keep it in the cupboard and even once its opened it doesn’t necessarily need to be refrigerated if it has a screw top lid on.
Buying canned food is great too. Although not quite as healthy as the "make it from scratch" approach, it is a great quick meal to whip out of the cupboard when you don’t have the time to make a big meal. Again Lidl’s and Aldi do cheap, tinned curries as well as the classics, beans, and spaghetti hoops.
Kidney beans, butter beans, Cannelloni beans, and chickpeas are really good to add to meals to bulk it up as a filling carb, without the carbs.
6. Wilkos Is Your Friend!
Not just Wilkos, but Poundland and The Works too, I’ve found to be the best on prices for things such as stationary and homeware. I know it’s really easy to buy loads of stuff as soon as your loan comes in because you don’t know what you’ll need, but be realistic. Unless your course has specifically asked for special equipment (which you can usually get some kind of extra bursary for, depending on the course and the university), then you don’t need to splash out on everything before you start. Start with basics. A pen and a notebook. Anything else you can get once you’ve started and have a clearer idea of what you’ll need.
It’s exactly the same with homeware. Even if you do become a Master Chef, you don’t need every kitchen utensil in the world just in case you might use it once. Especially if your plan is to cook up big batches, portion them out and freeze them, you’ll be more than likely eating out of a Tupperware box more often than from a plate or bowl. You only really need 2 or 3 pieces of cutlery each, a couple of pans, and some cups/glasses. Keep in mind, the less you have, the less you have to clean.
So, there are my 6 tips to kick-start your savings account and generally just help you get by whilst you’re at University. Enjoy your time at Uni and don’t let money troubles control your life anymore!