Thursday, 22 August 2013

My top money-saving tips for thrifty student living

It’s that time of year again. 18 year olds around the world have just got their exam results, their university offers are confirmed and they can finally let themselves get excited about flying the nest and becoming a fresher. UNAY.

There’s a lot to deal with when you first embark on student life, and it can be a pretty overwhelming experience. That said, obviously most people find freshers’ week a hell of a lot of fun.

All of a sudden, you’re completely, totally and utterly independent. And it is FANTASTIC! Seriously. No-one tells you what to do. People might advise you, sure, but no-one’s going to make you do anything.

As wonderful as this is, it can be a little difficult suddenly having to be your own parents – laundry, food shopping, cooking and budgeting are alien concepts for many-a-fresher. I myself, somewhat embarrassingly, had to call my mum as I did my first load of laundry. I’m now a pro. 

Another thing I feel I’ve mastered over the past two years is thrifty student living. I’ve never been in my overdraft, had to ask my parents for cash, or ended up with so little in my bank account that I’ve been forced to live off beans and toast for a week. It happens, people, surprisingly frequently. Yet I’ve still had a fabulously fun student life.

Sure, I’ve been called the Queen of Freebies, a title which I relish, and it’s true that I do seem to have a knack for finding them. Wherever I am. If there’s something free on offer in the vicinity, I will always find it. And take one. Actually, probably a few. You too can develop this skill, young grasshoppers.

So, at the request of my soon-to-be-student sister and her friends, I’ve written up some of my thrifty-living and money-saving tips for you. Budgeting and managing your money is one of the hardest parts of leaving home for a lot of students, so hopefully these tips will help give you one less thing to worry about.

My tips are largely food-related because at the end of the day, that’s your main expenditure. Well, it should be. Becoming a student requires a change of mindset for a lot of people, especially if you’re used to having an allowance. You just can’t go clothes shopping every week. Unless you limit yourself to Primark. And only a few things. And we all know how difficult it is to buy only a few things in Primark.

The days of your mum asking if you want to pop into Costa for a hot chocolate as you casually stroll past are long gone, and then when you go home at Christmas and she offers, it will seem like the biggest treat in the world.

There are lots of ways in which students can save money, but these are just the things I do and what’s worked for me. Behold, my thrifty, money-saving tips for students (or anyone really…):


Yummy market fruits
1. Buy supermarket brands. This seems obvious but I find it astounding how many students still buy the brands they’re used to having at home. No, no. Oh, and you can say goodbye to Waitrose and M&S too. You may just discover, like I did, that Sainsbury’s double concentrate squash is actually just as delicious as Robinson’s, and I personally think Sainsbury’s do more interesting flavours. *gasp* 

2. Compare prices by weight. Supermarkets are really sneaky. Tempted to buy one loaf of bread because it’s cheaper than another? DON’T DO IT! Well, not yet anyway. Always compare prices by weight – it usually says the price per 100g at the bottom of each price.

3. Money-saving food swaps. I wrote a whole other article about this. Have a read here.

4. Don’t be deceived by the offers. 3 for 2? Buy one get one half price? Don’t automatically assume that whatever’s shoved in your face on those bright red signs at the end of each aisle is the cheapest. Again, compare. You’ll soon realise, young grasshopper, that supermarket shopping can take a fair amount of time if you want to get the best deals.

5. Plan your meals for a few days ahead and take a list to the supermarket instead of just going for a browse (as tempting as it may seem… Just me?) I’m the first to admit that sticking to a list is hard though – there have been many an occasion where I’ve gone into Sainsbury’s thinking ‘All I need is milk and bananas’ and come out 45 minutes later with half the shop.

6. Shop at markets if you can. They’re usually cheaper and often better for fruit and veg. But not those posh farmers’ markets though. They’re basically outdoor delis, as lovely as they are.

7. Shop just before closing time. At the end of the day (literally, not figuratively), supermarkets start reducing everything that’s supposedly about to go off. Follow round the guy with that price-cutting sticker-machine and you can bag yourself a barg for dinner that night. This brings me nicely on to…


Our student Christmas was a win
1. Embrace the freezer. Found a reduced packet of pittas that’s about to go off? Don’t fancy eating six pittas in one sitting? FREEZE THEM. Simples. 
When you’re buying food just for yourself, you may be tempted to buy small packets of perishable foods. Well just hold up right there and say hello to your NBF, the freezer. It’s much cheaper to buy larger packets of, say, chicken breasts, and I then wrap them in clingfilm individually, freeze them, and then take them out one at a time when I want one. 

2. Cook in bulk. Making bolognese for one is a bit of an effort. I tend to make a load of everything, eat one portion and put the rest in portion-sized tupperwares to be frozen or popped in the fridge for a day or two. This is also great to have on stand-by for the days you don’t have time to cook. Or can’t be bothered.

3. Ignore use-by dates. OK, well maybe don’t ignore them, but think of them more as a guideline. You can usually tell when something’s gone off, and if it smells a bit funky, probably don’t risk it. I once tweeted that use-by dates were for wimps. It got a fair few retweets so must be true. I stand by it.

4. Never throw away food. Doesn’t entirely follow the above tip but it’s a principle by which I live.

5. Cook everything from scratch – making your own sauces is a lot cheaper than buying pre-prepared ones. All it takes is a little more time, effort and – more often than not thanks to a standard student kitchen cupboard – creativity. But hey, you may discover you’re the next Heston Blumenthal.

6. Use tea towels instead of kitchen roll. I don’t think that needs any explanation.


Classy night in with Basics biscuits. Surprisingly yummy. Trust.
1. Don’t.

2. But if you really want to eat out, go for lunch or early dinner as that’s often when you can get the best deals.

3. Always look online for vouchers and discounts first, even for independent restaurants – check out studentbeans to find local places near you.

4. Two words: Tap. Water

5. Take condiments, straws and sugar sachets etc. A bit cheeky? Yes, but I’m not judging. I’m not saying fill your bag with ketchup sachets in one go, but maybe take a couple extra here and there. It can save you ever having to buy your own. Seriously.

6. Always pre-drink at home before nights out. OK, most students don’t need to be told this, but by pre-drinking on supermarket brand alcohol and not buying drinks in clubs/bars, you save a LOT of money.


Harvey Nicks were doing free makeovers at Freshers' Fair!
1. Take free samples of ANYTHING. It doesn’t matter whether you want it or not. Just take it. Because it’s FREE! Free food tastes better, trust me. Your first foray into the glorious world of student freebies will be Freshers’ Fair, so make sure you go crazy on that.

2. Sign up to magicfreebies. This is a really useful site which emails you a list of freebies you can send off for every day. They have some really great ones too – I’ve got all sorts from free pizzas and boxes of cereal to toiletries, and, um, nappies. It’s safe to say my housemates got used to little jiffy bags coming through the post box for me. They were jealous.

3. Ask for student discounts all the time. Not every shop and restaurant makes their student discount clear, so always ask, as this is one of the best perks of being a student. You may be tempted to buy an NUS Card but I personally would say don’t bother – 95% of the time I get a discount just by showing my uni card.

4. Sign up to myunidays for free to get loads of student discounts – you can use their handy app in-store.

5. If you don’t already have one, get a young person’s railcard. Train fares are so very ludicrously expensive in the UK, so getting a third off is extremely useful. Especially for travelling the UK visiting your friends at their new unis. And obviously buy your tickets as far in advance as possible.


Naturally we made our own pancakes on Shrove Tuesday
1. Think you've finished that tub of peanut butter or tube of moisturiser? Think again. Cut open tubs and tubes and scrape the last bits out

2. Use shampoo lather as shower gel. Do I really need to explain this?

3. Layer up and keep showers short. This is particularly key for anyone not living in halls or when you move into a student house in second year. Heating is a luxury.

4. Make cards. Actually, just make everything and anything you can. I love getting a bit crafty, and I genuinely think making cards is a really thoughtful thing to do, as well as being a super money saver. 

5. Keep a spending diary. Even if you don't keep this up for the whole year, it's a really good thing to do at least for the first month or so of managing your money. Write down everything you spend, even the little things. It's really useful to see where it all adds up. 

6. Don't buy all the books on your reading list. Pretty much every fresher does this, I did, and I can understand why. However, I personally would recommend not doing it. Most of my friends and I didn't actually use half the books we bought, if we did, it was only a few pages, and they cost a LOT of money. 

If you do want to buy them, look on ebay or amazon for second-hand copies, talk to second year students if you can, or just be a good student and search in your uni library.

Language students: they'll tell you to buy one of those ginormous Collins dictionaries for each language, but seriously, don't. There's this handy little thing called the internet which you'll use all the time instead.

7. Jazz up your uni room with free photo prints. I wrote a whole post about how to make your uni room look nice on a budget, but photos really are one of the best ways. Display your Freshers' Week antics for the rest of the year by getting some free photo prints - there are loads of websites which offer 100 or so free prints for new customers, and there are so many of them that you can just use a different one each time. Check out the list here.


Snowy walks round Bristol
1. Only go to the cinema on Orange/EE Wednesday. Two for one. Why go any other time? With all unis having free Wednesday afternoons (supposedly for sport but pah!), it's prime student cinema time.

2. Walk or cycle everywhere. Not only will you save money on public transport but you'll also save on going to the gym or exercise classes. It's also the best way to get to know a city.

3. Make your own lunch and take it into uni with you every day. I am astounded by how many students buy lunch every day, even if just a sandwich from Sainsbury's. It's madness! When you think about how much a loaf of bread costs compared to how much a sandwich costs, it's a no-brainer really.

4. Always carry a water bottle. Spending money on something that comes from a tap!? HELL NO!

5. Always have an emergency snack. For me, it's raisins. A little box takes up practically no space in my handbag, and if the munchies suddenly hit me like BAM! I'm prepared. OK, this may be a bit unnecessary but hey.

So there you have it, young grasshoppers. You are now ready to go forth into the world of studenthood. Embrace those freebies and HAVE FUN! A girl can never be too thrifty, so naturally, I'd love to hear your tips - do drop me a comment!


  1. Ah, Rachel this made me laugh so much! Going into my final year, I can relate to all of this. I especailly love the 'it got retweets, so must be true' rule. Look forward to seeing you at the blog awards xxx

    1. Ha ha thanks Lottie. Glad to hear you relate to it all and yes looking forward to seeing you too! Thanks for the lovely comment :) xxx

  2. Love reading your blog, came across it one day in April when I was searching for the mulberry outlet and one of your blog posts appeared!

    Great lifestyle blog and very inspiring, so much that I created my own blog lol!

    Thank you and keep the posts coming :)

    Lucy xx

    1. Oh that's so sweet of you, thanks Lucy. Really nice to hear you were inspired to create your own lovely blog - great post about the Hermès scarf! X

  3. I think I first found your blog through Intermission, but just wanted to leave you a comment saying carry on the good work! :) Your writing style always makes me smile and I enjoy your Bristol posts (as a recent Bristol German grad.) Looking forward to hearing about your year abroad, if you need any tips feel free to ask!

    1. Hi Lulu, oh thanks so much! It's so sweet of you to take the time to write such a lovely comment, I'll definitely be in touch if I do need any tips. Yay for Bristol German! :) x

  4. What I found great about your tips is that they're all applicable to anyone, whether he is a student, a single adult or someone who has a family. Some people think that a few extra bucks spent here and there don't mean much, but when it adds up to hundreds of dollars a year, imagine the savings!

  5. Queen of Freebies I see? If only our flat had someone like you to help us out a bit! Although it's a bit basic, is quite useful for a few things to do with this too.

  6. I simply LOVE your blog! Spent way too much time strolling through it instead of paying attention in my lectures. So if I fail my exams, I'll blame you :P Anyhow, especially your posts about your year abroad are just awesome, as I'm planning on going to the UK as a language assistant sometime in the near future :)

    1. Oh thank you so much, that's so sweet of you to say. But please don't fail your exams on account of me! So pleased you're loving my language assistant posts too. Expect one more about the actual job soon :) Hope you love the UK when you arrive! X


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