University is, for the majority of us, the first time we’ve been let loose to look after our own money. That shiny new student loan is there for you to spend on anything you like, there’s no mum and dad to tell you what not to buy, and there’s temptation around every corner. So for most of us, there’s plenty of opportunity to be left wallowing in our overdrafts, wondering where our precious loan went and why we thought we needed those impulse buys. But it’s easier than it seems to save money at uni with just a few simple steps – after all, every penny counts.
1. Plan your meals
I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. It has saved my life more than once when it comes to making the money stretch. Before you head out to the supermarket, make a note of what you’re going to eat that week, and make sure that the list includes your breakfast and lunch too. There’s nothing more annoying (or expensive) than getting home after doing your shopping to realize that you have nothing to eat for your lunch, meaning that the only option is to pop to the corner shop, or the local fast food restaurant, to buy more food. Your shopping list can mean that you have healthy food all ready to fuel you while you go about your busy schedule.
2. Student Discounts
Student discounts are glorious. It’s a grace given to us of which we are truly not worthy. There is little that matches the joy of watching the price of your too-full shopping basket drop as you enter your various codes. So use them. Need a new party dress? Use a clothes site that offers a student discount. Going to see the film you can’t wait to watch? Use your student card at the cinema. Unidays is one of the best, offering discounts all year round for some of the top brands, as well as NUS (student discount card) or just your plain old university ID. If you’re not sure if somewhere offers a student discount, just ask; chances are you’ll end up with a bargain, and a happier bank account because of it.
3. Open a savings account
Sometimes, it helps to see our money divided up into what we can spend and what we can’t. Opening up a savings account means you can tell yourself what’s off limits, and put a little away whenever you can. Let’s face it: it’s always good to have some money put away for a rainy day, whether that be a sudden broken laptop or a deposit for next year’s student house.
We can all admit to having too many attempts at budgeting; plans we made with the best intentions but slowly discarded as we decided we needed some new shoes, or accepted that we underestimated the cost of the food shopping. It happens to the best of us. But budgeting is one of the best things to do when trying to save some pennies at university. Consider all of your outgoings, what you spend per week on groceries, travel, socializing, bills and anything else you can think of.
Make sure you give yourself some wiggle room; if you know you’re prone to getting yourself a latte from your local coffee shop, or you’re a sucker for a buy-one-get-one-free offer at the bookstore around the corner, then budget for that. If you leave no room for treating yourself, then you’re bound to abandon the budget. If you plan for those little splurges, then you won’t be surprised when they happen, but you know that once you’ve spent that treat money in your budget, the next treat will have to wait until next month.
5. Follow the three-day rule
One rule that I’ve learnt whilst at university is the three-day rule. It’s a simple method of making sure that you’re spending money on things you really want rather than splurging spontaneously, only to leave it shoved at the back of your wardrobe. If you see something you really like, but aren’t sure whether to buy it, leave it and if you’re still thinking about how much you want it three days later, then it’s time to make the commitment. It’s guaranteed to make sure you only buy what you really want.
6. Work a part-time job
A part-time job can be a brilliant way to support yourself throughout your university experience. Make sure you get a job somewhere that works alongside your university course; it’s a job to help you in your studies, not hinder it. Take on the hours you need to, but don’t feel pressure to exert yourself, even if your boss makes you feel like work is your priority. Use the money to earn to help with the rent, or put it aside for some adventures in the summer.
7. Prioritize the essentials
When you’re deciding what to do with your money, prioritize your essentials first. Make sure you’re stocked up on toiletries, washing powder, kitchen essentials and everything else you need to make sure you’re living happily and healthily. Once you have those put safely away in your cupboards, you can enjoy your money knowing you won’t be left without the things you really need.
8. Remember that food prep is your best friend
Preparing your food in advance can only lead to good things. Healthy meals. Saved time. The feeling of successfully being an adult. There’s really no downside. Plan your meals – healthy, hearty meals that will keep you going through even the longest term – and then freeze what you don’t eat, making sure you split it into the right portion sizes. They’ll not only give you healthier meals than quick fix food, but will also save the pennies spent running to the corner shop when you realize you’ve forgotten something for dinner.
9. Look after your pennies and your pounds (or euros, or dollars) will look after themselves
It’s a saying I’ve heard adults say for as long as I can remember, and I never really understood what it meant. Frankly, I’m still not sure. But I’m applying it to my own theory on saving the pennies. Make a big deal about going into your next £100. Make the last of your money stretch as far as you can; take the cash out of your bank account so you can physically see how much you have left. (We all know that contactless can leave us wondering where our money went.) Go for the cheaper option, choose not to buy that t-shirt, and all of a sudden you’ve made your money go further – and you’re surprised by how full your bank account is, not how empty.
10. Cut yourself some slack
You’re making it on your own for the first time. You’ve moved out of the comfortable cocoon of your home and you’re going it alone. And I can guarantee you’re doing a great job. So cut yourself some slack when you get home from a night out with your wallet lighter than you’d wanted, or if you treat yourself a little more than intended. It’s okay, cut yourself some slack and keep on working towards your budget. It’ll work out okay in the end.