Freshers’ week is fast approaching and the fresh crop of students starting at universities across the country will be filled with excitement, and a healthy touch of apprehension.
As well as being the major event on the student calendar, it’s also set to be one of the most expensive weeks you’ll ever experience during your time at university. So you’ll be forgiven for not wanting to peek at your bank balance once it’s all over.
But hold on! There is some hope. What if you could have just as much fun as everyone else but still keep your spending to a minimum? Well, put aside a few minutes to swat up on these tips and you’ll see that it is possible to conserve at least some of your student loan.
Set yourself a budget
If you only take away one piece of advice away from this, then let it be that you need to set yourself a spending limit for the week. And stick to it as closely as you can.
There are plenty of stories involving students spending their entire first student loan instalment during this jam-packed week, leaving them to struggle through the rest of term. With so many events and promotions going on, it’s very easy to get carried away.
Don’t bother calculating your every spend down to the exact penny, you deserve to give yourself some flexibility, but at least get an idea of what you’re prepared to blow away.
Embrace the student discount
For you first year students out there this may be the first opportunity to take advantage of the coveted NUS student discounts, which in most cases just requires a flash of your university library card.
Make sure you whip it out for every purchase that you make and if the establishment doesn’t offer a student discount then ask why! Have a skim of this list of places that are known to offer a discount to students.
Get your parents to take you to the supermarket
On the day you arrive at university make sure you ask or rather beg your parents to take you for your first food shop. Aside from the possibility of extra financial support, it’s likely you’ll have a car which always makes things easier!
If you manage to pass the challenge of convincing your parents that it’s a great idea then make sure you take full advantage of it. After all they’ll want to make sure that you’re eating well, right?
Don’t sign up to every society
At your freshers’ fair there’ll be societies covering nearly everything you could possibly think of looking to sign you up, many with a small membership fee.
The idea of becoming a VIP member of the Pirate Society may sound like an irresistible proposition at first, but take a deep breath and ask yourself if you’re likely to make the most of it.
By all means, use the fair as a chance to register your interest but be wary of handing over any money at this stage, or before you know it you’ll be signed up to countless societies and wondering how you’re going to find the spare time to get involved with them all.
Take the freebies!
While you’re at the freshers’ fair make sure you’re grabbing everything that’s free and without a pulse.
There are always plenty of products and samples on offer from all sorts of businesses looking to snag students, and without even realising it you’ll have pre-stocked a year’s supply of pens.
Go budget with fancy dress
Freshers’ week and fancy dress go together like students and baked beans. Dressing up as a Smurf, the Hulk, Mario/Luigi, a banana and [insert fancy dress idea here] is an eventuality that will happen to you at least once during the week, hopefully more.
There’s no doubt that you’ll be looking to impress your new university buddies but you don’t have to go out and spend £45 on an inflatable willy costume.
Try and use any old clothing or bits and bobs lying around the house that you can fashion into a costume. Cardboard boxes are your best friend here.
If you don’t have any clothes hanging around that you want to use then check out the local charity store or Primark for clothes that you could customise.
Sometimes the worst-looking costumes get the most attention, and it shows more effort than simply nipping to the fancy dress shop and parting with a small fortune.
‘Borrow’ from home
Before you set off for university make sure you have a good scour of the house to check if your parents have any ‘unused’ items hanging about that you can relive them of.
Taking anything from old tins of food to shower gel can come in handy and most importantly help you to save money. Make sure you ask your parents first though...
Plus, it’s nice to have some home comforts with you to help with the settling in.
Dodge the takeaway
It’s true that for most this will be the first time without lovely home cooked meals but don’t use this as an excuse to work your way through the local takeaway menu.
The same goes for those that get peckish after a night out. The best trick is to cook at home and if you know that you’ll be craving something greasy then make sure that you have it waiting for your return.
If you must head to the food spot then try and build up a rapport with the owner of the establishment and a few cheeky freebies might be flung your way.
Do a communal food shop
This won’t work for every student household but it’s something that you have to try at least once. Not only does shopping together act as a hunter-gatherer bonding experience but it could also save you a few pennies.
Even if it’s not practical to buy food, cook and eat together, definitely make sure that you buy house essentials like herbs and spices, washing up liquid, toilet roll and cleaning products together.
By the way, as much as it may seem like it at the time, a toastie maker is not an essential. They just end up getting encrusted with old cheese and left at the back of a cupboard.
Take cash on nights out
Not all students choose to fill their freshers’ week with boozy nights out but for the partying majority out there, here’s my number one tip to make sure that you don’t wake up with an empty bank account and a sore head: take a set amount of cash on nights out.
This simple idea means that you are not only setting yourself a spending limit (the number one rule), but also taking away the risk of gleefully buying everyone a round on your debit card when you’ve had one too many yourself.
Don’t pay full whack for course books
To really save money you should stick to the university library, but you’ll soon come across a few keen students who have already beaten you to the punch. Or you may just prefer to have your own copy.
Either way, never buy a coursebook without checking for second hand copies first. Start by checking university noticeboards as well as online auction sites in order to bag yourself the essential reading list at a fraction of the price.
If you’re one of the lucky few, you might even get a book with extra notes and highlighting already done for you.
Call home with Skype
As you start to settle into life away from home you might actually start to miss your parents and they’ll no doubt be missing you.
With the wonders of the Internet and Skype you can make a call home for the grand total of nothing.
There are of course plenty more tricks and tips when it comes to saving money as a student, and by being money savvy you’ll help yourself to save hundreds over your time at university.
You don’t have to compromise either. Being frugal is about being smart in getting the things you want for less money.
When it comes round to freshers’ week, just remember to keep your wits about you and try to stick to your budget. Aside from that, have as much fun as possible!
Owen Burek is the editor of savethestudent.org