The transition from home comforts to student living can be a difficult one. Sometimes, it can seem like you have a choice between running deep into your overdraft, or eating Spaghetti Hoops alone in your room.
However, for new and returning students this academic year who want to avoid both of the above mentioned, a little smart use of money could see you enjoy some of the finer things in life. So, take on board some of these tips for a university lifestyle that is anything but basic:
1) Buy a cafetière
If you can’t get by without that hit of proper coffee, skip high street cafés and instead invest in a cafetière and a bag of ground coffee beans. 500g costs around £6, so you can get up to 60 cups for what you’d pay for just two at a coffee shop.
Tip: Argos and Tesco both stock cafetières for under £10. Look out for a reusable coffee cup too, so you guzzle get your caffeine on the go.
2) Explore your city
A lot of people spend their three or four years never venturing beyond campus, but there’s so much to do if you just look for it – and a lot of it will be free or cheap for students. For example, University of Kent students can get into Canterbury Cathedral for free, dodging a £9.50 charge in the process. People travel from all over the world to visit places right on your doorstep, so make the most of it while you can.
3) Invest in good quality layers
There’s no point dressing in your most stylish ensemble if it gets ruined by the weather. Make sure you’ve got a good raincoat to and treat yourself to a warm jumper – nothing makes studying during the winter months more luxurious than a snuggly sweater to do it in.
Tip: Outdoors shops like Blacks and Go Outdoors will have the most practical gear but, if you want something more fashionable, look out for student discounts in high street stores like New Look and Gap.
4) Get your wine from an off-license
If you’re just pre-drinking, supermarket plonk is the way to go. But if you’re having a group meal or a film night in, it’s worth the extra effort to get a genuinely nice bottle of wine. Off-licenses often have surprisingly good deals including bottles for under £6. Plus the staff won’t turn their noses up at a low budget; just tell them what you’ve got to spend and they can give you some recommendations. Et voilà! A sophisticated option which neither breaks the bank, nor tastes like industrial strength cleaner.
Tip: Oddbins and Majestic both have several branches, but also look out for independent shops – they may vary more in price, but some have special deals for local students.
5) Keep track of loyalty cards
Double-check when you visit somewhere new whether they have a loyalty scheme so you can get a free treat every now and then. If it costs money to sign up, consider very carefully how much it will save you in the long run but, if it’s free, go for it.
Don’t forget to take full advantage of schemes where you buy a certain number of products to get one free: even though you’ve filled your loyalty card buying medium-sized burritos, you can probably indulge in a large one for no cost at all.
Tip: All the major supermarkets have some sort of loyalty system, so sign up to the nearest one and get a mini-card which can attach to your keys.
6) Go to university events
Many universities host free talks, gallery viewings, and alumni networking events which are open to students, which can provide you with a load of entertaining evenings. Failing that, there are often free drinks.
Tip: Emails from your faculty or noticeboards are the best places to spot these events. You could even land yourself a paid job helping out at one.
7) Deck out your room on the cheap
Your student pad will, more often than not, consist of a blank box room with some very plain furniture. However, there are lots of quick and cheap fixes to make it a more welcoming place. I have a friend who collects second-hand silk scarves and drapes them on her walls, while another once picked up some out-of-date calendars for free from a pound shop and has turned them into cool posters around her flat.
Tip: Tiger and IKEA are good places to pick up trinkets. You could also join Freecycling to find free furniture and decorations within your area too.
8) Cook a lavish meal with flatmates
Surprisingly, it can often work out cheaper to split a proper meal between a group of people than it is to each make yourself beans on toast. So, choose something you can make for lots of people – like a pasta dish or a roast – rope in a friend to be your sous chef, and delegate to a maths student to work out the cost per head. As well as ensuring everyone eats some good food, it’s a great way to socialise.