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Student Life

Make your money go as far as possible

Life as a student presents many challenges and opportunities. Managing your money is perhaps not the most exciting of these, but still, it is a vital one. Here are a few tips from a recent graduate to help you eke out a living from term start to term end.     

You find yourself staring into the cupboards, gazing in to the fridge, rummaging through the recesses of your wallet or purse. You find nothing. No comfort food. Not a snack in sight; just some aged cake mix, a suspicious-looking yoghurt and a bundle of old receipts.

You have essays to write, a stack of textbooks to memorise, and now no food to energize you and no money to do anything about it. Your social options also begin to look rather slim, as ‘sitting in a park’, ‘hand shadow puppetry’, or ‘staying in’ become the only activities that your budget will allow. It’s a bleak picture, but the worst part is that nagging feeling that it didn't have to be this way.

Keep on track

Using a spreadsheet to log all of your purchases and expenditures, or keeping a book of receipts, will help you manage your money more effectively. Being able to see what your outgoings are will help keep the budget down through your ability to accurately portion out the money for each week. It will also help you keep organized with bills and any other money you may owe. It sounds a fairly boring exercise, and indeed it is.

However, when you see the results of your vigilance and you have some pocket money left at the end of the week it will all have been worth it. Google offers an online spreadsheet that can be stored online in Google Drive, and it’s free and simple to use.   

Save not, waste not?

Try not to waste anything. Ask yourself before throwing anything away, could I find another use for this? Could the empty plastic milk cartons be cut asunder and turned into stationary holders? Does this broken coat hanger have to ability to be transformed into a clip for opened crisp bags? Maybe you don’t need to go quite as deep in as that, but there are websites, like lifehack.org and ikeahackers.net, which have thousands of legit ideas and tips to share to create alternate uses for household products.    

Become a chef

Not a professional of course, but rather become your own personal chef and treat yourself to a nice meal by making it yourself. Cultivate a love for the kitchen and all things culinary. Not only will it mean you eat well and learn a valuable skill, regularly cooking for yourself will lead to great savings. Read up on technique, ingredients, processes and skills. Restaurants and takeaways every night will begin to take a toll on your wallet and your waistline. Buying and cooking your own food can avoid both of these pitfalls. Shop for bargains, if you live somewhere with access to a fresh food market, shopping there rather than at the supermarket can often save you money easily.

There are plenty of websites with many great recipes geared towards students and budding chefs. Your local charity bookshop is bound to have some second-hand cookery books for a fraction of the price of the latest publications offering complex avant-garde pies and molecular gastronomic theory. Having the ability to cook with some confidence can be a great asset when looking for a part time job at uni. Finding hungry students to test out your creations shouldn't be too hard and having experience cooking for groups of friends can be a great asset.

Get to work early

If helping out in a kitchen as a part-time job does not appeal then there are many other ways to earn extra pennies while at university. Do some investigation on campus during freshers week and then in the first week of term. There often will be part-time jobs available on campus on offer to students. Similarly, print off a couple of CVs with all your details on and hand them into any shops, restaurants or job agencies nearby and express an interest in part-time work.

Go through your skill set and decide if you could offer tuition and, if so, advertise yourself. If your communication is a strength, offer GCSE or A-level tutoring. If you play an instrument, then you could give lessons for beginners. I taught guitar and English when I was studying in Buenos Aires and it was a great way to supplement my student loan and also was a lot of fun. Again the trusty old web can be a great aid when searching for part-time employment as well as finding people to take you up on any offers you might make.

No such thing as a free lunch? Prove it

If working does not present itself as an immediate option then finding free food could well be the next best thing. Often, lectures and events held at university that are open to all students offer complimentary drinks and refreshments. Sometimes this can get upgraded to serious sandwiches.

Sitting through an interminable address on the cultural significance of knitwear in Peronist Argentina or a panel discussion on the revisionist approach to bean farming theory can be made all the more worthwhile if there is the promise of free food at the end of the ordeal. If you are willing to suffer a little bit then there can be a reward gained, you might even learn something. Investigate what is going on through your uni’s website and expand your options and your mind.

Playing your cards right

Two invaluable discount cards to investigate applying for are the NUS extra card and the 16-25 Railcard. Both offer great discounts for very little outlay. My railcard paid for itself after three journeys and flashing your NUS card can get you a reduction in price in all sorts of places, even when buying your Railcard. There are many businesses and restaurants that can offer discounts to students when they present the card at the till. McDonalds, Virgin Mobile, Asos.

You can even get 38 per cent off a subscription to i Newspaper with the card so you can keep up to date with current events, job offers and more advice for students.

The three years at university can be an unforgettable experience. It can heavily inform the direction your life and the way your career will proceed when you leave. Learning to stand on your own two feet can be rather daunting, but remember that this is par for the course. Staying in the black while studying is within your grasp. Just a bit of planning and a touch of imagination is all you need to succeed.