Steep vs cheap: Eight product swaps students really can’t afford to miss

Winter bargains to help you conserve your precious loan

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The Independent Online

With just a flimsy student loan and perhaps the proceeds of a part-time job at minimum wage, money worries are a major part of university existence. But there are plenty of ways to be smart with your money - especially if you can learn where expensive goods can be replaced for a fraction of a price without a cost to quality. So here's a short guide to steep versus cheap.

Buy fruit and veg at a market

Getting our greens in the cold winter months can be difficult, but you don’t have to sell out on your health – or your wallet – for convenience. Supermarkets may have everything in one place, but the price of fruit and vegetables is anything but super. Ditch Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and the like in favour of smaller street stalls. Quantity and quality are generally higher while prices are lower, less packaging is used, and custom is truly appreciated; you’re simultaneously helping to support independent businesses while bagging yourself some cheaper (and most likely fresher) fruit and veg. Many stall-owners are partial to a bit of haggling, too; what have you got to lose?

Also try to purchase food that’s in season: apples, celery and lettuce for winter, bananas and cabbages all year round. Avoid fruit that’s out of season, such as blueberries and nectarines, as these can be very expensive and don’t taste their best. Save for the summer months.

Swap the cinema for an online subscription

The feeling of going to the cinema is certainly satisfying, but with prices regularly exceeding £10 a pop for a typical evening showing, it might be better to substitute your trips with an online subscription if you’re a regular. Netflix offers a free monthly trial, and costs £5.99 after that per month; Blinkbox scraps the monthly standard charge, and you just pay for what you watch. LoveFilm gives you the option of having your rented movies delivered via post, online or both for £7.99 a month. Not to mention that staying in with a mountain of blankets, homemade popcorn and hot drinks is more appealing to some than braving the cold.

The downfall of these services is that movies can sometimes take a long time to become available; but in that case, visit the cinema only for a new release you’re desperate to see, and it becomes a treat.

Invest in some warm clothes

As helpfully outlined in this article, there are many alternatives to putting on the central heating – one being to simply layer up. Unless you are a sartorial snob, there is nothing wrong with throwing an oversized dressing gown on over your ordinary clothes when at home. It’s also worth considering a hat and scarf – we lose a lot of heat from our heads and necks. Slipper socks, slippers, onesies and hot water bottles will also help to rein in the temptation to simply raise the external temperature.

Buy non-branded painkillers

Sitting in lecture rooms with other sneezing, sniffling students can result in catching a winter cold, but the allergy tablets, vitamin supplements and painkillers we buy to help prevent or deal with the symptoms can all be purchased at a fraction of the price if you go for the non-branded versions. Try basic pain relief Paracetamol caplets, 39p for 16 at Lloyd’s Pharmacy, or Superdrug’s cold and flu relief, £1.69 for 12.

Make yourself lunch

Sandwiches, soups and salads are a daily expense which can be easily avoided. If you’ve got a long day of classes, resist buying lunch and instead bring your own in a Tupperware box. Sandwiches are easy and quick to make, and concocting your own not only gives you the freedom to add whatever you like, but also gives you the benefit of knowing exactly what ingredients are going in. Bigger dishes such as shepherd’s pie or pasta bake can be rustled up on a Sunday evening and portioned out to last the week. You may want to consider a cheap insulated flask, too, as having a full one of these handy throughout the day filled with home-brewed instant coffee saves you at least £2 a day which might otherwise have been spent on a shop-bought hot drink.  

Ditch the bus: walk or cycle to university

Using buses and other means of public transport can be costly. The London Underground is now £2.40 per journey, and that’s just zones 1-4. Luckily this is reduced to £1.40 if you link your Oyster with a valid Student Railcard, which is a good investment if you use the tube a lot; however, walking is the obvious alternative if you want to avoid spending altogether.

If you live within, say, 45 minutes of university and have a 9am start, it’s worth getting up that bit earlier to trek into lectures rather than sitting on a steamy, cramped bus which is bound to get caught up in painfully slow rush-hour traffic anyway. You’ll arrive pink-cheeked, energised and alert. Using a bicycle is another great way to shave minutes off your journey – cheap ones can be found on Gumtree or Craigslist, or even for nothing on Freecycle. Of course it costs you more in the first instance, but it’s worth it if you use it regularly. A bike journey can be quick and exhilarating, not to mention a workout, and wakes you up in the mornings. Just make sure you have a good U-lock, lights (a legal requirement) and a helmet. Most universities have safe storage facilities available for bike-users.

Swap mp3s for spotify

If you don’t already illegally download all of your music and buying mp3s or CDs is proving expensive, Spotify might be for you. Already supremely popular, this service needs little promotion, and is certainly a money-saver. It’s a bit like iTunes with a social networking feature – you can follow artists and receive updates on what your friends are listening to. It’s a portable service made free through advertisements, but these are a minor irritant and can be avoided by skipping to the next song just before the current song finishes. Even if you pay for the premium, ad-free version, it’s a mere £9.99 a month and you can breathe easy in the knowledge that listening through Spotify is perfectly legal.

Use the library

This one may sound obvious, but if you don’t own a Kindle or similar, buying books off Amazon or eBay is often the cheapest and easiest option when confronted with a reading list as long as your arm at the beginning of term. It’s certainly the least time-consuming – it can seem like a massive chore to haul yourself to the library and hunt for each title. But books aren’t as cheap as we like to imagine, especially with delivery costs, so you could save a tonne by putting a little effort into your search. You might even be encouraged to get some other work done while you’re there. Most libraries allow you to check their online catalogues for availability. You won’t have this service at your disposal once you graduate; if they’ve got what you want, make the trip.