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Money Saving for Students

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Students at John Moores University trying to drink cost-effectively.

For many people, starting out at university will be the first time they live by themselves. It will be the first time they have to do their own laundry, make their own bed (maybe that needs a separate entry) and, crucially, buy their own food. It is, in short, the first time they will have to budget. There are many variables in terms of financial solvency, from those who can have their way paid entirely by their parents, to those who must work simply to cover their tuition fees, and from countries where you need a loan, to those where you get student grants. But the fact remains that if you are learning to balance the books for the first time (although balancing empty cans is probably both a better metaphor and more fun) it's going to be a steep learning curve. Advice contained in this Entry is offered by, or purchased from, Researchers for the Guide. Make of that what you will.


This is a cruel method of weeding out the haves from the have-nots. Crucially, have you the faintest idea how to work a washing machine? Are you, to quote Friends, a laundry virgin? That needn't matter, although it will help here because you'll save yourself money if you can do your own laundry rather than surrendering your clothes, and your cash, to a laundrette. Also, you're likely to find clothes washing facilities closer to home, possibly even in your building, but that's another issue. In the meantime, being aware of the simple general principles - that you don't wash white and coloured fabrics in the same load, that more fragile fabrics should be washed on a lower spin cycle and that many items may specify a washing temperature - is enough to get you through. On the other hand:

The most basic way of cheapening the laundry: instead of doing separate loads for colours and black stuff, you put them all in one load and use only cold water. Unless something is new, the colours won't run, and you don't have to pay for two loads.

Obviously you can stretch out the duration between washes longer by simply having more clothes. Although this might seem like an unnecessary outlay, you can often make good use of charity shops and discount clothing shops to fill a wardrobe with relatively little money. Another useful tip is that you can wash your smaller items, like underwear, in the sink, using a liquid soap or washing liquid and rinsing in cold water.


It is fairly likely that your university will have a bookshop either on campus1 or tied to it somewhere in the area. This bookshop should carry copies of the books you will need, but that doesn't mean it is your only source. There will also be a university library, or at the very least, one in the town, that you could use. On the other hand, if you want to buy books and save cash you could try some of the following:

Don't bother with Amazon - there's which searches for the lowest price among a range of sites, including Amazon, Abebooks2, TextbooksX, eBay, and And is usually cheaper.

Charity shops are worth a browse but are quite unlikely to stock the specific books you want, so it would be a somewhat speculative shopping spree.

Another good tip is to have a look around campus newspapers and notice boards for final-year students looking to offload course textbooks on the cheap.

On the other hand:

Sometimes students on campus will post prices for textbooks that are more expensive than those posted online. You can always try bargaining with them, using the online price as leverage. You'll save on shipping and get your book faster that way.
Under no circumstances should you ever, even under pain of death, turn on 'One-Click Ordering' on Amazon. It basically gives the more property-oriented bits of your subconscious access to your bank account without all that trouble of thinking 'Do I need this', 'Do I want this?' or even, 'What's this really for?'


Fairly obviously, you will struggle to get by without food and this ought to be your biggest regular outlay. The most obvious thing to do when buying food for yourself is simply to buy what you had at home, and probably shop from the same place. Another temptation, now that you are in charge of the food shopping, is to buy all your favourite food all of the time and ditch the stuff you didn't like. Of course, these things aren't necessarily wrong - certainly there is no point buying food you don't like - but they aren't the best guidelines either. You must consider a number of factors:

  • Transport: How close are you to food shopping? Can you walk (bear in mind you will have to carry all the food back)? If not, you will have to consider the cost of transportation and try to make as few trips as possible. Ordering online is an option if you have Internet access, but that is likely to cost money as well. See below for further transport advice.

  • Storage Space: Especially freezer space, as you are likely to be sharing with flatmates, and frozen food can often be cheaper and keep for longer than fresh food.

  • Balance: Your diet needs to be balanced, so instead of just buying all your favourite stuff, you need to make sure you are getting a bit of everything. It might be worth exploring the market for student cookbooks, as they often include sections on balancing your diet and should aim their recipes at a lower budget as well.

Try to find the supermarkets in your area that are cheapest, but also check the prices at bakers, butchers and greengrocers, to see if their food is cheaper, or even just as nice for the same sort of price.

Money can be saved by going shopping at the right time. If you head to a big supermarket around seven in the evening, there'll be a lot of stuff nearing its expiration date which will be marked down.
Shared shopping can be a good thing. We used to dash along to the supermarket near to where we lived, and buy up all the discounted food. Bread, from 80-90p a loaf - the proper bread not the sliced rubbish - was often reduced down to 20p or 10p and it lasted for ages; you simply freeze it. You can find packs of sausages and other meat, a lot less than half price; again freeze it, then the best before date is pretty irrelevant. Also, combined with this, if you can buy up cheap mince for example, you can make a mammoth portion of chilli con carne etc, which you can again freeze into portions.
All the supermarkets in the UK have 'value' ranges. but they also have cheaper versions of normal food, usually at slightly reduced quality. You can get value versions of toilet paper and stuff too. Also, it is usually cheaper to buy multipacks (eg, a four-can multipack of baked beans or chopped tomatoes) than to buy individually - but this assumes you can afford the higher initial outlay.
If you go to presentations, such as those put on by companies trying to encourage you to work for them when you graduate, they often have food put on. You can go along and get food - you have to sit through the presentation, which wouldn't be too much fun if you have no interest in it, but it could be great if it is something you're interested in. One of my friends went to a presentation by a well-known confectionery company and came back with pockets full of sweets and chocolates!
Do not eat at the refectory if you live off campus. Take sandwiches for lunch.
If you find you must shop at the supermarket, draw up a shopping list and stick to it. Do not get distracted.
Your local market will sell food a lot cheaper than the supermarket. Also, and the end of the trading day many traders can't be bothered with carting back the cheaper veg and will offer it for next to nothing.


What did you think all this saving was for - your pension?

Look, if you want some money-saving drinks tips, try these:
Find a cheap bar, maybe one which specifically caters for students. A few of my friends like a bar here in York that is reasonably cheap to begin with but also runs a happy hour. Get a few drinks in at normal pace, then buy two just before happy hour ends. Also, having a few drinks at home before you go out (and reducing the number of drinks you have out accordingly) is probably cheaper. So is buying non-brand name spirits.
It's great to get yourself treated. If you're far from home and a relative passes through, convince them that you want to meet them for lunch somewhere - the more expensive the better.
Another money-saver is to have a house/flat party and get everyone else to bring the drinks, if you provide 'nibbles'. That means you only pay for cornchips and dips, and the alcohol comes free. You have a good time, get to listen to the music you want to, share a mix of drinks and don't have to worry about: a) ID; b) a bouncer kicking you out; and c) transport home. It is also a money-saver to attend a party of this type; you only have to pay for one dodgy bottle of wine, but get to have a good time at the expense of your peers.
University art departments are a veritable smorgasbord of wine and cheese nights in honour of students displaying their work. Get to know an artist well, and go along to these events. A nice precursor to a night on the town, you get a few drinks down you before heading out to the clubs.
Abstain. Not likely, but worth a shot. And that shot of choice is usually Tequila. Mmmm...


This is important for all sorts of reasons. Many people will be able to rely on their parents to bring them to university and back again, but you may not be in this position. Beyond that, you may have to travel for shopping, entertainment and, of course, to get to university and back home every day. Here are some pearls of sage wisdom on the subject:

You need to really think about the costs of getting around. If you have to get a bus frequently, does it work out cheaper to get a bus pass?
If you have a car, is it really worth taking it? Consider that you'll have to have it insured and taxed, as well as paying for petrol and possibly parking. Also, parking spaces can be quite scarce in universities. Your friends will also want you to drive them places all the time.
If you have to get the train a lot, or even just to and from uni at the beginning and end of term, it may be worth getting a railcard of some kind. In addition, booking rail tickets as early as possible usually makes them cheaper.
Never pay to go anywhere you can hitch to.

It is important to point out that this last pearl must be harvested with care. Hitching is cost free but carries with it potential hazards. Lone females, in fact, anyone on their own, should certainly avoid going anywhere with a stranger. ALWAYS carry a charged mobile phone with you.


If you're on campus your utilities may well be paid for (something to bear in mind for any friends you have who live off campus - free water!) but if you live off campus, or even in some situations where you do live in halls of residence, you are likely to find yourself turning off the tap when you brush your teeth, using only one bar of an electric heater or even turning down the volume on your stereo in a pathetic attempt to save cash. Here are some better ideas:

The University is paying the utility bills. So if your Discman has a plug option, it's smart to use it whenever possible instead of batteries. The same if you're using speakers on a Discman. If you don't plug them in you can drain the battery. The same goes for anything with a plug and non-rechargeable batteries. Which reminds me - rechargeable batteries are probably a worthwhile investment
Most telephone/Internet provider companies now do pretty decent discount deals for students. My brother, for example, got a good deal with NTL/Virgin Media3, on this deal they didn't need a phone line, so got a good broadband account without needing the phone line; they use Skype4 for the phone

Other Stuff You Can Scrounge

Scrounge? No, that should have read 'earn'. Still, it looks okay that way, it can just stay there for the moment. Anyway, there are many other ways you can get hold of stuff that is either free (the dream) or, at the very least, cheaper than it would be for people who have to work hard to earn their money. Here are some really clever ideas from our Researchers:

You can get haircuts cheap by offering to act as a model for trainee hairdressers.
There's a mental approach which helps you save money. You have to see the money as the constraint, rather than the things you would buy with it. Don't think, 'How am I going to get money to buy X, Y and Z?' Think, 'What can I buy with my £M this week?'.

I survived university by withdrawing £5 from the cash machine once a week. That was all I could afford to spend. This was the early 1980s.
Probably worth mentioning that most places have Student Discounts at various times, including hairdressers, restaurants - both fast food and the good variety - movie theatres, tourist attractions and clubs/bars. 10-20% off is the usual. Wave a valid NUS or other student card about and you can get all kinds of deals on clothes at some outlets too.

Another thing worth remembering for general blagging5 is 'Freshers' Week'. This is the week during which new students are initiated into University life and usually features clubs/societies/church groups/weird cults/political parties looking for recruits. They may offer inducements should you join, or even consider joining, their particular clan. Here's a piece of advice on that subject, since you ask:

Make sure you print off numerous passport-sized photos as the chances are you will need one for each society/group you join; and they can be damned expensive from those booths.

Banks in some countries (possibly all countries, the research simply isn't that extensive) offer student accounts, with favourable interest rates for the debt you will, needless to say, incur. Another useful facet of these accounts is that banks, knowing that you are too lazy to change accounts and will probably stick with the same bank until you die, will make considerable efforts to bribe you into banking with them. These bribes may include such things as mobile phones, discount vouchers for clothes shops and restaurants (or McDonalds) and you should consider shopping around for the best deal. Once you have left university you can move to a different bank and build up a respectable credit rating. On the subject of restaurants, working is always a good idea to boost your funds and if you can get a job at a restaurant or pub, there might well be free food and drink in it for you. Any job offering free stuff is worth investigating.

The world is packed with freebie/discount opportunities for students. The best place to start finding out about all the different ones, from theatre to airline tickets, is to visit the university student council offices.
I remember that we had a shoe box where we (my then boyfriend, now husband) put in 150DM6/month each, and everything was paid from that sum. We made lists, kept the receipts and so had a means of comparing prices and generally seeing how much we spent on what. If there was money left at the end of the month, we rewarded ourselves by going to the movies, or for a meal in a (cheap) restaurant.

In Conclusion

If your finances are very tight, budgeting is a must, but even if you have the cash to spend on all these items, spreading it around means you'll have more to play with when you leave education. It is also vital experience for later in life, when you may have to tighten your belt. However, this doesn't mean you should live a totally spartan life. You are studying, and higher education, especially if you are living away from home for the first time, can be hard. Try to find some spare cash to reward yourself once in a while. Oh, one last thing:

Space to mention everybody's favourite student economy urban legend? A student who, having blown his penultimate penny in the usual way, fell back on the 'porridge in a drawer' technique (1. Make porridge 2. Pour it in a drawer and wait for it to harden 3. Hack bits off and eat nothing else)... and became Scotland's last recorded case of scurvy?
1If your university is on a campus, of course.2A website which links booksellers all over the world such that you can find second-hand or out of print books from anyone who still has one stuffed in a stockroom somewhere.3Note, other providers also exist and probably do equally good offers.4Skype is an instant messaging service, run over the Internet, that allows you to type messages or to actually speak as you would over the telephone.5To blag is to acquire something via honest means but without the trouble of financial outlay. It generally involves legitimately taking advantage of an opportunity that arises for something to come in your direction, even if the thing in question is not something you can particularly imagine needing at the time.6'DM' are Deutsche Marks, currency spent in Germany before the Euro.

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