By Callum Maguire
So you’ve bought your textbooks, you’ve blown a small fresher’s fortune and the nail of accommodation payments has been hammered into your financial coffin. You’re officially broke.
Sound familiar? That’s pretty much been my experience as a Swansea first year – a couple months down the line and well and truly in the red. With the hazy fog of the first couple months finally lifting and my funds plummeting further into the dreaded overdraft, it was truly time to go the way of the scrimping student.
So here’s a list of the top budgeting tips collated from experiences, hindsight and second years who’ve made the mistakes so we don’t have to.
Ah, the unfortunate necessity of the food shop. Food is one expenditure you really can’t get around, but it’s got to be done. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be the bi-weekly bane of your bank account that we often make it.
If you were anything like me, the first food shop of your uni experience was a massacre. I bought everything my heart desired, and within a week of drunken post-Wind Street cooking, I was left hungry and poor. Here’s how you can fair better:
Get used to own brand goods. We’re talking Tesco/Asda/Aldi, so forget the Waitrose. It sounds obvious, but own brand is the student go to, and while there may be a compromise in flavour, it’s much cheaper to buy your own onions and spices to spruce up lacklustre tinned tomatoes than to buy the pasta sauce with the fanciest name. With a bit of experimentation, you can turn “everyday value” into “culinary masterpiece”.
My bi-weekly shop
Own Brand: £33.70
(spices and flavourings included)
Preferred Brands: £67.40
The proof is in the (own brand) pudding.
Buy in bulk
Everyone knows that bulk buying is the smart financial move, so stock up on huge bags of those foods you’ll always need that rarely go off. Ready meals no, 5kgs of pasta yes.
Cook in bulk
And freeze for later use. Whether it’s chili, bolognaise, curry or stew, bulk cooking is essential. It quells the panic of wasting food since it’s not going out of date and there’s nothing like remembering you’ve got a stew in the freezer when the cupboard’s empty.
Pack a lunch
Thought your tupperware days were over? They haven’t even begun. Again, it seems basic, but I found myself time and time again having to dash from HSV without time to make a lunch and having to take the plunge in-between lectures. And while a panini deal from JCs fills you up nicely, day after day, your wallet will start to look pretty malnourished.
If you can’t push down your hankering for items that usually cost a pretty penny (steak, mince etc), try going to the market. You can find cheap fruit and veg – and even quality meats – at Swansea market and might even be able to haggle yourself a saving. Billy Upton’s is a personal recommendation if you can’t fight the steak pangs.
Whether it’s a tesco club-card or a loyalty card from your favourite café, there’s no excuse. You’re one of those people now.
Another cost that’s hard to avoid is travel. We’re going to leave out the patronising “get a bike” and while you silently salute those brave enough to cycle to Bay every day, you can take a look at these tips:
Get a railcard
If you find yourself hoping on and off trains like an eager gap year student (but without the stories no one wants to hear), a railcard is essential. If you’ve got a student bank account with Santander, you can apply for a 3-year card for free! If not, it’ll cost you £28 a year – but will no doubt pay for itself in 3 journeys or less.
Take the bus more often
If you find yourself (as I did those first couple of weeks) always getting a taxi to and from Wind Street on that fabled Wednesday escapade, maybe consider taking the bus? They run till pretty late and the atmosphere on the bus to or from your housing can be a great part of the night (those with a negative disposition to football chants need not apply) and hey, if you live on HSV or Bay, you’ve already got a bus pass (I hope).
In the magical – and yet baffling – logic of a night out, dropping £20 on Jagerbombs the second you enter Jack Murphy’s or buying an obscene triple cheesy chip kebab burger at 4.30AM is fair game. Par for the course if you will.
Well, I’m a scrounger, not a miracle worker. An alcohol-lathered student isn’t going to stop the account draining debauchery, but maybe they can do some damage control:
Cheapest nights out:
Wednesday: Wind Street Wednesdays is a no brainer, but if you’re looking for a cheap night, Jack Murphy’s has you covered – more bar than club per se. It’s got a great atmosphere, free entry, always busy and £1 bombs. What more could you ask for?
Thursday: Sin city’s Sin Savers. If you manage to unstick your-self from your bed Thursday morning and unstick your feet from the dancefloor Thursday night, drinks at Sin Savers will be the cheapest you’ll likely find all week.
Friday: Tooters at Divas. Braving fondue level tunes is a small price to pay for 2 drinks for £2, just for the love of god get there early.
Sponsored bars. If you’re tightening your purse strings to maybe just one or two nights out a week (woe is us, the children of the overdraft), you’ve got to make the most of those nights. As you’ll know loads of societies have socials (usually on a Wednesday) that make use of sponsored bars, this means free entry and usually cheap drinks if you’re in the soc. Now, I’m not suggesting you join a society purely for the social…but it’s not going to hurt.
Buy Wristbands: This is a tricky one. Wristbands make club entry cheaper at certain times. Sometimes, they’re a waste of time, but if your group frequently club hops, they’re worth having a look at.
DON’T PAY BY CARD: This one’s a biggie for me, and I’m sure lots of others. Get into the habit of taking an allotted amount out at an ATM and stick to that for the night. There’s nothing worse than that hungover kick in the balls of checking your account to see you’ve splurged £50 on alcohol you can’t pronounce. Maybe even consider splitting money between two accounts and only taking the one card out. Never rely on the magic plastic.
NUS cards often pay for themselves ridiculously quick if you use them effectively, it’s worth having a look if some of the places you shop at frequently offer a discount.
It’s worth checking if wherever you shop (be it clothes or food) offers a student discount, you’d be surprised how many places don’t exactly advertise their offers so get in the habit of asking.
So there are my first semester tips. I’ve learnt that if you’re going to have a good time at university you really can’t help spending, but at the same time there are a lot of minimal effort solutions that really can save you a considerable amount.
For those well rounded individuals with a positive bank balance and a budget book, keep doing what you’re doing. For the rest of us, keep abiding by these tips and at least we might make it through the year without selling any organs…but maybe one more takeaway wouldn’t hurt.