When I graduated from university last summer I was 31 years of age. I was a "mature student", not a student that took over a decade to graduate like Tom Green's character in the comedy Road Trip. Being a mature student gave me a pretty good insight into what it was like to be a "real student", the kind of student who was away from home for the first time and who had absolutely no idea how to make their money last more than five minutes in the real world.
I had finished college seven years before I went to university, and had lived in a bed-sit by myself at college, lived with two friends in a house after that, and then spent five years in flats and terraced houses with my girlfriend before I stepped foot on a university campus. Suffice to say, Super Noodles, Bargain Booze and Dominos made far less money out of me over my three years at uni than the majority of students.
It makes perfect sense to me that the majority of the students I interacted with over those three years were almost always skint, and it wasn't just because of the age difference. One of my friends lived in a flat with four other people who were all drunks, and at the bottom of their block of flats there was a Pizza Hut Delivery, Bargain Booze and a Tesco Express. If you're going to be a) Sober b) Not obese, and c) Not skint, this was probably not the best place to live, or the best people to live with.
After six months at uni (and bear in mind this was in the pre-£9,000 a year tuition fees era), my friend came to me and asked me how she could save money as she was completely skint, couldn't find paid work (she had been volunteering) and didn't want to live up to the cliché of the student who is bailed out by their parents whenever the going gets tough.
My list of priorities read like this:
- Cut down on takeaways
- Lower your food bills
- Change food and drink brands
- Lower energy bills
- Seek out deals
I know that 90% of people reading this - student or otherwise - are probably thinking: "That's obvious!" Yeah, it might be obvious to people with experience of living on their own or people who are worldlier and have a bit more common sense, but I'm calling it as I saw it, and there are a lot of students (my friend included) who don't have any knowledge or experience of operating outside of the bubble created by their parents and who are essentially thrown to the wolves when they arrive at university wet behind the ears and with no idea how to make that £3,000 maintenance loan last more than a couple of weeks.
The first thing I did was introduce my friend to Voucher Codes and a few other voucher companies. I still use these vouchers when I'm low on cash but I still want to go out and enjoy myself rather than moping indoors listening to Morrissey (told you I was a mature student) and moaning about having no money. She started to eat out more often as a result, but saved money doing it because she wasn't buying pizzas from Dominos and Pizza Hut for stupid money twice a week. The likes of Ask and Pizza Express have voucher deals like 2-for-1 meals and Free Main Courses.
It's amazing how many students bought their food one meal at a time, and made countless trips to the supermarket (and usually the more expensive Express supermarkets too). They might be "convenient" stores, but they rarely save you money. I got my friend to shop at cheaper stores and to do a full weeks shopping in one sitting. She saved about £30 over the course of one week. Multiply that over 30 weeks of term time and you have... Well, I'll let you do the Maths.
Tesco and Asda have great choice and deals, but the only way to guarantee yourself a cheaper shop as a student is to hit the fruit and veg markets or the lower price supermarkets such as Aldi. We've all seen the very funny TV ads where the people say "I like this one... But I like this one too..." and the Aldi brand is far cheaper. If you do a full weeks shop in one place and you aim for the cheaper brands, you'll save money. The same goes for booze. It's so expensive to drink in the pubs now, but students are going to drink no matter what the nanny state says, so drinking cheaper brands at home before you go out will save you money, even if it is about as healthy as a night out with George Best in his prime.
The last point is kind of a general one, because if you're living in a shared house, flat or halls of residence, you might not be able to do too much about it. But saving money on your energy bills is a great way to save a lot of money over the course of a year. Just little things like blocking out draughts in your house can save you up to £75 a year according to Which.co.uk and there is some fantastic advice from the likes of Energy Experts to help you save money. Even if it can't help you as a student, it will definitely put you in good stead when you get your own home after uni is but a distant memory. My friend started to turn off her gadgets and not leave electrical appliances on charge or stand-by mode for hours on end for no reason, and although it might not have saved her much money at the time, it certainly will do now that she has her own home.