11 things students should spend their money on

March 31, 2013 in #opinion #university #finances #student

I've just read a truly attrocious article in The Independent that suggests 11 things that students should buy.

It provides suggestions such as 'Fairtrade produce' and a 'toastie press'. I'm assuming that the writer has either never actually been to university or was in the somewhat privileged position of their parents paying for everything!

So, as clearly any monkey can produce these kinds of lists I thought I would free of charge (there aren't any ads on this website, after all!).

Plastic Food Containers

As a student you will cook a LOT of pasta. And rice. And (if you can find it cheap enough and in large bags) cous cous. But cooking these things takes up valuable time you could spend studying, drinking or procrastinating on Reddit or Twitter.

A big time-saver therefore is to cook in bulk and then store food in plastic containers. You can pick up half a dozen of them for less than a fiver from places like Wilkinson, or you can even use your old lunchbox from school or sixth form college.

Carbs, Carbs, Carbs

As the previous point suggested, the most economic foods you can buy are pasta, rice, noodles and large bags of cous cous.  They taste bland as hell, so you can shake things up a bit with store-brand jars of pasta sauce, salt, pepper or Tabasco sauce. Forget the idea of buying meat - the only meat you can afford comes shredded up in a tin floating in a bland curry sauce.

Printer

Okay, this is one point where The Independent and I agree. Having access to your own printer means you aren't constantly paying the university's exorbitant rates for 'printer credits', and you have the safety of knowing you can print out your work at the last minute in emergencies without frantically stressing out that you can't get on one of the university machines.

I recommend cheap HP printers personally as the cartridges aren't too expensive and you'll still be able to buy compatible refills by the end of a 3-4 year course. Also, before replacing a cartridge that claims it's empty try taking it out, shaking it and putting it back in again. This can eek out an extra 10-20 pages or so.

Laptop

(If you don't have one already). Forget about desktop PCs - you're probably going to be living in a different place every year and you're going to need to move your computer back home every summer too. A laptop not only fits into this scenario being lightweight and not taking up extra room, but also means you can bring it around a mate's house to study as a group or to lectures to catch up on Facebook ...I mean take down notes!

If you're prone to RSI or have more specialist needs you can always pick up a portable wired mouse and keyboard kit from Argos for around £10-15 (avoid wireless units unless you're happy to regularly spend money on replacing batteries).

Also, when you're buying expensive electrical items like this double-check for student discounts. Apple has its own education store and the likes of PC World, Sony, Toshiba, Acer and Dell will usually apply a discount after you've provided some sort of proof you're a student.

Mini-fridge

Your fellow housemates will probably eat anything expensive in the communal fridge, drink your milk or get drunk, run out of booze and move onto yours. This is your private luxury to store those things you steadfastly want to consume yourself. It might set you back around £30, but you'll thank me later for suggesting this.

Whiteboard

Use this to list all your deadlines and exam dates and hang it somewhere you can see it (preferably next to your work desk). If that isn't motivation I don't know what is! The cheapest whiteboard I've seen is a £3 one you can pick up at Wilkinson. Avoid magnetic whiteboards unless you want to pay through the nose.

Smartphone

It doesn't need to be an expensive one. It can run iOS, Android, Windows Phone or whatever other platform happens to be the next big thing - It's important you have one. The main reason is that you can use it as an alarm, but you can also install your timetable on it to remind you where you need to be. It's also important that whatever the state of WiFi coverage you're able to receive university emails, use a Maps application to find your way back home after a night out and play music at a party! A smartphone also helps you avoid forking out for other gadgets (such as a digital camera).

A mobile phone in general is important as you're unlikely to have a landline available at your student accommodation, so calls home or to friends you make at university would otherwise be impossible. If even this seems a little extravagant then take a look at Skype and instant messaging from your laptop.

Store-brand food

You may wrinkle your nose and gesture a certain finger at me for saying this, but forget any ideas you had about buying fairtrade or free range food while you're at university.

The likes of Taste the Difference or Waitrose food are even further removed from student reality. Think Tesco Everyday Value and Sainsbury's Basics ranges ...if you haven't already heard of Lidl or Aldi, you will have done by the time you leave university!

I can tell you from experience that store brand products can be hit and miss. There are handy workarounds for most things. Baked beans can be mixed with ketchup to thicken it up. Store-brand curry tastes a lot less like you're eating something you'd feed your dog if you add some of that Tabasco sauce you bought earlier. You will no doubt find some tricks of your own as you readjust your tastes to fit your budget.

Avoid buying microwave ready meals as they take up a lot of your weekly shopping budget. Also, buying booze to 'pre-drink' (i.e. get tipsy with some friends before you hit the bars and clubs) is a great way to keep control of your spending and save money.

Stationery

Does this really need an explanation? Some paper, highlighters, a stapler and a few pens are helpful. You should buy more specialist equipment like protractors, calculators, etc only if your subject requires them (you can use the calculator app on your smartphone for assignment work, but you'll need the real deal if you're doing an exam).

Online Banking

Okay, this isn't really something you "spend money on" (although saving is technically you lending your bank money...), but your student bank account is going to be your chief source of income as it provides an interest-free overdraft and a place for your student loan to arrive. You should use Martin Lewis's money saving website to compare the best accounts, but make sure you're able to bank online. The main benefit of this is it enables you to track your bank balance in real time and ensure you keep within budget ...or at the very least don't go into non-arranged overdraft territory, which your bank will charge you for.

Legal stuff

In short, just because you're a student and poor doesn't mean you get to skip paying things you have to. In particular...

TV Licensing

If you're watching live TV in the UK either through a TV or your laptop via BBC iPlayer or ITV Player then you must pay your TV License or you're open to fines in the thousands (in student halls you will get checked!).

You have to pay a year up front, but you can claim back 3 months at the end of it (as being a student you're only resident in the same place for 9 months in the year). You can save money by either confining yourself strictly to watching TV programmes after they've been broadcast with services like Netflix or LoveFilm or if the TV's in a communal area you could split the cost with your housemates.

To me it doesn't make much sense to insist students pay for a TV License as it's like an unnecessary 'student tax'. But then I don't think the BBC would collapse if it showed adverts instead, so take that opinion as you will...

Room Insurance

Before investing in this double-check with your parents that your valuables aren't already covered by their home insurance. If they aren't then it's recommended you at least consider insuring your valuables. This is because it's very easy to lose things around campus or on drunken nights out, and also because thieves know to target student accommodation between terms because people are less likely to be in or report the theft in a timely manner.

Rent

If you're going to be late on your rent, make sure you tell your landlord. Lettings agencies in particular tend to charge interest on late payments, so don't get caught out. If Student Loans Company seems to be taking its time, make sure you get in touch with them to make sure they pay out.

Similarly, if you damage something tell your landlord straight away. This ensures that you maintain a good relationship with them, and they're less likely to penalize you at the end of the year when you ask for your deposit back! (Also, make sure you ask for your deposit back. Even the best landlords and lettings agencies aren't going to be falling over themselves to hand it back to you!)

(Bonus) Things your university accommodation doesn't provide

If you're living in halls accommodation then your university should issue a list of things you do and don't need. For private accommodation you should ask this at the viewing stage or get in touch with your landlord about it.

Also, double-check what is included in the rent. Some private landlords skip broadband, electricity or water. Some pay your TV License for you. It's all in the rental agreement you sign before the start of your tenancy.

Optional things to spend your money on

Here are some things you can spend your money on, but don't have to:

  • NUS Extra card (this is recognized across the country and will consistently get you a student discount. If your university-issued ID card has start and end dates on you may be able to blag it)
  • Gym membership (only buy this if you're actually going to use it, not 'just in case')
  • Bicycle (unless you're living far enough from campus to warrant one)
  • 16-25/Young Person's Rail Card (again, only if you need it. You can get one of these for free from some student accounts)
  • Tesco ClubCard/Nectar Card (you can use these to earn money on your spending and get discounts on goods, but relies on you spending money on things first!)

Conclusion

So, I hope someone out there found this helpful. This comes from 4 years of experience at university (well, one year was spent on work placement in Belgium ...so technically 3).

The last piece of advice I can give is to sell your car if you own one before coming to university. The main reason is this is a money pit, and unless you're working in a part-time job to cover this and are living far enough away from the campus then all you're paying for is an expensive shopping trolley!

Edit: Final, final piece of advice: Don't be afraid to freeze things. So long as it's not a pork product you've previously defrosted you can freeze almost anything. Bread is a particularly good candidate I've found. Though you should make sure you defrost slices in the microwave first before putting it in the toaster!

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