Starting college can be an exciting and busy time for students, but it's important for them to get a handle on their finances to ensure that they can concentrate on their studies writes Conor Pope
From coupon collecting to home brewing, students embarking on a year in college can save themselves a fortune if they follow a few simple tips
WHEN PRICEWATCH were a lad, students were skint. No one drove cars or ate in restaurants or went on holidays or darkened the doors of ridiculously over-priced clothes shops staffed by ridiculously beautiful people or drank cocktails unless they were made with the dregs of the drinks cabinet of a parent who had gone away and foolishly left their wayward children to their own devices.
Times were, in short, lean but students got by – and had a right old wheeze – on pretty much nothing.
Many of the Celtic Tiger’s cubs on the other hand, were spoiled rotten and lived it up at their parents’ expense, while others waltzed in to well-paid part-time jobs where they worked for their play money. It is all changed now, jobs are harder to come by and the parental purse strings are tighter than then have been since the early 1990s. So how can the students of today make ends meet? It’s not hard.
1 Track it: Keeping a close eye on your finances might sound a little dull, but it is hard to control your spending unless you know what you’re spending. When you have a minute in the first month of the new term, work out exactly what your income is and what your outgoings are, including laundry, rent, food, utilities, books . . . and Jaegerbombs in Coppers. Then for two weeks, keep a spending diary of all incidentals, such as coffees, chocolate and snakebites, so you will understand where your money is going and what you need to do to make it last.
2 Learn to cook: Forget pricey takeaways and M&S ready meals – just cook your own food. We’re talking idiot-proof stuff, such as curries, chillies and pasta sauces. It’s not only fun and better for you, it’ll save you an absolutely fortune and, once you get the hang of it, it’s a great way to impress the opposite sex.
A tin of tomatoes, a clove of garlic and an onion will cost 50 cents; a jar of processed tomato sauce with much the same ingredients costs three times more – six times more if you want to go high end – and will taste nowhere near as nice.
There are more sites devoted to student cooking than you could get through in a lifetime but we likestudentrecipes.com, which is written by students for students. If you want to buy a book, Sam Stern’s Student Cookbook is very good and will turn you into mini-Gordon Ramsay before you can say, “Dammit, I’ve burned the poxy onions again.”
3 Learn to shop: The key to good cooking is good shopping. And the key to good shopping is lists – lists you stick to. Never shop hungry or hungover and don’t rely on the big name retailers that your folks have shopped in for years (they have more money than you). Remember supermarkets are not always the cheapest place to buy food. If you live close to a street market such as those found on Moore Street or Camden Street in Dublin, you will be able to source fresh fruit and vegetables for a lot less. (The reason much of it is selling so cheap is that it is on the turn, so don’t leave produce sourced on stalls in your fridge for too long unless you like handling mushy rotten vegetables of a morning). Buy everyday items, such as tinned tuna and beans on promotion and, when you see a good deal, buy it in bulk.
Turn your back on brand names and only buy own-brand foods – you will save yourself a packet. A litre of milk from Avonmore costs €1.14, a litre of Tesco milk costs 75 cents. Find out when your local supermarket discounts food that is about the go off (if you don’t want to ask in-store, ask online). The big retailers sell a lot of food that is about to pass its use-by date every evening after 5pm, so if you time your shopping right, you will do well. Buy produce that it is loose rather than already wrapped and keep an eye on the unit price rather than the price on the shelves.
Visit cheapeats.iee very now and then. It has a lot of feisty content about where to get eats that are, well, cheap. The site also has a weekly wrap of the specials on offer in supermarkets around the country which will make your life easier.
The best way to save money on your shopping is to get it for nothing. If you’re in the market for free stuff, then check out Free Trade ( dublinwaste.ie), the Dublin local authority’s online initiative which helps people pass on their unwanted household items for nothing. If you’re not in Dublin, check out freecycle.org or jumbletown.ie
4 Learn to brew: The brew-it-yourself movement is hot and can save you a mountain of cash. A starter kit is for sale on thehomebrewcompany.ie for just €50. For that you get a fermentation vessel, a thermometer, syphons, a capper, bottle caps, a steriliser and the ingredients for 40 pints of lager or cider. Once you have the kit, the ingredients cost less than €20, which means your pints will cost you under 50 cents a pop.
“It is very easy to do, it really is basic,” says Mick Carr of the Homebrew Company. “You get much better beer this way, so it is not just about the money, it is also about the taste.”
If beer or cider isn’t to your taste, the same company is selling wine kits for €22 and the kits are enough to make 20 bottles. Sounds disgusting, right? Apparently not.
“Some of the wine is great quality,” Carr says. “You’d be surprised. There are not that many chemicals in it, so the hangovers are not bad.” Hmmmm. We’re not entirely convinced by the merits of homebrew wine but it might be worth a go.
5 Sign up: Join the most well-organised club or society in your college even if you have only the most passing interest in what said club or society does. It will have biggest budget, the most regular parties – with food and alcohol – and you’ll get to meet a whole bunch of potentially nice folk into the bargain.
If you’re looking for freebies, get on the mailing list of every gallery in your city. There will be openings and at those openings there will be wine – and maybe cubes of cheddar cheese on cocktail sticks if you are really lucky. You will also be exposing yourself to a bit of culture – what’s not to love about that?
6 Coupon culture: During Freshers’ Week, you will almost certainly be given all manner of coupons and you don’t actually have to be a first year to get your hands on them. Just make sure to hang on to whatever coupons you get. You will need them before the year is out.
7 Pay less for light: If you have to pay your own electricity bills, make sure you are getting the best value for money. If you live in rented accommodation it can be hard to make the switch to the cheapest provider yourself, but you can still find out what deals are out there via bonkers.ie. If you find a provider that is cheaper than the one you are on, get your landlord to make the switch.
8 Just say no: Under no circumstances should you consider a credit card until you get yourself a full-time job. It will turn into a millstone around your neck. If you need to buy stuff such as airline tickets or books online, get one of the pre-paid options. The O2 money card is popular and can be topped up at thousands of locations.
Bonkers.ie says the Moneybookers card is best because it’s simple, free to top-up, free to use and costs just €10 a year. Frequent flyers may want to look at the Ryanair Cash Passport because it is the only card that lets you avoid Ryanair admin fees. It is expensive though, there’s a top-up fee of €3 every time you add money to the card, and the minimum top-up amount of €175 may put it out of your reach.
9 Bank on it: While you should turn your back on a credit card, you should not turn your back on banks. While the days of banks offering a huge volume of freebies to would-be student customers are gone the way of the bubble, there is still money to be saved by choosing wisely. Visit itsyourmoney.ie to see what deals are out there.
10 Surf’s up: Couch surfing.org allows you to find free accommodation – and it doesn’t have to be a couch – all over the world. With cheap-as-chips flights to hundreds of destinations across Europe readily available, a weekend away can be yours for less than €100.
11 Phone home: For a different type of surfing you’ll need broadband. Wired broadband offers the most reliable service and can be a great option in accommodation where bills can be shared. There is almost always a one-year contract, so the last three months should be factored in – it will have to be paid even if the service isn’t needed.
Bonkers.ie suggests Smart for students at just €29.95 a month for everything you need. It is also very fast at 24Mb. With 350GB of usage a month, even a houseful of students would have trouble going over the data limit.
For cheap mobile phones it is hard to see beyond 48 – 48months.ie– once you’re aged between 18-22. For €10 a month you get unlimited calls and texts to all networks and for €20, its VIP deal promises all the internet you need as well.
With Vodafone you can earn points when you top up which can be turned into free stuff. Vodafone is also going on a campus tour which it promises will be “jam-packed with exclusive student offers”.
Turn your back on brand names and only buy own-brand foods – you will save yourself a packet