There’s a steep learning curve when you get to uni, where you suddenly realise that you’re going to have to start fending for yourself. Whether it’s learning to use the washing machine or finding out that other people have very different bathroom habits than your own, there’s always something waiting to surprise you, no matter how prepared you are.
While you’re trying to navigate social circles, class schedules and how not to blow your entire loan in a fortnight, it’s important to stay on top of day-to-day essentials. Covering the basics of eating, spending and looking after your stuff is relatively simple but will make a huge impact over the course of the academic year. Here are our four essentials for saving money and keeping it together.
Learn some kitchen survival skills
If you can master cheap, bulk meals in the first few weeks of uni, you’ll be thanking yourself in future. Imagine the sheer joy of defrosting a hearty slab of lasagne while your flatmates are scrabbling together their third portion of super noodles on toast of the week.
Firstly, learn some shortcuts, like the miracle of frozen veg (cheap, lasts forever, rarely gets pinched) and how to use your microwave for cooking virtually everything. Next, invest in a few basic condiments that will transform any rice, pasta or noodle dish into something edible and interesting (soy sauce and hot sauce – we’re looking at you). Finally, learn what meals can be frozen for later consumption. £10, some freezer bags and an afternoon cooking can easily yield enough lasagne, chilli con carne and spag bol to last you for weeks.
Track your money
There’s something incredibly liberating about just handing over your card and paying for things without a second thought. Sadly, this is the fast-track to being completely skint 4 weeks into the term and having no idea why.
Tracking your spending habits does not have to be a hassle, as there are numerous (free) apps that can help you set budgets and monitor your spending. YNAB (You Need A Budget) is great for staying within your means, while an account-syncing app like Pocketguard will let you keep an eye on all your accounts from one dashboard. Try installing a couple of these apps to see which one best fits your needs.
You might also find a Monzo account useful. This app-based current account makes it really easy to see where you’re spending your money, set yourself monthly limits for certain types of purchases (like food shops or nights out) and split your savings for specific purposes. Every time you use your Monzo card the app automatically categorises your purchase and the transaction goes through instantly – meaning no more accidentally hitting your limit when a contactless payment from last week finally goes through.
Get a part-time job
The idea of squeezing in a couple of shifts between studying and socialising might seem like madness, but getting a part-time job is an excellent way to stay afloat financially and get experience in other circles of life. Head to your student union and talk to local businesses as soon as possible to pip your competition to the post.
The secret to success is following your passion. Night owls and socialites are usually suited to bar work, where they can meet people on the job and make friends with like-minded people. If you’re more fashion-conscious, try finding weekend work on the high street to benefit from discounts on clothing or shoes. All about immersing yourself in student culture? See if the library, student services or internal departments have term-time openings for you.
Even if your schedule really is packed, take advantage of paid surveys, secret shopper opportunities and freelance work that you in the few gaps you do have. It might now pay as much, but it’s certainly better than nothing.
Protect your phone
We all take our devices for granted, but when our phone gets broken, lost or stolen we suddenly realise how much of a lifeline it is. Contacting friends and family, getting to new locations, updating social media and setting alarms are all vital parts of uni life… and a little bit tricky without a phone! There’s also all of your photos and app data that you might feel vulnerable about if it found its way into the wrong hands.
Firstly, protect your handset with a phone case and screen cover, and always, always use a lock screen. Next, install a few basic apps so that you can find your device if it gets misplaced. “Find my Phone” from Google is a good one, which lets you locate your phone, ring your phone, display a message and – if all else fails – wipe it remotely.
Finally, make sure your phone is insured. If you or your parents have contents insurance then your devices may be included, but always double check. Once your phone is insured, register your phone with the company and keep a copy of the IMEI number (or serial number for an iPhone) somewhere safe. You’ll need it if you ever make a claim and it can be difficult to retrieve once the device is gone.
Most students find that money is a real issue while they study, which in turn causes them to stop eating properly and lose sleep. This is obviously going to affect your ability to learn, triggering a downward spiral. Do your future self a favour and start the year off on the right foot – you’ll be incredibly grateful later!
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