Money | Student Life: How I Manage My Student Budget

One of the trickiest things about becoming a student is managing your money, especially if you've never really had to do any food shopping and cooking for yourself before, as I hadn't. But over my first year I developed a few little strategies to keep on top of my finances and managed to live off just over £20 a week for essentials (excluding rent). So, after a friend of mine wondered how on earth I was managing it, I decided to share some of my top budgeting tips on the blog today!

Coffee flask, water bottle & lunch box

These might just be your greatest money-saving tools at university. Whilst it's easy to stop by Starbucks on your way to campus, you could use the time that would take you making an instant coffee to pop in a flask or insulated cup. You'll save yourself so much in the long run considering that some jars of instant coffee granules cost less than one Starbucks coffee! The same applies with cold drinks and lunch, it's always cheaper to make your own out of what's already in your fridge or cupboard than to buy it on campus. An added advantage of making your own foods and drinks is that when you do eat or drink out, it's more like a nice treat than an everyday thing.

Make as many meals as you can from scratch
Microwave meals and pot noodles may be quick, easy and convenient but they're also high in salt and high in price. There are plenty of quick and easy recipes to be found on the internet (I have a massive bookmarks folder full on my web browser) and it certainly pays off to make your own meals and your own desserts! This also applies to certain elements of meals, like making your own sauces rather than buying sachets - for example, I have a big bottle of oyster sauce that I have before mixed with some ketchup to make a sauce for a prawn chow mein.

Measure things
A lot of times it's easy to ignore the recipe and just guess at how much you need. With pasta and rice especially, this is a bad move and you'll end up with far more than you want and find yourself wasting food. Recipes will always have reasonable portions for you to base your measurements around and the less of an ingredient you waste, the less you need to buy.

Plan your meals and write shopping lists
This will prevent you going into the supermarket all guns blazing and buying everything that's on offer or in the reduced section in the hope that you can somehow smash all these miscellaneous ingredients into one tasty meal. Instead, you end up with a bunch of things gathering dust in your kitchen like the abandoned spices in that Michael McIntyre sketch.
Every Sunday I like to sit down and think about what I have in the kitchen - especially what's about to go off - and plan how I can incorporate them into meals the coming week. From that, I figure out anything else I need to buy and bear in mind how I'll use those newly purchased ingredients too. For example, if I need to buy some broccoli to accompany my red peppers, baby corn and chicken in a stir-fry, I'll try and make sure that other recipes I plan allow me to also use up the broccoli. It sounds very strict and over-the-top to plan out meals, and I don't always stick perfectly to it (swapping days around depending on what I fancy that day), but I've found it a really effective way to ensure I'm always buying what I need rather than things I "might need one day".

Bulk-buying (carefully)
When faced with one huge bag of pasta and a normal-sized bag, perhaps it's easier to go with the small bag of pasta because it's lighter to carry. But if you happen to be someone who eats a lot of pasta and is thus always buying more, you might as well go for the bigger bag that's cheaper per weight. However, bulk-buying is not always the wisest thing to do - if you're buying something as a one-off and won't use much of it, it's not a bargain if you spend almost double on a bigger load that you won't use.

Buy fewer branded products
We all have those products that we just have to buy the branded versions of. For one of my flatmates, it's Heinz Tomato Ketchup. For me, it's McVitie's Chocolate Digestives. But for plenty of products the supermarket version tastes just the same and is of similar quality. There's no point paying more than you need to for something!

Use your loyalty cards!
Get yourself a loyalty card for all of the supermarkets you're likely to be shopping at and use them everytime you shop there! Even if you think "oh I'm only spending £1, what's the point", scan your card anyway because all the times you'll think that will add up to a lot of points in the long run. Additionally, Sainsbury's have a coupons page that offers bonus points for buying a certain item and, whilst this isn't advantageous if you buy things just for the sake of buying them, if you were buying that item anyway you might as well get your bonus points!

Track your spending
I have a spending tracker app on my phone where I log all of my essential purchases. Logging your spending is really helpful in making you more aware of where your money's going and I like to sit down every so often to look at my spending and think about what I would be better off not buying next time!

I hope some of you have found this post helpful. What are your top budgeting tips? Let me know in the comments below!