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Eleven things students should spend their money on


simple cartoon showing a professor assisting a student at their desk while they read a stack of books

This article was updated for September 2018 and continues to be targeted at students in the United Kingdom.

I've just read a odd 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 privileged position of their parents paying for everything! Here are my suggestions...

Plastic food containers

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

Cooking in bulk is a big time-saver and you can facilitate that by storing food in plastic containers. You can pick up half a dozen of them for less than £5 from places like Wilkinson, or you can even use your old lunchbox from sixth form or college.

Carbohydrates

As the previous point suggested the most economic foods you can buy are pasta, rice, noodles and large bags of cous cous. They taste very bland but you can shake things up with store-brand jars of pasta sauce, salt, pepper or Tabasco.

The best meat you can buy is minced beef because you can freeze it and use it later for more nutritious bolognaises with the help of a tin of sliced tomatoes. The cheapest meat is the questionable kind that floats in a tin of curry sauce that you can eat with a side of rice.

USB Printer

Okay, this is one point where The Independent and I agree. Having access to your own printer means you don't have to buy your university's expensive "printer credits" and you have the safety of knowing you can print out your work at the last minute in emergencies instead of struggling to find a university machine to use.

I normally recommend cheap HP printers as the toner cartridges aren't too expensive and you'll still be able to buy compatible refills by the end of a 3-4 year course. Avoid printers from Epson and Lexmark if you can because the former can be unreliable and the latter has expensive toner cartridges and driver issues on non-Windows systems.

Also before replacing a cartridge that the printer claims is 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

You probably aren't using a desktop PC, but if you are then it's worth noting that you're probably going to be living in a different place every year and return to your parents' home over the summer. A laptop is not only lightweight and space-saving, but you can also bring it around a study partner's house and to lectures to catch up on Facebook ...I mean take down notes!

If you're prone to repetitive strain injury or have more specialist needs you can also pick up a wired USB mouse and keyboard kit from Argos for around £10-15. Avoid wireless peripherals unless you're willing to regularly spend money replacing the batteries.

Also, when you're buying expensive electrical items like this double-check for student discounts. The likes of Sony, Toshiba, Acer and Dell will usually apply a discount when you buy direct from them so long as you provide proof you're a student.

Apple also has its own education store and Macbooks are a popular choice with new students. You should be aware though that your course may require you to use software that doesn't run on your machine unless you buy a copy of Windows. Thankfully this is becoming less of an issue as applications increasingly run on "The Cloud", but it's still a problem you might run into.

Mini fridge

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

Whiteboard or Online calendar

The previous version of this blog post suggested a whiteboard, but everyone has access to an online calendar on multiple devices these days.

Ideally you should have a way of viewing all your assignment deadlines and exam dates at a glance. Your Google/Outlook/iPhone calendar should have some kind of "agenda" view that performs this function.

If you do decide to opt for the low-tech option of using a whiteboard like I did then you can pick one up for about £3 from Wilkinson.

Smartphone

In 2013 this wasn't a guarantee, but in the year 2018 it's safe to assume you probably own a smartphone of some description. The key benefit is that it saves you buying other things like a digital camera, personal organiser, maps, music player, TV, etc. Also your student accommodation is unlikely to have a landline phone connection so this will be a necessary alternative.

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 unless you're willing to make some major financial sacrifices.

The likes of "Taste the Difference" or "Finest" 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!

Store brand products can be a little "hit and miss". There are handy workarounds for most things though, like mixing baked beans with ketchup to thicken them up. Store-brand curry tastes a lot less like gruel if you add some of that Tabasco you bought earlier. You will find some tricks of your own as you re-adjust your tastes to fit your budget.

Avoid buying microwave "ready meals" if you can as they take up a lot of your weekly shopping budget. Also, buying booze to "pre-drink" before a night out is a great way to keep control of your spending and save money at expensive bars and nightclubs.

Stationery

Does this really need an explanation? Some good printer paper, highlighters, a stapler and a few pens are really 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", 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 student current 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 your planned budget. Failing that, it can help you avoid being charged for exceeding your overdraft limit before you have the chance to fix the situation with some part-time or seasonal work.

Legal stuff

Unfortunately, just because you're a student with very little money doesn't mean you get to dodge your financial obligations.

TV license

It no longer matters if you're watching Live TV or not. If you watch TV shows on any catch-up TV service, Sky Go or YouTube then you are legally required to pay for a TV License. Click here for more information.

There's a lot of misinformation about this but in summary: Inspectors know that students are the most common offenders and they will send letters and people around to check. If you get caught it can result in a trip to court and a big fine.

Fortunately you have the choice of paying for a year up-front or by monthly direct debit. If you choose the former option you can claim back three months at the end of the academic year to account for the summer you're not present at the property.

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 when people are less likely to be in or report the theft in a timely manner.

Rent

If you're going to be late paying your rent you should ensure you tell your landlord as soon as possible. This can sometimes prevent them or your letting agency charging additional interest on the late payment. If Student Loans Company seems to be taking its time then make sure you keep contacting them until they pay you the agreed amount.

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 actually ask for your deposit back. Letting agencies know students don't always do this and are more than happy to keep hold of it!)

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 if you're actually going to use them, but you don't have to:

  • NUS Extra card
  • Gym membership
  • Bicycle
  • Young Person's Rail Card
  • Vehicle
  • Student societies
  • Additional courses