10 Things I avoid buying at uni to save serious money

10 Nov 2020
By Ellie M., Post-grad at University of Glasgow

Since starting university, money has become a part of student living that is constantly on my mind.

From trying to figure out budgeting on a student loan, to obsessively updating spreadsheets with every receipt that comes my way, I’ve been focussed on cutting down my spending and, in turn, my stress levels.

As part of this, there’s a range of things that I’ve simply stopped spending money on. In an effort to help you save money like I have, I’m going to share the 10 things I don’t buy as a student. Hopefully they’ll give you a few ideas on how you can protect that bank balance too.

1) Meat

I’ve become almost entirely vegetarian since becoming a student. After all, meat is expensive! And, while vegetarian alternatives (like veggie sausages) can also be costly, cutting things out like mince and chicken has made a big difference. 

It’s also better for the environment, so that’s a win-win. In fact, you can find out how I’ve learnt to spend £12 or less on my weekly food shop right here.

Pro tip: Roasted veg and cous-cous is a fantastic, filling meal that I can make two portions of for less than £1.

2) Sweets and snacks

Sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks – let’s be honest, they’re all very expensive, and one bag of crisps is just never enough. Before you know it, you’re popping back to the shop and the pennies just keep adding up. 

When I do my food shop, I follow a list I’ve already made. By not including these things on the list in the first place, it makes it much easier to resist them in the shop. Instead, I try and snack on things like bananas and crackers. They’re healthier, more filling and less expensive in the long run.

3) Clothes

It’s not that I never buy new clothes, but I only tend to go shopping when I know I have money or gift cards to spend from my birthday or Christmas. Then, I try hard to only buy things that I love and know will last.

4) Take-out coffee

If you can, I would recommend investing in some good quality coffee you can make at home and maybe a thermal bottle you can drink from on-the-go. Essentially, while it felt like a lot of money when I stocked up on my £4.50 jar of coffee the other day, it will last me ages and costs the same as two take-away coffees.

5) Books

As a big book fan, I can’t say I’ve committed to this one all too well - but it’s a suggestion, nonetheless. Take advantage of your university or local library and consider saving yourself £9.99 (and storage space) next time you want to escape into a good story.

6) Days out

Free museums, a picnic in the park… maybe even a walk around IKEA? In any city, you can find plenty of things to do without spending cash. Here in Glasgow, you can take a free trip to the botanic gardens or spend a day following the Mural Trail. A quick Google will almost certainly reveal your city has some amazing free activities, too.

Pro tip: My flatmates and I spent a day hiking Ben Lomond – there’s no entry fee for a Munro.

7) Takeaways

Forget about Chinese, pizzas and Indian. I never buy takeaways. Instead, I always cook two portions of food for dinner and reheat one the next day. That way, I don’t have to cook for half of the week. Plus, making my own meals all the time is much healthier, cheaper and more rewarding.

8) A TV licence

Not having a TV licence doesn’t mean I’m doing anything illegal, I just don’t watch TV. Why? Because, while a TV licence costs £154 for the year, a basic Netflix subscription will only cost you £72, and you don’t need a license for that. Then, of course, there is the totally free YouTube option.

However, if you can’t live without certain shows, check if your university is subscribed to Box of Broadcasts. It’s a great website which records and streams thousands of everyday TV shows and films.

9) Holidays

For several years now, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in projects and organisations that have taken me around the world, mostly free-of-charge. Although, Covid-19 might make that a little difficult in the immediate future.

This obviously involves a certain amount of work, and the nature of these trips (e.g. attending conferences and teaching at festivals) means I don’t exactly get to relax on the beach. But, I’m still travelling. 

So, keep an eye out. Get involved with youth groups and boards, volunteer with organisations, teach at a summer camp or try volunteering in another country. You can read all about my experiences with volunteering here.

Pro tip: Look out for internships. In 2018, I secured a month-long internship in New Jersey, USA, that took me to six different states. I wasn’t paid, but my flights, food and accommodation were all covered by the organisation. 

10) Disposable items

This is something I’m still working on. In the interest of saving money and the environment, I’m trying to swap out single-use items for more long-term alternatives. For example, instead of buying single-use cotton wool, I buy machine washable makeup remover pads. 

So, why not start your eco-friendly journey by investing in a reusable water bottle, rather than buying a plastic bottle of water next time you go out? My trusty spork has saved me from having to spend an extra 20p on harmful plastic cutlery more than a few times. 

You don’t have to stop buying as much as this, or even cut things out completely, but making small changes can have a big impact. And you know what? You might even realise you don’t miss the things you stop buying.

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Crafter, casual gamer, and future forest ranger. I'm Ellie and I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2021 with a degree in Film Studies and Theatre. I grew up in rural Aberdeenshire and am still trying to figure this ‘adult’ thing out.