Beauty and the Beastly Spend

After I read how students are spending hundreds of pounds on beauty products, I quickly worked out how much I spend each year.

Lancaster students are apparently the biggest spenders, with an average of £1,109 a year going on beauty products.

(photo by sparklerawk) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Looking good. But are you a beauty super-spender? (photo by sparklerawk) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I don’t know what qualifies as a ‘beauty product’, but I’ve included soap and deodorant in my list of products. Do they count? I’d label them more ‘necessary’ than ‘beauty’.

Even if they do count, let’s just say I’m definitely not in the same league as the average students questioned in the survey. From the results, you may be horrified to meet me as ‘beauty’ appears not to be my middle name…

Because I don’t spend £1,109. Lancaster have certainly beaten me here.

I don’t spend £500.

Not even £100.

I seem to be insanely cheap. My total spend on ‘beauty’ products (including soap and deodorant, remember…) is a paltry:

Twenty-two pounds a year.

£22. That’s it.

It’s down to my eco-living attempts and a tendency to ignore products with a worrying ingredient list. Back on campus, I probably spent more like £150 a year. A very rough guess, but clearly a lot more than I do now. Still nowhere near the figures compiled in this latest survey.

Next year I’ll be spending over £30, because I have to buy a new post-shave moisturiser. How very dare I?

What’s your yearly beauty spend?

Savvy Shoppers Save – 15 Ways to Keep Your Food Bill Down

Freshers rejoice! We’re coming to that time of year when universities across the land welcome new students through their proverbial gates.

And what’s one of the first things a new student needs to do? Food shopping.

Research by found that meals are frequently skipped at uni. More than half the students polled had no more than £2.50 to spend on food each day. Best be prepared to make your cash go as far as possible. There are ways to save money without resorting to missed meals.

Before I started uni, I didn’t do much food shopping. As a newbie, armed with a limited budget and self-catered accommodation, I had to learn fast. In just a few weeks, I had a crash course in savvy shopping.

shopping trolley (photo by Funky64)

Shopping can be grim, but it’s got to be done. (photo by Funky64) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’d like to offer what I learned in my quest to save money. Here are 15 tips to keep your bill as low as possible. You’ll be shopping like a pro in no time.

1. Don’t go in hungry

Physical and mental fatigue serve you poorly. You’ll end up buying everything in the shop if you’re not careful. Go when you’re thinking logically about grub, not when you’re primed to pick stuff up as if you’ve been starved for days.

2. Spice things up

Change flavours easily and enhance regular meals so they always have an element of surprise to them. All you need are a few herbs and spices at the ready. Pickle, chutney and sauces also enhance your cheap eats.

3. Learn a few meals to use over and over again

I recently decided–on a whim–to start baking cakes. After just a few dedicated hours*, I had a standard loaf cake recipe that I can now change to suit my mood. I can return to the same technique every time, replacing sultanas for blueberries, date syrup for sugar, and so on.

You can do this for any meal. Get a basic stir fry, salad, curry, or whatever you fancy. When you know what you like, you can do it all the time. With a few tried and tested dishes, you don’t need to think about what you’re doing any more. No more fussing and no more reliance on ready meals.

*Several hours spent over a number of sessions. Not all at once. I didn’t bake a dozen cakes back-to-back, you know!


4. Shop when the offers come out

Most supermarkets reduce short-dated stock at particular times in the day. Each place is different and some shops slash the prices while others are stingy. If you find a place with good discounts, find out when the big reductions happen and, if possible, shop at those times for cheap grub.

If you don’t know when the big reductions happen, you could be cheeky and ask. I’ve asked in the past and most staff told me straight away.

5. Shop on a strict list

List approaches didn’t work for me at uni, but it may for you. Loads of shopping advice suggests you should stick to what you need, make a list, and stick to it so you don’t pick up all sorts of other items as you browse.

Special offers get overlooked this way, but at least you won’t be tempted to go off track and spend more than you had planned.

6. Plan meals in advance

At the start of each week, spend a few minutes working out what food you want.

Setting the menu in advance is useful for several reasons:

  • you won’t have to waste time thinking about what’s for dinner every day;
  • buying will be strategic and not a mish-mash of stuff you may or may not get round to eating;
  • it will limit the temptations because you’ll better know where you stand;
  • you can plan batch cooking efficiently (see Point 7, below).

7. Batch cooking

I didn’t do this enough. Don’t make my mistake!

Cook a large dish that’ll keep you going for several meals. One cooking session, three or four meals, one happy student.

Put the portions in containers either for the fridge (if you’re going to eat it over the next few days) or freezer (if you’d prefer to space it out).

Yes, I know fridge and freezer space is a problem in many a student household. I’ve experienced it first hand. My thoughts go out to you at this difficult time…

8. Get groceries delivered

Save time and temptation by getting a delivery service to bring your food to your door.

Be prepared to spend a few quid on delivery. If the extra charges annoy you or you can’t easily spend enough to qualify, ask housemates if they want to join in. That way, large minimum orders are easier to work with and delivery charges can be split in half (or more, if everyone wants to join in!).

Remember to factor in your own time and transport costs. For instance, if home delivery costs a pound more than your bus fare, that extra pound may be worth it for the time and bother saved in the process. Many companies offer big discounts on your first order too.

9. Cook with housemates

Talking of joining in, why not team up for cheap eats? It’s not always feasible, but some students shop together and make a lot of meals as a group. It’s usually cheaper if you can manage it, but you need to be around at the same times and enjoy a similar selection of food.

If you’re one of the few who can reliably tick those boxes, you could even get a cooking rota going so you can take turns to make meals. Everyone else you know will be jealous of you and your foodie mates.

10. Go to the market

If you’re near to a weekly market, farmers’ market, or even a local farm shop, consider going for cheap, quality fruit and veg. You may bag yourself a bargain compared to supermarket prices.

Many universities have a fruit and veg sale on campus or in the SU. This is a good place to start if you want to test out something new, or if you live on campus and don’t want to carry heavy foods all the way through town.


11. Compare prices

Never assume something is cheap. Be on the lookout and keep tabs on how much your favourite foods usually cost. That way, you know when a bargain is genuine.

And just because it’s a larger pack doesn’t mean it’s better value for money. I often see bigger so-called ‘value’ packs that cost more than a couple of the smaller packs. Don’t take anyone’s word for a deal except your own.

12. Be brand fickle

When faced with ten different makes of the same food, the default decision is usually to go with the brand you’re used to.

Challenge yourself. Go for a cheaper option if there is one. Don’t be fooled by colourful packaging and fancy marketing words. Some supermarket brand versions of a product can be made by the manufacturer with a premium price product.

It’s all to play for. The worst that can happen is you’ll go back to the original brand next time.

13. Buy loose groceries

Drop the packaging. Buying loose items is often cost effective. Less waste is also an environmental plus.

I’ve heard people say that loose food feels less hygienic and that the produce may not be as high in quality. In reality, you should wash your fruit and veg, no matter how it is presented. As for quality, buying a product that has been placed in a bag for your convenience isn’t a magical sign of better quality. Presentation can deceive.


14. Find alternatives to your faves

I love chips. For years, I would buy frozen oven chips and get through a pack way too quickly. And each time I walked past a fish and chip shop…Let’s be honest, I didn’t walk past, I walked in. The lure of chips had me in a flash.

Chips aren’t the most expensive item in the world. But it’s still cheaper to buy a big bag of spuds and make them yourself.

The only thing you need to do is chop the potatoes into whatever size you want. No peeling necessary. Just pre-heat an oven dish with a bit of oil, chop the potatoes up and chuck ’em in the oven. If you’re feeling adventurous, season with a few herbs, a bit of smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt.

Cheap chips. Yum.

When you want an alternative way to make your favourite food cheap, a quick Internet search will provide loads of quick fixes.

Look, if you can make a chocolate cake in 5 minutes, there’s no stopping you do anything. Right?

15. Shop around

My friends thought I was mad, but I went to at least four different supermarkets on a regular basis. I’d rush around the one my friends were at, then dash in to the others. Luckily, the shops were all next to each other.

My task was to find all the special deals and only buy what was on offer. I regularly came back with double the shopping to everyone else, whilst spending roughly the same amount.
I wouldn’t call that mad. I’d call that determined.

It’s also the reason why I didn’t like strict lists…

What have I missed? If something worked for you and I’ve not mentioned it, let us know. Let’s get the advice out there. The more, the merrier.

Is University Worth £9,000 a Year?

The Telegraph recently asked students if their first year was worth £9,000.

This type of question is hard to answer at such an early stage. Wait until the end of the degree and answers won’t be much clearer then.

Value doesn’t conclude at the end of an academic year. Nor does it conclude when you finish studying.

In the nature of ‘students as consumers’, imagine buying a brand new car. After you’ve traveled on your first petrol tank worth of fuel, could you say if the car was worth the price? What about after one year of driving it?

The questions seem confused. How do you know if the car is worth it? Value doesn’t conclude until the car is run into the ground, you sell it, or it’s written off. Only when you put all the factors together can you get a reasonable assessment of value.

Value for money on one tank? And the fuel costs extra! (photo by Images_of_Money)

Value for money on one tank? And the fuel costs extra! (photo by Images_of_Money)

For a degree, value is even harder to assess. No wonder there’s so much discussion around it!

The Telegraph states, “58.4 per cent felt their first year wasn’t worth the £9000”. The problem is in understanding why. The answer is based on a general feeling. Some students will be offended paying a penny for their pursuit of education, while others will sense value in the long haul, whatever the cost.

Neither are necessarily right or wrong. Limited knowledge of what’s to come in their future (and in the wider world) prevents anyone from giving an accurate account of value. Motivation drives how you feel about many things, including value. But motivation is a complicated issue. There is no easy answer.

One opinion for poor value for money in the first year is that it doesn’t count academically.

This ‘first year doesn’t count’ argument is a false trail. Fresher year counts beyond grades. If nothing else, it acts to strengthen your academic work, which should help grades in later years. A direct correlation between fees and grades is jarring. Understandable, yes, but still jarring.

Contact time is another false trail. A joint study by HEPI and Which?, reports on student experiences, including contact time and the differences between institutions, even for the same subject. But there are many reasons why contact time isn’t just about hours. And neither should that be the only factor when looking at value.

It’s easy to boil the university experience down to this: a path toward a degree.

But the reality is complicated, just like motivation. You (hopefully) end up with a degree at the end of your time, but is that the only value worth attaching to the fee? If so, what price are you willing to pay for a degree and why?

There are arguments against buying into a university experience altogether. Despite those reasons, some will still find great value in HE. My motivation is not yours. Your motivation is not anyone else’s.

Is £9k worth it each year? Can you give a reasonable answer?

A simple question of value is far from simple to answer amid all the confusion. It makes little sense to view university within the confines of market competition.

Worries that don’t go away…and how to make them go away

How different is it to be a student now compared to five years ago? Ten years? Twenty years?

The world continues to change. Your experiences are shaped by advances in technology. What you take for granted today may not have existed when you were born.

But how different are your worries compared to previous years?

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

A YouthInsight poll of more than 1,500 students has asked current students and this year’s uni applicants about their anxieties about campus life. Times Higher Education reports on the top five concerns as:

  1. Money (63%)
  2. Difficulties settling in (50%)
  3. Trouble making friends (48%)
  4. Getting on with flatmates (44%)
  5. Too much partying/drinking (22%)

There is nothing new in this list. And it’s understandable that you’d be worried about these things. For many, stepping on campus for the first time is also the first time away from the family home. The first time you’re fending for yourself in a major way.

If any of these matters are causing you anxiety, check out these links from the archives…


Settling In

Making Friends

Getting Along


Many of your worries may be similar to others around you. The cliché goes that you’re all in the same boat when you start university. Cliché or not, that means you’re all trying to make sense of what’s new. And that’s not always easy.

Remember, you’re not getting it wrong. You’re exploring and discovering. The awesomeness can take time.

It’s worth the wait. 🙂