Students – How to live on the cheap: Tips and hints for living away from home
Living on a budget and living well are two concepts that take many post-secondary students years to learn.
Just ask Steven Moran.
A third-year film studies major, Moran admits he didn’t really pay much attention to grocery shopping opportunities, or the location of fruit and vegetable markets when he and his buddy signed their first lease. While living on the cheap was first and foremost in his mind, the 20-year-old, who was paying his own living expenses, acknowledges that making home cooked meals, doing laundry, and furnishing his new digs weren’t exactly a top priority.
And now he wishes they had been.
“We ate a lot of Kraft Dinner and spaghetti,” Moran recalls. “And, of course, beer was our favorite drink.”
It’s a mistake many students make when they move away from the predictability of their parent’s fully stocked fridge – eating poorly, living uncomfortably, and spending too much money doing it.
Living on a tight budget, in general, is foreign to many post-secondary students. Let’s face it – it’s a learning experience that comes with age. University can be a wonderful training ground for financial management. The trick is to know where your priorities are, and to make decisions that enhance your lifestyle, without compromising your studies, health or finances.
Jenna Ferrey is a fourth-year university student who hails from a small town. For her, eating well is very important.
“I’m a vegetarian and I try to eat healthy food, so I spend a large part of my budget on food,” says Jenna, 21. “The problem is that healthy food seems to be more expensive than junk.”
Jenna’s advice to students living off campus? “Plan ahead.”
“Plan meals for a week or so and buy the groceries you need so you won’t be tempted to eat out. Also, if you have the same eating habits as your roommate, I have found it is nice to share some things. That way you can buy bigger packages and it is cheaper.”
If you know where to go, most college/university towns are brimming with ways to save your cash on everything from food to clothes, and entertainment to eateries.
Several times a week Ferrey and her roommate strap on their backpacks and head to their nearest grocery store to stock up. It’s actually open 24-hours a day and Ferrey has been known to drop in during the wee hours of the morning when paper writing or studying have her up late.
In the Fall she scouts out producer-based farmers’ markets. They are the perfect place to go for same-day fresh vegetables, organic meat, honey and baking that tastes like grandma made it. Farmers’ markets are an inner-city escape to the country; a great place to close your eyes and pretend you are in the heart of the countryside.
Making food fun is the latest craze among her friends. Why not get a group of friends together and organize a regular “foodie” night? Test your culinary skills by picking up the fixings for something different and share the creation process with people you enjoy.
Of course, eating well at home doesn’t mean that eating out should be entirely taboo. Marisa Sutherland-Brown, 21, says going out to eat with classmates is something she’ll always remember.
It’s fun to explore the downtown grid where eateries are nearly as plentiful as pedestrians. The trick is to find the best quality for the best price.
A salad bowl-sized serving of “Pho” is a treat Jocelyn Turner, Director of the Peer Support Centre at U of O, would never deny herself. “Pho is a Vietnamese soup and you can get it for about $6 a bowl,” she says.
You don’t have to go far in many city cores to find Chinatown where you can enjoy a heaping bowl of the beef, pork or chicken delicacy. Add a yummy spring roll, or perhaps taste test shrimp and snail soups.
If you’re missing the comfort foods of home, or you’re just trying to squelch a serious hangover, don’t discount the neighborhood Ma and Pa hamburger joint. A little grease is a good thing on these occasions. Try the old-fashioned bacon and eggs breakfast special. It’s usually a deal that can’t be beaten.
For budget-conscious vegetarians, the trick is to find the closest organic market and ask for directions to the nearest whole food hangout. There’s always one. And often times they are chalk full of relaxed charm.
Once you’ve taken care of your rumbling tummy you might want to experience the high you can get from buying something you need (or perhaps just have to have) at a greatly reduced price.
There’s a lot to be said for previously enjoyed clothing and household items. If you have the time to forage, you can uncover some funky finds. Seek out vintage clothing shops for something truly unique. They are usually reasonably organized and somewhat civilized purveyors of gently worn cast-offs. If time isn’t an issue the huge and often cluttered big-box second-hand shops are well worth the effort.
Accept the living-on-the-cheap challenge and not only will your bank account reap the benefits, but so will your peace of mind. Because worrying about money just plain sucks!