The Smart Student Shopper

In the melange of shopping online, in Aldi and in Costcutter, Ellie brings a guide for when to budget, and when to splash out a bit more

WhatIsCostcutter___SelectedTwo of the most valuable life lessons we are likely to learn in our time at university are a.) to feed ourselves as opposed to having our parents systematically provide for us and b.) to do this on an often fairly restricted student budget.

And in the bid to make do with these limited resources, it is fair to say that a fair number of us will, at some point or another, forego the familiar, comforting trademarks found in the cupboards of our family homes in order to experiment with an alternate, dirt-cheap and somewhat dubiously-labelled substitute, all in the worthwhile cause of ‘Saving Money’.

These bargain brands appear a godsend at first. What a fantastic deal it seems to be; faced with a pack of twelve burgers for less than a pound, discount turkey drumsticks, enough to see you through until the end of term. Even with the echoes of the horse-meat scandal leading you to question what exactly has gone into the suspiciously inexpensive product in front of you, the economics may often act as a greater incentive for purchase.

That said, smart-price deals can be a good investment; but on other occasions, it is a reminder why it pays to spend a little extra. In my own experience, there were the stock cubes that resembled compact blocks of wet sand and formed soggy clumps at the bottom of the pan; the yoghurt with a funny, slightly sour aftertaste; and more recently, the peanut butter which came complete with a thick surface layer of sunflower oil that I had to drain off before I could reach the actual butter itself (though this tasted so vile that I ended up having to bin the whole thing and subsequently upgrade to a better, less oily variety.)

Peanut-butter-group-shotAnd yet look carefully enough and you will find some decent deals. Fruit and vegetables for example, often taste just as good as ordinary-priced equivalents and are perfectly edible. The low price has in fact less to do with their actual quality than visual appearance, as consumers become increasingly picky about the food they buy and slightly misshapen fruit and vegetables are displaced by their more perfectly-formed counterparts. As long as you don’t mind that your carrots are not of a uniform size, or that your apples are not consistently red or green in colour, the taste is of little difference.

The same applies to other staple foods such as pasta and rice, or tinned fish, beans and cereals. The more difficult choice comes with prepared items: I would advise caution when selecting products which combine ingredients. This is not because they are inherently bad, but because frequently contain a disproportionate amount of water, salt, sugar or oil to product content, or use cheap meat substitutes to bolster the net weight of the item. This means that your sausage roll might contain a paltry amount of sausage but a high percentage of rusk, onions and meat derivatives.

The trick however, as with most things, is to learn what works best for you. What works best for someone is not true for all and shopping on a student budget is ultimately a case of trial and error, of learning to recognise what you do and do not like. In that, taking the good with the bad is part of the fun of experimenting.

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