Eating on a budget

Top tips for cutting the cost of your food bill

Photo Credit: Sophia Z

Photo Credit: Sophia Z

1. Do it yourself

It might be tempting to simply stick a ready meal in the microwave, order a takeaway or pick up a meal deal from YourShop, but it’s a lot cheaper – and usually healthier – to make your own food. For example, you can pick up a loaf of bread for under 60p, whilst a premade sandwich will generally cost you around £3. Just remember that using a pasta sauce from a jar or putting a packaged salad on place does not count as cooking and that resorting to preprepared ingredients is usually more expensive.

2. Tinned tomatoes are your friend

Seriously. At just 31p a tin they’re ridiculously cheap, keep for ages and are also one of your five a day. Tinned tomatoes can be used to form the basis of many classic student dishes – simply add onions and basil to make a pasta sauce, spread onto a dough base and top with cheese for pizza or leave to stew with mince, carrots, celery, herbs and onions for spaghetti bolognese.

3. Don’t be a brand snob

It sounds obvious, but cheaper supermarket brands often taste just as good as their big name counterparts, so there’s really no reason to shell out more.

4. Plan in advance

Make sure you make a list of what you need to avoid impulse buying – and don’t shop when you’re hungry. A scattergun approach to shopping will leave you with several items you can’t make a proper meal out of, meaning you’ll end up returning to the supermarket to fill in the gaps and end up spending more money. If you shop at the right time, you can pick up some bargains in the reduced sections, although this strategy can be a bit hit and miss.

5. Avoid the on campus shops

Popping to Nisa for your weekly shop may seem like a lot less effort than trekking to Morrisons, but it’s much more expensive, so it’s best just to keep an eye out for their special offers. If you still can’t bothered be to walk further afield, team up with your housemates to get your groceries delivered to reduce any delivery charges. The market stalls in the city centre provide a cheap alternative to supermarkets when it comes to buying fruit and vegetables.

6. Cook in batches and use your leftovers

Buying food in larger quantities often ends up being cheaper, but what if your recipe only calls for half an onion and you find yourself with a whole bag of them? Either make extra portions and freeze them (leftovers are great for lazy days!) or share with your housemates – cooking and eating together can be a great way of trying something new and getting to know each other. Any leftover meat and vegetables can be chopped up and added to soups, curries, stir fries and pasta dishes.

7. Take your own food to campus

This is perhaps a more useful tip for off campus students, but if you’re going to be on campus for a long period of time, always come prepared. Opting to quickly grab lunch from the library cafe or get a snack from the vending machine may seem like a good idea if you’re forced to spend all day in the library to get an essay finished, but you’ll soon learn that the prices are extortionate, so bring a packed lunch and a drink for when your concentration starts to wane.

8. Don’t be afraid to take advantage

Most parents are only to happy to pay for a food shop when they help you settle in during ‘Moving In Weekend’ or visit later on in the term. Accept their offer graciously. You may feel a fleeting sense of moral superiority when you prove your new found independence by humbly refusing to let them let them foot the bill, but you’ll soon be kicking yourself when you realise that cheese and meat have become luxuries that you can no longer afford. When you return home during the holidays, don’t forget to stock up on non-perishables like pasta.

It’s a well-known fact that nothing attracts students like free food, and employers and societies know this. The Christian Union is notorious for handing out free toasties whilst many other societies will try to entice you with sweets and baked goods. Careers events can also be a great way to score a free “dinner” – law firms tend to be one of the most generous when it comes to complimentary buffets. I’ve even spotted people handing out Ben and Jerry’s for no reason at all. (Needless to say, several return trips were made.) Several colleges also regularly host events where they give out free food.

If you’re catered, smuggle as much food as you can back to halls to save for later. Whilst not exactly free, you’ll be making sure you get your money’s worth – just make sure you avoid the eyes of the vigilant catering staff!

One comment

  1. 19 Aug ’14 at 2:46 pm

    Final Year Student

    If you’re going to trek to Morrisons, get whatever you can from the small ASDA next to it instead. Because it’s trying to compete with Morrisons, it’s even cheaper than normal (and ASDA is usually cheaper than Morrisons to begin with!) – loads of things are on rollback or prize freeze and it has great variety. You could easily do a full shop there, and it even has a small selection of fresh food. There’s also an Aldi in Fulford that you can easily reach on foot from campus and do a shop at.

    For small bits, particularly if you’re in Alcuin or Vanbrugh, for just a little bit more of a walk you can head over to the Co-operative on Hull Road. It has much more variety than the campus shops, it’s less busy at peak times and with an NUS card you get 10% discount, so it’s much more affordable for anything not on offer at Nisa (and most things at Nisa are still relatively dear when they’re on offer).

    Supermarkets quite often do first time delivery vouchers. For example, Tesco often do £15 off your first online shop when you spend over £60, but it’s usually per customer not address – a flat of 12 could potentially save £180 between them! Partner up and two people could get £30 of shopping for just £22.50 (25% off). If you aren’t sure how much things cost, use mysupermarket.co.uk to build your shopping list and it will tell you what’s cheapest where. It can also get you vouchers, or tell you if an item in your basket has a cheaper alternative within the same shop to reduce the cost of your basket. Then you can either order your food for delivery or go into the shop(s) yourselves with your list and save money.

    Chose how you shop carefully. Many students do shops at 2, 3 or 4 weeks intervals – depending on how well you plan, shopping less often can cost you more or it can cost you less. The advantage to doing big multi-week or monthly shops is you can take advantage of offers and freeze lots of stuff. The disadvantage is that you will likely regularly run out of essentials and have to replace them; if you save £15 a month doing big shops, that can easily be eaten up if you’re spending more than £3.75 a week replacing bits like bread and milk (and you probably will do that if you’re buying from campus shops!).

    For when you do want to eat out, there are plenty of affordable options. The Black Bull and Charles pubs are right on top of campus if you’re looking for pub food and both are very affordable (though Black Bull’s menu is bigger and better), whilst Courtyard does a small range of excellent food on campus cheap. If you’re looking for proper restaurants, vouchers and deals are plentiful. Revs and Slug & Lettuce are two bars in the city centre that do really good food with decent portions and offer 50% of on Mondays. Rustique does amazing French food on a very affordable set menu. If you sign-up to restaurant e-mail lists online, you’ll often find vouchers and offers aplenty; Loch Fyne offer 25% off to subscribers nearly every month for example. An NUS card can get you discounts at Prezzo, Ask Italian, Zizzi, Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Giraffe and some local places. If you’re in a relationship and like to go for dinner, consider the merits of a tastecard; it gets you either half off or 2-4-1 at some great chain and local places and easily pays for itself if you use it.

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