7 ways to slash your food bill

Make (almost) everything from scratch.

If you’re not a particularly skilled cook this is probably the most intimidating thing I could say, but seriously, cook everything you can from scratch. Instead of buying a jar of pasta sauce buy a tin of tomatoes, some herbs and some garlic – boom, two servings of sauce for pennies. Even for things like complex curries there are thousands of recipes for free online, and as soon as you’ve built up a bit of a spice collection you can make almost anything out of tomatoes, rice, and a few veggies.

 

Eat less meat.

Again, a slightly controversial one – the fact is that meat is damn expensive, and even replacing half of the protein in a meat dish with beans or pulses will dramatically reduce the costs of cooking. Using less meat you’ll also be more likely to pad things out with vegetables, which as well as being cheap are way better for you in the long run.

 

Buy healthy snacks in the baking aisle, not the snack aisle.

If you like nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for snacks, you’ll find them in unbranded packaging in the baking aisle – and unlike snacks, baking ingredients don’t get slapped with VAT. And unlike a bag of £1.50 crisps you might eat in one sitting, a large bag of almonds for £3 will likely last all week, and can be used on porridge and yogurt for breakfast too.

 

Substitue ingredients.

If a recipe tells you to use kale, use spinach, chopped up sweet potato can be used for carrots, quinoa can be subbed for rice or couscous, and fresh herbs switched for dried. Don’t be afraid to play around with recipes to swap in more affordable ingredients.

 

Don’t buy branded ingredients.

I won’t pretend that branded packaged food always taste exactly the same as unbranded (aside from cereal – honestly, give it a try and you can save pounds per box), but if you follow tip 1, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But when it comes to ingredients, at the end of the day a tin of tomatoes is a tin of tomatoes, noodles are noodles, and dried pasta is just dried pasta. Don’t waste money on things that won’t even affect the final dish.

 

Meal plan.

I can’t believe I ever used to do shopping without a plan for the weeks meals, because it honestly makes life so much easier. By planning what you want to eat you can put a shopping list together, meaning you never buy excess food and you hugely reduce the number of days when you’re staring into your fridge and thinking about throwing it all in and going out for dinner. Having a shopping list means you won’t impulse buy, either, because if you’re not heading down the crisp or sweet aisle you can’t be tempted.

 

Buy in some freezer food.

I know this seems like it goes against all the other tips I’ve given, but hear me out – you won’t always be up for cooking, and sometimes you’re just too tired to do anything at the end of the day. Instead of rushing out and spending £15 on a takeaway pizza, have some in the freezer ready for these kind of days so you’re not tempted. Even buying my favourite branded pizzas only costs me £2.50 per go, which is a huge saving.

 

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Books & Brains: 7 Apps That Will Make You a Better Student

As someone who has just started their second degree, I have the benefit of hindsight when it comes to things that were useful at university. It felt like every year I would download a slew of new apps all promising to make me a better student, but by a few months in almost all of them had gone. So, here is the list of the apps that made the cut, and which I will still be using during my masters degree.

 

Pomodoro Timer

Yes, yes, this is on everyones student app list, but it seriously works. If you haven’t already heard of the pomodoro method, it’s where you work for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break, and you repeat the cycle until the task is done. Generally I will take a longer break after a couple of hours of doing this, and this way you’re always rushing to cram more in to the 25 minutes so you’re very productive, but then you don’t feel burned out because of the five minute break.

 

Cold Turkey

This one is seriously a game changer. Cold Turkey allows you to block all distraction sites for a set period of time, meaning you can still work on your computer and use your internet browser without the risk of being sucked in to a social media time wasting loop. You can also make your own lists of distractions and blocked sites, meaning you can make sure you have access to everything you need to study, without the access to all the other junk.

 

Forest

This is the only paid app of the bunch, but it’s less than £1.50 and a great investment. Forest is similar to Cold Turkey in that it restricts your access to a distraction – in this case, using your phone. You can set a timer for how long you want to go without using your phone, and you plant a tiny virtual tree, which grows if you manage to complete the timer. If you check your phone in this time, the tree dies. Guilt works wonders on your self control.

 

Evernote

This is such a great all round app, not just because you can sync up your phone and you computer, but it allows you to shove documents, photos, scans, and little notes all in one place that’s accessible from all of your devices. It’s free and comes with a ton of storage, and works great for storing notes and important documents that all come in different formats.

 

Evernote Scannable

The best thing about Evernote is that it even comes with its own scanner app which links directly to your account, meaning you can scan pages of notes or books through your phone camera and they’re stored alongside all of your other documents. This is a lifesaver if there’s only one copy of the book your class needs in the library, or you don’t have time to digitise your notes.

 

Dropbox

This is another obvious one, but seriously, back up your damn work. The good thing about Dropbox is you get a decent amount of storage for free, plus you can access it from your phone or any other computer. You can also set your computer to automatically back up all files and photos to this, meaning you don’t even have to think about saving your work. You would not believe how many times this app has saved me when my computer crashed.

 

Mendeley  

Mendeley is something which just makes research that little bit easier. It’s an app, available for your computer and phone, which allows you to save, share, and read academic articles from around the web. It also comes with a bibliography generator in all major formats, meaning writing up your references is just that bit less stressful.

 

I’ve been using a combination of these apps for at least the past two years, all of which have been useful again and again and been a huge boost to my productivity.

Are there any other apps you would recommend to students?

 

Spending Diet

Today I’m going to talk about something that I haven’t before on this blog, and that topic is money.

Since the beginning of the year especially, and after reading The No Spend Year, I’ve been attempting to become more conscious with where my money is going and what I’m putting into savings every month. In the last week, I’ve accepted an offer for a masters degree, which although is a really exciting opportunity, comes with a whole host of new financial worries. With my fees for one year of study coming to just over £6k, and the government loan for postgraduates stuck at £10k, there will have to be some serious lifestyle changes that come with my next round of studies. That’s not even including this summer, where I will be getting no support from student finance, and even with working extra hours will have nothing left over once the essentials have been paid.

I will be keeping my current part time job in order to help pay the bills, and luckily with the loan and my income combined, all the basics will be covered during term time, leaving about £60 a month spare. Although this is much more than I ever had ‘spare’ for the majority of my life (and even the majority of my degree), since having a little extra income my spending choices have adapted to meet my disposable income.

So, in light of this, I’ve decided to put myself on a spending diet, from now until graduation. Instead of doing the tempting thing, which would be to ‘make the most’ of my spare money while I still have it, I will bring down my spending to what it will have to be over the next year. Everything that I have coming in that is ‘extra’ will go straight into my savings account, meaning that if I do desperately need more than what I have coming in next year, I can feel more comfortable dipping into what I’ve put aside.

I’m also hoping that choosing to reduce my spending now, as opposed to being forced to come September, will make the transition easier and that I won’t feel tempted to over spend or use up my savings.

I’m hoping to keep a mini weekly diary of my spending in order to keep track of it, as well as little ways that I’ve managed to save money on day to day costs.