Easy budget switches which leave more in your pocket
As a full-time student for nearly five years I'm used to scrapping together a meal of little more than dust and potatoes. Here are some highlights (or perhaps lowlights) from this time – ten ideas to stretch the pennies that might just tide you over to your next paycheck.
If you must buy brand-name, stock up on non-perishables when the sales are on
1. Plan ahead. Nothing saves money like setting aside your grocery cash and taking only that much with you to a single supermarket trip for the week.
2. Many supermarkets will put their oldest produce at the front of the store; in those alluringly over-full crates draped in sale signs. However there's usually another section further back of the same item, with the same discount, which will have a longer shelf life. Remember: if they're out the front they're designed to be sold quickly, which means they're gonna get old quickly.
3. Weirdly, fruit markets often operate on the reverse principle. If it's out the front, it's new and fresh and shiny and probably more expensive. Go to the back of the store for your day-old bananas and probably-cook-it-today broccoli.
Shop around until you know where to find the cheapest fruit and vegetables Image from Wikimedia Commons
4. Instant noodles are truly the hallmark of the stereotypical impoverished student, but before you bulk-buy it's worth knowing your Mi Goreng from your Ramen. Read the labels, especially salt and sugar content, and choose something that will keep you full.
5. Don't be afraid to shop the home-brand pharmaceuticals. Panadol and Neurofen have the same active ingredient (paracetamol and ibuprofen, respectively) in the exact same quantities as their plain-packaged compatriots, so there's no effective difference between the shiny and plain labels – except the three dollars you'll save.
6. Learn how to make a healthy, filling vegetable soup from scratch. In fact, I'll tell you right now: sauté chopped onion, garlic, carrots, celery and potatoes with salt and pepper in a bit of oil or butter until soft. Add a litre of water (or stock if you have it) and switch to simmer. Then add as many other vegetables as you can find, chopped up, and beans or lentils if you have them. Let simmer for an hour or so. Scrape the weird stuff off the top. You're done.
7. Buy your bread at the end of the day, or buy yesterday's bread in the morning.
8. Make friends with your freezer, but remember; however fresh something is when you freeze it, that's generally how fresh it will be when you defrost it, so don't think you can safely save that three-day-old lasagne – it won't come out any better than it went in. Get used to buying bulk frozen veg, making large meals and freezing them in portion sizes, and checking your freezer for forgotten gems before you make the next shopping list.
9. Shop around for different products. NQR tend to have the cheapest shampoo and conditioner, Aldi is great for yoghurt and alcohol, and my local butchers are consistently cheaper than the supermarkets on minced meat but Coles generally has the cheaper schnitzel. It might take a while to figure it out, but once you get into a routine of knowing what to buy from where, you'll easily save quite a lot.
10. Once you've got your food, keep it safe! Supermarket tupperware is heinously expensive but you can pick up some great stuff from K-Mart. The last thing you want after so carefully making your purchases is to find your food spoiled so pay attention to anything that needs to be kept dry or air-tight!