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Living on a small budget: tips and tricks


By Gabrielle Gonçalves 10 May 2016

Gabrielle Gonçalves is a French student studying BA English Literature and Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow, College of Arts who has been selected to be a student journalist for the Education UK website. Here are her tips for living on a budget as an international student.

Delving into student life comes with a number of responsibilities, and one of the most prominent ones is living on a budget.  If, like me, you need to be careful when it comes to spending money, fear not – I have a few money-saving tips and tricks for you that will not make you deprive yourself of some good fun.

1. Food

As an international student, one of the ways in which I found culture shock expressed the most was food. And to be honest, I sometimes get blue because I am thinking of the delicious cuisine my parents made for me back home. It got so bad a few weeks ago that my mother sent me fresh cheese from the region I used to live in. Needless to say, when it eventually arrived by post it was not so fresh, but that is a little off topic. My point is, when studying abroad, why not embrace the local cuisine? You might even experience new flavours that will make your taste buds go crazy - Marmite, anyone?

Cooking is the key to saving money. Rather than eating out or buying artificial-tasting sandwiches every day at university, why not try making your own sandwiches or cooking large quantities of pasta salad or couscous? You can refrigerate them and just grab a smaller portion to go! Eating and cooking healthily is not difficult to achieve. Vegetables are actually fairly cheap, broccoli and potatoes in particular! Discounters and pound shops will be your best allies in your quest to find cheap food basics like rice, pasta, lentils or potatoes. Cooking can help you get away from the sometimes overwhelming stress, and to experiment. But mostly, it feels very rewarding to be able to sustain yourself.

Salad and home-made brie and cheddar gougères

2. Travelling

Studying abroad in a new country provides a dream opportunity to explore and travel! It may seem difficult to do so when you are living on a budget, but believe me, it is possible – even though it may be a bit adventurous!

Low-cost airlines allow you to fly around Europe and coach companies are very convenient for bus trips within the UK, both for an extremely low amount of money.

One of the most amazing concepts that has been created in the last few years is couchsurfing. It allows members to either host travellers or be hosted by people living in the area they are visiting for free. Couchsurfing is all about sharing; sharing languages, habits, traditions, experiences, stories. The experience is always enriching; you get to meet people from all around the world, and a total stranger can fast become a real friend! I met the most amazing couchsurfer, who was so nice that she took my flatmate and I on a mini road trip in her campervan around the west coast of Argyll in Scotland.

View on a loch from the tiny village of Tayvallich, photo taken during our road trip

There are also websites that allow you to find hosts around the world who will offer accommodation and food in exchange for work, for instance helping to refurbish an old mansion or doing some gardening. It is a clever way to gain some skills, while meeting lovely people in an often remote and gorgeous location.

3. Working

There is one situation in which being an international student is an undeniable asset: tutoring! You can offer tutoring in any subject you feel confident in, and that you particularly like. If you do not like the subject, you will not enjoy teaching or tutoring it.

You can also tutor people learning languages you are fluent in, particularly your mother tongue! My advice is to put adverts on your university’s website as well as paper adverts around the campus likely to be frequented by language students. Do not forget to include your contact details and your fees (do not get too greedy, though: £10 an hour seems to be a fair price). I’ve found this works like magic and can leave you with several weekly hours of tutoring.

Finding a part-time job can also be a solution, although be careful not to neglect your studies if you do!  It can be a real time-consuming hunt and you will need an interesting and engaging CV. If you do not have any experience, put forward any volunteering experience or situations in which you had to demonstrate your skills. 

Do not hesitate to visit the place where you wish to apply; bars, cafés, stores and supermarkets or call centres are often recruiting. Be persistent and contact the place you have applied to several times if you they do not reply, but do not be annoying.

Note: Check your visa status to see whether you are allowed to work during your studies and how much work you can do. http://www.educationuk.org/canada/articles/working-while-studying/

4. Buying cheaper

One of the great advantages of being a student are the student discounts which can be found easily in a wide range of restaurants and shops, ranging from 10 to 40 per cent, sometimes! Those discounts can save you a lot of money on take-away food, textbooks or clothes!

My favourite places for shopping in the UK are charity shops. They hold plenty of second-hand items in mint condition including clothes, books, and furniture. Everything is donated by people and sold for a bargain price, the profit going to charity. In some shops, you can get three books for £1. This can be convenient when you get an interminable list of textbooks necessary to your course.

When I arrived in the UK to study, I had brought only one book and was wondering how I would ever fill the huge bookshelf in my flat. I have now roughly a hundred and that bookshelf is almost full.

Some of my second-hand books

Online classified adverts can help you find cheap furniture for your flat, as well as job opportunities. It is also the place to look at if you want to buy a bike! Chances are you might unearth a vintage one very cheaply which will save you a lot of money on public transport.

Bikes are a very popular means of transportation around campus

This is a non-exhaustive list, of course, but I hope it will be useful to some prospective international students in the UK!