GEOFF PERCIVAL: Making cents: Students should get savvy when buying on budget

Consumer advice with Gráinne McGuinness

BAKED beans, noodles, takeaways and toast are the diet staples of third-level students, according to cliche. But eating poorly will soon take a toll on energy levels, appearance and general health. Plus eating junk can actually end up costing more money.

Food blogger and journalist Caitríona Redmond has become well known thanks to her blog wholesomeireland.com. She and her husband found themselves in financial difficulties during the recession and she started the blog to detail her efforts to provide a good diet for her family on a severely limited budget. So no better person to advise on eating well for less.

For Ms Redmond, planning is key.

“Club together with your housemates/hall mates to figure out what you would like to eat for the week,” she suggests. “There are economies to be made in bulk buying so figure out what you all would like to eat. Then go shopping together.”

Some students may not have been involved in grocery shopping since they outgrew sitting in the trolley. Ms Redmond’s advice is to turn to the expert in their own home.

“Start by going shopping at home with the person who does the shopping normally. Ask them can you help and participate at home. Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice.”

It is very easy for shoppers to be distracted by special offers and think they are saving money. Remember, it is only a bargain if you needed it anyway and it will fit in with the rest of the ingredients you have. Ms Redmond also recommends using cash to keep you focused on your budget.

“Take your money out before you go to the shops, set a budget and only spend the cash you have with you. It’s easy to spend more when you’re using a card and not to track what you’re spending.”

Another tip if you are on a very tight budget is to shop in the evening. This is when supermarkets reduce food that’s nearing its sell-by date. Just make sure to either freeze or cook the food quickly once you get it home.

“Finally, don’t forget to bring a bag to carry your shopping home in. Backpacks can hold quite a bit of shopping so invest in a decent one.”

Students, or their parents who want to increase the chances of home cooking, should lay in stock cupboard essentials at the start of the year.

Ms Redmond suggests: “Rice, pasta, dried noodles, tins of beans, stock cubes, dried spices, oil to cook with, a fire blanket and extinguisher (no kidding), some salt and pepper. If you have these store cupboard ingredients in stock you will never go hungry.”

Use your freezer if you have one. Students can tend to avoid fresh meat and vegetables as they worry about them not being used and ending up thrown away. But lots of butchers do deals where you can buy a whole range of meats for €20, including burgers, chicken breasts and sausages. They can usually be safely frozen and defrosted as needed, check with the butcher when you are buying. Frozen veg is among the cheapest food you can buy and is perfectly nutritious. Bags of mixed veg, green beans and peas on hand mean you will always be able to add colour and fibre to your meals. Bread can also go in the freezer. Freeze portions of slices separately, they can be taken out and popped straight into the toaster for the basis of a quick breakfast or lunch.

The internet is the novice cook’s friend. Just search for ‘simple recipes’ or ‘student recipes’ to access any number of cheap and simple dishes. Bbcgoodfood.com has an excellent ‘how to’ section, with step by step instructions on how to master cooking techniques.

Of course some students will already be good cooks. If that is you, or you live with one, consider a household barter system.

“Perhaps trade cookery skills for another skill from a handy housemate,” Ms Redmond suggests. “Does one of you like ironing or washing up more?”

Ms Redmond also writes a blog for Lidl Ireland and will be sharing loads of thrifty tips for students over the next few weeks.

Deal of the Week

Aldi’s Specialbuy range this week is aimed at students but is worth looking at for anyone in need of some new tech.

The key piece in the range is a compact 11.6” notebook for €299.99. The laptop comes with a full-size keyboard, Full HD display with Multitouch and IPS-technology, 4GB memory, an integrated webcam and microphone. It comes with Windows 10 Home and a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal. It promises up to nine hours of battery life and also comes with a three-year warranty.

Other items in the range include a Canon 3-in-1 Printer for €34.99, which includes FINE Ink cartridges and easy set-up details. There are Bluetooth headphones available in black, white or rose gold for €24.99, with up to 10 metres operating range.

Other items include power banks and dictaphones and, for catching the social side of college life, there is a selfie light for €6.99. On sale in Aldi stores nationwide from Thursday, August 31.

If there are any consumer issues that you’d like Gráinne to address or if you have problems that Gráinne could help with, she can be contacted at makingcents@examiner.ie



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