Making Cents: First-year students also learning how to budget for year

Consumer advice with Gráinne McGuinness

It will have been an exhilarating start to the new college year for third-level students, with classmates to meet, timetables to schedule, and maybe even the odd social event.

But as the end of the month looms and students settle into the new routine, it is time for them to look at how their lifestyle matches up with their budget.

The first few weeks are packed with events and reasons to get out and spend, but, as many freshers may be finding, a hectic schedule can soon put a dent in the budget.

To avoid serious financial issues toward the end of the year (or one broke week a month, if you are getting a grant), look at how the first few weeks have gone and see where you can make changes.

A big part of your budget will be on food. Eating out may save time (and washing up), but it quickly adds up. If you can learn how to shop on a budget and master a handful of simple recipes, you can free up funds for other activities.

The convenience store near your accommodation is not your friend. Yes, they probably stock all your favourite snacks, but they do so at a premium. Taking the time to go and do a proper shop, at a low-cost retailer, once a week or so will save you a fortune in last-minute purchases.

Write a shopping list before you go. Decisions made in the shop, particularly if you go hungry, are not ideal. Check the fridge and the cupboard and buy what you need. Don’t forget things like snacks (you can probably buy a version of your favourites in bulk for a fraction of what you pay at the corner shop).

If you get on with your housemates, consider combining your food shopping and cooking, even if only for dinner. Shopping and cooking for one is expensive; taking turns making the evening meal will be cheaper for you all and more fun.

When cooking, consider making extra for lunches. Leftovers are more interesting than endless sandwiches and cheaper than buying lunch out. Invest in a few food containers or borrow some from home. If you get ones that are also suitable for the freezer, you can deep-freeze a few portions of stew, pie, or pasta bake, for when you are too tired to cook.

You’re unlikely to avoid eating out entirely, but there are ways to do so without breaking the bank. Keep an eye out for student discounts and early-bird offers. And don’t be afraid to ask for a doggie bag, if you can’t finish a meal. Noodle restaurants and many other places offer big portions, so you can get tomorrow’s lunch included in the price.

Bills, unless included in your accommodation cost, may not be familiar to students. To help, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) brought out some advice on how you can reduce the amount of energy you use every day. Not only can you save money with a few simple steps, their advice will also help you stay warm and reduce your carbon footprint.

If your accommodation has central heating, use the heating timer to control your home. Schedules may differ, so agree what time of the day you’re all likely be there and turn on your central heating 30 minutes before you need it.

If you’re the only one home, use a space or portable heater, instead, to heat only the room you are in. And don’t forget to turn the central heating off 30 minutes before you don’t need it anymore.

Remember being yelled at to close the door? That was to stop draughts wiping out the built-up heat. Keep doors shut and use draught-excluders, if needed.

The other big contributor to electricity bills is heating water, for a variety of uses.

Showers are one of the biggest energy users in the home.

By reducing your shower time, you could save a lot of energy and water. Most of the energy used by a washing machine is also for water-heating.

Wash clothes at 30°C, if they aren’t particularly dirty, and only run the machine when you have a full load.

If yours is a house where the kettle is on the go all day, only boil the amount of water you need, while making sure to cover the element.

DEAL OF THE WEEK

With the evenings drawing in and the TV schedules filling up with new - season dramas, Argos is promoting its 4K smart TV range to anyone considering upgrading their home entertainment. The range includes sets from Samsung, LG, and Hitachi, and they have options for a range of budgets.

For €419.99, viewers can relax in front of a 43in ultrahigh- definition TV from Hitachi.

The model offers 4K entertainment and Smart TV features, with built-in Freeview HD, as well as Freeview Play. Netflix and YouTube apps are on the Hitachi smarTVue portal and Saorview is also available.

The set also has three HDMI slots to connect games consoles, DV D player, or soundbar.

At the upper end of the scale, Samsung has 49 in, 55in, and 65in televisions for between €899.99 and €1m 469.99.

Some of these have a curved screen, which they suggest provides an exceptional viewing experience and all have standard, smart TV capabilities and parental controls.

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