With September around the corner, the long-awaited return to university is upon us. You may be looking forward to making plans to visit your favourite Exeter places or meet up with friends (government guidance permitting!), heading back to (some form of) lectures or just excited to start university as a fresher! With such excitement, you may not have thought about the slightly more mundane tasks; budgeting, cooking and food shopping. Don’t panic though, I have put together some of my top tips and advice to make the dull more delightful!
As a fresher, one of the first things I was told is to not spend all your terms money in the first week. Remember, you will need that money for the whole term, however, with careful budgeting, you may find you have a little leftover for that end of term treat!
My first way to saving you money would be to plan your meals. I like to have a list of my favourite dinners that I can glance at when planning and shopping, this way, you can mix up what you eat throughout the week. Believe me, pasta for the fifth night in a row does get a tad boring! By planning what you are going to eat, you can do a tight shopping list with just the ingredients you need, saving you some valuable cash. Planning also gives you some structure. By knowing how long meals will take you to prepare, you can work it in around your workload and social calendar, giving you more valuable time around deadlines and fewer ready meals straight from the freezer!
Another rule is to never shop hungry! This will without a doubt lead to some impulse buys which could be costly to you. I like to set some time aside on a Saturday or Sunday to plan out my week and write a shopping list. For me, these days are best as I am not too tired or busy and can properly plan my week out.
So you may be wondering, what should I cook? My best bit of advice is to cook what you enjoy. Have a search around online for recipes or have a flick through recipe books you may have. I would, however, stray away from ‘extravagant’ meals. These do tend to have ingredients in which are costly and you may only use once. Opt for meals with ‘flexible’ ingredients. These are ones which can be used for a variety of things. If a recipe asks for plain flour in a white sauce, great, you can use that flour in other recipes too. But if a recipe asks for something like Madagascan vanilla pods or Porcini mushrooms and you know you won’t use it again, try and look for another recipe, or substitute with something cheaper like liquid vanilla flavouring or fresh mushrooms for example. With regards to ingredients, bulk buying can sometimes be favourable. For staple ingredients, it will generally be cheaper per kg to buying in larger sizes, as long as you will use it all! Take oats/porridge for example; a pot of porridge approx. 55g can cost you around 90p (£16/kg), a 1.5kg bag of oats, £1.70 (£1.13/kg). We can see convince food costs a lot more!
Another cost saving tip, which may seem simple but may save you valuable cash is to shop unbranded. Sometimes we think branded is better, but there are foods where the branded version is no different to the unbranded one. Take flour, there is very little difference between a supermarket own brand or a branded version. They both thicken sauces and they both make your cakes light and fluffy!
My biggest tip for you it that the freezer is your best friend! This may sound daft, but a freezer will save you time and money. Two of the best ways it can do this is by having meals ready and prepared, just like your own homemade ready meal. Fresh fruit and veggies can also be pre-prepared and kept in there. When I have a spare few hours, I like to cook up a big meal and freeze portions of it. I can then take it out of the freezer in the morning, and pop in the oven that evening, and it still tastes just as good, if not better! This will save you some time, preparing 4 portions will take just as long as preparing 1 and it will be more cost effective than shop bought ready meals. My other time and cost saving hack is to buy some fresh veggies and slice and dice them ready for cooking. Pop them in the freezer in resealable bags, and when you need them, they will defrost and cook off nicely in a frying pan or some boiling water. Ideal if you don’t think you’ll eat that whole head of broccoli or bag of carrots before they go bad.
If you cook a large meal you don’t necessarily have to freeze it, but you could save it for lunch, or dinner the next day. If it is going to be a busy day, you won’t have to worry about preparing lunch and this way will work out much cheaper than buying it while you are out. Just remember, there are certain foods which you can’t reheat or must be very careful about how you reheat them. Potatoes, rice, mushrooms and egg are among a few foods to be wary of.
So I hope this has given you some ideas, and you can start the new term with a few more ideas of what to cook to save yourself some money. To get you started, I have put together some of my favourite recipes, which smell and taste divine and may make your flatmates slightly jealous! Take a look at those and the weekly meal planner also included! Don’t be afraid of cooking something new, you may just surprise yourself!