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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

University Survival Guide - Saving Money

After half a year of university life, I've pick up some tips and tricks that I would more than likely remember for the rest of my life. I've decided that I'd share them here on my blog. Hopefully, they will help anyone who is about to start or has already started uni. So this post may actually be a "no-brainer" for some of you. Some of the things that I will point out may also be obvious to you. However, I find that a lot of people at my uni are either unaware of those tricks or choose not to adopt them.

Seeing as the economy is potentially at the point of another meltdown, I think it'd appropriate for my first USG post to be about saving money. It is not easy being a university student, especially a full time one. Depending on the course you take, you may find yourself taking up to 4 subjects, 5 being the worst case scenario. Apart from attending lectures and tutorials/workshops, you're expected to put in some extra study time at home. So what does this leave you with? Very few hours to work, to make some moolah. "But hey, that's okay. I'll just make a little less. I just spend on whatever I want and save very little." That's where you're quite wrong. If you want to be a high achiever at uni, you'll have to "invest" a fair amount of money into it. Unless you're really rich, you'll find it a struggle to keep your High Distinction dream and your social/personal life "afloat".


Most of your subjects will require a textbook. If you're willing to constantly fight over the measely few copies of textbooks in the library with dozens of other students, by all means, be my guest. The library copies are hardly freely available and depending on your uni, you may only have them on loan for a few hours or a few days or a couple of weeks. It'd be more efficient for you to have your own textbooks. But they are not cheap! Yes, I know. At first, I was dumb enough to buy all 4 of my textbooks brand new from the bookshop. Now, I desperately want to get rid of 2 of them, which were pretty useless to me. Luckily, the other 2 are essential for my course and I'll be using them profusely throughout my time at uni. So, my number one tip is to do some research! Your lecturer will recommend which textbook to purchase. Then, try to buddy up with a couple of seniors. Find out if the textbook is essential part of the subject. Did they manage to do really well without one? How did they do that? If you must buy one, look out for any "Textbook for Sale" ads on student noticeboards. Otherwise, check with your seniors,
they might be trying to sell their old textbooks. There's also this website called Student VIP. They have a lot of info and resources just for uni students. You can sign up with them. It's free. Go to their Textbook Exchange and hunt for secondhand textbooks there! If you're lucky, your uni may even have their very own secondhand bookshop!Still find those secondhand books really expensive? If you did your research way before you started uni, you'd have enough time to order your books online. You can check Amazon, Better World Books or Book Depository. Their used books range from $20 to $80. Remember, you have to do this at least a month before uni starts because the books are likely to be shipped from USA. "What if I've already started uni and need the book straight away?" You'll just have to buy a brand new copy. But don't fret! You can always sell it to the juniors next year or the year after when you are done with it.

Even in this technological age, you'll probably find yourself printing out the lecture slides, notes and practice questions. It's just easier to study them that way. I find that as much as students wish they want to print more "cost-effectively", they simply don't know how to. I didn't know either until my friend taught me how to do it. Instead of printing each individual slide on an A4 paper, you can and should either 4 or 6 slides per page. I've even seen someone go as far as printing 9 slides per A4 page. You can print PowerPoint lecture slides as a handout. Personally, I find that handouts are too small and I can't see the diagrams and figures clearly. What I do is convert them to PDF. Then, under "Page scaling" I choose "Multiple pages per sheet". If I go with 4 slides per page, I would have the page setup as a landscape. For 6 slides, I stick with protrait. This is to maximise the size of the slides. I would also choose duplex printing (means printing on both sides of the paper). I find it more practical and cheaper to print in Black & White instead of colour. Sure, you wan to see the images in colour but that's where your textbook comes in. Most, if not all, lecturers take images from the textbook for their lecture material. In fact, if you've bought your textbook, you don't need to print those slides with the textbook diagrams and figures. I always delete the useless slides. Other than images, I delete "title slides". They serve no purpose when it comes to studying. I manually write the title onto my printed lecture materials. This can sometimes be a time-consuming process but once you're used to it, you can edit lecture slides really quickly and efficiently. Not only will doing all these save you lots of money, it'll save the environment too! Prior to learning these tricks, I used to spend $20 every few days on printing alone! Now, I only top up my printing account with $20 about every 3 weeks. I mean, why "waste" all your money on printing when you can use it to buy a skirt (in a girl's case) or a pair of earphones (in a guy's case) that you've been eyeing.

Generally, at our age, we eat a lot. Studying demands a lot of brain usage and our neurons need a lot of glucose and oxygen to function well. Here's a fun fact for you: if it must, the brain would starve the rest of the body to feed itself, with the exception of the heart, which feeds itself first before it feeds the brain. Food sold at universities should be cheap, seeing as they are catering for students, most of whom are not rich. However, this is not necessarily the case. They can be costly in the long run. You're better off bringing your own lunch. I bring a homemade sandwich to uni for lunch every day. Yes, you're allowed to be skeptical at that statement but you can believe me. I do have friends to vouch for me. Sometimes I bring an apple and/or a muesli bar in addition to my sandwich. And I buy them from the supermarket/local food & fruit shop. How can this be saving money? Allow me to do the math for you.

Say you have to attend uni 4 times a week. Let's also say you're really thrifty and you only spend $7 a day, which would afford you a small box of rice & curry or greasey fish & chips. This means that you would be spending $28 a week. "Hey, that's not bad at all. I can afford!" Okay. But compare it to mine. If I buy a loaf of bread ($2), ham slices (~$4), lettuce (~$1) and cheese slices (~$4), which will last me at least a week or two, I'll only be spending $11 per week! Although that's just an estimation, add a couple more dollars to the cost and it'd still be cheaper than buying food from uni every day, plus it's healthier. I'm NOT saying that you absolutely must not buy food from your uni at all. I'm just suggesting another way for you to save more money. To bring you closer to buying that gorgeous Wheels & Dollbaby dress that's at the top of your wishlist... Ahem. I mean, my wishlist. So I hope you do see my point. You don't have to stick to sandwiches. You can make something quick, easy and cheap like a pasta salad. Another tip is that if you enjoy snacking whilst studying in your uni library, you can buy your mixed nuts or
packet of biscuits from the supermarket (especially if they are on special!). It costs more to buy those things from uni because they don't have as much buying power as the large supermarkets. Not that, I'm discouraging you from supporting your university food outlets! I do buy food at uni very now and then.


This is a really long blog post. It's the longest I've ever composed but hang in there! We're almost at the end! This is the final money-saving tip that I would like to share. If you live more than a couple of suburbs away from uni, like I do, I strongly recommend you take public transport. Why are you better off taking the train/bus/tram to uni than driving your own car? I'll break it all down for you. With the next inflation just around the corner, petrol prices are on the rise. They already have risen quite a few cents. I remember 3 years ago, they were on average 100 cents per litre. Now, they are at least 130 cents per litre. If you drive your car to uni every day, you'd be spending around $50 a week just on petrol. Let's not forget, you'll have to pay for parking at uni. Not only are they expensive but the spaces are usually limited, depending on your campus. Imagining circling around looking for a parking spot when you're already 10 minutes late for your lecture! Where I live and where my uni is, we're virtually at opposite ends of the city. By bus, I have to travel for at least 45 minutes to reach uni. The same goes for going home. But guess what? I spend $50 every MONTH, as oppose to every week, on bus fares, thanks to concession prices. Again, you won't just be saving money, you'll be saving the environment! And here's another perk for you. If you're really studious, you can use your time on the bus, to peruse lecture material or study!

That's all the tips and tricks that I have for you for now. Hope you enjoyed reading them and found them really useful. Good luck at uni!