How to Live Sustainably at Uni (on a Budget)

Connie Chandler- Guest Writer

For most students, moving to university means the first time living independently. This is a really exciting opportunity to meet loads of new people and find out lots of new things about yourself. On the other hand, this also means having to budget for food, rent, nights out, clothes and anything else you might need along the way. When you get that text from Student Finance and you take a look at your bank balance, you might only be wondering how many drinks that’ll get you in the student bar or that you can finally get those new trainers you’ve been wanting as part of your new-and-improved style. But let me tell you (from experience) - if you don’t budget properly, that money will be gone long before your next loan drop. So here are some of the best tried and tested ways that you can stretch your money at uni AND help out our planet at the same time. 

  1. Meal Planning and Wise Shopping

When starting uni, if the only thing you think you can cook is pasta; don’t panic. Most people are in the same boat. However, it’s really important that you eat healthily at uni because otherwise you’ll really burn out. Freshers flu is no myth. Furthermore, you don’t want to be nearing the end of term and realising that you can only afford to live on one Pot Noodle a day until you go home for Christmas. Instead of going to the supermarket and chucking in whatever you fancy, plan your meals beforehand and write a list with all of the ingredients that you’ll need. This is probably a good time to add that you’re better off shopping at a cheaper supermarket like Aldi or Lidl - or even better, to have a look if your local town has any refill shops or farmers markets. You won’t get very far doing your weekly shop at Waitrose! There are loads of easy recipes online that’ll have you putting all of your new Ikea kitchenware to good use! By preplanning, you’re less likely to waste food that you’ll never end up eating and it means that you won’t be tempted to get a meal deal during your lunch break every day. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t take advantage of those Domino’s deals every now and then, but as long as you budget for it - you’ll be sorted. When you’re at the supermarket, where possible, try and buy produce that isn’t wrapped in plastic and be cautious of foods made with unsustainable palm oil. When you get a bit more comfortable with your flatmates you can even suggest splitting meals with them. Not only does it mean that you get to spend time cooking and eating together but it brings down the cost even more! Don’t forget to bring your own bags!

  1. Sustainable Fashion

I know with all the amazing student deals out there you might be wanting to get some next day deliveries of new outfits from online fast fashion retailers. This is especially the case if you’ve joined any societies or clubs and already have three fancy dress events this week. However, the likelihood is that you’ll buy things for these events and never wear them again, resulting in a waste of your money and being environmentally unsustainable. Instead, why not use this as an opportunity to get to know the new city you’re in? Wherever you go to uni, I can guarantee that there are plenty of charity shops and independent clothes shops that will be able to help you out. Also, have a look at your SU website for any charity events that are coming up. Many places host ‘kilogram sales’ where you pay for clothes per kilogram rather than per item and these are almost always secondhand. They’re definitely worth looking at to get some vintage clothes and save some money!

  1. Investing in a bus pass or a bike

You might be able to get away with holding out on this until second year if you’re living on campus but getting around your new city is crucial for anyone. For students, most buses will offer a cheaper season ticket that will last for the term or for the year to save you money overall. This one’s up to the individual to decide whether it's cost efficient. If you’re travelling to-and-from uni everyday and then to-and-from town on the weekends, you might consider buying one of these as it’ll be an investment in the long-run. However, if you only have lectures twice a week or you’re close enough to campus to walk in then this probably isn’t the best plan for you. Alternatively, you could always invest in buying a bike (or bringing one from home). This will mean saving money on transport and getting some exercise in at the same time. Universities are very bike-friendly and will have lots of places for you to lock up your bike throughout the day and cycle lanes around the area. Have a look online for places that offer student discounts when buying a bike. For second-hand bikes, have a look on the Facebook Marketplace or to see if your university has any sellers groups on Facebook. Students will always help other students out! Currently, the Government are also offering a £50 voucher for anyone in England who needs their bike fixed, to encourage people to cycle more. I’d definitely recommend buying a secure D-lock for your bike to make sure it stays where you left it!

  1. Switch to more eco-friendly reusable items

Although some of these products might be more expensive upfront, they’re usually small costs that can save you money in the long term and are so much more sustainable. These can all easily be found in your local high street shops. Some good examples of this are:

  • Buying a reusable water bottle or coffee cup.

If you’re buying a bottle of water everyday, the cost is really going to add up, as is the amount of plastic you’re using. Buying a reusable water bottle will allow you to save money and it will probably keep your water cooler for longer! For coffee cups, many places offer discounts to those who bring in their own cups. This will be an absolute godsend for those long nights in the library before your deadlines!

  • Tote bags 

A tote bag is one of those items that most of the time you never really buy, you just seem to acquire them. These can be through events or at freshers fayres so in this case, you don’t even need to spend any money! (Although if you did want to purchase some, they’re usually fairly cheap). Taking a tote bag with you when you go shopping means not only are you saving money on the costs of multiple plastic bags but you’re also reducing your plastic consumption.

  • Metal straws

Although from the 1st October 2020, a ban has been placed on single-use plastic straws in the UK (alongside cotton buds and tea stirrers), paper straws are still widely available. Why not just invest in a pack of metal straws that you can carry around in your bag? You’re being more eco-friendly and it means that your straw won’t disintegrate in your mouth when you’re halfway through finishing your drink.

  1. Managing Utilities

I certainly don’t miss dragging my washing basket across campus to sit in the laundrette for an hour waiting for my clothes to wash, so by the end of uni I’d stopped doing that. If you have your own sink, filling the sink with hot water and emptying a washing capsule into it works just as well if you only want to freshen up your clothes a bit. When washing your clothes, try and opt for more sustainable capsules: I’d recommend Smol which is eco-friendly and cruelty free. For larger items such as bedsheets that need to be washed, it’s worth asking your flatmates if they need theirs done too. You can split the cost and do one less wash. Always try and wash at 30 degrees if possible to use less energy. Investing in a drying rack also means that you don’t have to spend extra money on the tumble dryer.

When moving into a house and it’s suddenly your job to sort out the water company and gas and electric, try and research the different companies first to see which have better deals and if any use green energy. I’d recommend using Octopus Energy as this ticks both of these boxes. Before you do this, check with your landlord if this is okay as some landlords have already set up utilities for you. Make sure you stock up on jumpers and blankets so that you can hold out on putting the heating on for as long as possible!

Hopefully some of these ideas have given you an idea of how you can be environmentally-conscious and save some money! Remember, at university there will be lots of like-minded people so keep a look-out for groups that you can share ideas with and be eco-friendly together!



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