October 8, 2012 by Tess Riley
Gone are the days when living off baked beans and porridge was an adequate student budgeting strategy; in tougher economic times and with tuition fees sky-rocketing, many of those off to university this autumn are having to think creatively about how to make ends meet. That’s where the internet comes in.
Meet Jack, who studies history at Sussex University. After a year in halls, he left it to his friends to pick a flat for them all to share in second year. At the last minute he discovered it was unfurnished, so Jack signed up to Streetbank, a free-to-use website that enables people to lend or give away items to any members living within one mile of their home.
“I heard about Streetbank through a neighbour who uses it to lend out her garden equipment. She’s had all manner of thank-yous in return, including homemade sloe gin. That’s what appealed – Streetbank encourages sharing rather than swapping, so people take the initiative to show thanks however they wish.
“I was given a bed, sofas and board games, and borrowed a drill and a ladder. In return, I cleaned someone’s car and just said a grateful thank you to the person moving house, as she definitely didn’t want anything more added to her packing!”
Only two years old, Streetbank already has 15,000 members. As it grows, it’s becoming a hub for those wanting to foster community spirit.
Co-founder Sam Stephens says: “I’m constantly impressed by the generosity of Streetbank members. One student wanted to use the site to bring his college community closer together, offering to make mix CDs for fellow students and meeting the recipients when he dropped them off at lectures. Now people all over his neighbourhood are requesting mixes.
“He doesn’t overtly save money, but the financial and social benefits of sharing in your community should never be underestimated.”
Crossroads, a charity based in Camden, north London, runs a Homeshare scheme, placing young adult lodgers in the homes of older citizens, creating affordable housing in return for companionship and a few hours domestic help a week. The homeowner pays a small fee to Crossroads – a fraction of the cost of a regular carer – in a scheme that helps close the social divide between generations while tackling the urban housing crisis.
For those not looking to stay somewhere long-term, CouchSurfing links up travellers with people offering a free place to sleep, whether it’s a floor for the night or several weeks in a comfy bed. Likewise, accommodation marketplace AirBnB helps travellers find rooms to rent in people’s homes, often at much cheaper rates than hotels.
In both cases, what may begin as a money-saving exercise can lead to unexpected benefits, including invaluable (and penny-saving) local knowledge and, of course, new friends. Peer-to-peer recommendation systems add a layer of security to the experience, plus it’s free to list your space on AirBnB – so if you have a room to spare you can have a go at being host.
Travelling aside, there are two essentials that every student needs: books and food. Read It Swap It is an easy-to-use book-exchange website with over 350,000 books currently available. One man’s trash is another’s treasure and one student’s unwanted Shakespeare collection is another’s core reading list (and £50 saved in the process thank you kindly). Book-swappers have the added benefit of a popular forum, and a rating system that helps prevent bad book-swap behaviour.
On to food (carefully avoiding the baked beans). In the UK, we throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes a year, more than half of which is perfectly edible – there’s an obvious saving there to begin with.
Food waste campaign groups such as Feeding the 5000 point out that you can avoid paying more by choosing where and when you buy food. Author and campaigner Tristram Stuart says: “You don’t need to be a bin-diver to get your hands on food that might otherwise have gone to waste. Going to markets towards the end of the day can yield whole crates of super-ripe produce going very cheap or even free.
“Strap a couple of boxes to the back of your bike with an old inner tube, get your bulk purchase home, and cook up a batch of aubergine dip, carrot puree, fennel soup or whatever it is you’ve found. Freeze or preserve what you won’t use immediately and you’ve sorted several lunches for just a few pounds.”
In Amsterdam, the Over Datum Eetclub (Expiry Date Dinner Club) organises weekly dinner parties made from delicious, perfectly edible food that’s been rescued from landfill, having gone just over its expiry date.
Back in the UK, Abundance helps people become urban harvesters to tap into fruit trees laden with delicious free food at this time of year.
So there you have it, just a few of the myriad ways that students can save money. And if you still need a bit of cheering up while you pool together your pennies, check out the Student Poverty Song – take something like that busking and, who knows, you might earn a few bob.