Managing your money as a student can be tricky – especially during the current cost of living crisis, but there are lots of things you can do to keep costs down. Whether this is your first time living away from home and you’re new to grocery shopping, you’re having to adjust to a different income, or even if you’re a certified coupon king or queen, here are our top tips and tricks to help you save money on food and other essentials.

Planning makes perfect

We’ve all been there. You can’t quite remember if you’ve used all the tins of chopped tomatoes or reached the end of the toilet roll so both go straight in the basket – only to find you have plenty at home. No more! Before you head off to Tesco, go around the house and make a list of what you’re running low of, so you know exactly what you need when you’re next in-store. No more cluttering your cupboards with duplicate items, or worse, having to throw things away!

Our other top planning tip is to plan your meals for the week ahead of time. Take into account what you already have in your cupboards and when you’ve planned to eat out or make dinner for friends. This way you’ll avoid buying unnecessary items in your weekly shop, cut down on expensive food waste and say no to tempting, last-minute takeaways that on average cost six times the cost of cooking at home. Check out Save the Student’s cheap meal plan ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner to get you started, complete with a monthly shopping list.

A shopping list is great to note exactly what you’re low on, so you avoid buying things you may already have or don’t need.

Grab a loyalty card… or two or three

It seems like every retailer has their own loyalty card scheme, but not all savings are equal. Here are our top three loyalty cards that can help you save on your food shop:

  • Tesco Clubcard – Clubcard discount prices could save you around 6% on the cost of your shopping and you’ll collect one point (worth 1p) for every £1 you spend. 150 points would be worth £1.50 to put towards your shopping or more if you spend with partners like Disney+ and*.
  • Sainsbury’s Nectar Card – Get personalised offers on common purchases and earn one point (0.5p) for every pound spent at Sainsbury’s or selected partners. 500 points is worth £2.50 to spend in store or with almost 300 other companies including Vue Cinemas*.
  • Co-op Membership – Earn money back and get member-exclusive prices that could save you around £300 a year. The scheme gets you 2p for every £1 you spend on selected products and the Co-op gives the same amount to support local community organisations*.

Which? has put together a list of their top loyalty cards that could bag you the best savings on your food shop, as well as other high street brands. Don’t leave home without them!

Shop at discount o’clock

The time of day will depend on your local store, but for the best bargains it’s often best to go food shopping in the evening. Around an hour before closing time or 19:00 in 24-hour stores, most shops apply heavy discounts to items that go out of date the next day. Stores can’t sell items on or after the best-before date on the label, but they’re often completely safe to eat. Look out for the yellow discount stickers and bag yourself a bargain to eat now, or that you can freeze for a later date.

Remember, food labels can be deceiving and encourage you to waste perfectly good food. There’s a big difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on packaging. While the ‘use by’ date relates to food safety and items shouldn’t be eaten past this date, often food that has passed its ‘best before’ date is perfectly safe to eat for weeks, or even months after. Always check the label and if a product is past it’s ‘best before’ date, look at it, smell it, taste it and trust your own judgment – it’s probably perfectly safe to eat. Read Good Housekeeping’s article for more information.

Shopping later in the day can help you save on items that are a fraction of the original price, just look out for the yellow labels!

Buy in bulk

Most items like toilet rolls and toothpaste cost way less when you buy in bulk, and foods like pasta and rice don’t spoil quickly so it can be well worth picking up a larger quantity.

We crunched the numbers on Tesco’s website and found that 1kg bags of home-brand basmati rice cost £1.85 per kg, whereas a 4kg bag cost £1.74*. Now, we know that’s not a huge saving, but every little helps. Plus, if you’re guilty of picking up individual microwave rice packets, they cost a whopping £2.60 per kg – working out at over double the price of the 4kg bag! Prices like these mean it can be well worth avoiding small, convenience items and, by buying in bulk, you’ll have to go to the supermarket less often. Win-win!

Take advantage of campus discounts

Coming to campus for a lecture? Stock up on essentials at the Campus Convenience Store. To help you manage the current rise in the cost of living crisis and keep costs down while you’re studying, the University, in partnership with Salfood, has applied a 50% discount to the price of over 30 essential items in these outlets including pasta, coffee, cornflakes and much more*. Look out for the 50% sticker in our Campus Convenience Stores or visit Salfood’s webpage to learn more about this, and our other current offers.

Students browsing items in the Campus Convenience Store
Stock up at the Campus Convenience Store and get 50% off over 30 essential items.

Compare supermarket prices

We’re lucky in Salford to have a number of different supermarket chains on our doorstep, with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi and more within a 15-minute bus ride away. Most supermarkets claim to have the lowest prices, but how can you know for sure you’re getting the best deal?

Every month, Which? compares thousands of prices at eight of the UK’s biggest supermarkets – Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose – to reveal the cheapest place to buy your groceries and household essentials. Check out their website to see which is this month’s winner – it might be well worth shopping around.

We hope there are tips in this blog to save even the savviest student some money. Want to learn more? Save the Student have put together their 25 top supermarket money saving hacks, including how to claim cashback on your grocery shop and get leftover food from restaurants and cafes at a knockdown price, so visit their website to save even more or check out our other blogs to find lots more money saving tips.

*Correct at the time of publishing (December 2023)