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The ultimate guide to saving money

April 14, 2011
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So it turns out I deleted my page on this when restructuring, so here it is again. I’ve updated things a little too.

On food

Here are some ways I’ve saved money without much extra effort, and without compromising on taste or your health.

Partner up
Pick a flatmate with similar eating habits and budget and pool your resources. Two people makes for easy cooking (especially if you have a small kitchen), less cleaning, and more fun in the kitchen. It doesn’t even have to be a regular or formal thing – if everyone is at home and hungry, ask what they have and make a meal out of it.

market2Buy as much as possible at supermarket alternatives

Markets, greengrocers, butchers and health food stores offer a greater variety of foods and usually stock many things cheaper. Check out the food outlets I love on my resource page – they’re all well priced and stock quality, fresh ingredients.

Buy in bulk
…and use your freezer, sealable containers, and the fridge to prevent bulk-bought items going off. Also, buy from bulk bins – you get exactly how much you need. Binn Inn has a fantastic selection of bulk buy-able foods,storingcheese3 and you can bring your own containers (they take off the weight of containers when they measure, as long as you weigh the containers first).
Piko also has this option (but their bulk stuff is pretty fresh). I’ve got a post here about storing cheese in bulk without it going off.

sustain09Re-use packaging as much as possible (no. 5 plastics are safely microwavable).
…prevents you having to empty your bins as often, and gives you free containers for storing stuff! Also, buy as little gladwrap as possible by reusing old plastic bags to cover food (and transport it) or by simply covering bowls of leftovers with plates (you can then also stack stuff easier). You can also get a dedicated sandwich box (I got one at Bin Inn for $2!) so you don’t have to keep running out for glad wrap, or worry about squished sammies. Takeaway boxes are always useful, for plant trays or for storing leftovers or preserves or stock. I even use the inside layer of flour bags as parchment paper when baking, or for putting chips on (instead of paper towels).

Avoid getting lunch at cafes
That means making your own – but this doesn’t have to cost you much extra time (a batch of scones for example takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, and they’re customisable and fresh). However, you can also simply cook a little more than you need for dinner and eat the rest for lunch the next day, it just requires a little thinking about what is easily reheatable.scones1

Make your own snacks and junk food (as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner), including bread.
Check out this recipe for bread in 5 minutes a day – it works, and it’s so delicious! Since I found that recipe and other bread recipes on the same plane, I’ve bought bread only once or twice in the last few years. Things like crackers, cookies, scrolls and cakes don’t have to take much time, and they’re almost always tastier because of their freshness.

Avoid packaged breakfast cereal, and make your own customised version

Geez that stuff is pricey, and I’ve never actually had any that I really liked. If you’re a muesli/oats person, try soaking your oats in (real) apple juice overnight, then add your own customised fruit/nut mix the next morning with yogurt. If you prefer cooked oats, still soak them overnight to reduce cooking time the next day. If you like toasted oats, check out this post.

Grow your own veges and herbs
Especially herbs, which are expensive fresh. If you can’t find seeds, get seedlings in small pots and replant garden31them into bigger pots or even directly sow them in a sunny area (Wiki first). I’ve got a quick and brief guide here, which also has tips on growing while renting.

Choose a flat with fruit trees or herb bushes etc (particularly lemon and rosemary bushes)
If you can! They save bundles of cash and require very little care usually. Don’t underestimate how awesomegarden57 they can be – lemon, ginger and honey makes a great drink when you’re sick, lemon is an instant flavour booster for many many meals, and lemon can be used for cleaning too. Rosemary is fantastic with lamb, roast vegetables and mashed potatoes, or even steeped in hot water for a refreshing drink.

Work at your nearest Community Garden
It’s free, there’s no commitment, and you can get your share of the harvest at the end of the day, or gather some fresh herbs to take away! Plus it’s all organic :) There is one at the University of Canterbury which is really lovely and is always buzzing on a Friday afternoon. You don’t have to go forever, just whatever Friday afternoon you want to.


Drink water, or buy fruit juice concentrate instead of coke
You’re getting more goodness per dollar this way and there are good concentrates out there – Baker Halls do some really nice flavours and you get 5-6L out of a 1L bottle. If you’re trying to cut down on sugar, the cheapest and best way is to just drink water!

Get the most out of your food

Rethink what you throw out – broccoli and cauliflower stalks for example are totally edible in stir fries (or anything else), just peel off the tough bottom skins if you’re fussy. Cauliflower leaves and carrot tops are edible too. If you’re growing your own, the leaves have more goodness in them, so why would you throw them away?! Chicken carcasses make great stock, better than anything you could buy, and you can freeze them for future use – check here for a quick and easy guide. Also, get the most out of your garden!

Buy with the seasons
garden71In-season veges always cost less, because you can get them locally, or the natural weather conditions (which are free) grow the veges, rather than excessive applications of costly fertilisers. Not only will you be exploring a greater variety of food that tastes at its best, but by buying fruit and veges that are in season, you’ll more likely be supporting your local farmers. This Australian guide gives a pretty comprehensive list for the months.

Store stuff you buy in season
Love blueberries? If you buy lots when they’re in season, you can freeze your own in containers or bags so you have them on hand when they go out of season (although frozen berries really only work in baking or smoothies). You could also try pickling, drying out (see this cute post on drying out apples for apple rings) stuff, making it into jams or marmalades, or sauces (like tomato sauce! I like the look of this 15-minute one). Preserve those herbs you watched grow up by drying them, or laying them in salt for your own herb salt! Also if you have vodka or spirits lying around, make your own vanilla extract (it’s ridiculously easy, and sooooo much tastier).

Buy stuff on special, especially…
Loo roll, cooking oil and butter (if you use lots like me), and all other stuff that doesn’t go off quickly (like cleaning products). Because, frankly, why not? If you’ve got the money, try and buy two or three lots more than you think you’ll need – this will not only save you money later on but will mean a nice, well-stocked pantry etc for when you change plans and suddenly need some canned tomatoes.

Base your meals on vegetables rather than meat (but make sure to replace with other kinds of protein, and marmite if you like it)
Vegetables are usually cheaper per kilogram than meat (I mean real meat, what are you holding sausages up at me for?!). Nuff said. Of course, don’t be foolish and just cut out meat without replacing it with other garden82sources of protein. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, make sure to get your B12, found in Marmite. Here is slightly more on this topic.

If you like going out for food often, invest in something like the Entertainment Book.

The Entertainment Book is a book made up of vouchers – usually buy one get one free or 25% off for some services, but mostly food places. It’ll save you heaps if you like going to more expensive restaurants, plus it encourages exploring new places! If you’re not a voucher fan, at least check out reviews of pricey places before you go – Dineout is great for this because it’s reviewed by everyday people, not swanky reviewers.

Brew your own beer

Far cheaper, better tasting if you do it right, and really interesting to try. There’s plenty online about it already if you want to get started now. Summer is the best time to do it, because the warmth means you don’t have to pay to keep your brew at a reasonable temperature, and you’re probably going to drink most of it then. If you want to go pro, the UC Brew Club might be your best bet.

On cleaning

Yes, we students clean, if rarely, but when we do, we shouldn’t have to pay a bucketload for ineffective, petrochemical-laden, 90% water solutions, right? Here are some cheap as, effective and natural cleaning solutions (more are at the National Geographic site, but some of the ingredients require some hunting).

Baking soda and white vinegar – cleans ceramic (toilet bowls, basins, non-glass parts of showers, countertops, stained cups and mugs), stainless steel (benches, pots and pans). Baking soda provides grit, vinegar reacts and disinfects.

Lemon and salt – Halve a lemon, dip in rock salt, and scrub pots and pans – lemon helps dissolve grease and deodorises, salt disinfects and provides grit.

Dr Bronners – I refill spray bottles with 1/4 Dr Bronners, 3/4 water. Even then it’s much soapier and more effective than anything I’ve bought at the supermarket. This stuff is an all in one soap that you can use on your skin or on your tables (even glass), so it’s non-irritating. It’s all natural and a lot of it is also organic and fair trade. Since you only use a little, the price is actually totally worth it, and it comes in a variety of scents. In NZ some health food stores sell them. I get mine at Piko, Lotus Heart or Health2000 stores when I see them in stock.

Rags – Instead of buying cleaning cloths and paper towels, use old unwanted t shirts or clothes that are getting too holey to wear/mend (just cut to the size you want). You’re likely to end up with a much more water-retaining and strong fabric.

Make your own shampoo and conditioner

It really does work – check out this post for a good shampoo recipe (Dr Bronners, which is a fair trade organic castile soap, is available at Piko). You can also use a few drops of almond oil (work it in a few drops at a time, or you’ll end up looking a bit like Professor Snape) like a leave in conditioner. I’ve used both and they’re great, though a little weird to use at first.

Misc stuff

Buy everything you can second hand

Visit school/church fairs, garage sales, markets (Riccarton Market Sundays), op shops, sallies stores, online. Kitchen stuff especially is much cheaper second-hand, and not having matching stuff can actually be a good thing if you’re flatting as stuff can get broken. This is a great chance to get creative and re-work stuff to make it still look modern. One of my favourite treasure troves for kitchen trinkets is the Free Shop, or Paint exchange. They’re on Blenheim Rd (Sockburn end) so it never needs to be a big trip.

Reconsider what’s “trash” 

I keep lots of pretty glass bottles and use them as vases or candleholders (melting the base to the lip). Larger bottles make great water jugs. Instead of buying laundry baskets I use carboard boxes, which means I never need to borrow any when I’m moving. If you want to pretty them up, all you need to do is paint them! I also keep a stack of paper by my desk which only has print on one side, so I rarely buy note or doodling paper.

Swap stuff, or get it free

Try U-exchange or Trade to Save or ChChFreecycle (free stuff being given away in Christchurch), or bookmooch for book swapping internationally.

If you’re a girl – consider washable pads and/or the mooncup/divacup (the healthier alternative to the tampon).

They’re an investment but will last you for years, and usually come in cute prints. The mooncup is especially great as you don’t need to carry tampons with you and there’s no need to worry if there’s a bin in the bathroom you’re using (you can still swim too). Both are available at Piko as well, but the link above is to a local (Christchurch) business that does them. Personally I’ve used them and they’re pretty good, plus they’re not as hard as you’d think to wash (and they don’t look like pads).

Use Healthline (0800 611 116 free call NZ) before running to the doctor

I know students get free healthcare but sometimes this is a time saver (and lets you know if you need to see a doctor during the weekend, which can be expensive).

Consider biking to Uni/work.

Did you know that trips under 5km are usually faster on a bike? Even though I’m a pretty slow biker, I’ve found this to be absolutely true. It’s also much cheaper than the gym. It doesn’t have to be sweaty either – I just dress in layers and bike at a pace that’s comfortable for me. If Uni is far away and you don’t think you’re fit enough, or you’re not confident garden42on the road, start biking short distances and use small streets rather than main roads. I’ve made a pledge to always bike when the trip is under 5km, I can fit everything in my bike basket (or a backpack), it’s during the day, and it’s not howling rain outside.

If flatting, ask your landlord about insulation and heating.

Insulation is possibly more important than how energy-saving your heating device is. Pink Batts is pretty awful (but it is better than nothing), but if you’re low on options there at least make sure the ceiling is insulated and all windows in areas like the bedroom and living have thermal curtains. Also, ask your landlord about installing a heat pump or better insulation, and offer to contribute to a certain part of the cost (give them a definite number). It will save you SO much money, not just in power, but all those painkillers when the mould in your room finally starts to attack your lungs.

Share your warm room

If flatting with friends, see if you can share their room with them during the day in winter to save heating up more rooms. We share the living room which has the heat pump in it.

Use the internet!

…now, normally students don’t need to be told this, but I’ve seen some interestingly willy nilly spending on things that are free online. You know that you can find pretty much ANY information on the internet, right? Even academic journals. So before you go get that magazine or newspaper subscription, before you buy that cookbook that is “not that great, but it’s got 50% off” (it’s ok, we’ve all suffered from that one), check it out online! Also, check for online versions of articles (I mean ones for your course!) before rushing to the library to photocopy a zillion pages of something we both know you’re going to read 5 words of and proceed to pick an out-of-context quote for that essay due tomorrow.

Got more tips or want me to link to your own blog post? Send them in to pale.rain[at] and I will mention and link to you :)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2011 1:51 am

    Awesome tips. My wife and I try to be thrifty. (More money for food, wine and travel.) Growing our own herbs definitely helps our budget and our cooking.Having a garden does too. I can’t wait to tell my wife that I should brew my own beer!

  2. April 15, 2011 10:47 am

    R: Haha, well if she’s not a beer drinker you could always try making your own spirits too.

  3. April 17, 2011 2:54 pm

    I do! Also making bread saves us sooooo much money. I can even look at the cost of a good loaf at a bakery!

  4. April 17, 2011 3:12 pm

    R: I know, right? even using a whole bunch of different grains and organic stone ground flour, my bread is still cheaper than even the crappiest supermarket loaves. I’d like to dabble in making my own spirits but I’m such a lightweight it’d take me years to finish even one bottle! Although making vodka for copious amounts of vanilla extract would be even cheaper haha.

  5. April 21, 2011 11:52 am

    I’m a student too, and your post has just given me more ideas for saving money and eating well (: I may have to repost my old entry with some of your new tips;) will definitely link you up if I do!

  6. April 21, 2011 11:54 am

    I’m a student too, and your post has just given me more ideas for saving money and eating well (: I may have to repost my old entry with some of your new tips;) will definitely link you up if I do!

  7. April 21, 2011 11:58 am

    S: Cheers. I totally should have included the tip about getting cheaper cuts of meat. Guess it never really occured to me since I only eat it once a month. But I agree that often they taste a lot better thanks to the presence of the fat, which isn’t too big a deal as long as you don’t overdo your meat intake.

  8. January 29, 2013 3:53 pm

    Great way of seeing things – I’m a little more of a black and white individual, myself

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