Ten ways you can start helping the planet and your own financial situation, right now, without even leaving the house or spending any money.
- Keep a bag within your bag
Find literally any carrier bag knocking around your room and stuff in your everyday bag. No more 5p plastic bags. Honestly, if you haven’t done this already then I can only assume you’ve been living in a cave.
If you have some time, you can invest in nice tote bags with funny slogans and the drawstring ones that scrunch up to be easier to put away, but for the purpose of saving money right now just use what you already have. And let’s be real, what else are we going to do with that stash of bags from Freshers?
2. Realise you have more food than you think
Go into your kitchen and make a note of everything in your cupboard and fridge. If you’re a student this won’t exactly be an unmanageable list. Anything that is about to go off, move to the front of the cupboard/fridge and make a note to use that up in your next meal. Put a note on the fridge, your phone, scrawl it on your own face, anywhere you’ll remember. If you really want to save money then it’s time to start making full use of what you have.
Pro tip: Use your phone calendar or a free to-do list app (like TickTick) to put in expiry dates for the food you have, set it to remind you a day or two before meaning you can’t forget.
Second pro tip: Take a picture of your fridge/cupboard before you go to the supermarket, so you don’t end up buying things you already have and then scrambling to use it all up.
3. Don’t stock up for the new academic year
Do you stock up on stationery for the new academic year? Well, you probably don’t have to. How much paper do you really have and how much do you really need? You probably didn’t use up all your notebooks from last year, and that’s after spending about 70% of your student loan on a nice glossy Pukka Pad.
Before you go to Paperchase (or WH Smiths if you’re actually minted) literally ask your parents / tutor / coworkers / anyone if they have any stationery stuff they don’t need. It’s amazing how much stuff people have knocking around that they just don’t know what to do with. I haven’t bought a notebook in about 5 years and still have such a stockpile from friends, family and various Freshers stalls that I’ve started offering them out to people with a pleading tone.
Pro tip: If you don’t have benevolent stationery-benefactors in your area, check charity shops before you go to the high street chains. Usually their homeware section has stationery too and unless for some obscure reason you really need the glittery silver ring-bound A5 from Sainsburys, you can find plenty that will do the trick.
Second pro tip: Wait until term starts to see what you actually need. Generally we as students stock up on stationery as if we’ll be penning the sequel to Les Mis in our lectures when in reality a lot of our course content is online. Could you use a laptop instead? The back of handouts (yes I really did this because I forgot my own paper in a lecture once and accidentally started a trend in my seating row as the girl next to me thought it was cool) are basically free note-taking space, so be creative and you’ll also save some space.
4. Get food for free
Download Olio app. This advertises free food in your area. FREE FOOD. No strings attached. You can also advertise food you have that you won’t use up in time if the previous post-it note trick fails you.
Pro tip: download Too Good to Go. Restaurants sell off unsold food at the end of the day for a massive discount.
5. Get furniture for free
Subscribe to Freecycle. It’s Olio but for non-food items that people are happy to give away for free. Although it can be a little harder to carry a table across town, with a couple of friends you could furnish your student house off Freecycle. Sign up to your local group and you’ll get email alerts for things going free in your area. I got a toaster off this last month.
6. Search for the answers
Set your automatic search engine to Ecosia. It works the same as Google but the company will plant trees for all the searches you’ve done, complete with a little counter at the side to show you how many trees you’ve indirectly planted. It’s ethical enough to offset the fact you’re searching how to pull an all-nighter, among other things you wouldn’t want your parents to see.
7. Be creative with what you already own
Do you have the iconic bag-of-plastic bags that has reached the status of a British household staple item? Well done, you have a new collection of bin bags. Seriously, don’t pay money to have slightly-different-coloured slightly-bigger plastic bags to hold your rubbish. Make use of what you have – and that doesn’t just apply to bin bags. Jars can be storage containers, tins can be pencil pots, your degree certificate can be folded into a paper airplane, you can think outside the box.
8. Confront your wardrobe.
A lot of us probably have more clothes than we can count or even fit into one wardrobe or chest of drawers. And a huge percentage of us are probably meaning to clear out some stuff because “it’s getting ridiculous now honestly, haha.” Well, no time like the present.
- Make a pile of the clothes that you’ve become sentimentally attached to but don’t actually wear because there’s some minor issue with it: a button came off, there’s a loose thread, a slight rip. You know the ones I mean.
- Now, if you’re feeling crafty you could break out the sewing kit (which you definitely own, right?) and fix any minor holes in a couple of minutes. Or upcycle it into something newer and cooler if the style isn’t really you any more.
- If sewing gives you nightmares of Victorian women in rocking chairs, see if you have any friends that are into DIY or textiles and could help fix your clothes for you. Or see if there’s a Craft Society at your uni, or at your local community centre. Or ask your gran / relevant family member.
- If it’s a lost cause and you’re reading this while inching towards the bin with the offending item, stop! If you don’t want to upcycle it or fix it, old clothes can just be cut up and used as kitchen towels. Saves you money on paper towels and does the job just the same.
- Clothes that aren’t broken but you don’t wear anyway: Put them in a bag ready to take to your local charity shop. You could even set a reminder in your phone to take the bag when you know you’ll be going past a charity shop.
- If you want to make some money, consider selling the clothes on Ebay or Vinted.
Use a flask. Again, just like plastic bags this is more or less money-saving environmentalism for beginners. A ton of cafes now offer a discount when you bring your own reusable cup, and if you want to save even more money you could bring your own tea bags or coffee and get drinks for free because most places won’t charge for hot water.
I will admit, this isn’t necessarily something you can do right now if you don’t have a flask in your house, but you can pick one up from Oxfam, pretty much all cafes, and book shops like Waterstones or local museums tend to have cool ones. It will save you so much money, just remember to actually keep it in your bag as much as possible so you don’t forget to take it with you.
- Get some free water-saving gadgets online
You literally register and they send you tap inserts, a shower timer and other things for free in the post. This will save you money on your bills and also give you a serious sense of superiority when your housemate asks what you’re doing as you wrestle to attach the new shower-head.
Philosophical side note: Our society is geared towards creating a consumer need for things. Everything is a must-have and without fail every couple of weeks Sainsburys and Tesco and every other supermarket tell us that [Christmas/Mother’s Day/Father’s Day/Summer BBQ/Easter/etc.] just isn’t complete without [insert giant list of items]. Similarly, the notion of ‘treating ourselves’ has become synonymous with spending money.
This is how businesses make a profit, so it’s no wonder we are shepherded towards spending money on Essentials every day and told that product XYZ will vastly improve our lives. But at the end of the day if spending money really made us that much happier, why aren’t we happy?
These are 10 quick tips but ultimately they boil down to one thing: don’t believe that you need to buy everything you’re told to. Value what you have and everything it can be used for and your shopping list will magically shrink over time. We are smarter and more creative than we think with making the most of the resources available to us. So let’s ignore the allure of single-use convenience items or bright supermarket adverts and value ourselves a little bit more too.