A letter to the new students of Ireland

We know you’re not great with money, so we are writing to you with some tips to help you keep within a budget

Dear students of Ireland,

Congratulations on getting into college. The Leaving was a nightmare, wasn't it? Still, it's in the past now and, aside from the recurring nightmares that will haunt you for the next 15 years or so, you don't need to give it another second's thought. We know you're not great with money – hardly surprising as you've never had any (pocket money doesn't count) – so we are writing to you with some tips to help you keep your spending under control until you start working in four years' time. In Australia.

First things first. Stop smoking. Please, just stop it. I know, I know, all the cool kids smoke and you want to be like them, and I know you think a cigarette dangling from your lips makes you look like James Dean (it doesn't). But believe me when I say that smoking cigarettes is one of the stupidest things you will ever do.

Forget the health implications – obviously, as an 18- or 19-year-old, you are going to live forever, so that isn’t a factor – but money is always a factor. If you smoke just 10 cigarettes every day between now and the moment you graduate, you will end up spending €7,300. With that kind of cash you could afford a skiing trip each winter and a two-week blowout in Ibiza every year. Or, alternatively, you could almost cover your registration fees.


Once you've given up fags, take up cycling. Don't be tempted to buy some rusty piece of crap (it will be a nightmare to maintain and will end up dying a sad and lonely death on a campus carpark), and don't even think of buying a shiny new hybrid either (that will be stolen faster than you can say: "I think the postmodern discourse as elucidated by Roland Barthes is so outdated."

What you really need is a nondescript second-hand bike that looks a lot worse than it is. Shop smart and it should cost you no more than €200, to which you need to add lights, a helmet and a lock. Your total spend should be no more than €300. A student 30-day bus and Luas ticket, meanwhile, will cost you €98, or €882 over the course of the student year. So that’s €500 more you’ll have come June. Oh and don’t even think about getting a car until you are at least 25. They are ridiculously expensive. And taxis are, for now, out of your reach. Just accept it.

Food for thought
If you can't cook already, learn. It's fun, cheap, better for you and a great way to impress members of the opposite (or the same) sex.

The first thing you should do is steal one of Jamie Oliver's books that your parents bought years ago and haven't looked at since Blur versus Oasis was a thing. Many of the recipes in his Naked Chef books, in particular, are idiot-proof, cheap and delicious.

There is also a whole raft of websites devoted to student cooking. Check out studentrecipes.com, which is written by students for students. But books and websites aside, the most important thing to do is cook without fear. It is simple.

Start with this. Gently fry a clove of garlic and an onion. Add a packet of streaky bacon and fry it. And a tin of tomatoes. Then add spinach. Boil pasta. Ta-dah! A healthy meal that will feed four people for a fiver. You’re welcome.

Before you start cooking, you need to learn to shop. The key here is to never go shopping when hungry or hungover. Aldi and Lidl are your friends. So too are street markets, but remember that hawkers sell produce so cheap because it is on the turn, so don't leave it in your fridge for more than a day unless you like handling mushy, rotten vegetables.

Buy everyday items such as tinned tuna and beans on promotion, and, when you see a good deal, buy it in bulk. This applies to toilet paper too: buy 24-roll packets as opposed to packets of four. It works out at half the price.

Go own-brand
Only buy own-brand. You can switch back to brands again when you have your own money. Two litres of milk from Avonmore costs €2.19; the same amount of own-brand milk costs €1.49. If you go through just six litres of milk a week, going own-brand will save you €75 over the course of a year.

You will also save some cash by shopping at the right time: when your local supermarket discounts food that is about to go off. The big retailers sell a lot of food that is about to pass its use-by date every evening after 5pm, so if you time your shopping right, you will do well.

The free world
If you're in the market for free stuff, check out freetradeireland.ie, an online initiative that helps people pass on their unwanted household items for nothing.

DIY beer used to be the preserve of men with a fondness for unfortunate V-neck jumpers or techie types with interesting beards. Not any more. It has become more fashionable of late. Not only is it hot, it will save you a mountain of cash. A starter kit for 40 pints of lager is for sale on thehomebrewcompany.ie for just €29.95. For that you get a fermentation vessel, lager kit, bag of brewing sugar, thermometer, hydrometer, siphon and some other bits and pieces. Do it now and you’ll be good to go before Christmas.

It is also important to join the most well-organised club or society in your college, even if you don’t really give a rashers what it does. It will have the biggest budget, the most regular parties – with food and alcohol – and you’ll get to meet a bunch of nice folk.

While we’re talking freebies, get on the mailing list of every gallery in the city where you are studying. There will be openings, and at those openings there will be wine. And cubes of cheddar cheese on cocktail sticks. And maybe even grapes. You will also be exposing yourself to a bit of culture – what’s not to love?

All the best,


Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor