Top tips for new college students

Pricewatch: Don’t smoke, get on your bike, track your spending and learn how to cook

Dear new college students of Ireland,

First off, Pricewatch wants to say a big well done to you on getting into college – it is not easy and you deserve all the credit in the world for making it this far. It doesn't matter if you got exactly the course you have been dreaming of since you were watching In the Night Garden 16 years ago or have found yourself unexpectedly studying classical civilisation because your points weren't quite as high as they might have been. You are where you are and, no matter where that is, the years ahead can still be brilliant.

They almost certainly won’t be as bad as the year just gone, because the Leaving Certificate is now something you can look at through life’s rear-view mirror. That really 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 40 years or so, you don’t need to give it another second’s thought.

What you will need to give more than a second’s thought to is money. You’re most likely not great with it yet – but don’t beat yourself up. You’ve probably never had any real cash (pocket money doesn’t count). And lots of fully-grown adults, people whose actual jobs it is to work with money, have shown themselves to be absolutely rubbish with it – just look at the way the bankers messed up our country more than a decade ago and how they have continued to mismanage tens of thousands of people’s bank accounts? Many of them are more useless with money than you will ever be.


Fingers crossed you did home economics for the Leaving, because that is subject is a whole lot better at preparing your for your life ahead than the vast, vast majority of other subjects that have been available. But let’s be honest, you probably didn’t.

Don’t be fretting though, there’s still time to catch up. We thought we might help you get started with an entire page dedicated to you to help you keep your spending under control until you start working in four or five years’ time (if the powers that be haven’t wrecked the economy again and left you with no option but to emigrate to Australia).

Fingers crossed, eh?

Don’t smoke

First things first. Please don't smoke. If you do smoke, stop. And if you don't smoke don't start. You may think it is cool and you may think it will serve as some class of crutch when you find yourself in awkward social situations but take it from Pricewatch: smoking is without exception the stupidest thing you can ever do and it will not make you look remotely like Uma Thurman in the Pulp Fiction poster or like James Dean. Apart from the fact that smoking makes hangovers much worse, makes you smell bad and most likely kill you it is also an incredible waste of money. And ultimately you will end up vaping, which is plain ridiculous.

Pricewatch was a committed smoker for 20 years. Let’s say we smoked a pack day – sometimes we smoked more, sometimes we smoked less – based on today’s money, we wasted €87,600 over the course of our smoking life. Just writing that sentence brings a tear to our eye.

But back to you. If you smoke just 10 cigarettes every day between now and the moment you graduate in four years’ time you will end up spending €8,760. With that kind of cash you could afford a skiing trip each winter and a two-week blowout in Ibiza every summer. Alternatively, you could almost cover your registration fees. It would almost certainly buy you a car and pay for both lessons and insurance in a few years’ time.

But remember the thing about hangovers, it is completely true.

Finding somewhere to live is also quite important and with the cost of renting student accommodation now nudging a grand a month it is also ridiculously expensive. With any luck (for your parents if not for you) you live close to where you plan to study. You might give out about having to live at home through your college years but remember that will save your folks almost €40,000 and you might get to inherit that at some future point – although we’re hoping they blow it on a round-the-world trip (for themselves, not you). And you will get someone to cook your dinner and wash your clothes. And you won’t have to clean sick off your carpets because you won’t be the one hosting student parties.

If you do have to find a flat then you should start early to find the best and the best-value places to live but it’s too late for that now. Yet you can give yourself at least some sort of edge by dressing smartly when you go to view a potential flat. It doesn’t matter if you live for death metal: when you’re going to view a place to live, dress like a seminarian. Impressing a would-be landlord with an air of quiet respectability is probably the best way to get yourself the best deals. Have the deposit ready to go and be ready to move in at the drop of their hat.

We mentioned buying a car a while back, right? Don’t do it. When Pricewatch were a lad and in college only two people we knew had a car. Everyone else walked, cycled or took buses. That is as it should be. By far the best way to get from A to B is to cycle.

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 stream-of-consciousness techniques deployed throughout Ulysses are hackneyed and outdated."

Don’t ever say that.

What you really need is a second-hand bike that looks a lot worse than it is, something that a bike thief won’t look twice at. 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.

Oh, and put down your phone every now and then. While there are obviously all sorts of ways you can meet people of your phone these days – ways, to be honest, Pricewatch knows virtually nothing about – there is nothing quite like striking up a conversation with a like-minded stranger and that is something that is really, really hard to do if you are facetuning your image or reshaping yourself for what you think is going to be the perfect Instagram post. Don’t be doing that.

Top tips to get you through

1: Keeping a close eye on your finances sounds dull right? Of course it does. But you can't keep your spending under control until you know what you're spending. When you have a minute in the first term, work out what your income is and what your outgoings are, including laundry, rent, food, utilities, books . . . and Jaegerbombs in Coppers. Then for two weeks keep a spending diary of all incidentals such as coffees, chocolate and snakebites, so you will understand where your money is going and what you need to do to make it last.

2: Always join the most well-resourced club or society in college even if you have only the most passing interest in what they do. They have the biggest budget, the most regular parties – with food and alcohol – and you'll get to meet a whole bunch of potentially nice folk who might otherwise never have come on to your radar.

3: Get on the mailing list of every gallery and independent bookshop in your city. They have openings and launches and the like and at them you will find wine – and maybe the odd bit of cheese. Not only will you get free booze (although please don't do the dog on it, you will look ridiculous) but you will also be exposing yourself to a bit of culture.

4: During Freshers' Week you will get coupons of all sorts. Hang on to whatever coupons you get – they might be handy before the winter is out.

5: Do not get a credit card. It will be a millstone around your neck. If you need to buy stuff such as airline tickets or books online use your debit card or get a prepaid credit card.

6: If you are looking for stuff, look first in Jumbletown – – where everything is free. We had a look last week and the site was full of people looking to offload sofas, chairs, wardrobes, a trouser press (we totally got that one), washing machines, fridges and all sorts of other stuff. It might not be in pristine condition but if you need something and don't want to pay for it, it is at least worth a look. There is also the brilliant Freecycle movement – As with Jumbletown, it is a site dedicated to connecting people with stuff they don't want to people who need stuff. Not only is in free, it is also environmentally friendly – and it beats rooting around in other people's skips.

7: Read the news, it matters. It doesn't even matter (that much) what news you read as long as you are reading it every day. When Pricewatch were a lad, The Irish Times used to sell in the college shop at a discounted rate – we paid 40p while the non-discounted price was 90p or something like that. We thought it was a good deal. We were mugs. Because today The Irish Times is available to students for absolutely nothing at all. It is completely free. When you sign up to a subscription via our student hub you get unlimited access to The Irish Times, including a 150-year archive, podcasts, crosswords and a dedicated student area at absolutely no cost. It's just mad, frankly.

Learn how to cook

It is really important you learn how to cook. Not only is it cheap, empowering and fun and a whole lot better for you than takeaways, canteen food and ready meals, it’s also one of the most sure-fire ways to impress someone you might be romantically interested in. Top tip though: if you are trying to score brownie points – or just score – and are using food as an aid, cook the meal at least once before you have them around and make sure you find out if there is anything on a potential menu that is an absolute no-no.

But learning to cook isn’t all about scoring – it you eat properly by cooking nutritious food your life will be better, as will your skin and your studies. It can be very simple and very cheap.

A head of garlic, parsley, parmesan cheese, chilli flakes, a lemon and some dried spaghetti will have you an amazing pasta dish in less than 15 minutes and it costs half nothing. A tin of tomatoes, an onion and some garlic will take the same amount of time to put together and costs even less.

There are all sorts of other ways to eat on the cheap. Potatoes may not be on-trend but they are incredibly versatile, easy to cook and really, really cheap. Whole grains and beans are cheap as chips, easy to prepare and very good for you. Learn to cook Mexican and Indian food. Historically, such cuisines relied on inexpensive ingredients such as beans and rice and you can do amazing things for less than a fiver.

If you want meat use cheaper cuts such as chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts. Make friends with a butcher and get advice on how to cook with cheaper cuts. Buy yourself a good casserole dish – you can get one in TK Maxx for half nothing. Chuck your cheap cut of meat into it with some onions, vegetables, carrot and stock. Whack it into the oven and leave it for four hours. It will be amazing.

Bacon offcuts in your local supermarket are very good value for money. The joints are misshapen, which is why they are cheap but when chopped up they make very good lardons, perfect for soups and pasta sauces.

Remember, supermarkets are not always the cheapest place to buy food. If you live close to a street market such as those found on Moore Street or Camden Street in Dublin you will be able to source fresh fruit and vegetables for a lot less. But cook them quickly. They won’t last.

Never ever shop hungry or hungover.

Own-brand is your friend. When you were living at home your mam and dad might have bought you the brands you like. The brands you have never heard of cost more than 30 per cent less and are mostly grand. Save even more by finding out when your local supermarket discounts food that is about to go off (if you don’t want to ask in-store, ask online). All 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.