Conor Pope’s cost-of-living letter to students: Sign up for free events and learn to cook

Pricewatch: Join the mailing list of every gallery in your city. There will be openings. With wine

Dear new third-level students of Ireland,

First off, Pricewatch better introduce itself as we suspect you haven’t a breeze who we are or why we’d be bothered talking to you.

Well, we have been offering your parents and grandparents money-saving tips and consumer-tinged advice for longer than you have been alive.

Some of that advice has even been useful, or so we hope.


So with a new – and potentially very pricey – adventure ahead of you, we thought we’d share some of our hard-won wisdom with you too, on the off-chance it will help you in the weeks and months ahead.

Now, we say all of this in the knowledge that some of our hard-won wisdom may seem quaint and old fashioned.

And truth be told, we see why you might think that, because when Pricewatch was getting ready to head off to college in the late 1980s, it was a different time – literally and figuratively.

Unemployment was rampant, emigration was commonplace – and not the year in Australia type of emigration either. We’re talking about the living in a squat in London and taking the superbus home to Ireland once a year type of emigration.

Everyone was skint, only proper grown-ups drove cars, restaurants were a rare treat, while foreign holidays were nothing more than a dream fuelled by visions of Wham! videos.

Pre-drinks were not a thing, although we did horse into the dregs of the drinks cabinet of our parents before heading off to nightclubs – sometimes spelt niteclubs for added coolness – so in a sense they were.

There was no such thing as an oatmilk flat white and the avocado had yet to be invented.

Times were, in short, a bit grey and very lean, but it’s not like everything is hunky-dory now either.

You have come of age at a tough old time, smack in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis which means the parental purse strings are tighter than they have been since the early 1990s, and any money you make from the jobs you might have will not stretch as far as it once did. And as for the cost and availability of somewhere to live ... don’t get us started on that.

But even when times are tough, you can have the craic without it costing you the earth. With that in mind, here are some cut out and keep tips that might come in handy.

Take notes

We realise that keeping a close eye on your finances is dull, but knowing where your money is going is key to making it stretch as far as it can.

So, when you have a spare 15 minutes in the weeks ahead, work out exactly what your income is and what your outgoings are, including laundry, rent, food, utilities, books and Jägerbombs in the college bar. And for a week, track your incidental spending too – we’re thinking the coffees, chocolate and Buckfast, and whatever else you’re having yourself. Then you will have a solid understanding of where your cash is going and what you need to do to make it last.


The best advice we can give to anyone starting out on their adult journey is learn to cook. Not only will it be better for you, it will also be much, much better for your wallet and will allow you to turn your back on overpriced and under-flavoured ready meals and wildly expensive takeaways. We’re talking idiot-proof stuff such as curries, chillies and pasta sauces. Not only is it better for you and your finances, it is also fun and a great way to impress anyone you’d like to impress in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

A tin of tomatoes, a clove of garlic and an onion will cost less than a euro; a jar of processed tomato sauce with much the same ingredients costs three times more – six times more if you want to go high-end – and will taste nowhere near as nice.

There are more sites devoted to student cooking than you could get through in a lifetime, but we like the dedicated student section on; it has 89 recipes that look lovely. Jamie Oliver’s website also has a dedicated student cooking section – and take it from us, he is a great place for a beginner cook to start. We also liked the look of

Shop better

If you are anything like Pricewatch, as a young man you will assume that food appears as if by magic in your fridge and presses. It does not. To be a supermarket ninja you need to shop with a list and never hungry or hungover. Always go with own-brand – apart for cornflakes and cola drinks – and keep an eye on street markets. You can often find fresh fruit and vegetables for a lot less, although sometimes it is cheap because it is on the turn, so cook it fast and freeze it. Buy tinned tuna and beans on promotion and when you see a good deal buy it in bulk. And think about timing. Supermarkets 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. Buy produce that is loose rather than already wrapped and keep an eye on the unit price rather than the price on the shelves.

Be social

Join the best-organised club or society in your college. It will 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 into the bargain.

Art attack

If you’re looking for freebies, get on the mailing list of every gallery in your city. There will be openings and at those openings there will be wine – and maybe cubes of cheddar cheese on sticks and the odd sausage roll. Do not, however, do the dog on it. As a young student lorrying into the wine you will stick out, so be subtle about it.

No credit

Do not get a credit card until you get yourself a full-time job. And even then think long and hard about it. It will be a millstone around your neck. Once you have a Revolut or N26 card and a debit card you will have everything you need.

Bank on it

While you should turn your back on a credit card, you should not turn your back on banks. Banks are likely to be falling over themselves for your business, but choose wisely as they are likely to be your bank forever.