Ideas for everyday living

I overhauled my social life to save money

As a student on a tight budget, Mishti Ali has had to make big changes to how she spends time with her friends. Here are her tips

Mishti Ali is a 21-year-old student studying English at Cambridge University. Originally from East London, Mishti was delighted to win a scholarship and a bursary to help her afford her education. She also takes on writing jobs when she can to top up her budget. But money is still really tight and she has to be very careful with her spending, particularly when it comes to her social life.

“I worry about money all the time,” says Mishti. “It’s this tight knot in the pit of my stomach. But my friendships and contact with other people are vitally important to me. They keep me going. I’m very much a work-hard-play-hard kind of person, so I’ll always find ways to have fun and spend time with my friends, but we’ve had to be really creative to do that without spending too much."

 “The value of money was made clear to me as I grew up, both of my parents come from working-class backgrounds. However, I wasn’t ever given pocket money or anything similar, so I’ve pretty much had to learn how to manage my spending on the job,” explains Mishti.

Thanks to rising costs and scary bills, Mishti’s university experience hasn’t exactly been what she’d expected. But with the help of some imaginative thinking and support from her friends, she’s still having a great time. Here are her money-saving tips:

Have more fun at home

“We save a lot of money by staying home more. That sounds a bit bleak, but we can have a laugh in our rooms – the most important thing for us is being all together. 

“Just this week I’m hosting a little snacks and painting session in my room, where we’ll all get together to have a go at creating something, which should be great.”

Enjoy small treats and pleasures

“Something that really helps me to feel like we’re having more fun is treating myself to something small on a regular basis. This doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant, and my friends and I have got really good at finding small ways to make everyday moments feel more special.

“We’re always looking for little bargains in the supermarkets. This month, we went to the shops the day after Valentine’s Day and stocked up on lots of sweet things that were being sold at a discount price. That’s a few weeks of evening treats to help us feel like we’re not missing out. We do the same thing after Easter and at Christmas, too.”

Seek out free events

“My friends and I have started scouring Eventbrite for free events happening in our local area. It’s amazing what activities you can find if you look for them. There will frequently be  fun evenings being hosted in nearby cafes or bookshops – and often, they’re free or very affordable.

“The best events recently have included a classical music show at a local concert hall – we got really cheap tickets and it was good to do something so different. The botanical garden at the university also held a light show, which was free. There was beautiful artwork to look at, and all of the greenhouses were illuminated with hundreds of pretty lights.”

Try TikTok recipes for special meals

“We tend to save eating out at restaurants for special moments, such as a birthday or a celebration, but I find that following a good recipe that we’ve found on TikTok can make an ordinary meal at home feel like a real occasion. Cooking together and hosting meals for each other is a brilliant way to stay connected and hang out without blowing our weekly budgets.

“One of my favourite TikTok recipes that I do all the time is the Gigi Hadid pasta, which is basically penne alla vodka, but more glamorous because Gigi eats it. There’s also a super-simple noodle recipe that is egg noodles with garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, peanut butter and chilli flakes – all ingredients I always have in the cupboard, so it’s incredibly cheap, but also so tasty.”

Shift the focus away from drinking

“There’s this perception that student social culture has to be all about drinking. But I’ve found that making social plans that aren’t just about alcohol has saved us loads of money.

“Think about it. When you go out for drinks, a cocktail is maybe £10 a time. That quickly adds up. Now, when we make plans, we opt for many more booze-free events. Not only is this better for our health and helps us to feel more wholesome, it also makes me appreciate time with my friends a lot more, because it’s quality time, rather than just another night we might not remember that clearly.”

Natalie Morris

Natalie is a journalist covering lifestyle, culture, race and identity. She’s also the author of Mixed/Other.

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