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Personal Trainer Shares Tips For Students On Healthy Eating On A Budget

young women eating pizza when resting at home

Students around the country will no doubt be full of excitement for the upcoming university year, whether they’re returning to familiar surroundings, or just starting a course and taking their very first steps into university life.

However, for many students, and particularly now more than ever, money is often a main source of worry with budgets tight throughout much of the year.  

With reports from earlier this year showing that up to two-thirds of students are struggling to pay bills, and that one in six has considered deferring their university acceptance due to rising costs, it’s clear that times are only set to get tougher throughout this new university year.  

Knowing how difficult it can be to manage money at university, Loughborough University student Emma Cutler (@emmaxcutler) has taken to TikTok to share her tips for making money go further through the term, while being able to enjoy the numerous opportunities and activities on offer. 

Her TikTok videos on money management at university have gained more than 512,000 likes and cover tips including the best bank accounts for students, effective budgeting and the best ways to portion meat to avoid wastage. 

PureGym spoke with Emma to find out more: 

“I’ve always been good at saving money, but it’s definitely something I’ve got better at since being at university. This was the first time I had to manage a monthly income with rent and other expenses, so I had to change the way I approached my money.

In my experience, anything to do with money or budgeting was rarely taught at school – my mum was the person who taught me most about this by encouraging me to put away money from Christmas and birthdays rather than spending it all.  

“Rather than use cards for everything, I use cash in envelopes to split out my money for things such as food shops and going out – I find it’s helpful to physically see what I have left each month and definitely stops me from getting carried away on nights out.

With cash, if I take out a £20 note, I know that when it’s gone it’s gone, but with contactless, I’d end up spending much more. It’s also stopped me being so restrictive – if I have money left in each envelope at the end of the month,

I’ll use it to treat myself or get my nails done, as I know it’s something I can afford rather than an unnecessary purchase.” 

As well as the envelope hack for regular spending, Emma has shared her top five tips for managing money at university: 

  1. Take advantage of drinks deals on nights out – If there are drinks offers, such as 2 for 1, take advantage of this with a friend and split the cost between you! 
  1. Make the most of university sports clubs and student discounts - If you want to improve your fitness, it’s worth shopping around for the best deals.  Universities have their own sports clubs and gyms which can be convenient to use during term time, while student discount sites such as UNiDAYS can help to reduce the cost of other low-cost gyms like PureGym that may be available in your university city. 
  1. Try not to restrict your spending too much – Budgets will be different for everyone depending on their income, but try to be realistic and not too strict. Remember that it’s good to treat yourself! 
  1. Avoid using Ubers or taxis where you can – If you’re going somewhere that isn’t within walking distance, the bus is likely to be the cheaper choice. Many universities offer a free campus bus, so make use of this too.  
  1. Make a meal plan before you shop each week and portion out servings – University kitchens don’t have a lot of fridge or freezer space, so plan meals that use the same veg or ‘use up’ dinners. If you know you’re unlikely to eat a whole pack of meat, or loaf of bread, then portion out the servings to freeze so you can defrost them when needed too.  

As well as Emma’s tips from a student perspective, Personal Trainer Alin Ursache, based at PureGym Leeds North has also shared his 6 top tips for any student looking to save money while staying healthy this year: 

  1. Cut costs by including vegetable protein sources – Meat is probably the most expensive item on your shopping list. Including some vegetable protein sources within your diet may also provide extra fibre, minerals, and vitamins at a cheaper cost. What is great about beans, is that you can be very creative with them. From adding some beans to your fresh vegetable salads and stir-fries to soups or casseroles.  
  1. Take your time, and don’t shop when hungry  – Shopping in a hurry or when you are hungry can easily lead to impulse buying and you may end up buying food that you don’t need or unhealthy food that you crave. Sugary-packed snacks or “after shopping” snacks tend to be more expensive.   
  1. Look at the price per quantity – Offers or deals are not always more convenient. Every price label should have a package price but also a price per quantity (£ per 100g, 1 kg, etc.). Use the price per quantity or volume to see which item is cheaper. Usually, the bulk (bigger) packs will have a lower price for quantity.  Also, check if the item is suitable for freezing. Bulk items indeed save you money, but don’t buy more than you can safely store in your fridge.   
  1. Go for generic brands over labels – Often there is no considerable difference between generic brands and big brands in terms of safety, quality, or nutrition value. Value brands can taste as good as their counterparts for less money. Unrefined foods, such as porridge, can be similar.  
  1. Shop seasonally – Try to select as much as possible seasonal fruits and vegetables, as they will be cheaper within the season and widely available. For example, strawberries in the summer.  
  1. Frozen, tinned and loose fruits/vegetables are just as good – Frozen fruits can be a cheaper alternative, especially for cooking. They are still packed with antioxidants and vitamins, and you can have them in your freezer for much longer than the fridge. Frozen berries are a really great way to cool your smoothie or top up your porridge.  Tinned fruits and vegetables are also a cheaper way to get your 5-a-day on a budget. To keep it healthy, the trick here is to pick fruits canned in natural juice rather than syrup, and vegetables in water without added salt. Loose fruits are also just as nutritious as packed ones. They tend to be cheaper because you are not paying for packing, or they may have slight visual imperfections as they come in different sizes and shapes.