Foreign Student Life Hack: Being a Smart Spender


One of the biggest issues your encounter as an Indonesian student abroad is the imperative to save money to mitigate the high living costs. How do you fulfil all your needs without stretching yourself too thin? How do you save, study well, have fun, and decorate your living area to make it liveable? As a University student herself, Sarah Teja is here to provide you with a foreign student life hack on how to spend smarter.

Although it depends on the country you’re studying at, chances are your cost of living abroad as a student is on the steeper side than what it is back home. At least in England, where I have been living since I was sixteen years old, the living cost as a student are generally higher than in Jakarta.  Hence, money management is a serious and important matter.  Frankly, when I was in boarding school, I never paid much attention to my own expenses as the tuition fees are inclusive of accommodation and all meals.  On top of that, any other expenses would simply be charged to the school bill directly.  So, my money management skill has been put to the test ever since I attended university.

A common reason for saving money is due to the lack of personal resources. However, even if you have more than sufficient funds available in your bank account, it does not mean you can spend mindlessly. I mean, what good can you get from wasting money? But you don’t need to suffer, you just need to spend smarter. Some of these tips may be exclusive to foreign students living in the UK, but others may be useful for Indonesian students abroad anywhere.

  • Saving on Reading Materials without the Library, Scans, or Photocopy Options

At least from my own experience, this is where a big portion of my money goes to as a university student. This may not apply to everyone as reading materials for each course varies and some already have readily available supplies in the library.  In my case, the latter does occur, although in such a limited number.  I remember there was one compulsory module where 280+ students had to ‘fight’ over 6 library textbooks.  So, there is no harm in buying one if it truly supports your learning progress.

A tip in buying textbooks is to either buy directly at a bookstore on campus (at Blackwell’s in Nottingham, you are able to ‘price match’, meaning that they’re willing to beat any lower price you may find online) or actively ask your seniors whether they’re willing to sell their old books to you.

Thinking of just photocopying rather than buying new or used ones? Bad idea. Other countries are usually very strict when it comes to copyright issues. In some cases, they won’t even allow you to scan more than a set number of pages.

  • Fuel of the Masses: Food

Food is such an integral part of student life.  However, if one doesn’t pay close attention to one’s food expenses, it is easy to over-spend.  Whilst it is practical to grab sandwiches or wraps from on-campus cafés, they’re usually pricier than getting a meal deal at Boots, Co-Op, Sainsbury’s, etc. in the UK, or any type of convenience stores on campus really.  Due to its fantastic value-for-money (comes in at 3.29 GBP for a main, a snack, and a drink), the line could get a little out of hand during peak lunch hours at Boots.

Another alternative would be to prepare your own meals.  This option might seem a little intimidating at the beginning, especially for first-year students.  The first week of university, as the prospect of cooking on my own was daunting, I was living off takeaway food.  Though, it wasn’t long until I started to do my weekly grocery-shopping.  If you are on a tight budget as a student in the UK, a tip would be to shop at Aldi or Lidl (popular German discount supermarket chains), which are both relatively cheap and offer consistent quality.  Buying things in bulk could also save you some money. Remember that now some stores do provide delivery options if you buy in bulk.

Easy to cook meal

What if I am too busy to cook? You can always alternate your meals in a day – perhaps you can have simple cereals with milk or bread in the morning, eat lunch on campus, and cook a heavy meal for dinner. You can also look for quick, easy meal recipes for students, or cook once to satisfy 2-3 meal times.

  • Keep an Eye Out for Bargains

When you want to purchase basic household necessities, such as bin liners and waste bins, you may want to consider buying them from places such as Poundland (pretty self-explanatory really, everything sold here is priced at 1 pound) or Primark because the quality difference is rather marginal with those fancy ones from John Lewis.

If you are intending on purchasing specific items which you will use extensively like winter jackets or shoes, you may want to wait until some shopping centres do a student night discount.  However, if you could wait further until December time, on Boxing Day (every 26th December), almost all shops reduce their prices even more than pre-Christmas sale.  Do bear in mind if you wish to shop in popular spots such as Oxford Street in London, you are likely to encounter a throng of fellow bargain hunters.

  • Your Student ID Is Life

In most cases, you’d be able to take advantage of your university student ID card.  For example, lower rates for bus journeys, a small discount in some retails shops (Topshop, etc), or even dining at restaurants (sometimes they do a student discount on a specified day of the week).  Another option would be to purchase a ‘NUS (National Union of Students) extra card’, which give card holders access to many discounts from their partners.  To find out more about it, visit

Photo taken from
Photo taken from

If you wish to immerse yourself in new cultural experiences in your new city or town, a way would be to visit museums or historical sites, and again student ID comes in handy, as you can usually pay student rate.

The trick is, do not forget to say these magic words to cashier: “Do you have student discounts?” Because not all available students discounts are published explicitly by stores and restaurants.

Photos provided by author

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Sarah started a graduate scheme at Accenture after obtaining her MSc Strategic Marketing from Imperial College Business School last year. Previously, she read Economics at University of Nottingham. Sambal or anything spicy is her drug. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking, getting high on endorphins through exercising, and watching anything food-related (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and Ugly Delicious on Netflix!) Feel free to drop her an email at


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