University on a budget

Hey Marauders! Today, I wanted to share some fun tips and tricks on how to save money as a student. University is expensive and as students, we are already limited in resources so we need to save money where we can. 

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These blogs are part of Mac101: Introduction to University Life, a collection of events, workshops and more to support your university transition.

July 17, 2023

By: Nabeelah (McMaster Graduate, Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour)

Here are some strategies for university students looking to save money.

Easy and quick healthy recipes

Sometimes you don’t have the time to cook a meal in between studying and other plans, so the easiest option seems to be ordering in or getting fast food, but this can get expensive. Try some of these fun dishes that can be made in the microwave with a few simple ingredients.

Who doesn’t love a good chicken fajita, especially when you can make it quickly too!  

What You’ll Need: Chicken tenders, red pepper, red onion, chili powder, corn tortillas, guacamole 

Cut a quarter pound of chicken tenders, a red pepper, and half a red onion into thin slices and season with your choice of spices such as chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper. Use a microwave friendly container, you can never go wrong with a glass container, and place your veggies, followed by chicken and then cover with a lid. Microwave on high for 10 minutes. You can serve your fajita in corn tortilla with a dollop of guacamole and sour cream. This is definitely a yummier and healthier option than Mcdonalds. Try it out and let me know how it tastes!  

Kraft dinner is always a yummy and quick option but try this recipe to make some more authentic tasting mac & cheese and see how it compares.  

What You’ll Need: Macaroni pasta, milk, shredded cheddar cheese, and flour.  

This recipe is super simple and can be achieved very quickly with minimal ingredients. Combine half a cup of pasta, ¼ cup of water, and salt in a bowl. Microwave for 6 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, adding another ¼ cup of water after the first two minutes of microwaving. Once the pasta is done, add enough milk to saturate the pasta, a handful of cheese, and a small amount of flour to thicken the mix. Stir in these next few ingredients and cook for another 30 seconds on high. Enjoy your gourmet mac & cheese! 

It can be difficult to find good vegetarian options when going out to eat, not to mention how expensive it can get. Try this black bean and quesadilla option for one of those quick days or if you just aren’t feeling meat.  

What You’ll Need: Can of black beans, frozen corn, fajita seasoning blend, lime, diced red onion, cilantro, shredded cheese, corn tortillas, and salsa.   

Black beans are protein packed and delicious! Drain the can of beans and rinse lightly with water. Use a large bowl to store the beans and throw in your seasoning mix, cilantro and a dash of lime juice. Crush your beans and other ingredients to form a paste-like consistency. Spread the bean paste on your tortilla and layer on the corn, diced onion and cheese, followed by another bean-smeared tortilla as a covering. Place your quesadilla on a glass plate and microwave for about a minute to melt the cheese. Top your quesadilla with salsa and enjoy! 

I thought I would also throw in a quick and healthy breakfast option that can be easily prepared before class. You can use your choice of berries but I’m going to be sharing my favourite combination!  

What You’ll Need: ½ cup quinoa, water, cinnamon, milk, banana, raspberries, pomegranate seeds 

Quinoa is a great protein source and provides you with the essential amino acids that enrich your diet, especially if you’re a vegetarian searching for protein rich options. To try this simple and delicious breakfast option, rinse your quinoa under cold water and then place it in a bowl with a cup of water and cinnamon. Microwave on high for 4 minutes, stir then follow up with another 3 minutes in the microwave. Cover your bowl with a lid upon removing it from the microwave and allow it to sit and steam for 2 minutes. Fluff with a fork and add your choice of milk, mashed bananas and top with berries such as raspberries and pomegranate seeds.     

Student resouces

Another way to save money is strategically planning the resources that you need to purchase.

I would highly recommend waiting until your first day of classes to buy materials as professors tend to go over the syllabus and will inform you about the importance of purchasing certain texts. Here are a few places to check out before purchasing those textbooks.

  • Library: Before dropping hundreds of dollars on a textbook, check to see if there are cheaper options. Textbooks may be available in a digital format through the library. 
  • Gently-used: Maybe an older friend already has the textbook you need and is willing to share it with you. Upper years are also always trying to sell their textbooks, so you may be able to find a half-priced book from them.
  • Campus bookstore: The campus bookstore also has a section for used textbooks. Check to see if they have what you need.


Here are a few discounts that students should take advantage of:  

  • Fortinos (1579 Main St W): 10% off every Tuesday for students with a valid student ID  
  • Shoppers Drug Mart (1341 Main St W): 20% off on Thursdays with valid student ID 
  • Food Basics (845 King St W): 10% off every Tuesday for students with a valid student ID  

Did you know that you also can get a student discount on Spotify premium for $4.99/month as well as a 50% discount on an amazon prime subscription?  

I would waste a ton of money on impulse buys prior to budgeting and I didn’t even realize this until I actually started tracking my expenditures. Deciding to become more mindful of my expenses has saved me a lot of money. Budgeting makes it easier to plan, save and control your expenses. With a proper budget, you will be able to make informed purchasing decisions and save your money. There are many tools available online to help you get started.  

Signing off

I hope you can use these tips discussed above to make university slightly cheaper. Take advantage of discounts and implement a budget!

Nabeelah student blogger

Nabeelah (she/her) is the program support assistant for the Student Success Centre’s (SSC) academic skills team. She has recently graduated from the Biology, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour program here at McMaster University. Outside of school, she loves to play tennis, bake and hang out with friends and family.