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May 31, 2010 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

How to be poor

You’re a student. You’re poor. Want to tell me about it? Oh yes, things are hard. Your power bill is so high, and you’re so cold. You can’t afford to eat properly, food is so expensive these days with the GST or something. You need to study so much you don’t have time for a job.

Well cry me a fucking river. When I finally moved into a flat in second year, my sole income was from a StudyLink allowance of $150 per week. Rent was $100. This left $50 for food and power. Putting aside a bit of money each week for the inevitable power bill, this would leave me with roughly $3.50 to spend on food each day. And I had a 9am class on one day of the week.

Problem solved.

If you think you’ve got problems, then this should put things into perspective. Hungry, cold and skinny perspective. It sounds impossible, even to me. But I did this for a good part of the year. I survived, and even did well at uni.

Me at uni.

Think of this as your worst-case scenario. You have to cut back on everything. You will have to make some extreme lifestyle changes. As a student, this will bring you down to three main areas of expenditure, which will be your absolute necessities just to keep you breathing while studying.

Parmesan, Gruyère and Havarti.

1. Food and drink

My diet during this time consisted mainly of two-minute noodles (pre the discovery of Mi Goreng, so this makes my story infinitely more tragic than yours), eggs, bread and cheese. Cheese is expensive, but strangely delicious. It was probably the one good thing I had going in my life, and it’s versatile.

a) What to eat
i) Buying food
You will need to spend your $3.50 wisely. Buy versatile foods in bulk so they’re cheaper and will last you a while, such as rice, potatoes and pasta. Use these to bulk up your meals, even more than you otherwise might, so that they last longer. Take leftovers to uni the next day. Remember that flavour is a luxury. You will need to budget, find the discounts and specials, spend only what you absolutely need and make sure you don’t waste your food.

ii) Cooking food
Think about communal cooking: Has your flatmate got a can of tomatoes? With your bread you’ve got the basis for tomatoes on toast. Bonus points for saving power too.

b) What to drink
Water. It’s free.

c) Alternative sources of food
i) Free stuff
When things are desperate, you should always be on the lookout for free shit, and know where you can get it regularly. Go to VUWSA in Kelburn on a Wednesday or Friday morning and get some free bread, and check out their Food Bank while you’re there. The free bread once kept my entire flat fed for a week.

Ant, Mark and Bella.

Remember that every little bit counts. Don’t be afraid to scrounge off your richer friends, and wear plastic bags instead of shoes for maximum pity.

ii) Relatives and friends
If you have relatives in town you should try to organise a regular home-cooked dinner or meal with them. You’ll get at least one decent and hopefully nutritious meal out of it each week, and they’ll be happy helping you out when you need it most, and can’t find language.

iii) Live off the land
Growing your own veges will result in a lot more street cred, nutrition and inflated self-worth than playing Farmville. It also makes you statistically less likely to be murdered in a library.

Other than growing your own food, getting back to your hunter and gatherer roots is another option. Know your natural environment and what foods it may provide.


If things are so desperate that you have cut back to the bare basics, then you will need to make sure you are getting enough of the right nutrition in your diet. Food plays a more important role in your general mood—and entire life—than you may realise. Without the right nutrition you will be in a bad mood, unable to concentrate, and have low energy levels. With poor nutrition you will also be more susceptible to sickness, which will just plain suck.

Especially as a student, you will need lots of Omega 3. This is a fatty acid commonly found in fish that is needed by the brain to promote neuronal growth. Basically it makes you smarter and more likely to remember things. Eat fish before and during important study periods to make the most out of them, or if you don’t eat fish, think of other ways to please her get Omega 3 tablets on special from a pharmacy.

2. Shelter

Note: An important factor in keeping your shelter costs down is cooperation from your co-dwellers.

a) Keeping your power bill down
My flat was so cold I had to put a jacket on when I went inside. Keeping in the same room as your flatmates helps heaps. If you can all cook, eat, socialise and study in the kitchen, then you can get it warm easily during the cooking and then keep it warm, rather than all going off to use separate heaters.

When things got really cold, we would warm our hands inside the fridge. Instead of a hot-water bottle or electric blanket, take a hot shower before bed. This, along with a sheet, duvet and three blankets, keeps me warm during the night. As a bonus I wake up with awesome hair.

Another tactic I used when things got cold was to just be at university as much as I could, because it was so damned cold at home I would wake up and breathe out, and my breath would freeze and hit me in the face. It’s really warm at uni. Staying there later has a few other benefits—you get in some more study, and the university pays the power bill.

I hear finding a spoon also helps.

b) Keeping other flat costs down
You will need to cut down on luxury items. This will be expensive showering items, the good toilet paper, makeup, etc. Stuff you don’t actually need. If you need things repaired or bought that your landlord isn’t responsible for, do it yourself if you can. I built a letterbox for my flat. It was shit and we also blew it up once, but it was free and better than the brick.

3. Transport

Do you really need to catch the bus? In my opinion, if you’re fit you should be able to walk for at least an hour to get to uni. Your legs are the cheaper and more reliable option anyway. Or, if you can get the funds together, a bike is a good investment. Me? I skate on my skateboard to uni now, instead of using my legs like a sucker.

If you do need costly transport to get to and from home, then consider crashing at a friend’s place close to uni occasionally. Each night will save you two trips. Get someone from one of your classes and turn it into a study session. You can also steal their spoons to warm you later.


Don’t be afraid to ask for any sort of help in these areas. Think about who may be able to help you. Read Zoe Reid’s column in Salient, ‘Yo Mama Shoulda Told You This’—it’s brimming with useful advice, especially on things that will save you money. If you get into financial trouble, ask for help. Talk to your parents and friends. These fellows may also be able to help:

Student Services

Fail that, get a haircut and get a fucking job.


About the Author ()

Mikey learned everything he knows about English Grammar in an MSN chat room when he was 13. Believing that people don't say "LOL" enough in everyday conversation, he has made it his mission to teach the world about grammerz one person at a time.

Comments (12)

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  1. acekard says:

    The information you have shared over here is really nice and also interesting. I enjoyed reading whole article and also came to know about some helpful content also.

  2. Jose Salandros says:

    Thanks for encouraging me to never move out, bro.

    Excuse me while I turn the heater up.

  3. Jess says:

    Shot Mikey, maybe you’ll have to make the German Library your second home like I did last year?
    there’s websites you can go to for free samples of stuff and vouchers. I’d recommend vouchermate and NZfreesamples. Good for ladies and gettting certain necesities.

  4. Jess says:

    also if you listen to the Youth Zone Show, Tuesday afetrnoon 300-5 on 783 AM we give away a free Burger Fuel burger on each show. if you don’t have an AM capable radio we’re online at

  5. Ha Jess, the German Library was my second home long before it was yours. That’s actually where I stayed late at uni when I was poor.

  6. smackdown says:

    plenty of room in the nub language library jess

    seeya there ;)

  7. Sam says:

    Porridge, eggs and apples honestly the ultimate carbohydrate protein nutrition hit and bloody cheap.

  8. Jess says:

    nub? pardon my ignorance but… wtf is nub? Do you perhaps mean noob? or newb? or knub? or thisonetimeiwasinthekitchenandmygradmotherfellthroughttherooftotallyruiningmyawesomechickenfettuccini?

  9. Hank Scorpio says:

    smackdown called out

  10. Carpool says:

    Boosting rides off friends and strangers is a big thing: especially if you’re considering getting away for a bit to ease the tension. I know plenty of people (not even students – just proper bums) that have travelled NZ without paying for either transport or accomodation. Check for rideshare action, and for the accomodation part. Poor dudes can holiday too ;)

  11. chris says:

    Invest in a Selkbag. Then you CAN stay home more if you want and stay warm. Primo sleeping bags with arms, legs and a hood. cheers

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