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Budgeting Bootcamp: A Student’s Guide to Mindful Spending

What justifies inadequate dedication of thought to important commitments? Must you stand atop a mountain of communicable wealth? Or perhaps, on the flip side, be a naked soul—a literal naked being without offerings that might interest the common human?

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What justifies inadequate dedication of thought to important commitments? Must you stand atop a mountain of communicable wealth? Or perhaps, on the flip side, be a naked soul—a literal naked being without offerings that might interest the common human?

Let us avoid this extremist approach of observation and instead focus on a quirky avatar of the disciplined lifestyle: the financially conscious student. The way I would define it, a financially conscious student is an individual who dedicates a fraction of their cognitive awareness to better understanding their monetary status and climbs the economic ladder as assigned to them in the modern capitalist’s utopia of cutthroat, materialistic overvaluation.

Although there are numerous frames of reference from which to view the student’s financial chaos, I will be focusing on one of the more fundamental frames that seems to get overlooked often: groceries.

As is the case with investing in common stocks, grocery shopping is all about being the shrewdest possible version of yourself—minimising risky portfolios/products that may lead to losses/poor purchasing habits. 

To get started, set up a weekly budget on your banking app. Most usually support a budgeting feature, allowing you to set limits on specific spending categories, such as groceries and eating out. Inflation or not, this strategy is likely to help you make more informed decisions about your spending.

I know this sounds like a commercial, but this is how I started setting my weekly budget of $50 for groceries and $20 for eating out (which I rarely use)!

 

An example breakdown

I’ve created two categories when considering my grocery shopping spending: Regular Replenishers and Interval Replenishers.

Regular Replenishers (RR)—items I replenish every week. Here’s a breakdown of my RRs:

  • I buy a whole chicken for about $10 and that lasts me about three to four days. During those busier weeks, I usually buy bulk drumsticks ($6) and chicken mince ($5), given the value for price and also the plethora of dishes one can make out of these two kinds of cuts. 

  • By incorporating eggs ($5) and canned tuna ($5 for three to four cans) as well, that’s all the protein I need for the week. 

  • Bread ($4) and milk ($3).

  • I save $10 on fresh veggies when buying from the Queen Victoria Market. 

  • With around $10 left, I usually count them towards bi-weekly/monthly purchases. These purchases fall under the other category of… *drumroll*

Interval Replenishers (IR)—items I replenish once a fortnight/month or, more rarely, in longer intervals. The budget for these are usually set at $20 per fortnight. Some examples are:

  • Oil: Since I mostly use olive oil for cooking (Marco-Pierre would be very proud), I usually buy it when it goes on sale. So, a two-litre bottle you can snatch for $20 or less will last you for at least two months. That comes down to, at most, $5 per fortnight on oil. 

  • Rice: I tend to oscillate between basmati rice (Kohinoor 5kg bag for $15) and the regular Australian medium grain rice (similar pricing to the basmati). They usually last me about two months, so that comes down to about $3.75 per fortnight. Not too bad!

 

Queen Victoria Market and local farmer’s markets 

This deserves its own section. The inspiration for this piece was the initial shock I received when I saw the catastrophically high relative price per kg for bananas at a supermarket compared to Queen Victoria Market (QVM).

Bananas go from anywhere between $4-5 per kg at supermarkets and this price is usually standardised among these corporations in the interest of maintaining high levels of profit in all channels of the grocery hemisphere. But that markup, much like the validity of Newtonian mechanics in quantum physics, doesn’t apply to the QVM (or other farmer’s markets). 

As vendors start packing up after 3:00pm, the final rush can bring the prices down to $1 per kg for the same bananas. As suspicious as it may seem, the sheer volume of sales often outweighs the loss that may come from marking down the price from a still shocking regular price of $2.5!

So, if you’ve got an hour between classes, run to QVM for your veggie shopping! 

 

Appreciation for the raw ingredients

I may be at a slight advantage in the area of culinary endeavours, given that I run a food YouTube channel with my Muma (which you should totally check out here!). But don’t let that distract you from the fact that, for 21 years, I never had to worry about the food on my plate and I received a shower of gratitude whenever I did the dishes. However, I am always a call away from making something stunningly tasty—and all it comes down to is effort.

The correlation between relaxation and cooking was something that took a very long time to click for me. This was mostly because I was always stressed about getting the ingredients right, and more so, I was (and still am) very conscious when it comes to time allocation for each cooking task. The only way to build that confidence, based on my experience and from the advice I’ve received, is to do it often. I know that’s the generic ‘consistency is key’ approach, but at the foundational level that’s what you need. Once you’ve crossed that barrier, there are a million different tricks you can learn while cooking. 

It also gives you a giant confidence boost when you realise you can make your own chicken schnitzel or whatever other dish you may see being served at a restaurant. It might not taste as good but it truly is an incredible feeling that could add a little more meaning to your life. 

 

Developing the selective frugality palette

The initial tedium of budgeting will find siblings within all aspects of one’s endeavours, and it goes without saying that budgeting, much like music taste, is justifiably subjective. However, in pursuit of a more confident purse that accounts for emergency funds for unexpected losses, as well as the ability to treat yourself with something nice when you’d like to do so—all of this, I believe, requires one to first develop this discipline of mindful purchasing. That sounds a bit zen-ny. 

It's important to understand that, as you’re developing this habit of budgeting, you are setting yourself up for becoming a financially responsible adult, a trait you will likely come to appreciate when the basal metabolism level starts to plateau and decline. Less energy is available, which will be compensated by wisdom from experience.

 

 
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