Living by the two-dollar-a-meal rule

There are a lot of rules in An Insider’s Guide: always read your readings; start assignments as soon as you get them; include at least ten references for each assignment. But one of the most important rules isn’t to do with academic success. It’s the two-dollar-a-meal rule.

My copy editor wanted me to cut it out. Two dollars a meal? Crazy! While I followed her professional judgement about a lot of things, in this instance I held my ground. The two-dollar-a-meal rule is not only totally doable, it’s one of the most important rules for a student to follow. So, how do you do it? Easy. Follow these 10 simple steps:

1) Have breakfast before you leave the house. A couple of slices of toast or some cereal costs nothing and stops you getting crazy hankerings for coffee and chocolate later in the morning.
2) Make your own. Cereal, soup, hummus, biscuits and sauces are all heaps nicer, healthier and cheaper when you make them yourself.
3) Pack your lunch. Sandwiches are cheap, healthy and awesome.
4) Shop at Pac’N’Save. Swallow your pride and do it.
5) Only buy stuff on sale.
6) Set a weekly shopping budget, and stick to it. $2 x 3 meals=$6. $6 x 7 days=$42. With a bit more for non-food items, $50 a week for yourself is totally doable. Then make what you’ve bought last a whole week. If you’re running out of food, bust out those 2-minute noodles and tins of spaghetti that are lurking at the back of the pantry and wait until shopping day.
7) Don’t follow recipes. Just use what you’ve got to make a meal.
8) Keep meat to a minimum. Learn to love beans, lentils, chickpeas and eggs. Learn how to imagine that mushroom is like steak.
9) Cook in bulk. Cook up a big load of pasta sauce, or soup, or lasagna, then separate it into portions and freeze them.
10) Pasta, potatoes or rice. Every day. You can’t afford to be picky.

And always remember – there is such a thing as a free lunch and, as a student, it’s your job to always find it.



If you’re going to do well at uni, you have to be able to self-reflect. Before you head back to campus next week, take a bit of time to reflect back on how things have gone so far, and to set some goals for the next stint of lectures and assignments. Here are some questions that might help:

1) What were your three biggest successes at uni last term?
2) What aspect of your uni life (lectures, assignments, clubs, social life, etc) are you most enjoying at this point in the year?
3) How do your actual results compare with the results you thought you would get before you started uni? Why do you think this is?
4) Were you too slack most of last term, or too stressed? What do you think you need to do to manage your time better next term?
5) What three main points of feedback from your assignments are you going to work at this term?
6) What area/s of your uni life (lectures, assignments, clubs, social life, etc) would you like to work on developing this term? What steps are you going to take to do so?
7)  What three concrete, measurable goals are you going to set for this term (e.g. speaking up in class once a week, getting at least a B+ in every essay)?

The wisdom of foresight

Illness can’t often be timed to fit around your studies. Your cold doesn’t care if you’ve got an exam tomorrow. Your stomach bug is oblivious to that looming assignment. Your headache doesn’t give a damn about that three-hour lecture this afternoon.

Sometimes, though, it can. Take wisdom teeth, for example – a topic close to my heart as I write this with a face twice the size it should be, so swollen I can only feed by way of a party straw. I have known for some time that my wisdom teeth needed to be cut out and, resisting the temptation to see it as a good excuse for some sick leave, I scheduled my surgery for the start of the holidays.

If you haven’t already had your wisdoms checked out, go and do it. If you’re unlucky enough to need them taken out (like about a third of us do in our early twenties), book in for your next uni break. It sucks to lose your holidays, but it sucks even more to lose your GPA due to a stroke of bad dental luck.


The thing I miss most about my student job is the hours. Some days you might have eight hours of lectures, requiring you to be on campus for the whole day; other days, though, you might have none, allowing you to go to a paid job, do some volunteer work or study at home instead.

The thing I miss least about my student job is the pressure. No matter how many lectures I had on, or how well I filled in my eight hours of study a day, there was always something else that could be done. That essay could be made clearer. I could do next week’s readings. I could email that lecturer to get their feedback on my last assignment.

Buried under all these coulds is a must. You must schedule in time for a break each week. If you don’t, you’ll soon go crazy and start resenting the very place that you’re paying lots of money to enjoy. So, this Easter, make sure that you schedule in at least a full day’s worth of nothing. No work, no jobs, no set readings. Read something with absolutely no critical acclaim. Chill.