What to pack and buy for university

Blimey, this September it will be ten years since I packed up and moved to university. I was pretty clueless with regards what to pack and what to buy. I think most A Thrifty Mrs readers are older than the average school leaver, however I’m getting more and more requests for information about money and university, so I thought perhaps you old timers would be able to provide a word or two of advice about what to pack and what to buy for university. I’ll be doing another post on budgeting and money in general whilst at university, so if you have advice with regards to that – save it for that post!

 If you can’t view the embedded version you can click over to watch it on youtube. Excuse the bad quality – the handyman for our flats was right outside my window at the only time I had to film these videos so I had to draw the curtains and use artificial light. He also knocked on my door to ask if  ‘everything is OK’ – haha!

I should say, when I was a university I was a financial disaster zone which is one of the reasons A Thrifty Mrs came into being. I wish someone had told me what to pack, what I’d need and what I wouldn’t need before I packed up and moved across the country. I’ve made a series of videos and above is part one – what to pack for university but I’ve also made a list below of what I’d really recommend buying/stashing away.

Here’s what I’ve learnt and what to pack.

Stock up on your favourites now. Seen a great deal? Squirrel them away!

- Toothpaste
- Shampoo
- Shower gel
- Tampons
- Deodorant
- Face lotions and potions
- Condoms – although most unions hand these out for free (well worth having a stash to start with though!)

Cleaning and household

- Loo roll
- Washing powder
- Multi-purpose spray – make your own
- Cleaning sponges
- A few dinner plates
- Knives and forks
- Saucepan x2
- Frying pan
- Baking tray
- Corkscrew/bottle opener
- Wooden spoon
- Washing up liquid
- Tea Towels
- Sharp knife
- Chopping board

I’m a stationery geek, I love the stuff but it can really set you back financially. Look at what you already have. Repurpose and reuse things, don’t buy a fancy pencil case – most people just sling a couple of biros in their bag.
It is also well worth checking the reading list before you go and seeing if you can get your hands on a second hand or reduced cost copy of vital books. Buy second hand from eBay, your uni forum or Facebook page and second hand book sites such as abebooks.co.uk or sellstudentstuff.com

- Plastic wallets – use your old ones
- Arch leaver folder
- Biros – use old ones
- Highlighters
- Post in notes
- USB sticks
- A4 paper – LOTS
- Coloured plastic wallets


- Your favourite ketchup/mustard/brown sauce etc.
- Spices – add flavour to the most dull of meals
- Part baked bread rolls – once I discovered Aldi sold these for about 30p I was all set for lunches.
- Tinned soup
- Baked beans
- Tinned tuna
- Oxo cubes
- Jelly – so much jelly
- Cheap noodles
- Rice
- Cous cous
- Pasta
- Tinned tomatoes

Your room

- Photos from home
- Lamps or fairy lights
- Posters or artwork
- Blue tack and drawing pins
- Cushions
- Blankets and throws
- Small area rug
- You may want to consider a small clothes horse


- Fancy dress
- 20p pieces for the laundrette or photocopier
- Plasters
- Painkillers
- Cold and flu medicine

Students of yesteryear, what were your must pack items?
Remember I’ll be tackling student finance basics in another post so save any broader advice for then.


P.S. Throw your ideas in the hat to help students.

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  1. Big thank you for this post! Hopefully I’ll be going to uni this year (if I get the grades, find out on thursday – eek!!) and this has really helped me with what to pack as I didn’t have a clue where to start!

    - Rhi xx

  2. Am currently entering my 2nd year at university (BCU), and I have to say, one thing that I learnt in my first months that was vital – find your nearest walk-in clinic!!
    The amount of students you encounter passing on germs is ridiculous, so knowing where you can go for emergency free doctors appointments to get meds is so important, especially if you don’t want to keep missing class thanks to illness. Also, some walk-ins will give a small supply of anti-biotics for free, and most have a sexual health clinic tied in, for those other ‘illnesses’!!
    And, buy wellies for snowy/icy walks to campus and change into shoes once in the building. This will save you from embarrassing falls on route to campus and ruining your clothes!

    Help that helps someone :) xx

    • Walk in clinics are a saviour! I had, and know a lot of students from other unis who had this problems, real trouble with the uni doctor surgery losing my medical files after they were transferred up from my home surgery. I ended up not trusting them and making sure I knew where the local walk in centre was. I got into so many scrapes at uni, especially when drunk or exhausted from revision and those walk in centres were a God send.

  3. Hello,
    I would buy some Tupperware and start saving plastic takeaway boxes. I always made loads of everything but chucked it away. When I made pasta I had enough to feed me for a week but it usually went in the bin! Maybe a tin to keep things fresher a bit longer?
    I was terrible with money at University. Really wish I had set budgets and learnt about meal planning before I went. Think most of my money went on booze and socialising though, so I don’t regret it really as I had a fantastic time! Great idea
    for a post.

  4. I don’t think a student would go far wrong if they stuck to this list, you’ve got everything covered!
    Tin foil is great for wrapping leftovers and creating impromptu fancy dress outfits.
    Also consider a home brew kit if you want your place to be the new student union.


  5. Hands down the biggest non essential expense was travel (going home, visiting friends, going out) so I recommend taking advantage of the student rail card.

    • Yes, I totally agree – a real money saver.
      I’m not sure if this still happens but if you opened a student bank account when I was at uni you could get a 4 year rail card for free – worth shopping around if these offers are still about.

    • You can get it when you open your student account with Natwest. Saves so much money! x

  6. My advice is don’t buy any core textbooks – I did it in my first two years and never opened any of them! I would check out the uni library as they often have a big collection of everything you will need x

  7. One of the best tips I ever got from an older student while at University was two fold really: 1) buy those 3kg sacks of pasta – they last FOREVER and it is much, much cheaper than buying 500g packets every week 2) Pasta bake – those jar sauces from companies like Homepride are often reduced to £1, make one pasta bake and you’re set (depending on how hungry you are!) for at least two meals – I tended to get Dinner, Lunch, Dinner out of mine!

    Jem xXx

  8. Can I offer some advice on things NOT to buy? I went to uni with seemingly everything AND the kitchen sink, and when i came back from uni 4 years later all of the following stuff came back with me unused:
    - A hoover- most halls have one. It’ll probably be rubbish but nothing a decent clean won’t sort out. Also, most student rented accomoation has one.
    - An ironing board- ditto to previous comment- if need be, just buy a new cover and you are sorted.
    - A broom (always one to be found)
    - More than two cups/plates/dishes. It will only invite others to steal yours by having too many.

    Other things HIGHLY recommended:
    - A clothes airer- because guaranteed there will be no where to hang your wet laundry.
    - suitable glasses to drink alcohol from. There is nothing worse than wine from a mug or shots in egg cups.
    - more tea towels than you ever think you will need (because you will never bother to wash them)
    - A knife that is actually sharp enough to cut with (trying to chop up potatoes with a normal dinner knife…not easy)
    - A decent sized laundry bag (it really is no fun trying to carry all your laundry in a plastic bag! (which enevitably splits)

  9. Great post. I wish I’d had all this advice when I moved to uni! You forget about the little things like blue tack and drawing pins! XX

  10. Haha, I thought you said fleas were the biggest expense, not fees! xx

  11. Really good video Mrs Thrifty – wish I’d seen something like this before I went to uni. I know this doesn’t come under what to take, but I know I valued the fact that I’d done this, and I know others wished they’d known…look up facebook groups for your halls of residence/course once you find out which halls you are in. Through this I was able to chat to quite a few people from both my flat, my floor, and also my course and it just took the edge off the nerves and the awkwardness because we’d already spoken quite a bit, added each other on facebook and in some cases exchanged numbers. I’d highly recommend doing this, especially if you’re a little anxious about meeting so many new people.

    - Also a diary is an essential, there will be so many meetings/sign up sessions/etc that without a diary I’d have been running around like a headless chicken before ending up a crying mess on the university floor!!



    • Gosh, I bet having a Facebook page for your halls really takes the edge off.
      I totally agree about a diary/planner. I had everything written down in that – also print off your time table if you can and pin it up somewhere.

  12. Good luck to everyone waiting for results this week!

    My tip is, if you’re moving into halls of residence, bring your own bedding. It was provided in mine, and it was okay – but I missed having my own duvet and pillows and everything. The other thing I recommend is a hot water bottle – for Christmas in my first year my brother bought me a hot water bottle in a Bagpuss furry cover and it’s still with me now, 11 years on, having a hot water bottle made it much easier to sit at my desk on cold days to write those essays! Additionally a teapot or a cafetiere – I know it sounds so middle class, right, but it brought me and my flatmates together – I’d make a big pot of tea or coffee and we’d all sit around and chat. Such good times!

  13. I wish I had read this before I started uni 2 years ago. I’m starting my 3rd and final year in a few weeks, eeeekk and I was so badly unorganised when I first started. Let’s just say it involved trips to the shops and endless phone calls to my mum asking why I didn’t have things and why I wasn’t more organised.
    My advice also to anyone starting is go to your freshers fair and gather lots of leaflets, these will include so many vouchers and discount codes that really will save you some money. Oh and always return your library books on time or renew them before the return date, I’ve been caught out with so many library fines!!


  14. Good list, just one suggestion…
    Things like blu tack, stationery , plasters, medicine and some of the toiletries/cleaning products/food can be bought when you’re AT University and, especially for freshers, know what size your room is. By buying all of this in advance you may end up with a very crowded room (and car!). I’d save the space in the car for your clothes and bulky items, then get mum and dad to take you on an essentials run when you’ve arrived :)

    • Great tip but I’d say most people already have things like blue tack etc at home and whilst it might seem cheap enough to me it woul seem daft to double up – but that is the way my head works!

  15. I’ve just finished my first year at university, I’d definitely recommend tupperware! (Though I found 8 of those plastic takeaway boxes you get chinese in at a local poundshop – they were so useful)
    This checklist I found on facebook was really useful for me:

    I brought a clothes rack as well because my wardrobe was tiny and I have a lot of clothes. A lot of student halls are fussy about blu-tac marks as well so you should always check where you can put up photos.
    Also, save on space in the car and do a wilkinsons/poundland dash for things like blu-tac and cheap paracetamol when you’re there.

    • I kind of agree and kind of don’t agree about the dash out once you’re there. Something’s it easier to get whilst there, like food etc. But for me and a lot of people I went to uni with saving bits up over a few weeks worked better because we were doing it alone or their parents couldn’t afford to drop the extra £100 in one go.

    • And my phone has made me look like an idiot…damn autocorrect.

  16. where were you when I started university!!??
    brilliant blog post as always, someone warned me about the 20p thing before I went so I collected lots before I went. I would see students in the union who would ask for change in shops in 20ps or refuse to give them up because honestly they become like gold dust!!
    my suggestion is…don’t laugh!! A screwdriver – yes really!! it’s one of those items that you never think you will need until you need one – like changing an amp in a plug when it has blown.

  17. Great list, although I would suggest a tin opener, I once had to stab open a tin of beans with a kitchen knife. It took ages! By the time id managed to open the thing, I wasn’t hungry anymore! X

  18. Great list! But may I suggest a tin opener! I once had to stab open a tin of beans and it took bloomin ages! Needless to say once id finally manged to open the thing I was no longer hungry! Very annoying!xx

  19. Thanks for the great advice thrifty! :) x

  20. Batteries, I know , I know what do I need those for, but they always come in handy, also a pocket sewing kit if you dont go home that often. Also a travel iron and wonderweb incase u find some ubercheap trousers but they are a tad too long.
    I went to uni when my kids were little and I know there will be some single mums/dads out there, so go and see what childcare is like. some places offer discount for students.
    Also buy birthday cards now just incase you make friends and cannot afford a card. Its the thought that counts. Allie xxxx

  21. Jelly! I laughed when my mum bought me some but yeah jelly is good as is Angel Delight and I practically live off tinned fruit! (I’ve just finished my first year at uni!) Something I’m going to try this year is using exercise books instead of A4 paper as I tended to leave it until just before coursework or exams to sort out my notes which was a nightmare. So now I’ve picked up some cheap exercise books from WHSmiths and I’m going to make pretty covers for them! I’m hoping this will mean that I’m a bit more organised!

    Great advice though, wish I’d had this last year! Oh and take a measuring jug they’re always useful, I had to go out and buy one about a week in! :D x

  22. A big bottle of bleach!

  23. This is great and really takes me back (also 10 years since I packed up for uni)!

    I now work in a university and it’s so interesting to see the labelled clothes, high end laptops and smart phones, etc that current students have. I certainly didn’t have these luxuries and lived on noodles and budget toiletries. One student had the latest Mac Book that will still take me donkeys years to sign up for. I once looked after a PhD student who was decked out in Prada head to toe every day.

    I think my most valued item as a student was a toasted sandwich maker. I was very popular in my halls for this!

    Claire x

  24. I’m going into my third year and food-wise i’d really recommend getting a student cookbook. I know students want to save money but I got so ill in my year just eating rubbish because I was catered and hated the food so just ate cereal/crisps/chocolate. Now i’m in a shared house we eat healthily – chilli con carne, salmon, jacket potatoes, curries – but it’s really not expensive! Sophie at Sophie Rose x

  25. For books that you need, look at Amazon’s ‘used’ list instead of the ‘new’ list, you can get books for over half the price I found, it was a god send both in my first year & is proving to be good this year too! I recommend Pro Plus, I didn’t get more than 2 hours sleep a night for the first 3 weeks. Also, make sure you make time to eat when you first get to Uni. I don’t think I ate much, if at all, in the first week, and although it meant I lost about a stone (which I was grateful for,) I ended up awfully ill. You will get a cold/flu within the first month, guaranteed. xx

  26. I’m off to uni in september and had written a list, but you just reminded me of a few items i had forgotten! Thanks, this is handy, yay :)



  27. ohh yeah and dont forget pain killers, there is nothing worse when u have a killer hangover and no funds to buy any paracetmol. Also I found out because I am lots of regular medication, my parents bought me a pre paid script card. You can buy these at boots or through the DOH. It saved me tons of money. Also have one of those money tins u cannot open unless u kill it!!! And stick all your lose change in there. but hide it after u have put your lose change in there. Also take something that reminds you of home, such as a ted or a cushion, so when you feel a bit sad you can hugg it. My twin swore by this. Stock up on multi vitamins as well. these should stave off some of the uni bugs. God I sound like a mother hen, but my twin ended up being uber sick and she had noone near.

  28. Oh my gosh I wish I’d had a list when I went to uni! Something I over looked were some first aid things. Plasters, ibuprofen and cold remedies mainly but they’re definitely worth having to hand for hangovers/scrapes/freshers flu.

    Also, this is a really good site for student deals. Don’t think I spotted in in the comments so far… http://www.studentbeans.com/

  29. This is great, I’m just entering my third year at Uni and always on the hunt for lists and whatnot. I always seem to take far too much stuff though, clutter central! I’m learning you can very slowly break habits of a lifetime, and your blog is certainly helping!

    Uni tips and things to take that I’ve learnt include:
    - A beanbag – fits nicely in the corner and is great for having your friends in a small room
    - A notice board – tack anything on it from theatre tickets to coursework reminders
    - Two pillows for a single bed, Four pillows for a double bed – you never know who you might have stay over!
    - Invest in a large drinks bottle – perfect for lectures and long days in the library
    - A flask – you can never have too much soup!
    - Multivitamins
    - A sewing kit
    - A full length mirror
    - Shoe rack

    Hope that helps!

    Bella x


  30. As many plastic food tubs as you can find!

    A fully stocked medical kit, with every possible form of tavlets you can find. There is nothing worse than being drastically ill and then having to go and buy things to make you feel better.

    A full length mirror, otherwise you will spend your first year not knowing what your bottom half looks like!

    And try to only take one plate, one glass etc. That way you will have to do your washing up!!! And if people come round for dinner you can always ask to borrow your flatmates.

  31. paracetamol and plasters – v.good call. An awesome post for uni-goers but it makes me feel rather old :( X

  32. This is such a good list! I wish I’d had something like this when I went to Uni, I ended up taking far too much stuff and didn’t use or need half of it!

    Abi x

  33. Water bottles? Just thought that would help during the day so if your out and about u wont be stuck buying a £2.50 bottle of water?

  34. Im 37!!! And I only went to uni 10 yrs ago, but I am having a career change, so I am returning nxt yr!!!the old chestnut is you are never to old.

  35. Im just going in to my third year and would of loved this advice. so helpfull.
    Id take the few weeks left before you go to join your parents when they go food shopping, if your parents are financially able to help, throw in a few items each shop.
    I would stock up on razor blades, shower items, medicines and herbs etc etc.
    A few other must haves are,
    A shower cap – saves sooo much time in the morning (also came in handy for fancy dress once :/)
    A travel mug – A massive mug of coffee will help you manage those 9am lectures.
    A stash of fancy dress outfits, anything and everything. You will be highly amazed at the outfits you will find your self wearing.

    Another thing, try making some skittles/raspberry vodka and great ice breaker that first night in halls :)

  36. In my first week of uni, circa September 1996, I remember everyone going out to buy:
    -Clothes airers (nowhere to dry your washing in Halls!)I still have mine and use it now!
    -Coathangers – there were about 3 in each wardrobe in halls. I went to the local charity shop and bought a bag full for £1!
    - Kettle and mugs. You usually have a sink in your room, and its nice to make yourself a brew not having to wait/use the manky community kettle.
    Good luck to everyone off to Uni thsi time and have fun! :)

  37. In my first week of uni, circa September 1996, I remember everyone going out to buy:
    -Clothes airers (nowhere to dry your washing in Halls!)I still have mine and use it now!
    -Coathangers – there were about 3 in each wardrobe in halls. I went to the local charity shop and bought a bag full for £1!
    - Kettle and mugs. You usually have a sink in your room, and its nice to make yourself a brew not having to wait/use the manky community kettle.
    Good luck to everyone off to Uni thsi time and have fun! :)

  38. In my first week of uni (circa 1996) everyone went out to buy:
    -Clothes airers (nowhere to dry your washing in halls!)
    -Coathangers – there were about 3 hangers in each wardrobe in halls. I went to the local charity shop and got a bag full for £1!
    -Kettle and mugs. You usually have your own sink, and its nice to brew up in your room without having to use the manky community kettle!
    -Cheap wine glasses – booze tastes crap out of mugs!
    Good luck to everyone going to uni this time and have fun :)

  39. Don’t forget tea and biscuits, you’ll need those for comfort and to make friends! I also recommend a door stop and plenty of posters or magazines to rip up and stick on your wall. Whatever you take, you’ll have the best time!

  40. read this and I still have 2 years to go til uni! obsessed with lists. just saw an advert for superscrimpers tomorrow night, are you on it??

  41. I got a lot of my uni kit from relatives – you’d be surprised how many of them have extra saucepans/cutlery and the like.

    Not all Uni halls are created equal and they’ll usually give you a list of what to get/bring. My hall room was great – it was pretty big, had a sink in the room, a great big pinboard, a mini fridge, a phone, a cleaner once a week and it was catered (you got about £30 a week on a card to spend in the cafeteria). Bills were included, so there was unlimited internet and heating. On the other hand you had to share two toilets and two showers with 7 other people. There was no communal living area for each corridor – just one big common room on the ground floor.

    Other Uni hall rooms I went in were sometimes just a bed, desk and cupboard in a tiny space but with a big communal living area and kitchen, whereas my partner’s Uni room was quite big and had it’s own shower and toilet.

    So my point is that some of it will be a bit wait-and-see because most universities won’t go into that much detail about what the halls are like.

    Other thrifty advice is not to put anything valuable or sweet in the communal fridge/cupboards unless you aren’t too attached to it (some f*cker nicked a whole pot of jam from me once!).
    I know someone who used to put a little red food dye in their milk to stop people nicking it – people think it’s strawberry milk and leave it alone!

    Also, I might be wrong but I don’t see bath towels on the list :).

    Sorry that was so long, I got all nostalgic!

    Nikki x

    • Great comment Nikki! I agree all halls rooms are totally different, some are flats, some are more traditional and as such the facilities will differ a lot so there is no exact science. Check out your halls on line and seek out the Facebook pages for your hall like people say above.

      Also items like towels, bed linen., clothes efc. go without saying.

  42. Great post! I also packed a lot of stuff before university and realised I had too much for my tiny room. I’ve also done a series of videos about university on my channel :) http://www.youtube.com/gvadlln

  43. I’m completely with you – I never realised what I needed, even though my big brother went 4years before me, and got into such a financial mess that I’m nearly paid off, 11 years after I started! My advice would be to take some tupperware for lunches or leftovers or maybe tin foil or cling film too. Then you can make a bigger meal (cooking for one is so hard!) And have half as a speedy microwave meal the next day!
    Keep up the good work mrsthrifty!

  44. I think you can never have too many note books, the hard back kind so they dont get ruined. They have great ones in home and bargains which start at 69p and go up to about £1.99. It’s better having the hard back ones as you can chuck them in your bag. I couldn’t have done my degree without them. I would say find your nearest home and bargain actually, they sell proper brands (and massive bags of loo rolls) for really cheap, and they literally sell everything!!

    Also the bottle opener/tin opener are great ways to meet people!! as you’ll need to be there for the party!!

    Emily x x x

  45. Excellent post and comments!
    I would recommend taking Febreze (or home made equivalent); I used it all the time – great for prolonging the wear of clothes (to a point!) and brilliant for freshening up your room and communal areas, especially if there’s been any smoking or fatty cooking going on.

  46. MY top recommendation for studying and what to take- stationary wise- just take a couple of notebooks/pens until you know how things will work. I took all this stuff to uni with me, then realised I wanted to use a different system for my notes. Stationary can be bought mega cheaply either from ebay or pound shops, so don’t waste money on things until you know what you need.

  47. I am starting university in September and I found this SO helpful. I can’t wait for you to put the other videos up. You seen so lovely and down to earth from your video :):) Look forward to watch more.

    Charlotte x


  48. This is really good advice! I wish someone had told me stock up on toiletries and stuff cause I was forever going to the shops to get new supplies! Also, freshers Flu is a killer! So yeah, Lemsip, throat sweets, paracetamol, lots of tissues and some olbas oil is always good to bring. And clothes wise, I recommend hoodies that you can easily take off and a waterproof coat that you can keep for the entire time. You really don’t want to buy a new coat.
    Kyra xxx

  49. This isn’t as good as some of the other tips here but I’ll share it with you anyway =L

    An hour or two before closing is the best time to go to the supermarket. They have lots of items reduced, such as chicken, bagels, loaves of bread, sweet pastries etc because the sell by date stops them from selling them full price any longer. I’m able to get loaves of bread for 10p and packs of 4 bagels for 5p! With the bread, i take sandwich bags and put two slices of bread (a good sized portion for breakfast) in each and then freeze them. For the bagels, one per bag and freeze. Take them out the night before you plan to eat them and let them defrost or give them a quick zap in the microwave in the morning. Makes for a very cheap, yummy breakfast!

    Also, for a quick dinner use two thirds mince/quorn and 1/3 porridge to make lasagnas and other dishes that can be frozen in lunchboxes for dinner times. Adding the porridge oats makes the mixture go further, is healthier and you can’t taste that they are there!

    Great blog post Mrs Thrifty, I’m starting university in September and your blog has given me many money saving tips I think I’ll use for life! =)

  50. Would really recommend investing in a student cookbook with recipes for good food on the cheap.
    I got this one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Student-Cookbook-Cookery-VARIOUS/dp/0600609650/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1345292323&sr=8-2 and 5yrs after graduating I still use it now! Some of the recipes are for stupidly simple things but its surprising how little I knew about proper cooking aged 18! It also breaks things down well in terms of prep and cooking time, cost and number of servings etc.

  51. Buying a cd file for dvds really saves on space. I know that a lot of halls don’t have much space for storage, and all of the dvd cases can take up a lot of room! You can pick them up quite cheap from Poundland or Argos :)

  52. What I found at Uni was that is sooo much cheaper to make things from scrath than it is to buy sauces out of jars etc. Get yourself a recipe book and get cracking, freeze whatever is left over for future use.
    Also, take big jumpers and cardigans and blankies because it will be freezing!
    and forget about day time fashion, by essay/exam time no one cares what they look like never mind you!
    Shampoo and conditioner- dont use the cheapest shampoo but feel free to use the cheapy conditioner.
    Your own clothes horse is the saving grace.

  53. Some great tips :) xxx


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