Student life: share economies everywhere!

Stuff, as all students know, is expensive – and the simple answer is to share it.

Wherever you look these days, you can find examples of the “sharing economy”. People are sharing tools, transport and living space – there are even apps to help you share clothes with your friends. The online collaboration of people choosing to back a project with donations has brought to fruition ideas from the Pebble watch to a new series of Veronica Mars.

The ability of humankind to collaborate effectively was what allowed us to thrive in the first place, and students should make the most of it. Sharing, both directly and through internet platforms, can be highly advantageous when it comes to saving time, money and energy.

Let’s take books as an example. University libraries contain the vast majority of core textbooks. However, they often possess only a few copies of each. You can bet that those who seek out the reading list before the introductory lecture, and those who are the most familiar with library classification systems, will sign out the only available copies on long-term loans. Everyone else is faced with buying a book each. One option would be to visit the local public library, where it is possible to request books which they can order in and anyone can rent out with a library card.

A more sophisticated plan is to find a group of students who are happy to buy different core texts and share them between the group. And the group’s ambitions needn’t end there. You could divide the set reading between group members, get everyone to summarise what they’ve read, and make the notes accessible via a Google group. You can also share PDFs, journals and web resources with one another, creating a vast online revision resource several times larger than could be achieved on your own, and for a fraction of the cost.

Sharing food, and cooking, is always contentious in student houses, despite the obvious benefits. Sharing individual items – such as milk, bread and butter – is probably the trickiest choice, especially in my house where he have the milk wars over blue or green labelled milk (green milk all the way!). Somebody buys more than the rest, somebody uses more, and they are rarely the same person. Better, though still not foolproof, is for everyone to put money in a kitty that can be spent on every day essentials. However, meal sharing is fantastic for reducing costs, saving time and building a sense of community in a student house. Draw up a roster, and don’t forget to specify the washer-upper. I personally wouldn’t choose this option unless my entire house had the same tastes as me, which never happens because I’m a cheap and cheerful type of guy …

The boring bits which make a house run smoothly are exactly the things parents fret about most when they first drop you off at university. You’ll have been loaded up with cutlery, pans, sweeping brushes and colanders. It soon becomes apparent that all your fellow students have turned up with much the same stuff. Now you have six colanders to fit in one cupboard. It just takes a bit of pre-planning to sort this. Parents should be assured that you will go on a group shop with housemates as soon as everyone arrives. That way, everyone can make an equal contribution.

But it’s the big stuff that can be an issue. Larger appliances, like televisions and hoovers, are often missing from student houses because no one wants to buy them. Jonathan, 22, has just graduated from Newcastle University. In his third year, he and his housemates found a way to solve this problem. “None of us could afford a TV at the start of the year. So we divided the cost of a 42-inch television, and agreed that I would buy the other two out at the end of the year when in a better financial position. Knocking off about £20 each for the slight depreciation, I then had TV to myself to take home.”

For the basics, online resources are becoming increasingly popular with students. Sites like Gumtree, Craigslist and Freecycle offer cheap or free second-hand goods from people in your local area. Other sites are available of course, wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m biased (I don’t actually use any of these myself personally, all about Amazon for me) …

All of this leads to one simple conclusion: sharing is caring, and particularly sparing on your wallet (oh yeah, nailed a rhyming triplet for all you English teachers out there). Share economies in an ideal world make student life so much easier. Sadly we don’t live in an ideal world so some of these get neglected. Ah the pain of society sometimes.

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