Mama Squirrel: You are a busy full-time student, and a lot of money-saving things (the housekeeping, cooking kind) take time. You also have the problem of limited/shared space. How do you manage to do all that and stay sane?
Apprentice: You're right, a lot of money-saving things do take time. To be honest, I'm definitely no Amy Dacyczyn. I do what I can, but am fine with spending a bit more money to save time or frustration..
One of the biggest examples of this is my living situation. Last year I was living in a student house with five other students. This year I've moved to an apartment shared with two people. The rent and utilities are significantly higher, but the advantages I have living here are worth the money. I have an above-ground room, quiet study space, and a large kitchen with tons of cupboards and a full-size fridge. I'm also closer to school. This living situation is more conducive to sleeping, studying, cooking, and travelling to school from, which are what my house is for! For me, frugality isn't about spending less money, it's about getting the most out of the money you do spend.
A smaller-scale example is food. I really like cooking, but often coming home after a late class I can be fairly tired and not feel like cooking. I know I could spend less on food, but having a few convenience foods around for a quick dinner is still cheaper than eating out when I don't feel like cooking. Yesterday I bought 2 kg of chicken fingers for $10, which will last me for many many meals and costs the same as going to a restaurant and ordering chicken tenders once. I do cook actual healthy meals most of the time, but the point I'm trying to make is that there are less frugal things and more frugal things that you can do. Both of them will save you money compared to a non-frugal thing like eating out.
At the same time, I certainly try to use frugal strategies that take a little (but not too much) time. Examples include baking my own treats, taking lunches and snacks to school, and fixing things that break. What I'd recommend most though are frugal strategies that don't really have a time element to them, just frugal thought. Since I was little I've learned that store brands are just as good as name brands, just without a fancier package. You can find clothes and household items at the thrift store for a tenth of the price, sometimes even new with tags. Textbooks are cheaper bought used from another student, and when the next year I just sell them to someone else and make most if not all of my money back. Taking a walk or bike ride outside costs much less than a gym membership.
Entertainment is a tricky category. It depends on what you like to do. Lots of activities have lower-priced alternatives, but those alternatives are not really the same thing, so it may be worth it to you to spend the extra money if that's something you really want to do. Going out to a movie and watching a movie at home are both fun, but a different experience. There are lots of free concerts and music festivals, but if you want to see a big name artist, you'll have to pay the big money for a ticket. Staying in is always cheaper than going out, but don't let that limit you every time.
Mama Squirrel: What have you learned since being on your own that you didn't know before?
Apprentice: Honestly a lot of the things that I do now are things that I picked up growing up, it's just that I didn't need to apply them until I started living on my own. I've tagged along with my parents at all sorts of activities, and helped out a lot at home: I often surprise myself by just doing something I didn't even know I knew how to do. I can pick out a cut of meat at the store, paint a room, bake a birthday cake, and build furniture. None of these things were something I had ever done on my own until I had to, but the knowledge was there and I just had to retrieve it.
Mama Squirrel: Any advice for the young and frugal?
Apprentice: If there's something you don't know how to do, websites like eHow are incredibly useful. Even just Googling "what temperature bake turkey legs" will help you out a lot.
Definitely make smart choices at the store. If you're not much of a cook, that's okay. But buying a case of drinks, box of cereal and some lunch supplies will save you hundreds of dollars even if you're still eating out for dinner. A 500mL bottle of pop out of a vending machine costs about $2.50 around here, whereas cases frequently go on sale for $3, which works out to 25 cents a 355mL can. That's $5/L versus 70 cents/L. A box of cereal and litre of milk will give you breakfast for over a week for $6 or so. Buying store brand will save you even more.
Mama Squirrel: Thanks, Apprentice!