The Utterly Inessential Shopping List: Back to university special, featuring eight creative ways to blow through your student loans

We hate to break the news, but unless you're planning a career in academia, medicine or some other equivalent specialism, a degree itself falls well and truly into 'Utterly Inessential' territory. And if you're going, why not go in style?

For people who don’t want a computer made by a fruit company

It’s easy to overthink buying a laptop — but there’s really no need. If you’re only after a glorified word processor that’ll be chained to a desk then a £50 second hand one from eBay will do the job. That said, students should go for something new — if only because laptop battery life has improved beyond all recognition in recent years. Beyond that? You need it to have a lovely keyboard, decent screen and to be hard-wearing enough to take a few knocks. This one — the Honor MagicBook 14 — has all three, and even sports a metal case design that is, let’s say, a ‘loving homage’ to the Apple MacBook Pro.

The down-sides? You don’t get that cool Apple logo on the lid, and the webcam is, bizarrely, placed in a pop-up key between F6 and F7. It’s very neat and private, but the shooting angle means people will see right up your nostrils. The up-sides are that it looks good, it’s a ‘real’ computer rather than a Chromebook, and you’ll save £750 or so on the equivalent MacBook Pro. All of which can go towards the things on the rest of this list…

£549 from

Posh nosh for those with dosh

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Forget about endless pasta and cheese on toast, this gift parcel will keep you and your new housemates in beer bread and truffle risotto until your finals.

Cooks Corner Gift Box, £99.99 from BoroughBox

If you need to be told to buy a jumper, maybe university isn’t for you

A classic sweatshirt and jeans — the acceptable face of wearing your pyjamas to lectures.

Southwold sweatshirt, £48.95 from Whale of a Time

The accumulated knowledge of the world for £5 a year

The British Museum’s Great Hall.

Let’s face it: you could probably get a degree in Art History without leaving the library. And perhaps without even going to the library in the first place. But if you want to throw yourself into your subject, then this is an unmissable bargain: a £5 annual pass to let you in to all sorts of museums and galleries either free or at a hefty discount. It also gives 50% off exhibition entry at most of the big London museums, including the Tate, National, V&A and British Museum.

ArtPass, £5 a year for students. Also available for non-students — £45 for under-30s, £73 for over 30s. Buy from

You’re gonna need some wheels

True story: years before Boris Bikes took over the capital, a pilot scheme in the Scottish university town of St Andrews provided hundreds of free bikes for the use of students and townsfolk alike — the idea being you could pick them up and leave them elsewhere just as you liked. The entire lot got pinched in the first weekend that the scheme was running.

The learning? Bikes get pinched, so if you’re going to buy one to get around, either get a Fort Knox-grade lock or a folding bike that you can keep with you. Bromptons are rightly famed for being as good to ride as ‘normal’ bikes. Just don’t get hammered and leave it in the pub.

Brompton folding bikes, from around £1,000

A Barbour jacket for people who don’t want to look like they’re wearing a Barbour jacket

Some people can rock the wax jacket look. Others cannot. But either way, if you’re going to university in a country that has either a winter or a rainy season, you’re going to need a decent coat. This is one of those, in every sense: when the downpour comes your spirits might be dampened, but your clothes will not.

Barbour Parka jacket, £269 from Barbour

Just in case you’ve got £1,200 left of your student loan by the time you’ve paid for everything else

We’d never suggest that ‘headphones’ fall into the Utterly Essential category; we all need a pair, a nobody more so than students who need to block out the sounds of other students. But when the price tag hits £1,200? Then you’re definitely in ‘Utterly Inessential’ territory.

These quite astonishing cans are the result of a wonderfully insane collaboration between Bentley and a top-end hi-fi gear company named Focal. The sound is as good as you’ll get, but it’s the attention to detail that sets them apart: even the leather for the ear cups is a work of art. It’s hand-stitched by Pittards, the 200-year-old Somerset company who made gloves for Spitfire pilots in the Second World War.

Focal for Bentley Radiance Headphones, £1,199 from

Because you have NO idea how many people have slept on the ‘new’ mattress in your room

You see? Now we’ve put that thought in your head, you actually can’t not buy one of these.

Simba single mattress topper, £199 from simbasleep