How I Save: The 'boring' student with £5,851 saved

Knowing how to handle your money is something you’re just expected to get once you’re an adult.

But spoiler: loads of us are confused and clueless well into being proper grownups.

Which is why we’re blown away by this week’s How I Save-r.

Each week for our series, How I Save, we take a look at the ins and outs of a different person’s money habits, from their saving techniques to exactly what they buy in a week.

Sometimes our How I Save-rs are people whose budgeting skills we envy, sometimes we learn what not to do from their lacklustre saving habits (the manager who spends loads on cocaine and croissants, we’re looking at you).

This week we’re just impressed. While most of us lived in our overdraft at university thanks to spending on glittery shots and hungover Domino’s, Hope* is a 20-year-old self-described ‘boring’ (we wouldn’t call her boring, she’s great) student living in Egham, Surrey and absolutely bossing this money thing.

How Hope saves:

It’s hard to say exactly how much I earn a year. I get £6,834 in student loan (down from previous years because I’m a final-year student, grrr).

I have a zero-hour contract in my job as a Student Ambassador; I’m on £9.85 an hour and I’m currently on track to have earned about £900 by June. This money goes straight into my savings, as it’s meant to be helping me survive my MA next year.

On top of that, I take art commissions on the side, and I’ve currently put away £150 since September. I’m also incredibly lucky to get £300 a month during the academic year from my parents in financial help, which is infinitely helpful and I’m extremely grateful.

I make that £10,284-ish earned a year but I know that number will vary depending on what shifts I get going forward.

Rent is by far my biggest expense. It goes out in 3 lump sums at the beginning of each term and is about £4880 for the academic year. I’m living in student accommodation on-campus; I’m currently in the cheapest room on campus, which is a shared room in a catered hall, so we have no kitchen to prepare food in. This means I get most of my meals from the dining hall within my building. Unfortunately ‘catered’ doesn’t mean ‘free’ at my uni; I get a 50% discount, which brings most meals down to around the £2 mark.

In my savings account right now I have £5,851.06, which is very encouraging.

I’ve saved this much by being extremely precise with my budget. Since I was 18 and entering my first year of uni I’ve been maintaining a yearly budget spreadsheet — working out how much I have to spend, how much I can save.

It normally works out as a budget of maximum £100 a week for 38 weeks (term-time), and from there I log how much I’ve spent subtracted against that £100. At the end of the week, any money left over from my budget – so, say I’ve only spent £50 that week, I’d have £50 leftover – gets put in my student savings account. I also have a Help to Buy ISA I set up in a panic a month or so ago, and that has £500 in there. I transferred that out of a building society savings account that probably has about £200 in? I haven’t checked in a long while, since it’s emergency money only, but I probably should. Money is terrifying.

Honestly, I struggle with saving because I never know how much is ‘enough’.

I’m a pretty boring person and an even more boring student — I don’t drink, I don’t go on nights out, I can’t even drink coffee because I’m mildly allergic to caffeine — but living in catered halls can make it feel like my whole life and spending revolves around food, which isn’t great for my anxious body-image-obsessed brain.

I feel like I have a little room to treat myself more, but I can’t shift the financial guilt that comes with it.

How Hope spends:

Monday: A little pot of chewy tapioca balls at Imagine, the bubble tea place where we go to study (I love bubble tea but my mild caffeine allergy does not, so I just get the pearls alone) is 25p.

For tea I have Korean fried chicken and roasted vegetables at the Dining Hall, for £2.07. The chicken can be hit-or-miss sometimes, but this is really good.

Total for Monday: £2.32

Tuesday: Decided to treat myself to an actual lunch today and wandered down the hill to Kaspas! Got some chocolate chip cookie dough with vanilla ice cream for £5.50.

£2 goes on a bus back up the hill for me and my partner.

I didn’t think I’d be in the mood for dinner but I was suspiciously hungry. I spend £1.67 on ‘Festive Dinner’ at the dining hall: gammon, stuffing, roast potatoes, and ONE pathetic pig in blanket. Thanks, Brexit.

Total for Tuesday: £9.17

Wednesday: Shift today! Had to walk around campus and try to get people to donate to a fundraiser.

During class, I order a short story collection that I’m thinking I might use in my final project for that class. It’s £7.87, but technically nothing since I have £150 worth of Amazon vouchers after winning a competition last year, which is GREAT, so £0 spent.

Tonight is Jack Daniel’s chicken wings night at the dining hall! I am a sucker for chicken wings. I get a portion and some wedges. Good and filling. I normally try to have a meat-free day at least once every week, but being catered can make that difficult — there’s a lot of chicken on the menu this week. This is £2.07.

It’s also D&D night. The others are bringing mugs to drink tea, I spend a long while looking between my carry cup and a proper mug, trying to figure out if I should get a hot chocolate on the way or make one there. The cheaper option won out! Shocker! £0 again.

Total for Wednesday: £2.07

Thursday: £2.07 for the world’s tiniest portion of lasagne and a reasonable amount of chips for Dining Hall dinner.

I spend the evening working in the library. My partner messages me: they’ve had a bad day and want a can of Coke, which I absolutely oblige for 90p. Not mentioned in this weekly breakdown are all the hot chocolates my partner keeps buying for me. I need to treat them more but I’m always beaten to the punch.

Total for Thursday: £2.97

Friday: Another shift today setting up for an open event.

I lost my water bottle while on shift and had to dive into the uni shop to buy another one at 70p.

I’m sent for a suspiciously late lunch at 1.45. Craving hot food so badly that I buy two portions of chicken and vegetable gyoza from the dining hall, which I immediately regret, but hey. I wanted something small, but it ended up the same price as a large meal – £1.66.

I end up visiting a friend’s house for dinner. She makes lasagne from scratch, and it is infinitely better than the tiny little chunk of pasta-adjacent I bought yesterday. I owe my friends endlessly.

Total for Friday: £2.36

Saturday: Full day of head-down dissertation work. I bring my lunch from my room (it’s Hula Hoops and an apple) and try to keep my head down, but I do end up buying a hot chocolate. Luckily I get a discount for bringing a reusable cup and paying with my College Card. That’s £2.55

Hasselback chicken and rice for tea from the Dining Hall. Chicken is a bit dry, but the rice is filling. £2.07.

Another night of library work. I desperately need sugar. Get one of those tiny Galaxy Cookie Crumble bars to tide me over for 85p

Total for Saturday: £5.48

Sunday: Weekly shop day! Return tickets on the bus for me and my partner is £4.

I grab some lunch in Subway while we’re there. My treat this time. Two six-inch subs with a cookie and a drink cost £9.60.

Then into Tesco. I pick up crisps, breakfast stuff (brioche is great to eat and run), apples and oranges, shampoo, conditioner, some chocolate, sultanas, and biscuits for D&D – £11.40.

I get pizza and wedges for tea from the Dining Hall. Pizza is always weirdly cheap even though it’s always the best thing on the menu when it’s there – £1.45

Total for Sunday: £26.45

Total spent this week: £50.82

How Hope could save:

We spoke to the experts over at money tracking app Cleo to find out how Alana can save better (and what we can learn from her spending).

Note: the advice featured is specific to one individual and doesn’t constitute financial advice, especially for a London budget. 

Here’s what Cleo said:

You’re right, money can be terrifying. But we don’t think you need to be terrified. You’re nailing it.

Main vice:

We think you should start giving yourself the credit you deserve. You’re financially wise beyond your years and you’re doing a great job.

Thriftiness is cheap by definition, but it does come at a cost. It’s important to budget for indulgences and we don’t think you’re giving yourself enough room for this right now.

Where you’re going right:

This list could be very long. For any students out there reading this: take notes on all the above.

You say you’re not sure with savings because you don’t know what is ‘enough’. The rule of thumb is that full-time working people should try and put 20% into savings if they’re in a position to do so. A student with £5,851.06 in their savings account is some kind of miracle.

Creating an annual budget using a spreadsheet is admirable and can help you to see the bigger picture. However, we suspect that updating this can take some time. There are also budgeting apps out there that could help you out with a weekly budget…(Hint: Cleo)

Spending plan:

Over the course of the week, you spent £49.92. That’s £50.08 under budget and knowing you, you probably put the rest in your savings without even looking at it. You don’t need us here.

Bottom line:

Reckless spending is one thing but treating yourself occasionally is important and you definitely have room to do so. Give it a try in 2020!

*Name has been changed, as people can be mean about money and we don’t want anyone getting abuse.

If you want more tips and tricks on saving money, as well as chat about cash and alarms on deals and discounts, join Money Pot, our new Facebook group.

How I Save is a weekly series about how people spend and save, out every Thursday. If you’d like to anonymously share how you spend and save – and get some expert advice on how to sort out your finances – get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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