I saved £20,000 by age 21 – and it only took me three years

As I hung up my coat to start my bar shift, I thought: ‘Do I really want to do this?’

It was 2019 – my first year at Manchester University. I’d worked a night shift from 5pm until 3am. Then I’d gone directly to meet my friends out somewhere, spent a few hours with them, and I was back at work at 12 noon the next day.

Still, I had no option if I wanted to hit my savings goal by my third year of uni. 

But before I knew it, I’d put aside £20,000 in three years.

I didn’t really save much in my first year. I had problems with Student Finance – they had a technical error, which meant they thought my household income was effectively double what it really was, so I didn’t get the amount of student loan I was entitled to.

It only just covered my rent. I couldn’t afford to be in halls, so I lived in a tiny flat in the back end of Moss Side in Manchester.

I picked up a dodgy cash job in a bar to make ends meet. I didn’t have a contract, I just worked any evenings or weekends they needed me. But then the pandemic hit; and I didn’t get any furlough.

That first lockdown was hard. I lived on something like £10 a week until I got a living cost support payment from my uni. Then I managed to get a job as a cleaner at a swimming pool – and it was here, in this job, that I started thinking about saving properly.

Someone I was close to had recently been made homeless; he was living in a caravan, in a field. It made me think: ‘I actually want to have somewhere to live. Somewhere that, as long as I keep paying, no one can ever evict me from.’

I knew I wanted to buy a house as soon as I could.

Moving into September 2020, I got a job on reception at a casino in Manchester. This was really lucky, because we went back into lockdown not long after – but this time, I was furloughed.

So I had the income from the casino, and I’d also picked up a temporary contract with a company that did recruiting for Amazon. I did that full time until Christmas 2020 (after that, I picked up some freelance writing).

My student finance had also sorted itself out, so I was now getting the maximum student loan. Plus, Manchester University offered a grant for students from deprived backgrounds. I got £2,000 from them, which I won’t ever have to pay back.

I was very fortunate – and it was at this point that I really started saving. My student finance easily covered my rent and my weekly furlough payment more than covered what I was living on. So, I thought I may as well save the difference.

And that’s where my strategy was born.

When everything reopened I went back to the casino during the summer of 2021, I took any overtime they could give me. They gave me some pay rises, too.

At the start of my third year, I had the best intentions to spend all my time on uni, but I picked up another job as a supply teacher at a school in Stockport, which I did two or three days a week – plus my 20 hours at the casino.

Halfway through third year, there was an opportunity to teach at the school full-time for a term – and I said yes.

That was a really intense point in my life. I was working Monday–Friday in a high school, and at a casino at the weekends – all while studying for my English Literature degree.

But I just did it. I don’t think it was that hard, or impressive, or anything remarkable. I enjoyed myself; I’m lucky that I’ve always done jobs that I’ve loved. It just worked.

I moved to London in May of this year. I work in financial PR now – my salary is £24,000. I rent a room in a flat in South East London, which has bills included – that’s a blessing.

I didn’t notice how much I’d saved until recently.

I’m a chronic spender – I spent my very first student loan and paycheck on a tattoo and decided I couldn’t be trusted with adult money. So when I hit my first couple of thousand, I gave it to my sister and said, ‘Please do not let me spend this unless it’s an emergency’. 

Then I got a Help to Buy ISA, and just started throwing money in there as it’s impossible to withdraw without losing some of your savings – and didn’t really look at it unless I was adding money.

My goal was always to buy a house though, so I started taking note of what I had after I moved to London. That’s when I stumbled across my number.

When I was saving, I never thought £20k specifically would be a nice round figure. To see it in my account felt amazing. Now I don’t want to stop. 

Fingers crossed, I’m on my way to buying a house. The thought of being handed keys is very exciting – but the idea of speaking to a mortgage broker makes me feel a bit sick. I’m not from a family where owning a home, or speaking to people in financial advice roles, is normal.

I’m only able to even think about buying a house at this point because – even though I’ve always had to support myself – I’ve been incredibly lucky. I was given the full student finance amount; I managed to get a job that paid me very well throughout my time at uni; my degree was very flexible, in terms of contact hours.

Without this sequence of events, I wouldn’t be where I am now. There’s a bit of a running joke that older people think buying a house is as easy as not eating avocado toast and cancelling Netflix. But if you look at the disparity between wages and house prices…for most people, unless you’re born into money, buying a house is just not an achievable goal.

To anyone who does want to start saving, the best thing is to save before you start spending. I have a standing order that comes out of my salary; it’s a predetermined amount that I don’t change. Then, I work with whatever’s left.

It’s a strategy that’s made saving easy for me and I won’t be stopping anytime soon.

As told to Izzie Price

New research from Virgin Money reveals that Gen Z might be the most financially-conscious generation yet

Gen Z seems to be the generation that cares the most about their financial security (27% 18-24 vs 18% 55+) and worries most about how the current economic climate will impact on their short-term (73%) and long-term goals (70%).

Worries about their future feed into Gen Z’s saving behaviours, with the report showing that although many are in the early stages of their careers, 18-24-year-olds on average have an impressive £4,935 in savings, just behind Millennials with £6,053 and Generation X at £6,701.

Find out more here.

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