Third Year Thrift: how to not starve

The title might be a bit on the nose, but the stereotype of students living on noodles and pizza isn’t entirely untrue. I’ve heard of students in my own college only eating once a day because they couldn’t afford anything more than that. Not eating properly or often enough will lead to a lack of energy affecting your performance academically and on placement. It’ll also make you feel like pure shit.

 

Like I said last week, planning is a solid way to saving money. I know that I’m back in Dundalk for five weeks before I head away on placement, so I’ve done my best to plan for those five weeks. Being honest about bad or counter-productive habits helps as well. I have inherited a horrible habit of over-buying food if I don’t plan out my meals, so I’m reducing my food waste now as well.

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I’m definitely not an expert in meal planning but it’s all that difficult, and you can make it flexible. I’m on a somewhat limited diet (thank you, IBS) so I try to make a couple of different meals out of the same ingredients in a week. Sometimes I have to sit with a food pyramid to make sure I’m actually getting what I need out of my meals. Once I have a plan, I’ll prep as much of the meal as I can at the start of the week so that I’m not tempted to just order takeaway. It’s so much easier to stick to the plan if all that you need to do is pick out what you need and throw it together in a pot. So I’ll chop veg on a Sunday evening, freeze half to throw into meals with something later in the week and cook two or three portions of something else with the other half. I try to bake something like banana bread or oat cookies to stop myself buying treats in the college canteen as well.

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The key for me is shopping around rather than floating around one shop (Tesco, I love Tesco so much) and grabbing things pretty much at random. I discovered a few weeks ago that my local Asian food shop does noodle packets for a euro cheaper than the other shops. €1 doesn’t seem like a huge saving until you realise you buy a lot of something. Now I keep a rough list of things I buy regularly and how much they cost in different shops, and I check shop websites for deals and discounts whenever I remember.

The biggest saver is probably that I have zero brand loyalty. None. I couldn’t care less that Andrex toilet paper is the only brand that my mam might ever have at home – I’ll be using the Lidl version because it’s cheaper until something of similar quality but lower price comes along. Dolmio sauce and Dunnes own brand tastes the exact same to me. I’m not saying buy the cheapest version – buy the best value version.

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Third Year Thrift: Budgeting

Thank you so much for the suggestions on what I should cover for my #ThirdYearThrift series! Please keep them coming, I’ll keep going until everything is covered.

This week I want to start with the most basic step – budgeting. I know budgeting is done to death on posts like this, but I’m going to briefly explain a bit about how I budget for placements and course costs at the start of the academic year. I’ll write in focus on some of what I cover quickly in this post.

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When you boil it down, budgeting really only requires three things

  1. Planning ahead – which I think I’m quite good at
  2. Honesty about your spending habits, needs, and wants – which I’m not great at
  3. Prioritising – having enough food to keep myself healthy and full of energy is more important than me having a mocha from the Costa in my building in college

👉 First step is to work out your income. I split mine between regular income like my student grant, and irregular income like the spare few euro I get from doing online surveys.

 

👉 The next step is your essential spending. I divide these into categories as well

  • regular consistent spending – like rent and phone bills
  • regular varying spending – utility bills and groceries
  • predictable spending – gifts for people’s birthday and placement costs

This is where it can get difficult for healthcare students as sometimes we need to travel for placements and rent a room nearby or pay for more expensive transport. Try and organise this as far in advance as you can so you know what you need to spend. For example, for my UK placement I know that I need £75 a week for rent on top paying for my room in Dundalk. I have a sticky note with bus ticket costs to each placement area. Finding that out in mid-August means I can plan to keep money aside for that much easier than if I found out mid-September.

 

👉 Then there’s what I can “keep me sane” spending. These are things that I could probably live without but it makes me happy to spend money on them when I can afford it. For example, skincare makes me feel like I have my shit together. I have no idea why, it’s just one of those things. I splash out on Lush if I can afford it, otherwise I still to Boots own brand or another generic.

👉 Finally, I look at a saving goal. In 2016/2017 I focused on getting enough money to pay the €7,231 college fee and to use for my living costs (read all about it here if you haven’t already). The picture below is the visual I made in August 2016 to keep myself on track. Right now for me it’s all about surviving third year without letting worrying about money destroy my mental health.

 

10 tips: how I saved €11,200 in a year

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I opened my Member’s First Credit Union savings account a whole year ago today, between getting my Leaving Cert results and (finally) getting my Midwifery offer.

On March 30th I transferred some more money into that account, and I hit a slightly magical number – seven thousand three hundred. Why is this so magical? Because it means I have reached my fees target! I’m actually over it. The fees for Dundalk Institute of Technology are as follows:

  • Student contribution (usually covered by SUSI) €3,000
  • Tuition fee (usually covered by the State) €4,106
  • Facilities fee €125
  • bringing us to the slightly horrifying total of €7,231 for one year of Midwifery in DkIT

But how did I actually manage to save all this up in just a few months?

  1. I set the goal. I got in touch with admissions really early and found out exactly what it would cost. I drew a jar, I drew some lines on it, and every time I put money in a coloured in the jar a little more. It was really satisfying and encouraging to watch my savings grow.
  2. I got organised. Every time I got a payslip, I sat down and wrote out what I needed to spend that fortnight. Things like phone credit, topping up my travel card, birthdays that were coming up. And whatever was left over, I put into the credit union straight away.
  3. I didn’t deny myself things. I knew that if I cut myself off from nice stuff – like Stellar magazine and Starbucks muffins – I would get kind of down. I’d end up in therapy (which is pretty expensive). So I treated myself. I even managed to get away for not one, not two, but THREE small holidays while I was saving.
  4. I kept records. I kept track of my income, and how much of that went into the savings. This let me look at everything really quickly, and either pat myself on the back or ask myself “if you got paid €700, and you only put in €250, where the hell did the rest of it go?!” It’s one of the rare times that self criticism has worked in my favour.
  5. I stopped impulse buying. Every time I picked something up in a shop, I’d look at it and think about whether I really needed it, would I really use it often enough, would it be worth the money it cost me.
  6. I said no, a lot. Over the last few years while I’ve been working to get into college, I had to learn how to say no, and I’ve had to keep it up. I’ve said no to girly nights out and holidays, I’ve said no to staying late in my boyfriend’s house and getting a taxi home, I’ve even said no (after much thinking) to taking my driving test because I can’t afford to maintain a car. You don’t save €1,000 a month without sacrificing some things.
  7. This one won’t be helpful to some of you, but I didn’t pay bills. I still live at home, with my parents. Neither of them have asked me to pay bills or pay for food, because they know that I’m saving. It has probably been the most helpful aspect.
  8. I searched for bargains. For example, when you’re on the pill you have to get your prescription renewed every six months. This requires a trip to the doctor, costing about €55. There are, thankfully, online options now! I was ordering from Llyods Online Pharmacy for €25, and then discovered Dr Ed for €20. It’s all about going for what’s the cheapest, if it’s something you don’t need to worry about the quality of. After that, it was a case of buying all six packs of my pill at once rather than one a month. I discovered (embarrassingly after quite a few years on the pill) that buying all six at the same time gives you major savings!
  9. I convinced myself all the time that I only had €100 in my account. For whatever reason, I don’t go near my bank account if at all possible if there is less than that in there. I don’t spend, I don’t go out if I can help it, and I find ways to save money. Even if there was €400, I would act like it was just €100.
  10. I wavered, a lot. There were times when I didn’t put money in until the end of the month, or put it none at all because I was too lazy to plan. But I never let that be the end of things. I picked up again in the next payslip, I got back on track.

 

So, that’s it! A year from €0 to €11,200. As this post goes live, I’ll be paying the final amount on my college fees! This isn’t the end of my saving, I’m a reformed woman on that front. No more impulse shopping, no more wastefulness.