Instant noodles, bulk quantities of rice, baked beans and toilet roll. Yes, I was totally prepared for my first year of university.
The uni adventure started, like most fun mistakes do, at freshers’ week. Fancy dress, spending way too much to see musician Example, and the chicken shop on the way home. More takeaway the next day, then back out again, six hedonistic days in a row.
To make up for blowing a month’s budget in my first week, I embraced tricks to keep my spending under control. Did you know, if you get a rip in the crotch of black trousers but wear black cycling shorts underneath, you can get away with it until you’ve saved up enough for a new pair? I managed to do this twice.
My rent was manageable thanks to eight of us sharing a house, which sounds like absolute chaos but it was a riot in the best possible sense. With that many friends under one roof, there was always someone up for going out, watching the game or sharing a packet of biscuits their mum had sent them in the post. I loved those carefree days and I have such fond memories of that time I’m almost nostalgic for the state of our shared bathroom.
Only one thing about student living really niggled at me: the fact my friends weren’t anywhere near as skint as me. I had some posh mates at uni. Or people who just didn’t see money as a problem. They were fun to be around, of course.
But picture the time my housemates bought a second dining table because they couldn’t be bothered piling any more dirty kitchenware on the existing table. Picture that table. An abstract sculpture of ragu-crusted pots, starch-stained spoons, and white plates with blue patterns just perfect for mould to camouflage in. My plates ended up there too. Picking them out became the world’s least hygienic game of Jenga. Part of the stack moved on its own once, and slid to the floor with a crash. When people ran out of surfaces to eat on, paper plates were purchased.
The bigger problem, however, was splitting payments. When you live in a desperate-to-get-on group that could become a close-knit little family, or flock of enemies, you split the bill, even if you ordered tap water while they all had more than just tap water. Usually they’d say: “Don’t be silly, you only had garlic bread,” but sometimes they didn’t. I went out a lot at uni, so this was a regular predicament. Sure, there was a time when we wanted “nice sushi” – which was not exactly a high street affair. I remember being half-full, with a doubly empty wallet, so I only ordered one item. Six pieces of salmon nigiri, and it cost more than 2kg of pasta and 2kg of frozen vegetables, which was my go to lunch and would have lasted a couple of weeks.
These days, things are much simpler thanks to Housemate by NatWest*, which takes the pain out of chasing your mates for payments. You don’t even need a NatWest account to use it. Technology approximately five years ago wasn’t quite as breezy. It was sort codes and trust. Sometimes, people forget they borrowed that tenner, the previous fiver, the quid that time you went to the shop here and there, and there, and there. It’s forgivable, but asking a mate to pay you back can go one of two ways. You either get an apology, or offence that you’re demanding pocket change. Housemate by NatWest even allows you to include a gif when asking for payment, smoothing out those awkward money requests.
Now that my student years are behind me, I rent with two friends, not a chaotic seven, and I enjoy living somewhere that’s genuinely quite nice. My plan is to save up a little more, and scale down to a house of two with a slightly bigger budget, and keep saving so that one day I can get myself a mortgage, which is something that – if you’re a NatWest customer – the NatWest app** could help with. Just tap in how much you need to save and when you’d like to have it saved by, and the Savings Goal tool*** will tell you what you need to save each month to get there. Housemate by NatWest could make that easier too as, if you live in England or Wales, it recognises your rent payments so you can start to build your history with its partner Experian. All these steps could help you get on the property ladder sooner.
If I was able to, I would tell the “university me” to focus more on what lies ahead. In the financial sense, this would mean coming to terms with the fact that I simply could not afford to do some of the things others were doing, which is totally OK. Of course, my uni years were a wonderful experience either way, but the greatest lesson I’ve learned since is that you can still have fun living with a budget.
To stress less about splitting bills, download the free app Housemate by NatWest
*Housemate is a free app open to users aged 17+ across the UK (excluding the Channel Islands and Northern Ireland). Users must have a UK bank account and an iOS or Android compatible device. Open Banking is available for selected UK banks and account types only. You need to be registered for your bank’s online banking. The rent recognition feature is only open to those residing in England or Wales.
** NatWest app available to customers aged 11+ with compatible iOS and Android devices and a UK or international mobile number in specific countries
*** NatWest Savings Goal Tool available within mobile or online banking. Only available with Instant Access Savings accounts