What I’ve learnt about money from my 21 years on earth

University really was a learning curve for me. A curve that meant my broke self would see £0 in my bank as an excuse to go on a night out because….it couldn’t any worse, right? Even the shame of my bank ringing me on a Saturday morning saying; “we think there has been fraudulent activity on your card” only to recite about 15 payments of £4.99 vodka lemonades made entirely by me didn’t stop me from being completely irresponsible with my money.

Obviously, I know that your early twenties are the perfect time to be making mistakes, learning, growing and (hopefully) progressing, but there’s nothing more uneasily stressful than not having enough money. And when you’re not a student, bailing on grabbing a coffee with a friend can be really mortifying – like, when you’re working full time and you spend the last pennies of your pay cheque on some shoes you definitely needed, people will rightly look at you like you haven’t got your priorities right. Hypothetically, of course.

I spent about 3 years not even checking my bank balance, just hoping that it didn’t get declined whilst I was ordering a takeaway on JustEat. Looking back this was not the best way to live and only added to my existential crisis brought about by never ending assignments, dreaded exams, bad diet, a very untidy student house and no money. During my admittedly short amount of time on Earth there are certain things I have learnt about money, here they are.

You can save, no matter your situation.

I look back at my time in University and realised how wasteful I truly was. My student loan barely covered my rent and I took this as an excuse to just blow all my money on nights out, takeaways and meal deals.

I was freelancing weekly and I now recognise that if I had started a savings account and began filling it with the (small) amount of money I was receiving from writing gigs, I would have my own safety net of money for graduation. The reality was more along the lines of:  I left University in my overdraft and dipped further in it because I wanted to go to Rome.

Now, at 21 and working full-time I have started a savings account. At the end of every month, after commuting cost, rent, utilities and food drains the majority of my money…I put the rest into a savings account. Sometimes this is as little as £100 depending on how crazy my month has been, but it’s still something.

If you quite literally have £0 left at the end of the month, you can still put lose change into a money box and this can be your own little safety net.

It’s okay to be that “can I speak to the manager” meme, sometimes.

So, without taking it too far, it is completely okay to complain. Here’s an example; I live alone in a studio flat, I’m out of said flat 8-6 every weekday and most weekends I won’t spend the day in the flat either. In short, my electricity bill is minimum and so when one month I didn’t submit a meter reading, from no fault of my own, my supplier tried to charge me an “estimated” £185 for the month. Needless to say, this was not happening. I stayed on the phone, asked to speak to different people and refused to back down. It was difficult and I could absolutely write another 3000 words on how ridiculously patronising call centres treat young women, but I saved money by going through this.

Even if a meal isn’t up to scratch at a restaurant, your coffee is cold or the £3 discount didn’t work on the self-scanner, politely complaining or questioning doesn’t make you a bad person. This is your money and you deserve exactly what you expect.

Food is the make or break

I realise where I really went wrong in University. Like, yeah the nights out were expensive but they were experiences. Cool. But the £15 Chinese takeaway eaten alone on the sofa? Sad. Even when I was being productive in the library I would genuinely think I was being smart by buying £3 meal deals…every day…three times a day. These identical meals, although they might not be as nice if you’re as bad a cook as me, will literally cost up to a £1 to make.

Meal prepping for work instead of buying an overpriced sandwich everyday will save you so much money. And be wary of where you shop. Did you know that the mini versions of supermarkets are more expensive than the big ones? Because I didn’t. Waitrose is for millionaires, Aldi is a miracle. Shop smartly and eat cheaply.

Horrify yourself

When I moved into my first proper grown up flat I also purchased a budget planner. And it was truly terrifying. Actually seeing all your weird, menial expenses wrote out on a piece of paper really makes you question everything. Did I really need to buy a £5 water bottle that has tracker on the side? Was that £3 facemask that made no difference a smart investment? You really start to grasp that a 50p spent there and a £5 spent here quickly adds up to your entire pay cheque, so start monitoring it.

Although it’s an adulthood horror movie, check your bank balance. I once had to ring my Dad asking him for £20 so that I could stock my fridge up with food. My student loan was going in my bank a week later and I hadn’t checked my balance in over a month. If I had checked, I would have undoubtedly been a little wiser with my remaining funds. Don’t be stupid. Don’t be me. Check your bank balance.

It’s okay to treat yourself

Clothes and makeup make me smile. Travelling is my one true escapism. Nice smelling candles and perfume make me feel more human. Don’t completely deny yourself the things that make you happy, you’re working hard and deserve a little something. Don’t become a recluse because you’re scared of spending money on shots in a club, that’s kind of what being in your twenties is all about anyway.

That being said, don’t choose shoes over rent or makeup over food. Again, an obviously hypothetical example.

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