It’s the thing all students look forward to getting when they start University and leave home (usually) for the first time: the “free money” which comes with the student bank account. Of course, we all know it’s not free money, but it’s difficult to see it that way when you’re trying to make new friends and cope with looking after yourself.
My student halls were on Oxford Street opposite Selfridges and the temptation to spend a bit of money in the plethora of shops around where I lived was too much. By the end of my first year, I was hitting the end of my overdraft. Unlike many of my friends, I stayed in London over summer to earn my way back into the black; a task which I succeeded in doing without telling my parents the trouble I was in. It wasn’t seriously in trouble because I wasn’t financially independent with huge bills, but it was the first time I’d felt in a tight spot with money.
I fluctuated up and down over my 3 year undergrad and then I started my single year Masters and worked almost full time as well. By the end, I was sufficiently in the black and very happy. One trip to New York and a flat rent deposit later and I was sufficiently back in the red of my overdraft.
My concern is with the mental anguish (or for some people, lack thereof) of living in your overdraft. No matter how many hours I work, I can’t seem to work my way back into the black and begin to start putting money away for things like my pension, holidays, Christmas and birthdays, clothing, flat deposits, general future savings… the list goes on. I understand this will become easier to do once I get a job which pays me significantly more, and I appreciate that I have jobs which just about cover the bills. But that’s it. It’s depressing not being able to go to the pub and buy more than a coke without worrying that I can’t afford to buy food for the next day. It’s depressing knowing that every penny I spend isn’t actually mine. It’s the bank’s.
I’m not just sitting here and moaning, I am doing things to try to improve my situation. The sole reason why I’m cycling everywhere now is so I’m not spending money on public transport which was costing me £122 a month for a zone 1-2 travelcard. I’m making more of an effort to make my lunches and dinners at home and taking them with me to work. I’m looking for one full time job which will pay me enough to have a little left over at the end of the bill payouts to have some fun in my life. Because what’s the point otherwise?
Where is the balance between living and surviving? The money is earn is currently all the bank’s, but how much do I give myself on things I don’t “need” but “want”? How much do I “need” to have a haircut, go to a friends birthday and not just have a water with a lime in it to pretend it’s a G&T, go to the cinema or go out with friends for dinner? These are all questions which have been playing on my mind recently and perhaps the answer lies with whether or not my mental well-being lies in these things. For me the answer is yes and that’s not because I’m shallow or only appreciate the material things in life, but because everybody needs their friends around them and if that’s how they all socialise then that’s how it’s got to be. But I don’t know how much of the bank’s money to give myself to do these things.
I know of people who live in their overdraft and aren’t bothered by it at all. Part of me would not like to worry so much, but then I think long term. I’m 23 and I have no savings. Now, I could have not gone to New York for 4 days and saved just under £1000, but I’d studied all the way through from starting primary school to finishing my Masters without a break and worked since the age of 14 so I felt I deserved to spend some money on myself. Some people could argue this was a bit extravagant but at the time I wasn’t to know I’d be on such a low wage 6 months down the line. Perhaps I should’ve been more cautious. Hopefully at the end of this month I’ll be just a few hundred away from being back in the black… but I have to move again and there’s another massive deposit to pay with one month’s rent in advance. If things keep going the way they’re going I’ll have to extend my overdraft and be right back at the end of it all over again. I love and appreciate my boyfriend, friends and family who are helping, but on a day to day basis living in your overdraft is the hardest thing I’ve done so far. It’s a small comfort to know I’m by no means the only person living in this situation.
And the cycle continues…