Marc and I were about to walk back from our local pub recently when a bus happened to pull up just outside. I wanted to hop on as a) it was freezing and late, b) it was going exactly to our stop and c) it is so rare that a bus ever arrives when you need it to, I took it as some sort of sign.
But Marc being healthy and frugal (and not into signs) suggested that we walk the 15 minute walk back instead. Plus, he said, he hates the bus.
It got me thinking back to a time at Uni where for me, getting the bus was a special treat. I went to Exeter University and though of course Exeter isn’t the biggest city in the UK, sometimes that 1 mile walk from town to campus on a rainy, cold, hungover day felt like 100 miles. On days like that, I would decide that I would treat myself to the £1.30 bus journey and enjoy the comfort of being dry and warm. (It was one of the few times that I would actually feel genuinely warm too, as we couldn’t afford to have the heating on in our student house unless absolutely necessary.) In fact, this picture kind of sums up how I felt throughout Uni…
However the bus treats came to an end when one week, I caught the bus three times and knew that if I didn’t stop soon, I would have little money left for basics like food. In fact, that could have been around the same time that I ate an evening meal of stuffing and cabbage three nights in a row, while my overdraft was maxed out and I was waiting for my waitressing salary to come through. (I told this story recently to my family as I actually didn’t mind those dinners and thought it was funny, although they saw it as a lot more tragic.)
It wasn’t that I was bad with my money, in fact I am known to be a saver and I was always very mindful at Uni, working as both a waitress and a Student Ambassador during term time to earn money, sewing any holes in my tights and leggings instead of buying new ones and having a strict weekly grocery shop that never exceeded £20. It was more that the student loan wasn’t enough to cover the cost of living down south and as the loan didn’t cover my accommodation costs, my savings and earnings had to fill in any gaps. Not to mention the travel expenses that came with having a long distance relationship at Uni.
The funny thing about that time is that although I knew I was skint, and sometimes felt it quite acutely, nearly everybody else I knew at Uni was skint too. A housemate once had to abandon half her food shopping in Tesco because she ended up running out of money to pay for it all. Another would eat these awful looking pies out of a tin because it meant that you could get a family sized meal for £1. Some other girls I waitressed with and I would put up with occasional inappropriate ‘banter’ from the male boss in order to get more shifts. (Sound familiar?) But because everybody was in the same boat, it never seemed so bad. We were in it together. We challenged things together. And bonding over it could sometimes be funny.
This all passed through my head as Marc and I stood outside the pub, tightening our coats around ourselves, deciding on whether or not to get the bus. It was weird to think that something that was once treated as a special luxury was now more of a last resort.
And though Marc and I both earn more now than when we were new graduates (you would hope so really), it helps to be mindful of money. When we earn more, we tend to spend more – we live within our means. (And these days the spending can vary massively between friends who have all taken different paths throughout their twenties – some are still as skint as they were at Uni while others are buying flats in London and going on far-flung holidays. We aren’t all in the same boat anymore).
So as we go into 2018, I am determined to be more mindful of money. To cut down on unnecessary expenditures, like the smoothie after a fitness class or the box office film when there is a free on-demand film. Just because we have a little more to play with, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t forget ways to live more frugally. Making small changes can mean big savings and ultimately more money to spend on the experiences that do matter.
Starting by walking and not catching the bus.