Welcome to our Money Diaries series. Here, you can step into the shoes of students from all walks of life at UCL and uncover an intimate glimpse into their weekly spending habits. Now more than ever, we believe it's important to open up the conversation about finance while working to support you through the use of our Union services. Interested in taking part? Start by submitting your information here. We're always looking for a range of different people to take part and we are interested in understanding a wide range of financial experiences. If you're selected to feature, we'll get in contact with you and ask you to log your spending over 7 days. Remember, all Money Diaries we publish are anonymous.
Meg (name has been changed) is a 26-year-old postgrad studying a one-year masters. She also works for a virtual school for 12 hours a week. Meg previously worked in teaching full time for four years but decided to do her masters because she wanted to take some time for herself and live in London with some of her best friends. Meg’s goal is to return to teaching with the additional knowledge she’ll gain from her masters. However, she’s found it really challenging adjusting from a full-time salary and lower out of London rent prices to massively inflated London prices, whilst living on as little of her savings as possible. Megs part time job covers her rent and house bills, and her government student grant just about covers her course fees – shy of about £600 per term. She’s left with around £650 per month to cover all her costs outside of this. Considering she is at the start of her masters, Meg is not really sure if this is going to work out financially for her.
Location: 4 bed flat share in Hackney. I pay £730 a month.
Living costs: Monthly utility bills are about £95
Monthly expenses: Phone contact: £27 per month, Disney+ subscription: £7.99 per month, Spotify: £5.99.
Job? Yes – part time teacher (0.3 contract) with a monthly salary of £830.
Do you have any debt? No.
How are you funding this year? UK government postgraduate grant of £12,167 and savings of around £10,000.
Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have around money? I can’t remember specific conversations, but I know my parents tried to teach me how to balance being responsible with what you have whilst also ensuring you enjoy life and spend where you are able to. I got pocket money when I was little, and had a part-time job from 16 to cover any ‘fun’ spending, like going to a festival or buying new clothes. My parents were not super transparent when it came to money and where it went, leading me to not have the best understanding of the realities of how expensive adulting can be. During my first year of undergrad, I definitely had to find that out the hard way!
Do you worry about money? I’ve learnt how to get by, and think I have done a fairly good job of balancing serious, ‘adulty’ spending with some fun things like going on holiday and to events with friends.
I am really worried about getting through this year though, and have already started thinking about what comes after, when I don’t have a safety net as my savings will likely be on zero.
I get anxious about this, but also really want to enjoy this year as much as I can. I’m also very anxious when it comes to money, and this tends to trigger ‘buyer's remorse’ in me. I also find it quite hard to track my expenses, and get overwhelmed fairly easily. I’m hoping by tracking them I can get a better idea of where my money is going, and this will give me an idea for how I can structure my spending over the next year.
10:00: Today was a slow start to the week for me. I made breakfast and lunch with my leftovers from the weekend, and had dinner with my partner which we grabbed from Sainsburys. A go-to meal for us is filled pasta with pesto and salad. It’s fairly cheap and always filling.
19:00: I got a parking ticket last week. I've been putting off paying it, but today is the day. This set me back £65, but tomorrow it doubles. Honestly I do question whether bringing my car to London is really worth it, but at this point I’ve already got the permit and had two fines, so really I am just going to have to commit to it.
9:30: I decided to Lime bike to campus from my house today. I brought the 1 hour pass for £6.99 which actually works out cheaper for the day than getting the overground. Plus it was good weather and pretty quiet by the time I left the house, so it felt safe and enjoyable. Managed to consensually steal some of my flatmate’s cereal this morning so... free breakfast?
12:30: Went to the dentist after two years. I knew it was going to be bad, but I’m now facing a filling, a cleaning and a crown cover for my tooth (not as cute as it sounds). Decided to get the cleaning out the way so for £115 I had my check up, hygienist appointment and X-rays. Now I have to decide which treatment route to pursue. The first is cheaper, at about £400 overall, but not as good for me in the long term. The second option is £1,200 which is money I really do not have right now, but is more future proof. I need to do more research and a parental advice call to figure out what to do.
14:00: Grabbed lunch near campus from a veggie café for £6.74.
19:00: Need dinner, feeling drained and it’s only Tuesday. Went to Aldi and did a mini food shop of all the dupes and off brand products I like. Gave myself a £12 challenge budget and succeeded.
21:00: My roommate got us all tickets to an event next month. I’m really excited and by the time I go it will basically be free (girl math anyone?), but for now it hasn’t fallen on a great week financially.
07:00: Could not have made this up. I woke up to my phone not working or turning on. After classes today I will swing by the genius bar. Hoping they can fix it! However, I am up, and going to a free workout class as my friend is an instructor. Pays to have friends in London who work in different areas to you!
17:00: Long day of classes today – made sweeter by a very lovely classmate grabbing me a coffee. Walked down to Apple and they were able to fix my phone, which definitely made my day feel a lot better. Grabbed some chocolate on the way home to power me through.
22:00: Got way overcharged by TFL today, a whopping £18 for 3 central journeys. You can query these though, which I will do at some point. My friend told me it’s easier with an Oyster card.
23:00: Paid rent and bills today, but a friend paid me back from a while ago, which feels like free money. Feeling drained and ready for a fresh start tomorrow.
09:00: Nice slow start today. I had a bowl of cookie cereal to make me happy and remind myself that I am still a student.
11:00: Biked to campus to meet a friend for lunch at Itsu. Managed to only pay £3 for the ride since I brought the pass the other day! Grabbed a noodle soup with gyozas which was perfect for the rainy weather.
22:00: Ended up having a really productive workday, and enjoyed seeing my friend for lunch. I love daytime activities, because I feel like they tend to be a bit cheaper and also much better for catching up with friends in a more meaningful way. Travel for the day: £4.65
11:00: Had a lie in today, as my flat is hosting a housewarming. I’m really excited as it means I get to see all my friends from the comfort of my own home! Living with four people has really been a game changer for my mental health. I previously lived with just one other person and have found having the constant presence and support of more people has been so lovely. It has also brought bills down for events like these as we split costs.
15:00: My only real shopping today was party stuff. We got crisps, beers, wine, and mixers – enough for about 40 people. My section of the costs came to £44.50.
10:00: We had such a successful night! Everyone was really happy and most importantly, no damage to the flat – always a great fact to wake up to. We had a flat breakfast and debrief with communal food left from the week, and then we cleaned up.
14:30: My partner is studying in another city, and I’m going to visit her to watch the fireworks. I booked my train ticket in advance for just £21. I definitely should book in advance more often but I’m too forgetful and hate making plans too far in advance.
14:40: Got a snack from Greggs to get me through the train for £2.25.
19:00: We went to watch the fireworks and my partner got us some nice snacks from the event grounds. It was a lovely evening, but rain meant we went home early, and watched our first Christmas movie. Am feeling so excited for the festivities, but a little anxious about affording it all.
09:00: We woke up and went to watch a Hockey match. My partner drives so no travel costs or planning for me today. It was fun to watch, and I managed to get some work done too during the breaks. I grabbed hot drinks for everyone which came to £8.05.
15:00: We drove to the countryside after the match. We got lunch but my partner paid for both. We tend to not track spending but try to take it in turns for who pays. If one of us is struggling a bit with money, the other will pay more often. It's not an exact science but it works for us.
20:00: Stopped to grab eggs and bread for the morning on the way home.
Total weekly expenditure: £478.23
Budgeting tips for Meg: