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Financial hints and tips for freshers

Bank CardA reader has requested that I do a piece giving hints and tips for those about to go to university. It’s an interesting request, because in 2004, one of the big online portals was commissioning a set of articles around a similar theme, and I wrote an application piece giving financial hints and tips to freshers to try and get the commission. I didn’t get the job.

I came across the piece I wrote for the application a few weeks ago, though, and thought that if I was applying for the job now, I’d naturally post this kind of thing on the blog if it was rejected. So, I’ve dug it up… And with only the tiniest bit of editing, here it is.


Financial hints and tips for freshers

My first year proved to be an intensive learning experience for me in many ways not least in a financial sense. Since I never really listen to other’s advice, it seems a little hypocritical for me to be relating the lessons I’ve learned, but then if someone else can learn from my mistakes, I suppose it might be useful. So here are my tips for making your loan stretch that little bit further in the first year…

Don’t buy every book on the reading list
I didn’t go quite as far as buying every book, but I was really excited when I started my course, and so bought lots of books that I thought would be useful – some of which I’ve never looked at again. Even the books people tell you are ‘essential’ often turn out to be rubbish. Not only was this a complete waste of money, it’s a right pain having to move so many books when it comes to the end of term.

Get a savings account
When you’re a student, ‘saving’ seems something of a foreign concept. But if you’re like me, then getting a big loan payment makes you think that you’re rich, so you go out and spend… and then have no money left by the end of term for luxuries like food. So my advice is to put the loan payment into a savings account, so that when you check your balance it isn’t there. And when you do come to spend it, you have to actually think about it. It helps a bit with budgeting.

Don’t buy loads of equipment
Ask people what they think is important, and what you really don’t need. When I started, I was sent a list of all sorts of things that I really needed to buy, from special gloves to marker pens to safety goggles. All I really needed was a couple of labcoats. And remember that a lot of what you do need can be bought through the Student Union, which will save you a fair bit.

Get a refund on your TV Licence
If you buy your TV Licence when you arrive at uni (and not before), you might find that you have three complete months over the summer when you won’t need one – so you can get a refund for this part. Don’t do what I did – I completely forgot about applying for a refund, so I ended up paying to use a TV over the summer when I wasn’t even using the room.

Get internet banking
Internet banking provides an incredibly convenient way to check on your finances, and move money about – especially if you also have a savings account (see above). If nothing else, you’ll be the first to know when the student loans have been credited to your account, which is always good news.

Pay bills as soon as you get them
A couple of times in first year, I had bills and just thought that I’d pay them when I was next in town. Then I lost them. I didn’t quite manage to get myself a late-payment charge, but I was close. With things like accommodation charges, they often come just when you get your loan payment through. By paying them straight away, you have plenty of money to pay them with and absolutely no chance of losing them!

Avoid fines
This might seem an obvious point, but particularly if you’re in self-catering halls, you can get fined for all sorts, from making too much noise, to not emptying kitchen bins, to accidentally setting off the fire alarm. The individual fines don’t seem like much, but with those as well as library fines, it can all add up pretty quickly.

Get friendly with someone who drives
This may seem a little exploitative, but you can save a fortune on taxi fares.

Get a decent bank account
I opened my account with the bank with the best freebie. Unfortunately, it would only give me a tiny overdraft, and was generally unhelpful. After a few weeks, I ended up closing the account and opening another at a different bank – a lot of unnecessary fuss. Make sure, though, that your account has a big overdraft, as this can often come in handy for paying big bills just before your loan payment comes through.

Don’t be too stingy…
Most of the stories you hear about penniless students are exaggerated. It’s not too difficult to manage your money, as long as you’re careful. And everyone’s in the same boat, so it’s no excuse for being stingy…


I’m planning on posting some more on this subject later this week, more practical stuff hopefully, and maybe even a little bit of advice of being homesick and that sort of stuff. It might be shiny and new, or it might be an edited rehash of something else I think I might have lying about somewhere. I haven’t decided yet. But if this sort of stuff applies to you, stick around.

This 1,208th post was filed under: University, Writing Elsewhere.

Good luck to A-Level students

I wish everyone who is receiving A-Level results today the very best of luck. However it turns out, don’t let anyone belittle your achievement – the media pump out ridiculous lies about the exams every year, and every year I get annoyed. Congratulations to those who get good news. Those who didn’t do as well as expected shouldn’t get too disheartened – after all, you tried your best – but you may find the Guardian’s clearing site useful, as it’s chock full of useful info and will have a live adviser to answer questions later this morning.

On another topic entirely, I’ve not been great at posting this month. Sorry about that. I’ve been in Canada for two months, and thought I did quite well on keeping up the blog – for the first six weeks… I’m back now, so normal service will resume shortly. 🙂

This 1,196th post was filed under: News and Comment, Notes, University.

Why won’t Newcastle smile? The Results

On Tuesday, a friend and I were stuck in Newcastle, and were rather bored.  Having been to get some lunch, and having whacked seemingly thousands of moles on Holey Moley on the nearest iPlus Point, we decided to conduct a highly unscientific experiment. 

Over the course of a couple of weeks, we’d noticed that people on the Tyne and Wear Metro look, almost without exception, unhappy.  We determined to walk through the city smiling at people, to see how many would smile back.  After about two-and-a-half hours of experimentation, we had counted five smiles.  And some of those were questionable.

So: Why don’t the people of Newcastle smile?

It could, of course, be that two people suddenly smiling at you whilst walking along is more than a little unnerving, but that’s a boring explanation, and I want to think a little deeper.  It sounds a perfect challenge for the people of the interweb – and where better to challenge them than the all-new Yahoo Answers?

Expect an update in three days’ time (I’ll bump the post up, too).

The Results: 17th September 2006
The definitive answer, according to the Yahoo community, is

Sorry, which Newcastle Upon Tyne is this then?? It is a far cry from the Newcastle that I love!! The people there are lovely and have a fab sense of humour. I work in Longbenton, Newcastle Upon Tyne and I love my job to bits!!! Maybe they sensed that you and your friend didn’t like their beloved City!!!

That’s a little unfortunate, becuase it implies I don’t like Newcastle which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a great city, with great people, and that’s why I was surprised enough to make the post in the first place. But hey ho.

Other notable contributions included these gems:

Because they are always drunk on Newcastle Beer.

They are depressed and you would be too if you had to live there.

Take a look in the mirror. I have never found this.

Don’t ever conduct your survey were I live they would probably thump you first then ask you why you smiled next

It’s called stress, anxiety, and all the other things that make up life in 21st century England, its wiped the smile off our faces.

Coz you should be in the Aussie Newcastle. Even with their problems with unemployment and what not, they still have a great football team (rugby league) and one of the prettiest women ever to win a beauty pagent (Jennifer Hawkins Miss Universe 2004).

Lots of food for thought, and most of all lots of fun.

Thanks to all who contributed.

This 966th post was filed under: Headliner, University.

Dr Crippen’s career advice

The day before my fourth year begins, here’s some less than inspirational, but still highly recommended reading from GP blogger, Dr John Crippen: Should Sammy go to medical school?  The comments are well worth flicking through, too.

This 954th post was filed under: Health, University.

Hospital parking “a mess”? Tell me about it!

Not an NHS car park.A health select committee report out today says that the current system of NHS charges should be revamped. They’re talking about phone costs, eye tests, prescriptions, dental care, and – crucially – car park charges.

The current proposal is that people who have to attend hospital daily for treatment should get free parking. Not wanting to sound selfish here, I have to ask: What about me?

I’m a medical student. I go to the hospital every day, pay over £1,000 per year for the privelege, and often spent late nights there effectively working for the hospital for free. And yet I have to pay over £2 per day for car parking charges. Over the course of the last few months, that’s £343.20*.

Now, it might be argued that, hey, I’m young and fit, I can park away from the hospital car park. Well, no, not really, because not only does that drive local residents absolutely mad, and it’s potentially dangerous to go walking round these very quiet, poorly lit areas at 10pm.

*In fact it isn’t, because I don’t park there. Understandably.

This 904th post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, University.

Final result

Just a bit of closure. It’s important that you pronounce ‘closure’ in a psuedo-psyhiatrist voice with some accompanying hand motion when you read that. Go back and do it.

The good news is that I got ‘satisfactory’ grades in all three strands, which is most satisfactory as my final grades from Durham. So after today’s end-of-year ceremony, I now have the whole summer off before starting up with the University of Newcastle for ‘Phase II’ of the course at the end of August. Time for a rest, I think.

This 632nd post was filed under: Exams, University.

Viva Day

It’s another of those slightly incongruous bits of personal news that slip in here from time to time… Much like last year, my recent exams have not culminated in me having to attend a viva. That’s good news, which fell into my inbox a little under an hour ago. Talk about fresh, breaking news. Yippee.

This 616th post was filed under: Exams, University.

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