Sunday, October 26, 2008

Of living on a student budget

Toothpaste For Dinner
Image courtesy
toothpastefordinner.com


It's a hard life, being an international student. Cheesy but true. And if one didn't expect that to be so, the person doesn't deserve to be an international student in the first place.

After eight years of financial independence, my student life has been quite an eye-opener. All of a sudden, I find myself wondering about the cost of each meal. I hunt fervently for the local brands at super markets and am practically married to the 'reduced for clearance' aisle.

My homepage is thisismoney.co.uk . In our halls, we often have long and drawn out debates on how far we stretched the pound. Any one item that costs more than a buck is taboo. Social dos are practically non-existent.

If food is free, then it's got to be me! We have free dinners occassionally for some get-togethers sponsored by the university and those are the only sessions where people in come early. If an outsider saw the scramble for food, he would think it was a soup shelter rather than students at a top business school. Thankfully, the events are mostly attended by alumni who've been there before so they just look the other way.

This one year is somewhat of a penance for me; it demands extreme discipline and self-control. It hurts to see pretty things that I cannot buy. While I scrimp for penny savings, I know why and hopefully until when. Being on a student loan and eating into my family's savings makes me extremely guilty while spending on what I don't really need.

Some other students feel the opposite. A classmate spends close to 50 GBP every week on food (I spend 5-6). She lives in a separately rented flat ( finds it too hard to share bathrooms in a uni accommodation) and uses her mobile phone to make calls that are normally free from public telephones. There is another guy who will eat nothing but his native food and will spend anything to get it. And the best of all is the one who openly proclaims that his own company has a chartered jet (we all doubt it - the so-called company has no website).

I watched this video today that talked about how international students in Sydney are so hard up that they are 40% below the poverty line. It is ironic that people who are in pursuit of skills that help them to contribute to the wellbeing of society have to live in such pitiful situations; they are more worried about paying the bills than they are about studying. So much so that the university is giving the really poor ones free food.

Personally, I think money management is all about being savvy. It is possible to live on a spartan budget if one knows where to look. Most stores have food or other FMCGs on sale all the time. It might take extra effort to compare prices and find the best deal, but as the local supermarket chain so aptly says 'every little helps'.

In my penny budget, here's what an average day's meal costs.
Breakfast
Cereal : 10p
Milk : 10p

Lunch
Pasta : 4p
Sauce, veggies, spices : 20p
Chocolate Mousse (1 small tub) : 7p
Coffee : 10p

Dinner
Noodles/Baked beans/toast with peanut butter : 20p
Fruit: 15p

Overall: 94p.
(All these foods are perfectly yummy, healthy, unspoilt, of good quality and nowhere close to the expiry date.)

The official definition of poverty line is 'an expense of less than 1 GBP a day on food'. Whoever created that definition doesn't know squat about how far a pound can go.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Of being grumpy

Not feeling so positive today.

The real classes have started and they are much more difficult than I anticipated. My fault.

After a week-long lecture session, our prof (who has authored the book we're supposed to be studying) has given us an assignment so freaking complicated that I can't figure out what the hell to do. My fault.

The above assignment is to be submitted groupwise. I am in a group of five with three other Indians and an African - out of which one of the Indian guys is serious about doing this well. The others are freeloading. Not my fault.

The British - or Scottish (or whatever) banking system sucks big time. Banks open from 10 AM to 4:45 PM Monday to Friday. Most of them shut shop on Saturday. You need to check their website to see if they're open. If you finally find one that is open and if you go there on Saturday (like I did today after walking a couple of miles in a blizzard - read below), you have to 'please take a seat' and 'someone will be with you shortly' in a couple of hours. My flatmate went to Barclays Bank the other day to open an account and after waiting for an hour, she was asked to 'please book an appointment for tomorrow to see a personal banker who can assist you with your account opening process'. To heal the wound, she was promised that 'you'll need no waiting tomorrow' only another 30 mins after she got there to open a simple savings account. System fault.

The weather is a sucker. The freaking blizzard totally messed up my umbrella - the wind just bent the metal rods and broke them with the ease of snapping a dry twig as if mocking me while I looked on helplessly. Soon after, it almost threw me over the pavement and right on to a shocked Scotsman. Not my fault at all.

Overall, depressed. This whole thing is , well, interesting. Or maybe it's just this dull weather. Like our British teacher says, 'Oh bother!'