University is about slumming it, or so we’re led to believe. Watch any sitcom about students and you’ll see a bunch of people sat around in their pjs, eating cereal straight out of the box all while trying to stay clear of hitting the bottom of their overdraft. In my first year I was desperate not to end up destitute, so I did the sensible thing and tried to save money. I looked for the deals in ASDA, I said no to meals out and if I bought someone a drink I’d chase them for the £3.62 they owed me, no matter how long it took me. I didn’t touch my overdraft, but was I really having fun? No.
So I resolved, when heading into my second year, to try something new; a term without budgeting. I’d taken a well-paid summer job, so I had reasonable amounts of savings to fall back on. Moving to the centre of town gave me a host of restaurants and bars to explore, as well as the cinema about 100 metres from my house. Essentially, I wanted to have fun first, and face the consequences later. Looking back on my term of carefree spending, I don’t regret it, but it was an experience I probably won’t repeat.
Firstly, I learned that not budgeting means you can justify doing an awful lot of fun things. Like the 72% of Millennials that prefer experiences to material goods, I’d rather spend my money on quality time with people rather than a new pair of jeans. While last year I was hesitant to even grab a coffee with someone in case it dragged me over my weekly budget, this year I went out for meals and took trips to the cinema pretty regularly. Being more relaxed about money made me a more sociable, and infinitely a more happy person.
What struck me is the extent to which my friendships improved just by not actively worrying about money. Now that may sound obvious, being the friend who says yes at every opportunity to socialise and is willing to buy rounds on a night out is going to ensure people are drawn to you, but more importantly people liked that I was carefree. Whereas before I’d be insistent on people paying me back for things straight away, having a more informal “my shout this time, yours the next” sort of agreement had a noticeable effect on how my friendships improved, and it felt nice treating my friends, just as it felt great when they did stuff for me.
However, just because I was not budgeting didn’t mean that I didn’t take precautions with money. When I say I treated myself, I mean I allowed myself a meal out here, an extra night out there, one day I even went rogue and bought some food in M&S. I didn’t start investing in Bitcoin, booking holidays abroad or hiring a cleaner for my house. I was still very much a student who was aware that their student loan was not n limitless fund designated for nice food and Netflix subscriptions. In fact, probably the greatest sacrifice I made was not going home at all over term, knowing that a week at home would not be cost effective.
The disadvantages of my budget free approach hit me when I got home for Christmas. Obviously I’d been checking in on my bank balance throughout the term, but never really thought about the logistics of how long this money would have to last. When over Christmas I realised that I would have to buy presents, stump up for a hefty unexpected letting agents fee and buy books for next term all while trying to balance socialising at home, I became aware that my plan had backfired. The nonchalance that I’d held at uni meant that I had to be stingy at home, turning down plans and refusing the sort of fun I was having while studying. It didn’t feel great, and somewhat marred my enjoyment of being home, because I was more focused on when my student loan would arrive than seeing old friends and family.
If my term of carefree spending taught me anything, it’s that budgeting is essential, even if you don’t always uphold your budget down to the last pence. In all honesty, not being strict with my money made me feel somewhat out of touch with reality, and being at home with almost no financial resources was unenviable. However, I’m glad I did go a term without budgeting, not just to teach myself the value of money but the value of experiences. My social life was superb, and I was by far the happiest I’ve been at university. So, when I do start budgeting for next term, I’m going to make sacrifices elsewhere to ensure that I can still factor experiences into my student life, because what’s the point of a degree if you aren’t having fun too?