Budgeting as a mature student isn’t easy. A mature student nurse, to boot. While your average fresher gets a nice chunk of student loan dropped into their account three times a year (not to mention probably a little help from the bank of mum and dad, even if that’s just not paying rent), all current student nurses have to get by on just a maintenance loan and a teensy bursary from the NHS. Mine doesn’t even cover half my rent.
‘But Laura, there’s always part time work’, I hear you say! ‘Get a job in a bar!’ Yeah great, except I’ve got to balance that somehow with 37.5 hours a week minimum in full-time study and placement. As well as sleep, seeing family and having some semblance of an enjoyable life.
So, as we sit here with a meagre £15 in the bank account wondering if cat meat is all it’s cracked up to be, David and I are furiously figuring out our finances. With a house move planned which will shave £300 off our rental costs alone, it’s time to crack open the beans and bulk buy pasta.
It’ll all be worth it in the end (I hope). But until then here are a few ways nursing students generally make ends meet.
I make a few pennies by blogging, which is such a help and funds things like parking (£120 a month at a minimum) and travel costs. But some students will join their local hospital’s bank office. This has nothing to do with finance. Each care home, private hospital or NHS institution will have bank workers, who cover shifts when they’re low. We can’t join as nurses yet, but we can join as an HCA, health care assistant. It doesn’t pay much unless you work Sundays and nights, but it’s still something.
For some first-year students, though, this isn’t an option as bank offices have strict requirements on experience levels.
Zero hour contracts
So, then there’s the dreaded zero hour contract. Ideally, it’s helpful to try and bag a job where you can top up your income with tips. But here, unlike our crazy friends across the pond, there is no tipping culture so it’s usually not expected unless you’re a food server/waitress/barman. Voucherbox published the results of a survey on what makes people tip and, while a lot of it is fairly obvious stuff (they stress the importance of servers having showered, just in case you weren’t planning on it), 23% of people said they’d tip higher for a nice smile.
It’s not always easy to look cheery when your head is in a whirl with reflective essays and skills management, as well as medication calculation and bioscience, and doubly especially if you’re shattered from studying, but a higher tip is a pretty good incentive to literally grin and bear it.
Student discounts FTW
Probably the most important thing, though, is taking advantage of that coveted student status. Just because you’ve been legally allowed to drive for a few decades doesn’t mean mature students miss out. I’d seriously recommend shelling out the extra cash for an NUS extra card. This will help students bag discounts at a wide range of places, from Microsoft to Missguided.
If that doesn’t seem worth it, though, just whipping out your regular student card is enough to get you a little money off in High Street stores. They’re unlikely to remind you of the existence of these discounts, especially if you’re a little older than the average student, so if you look on the internet you might be surprised by how many deals you’ve been missing out on.
Council tax discounts
In a similar vein, don’t forget that we qualify for 25% off council tax. It applies even if you’re the only student in the property – essentially you’re considered a dependent. Just be sure to speak to your university’s accommodation team so they can provide a letter confirming your student status, and get your council team to backdate it where possible.
If pennies really get tight, though, maybe skip High Street supermarkets altogether and head to your local market and independent shops. We’re so used to standardised shopping now we forget that lots of sellers are actually willing to compromise on price, provided you can haggle them down. For some, haggling comes easy. However, if you’re less confident, there are loads of articles with tips on how to negotiate prices: MoneySavingExpert even revealed haggle-friendly High Street stores. Worth a try, right?
As a student nurse, finances will always be tight. Even if some people might think ‘you get paid to study.’ But it is possible to make it a little easier for yourself.
You Need A Budget
For my final tip, might be a bit obvious, don’t downplay the importance of a pen and paper budget. (Here’s a great how-to guide – from *gulp* Mumsnet of all places.) It might be tedious but at least you’re less likely to be kicking yourself just before payday in future. Ensure every pound from your bursary is allocated to its own job, like rent, food, or fun.
Budgeting software such as YNAB might help as you can track everything as and when you buy it.
Now, about that cat meat…