Wednesday, 29 June 2016

How I improved my budgeting skills at university

A huge part of university life is budgeting your own money. I remember getting my first lump sum of my student loan and thinking “Jackpot!” And then I realised that I had to make it last for the next 3 – 4 months and then thinking “… well never mind…

I’ve decided to write about my student budgeting experiences over my last three years in Southampton in the hopes that it might help Life at Southampton readers, prospective undergraduate students and those continuing their courses. I have my proud moments, such as getting a part-time job to help with costs of living and saving some cash. I also have things I wish I did differently, like ordering fewer takeaways! But nonetheless, budgeting is a learning experience.

I am happy to say that I am leaving university much better at managing my money than before.

First Year 

Rent and Bills 

Rent was my biggest expenditure of the whole year. It was taken out in instalments that cover each university term through a recurring card payment. Of course, it wasn’t great seeing my bank balance effectively dwindle when payments were due but there were perks to this. I always knew exactly when the money would be coming out of my account. This was my first test of responsibility. If you take note of payment dates and make the most of the chance of foresight you are given, you will do just well budgeting for rent in first year.

On the other hand, bills such as water, gas, electricity and internet were all included when living in halls. As a student, I didn’t have to pay for Council Tax. This applies to most full-time students – just remember to allow the University to share your details with Southampton Council so they know not to charge you for tax. Don’t worry if you forget to tick the box that says 'share my information' on your student records page. You are able to amend this, however it is always better to let the council know about your status as soon as possible to prevent any charges from incurring.

My other expenses also included my monthly phone bill and my cherished music and movies subscription. I had a wall calendar which marked when payments were outgoing for these just so I could keep track of when money was leaving my account. I opted for the cheapest phone plan with my service provider. The University of Southampton provides free wi-fi on campus and in halls. This meant I really didn’t need a large quota of minutes as I was able to use WhatsApp to call and text friends.

Moving into my room at Connaught Halls 



Living in Connaught Halls in Wessex Lane had many perks. Connaught is part catered,Two meals per day were included in my rent so it was super easy to budget for this expenditure. Meals included breakfast and we had the option of lunch or dinner. There was a good array of meals to choose from in catered halls – we were able to have the option of cereals, fruits, pastries or a fry up! A good money saving tip if you’re about to enter catered halls is to take what you can’t finish back to your kitchen so you have some extra fruit or pastries lying around if you wanted a snack. Another good thing about catered halls is that I was able to have my second meal as lunch on campus or dinner at the Connaught Dining Hall. This was especially useful if I knew I wasn’t going to be back in time for dinner service.

Connaught Christmas dinner with hall mates. I later moved in with this lot! 


Living in halls meant a free Academic Year bus pass with Unilink. The bus routes go around the city and everyone can use the service – students, staff and locals! I absolutely love the Unilink service – buses typically come every 10 minutes or less and are well connected to other routes provided by other transport companies. What’s more, the Unilink office is located on Highfield campus, so if ever there is an issue with your bus pass or if you want to top it up, you may visit their office above the Union Shop and you’re good to go! The transport system back home in Surrey does not even compare to the one here in Southampton. The frequency and the reliability of services here really do make travelling around the city incredibly easy.

In addition, my undergraduate bank account came with a complimentary 16-25 Railcard, so I saved 1/3 off train tickets whenever I travelled back home.

Course materials

When I looked at the reading list for my course I was initially shocked. Was I to buy every single book from this list?!

Nope. Absolutely 100% not.

In my course, BSc Politics and International Relations, the reading list is there as a guide to which books or authors are relevant to your module topics. We were not expected to buy and read every single book on there. Core readings are important, but most of them are made accessible by course convenors online via WebCat or Delphis for free! As a tip, I would say don’t buy the all of the books on the reading list before the start of uni. Wait until the first week is over and then decide which you need to buy and which you can borrow from the library.

I did purchase some books because I found it helpful to write annotations on pages. However, I saved a LOT of money by buying second hand or previous editions online as opposed to buying new at the shop. I was always able to borrow the newest editions from the library or from my course mates if I needed access to the added content. Most of the money I spent on course materials went to stationary. ‘Cuz you know, you gotta have those colourful highlighters…

Just some of my course textbooks. Many of these were borrowed from the library.

Clothes and toiletries

I don’t really spend much on clothes and toiletries but I do treat myself to a shop once every three months. Even then I only typically buy one garment. I spend more money on makeup than I do on toiletries but, again, this is only on rare occasions when I am running out. One of the best things about being a student, though? Student discounts of course! Take advantage of student discount shops online or get some of your money back by going through cashback websites.

If you’re someone who likes to shop, be wary of giant shopping trips when student loans come through. If you do go out shopping, go out with a budget in mind and pay with cash so you can actually see the money leave your hands, thereby preventing you from overspending.

Fun, entertainment and miscellaneous

Now this what I spent a lot on in first year. Like many other students, going out was an integral part of my life as a Fresher. I allotted a £150 for going out during Freshers' Week which was more than enough. Throughout the year, a lot of my money went on taxis home. To some, this may have been a waste of money but investing on getting home safely was something I was prepared to put cash towards. Southampton has a ‘student night’ for every night of the week which gives drinks deals and cheaper entry so I saved money by making the most of this.

As a money saving tip, I found it a good idea to take cash on nights out and leave my card at home. This prevented overspending and lost property! Although I didn’t always do this, I definitely found myself spending a lot less without my debit card! If you do find yourself with no cash for the ride home, Union Southampton has a Student Taxi Scheme with Radio Taxis which allow you to pay your fare later at the Box Office. Just hand the Taxi driver your Student ID card.

Second and Third Year

I’m going to be comparing Second and Third year together as my living circumstances were essentially similar. I’d like to think I got better with money after my stint as a Fresher and that I had mastered it in the last year of Uni. Looking back on it now, I have some incredibly proud moments and some that I could have done differently.

Rent and Bills

Naturally, second and third year lent me more responsibilities. This time, rent was taken out monthly and I did have to pay bills separately, as I had moved out of halls. I had a recurring payment to my landlord so the money was taken out automatically at the start of the month. On the other hand, bills included water, gas and electricity. I paid £30 per month to a house account with the rest of my housemates and our bills were paid through it. I opted for the money to be automatically taken out too. This gave my housemate, whose name holds the account, some relief knowing that my share would always be there when payment is due.

I kept my phone bill and my music and films subscriptions.

My Third Year house



My part-time job which I had since first year was what I used to pay for my weekly food shopping. Part-time work whilst studying was a necessity for me. You might be concerned about the effect this will have on your studies and this is something that you need to monitor carefully, however I found that part-time work helped me get through my degree. I worked from 6 to sometimes 10 hours per week at the average rate for a 21-year-old.

Your student loan is not affected by any part-time employment, and working for just 10 hours a week at £5.50 will provide nearly a third of the income from a full student loan. There are plenty of part-time work options in the city and even on campus.


Moving out of halls meant I had to say goodbye to a complimentary bus pass. I was able to save up some money whilst working more hours during the summers before second and third years so I bought Academic Year passes. I travel around the city often – sometimes twice a day – so I thought it was worth investing in.

Course materials

Once again, it wasn’t necessary for me to splurge on books. I saved some money by buying second hand again. Still, by the end of third year I had a LOT of books. I made some of my money back by selling my books on Facebook. I also sold some to John Smith’s bookstore on campus as they buy back the latest editions of core books.

Fun, entertainment and miscellaneous

During second year, I found myself opting for entertainment offered by the University. Prices at Union Films (our on-campus cinema), for example, are at least a third cheaper than regular tickets. Union Southampton also offers other means of fun such as lunch deals at The Bridge and drinks deals at The Stags. I still enjoyed the occasional night out but I found myself going out less and opting to spend my money on food and a pint!

I also had some money to buy a gym membership. Finally buying a gym membership turned out to be the best decisionSport and Wellbeing membership allows you access to all of the University’s many sports complexes as well as fitness classes, outdoor courts, swimming pools and many more all for £155 per year for students. Super cheap – plus, who doesn’t benefit from a gym break during revision? It’s great for your brain as well as your body.

So there we go: my university budgeting experience. The last three years have been challenging with money but with some advice from friends, family and a little bit of research and a ton of sensible judgements, living as a student is really not all toast and bake beans. I realised that with less self-indulgence, I was able to live comfortably.

If you have any tips on student budgeting, why not leave them below? If you need someone to talk to about budgeting here at Southampton there is plenty of ways to get some financial advice. You can always speak to a financial advisor from Student Services or from the Union's Advice Centre.

Happy budgeting!


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Some final thoughts

So, this is my last blog post, which I'm writing sat on the UniLink bus on my way to the train station. Today is the ONS conference 'Transforming the census: 2021 and beyond', held at the Winchester business school.

I've been looking forward to this conference for ages because it's being organised by the department that I will be joining in October, so I'm hoping that it will give me an insight into the work that they do and ideas for what I might be doing for them!

Four years ago I would never have had the confidence to sign up for a conference on my own, and I still wouldn't be going if not for the University of Southampton. My four years here has seen my personality grow in leaps and bounds.

Whilst I'm still not convinced that I know 'how to adult', I'm really excited for the future. Having spent the past 20 years in education, I'm a little afraid because it's really the only thing I've ever known, but then I remember everything else I've done that I never could have seen myself doing before I came to uni, and I know I'm more prepared than I believe.

However I am very glad that I'm not leaving Southampton - and not even the University really, since the ONS is only up the road in Titchfield and works closely with the University and my department, so I hope to still see many of the lecturers and undergraduate students that I know.

Since this is my last chance to do this publicly, I would like to thank all of the wonderful staff at the University who have helped me, taught me how to think and how to question and made my time here absolutely wonderful. Without their hard work, I would not be in the position that I am today and I am extremely grateful to them for that.

Finally thank you to the team at Life at Southampton for adding something extra to enjoy in my final year!

And because I can't resist, some photos from my last few days in Rome....

The Duomo and Basilica in Florence looking beautiful in the setting sun

The Colosseum, ever impressive

Ruins, but what ruins! 


Monday, 27 June 2016

So long (and thanks for all the fun)

So here it is, my final ever post for this here blog, as my own Life at Southampton comes to a sad, but hopeful end.

As of this week, I’ll no longer be a Hampshire resident, and as of 14th July, I’ll be a fully-fledged graduate of the University of Southampton. Scary, yet encouraging stuff.

I started my time here in September 2013, and over the past three years I’ve encountered a lot, and all supposedly for a shiny piece of paper and the ability to put a few extra letters at the end of my name.
Well, that’s what a lot of people see a degree as anyway, but weirdly enough, not me. Not anymore.

Going to University just feels like the next logical step for a lot of people, especially those who find themselves powered by education and academia from a young age. It’s only when you get here that you realise that it’s so much more than simply just another qualification.

There’s a fairly standard psychological understanding amongst a great deal of the general public (which may be in actuality, very wrong, so apologies in advance if it is) that as a human being, you learn and experience more new things in the first five years of your life than you do over the entirety of the rest of it. In the grand scheme of adult life, university is essentially this early learning period.

Freshers week era Ben, pre-beard and so full of energy. A lot has changed!

When first moving in to Montefiore halls in Freshers week 2013, I barely knew how to cook, clean or even simply just manage my own time. Within weeks I was quite the opposite. Within months I was even, dare I say it, more comfortable in my new life than my old one. Now I can very happily state that within years, it’s been the biggest positive change in my life to date.

It wasn’t just about waking up every morning and doing the bare minimum either. Once you have basic survival down (usually in a matter of hours/days), life at university becomes just as much about embracing every opportunity given to you. It’s a hotbed of activity, and your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to ride every wave possible.

In the last three years I’ve had articles published online and in print magazines for several different publications. I’ve launched original TV and radio shows alongside friends. I’ve made films, interviewed Hollywood superstars, created my very own annual student film festival and even managed to spend a week standing in the background whilst some insanely talented and important people shot scenes for the latest Mission: Impossible.

That’s not forgetting the crazy-amount of lifelong friendships I’ve formed whilst studying here, or the First Class Honours degree I’ll be walking away with either.

My heartfelt farewell to Avenue Campus was soewhat obscured by scaffolding, but I guess the sentiment remains

My life at Southampton has been irreplaceable, and I honestly couldn’t imagine a better way to spend three years. Obviously though, as I feel that I must point out in almost every single one of these blog posts; this won’t be the same for everybody.

Over the past year I’ve enjoyed sharing my university experiences with each and every one of you. Blogging has kept me sane during deadlines and helped to put a whole bunch of big-picture things into perspective, but I am fully aware that I am just one person, leading one particular path.

To quote a very famous wizard from a very famous trilogy, ‘All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you”. If you’re an explorer, explore. If you’re not, you really don’t have to. University is one of the first times you can really just embrace your personality: just be you, whoever that might be.

A degree is not just a piece of paper, it’s an induction into adult life, and it’s entirely what you make of it.

Now, before I start rambling on even more, I should probably just save us all a bit of hassle and be on my merry way. Southampton, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I guess it’s finally time to turn and face the strange.

So long, and thanks for all the fun.


Friday, 24 June 2016

Summer plans and exam results

I’m now back home in the country where the sun never sets. Norway is amazing and I love the long summer nights, but when it gets dark around midnight and light around 3am, it can get a bit confusing throughout the day.

Apart from that, I hope that my blog post about why it is so very important to vote and about the EU referendum made at least someone go out and do their civic duty yesterday. As I’m writing this blog post the results aren’t ready, but I’m extremely eager to find out.

Some other results that have recently been released are the results for semester two, which came out yesterday. I hope all continuing students here at is pleased with their results and do remember that if you’re not, it’s not the end of the world. You can read my fellow blogger Rylyn’s tips on how to cope with exam results anxiety.

Please, do always remember the great opportunities you have through the University to get help if you’re not happy with your results.

Personally, I’m quite happy with my results and I’m therefore very ready to enjoy my holiday!

 Hello, glorious Oslo Fjord.

There is not too much planned apart from a short trip to Denmark and my annual trip to Romania before I go back to England. At some point before any of my trips, I need to properly unpack all my suitcases from England. One would’ve thought that after living abroad for two years I’d know the best ways to pack and unpack quickly, but I don’t. I do, however, promise than when I learn the quickest way of unpacking I will share it on the blog, because currently it’s hard to see the floor in my room!

Apart from the desperate tidy my room needs, I’m excited to follow the Euros, read some good books, hopefully read something course related and catch up with friends in between all my trips. It has become the new normal for me to only properly see my friends from Oslo twice a year. It is mostly during summer we are all back home in Oslo for more than a week or a couple of days. As sad as it might be, it has at least made me appreciate not only my friends from home, but also my parents a lot more than before. People I saw on a daily basis have now become people I don’t see for months and months, so when I first see them I treasure every second of it.

If you are going to start university in September, you will soon understand what I mean and if you are at university already, I’m sure you can already relate!

In these glorious months of holiday that are in front of us, I will continue blogging on Life at Southampton and I would appreciate any suggestions on what you would like to read about – so comment with your suggestions below!


Thursday, 23 June 2016

Staying healthy on campus: the University Health Service

I was recently taking a stroll around campus after picking up my dissertation script and came across the University Health Services building (Building 48). I personally have never been in the surgery before as I have always been registered elsewhere but I have wondered about what it offered students. It turns out that having this little building within minutes away from the general student body is incredibly useful!

The practice is part of the NHS but its location means it has also become an integral part of the student environment. You don’t need to be a student, although you do need to be living within its catchment area before you are able to register yourself. It certainly is convenient for students, staff and locals alike.

Based on the Highfield Campus, you will be able to find it just in between the Murray building (Building 58) and the Physics building (Building 46).

The surgery on campus

Services and support available

The Travel Clinic

As summer is approaching many of us may be travelling to distant and tropical areas of the world. If you need travel advice and vaccination, the practice is able to give you some help. It is worth noting, however, that some vaccines are not provided by the NHS so be wary of the extra costs that may come up. Simply go to their website, fill in a travel clinic form and drop it off at reception. Alternatively, you may be able to pick up a form on reception itself.

Anxiety, Depression, Stress or Worries

Although the practice does not have specific services for counselling or therapy, they are able to give you some advice on who you may be able to chat to within the University and around Southampton city. In addition, as well as being able to chat to the nurses in the surgery itself, students can speak to trained staff from the University’s counselling service. Just contact Enabling Services to arrange an appointment or you can drop in during the week. They also have plenty of information about mental health and wellbeing.

Sexual Health Service and Advice

The practice encourages safe sex so they are able to offer advice if you need it. They may provide you with some methods of contraception for free.

Minor Surgery

Have you ever been worried about that mole that’s mysteriously changed shape recently? The practice’s doctors can have a look and, if need be, are able to surgically remove or treat by cryotherapy a variety of skin lesions, such as warts, verrucae, moles, skin tags, abscesses, ingrown toenails, and cysts. Just take a leaflet from reception first and read up on the operation so you have more understanding of what will be involved.

Special consideration reports and sick notes

The University Health Service may be able to provide you a sick note, letter or a medical report if you meet their specific criteria.

It is fantastic to know that these services are on campus and is just minutes away when you need them. What’s more, rather than simply going to accident and emergency options like the health service on campus may relieve busy hospitals. Not only may they be able to provide the service themselves but they can refer you to someone who may be in a better position to help you out.

It is not just the University Health Service that provides physical and mental well-being support for students and staff. The Student Services Centre (Building 37) also provide a wide range of help and support too.

A-Level results come out in August, so if you are going to be a student starting in September at the University of Southampton, make sure that registering yourself at your local GP is one of the first things that you do.

Stay healthy!


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Celebrating abroad: results in Budapest

With results flooding straight into our email inboxes this week, my friends and I thought it best that we were in the most comfortable place possible when we received them, so we flew off to sunny Budapest for a few days!

It might not be top of most people’s lists of places to visit, but the Hungarian capital is a total holiday haven for students for a whole number of reasons.

Artistically speaking, the buildings are positively gorgeous; a beautiful mixture of old-school Gothic architecture with waves of more modern influences. The classical thermal bath-houses are a definite must-see - a lot of them even have regular swimming pools now too.

For the Historians among us, the city has a super interesting background too; from the still firmly intact Buda Castle to the constant call-backs to the country’s former-Soviet past. Statues of all sorts of interesting figures from Hungarian war heroes to Ronald Reagan are dotted all around the city.

 Even our apartment building was just a joy to look at

I even have a personal connection to the place too, which felt stronger as I was wandering around the streets. My mum just so happens to have been born in Budapest, and she fled the city and the country as a young child during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, so it was fascinating to be able to see how far the city has come in all that time.

Not to mention that the wobbly currency makes everything insanely cheap. A fancy meal out set me back less than £10, including wine, whilst an evening out in one of the many awesomely-decorated ruin bars (exactly what you’d expect them to be) proved even less expensive than a night at our own dearest Jesters.

 Riding bikes around a city as gorgeous as Budapest is definitely a sure-fire way to stave off the nerves from results!

The cherry on the cake was, of course, being able to share such a beautiful city with my friends, and all of us receiving our final year results together whilst enjoying the sun was a definite highlight. Ultimately, everyone emerged super happy and pleased with what they achieved too, which was a total relief.

Returning to Southampton was somewhat bittersweet, very much missing the joys of such a glorious foreign land, but pleased to be back somewhere familiar, if only briefly.

My time here is very gradually coming to an end, with now barely even a week left to gather everything together before moving on.

I guess that makes it time to finally cross off the last few things from the Southampton bucket list then!


Monday, 20 June 2016

My mini Italian adventure

I'm writing this post sat outside a little restaurant on the banks of one of Venice's many canals. Two days ago our mini adventure began when we flew from Gatwick to Milan, where we stayed for one night before catching the train to Venice in the morning.

We decided to do a little bit of a whistle-stop tour of major Italian cities, rather than stay in one place for the week because neither I nor my partner have experienced much of Italy before, and we couldn't decide on just one place to go.

Tomorrow we will set off for Florence where we will stay for two nights and then finish our trip with three days in Rome.

Milan's very fancy train station

I am absolutely in love with the Italian railway system. The trains are beautifully comfortable and half the price of English trains, so they really are a cost effective way of travelling around the country. In hindsight, however, I would have opted for a student interrail pass, rather than buying the tickets at the station. When we originally looked at the prices, it seemed to work out about the same, but of course, we completely neglected the fact that the prices go up massively when you are buying tickets on the day. That said, it was still only €40 for the three-hour journey from Milan to Venice, and I think I would struggle to get the train from Southampton to Birmingham for that price!

Rialto bridge as seen from the bus!

The bus in Venice puts Unilink to shame! While it's quite a bit more costly than a Unilink return (€20 for the day), seeing Venice from the canals rather than walking around gives you an entirely different perspective, plus the ticket cost includes boats to Morano, which is around the same distance from the bus stop as the Isle of Wight from Southampton (and that trip alone would set you back £20)

Academia dome

The main method for keeping costs down this trip has been taking the time to choose the accommodation, to try and get the best price possible. In Venice, rather than staying on the island which would have cost upwards of £150 for two nights (?!) we are staying in a hostel on the mainland, which cost £49 for two people for two nights!

Of course, when you step down in price you lose some of the luxuries of hotels, such as insulation and soundproofing. We are staying in essentially a static caravan, however, it does have a private bathroom, a market on site and a pool, so on balance we made the right choice, but I wouldn't recommend it to light sleepers!

Travelling on a budget has been tricky. While we want to keep costs down, we don't want to let worrying about money spoil the trip and stop us doing things. We forwent a gondola ride (€80 for 35 minutes), or a water taxi (average €30 for a short city trip) in favour of getting the bus, but instead had dinner in a lovely restaurant and I treated myself to a Morano glass pen. James asked when I would ever use such a thing but I silenced him by pointing out that I thought it was beautiful, and that that was justification enough to buy it!

I can't wait to experience the artistic history of Florence and the majesty of Rome. I'm hoping that they live up to my imagination of them based on books and films.

For those of you travelling this summer, I hope you have a wonderful time and experience something worth writing home about!