Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know!’ Here we go again. My dad has just seen my bank statement for the last month and is screeching down the telephone about the value of a penny, and someday I will have to pay this student loan back, and when he was a student and am I still listening?
This phone call has become a monthly ritual since I started university, and this time the message is loud and clear: it’s time to tighten my belt, cut my losses and start saving. And re-route my bank statements so he can’t read them anymore. I’ve put myself on an extreme budget. I have £1 to spend for every day for the following 5 days. No excess, no extravagance, no waste. This week is going to be about the bare necessities and nothing more.
‘It’s impossible’, my friends argue. The idea has not been received very well. It fact, it was met with outright hostility. No more lunching at Alpha Bar, no more lashmonkeying around Camera, no more glorious Marks and Spencer’s sandwiches. I’m taking the moral high ground though. ‘If 1.1 billion people in the world can do it, then I can definitely do it.’ And I’m not even slumdogging that much – I still have my 100% Egyptian cotton bedsheets and my hot showers. Still, spending less than a pound a day altogether on food and fun is no cakewalk.
Armed with £5 cold hard cash, I enter Tesco. I load up my basket with all the stuff I would normally buy for the week – bread, milk, cereal, yogurt, M&Ms at 2 for £3, mangoes, apples, bananas and blueberries (for my 5-a-day), crisps, sushi because it’s on sale, beautiful creamy goat’s cheese.Only £20 over budget; no problem, I just need to whittle it down to the essentials.
The M&Ms are the first to go, then the sushi, crisps and the cheese. The cereal is too expensive, nor can I have milk. The mangoes and blueberries are too much of a treat, but most depressing is the choice between apples and bananas because I can’t afford both. The wholemeal soya and linseed bread is swapped for Tesco value, and I add some tomatoes and carrots to the cart from the clearance section.
On the way home, I steal sachets of salt, pepper and sugar from a coffee shop while trying to avoid eye contact with the judgemental-as-hell waitress.I carefully measure out rations of food for each day and try to hold out as long as I can before starting to make dinner. Despite a complete lack of intrigue, the rice and carrot combination is simple but satisfying. I can definitely live like this for a week.
Sugar cravings are skyrocketing and I’ve had free samples of fudge every couple of hours. I change my entire outfit every time for fear of being recognised and judged.It’s my friend’s birthday and the plan was to take advantage of the 2 for 1 offer on cocktails at the Blue Boar. Of course, this doesn’t apply to me. The drinks look amazing: cocktails in every shape and size, adorned with pieces of luxury tropical fruit.
My friends offer to buy me one but I don’t want to scrounge so I order a glass of water. Obviously I can’t go to the Bridge afterwards so I make an early exit.Back at college, I discover a welcome evening for the Freshers complete with free drinks. Excellent.. I sneak my way in past the JCR committee, justifying my presence to myself with the immeasurable contribution I’ve made to college life in the last two years. Hobnobbing with the cool-looking kids, I manage to swipe two glasses of slightly warm wine and even a few cold canapés. Well, beggars can’t be choosers and it did stop me minesweeping my way around Bridge.
Freshers’ fair! Having commandeered a shift, my plan is to carbo-load on the free Domino’s. I ingeniously use a fake name to avoid getting pizza-related emails for the rest of the term. I also decide to stock up on stationery and condoms, current food energy levels permitting, obviously. Damn those lost blueberries.
My total bounty consists of 4 pens, a USB stick, sweets, 1 balloon, a lanyard, 8 stickers, 2 key-rings, 2 beer mats, lube and a t-shirt. And if I eke a few days wearing the free t-shirt to the gym, then I’ll save money on washing too (although I might avoid getting too close to my fellow treadmillers). Rice and carrots are getting boring, so my dinner becomes a banana smoothie. This has 2 ingredients: banana and ice. Total cost: 20p. Total taste: negligible.
I add 4 sachets of stolen sugar, which helps a little bit. This was a terrible idea; I should have just eaten the banana whole. I make myself a piece of Tesco value cardboard-flavoured toast.
A friend suggests we go to the cinema. Even if it was a Wednesday this would obliterate my budget, so I suggest something fun and free. Museum, a walk, window shopping? All are met with as much enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist in the face of Lion King 3D. We decide on a gentle cycle ride but I’m soon sitting down dizzy on a bench when 3 days on a pitiful food allowance catch up with me. My friend recovers with a milky coffee in a nearby café; I sip my tap water. I’m ready to give up. I have seriously considered shoplifting. Why did I decide to do this? I know I’m moaning but I cannot eat any more toast and rice. This was a terrible idea. But there’s no point giving up now. I put the rice on and go to my room while it starts heating up. Twenty minutes later, I run into the kitchen, hoping and praying that the smoke I was smelling wasn’t my dinner. It is. Despair.
How could I have been so careless? I scrape off the top layer of rice, which amounted to about 2 spoonfuls.On any other day I could have made some more but I didn’t want to cut into the next day’s ration. Two spoonfuls of rice and one carrot later I go to bed, cursing the day I dreamed up this godforsaken plan.
The last 24 hours. I feel like Paula Radcliffe on the final leg of her marathon. Success is so close, I can smell it.My friend offers me a chocolate chip cookie which I know is technically cheating but I don’t really care anymore. I ran out of foundation last night, so I’m bare-faced all day. The lack of vitamins over the last four days has left me looking dull and tired. I perked up a little when a stranger in the street said I was looking well, until I realised they were talking to someone behind me.
Forcing down more rice and toast as usual, I savour it this time because I know I won’t have to eat this meal again in a very long time.I’ve finished everything I bought at the start of the week; nothing has been wasted. Apart from my breakdown on Thursday, it went pretty smoothly.
But it definitely brought home to me that I convince myself I need a whole lot of things that I could actually do without. Britain wastes £10 billion of food every year and some conscientious shopping is all that’s required.But still, there is really no excuse to buy Tesco value bread. Save yourself. If I stop buying all those M&Ms my loan might even stretch until the end of term. That said, M&Ms are an essential, right?