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    Money Diaries: A Fresher at Merton College, Oxford

    This week, a fresher discusses the cost of freshers' week and their budgeting plans for the year ahead.

    Occupation: Fresher

    Age: 19

    Location: Central Oxford

    Income: £150/week

    Rent: £1,309/term with bills

    Course fees: £9,250/year

    For any university student, money is going to be an issue, and for freshers having to deal with budgeting for the first time it can be a tricky topic to try and figure out. Alongside the stress of a pre-reading list that seems to go on forever and trying to work out just how much will physically fit in the car, freshers have to sit down and work out how they are going to afford the next three years.

    This is easier said than done; even after working out how much income I’d have to spend, planning how I was going to spend it proved to be a significant challenge. My first port of call was the university’s guide to student living costs. In many ways this was quite helpful: it provided a handy breakdown of estimated living costs with upper and lower bounds. Yet it also increased my confusion even more. It suggested budgeting up to £100 per month for study costs and between £20 and £55 for a mysterious ‘other’. 

    Gradually though, I was able to piece together a weekly budget. Some costs such as food and rent were relatively fixed, while other costs such as personal items could be estimated fairly well. Then, once I had established a minimum that I needed to budget for each week, I was able to split up the remaining income I knew I would have for social activities and general shopping. 

    To keep track of all this, I decided to use Excel. I looked through various student websites for different templates, before settling on a weekly tracker where I could record money both in and out from various categories. Nowadays, there are lots of apps that can do similar things, which provides a handy starting point if you don’t have much experience budgeting, but I liked the ability to customise my tracker to suit my individual needs.

    However, all this careful planning went out of the window when freshers’ week finally arrived. Things that I couldn’t possibly have previously contemplated paying for suddenly started to seem essential: a gown and mortarboard weren’t on my packing list! The freshers’ fair was by far the worst culprit; like every fresher, I put down my name down for lots of different societies and clubs, signing myself up to endless mailing lists. What I hadn’t yet realised was that many societies charged membership fees. Most of these fees seemed reasonable enough, especially if I would only have time to take part in a couple. 

    The membership fee that really took me by surprise was the Union. As I had walked into the freshers’ fair I had been accosted by a member and told that it was the essential “Oxford experience” which it would be silly to miss out on. It was only later back in college that I realised they wanted over £200, which they were presenting as a bargain due to a £30 discount! For now, I’m still undecided as to whether I should become a member. They clearly invite some brilliant speakers and have great events, but the fee would really throw off my budgeting for the term. 

    All in all, I feel confident that I’ll be able to budget effectively over the next three years. By setting up a good system and knowing how much I can spend each week, I hope that I won’t run into any problems with money during my time here.

    If you would like to share your personal finance stories and contribute to Cherwell’s money diaries, you can anonymously complete our money diaries form here.

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