Tightening the student belt..

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I knew that financially being a student again was going to be tough, I had been a student before I knew that there was always likely to be more month left at the end of the money than the other way around. Nothing prepared me for the hardship and sacrifices this past three years have brought us.

I am a thoughtful person who weighs up the pro’s and con’s of a situation before embarking upon it and my decision to study Mental Health Nursing at university was no different. I went on the student bursary website and typed in my details during the summer of 2011 when I knew I had an offer of a place to commence September that same year. It spewed out a figure of what I should expect to receive each month as a bursary as nursing is a full on course whereby sustaining a part time job is nigh on impossible along side study and practice placement. I had it all worked out, if we tightened our belts a bit more we would manage.

The first couple of years were cushioned by the fact I was still in receipt of DLA as I had been very ill with my mental health, spent four months in hospital and needed support with things such as public transport etc. I checked that I was still ok to receive this DLA whilst I was now at Uni and was informed I had been awarded it for two years so was entitled to it.

As I was in receipt of DLA we received a little extra in tax credits, I’m not sure why but it sure helped so I accepted it gratefully.

Now fast forward to November 2011 and I eventually had confirmation of how much bursary I would receive, it was £350 per month less than the projected estimate! Now I knew the original figure was an estimate but hadn’t banked on it being as much as fifty percent different, apparently it was because the online calculator was based on the diploma not the degree. If I had known this before I started university I would quite probably have made the decision to not take up the place but I had started lectures and was about to commence my first placement. I had found my niche and I loved it, I found a fire burning in the pit of my stomach to provide the very best patient experience for every service user I came into contact with (and a few more with my world domination plan!). I simply had to stay on this course, we’d manage wouldn’t we?

So the tightening of our belts talk took place and my husband and I agreed that I should carry on so we tightened our belts again.

The first couple of years were a stretch but we made things work. We juggled a bit with some bills taking preference over others to be paid but became quite creative at making what we had stretch. We discovered a love of camping and a skill for finding out about free events locally to take our daughter too. It was quite enlightening to see how many activities we could enjoy as a family unit without spending a fortune at soft play or the cinema.

I knew that our income would drop towards the end of my second academic year when the DLA stopped so I took action and secured some part time work with a local mental health charity to try and built up some reserves. By the time the DLA stopped the charity had lost it’s funding so my solution came a cropper. Never mind I thought, a bit more belt tightening and maybe selling some things on eBay would get us through?

What I had totally forgotten about was the little bit extra tax credits we received for being on DLA so not only did the DLA stop but the tax credits reduced. When it came time to renew the tax credits I told them about the six months I earned money the previous year so in addition to the reduction for DLA stopping the tax credit folks also reduced our payment to reflect the money I had earned extra!

The eBay selling was going well so we kept on with it every time a bill came in which we couldn’t meet. Then when things started going wrong with the car and other things happened such as repairs to our home the more personal valuables had to go. Luckily the price of gold was at an all time high so other than my wedding and engagement ring we sold all the other jewellery I owned; the necklace I received for my 18th birthday and the bangle I received for my 21st birthday. I’m not a sentimental person I tried telling myself. Next to go was the diamond solitare necklace my husband bought for me after I had our daughter which I remember crying as I read the gift tag and it said ‘sorry for making you so poorly mammy’ as I had been ill throughout my pregnancy and yet I kept reassuring myself that they are only ‘things’ they don’t mean anything, I told myself that again when a ring my husband had bought me for our first valentines day when we went to London for the weekend. I kept putting it on my left hand when I was alone, I always knew I would marry him in the end.

When we visit our families we are often leave with bags of shopping where they have given us the free item from the ‘buy on get one free’ offer. We wouldn’t have coped some weeks without these food parcels, in fact although my husband works full time and part time I think we would have had to resort to approaching a food bank a couple of times.

We juggle and potter along well for a few weeks then one of the bills which we have been juggling demands payment or when something breaks such as the kettle or boiler we are thrown. We no longer have anything valuable to sell.

Last week I sold things like shoes I didn’t often wear and clothes I didn’t go anywhere smart enough to wear anymore for a few pounds each but still I haven’t managed to raise enough to pay the after school club this week, they provide our childcare each day. They have been great they know how stretched we are and have always been so patient if we fell behind by a week or two as they know we will always pay up. Unfortunately my husband earns literally just above the threshold for financial assistance with childcare costs so we have to find the whole £55 per week ourselves. If I took a part time minimum wage job rather than go to uni to become an NHS nurse we would get help but I’ve chosen to study to we get nothing… That is a whole other political rant for another day though!

So many things have broken and not been replaced or botched with gaff tape or some other method to fix temporarily that it will likely take years of me earning just to be able to get straight. We are fortunate that in my previous career I was successful so we had a comfortable standard of living but this has now resulted in my having in excess of five pairs of shoes in my wardrobe which need healed at the cobblers but I can’t afford to do this luxury task so when I have worn them down I have popped them back in the wardrobe and used another pair. Some people won’t be as fortunate as me to have another pair to use so I know how lucky I am in that respect.

Entering third year of my nursing degree was exciting, it is the final furlong now… Except we get nearly £1000 less student loan in our final year as ‘most students finish May/June time’ even though we are still actively working towards our qualification into August. Unjust but we have to accept it.

So I have shown you how three years ago we tightened our belts and become creative to make our money go further and then our income has steadily reduced leaving us more and more reliant upon handouts of cash and even food from family. What I can’t show easily via a blog post is the personal costs of financing myself through this degree. I wish I could show the powers that be, those who set student finance how empty my cupboards and freezer often is. I wish I could show then how many layers I wear to try to keep warm whilst studying because putting heating on would mean less money next month for food when the fuel bill comes in. I wish I could show them how long my hair has grown as I can’t afford to get it cut and how wonky it is at the bottom where I let my husband try to cut two years worth of dead ends off in desperation. I wish I could show them that some days I forgo breakfast as I need to make the milk stretch another day or that I have had to borrow back the money the ‘tooth fairy’ left for our daughter to buy sometime as basic as milk or bread to tide us over for a few days. I wish they could see me crying in November as the shops begin to play Christmas music in a blind panic as to how to afford all those things with a tick beside them in the Argos catalogue. I wish they could see how much weight I have put on partly because I can’t afford my exercise classes anymore and partly because although I go without when we have nothing on occasions when we have sufficient and I can eat I tend to over eat to somehow make up for other times.

I want to be a nurse more than anything. I want to make an impact in mental health care in my community. I lost my last career due to my mental health and lost a business I set up due to my mental health so this is personal too. I won’t let it beat me, I will stand there at my academic congregation and feel immense pride knowing the struggles it has taken to achieve that qualification. The placements and the academic work being only a small part of the work that has gone into that achievement.

So to the present; I have six and a half months left until I qualify and we will carry on juggling although as we go into spring and then summer hopefully I will be warmer when doing that juggling. We will count our blessings that we got through this far and that we have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. We are a lot more fortunate than a large percentage of the population and have family we can go to for help rather than a food bank. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and so long as no major appliance breaks and the car keeps going we will get there. Staff Nurse… The title has a certain ring to it and I fear I may cry the first occasion I hear someone use it to address me 🙂

One thought on “Tightening the student belt..

  1. Pingback: Bedpans and Bandages Episode 4: Our week to shine | grumbling appendix

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