•23 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Hi, and welcome to my blog about how to live in the UK for under £5000 (roughly $10,000) a year.  To get started, click here.  If you’re curious about me, click here.  If you’re looking for information about saving money on a specific thing, then have a look at the tags or leave a comment and I will respond with a link.  Alternately, you can look at my blogroll and go check out one of those blogs.  This blog will be updated once a week, on Thursdays.  If you want posts as they come out, please subscribe to my RSS feed!

Now, just scroll down to get started!


What the world economy can do for you.

•29 October, 2008 • Leave a Comment

This past month has been extremely hectic, as I spent most of it helping out freshers at my college.  Being new to Oxford — not to mention the UK, for many of them — can be a pretty disorienting and, with the weather being cloudy about half the time, depressing experience.  Hopefully I’ve managed to make at least some of them feel more welcome!

On to the spending.  After reading my first spending post, I realized that it was really boring and wondered who would ever want to read about the minutiae of my life that way!  Instead, I thought I might just describe my general financial circumstances, and then offer some tips about general categories of things in other posts.

I got hit with my rent bill, as well as my first term’s tuition bill, recently.  On the plus side, my loans came through at a time when the pound was down about 20% relative to the dollar from where it has been in the past.  This is a shocking drop.  Check out what the pound has been doing. That chart is awesome to play with, by the way, so definitely check it out.  Here’s a more basic image:

Over the past three months.

Over the past year.

At any rate, this means that my loan cheques (and all of you other Americans at Oxford on loans too!) arrived at a somewhat auspicious time — my college switched them into pounds between the $1.70 and $1.75 mark.  Now I have a bet on with E., recorded in the MCR’s wager book, that my 1 Dec. loan installment will arrive at lower than that.  With the pound hovering in the $1.55-$1.59 range for the past few days, I’m will to be optimistic about it… I owe him a pound for every cent difference between $1.70 and whatever it is on 1 Dec.

This also means that the NSF grants I am applying for, specifically the one that I think I have a shot at winning, will be worth a lot more, because they are in dollars.  The one that I think I could get is worth about $15000, which currently translates into:£9360.00.  That’s amazing, since in June it would have been worth about £7500.00.

On the downside, I may not be able to do fieldwork in Iceland this summer since the project I was planning to be a part of was funded by the currently bankrupt Icelandic government.  Hopefully that will get sorted.

My personal spending throughout this past month has not been horrific.  I ate out twice, once for lunch and once for dinner, but always with coupons/special deals so they both cost around £11.00 for two people to eat.  That isn’t so awful, given that I spend on average £2.00-£5.00 per dinner at home (I typically spend under £1.00 on lunch by eating soup and bread in a departmental tea room, so for lunch that is not so good).  I also splurged yesterday and spent about £10.00 on Halloween costume stuff — I’m being a mummy.

first week’s spending: it’s a big one.

•26 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

£5000 – £117.79 =£4882.21

So this is the first week for counting down the spending, which in Oxford terms is -2 week of Michaelmas Term.  This has been a terrible week in terms of spending money because a. I moved into a new place and had to buy a lot of new things for it (groceries, cleaning supplies, etc), b. we had a dinner party for our new place, and c. I had a friend in town to show around.  So let’s look at each of these things in turn.

a. Moving in: I spent £12.56 on cleaning supplies and a power strip.  This was with a 10% student discount.  Unfortunately, when we moved into our new flat (E and I), the place had not been well cleaned and so I was feeling really icky about being there, particularly in the kitchen.  I bought a broom because the floor is wood and was covered in grossness, and then two packs of anti-bacterial wipe thingies.  The power strip was a necessity because the new flat has about six plugs in total and four of those are taken up by radiators and dehumidifier.

Between b. and c. I spent a lot of money on groceries and a little bit on some new cooking supplies (notably, a glass bowl for making a trifle).  £99.46 went to food, that bowl, and a new iron.  Ouch!!!!  Luckily, since I split the bills with E, that means it was for two people, but still…

c. Also caused me to spend about £10 on drinks/meals out, but we won’t count that, because it came from money that I had loaned someone and been repaid from back in April.

Finally, I had two additional expenses:

d. 1.60 on a tea at Costa Coffee.  This is a big vice of mine, going out to a coffee shop and doing work there.  I just find it to be a really conduicive work environment, much better in some regards than the library, and when I really want to get something done I tend to go to a coffee shop.  This was acceptable back in DC when I was making a lot of money but it is something that I really need to wean myself off of.  I’ll write a post about the allure of the coffee shop in the coming weeks.

e. Postage for books.  I have been selling books on Amazon.co.uk that I don’t want anymore.  I had to mail off some of those today, and buy some mailing envelopes for others, so I spent £4.17 on this.  However, I was making money at the time too (by selling the books): I made about £15.  I’ll write a post about books later, but Amazon selling is a great way to clear out space in your house or flat, get rid of stuff you don’t want, and also make a little bit of money on the side — if you have the time to mail stuff.

The £5000 a year plan

•23 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I try not to talk about how little money I live on with the people I know, because they are usually a little incredulous.  Complaining about lack of money, particularly being dependent upon size of stipend, is a common grad student conversation.  European and UK DPhil students here tend to have their tuition and fees paid for and a stipend slightly under £13,000/year.  Since I dream of being in that position, again, I try not to talk about my financial situation with my peers.

However, I don’t mind sharing it with you all.  Hopefully you will even find it helpful!

So this is the plan:

  • £3600 on rent (at £300/month on a 12 month lease)
  • £1400 on everything else

Now obviously that £3600 is a totally fixed cost, there is nothing I can do about it.  So the £1400 is the really interesting part, what this blog is actually about.  It’s slightly more than £100/month for food, travel, entertainment, and everything else.*

*I have one great cheat in all of this, which is that my parents will pay for my plane tickets back to America at Christmastime.  So transatlantic flights won’t be factoring into this (or else, given where I am from, I would already be halfway out of money).  However, I will talk about those flights and how to find the cheapest ones in a later post just in case you need them.


•26 July, 2008 • Leave a Comment

On a great website (www.everything2.com) that I used to hang out on far more than was healthy back in the early days of my internet usage (read: my adolescence, the nineties), there were certain nodes called “GTKY” or “getting to know you”.  That’s what this first post is all about.

I’m an American student from the Mountain West studying for a PhD (DPhil) at the University of Oxford.  I study environmental stuff.  This past June, I completed a two year master’s degree (MPhil) at this same institution.  Going to Oxford was a huge dream of mine from high school on, but for the past year, leading up to my decision to study for the DPhil, I have been questioning if it isn’t also the biggest financial mistake I’ve ever made.

Oxford is ridiculously expensive for an American student; the tuition per year is about $24-25,000, dependent upon exchange rates.  Although that tuition is comparable to similar institutions in America, there are two additional factors here.

The first is that, for graduate degrees in America, funding is expected; at Oxford, this is definitely not the case.  For Americans and other overseas students, funding is incredibly hard to come by.  When I first came here two years ago, I believed that I would easily get a scholarship within a year.  Instead, I have applied to everything that came my way and still have not received any money.  It’s not that I am a bad student; my MPhil received a distinction, the highest possible mark.  The funding is just incredibly scarce.  No Rhodes for me.  I rationalize this first factor by knowing that a. I can continue to try for funding over the next three years of my degree, and b. due to scholarships, I paid no money for my undergraduate degree and have no debt from that period.  In fact, by having a job for the last two years of that degree, I managed to save enough money to pay all my living costs my first year at Oxford.

The second factor is the insane cost of living in the UK, especially compared to what I’m used to.  I did my undergraduate degree in Washington DC, which at the time (having come from the West) seemed to be the most expensive place I had ever been.  My rent for living in a house with three other girls in a neighborhood that wasn’t exactly great was $650/month.  However, after graduating and a summer of living back home, I came to the UK in September of 2006 and was faced with a cost of living beyond anything I’d expected, despite knowing that the pound was strong and that London was the most expensive city in the world.

For example: the absolute cheapest rent that I can get for next year is £300; that is a two room + bathroom flat subsidized by my college whose total area is smaller than the downstairs floor of the four-story house I had in DC.  As far as food goes, the numbers are the same as in the US — but the money is worth just less than twice as much.  And all of the little peripherals — cell phones, travel, going out — usually cost well more than double US prices, transportation especially.  Finally, because Oxford is such a tourist zone, and is also pretty close to London, it is one of the most expensive places to live in the UK.

So this is the situation I am in right now: no funding, $40,000 in student loans from the past two years, and three more years to fund.  Luckily Oxford won’t charge me for a fifth year of tuition, and depending on how the writing up of my PhD is going, I may be able to move back home and work from there for that final year, but there are at least two more years here in Oxford to pay for and I’d like to leave school without being in horrible (like, over $60,000) debt.  My parents are very helpful and will be paying for 2/3s of tuition starting with this year (since they didn’t have to pay for my undergrad, they don’t mind helping out) but I hate that they are giving me money and so don’t want to go over my budget.

So this blog is about trying to live in Oxford, as a grad student, for the lowest cost possible.  In the past two years, I’ve learned quite a bit about being frugal, but I think that I can tighten it up further this year.  Hopefully what I’ve learned can help other people in the same or similar situations — grad school is expensive and even people in the US only earn minimum wage when they’re doing it.  Not fair but true.

And maybe at the end of it I’ll have come up with an answer as to whether or not this was a terrible financial mistake and I should have just gotten an extremely lucrative BS in Petroleum Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines like a lot of my friends…