Money & Me Podcast 🎙️


Episode #2: Alex’s story

Going to university as a mature student

In this episode, Caroline talks to Alex about her decision to go to university as a mature student and how she feels about her money situation as a result.


Transcript


Caroline
Episode Two: Alex’s story. In this episode, Caroline chats to her sister, Alex, about her decision to go to university as a mature student and how she feels about her money situation as a result.

Caroline
Hi, and welcome to the next episode of money and me. This week, I’ve got my sister Alex in the room with me

Alex
Hello.

Caroline
I decided to talk to Alex for two reasons. One, she lives with me so it was very easy to set up! And two, she’s recently gone back to university as a mature student. I thought it would be a really interesting thing for us to chat through: what it’s like to make that kind of decision at this point in time, what it means for you financially now, and going into the future and how you feel about all of that. So maybe if we start with, what did you do before?What job did you have before you decided to go to uni?


What prompted your decision to go to university as a mature student?

Alex
I just had a series of kind of local government jobs that weren’t particularly challenging or specific to anything really just just kind of things like licensing, so licensing bars and clubs, Environmental Health, Planning. I basically moved around all of the departments of local government for quite a long time.

Caroline
I know that we’ve talked in the past and you always said that one of the things you found a bit difficult was you never felt that you really had a career. They were jobs, but you didn’t really feel like you had a career, there wasn’t much progression…

Alex
Yeah, it was definitely just a series of jobs. And actually, I was really lucky. Like on the positive, I was really lucky that I always made really good friends in all of them, like proper friends for life. But in terms of the work, it was mind numbing, and I felt irrelevant, even though it’s not, you know, but to me, I didn’t feel like I was particularly adding anything to the world.


How did you decide what to study at university?

Caroline
So you decided a couple of years ago to go back to university. I know you considered a few things and you’ve ended up doing therapeutic radiography. So, for people who don’t know what that is, it’s basically treating cancer. That’s quite a big change and a big thing to take on. What kind of spurred you? What was the point that made you think, right, I do actually want to do this. I’m going to change something up, I want to go back to uni.

Alex
It was definitely, definitely a kind of midlife in the end, and I know I’m only 36, but I think I was 34 when I decided that something had to change. I think I’d been really lucky in the summer, in that summer, Liz our, you know, Liz, one of our other sisters paid for me to join her in her and her husband in Thailand for a couple of weeks. Because she’d been travelling for six months and missed me greatly, and she knew I couldn’t afford to do that. So they very kindly like, paid for me. And while I was out there, one of her husband’s other friends joined us as well. I was just having a chat with him one night on the beach, and it kind of got a bit deep and meaningful. I was saying that I felt quite lost and what a cliche, actually, that I was on a beach in Thailand when I had this epiphany! Yeah, it wasn’t quite like that. But I guess it was a little bit and then he was sort of asking what I wanted to do. And I always just my answer (that I gave to everyone) which was sort of, you know, something to do with people; something to give something back to people., But I didn’t necessarily have a specific idea of that what that was. I was saying to him, but I, you know, I just can’t, I don’t have any money and I have no family money to fall back on. So I don’t think I can do it. And he was very much like: “none of that actually matters. Student loans are just a tax and if you’re not happy with what you’re doing, you’ve just got to change something.” And I don’t think he thought he was saying anything particularly profound. We were both quite drunk. But it sort of stayed with me that he was so kind of like, “just fucking do it” about it.

Caroline
Yeah. jfdi Yeah.

Alex
I think I sort of realised that I’ve been massively over thinking in a way and thinking that I had to plan, make a huge plan in order to be able to do this. So that was in the June and then I think in the September, I had probably just had enough of the job that I was doing. And I roped you into coming to an open day at Southbank university with me. I think I was looking for Occupational Therapy?

Caroline
I think you were. But that person wasn’t there.

Alex
And then we got completely sort of

Caroline
roped in?

Alex
Yeah, what is the word? Sort of accosted by a couple of lovely therapeutic radiography lecturers, and they made the mistake of asking my story, my cancer story and we won’t go into it. But obviously, you know, I’ve got a lot of personal experience and at that time in particular, one of my friends was going through something unbelievably difficult and it just felt like: oh shit maybe this is actually what I meant to do? Maybe I was meant to run into these crazy ladies and be convinced into doing this. Then literally within a matter of days, she she rang me, convinced me to put an application in and we had to cobble together an essay as to why I wanted to do it. Then I had to hand in my notice five days later in order to leave my job and start uni.

Caroline
Yeah, once you’d made that decision. Then you went and you saw the people and then it just sort of happened in the space of about 10 days!

Alex
Yeah and I don’t think I really even knew what the course entailed. If I’m being entirely honest, I didn’t have enough time to do the research. I knew what they did. I didn’t know that there’d be as much physics involved, which is just as well, as that probably would have put me off if I’m honest! I’m not science minded at all.

Caroline
But anyone who gets treated by Al in the future: know that she knows her stuff!

Alex
I am hot on this stuff now. But yeah, so I definitely went in blind and I remember the first day of lectures ringing mum up in tears and saying “I’ve made a terrible mistake.” Obviously by this point I’d quit my job so I really had made a massive decision. And I’d only been able to do it because you had very kindly said that I could stay living with you. Like a little pet. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to because, you know, mum’s got no room at home. There weren’t really any other options at that point if you hadn’t been able to support my housing. But yeah, I rang mum saying: “I’ve made a terrible mistake, it’s all about biology and physics, and that’s not me!”


How have you managed financially as a mature student?

Caroline
But now you’re in your third year. So let’s let’s talk about the money side of things. I’ve seen how difficult it’s been for you financially since you’ve started your course, because when you started was the year that they took away the bursary. So students who did nursing and all other health and social care courses, – it used to be that everybody who was studying those courses (because you spend so much time on placement in hospitals actually doing the work and training on the job) it used to be that you effectively got money for that, didn’t you? You sort of got paid for the fact that you would often be having to work somewhere, that’s not where you live? So you’re in Canterbury, and you live in London? And your placements can last for up to 12 weeks at a time. It used to be that the government gave you some extra funding for that. But the year you started, they took that away. Tell us a bit about how has that changed everything?

Alex
They took it away very quietly, as well. I think. I mean, obviously, I was a last minute addition to the course. So I didn’t have all the information, but I had no idea that I wasn’t getting anything because even on the website on the clearing application it said: “tick here if you get an NHS bursary.” I ticked it because I assumed I would. And then I think in one of our first lectures, they said, “oh, by the way, there is no money anymore.”

Caroline
I’ve seen what that’s kind of done, because you get your student loans, which is fine, but the timing never actually matches up with the time that you have placement. So you’re always having to try to find money from somewhere to pay for accommodation and travel and all of your living…

Alex
And eating! Pot Noodles! Yes, it’s a nightmare. I can’t even pretend that if I knew that this was going to be the case that I’d have done the course, because I don’t think I would. It’s so difficult. It’s a constant sort of juggling act. I just live in a constant state of anxiety about money because, like you say, I have to pay up front for these placements, like 12 weeks, eight weeks, 10 weeks whatever. A huge amount of money. And then to travel back and forth every single week and that is a huge chunk of my loan gone, almost all of it gone.

Alex
I can claim some of it back (from this sort of bursary thing that isn’t really a bursary because I’ve spent the money already), they’re just giving me some of my money back, but not all of it. Crucially, you don’t get all of it back, you get some of it back. You can’t claim everything. And that system, I mean, is awful. It’s all paper. So you’re waiting for people to send things off by post, they don’t accept anything online. They’ll come back to you with the slightest sort of error. Yeah, and just not pay you.

Alex
So I pay out…..I’ll give you what my most recent one was, I paid, I think £900 for accommodation for this big block of placement that I’m doing. Where I’m going to tonight, and I’m still waiting for £800 back for my last big block, which is which was over the summer. Yeah, it was in August I think. So I just never, you know, you never catch up, never catch up. You and Liz sometimes have to sub me, which I hate because it makes me feel a bit crap, which you know that anyway but like it’s hard. It’s hard to keep asking when if the system worked, I could probably just about scrape through without having to ask for extras from anyone. But the system doesn’t work.

Caroline
Is that, you think, that’s just such an extra layer of stress on top of what you’re already doing? Because if I think back to my degree: so I did a law degree and mine was all on campus, you know, was just lectures and tutorials. It wasn’t you had to do a lot of self stufy. There was a tonne of reading and stuff as a law student, but there wasn’t a huge amount of actually having to be anywhere whereas you’re actually working almost full time in the NHS as like a trainee, therapeutic radiographer. So it’s just such a different type of course. Anybody out there who’s listening and is doing one of these courses, we’d love to hear your experience about this as well, because I don’t think enough people know that this is the current state of things. That here we’ve got generations of people who want to go into professions, like nursing, like other care things where you’re taking on a ton of debt to start with, you’re having all of this extra stress around, how do I actually pay my way through the course itself?


How does being a mature student at university affect your career

And then at the end of it, I mean, what’s the salary like?

Alex
Oh. Crap! Less than the job I left to do it. A lot less.

Caroline
And how does that make you feel?

Alex
I want to say, in all honesty, I know that it’s the right career. For the time being, for me, I think I get enough out of the actual being with the patients to justify this terrible decision I’ve made. It’s quite depressing, because also that salary….so in London, even with the London weighting. I think it’s just about around £25,000. But if I were to go anywhere else, you look at £21,000/£22,000 which is kind of a joke because somewhere like Canterbury is no cheaper than London. Right? Well, everything is the same because they’ve got that high speed train as well. So and you know, from what I’ve been trying to find accommodation down there it is just as expensive, maybe slightly less expensive than central London. But yeah, you get a salary of £21k for it, which is just rude!

Caroline
Do you feel differently as well because you are 36? So you know, if you’re 21, and you’re earning £21,000 as your starting salary, you can sort of be like, okay, you can understand it. But in the NHS, is there a way that you, because you’ve got vast experience in your previous life, you get to kind of skip any grades or anything? Or does everybody just start out in the same band?

Alex
Everyone has to start as a band 5. I only found out this the other day: you have to stay on your starting salary for three years, before you can move up to the next increment. I don’t know why. I don’t know. They don’t want to give anyone any money. Right? Even though we work very, very hard. Because I should say as well: when you’re on placement, you are a member of staff. You’re doing the job. Yeah, there’s nothing that I don’t do apart from obviously like the management stuff. So I’m not allowed to do that, and also have to be shadowed for everything. But they treat me like a member of staff because you are doing the job. That’s the ridiculous thing; they’re getting free labour from all these students in all of these disciplines in the NHS, they know they are! They absolutely know they rely on students, so they’re actually stupid to take away the battery because the number of people applying has dropped massively. I wouldn’t recommend it.


Dealing with anxiety about money as a student

Caroline
I’m not surprised just because I’ve seen how stressed it has made you and it was if I’m honest, it wasn’t really something I was aware of at all. But I have seen how….I remember you showed me there was a video or that gif on Twitter that was going around with that train where someone says: “this is me living paycheck to paycheck.” A train going around on a track and you have to just keep putting the track just in front. One of the things I would love to talk a bit more about is I know you feel bad about having to ask me for money, even though I have enough to share. And I think any situation where there’s that dynamic is troubling, isn’t it? Right? It’s hard if you’re an adult, feeling like you can’t pay your way.

Alex
It’s really hard, it is. It’s something that I talk a lot with my counsellor about. Because I guess it’s because I know that I will never be in the position, well it’s highly unlikely, that I’ll be in the position where you guys can come to me. So it never feels fair in that respect, and also just makes me feel shit. Like, I’m so grateful for it to you and to Liz who’s helped me out in the past as well. I’m so grateful for it and I couldn’t be doing this without it, but it makes you feel like a child. I’m 36 years old, like I’ve already lived, a sort of grown-ups life. And now this bit feels like going back to being a kid again.

I think I have such a need to pay back, pay you back all the time, to the point where I then get myself in…and this is something that I’ve noticed actually, like silly things like when we’re paying for presents and stuff, and I’ll transfer the money to you straight away, and I’ll transfer the money to Liz right away. And you guys often don’t notice that I’ve done that. And I know that I then have to tell you, because I want you to know that a Lannister always pays their debts, right? I want you to know that I am doing it. But it’s usually such an insignificant amount to you guys, that it goes in your account and you have absolutely no idea it’s there. Whereas to me, it’s a hugely significant amount and even if we’re only talking like £25/£50, at certain times of the year when I’m struggling, that’s a big thing to pay back. And I feel like I constantly want you to know I’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’ve done it. Like I’m good for it, man, you know, I’m not…I’m not a skank.

Caroline
I think that’s very interesting because from my side, I’m always trying to reassure you that it’s okay. Like, I don’t give you money….I wouldn’t give it to you, if I didn’t have it. You know, it’s, I always want people to know that if I am able to give them something, it’s because I want to, and I don’t feel that burdened by it. Because like you say, sometimes I don’t even notice it. You know, at times where I’ve had less money coming in, and things have been a little bit more fraught and you know, you can see it on my face that I’m not sure when I’m next going to get paid or how much is going to be and we have had a few months like that. Where I’ve noticed that I haven’t been as sort of freely able to help out. But the rest of the time, I do have more money. So it genuinely is okay. I think from my perspective, I don’t like the fact that you feel so beholden, but I do understand it. I wish you could let go of some of the anxiety that you create for yourself around that. I wish you could just sort of trust that when I say: “no, it’s fine, I don’t need to be paid that back,” that you would feel fine about that. But at the same time, I know that you don’t feel fine about it. You wish you didn’t have to ask.

Alex
Yeah, I don’t want to have to ask anyone. And it is is different as a mature student, I guess because most of the other people in my course still live with their mum and dad, like a lot of them have never even had a Saturday job. This is their first foray into anything. So they don’t feel the financial burden as much as I do, because someone else is, they’ve never had to pay for anything. So this is not really any different, but then they’re quite shocked that they have to actually do the work. And that they don’t get paid for that. But in terms of the sort of, it doesn’t feel like begging to them. It doesn’t feel like asking for things that aren’t theirs as much as it does to me. And I know that you don’t mind. Yeah, I guess it’s just a hangover from childhood as well. You know, always watching mum have to ask gran for money and things like that and thinking, “Oh, God, I don’t ever want to have to be in that position.” And then here we are!

Caroline
Does it make any more okay, the fact that you know that it’s temporary. And the fact that you are living in like one of the most expensive cities in the world, I mean, and Canterbury, but in London, you know, it’s I think even those of us who earn well look at quality of life and what we can actually afford to do in London and it’s not a hell of a lot. Is it? Right I consider myself actually reasonably wealthy. But at the same time I don’t really spend money on much stuff. My money goes (apart from on this business), it goes on the flat for us – paying the rent, paying bills, buying food, buying gin…a reasonable amount of money on gin! But we don’t go out for dinner very much, and I don’t buy any clothes…

Alex
That doesn’t make me feel good that you don’t buy any of those things.

Caroline
But I don’t really need to but also, I think I just accept that in London.

Alex
London is mad, Canterbury is almost as mad, I must stress, but I think it’s just yeah, I guess even when I had a job, I never felt…I’ve never been comfortable. I’ve never I’ve never earnt enough to feel like…. I’ve always had mates rates rent and stuff. You know, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to move if I’ve moved in with people, we’ve had a sweet deal going on with someone. So I’ve never had to do the full whack myself. Also, I’m single and it’s really fucking expensive being single, because, you know, one of our cousins, she’s just done her masters pretty much to support it by her partner, which she doesn’t feel as bad about taking his money because they’re in this together for the long haul, you know, I would love one day to be in a position where…. I don’t even want much! I actually don’t want much, I just want a little tiny weeny flat to myself that I could afford to pay for.

Caroline
That will be £750,000 in London please!

Alex
Yeah, okay. I might have to move. Liverpool is on my list. But yeah, that is all I want. I want to be able to pay my own way without feeling stretched and anxious and desperate all the time.

Caroline
Are there ever times where you feel right about money?

Alex
Every now and then? Mmm hmm, good question. I don’t know. Do you know it’s never far from my thoughts. Like being worried about it. Like today, before we start doing this I said to you, it’s a good day to do it, because I’m feeling really worried about money. Because I just checked my balance. And there’s just not much there because I’m waiting for this big payback from the so called bursary people. I’ve been really sensible and I try to put money aside for things. Like I’ve already put my Christmas money aside. I don’t want to have to touch that. But this is the trouble, it’s like a constant juggling act. This just scary thing of like, “Oh, no, you know, I thought I’d done really well there by putting that away and actually I might just need that to fucking eat.”

Caroline
I think that’s true for so many people though. I do think that Liz and I are in a massive minority of, most of the time not having to think too much about where are we going to move money from, to be able to cover things? I think certainly most people I speak to are in a similar position where they’re never quite coming out on top. There’s always that thing of, “oh, if some of this happens, then I can’t do this or…..”

Alex
I feel a bit better since I got that tiny little job and it’s not, I mean, we’re talking about eight hours a month, or whatever. It’s a tiny amount of money. But it’s it’s money that I’m getting into my account, that isn’t from you guys. And that, I suppose, that makes me feel good. A bit better. And when I had that little job over the summer and st


Missing a regular salary as a mature student

Caroline
Is it the fact of money coming in, like the regularity, is that what you miss?

Alex
The regularity and the fact that it’s mine, that I’ve earned it that is not just been loaned to me, it’s actually mine and I can say “oh no, I did actually do 8 hours prancing around like a dickhead on stage for this.” But it feels, yeah, it feels good to actually have something paid into my account that is from something that I’ve done.

Caroline
And what are you hoping for like when so when you finish? So you finish the course in the summer, then you’re going to apply for jobs and stuff? What are you hoping changes then, what are you hoping for over the next few years in terms of….

Alex
I would like to move out from under your guys feet; in the nicest possible way. No, I don’t you know, I’m probably not even going to immediately, unfortunately. But I would, I would like to get a place of my own. I doubt I’ll be able to buy, but I’d like to be able to afford rent a place. I’d like to just go back to having a sort of ….it feels like in some ways it’s gone really quickly. But in some ways it feels like a really long sort of stretch in prison or something. I’m looking forward to getting a salary again, I’m looking forward to having that social aspect of working again, because I do miss that. That was a big part of my working life. Looking forward to holidays, like saving to go on a holiday would be lovely. And yeah, just normal stuff. Nothing, just just not having to rely on handouts, basically.


What works: managing your money as a mature university student

Caroline
Because I’m actually amazed at how far your money has stretched. You have actually still managed to do a lot of the things that you would like to do. So you have been away, even if it hasn’t been for as long as you’d like to. You still managed to do 48 hours in Amsterdam….And you still managed to pay for Glastonbury.

Alex
That’s really important to me, actually is being able to pay for the things that I love. So Glastonbury is my one true love as you know, yes. But I make a point of putting that money aside because I don’t think you or Liz should have to pay for the fun things that I do like that. It’s really important to me that I get my own glastonbury ticket and I have my own Glastonbury spending money and things like that, because that’s, that’s a luxury for me now, at the moment. I don’t think I should be coming to you guys for that stuff. But yeah, I do. So I do it so that when I get my loan in, that money goes into a little Monzo pot straight away so that I can’t, well I can touch it, but I pretend it’s not there.

Caroline
You’ve actually been doing quite a lot of Monzoing….you keep telling me about all this little secret Monzo things, tell the world what you’ve been doing

Alex
It’s top secret information. So I signed up for their…..they do like a few different sort of incentive things. And I just made a pot called holiday pot.

Caroline
Original.

Alex
Yeah. Yeah. And a Christmas pot actually, again, all about the funky names. And I signed up. So it started in January. And it’s I think it’s just a penny a day, but it’s incremental. So we are now on like the 300 and fifth day of the year or something. So three pound five has gone out of my thing into the holiday pot. And they’re such small amounts that I didn’t notice it going at all. But also I didn’t know how much it had increased either in the holiday pot. But if you think about it, if it you know, as soon as we got halfway through the year, that’s quite a lot of, you know, a couple of quid a day. It’s actually quite good. So when I checked it the other day, I can’t do the maths, but it was like it’s almost 200 I think now.

Caroline
Oh nice! And you just didn’t really notice it?

Alex
No, because it’s just a few quid I just load up, when I get my loan in, I load up my monzo and I use that for food, travel, anything that I have to do when I’m in Canterbury. Everything that isn’t a bill basically, it’s just spending money.

Caroline
And is that because you find it easier to track it then, you can see it?

Alex
Yeah, I still don’t like looking at it. I’ve never liked looking at money head on, because I hate it. But yeah, it is easier. And yeah with these pots. It’s a nice little treat. And if I can keep it up, then I might actually get a holiday when I graduate which would be amazing.

Caroline
I guess it’s the digital equivalent of you know, keeping your spare change, isn’t it?

Alex
Yeah, exactly. And I was never any good at putting my change in a pot because if I find a fiver “oh my god! I’ve found a fiver!” That’s five pot noodles. So it works for me because I can’t really see it unless I choose to look at it. And I very rarely choose to look at my finances.

Caroline
Yeah, I remember when we were changing over your credit cards, remember to get you a naught percent one. So you could start actually paying it down. And that made you very, very fearful didn’t it? Like having to look at stuff and also just trying to get your head around…

Alex
The fact that I hadn’t been paying it off. I’m very financially naive. I didn’t know…. I’ve only ever had one credit card! And this is this is the same money I spent, this is from 2012, this credit card is just some money I spent in 2012, Yeah, in the Olympics. I’d lost my friends [to cancer]. I went on a bit of a bender, went to Australia. And I don’t really…. because money frightens me, I’ve never really looked into how credit cards work or anything. So I knew I was paying money off every month, or I thought I was but actually, I was just paying the interest. Yeah. So the the amount never went down. And the fact I’ve still got it from 2012 is so silly. If I’d known, it would have gone years ago when I had a proper job and stuff.

Caroline
And I think that is a good point. So anyone who’s listening who has got credit card balances and is able to get a 0% balance transfer card. I mean, it has made a big difference to you. I know as a student it’s been quite tricky because the one you change it to recently, you actually do have to start paying a bit more now.

Alex
Yeah! It’s a chunk, man

Caroline
But it’s something that the banks have been forced to do, I believe, because otherwise people end up with these balances that they’re never actually paying off and they just kind of sit there. And so now they’re the banks are encouraging people to just pay a little bit more off so the balance ultimately does go down.

Alex
I can see it going down, which is nice. Also, it’s such a shitty little amount in the grand scheme of the world. It was only ever three grand. And like now I think I’ve got it down to maybe £1600 or something. Just write it off, you bastards!

Caroline
I think we all feel like that “Oh, just give me a break. Just write it off. It’s nothing to you.”

Caroline
Cool is anything else you want to talk about or should we wrap it up there?

Alex
If you’re thinking of going to uni, check that bursary. I advise caution to mature students, I think, going into any of the NHS ones at the moment because it’s really, really hard if you’re leaving an income and it’s also really, really hard work. Everyone knows that the NHS is on its knees. So you have to really want to do it I think.

Caroline
Well thank God somebody does.

Caroline
Thanks, everyone for listening and we will see you next time.

Alex
Bye.


How to buy a home
Lifetise podcast - money and me - episode 2 - going to university as a mature student

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