- FRESHERS WEEK GUIDE
- "MY FRESHERS WEEK"
- FRESHERS' WEEK: WHERE THE MONEY GOES
- FRESHERS' WEEK: SAVING TIPS
- SETTLING IN
- STARTING OUT
One thing about student life can be more or less guaranteed – the first week will the most expensive of your entire university career.
During the first week – or, as it’s more commonly known, Freshers’ Week (also ‘Orientation Week’, ‘Week One’, ‘Week Zero’, ‘Intro Week’ and so on) – there aren’t usually any academic commitments, just an endless stream of social events and red tape.
Some universities make do with just a couple of days, others plump for a whole fortnight, but it’ll be an expensive time nonetheless.
There are three functions of Freshers’ Week:
- Social: to break the ice and establish a social life
- Environmental: to get used to the new situation and find your feet (the end of your legs is a good place to start the hunt)
- Administrative: to get you to fill out a million more forms and have described to you in tedious detail everything from how your course will be taught and assessed to what to do in the event of a new ice age.
To get the most out of Freshers’ Week, it’s a good idea to keep all three of these in mind. And because you’re going to be focusing on those three, it’s dangerously easy to just spend, spend, spend during the first week. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible not to shell out a quite disturbing proportion of the money that’s supposed to last the whole year.
"My Freshers’ Week"
By a student who’s been there, done that and bought the freshers’ hoodie.
So, I'd done the colossal (and obligatory) parent-funded trip to Tesco, I'd survived the final booze-up with my friends from home and was now squished against the window of the car, hoping not to be crushed by an avalanche of everything I owned. Yes, I was heading off to uni.
Our union had something on every night during freshers’ week. There was a pub crawl, union club night, music festival, laid-back night and more. I didn’t go to everything and, while I don’t regret it – I was having fun with my newly acquired friends – I do wish I’d gone Sumo fat-suit wrestling.
One thing I’m glad I didn’t miss was the freebies fair. I bagged myself a free hair cut, pizza, little bottle of Jägermeister, cinema tickets and masses of discounts. And a frisbee. All in a day’s work.
The Pirates Society
No, I didn’t join this one, but dressing up as a pirate on a regular basis for socials and random outings did look like mighty good fun. Some course mates and I set up a Linguistics Society and, even though it didn’t give us an excuse to dress up as pirates, we did make some great friends along the way.
I don’t consider myself a criminal. Really. I’m one of the good guys. But this is uni, and a pot of Ben & Jerry’s sitting there in the freezer is irresistible. I mean, it had no name on it, so technically it’s no one’s… or everyone’s, right? I only had a spoonful or seven. And I only needed a drop of milk for my tea and a slice of bread for my beans on toast and… oh dear.
I didn’t have many fancy dress experiences as a fresher. Yes, I’m slightly bitter about this. Surely every fresher should be entitled to a toga party? The sports societies embraced this part of student culture on a weekly basis: guys dressed as girls, human crayons and lots of nylon.
One fancy dress night I did go to was the Freshers’ Barn Dance. We dressed as country bumpkins, drank cider, learnt proper country dancing – there was even a pie-eating contest. I felt a tad stupid at the start, but I soon got over it and had tonnes of fun. It was the best night of the week.
Of course I was nervous. I was so nervous that the first thing I said to my new housemates was “Err, hi, sorry… I’m, uh, really, um, shy”, followed by a nervous laugh and a deep ‘get it together’ breath. But I soon realised almost everyone introduced themselves in the same way. Phew.
Ana, 20, is studying Linguistics at University of Sussex and is still happily taking advantage of the Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer.
Just for starters, you’ll probably have to pay either your rent for the term or at least your first month’s rent and a deposit. That’s several figures down already.
Then there’ll be…
- All the clubs, societies and sports teams you want to join (some of the do-gooding ones might be gratis, but most will set you back about £5 to £15 a pop)
- Drinks to buy – and there’s a whole lot of drinking going on in Freshers’ Week, what with unmissable ents on every night
- Pubs and clubs to check out
- People to impress
- New kitchen cupboards to fill up with grub
- Plants and posters to make your room feel less like an asylum cell
- Books, paper and pens to buy
- Endless passport photos to get for all the forms and ID cards
Allow yourself some extra for Freshers’ Week. At least an extra £50 for entertainments alone (let alone all the one-off expenses like mugs and a hole-punch). Freshers' Week is one of the few times it’s okay to push the pedalo out a bit.
Splashing out is part of settling in, getting to know the people (biblically, in some cases) and consuming cheap beer like it’s going out of fashion. It’s almost an initiation ritual – after a week of binging and parties, you wake up with a hangover, late for a lecture and completely broke. You are now, officially, a student.
But after this initial spurt of justifiable madness, it’s time to take a chill pill (or an aspirin) and review your financial status before you drink yourself into a false sense of security.
Even during Freshers’ Week there are some reins to pull on. Don’t pay out money for anything unless you know you’ll benefit from it.
For example, don’t join every student society that looks more interesting than belly button fluff – join only those where you think there’s a genuine chance you might actually turn up to something they do in the next few years. (But be open-minded – you’d be surprised what strange and perverse pastimes you might find yourself drawn to.)
And don’t feel like you have to be a big spender to make friends or impress anyone. If you insist on getting all the rounds in, you’ll look like a prat because everyone’s facing the same financial minefield. (In fact, students often don’t bother with buying rounds at all.) You’ll end up with everyone taking advantage of you for a week and then being too poor to go out again all year.
There are a couple of saving graces about the finances of Freshers’ Week.
Firstly the goody bag. The students’ union usually organises a plastic bag full of free stuff for new students. The free stuff comes from sponsors desperate to get your custom and includes everything from dog-flavoured Pot Snacks to new guarana and amphetamine drinks.
You’ll also be given a whole load of money-off coupons for more of the same which, when you discover the stuff is disgusting, you should throw away rather than waste money on.
There should also be some useful stuff in there, like toiletries, condoms, coffee, crisps, chocolate, even beer – you know, the essentials.
Secondly, there’s the stuff you bring from home. Many parents won’t object to you raiding the cupboards before setting off to university. Some will even help you load up.
Freshers’ Week is also the time parents are most likely to give you some extra cash.
You’ll presumably have already worked out between you how the whole formal parental contributions deal is going to work and some parents may want to stick rigidly to the formula. Fair enough. However, even they often feel tempted to shove £20 in your hand as they wave you goodbye (with a tear in the eye and a whoop of joy in their heart).
If they can afford it, don’t stop them. Just say thanks and tell them you’ll see them at Christmas. (You can tell them you love them too, if that’s the kind of stuff you do with your folks.)
So the grades are bagged, the car's loaded with the requisite unnecessary goodies a new stomping ground awaits you. Congrats, and all that. But besides decorating your new broom closet and doling out tea and biscuits, what's the real deal with that all-important first week?
Freshers are particularly susceptible to ‘loan arrival frenzy’ – when the first instalment of your loan hits your bank account, it’s tempting to delude yourself into thinking you’re rich. But that apparently huge lump sum has to last the entire term and it won’t take much budget planning to see that it’ll barely stretch across the bar, let alone across the term.
Budgeting starts from day one. If it doesn’t, then that first, reassuringly sizeable stash of cash will disappear like water down a plughole, leaving no more than a few hairs and some gunk behind.
In fact, it’s worse than that – even if you do budget, you’ll watch as your bank balance after the first week turns into a pale imitation of its former self by week two and after the first or second month the accumulated rent, bills, books, food, drink, taxi fares etc. will almost certainly have beaten it down to minus figures.
In any case, your budget for the first few weeks should be on the high side. For one thing, for several weeks you’ll be making one-off payments for stuff you need, like a kettle, washing powder and a second set of underwear.
You’ll also need to get the lie of the land. Where’s the best place to shop for food, stationery, books and so on, weighing up the pros and cons of distance, price and quality? Where’s the nearest laundrette? Where’s the best place for new clothes, because your first attempt at the laundrette turned everything pink?
These reconnaissance missions can in themselves become impromptu social events, either as collective outings or as debriefings from various scouting parties.
There are also likely to be some costly abortive attempts at new recipes, unnecessary travel expenses till you find out about the right bus pass and, until you realise why no one else ever goes there, visits to the more expensive kebab shop.
So long as you keep a firm eye on your finances, this is the one time when it’s not worth stressing too much about spending slightly over the odds.
If you think you can get by the start of university without splitting a few notes then you've another thing coming. However, if you are aware that you will have extra expenses at the start - and don't use that as a license to behave like the spawn of a rock star, partying in VIP and swigging champers while kitting out your pad with designer brands - you can budget for them... visit our Money section for more finance know-how.