Or, “Trying to cook at home more/go to the pub less: a student story.”
Trying to rectify the (frankly absurd) total at the end of my last money diary, taking on the weekly budget challenge a second time, I’ve decided to do some soul-searching. As we’re a blog dedicated to higher education in Sweden, I’m framing this entry with two research questions:
- Can I try, for one week, to not be scared of cooking/my kitchen?
- Seriously, you’re a student, why are you eating out so much in Stockholm, a notoriously expensive city to dine/get Friday-night-chips-after-the-club-in?
The below is an account of someone (me, hello) budgeting in a country which – often understandably – is seen as expensive. The last money diary was more of a “let’s see what happens” approach. This one is more of a concerted effort to budget, but to still have fun along the way. So let’s dive right in shall we!
In preparation for the week ahead, I go to the grocery store for lunch box foods. Pulses! Potatoes! Pasta! I purchase the 3 Ps that will guide me into The Lunchbox Light. 270kr. (I don’t know about other countries, but in my native UK when a house-mate says they’re going to the supermarket, we often ask if they’re doing a “big shop” or a “small shop.” A “big shop” being distinguished from a “small shop” in that a “big shop” is rare. You do a “big shop” when you first move into a new place and bulk-buy rice and olives. Or if someone with a car vaguely enters your periphery, you and your friends pack into that Fiat 500 and drive to a superstore on the outskirts of town to get in the 3 for 2s on multipacks of crisps. I can confirm from my experience of interacting with Swedes, the dynamic is similar here. Anyway, I started telling you this because this 270kr total was for a “medium-sized shop” – i.e, as well as vital foodstuffs to survive, I also bought like, hand soap for the bathroom and a carton of wholly unnecessary chocolate oat milk).
On the walk home from the supermarket, I pass a mirror which is frankly rude in how large it is. I see my reflection and the steady march of mortality and stress taking its toll on my face. Look at my Notes app in my phone for distraction, but then see the upcoming To-Do list, and weight of the next few weeks starting to put its high heel on my neck. So I bolt inside Åhlens and buy a face mask to make it all better (self-care consumerism / marketing to women that their eternal youth is the only enduring matter of importance strikes again!) 50kr.
I get home and sit down for the evening, breaking down upcoming tasks into more manageable daily, weekly and monthly goals. Do some deep breaths. Wear the face mask for probably an hour longer than necessary in a skewed rationale “to get my money’s worth.”
At 11pm, one of my best friends Oona moves in with me! Her Master’s programme means she started studying in Sweden, then moved to Italy, Belgium and is now back to write her thesis. And we somehow wangled it so we sublet this dublett* together! Hooray for friendship. So excited to see her that when I open the door, I elbow the door frame and a purple bruise blooms on my elbow for the coming fortnight.
*a “dublett” is a student apartment where two people have their own rooms, and share a kitchen and bathroom in a contained student apartment which is situated along a student corridor.
Wake up at 7:00, take the train at 8:00 (the cost is covered within my monthly commuter pass). I think about how living with someone – even if for one night so far – makes you more accountable (I’ve been living alone for one month). Not that you think that person would care when you’re awake, but I think it helps to motivate you to get on with your day. If you’re living with someone you like, maybe you want to get on with your day more so that in the evening the potential of having dinner together or popping to a student nation or going down a meme-hole on one of your beds is still a possibility.
Go to national corner-shop Pressbyrån, for a coffee and a banana for 15kr (with student ID).
Study for a bit in the library, and then class from 12:00-15:00. During that time, we have two scheduled breaks. Near the end of one of the breaks I dither about going to get a Twix, but noting to my classmates that I’m doing this money diary and don’t want to have frivolous expenditures. My friend Ullis says to go and get the Twix as it will make me happy, and our teacher chimes in to say “We want you to be happy!” Can’t argue with that. Run to Pressbyrån, get a Twix (25kr) and back in the five minutes before class starts. A small and gratifying success.
Head to volunteering, which I do with a group of fantastic kids who’ve all moved to Sweden within the last 5 years or so. The objective is to improve the group’s Swedish through theatre. Every member of the group’s Swedish is (from what I understand) fantastic, and it’s really exciting to see members of the group confidently directing others in Swedish. My language abilities pale in comparison, and I often resort to comedic and language-less roles, like a chicken or someone who keeps fainting for comedic effect. Head home, and have dinner from the groceries I bought last night.
Happy semladagen! Today millions of semlor will be bought from bakeries across Sweden, and at university is no exception. After class (we have 10 hours of it this week which is slightly more than usual), Ullis and I head to 7/11 to get semlor and coffees. She gets the semlor, I get the coffees. 20kr (for two, with a student card). We wax lyrical about how good these 7/11 semlor are, talk about our upcoming papers and life broadly in the library. A study-heavy day with little else to report (apart from these delicious semlor and a lovely relaxing chat with a friend).
Today is stressful. My teacher’s feedback regarding my last assignment was really helpful, but it has unstuck me a little. I know something has to change with my approach to writing papers. (In a good way. Isn’t that the exact reason why you should do a Master’s degree? To further your knowledge about something but to learn how to craft and share that knowledge in the most precise and understandable way). I become stubborn and irritable, feeling like the task for this essay is insurmountable. Meet my friend Hannah at the library, continue trying to grapple with this essay and have a bit of a cry about feeling not-smart. Buy a hasselnötsboll (like a chocolate ball but with hazelnuts and honestly, it’s a godly little snack for 20kr) and cry a bit more.
We go for a bit of a walk for a change of scenery, to Leoparden, the beautiful youthful café/gallery which I mentioned in my previous money diary. Have a vegan quesadilla, a oat milk hot chocolate (35kr) and a minor academic breakthrough with my essay. Work hard for a couple of hours, interspersing study with looking in the gallery room out the back to feel comforted by nice art. Still feel stressed from earlier in the day so go and buy cigarettes from the corner shop 🙁 …65kr. Head home, get bread, mozzarella and asparagus (51kr) on the way.
Overpay for coffee at the student union (21kr). By the time I translate a sign which says if you show your student card you get the coffee cheaper, my card’s already in the machine and I can’t be bothered to try and tackle this in Swedish. This is a good ad for learning Swedish: as much as everyone does speak English, there are things you will notice which aren’t translated. Some deals and hints and tips for things aren’t translated, and so it is really good to put in the leg-work to learn some Swedish. It will help you not only get some nice deals if you’re keeping an eye on your costs with a money diary (hi), but it will help you feel more at home in many ways. You get to have the small congratulatory moments of understanding something wholly new, which, when settling in to a new culture can sometimes take a while.
Study all day, endlessly. It’s hard work. It’s the first time I’ve really felt that the programme is very, very hard work. But I start to get over myself, and recognise that this is a very good feeling to be feeling.
Head home, and in the busy-ness of her settling back into Sweden and me having a hectic study week, Oona and I haven’t really gotten to spend time with one another yet. We cook dinner together (she is half-Italian and half-French so, go figure, dinner is amazing). I buy a cheap wine (59kr) to accompany our big ensemble, our gorgeous orchestra of pasta and cheese and bowls and candles. Our kitchen is TINY (see below) and we don’t have a communal living space, so we put a coffee table in the hall way between our two bedrooms and have a makeshift dining table.
Between the cheap wine and the makeshift dining arrangements, we toast to Oona being home, and I feel an overwhelming, cheesy and sincere feeling of this life being a nice one, and this setup being special. We have a slow dinner, and that’s a nice and lucky thing to be able to have.
I’ve fallen short on my lunchbox plan, and I didn’t prepare one for today :(. Buy a coffee and a sandwich for 40kr (with student card) from Pressbyrån. Note: I keep buying coffee because I broke my glass cafetiere in the kitchen. Even though coffee is only 10kr a time (with a student card) in Pressbyrån, it’s an expenditure which could be avoided.
We have class from 11:00-14:00. Only 3 of us are there today, so our teacher is able to give us detailed feedback on our essay proposals. My teacher helps me focus my research question, and I feel very grateful for her effort/that she put up with my panicked emails this week. Our classmate Telka lives with her mother, who makes the most outrageously good thyme pie, and she brings in LOADS for us. There is so much of it for just my classmate Sanni and I, that I take multiple slices home and they suffice as my dinner for the next few nights! Thank you, angel Telka.
Head to my internship, which is with a theatre company based in Stockholm. Officially it’s a requirement for our programme that we complete an internship sometime before October. I’ve been with the group for around 1.5 months and feel like one of the company. I’m going to be very sad when it’s over. Get a Coke as feeling low energy (25kr). Scoff down a slice of thyme pie before showtime. Director buys me a beer after the show whilst we get the set out, and we sing a bit, putting chairs away and dismantling the magic theatre space so it becomes just another room, again. I get the train home and am in bed by midnight.
Mooch about at home in the morning, then remember the performance with my internship starts at 16:00 today in Stockholm, so I better haul ass! Get a mini semla (which the bakery gift wrap in THIS extravagant – and unnecessary – box!!) and hot chocolate (45kr), before heading into the city.
Get to the theatre, and there’s loads of leftover snacks from a performance which was on at noon (it was a Finnish children’s theatre company, who were doing a show about food). They tell us to help ourselves, so I snack on some browning apple slices and crisps (which are suspiciously damp and I start to consider small childrens’ sweet but ultimately sticky hands so I stop eating them).
The show is great again, head home, eat soup, sleep.
This week was one which required me to be in-class, at the library and at my internship for a lot of the time, and so the opportunities to go out with friends frivolously for dinner were diminished. It meant I cut my weekly costs in half! And as you can see, I still had a week filled with friends, coffee and some needless things, so that cost could go down even further. But it goes to show you how much you can save by just cooking up some lunchboxes….and the happy accident of free snacks. To answer the research questions posed at the start of this 2100 word essay: yes! I think I made a start in terms of not being scared of my kitchen, and tried to budget more strictly. I washed my tuppaware boxes immediately after every use and to that I can note: progress.
Is there anything else you’d like to see from a “My student money diary” series? Another money diary perhaps for when friends come to visit from abroad? Or a money diary from another ambassador? Comment and let us know!