My First Job: How I was bitten by the frugality bug

This is the tale of how I was bitten by the frugality bug. I’m sharing this with you to give you some background as to how I have ended up writing about frugality, and why you should believe what I’m sharing. But the other thing I want to get across is that everyone’s story is different, and there is no bad reason to start thinking about being more frugal or money saving. I also want to share some of the lessons I learned as a course of my story.

It starts in the summer of 2010 as I finished University. I had studied Materials Science in Manchester for the previous 4 years and had mostly got by on a student loan, working in a bar in Deansgate on the weekends, and working in the holidays at a Golf Course back home. Don’t get me wrong, I was always somewhat frugal or at least had that disposition. But when you are being motivated by studying, drinking, chasing tail and generally being a 20-something, frugality takes a back seat.

However, all that changed in 2010. In the immediate aftermath of my final exams at Uni, I became consumed by the desire to kick start my career at any price. A lot of my peers had started working already (on account of only doing 3 year courses) and I wanted to earn some real money. Student life had been great, but I wanted to live somewhere less damp, with less people and in a nicer place. In reality all of this was greed and attempting to live beyond my means, the opposite of frugality, and it gets worse before it gets better.

I was lucky, I very quickly found a temporary job in a field that resonated with my degree in an R&D department in a company in Blackpool. I received a booking for a hotel on the seafront from my new manager that i would use for the first few weeks as I got settled in. I gotta tell you about this place. If you have ever been to Blackpool, its called the Norbreck Castle. Some relic of a time when Blackpool was the happening seaside resort of choice, since fallen into disrepair, sticky carpets, mouldy walls and Carling on tap. I arrived to check out my room, found bed bugs infesting the mattress, immediately freaked out and checked my self into a much more comfortable B&B down the coast in St Annes.

Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool
The Norbreck Castle. You would be forgiven for thinking this photo is from the 60s, but it was taken in 2008 (two years before I was there)
(By Norbreckcastle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4354884)

For a while I started commuting from my student house in Manchester while the lease expired there. It was a 2 hour trip in good traffic, and I used to do it in my little Peugeot 206 which I had bought many years previously. This didn’t progress that well, as I was run into by a “crash for cash” type (as was the trend at the time) who immediately claimed whiplash injury despite only clipping my wing mirror. In an early sign of my frugality, I couldn’t bear to pay for a new wing mirror, so I botched my own solution in the form of a cheap extension meant for people towing caravans. I wouldn’t advise this. I’m not sure it was entirely legal but it kinda worked.

In short, I lost my confidence commuting. I never really liked it anyway. I didn’t particularly like Blackpool either. I was faced with a choice. Move to somewhere I wanted to live closer to work at a cost, or live somewhere less costly but in a situation I wasn’t that happy with. I went with option A, and after a long search, found myself a flat in a block on a leafy street in Preston. Preston also wasn’t an amazing town, but I was single at the time, and it represented the nightlife hub in the area. The rent was pushing £800 a month. It was nice flat, but probably not that nice. The windows were old and rattled, and the furniture in the place was knackered. The sofa was famous among my friends as basically being a puddle on the floor.

man sat on sofa holding dvd
Christmas 2010. The only photo I could find in the flat, and I’m sat in the puddle sofa. I sold that TV and the blu ray of Star Trek shortly after.

Add to that the fact that my job was temporary and I was on around £18k a year, so take home pay of around £900. I had commuting costs and various bills and such on top of my rent that basically pushed me over my earnings every single month.

I don’t know what I was thinking at the time, but I was seduced by the promise of a nicer place, the potential to go out every weekend (didn’t consider the fact I wouldn’t have money to do this), and my logic was, “I have a job! A real job! This shouldn’t be too hard!”. I was wrong.

My logic was, “I have a job! A real job! This shouldn’t be too hard!”. I was wrong.

Every single month was the same struggle. I would work, browse online dating sites, meet girls, spend all of my money on dates that didn’t go anywhere and then on evenings I played World of Warcraft because I already owned it and my parents gave me a dongle for internet they happened to have kicking around. I didn’t have a single spare penny, to the point where I used to scrounge my way through lunchtimes at work, living off my colleagues, ride sharing with them (they were very charitable) and selling everything I could get my hands on.

I sold my old playstation, pretty much every DVD and game I owned, my old phones and much more just in the effort to have a few more quid. I was miserable. Add to this the fact that my employment was only temporary. I got treated like a second class citizen in this workplace as a temp worker, and they had zero interest, despite all of my efforts and hard work, in making me or anyone else permanent.

In short, I had to make every penny count during this period. Before I knew it I had a rudimentary budget up and running with one incoming payment and a few outgoings, and I knew where every pound was, and what it was for. If things didn’t add up, I cancelled stuff, and sold stuff until it did. It was all born out of necessity.

I never “solved” my problems with budgeting during this period. But it helped make ends meet. It was necessary. I didn’t start to escape the trap until I eventually found permanent work in Yorkshire in a similar R&D group, which I started in 2011. But this is a story for another day.

Ever since that time, whilst I didn’t “need” to budget as much as I did during that year or so, I couldn’t help but look at every situation and ask “why couldn’t this cost less?” or “is there a cheaper way to do this?”. And the fascination and desire has grown and served me well from there.

So in short, some of the lessons I learned from my mistakes during this experience:

  • Don’t rush into a job after university if you don’t have to (e.g. if you can go and live at home for a bit)
  • Try your best to live in the town you work (Blackpool had nice and affordable bits, I just judged it too soon)
  • Don’t make financial decisions using your sexual organs

However I look at it I’m still glad I checked out of the Norbreck Castle though.

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