Sunday 19th May 2024

Working to fund study – the good, the bad and the, erm, good again


Working part time during studies can be stressful and exhausting but also highly rewarding.

It can earn you extra cash for shopping, going out, saving for a rainy day…whatever, really. I have always worked throughout my studies and it’s always been a steep learning curve. Let me tell you what I know.

Phoebe the piano teacher

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Amid casual catering jobs, my first proper part-time job began at the start of my A Levels. I was a self-employed piano teacher. I am musical and always have been – playing the piano since I was five etc., etc. – so this was essentially NOT a hard job for me.

For my two years as a piano teacher, I taught four beginners aged four to 18. I loved this job and miss it a little. Financially, it was excellent. I held the piano lessons in my home which meant that I didn’t have to pay any travel costs.

I saved £400, which was a great starting fund for university!

I charged £4 an hour to begin with because I was not a qualified teacher but after a year (having a little experience) I raised my price to £8 which was still pretty good for both customer and me. From this job, I learned about invoicing and that I can actually teach quite well – two of my former pupils went on to achieve distinctions in their Grade One piano exams after just a year of our lessons ending.

I managed to save just over £400, which acted as a great starting fund for university, and not forgetting that it’s another thing to chuck on the old CV. So, it worked out extremely well.

Phoebe, the increasingly stressed shop assistant

During my three university years, I juggled two part-time jobs which quite nicely subsidised my expensive shopping habits. The main job was working in an independent clothes boutique which I held for two and a half years. It was decent pay, freedom to do uni work when the shop was quiet, and shifts were very flexible.

There was normally only one person working in the shop each day, and I shared those days with my housemate where we essentially ran the shop for most of the week – taking shifts during our days off from uni then taking it in turns to do weekends.

Everything was fine – until the owners started taking wads of cash out of the money box.

It was all great until, after a year or so of working there, the till broke. The owner decided that it would cost too much to fix it and that we didn’t really need a till after all (sigh). So, from then on we had to hand-write receipts – three times per transaction – and all the shop’s cash was kept in a little unlocked, black box stored under the counter.

Everything was fine for a while, until the owners started taking wads of cash out of the money box, not writing it down, and forgetting how much they had taken. It was then that we had a problem. There were all sorts of accusations about this ‘missing money’.

So, I devised a different system to record money that left and entered the shop, which worked very well. It was fine until the owner then introduced ‘emergency money’, to be used if there was not enough money in the box for change or employee’s wages. A good idea? No.

Money started going missing again. More accusations were flung and more tears were shed. We didn’t want to be there anymore. The emergency money book was scrapped in the end, for obvious reasons, but we never really know what happened to that money.

This job was simple in principle but not in practice. It got very difficult at times with money issues and difficult (very difficult and threatening customers) but it was also an amazing financial booster. From this job, I was able to fund my shopping habit, pay rent and bills early, and save over £2,000 – I’m still amazed at that sum.

Phoebe, the Student Ambassador

My second university job was working as a Student Ambassador for my university department. Along with six others, I represented the department during open days. We welcomed prospective students and their parents, gave tours of the building and answered any questions. Being a Student Ambassador is great. If you can, do it because it’s easy, fun, paid reasonably well and you get a free T-shirt, too!

University is stressful enough without financial problems. Having jobs at uni meant that I didn’t have the constant money worries that cripple many students. Having a job gave me financial stability then, and a nice ISA account now. I would highly recommend. And, a little tip for the independent retail employer – you do, in fact, need a till.

Pic credit: The Piano Teacher by Christopher Michel.

Phoebe Burrows

Mouthy blogger

A recent music graduate, Phoebe is writing her way through her first job.

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