The Money Diaries: a third year student living with a disability

As part of starting an open discussion about students and their relationship with money, and taking inspiration from Refinery29’s own ‘Money Diaries’ series, we at The Student are writing about our own experiences in order to start breaking down much of the taboo that still surrounds discussion of money. As part of our Disability History Month coverage, this taboo is being discussed while highlighting the financial costs of having a disability.

Keeping control of your finances is a concern for any student, however, when the symptoms of my chronic health condition began to flare up at the beginning of this semester, I had no idea about the financial impact of living with a disability at university.

With no grants available from the university itself and the SAAS Disabled Students’ Allowance taking an age to come through, I have certainly felt a heightened degree of anxiety surrounding my finances due to my illness.

I have always been a saver, with a healthy bank balance from summers spent working and penny-pinching during term time. However, my physical health is currently causing me to spend more than I am earning, despite having a SAAS loan, a part-time job with a good wage and being in the incredibly privileged position of having my parents pay my rent.

I hope this diary can help shed some light on this issue and show that disabled students need more institutional support from the University of Edinburgh.

Monday – £47.90

As a generally weak person whose shoulders dislocate if I lift anything mildly heavy and with one hand always dedicated to holding the stick that keeps me upright, doing a big food shop is a challenge, to say the least. To combat this, I do an online Asda order at the beginning of the semester of basics to last me until the end of term. I’m vegan, so this mostly consists of pasta, rice, porridge, endless tins of chickpeas, frozen peas and Linda McCartney sausages, giving me the basics for easy meals that don’t require long periods of standing up.

At the beginning of the week, I like to buy fresh fruit and vegetables (and hummus) to last me the week. Sainsbury’s is more expensive than Lidl and Tesco but it’s the closest to my flat so I go there. I spend £9.85 and I’m ready, food-wise, for the week ahead.

Afterwards, I make a quick stop to Poundland and Superdrug to buy some medical supplies. I’ve run out of heat pads for my back so I buy three packs of two from Poundland at £1 each. I also get the off-brand ProPlus (called Power Kick) for £1, which contains the same ingredients as the branded version at a third of the cost. On particularly bad days, it keeps me alive through my evening slump. My ankle support is starting to get worn so I buy a new one (£17.49), some more paracetamol (£0.95), Vitamin C tablets (£3.99) and a nail varnish (£3.99) from Superdrug for £26.42.

After walking to my lectures, I grab chips and beans with a friend from Teviot (£2.90), go to a committee meeting and Uber home (£4.73). I am asleep by 8 pm.

Tuesday – £50.75

Fatigue comes with my illness so I work incredibly badly past around 5 pm. To help this, wake up ridiculously early so I can keep on top of things. I arrive at Starbucks by 7 am, get a grande americano to sit in (£2.75) and work there until midday.

While I’m there, I find a Groupon deal for a physiotherapy consultation for £45. I’m on the NHS waiting list for specialist physiotherapy but at an eight-month wait, I want to get something in place sooner. I pay through Groupon and phone up to book an appointment for two-weeks time.

Thankfully, I don’t have to pay for my (many) prescriptions which I pick up after a doctors appointment. I go to my tutorials and walk home via Sainsbury’s where I pick up a meal deal as I’m too tired to cook (£3). After eating my avocado sandwich, drinking my coconut water and saving my Kettle Chips for later, I fall asleep at 9.

Wednesday – £7.62

I had a committee meeting at Pleasance on this day, a one-mile walk that would tire me on a good day but would’ve killed me on this, an especially bad pain day. If I’m going to one place for something, I try to stay there all day studying to limit the energy I spend travelling so I arrived at nine and stayed until around four.

Today was a ‘no spend day,’ a rule I enforce on myself around two to three times a week. I ate all my meals at home, closed all my ASOS tabs and resisted my usual coffee(s). And yet, I still spent £7.62.

I never feel guilty for spending money on Uber’s – £3.60 there and £4.02 back – because they are necessary for my independence. Forcing myself to be happy that I resisted other expenses, I counted this day as a win financially, but it shows how the baseline of spending for disabled students can be higher out of need. Spending nothing in a day is for me, unfortunately, unrealistic.

Thursday – £16.24

I wake up at 6 am for my traditional Starbucks (£2.75) and manage to get a load of work done. I pack my lunch and work, spending free, until my Uber home (£3.50).

I’m a bit sad though, so I buy a book on disability from Lighthouse Books (£9.99) to cheer myself up, justifying the purchase by pretending it will help with my university work. It backfires and I cry a lot while reading about the systematic oppression and hate crimes against people with disabilities. Cool.

Friday – £0

Despite what I said on Wednesday, I did spend absolutely nothing on Friday. I managed to dislocate my hip in the night, bailed on my tutorials, cancelled my plans with friends, wallowed in bed all day, ate tomato paste straight out the tube and cried at that bit in Gilmore Girls where Lorelai persuades Mrs Kim to go to Lane’s baby shower.

Financially, it was a big win, but generally… not so much.

Saturday – £2.90

I have an essay due so I spend all day in Teviot doing work and getting visited by friends. I feel well enough to walk to uni, and back home, which is a big health win. I eat chips and beans to celebrate (£2.90).

I realise my work wage hasn’t come through so I transfer myself £100 from my savings account.

Sunday – £24.41

As Head Copy Editor of this wonderful publication, I spend every second Sunday surrounded by our amazing copy editing team, looking through the pages of the paper before it goes to print. I Uber there at around 10 am (£9.20) and travel home at around 10 pm (£6.21). We get Domino’s delivered and I spend £9 on a vegan pizza. It is an incredibly necessary expense.

Total: £149.82

To be fair, it’s not as bad as I expected. But what concerns me is when I break down the figures into ‘normal’ and health-based expenses.

If I didn’t have my disability my weekly total would be just £47.13 on food, meals with friends and the occasional treats of nail varnish and a book. However, my disability means that I have to spend so much more. I spend £31.26 on transport, £45 on a necessary physiotherapy appointment and £26.43 on medications.

I am shocked to see the cost of my illness totals £102.69 in just one week.

While in some ways, I spend less as a disabled person – I have to limit my nights out due to my energy levels and save money by doing a big shop at the beginning of each semester – but the financial effects of living with a chronic condition are clear.

This is just one experience; I can not speak for all disabled students. But surely, what my diaries show is there should be more financial support from the university for people whose health cause them vast extra expenses. The University of Edinburgh – with its £929 million annual income – need to seriously consider funding disabled students as a mark of social responsibility.

I am not greedy; I am not asking for handouts. But I want to be able to live my life without the simple task of getting out of bed in the morning costing me money.

Image Credit: stevepb via Pixabay 

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