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ClearScore money stories: Moving abroad with 99p in my pocket

Bianca joined ClearScore after deciding to make the move from New Zealand to London. She reveals what it's really like to find yourself suddenly running out of money in a strange country

21 December 2017Hannah Salih 3 min read

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What's your money story?

Moving to London has been one of the trickiest and most amazing things that I've done. On top of the usual homesickness, navigating the tube and getting used to the lovely British weather, moving abroad has also been a big challenge for my wallet.

I saved up for over two years to afford this move, which was hard work. I was determined to try something new and had been looking to travel to Europe for years so I figured, why not move to London?

Saving for a big trip is tricky enough but it was after I crossed the pond that my financial situation really began to be a worry.

What was it like arriving in London?

After a year I figured I had enough cash to get going. When I jumped on the plane, I hadn't got any work lined up in the UK, but I figured it would be easy enough to find something.

The first few weeks were a bit of a whirlwind. There's so much to see and do in London and I didn't want to miss out on any opportunities: tourist attractions, day trips, brunch. While I was doing so many amazing things I wasn't paying much attention to my bank balance and I hadn't been trying to find work.

I didn't have a UK bank account so everything was going straight on my home credit card. Spending New Zealand dollars against the pound made every purchase nearly doubly expensive. My finances really began to dwindle but I just kept ignoring my situation.

I figured if I just stayed positive and didn't check my bank balance everything would be fine, right? But with every fun English activity, my funds were slowly getting less and less.

After a couple of months the situation caught up with me, and by that time it was pretty extreme. For about 8 weeks, I really struggled to get by. I had to scrimp and save wherever I could - in fact I don't think anyone has ever eaten so many packets of two minute noodles before. At that point, being so far away from my family got a lot harder and London started to feel less and less like home everyday.

But there was one day in particular that really stands out. I was in the local shop to pick up some dishwashing liquid for my flat. As I walked up to the till, I realised that I wasn't actually sure whether I could afford the purchase. It was 99p. The reality of my money situation really hit me right there and then in the cleaning aisle.

I had about 70p on my card and I eventually managed to dig out 50p from my bag and pockets. I ended up having to ask the cashier to split the payment between cash and card - for a purchase that was under a pound. Looking back, you can kind of laugh at the situation. But at the time, as I asked the cashier to split the pennies, I can safely say that was a real low point.

When I got home I just sat on my bed trying to figure out what I could do next. There I was, stuck abroad in a country where I had no safety net. If I couldn't afford washing up liquid, I definitely couldn't afford a flight home. I felt completely stuck and it was hard not to think that I'd made a huge mistake making the move.

How did you get everything back on track?

The only choice I had was to get back on top of my money. It's not like I had no options, I'd just gotten so used to burying my head in the sand and ignoring everything. Ultimately the main thing that helped me was getting a job. But I decided that just because I would be making more, I shouldn't just revert back to old habits. Otherwise, I'd probably find myself back in the same situation in no time.

So I stopped saying yes to everything out of fear of missing out. It can be tricky when there's still so much you want to see around the country. But it has meant I've discovered all of London's amazing, and completely free things to do! There's so many ways to have fun that don't cost the earth.

What is the main thing that this experience has taught you?

The key thing I've learnt is not to ignore your bank balance - hoping for the best isn't a great strategy for managing your money.

It's tricky to balance your finances when you're in slightly unusual circumstances. Back home, it's easier to budget and do everything you know you should be doing, because life is much more settled. But when you're living abroad everything is so new and exciting. You're in such a whirlwind that it's so easy to forget that you're still in the real world where money is a thing that can run out.

I do still believe that you should spend money on things that make you happy or that offer you an amazing experience, so I absolutely don't regret making the move. I just wish I hadn't buried my head in the sand for so long when I first arrived.

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Written by Hannah Salih

Content Creator

Hannah is currently studying for a Master's in Comparative Cultural Analysis. She knows all about personal finance, but as a student, she's an expert in money saving tips and tricks.