Surviving the first year at university

It has been a fair few years since I took those first few tentative steps into student life but I can remember it as if it were yesterday.  Standing in my room at the halls of residence, listening to the excited chatter and banging of doors and taking a deep breath as the reality dawned on me that this was it; university, freedom, independence.

Now, I am preparing for my own son to start.  Luckily for me, I have him for another year yet, but I have a year to try and pass on a few (hundred) words of wisdom to him to help him make the best of his three years away.

So looking back, what advice would I give him about surviving that first year at university?

Second hand rules

There is no denying that when you are a student, money is generally in short supply and anything that you can do to save money will help it all go a bit further.  Don’t let snobbery get the better of you when it comes to shopping as you can get some great deals if you shop in second hand shops.  Most universities will have bookshops on campus or nearby that sell second hand text books and this can be an absolute lifesaver if you are studying a course with a long reading list.

Second hand shopping doesn’t end there either.  These days, we live in such a throw away society that most things that can be bought second hand are often as good as new and clothes, furniture and other things for your accommodation will seem even nicer if you have payed a fraction of the normal price for them.  Be careful with electrical items though, especially laptops or computer equipment unless they have been refurbished by a reputable company and you get a warranty and give used mattresses a miss too as you really can never tell where they have been.

Budgeting makes the money go round

For most students, the first year at university is their first taste of independent living.  Avoid the temptation to spend all of your money at once as you will regret it later.  Budgeting is the key and a great habit to get into for life after uni too.  Work out when and how much money you are going to get and work out a monthly budget; even better a weekly one.  Take away any unavoidable outgoings such as rent and bills and see what is left over. Simple budgeting makes sense as you don’t want to get into debt unless you really have to as all debts have to be paid back eventually.

Sleep is not for the weak

University life may sometimes seem like one long party.  There will be endless opportunities to go out and party with friends but it is important to get a balance.  If I am honest, this is a piece of advice that my 18 year old self would have laughed at, but with hindsight I know that it is important to get some sleep along the way too.  The odd early night is not going to kill you or your reputation as the campus party animal and constant exhaustion will certainly get in the way of your studies.  You are at university to study, remember?

Eat the occasional healthy meal

One thing that is so much better than when I was at university is the ability to cook good food on a budget.  The internet is literally dripping with great food sites and blogs that offer thrifty and frugal tips and recipes which means that there is no excuse not to make an effort to be healthy.  If you are living in halls of residence, the chances are that you may be catered for anyway which is great as you will have the option of a good balance of nutritious food each day.  If you are cooking for yourself, find a few recipes that you like the look of and that are within your cooking capabilities and shop round for reasonable ingredients.  Find out what time your local supermarket does their daily food reductions as this can be a perfect way to stock your food cupboard a little more cheaply.

Avoid takeaway food, it is really not good for you to have too often and it doesn’t come cheap either.  Why not club together with friends and make a meal together, that way it can be a social activity and you can all benefit from it; everyone can bring something along and it will be like a feast.  Just remember to divide up the cleaning up too afterwards.

Avoid ‘Fresher’s Flu’

Lack of sleep, too many late nights, poor diet and being away from home for the first time can be a bit of a shock to the system and it is quite common in those first few weeks for students to get ‘fresher’s flu’.  This is a term given to that general feeling you get when you are tired and run down; sore throat, swollen glands, cough and cold, fever, all signs that you are under the weather.  Make sure you start to take things easy as soon as any of these symptoms make an appearance.  Keep a handy supply of paracetamol and ibuprofen as these can be bought quite cheaply in most pharmacies or supermarkets and they will help if you are suffering.

Free time is not just free time

I am going to mention the ‘s’ word again; studying.  It is easy when you are away from home for the first time, to get totally carried away with any time that isn’t spent in lectures and study sessions.  Managing your time is important from week one.  Some courses are not so lecture intensive with lots of free time to spend researching and working.  Spending those free hours nursing a hangover, shopping or chatting with friends is all well and good and we all need some down time, but you also need to pace your studies.  Leaving everything until the last few weeks before exams is risky and can cause a huge amount of stress.


These could be some of the best years of your life.  New friends, new places, new experiences, it really is the most amazing thing to do.  Be sensible (sometimes), stay safe and healthy (always) and keep on top of your studies (most of the time) and you will have a fantastic time.


surviving the first year at universityThis post is an entry into Currys PC World #CurrysStudentHacks competition.  Find out more here.


Nineteen, nnnn nineteen.  Most of you probably don’t remember that song form the 80’s (if you don’t then you aren’t really missing anything) but it has been rattling around in my head a lot today.  For today *sounds fanfare* I am the proud owner of a nineteen year old.

Well proud and slightly overwhelmed if I am honest.  Where did the last year go to, it only feels like five minutes since I was discussing the merits of eighteen years of parenting?

What a year it has been too.  The teen picked up his proverbial socks up and worked them off again at school and in spite of working and playing rugby, he did what he needed to do to come away with awesome A level results.  He made the decision to take a year out from school before going to university even though he was the only one amongst his group of friends to do so.  He made the decision to apply to do creative writing in spite of some people (mainly me) trying to encourage him to do a more traditional course.  He has worked hard in his part time job and has barely missed a shift and he has been self sufficient; rarely asking for money as he earns his own.  He has made the decision to go to New Zealand after Christmas on his own and do some travelling before he starts university.

He has grown up and become an independent, freethinking young man and I am very proud of him.

What have I learnt this year?  You can only guide your children to their next destination and support them.  They need to find their own way, make their own mistakes and hopefully learn by them.  I am also learning to let go.  Slowly.  Oh and that you are never too old to have a cake covered in Smarties.

Happy birthday

Happy birthday xx

Baked Dhal Recipe

Baked Dhal Recipe

One of our local takeaways does the most amazing side dish called Tarka Dhal and it is the most wonderful dish made up of lentils, garlic and spices.  Over the last year I have been experimenting with different dhal recipes and different combinations of ingredients and I have finally come up with a recipe that I love.  I prepare this with fresh naan breads and this makes a wonderfully warm and comforting dish which is easy to prepare and easy on the purse.  I make a large quantity and it lasts two days but you can easily halve the amount.  You can also add a finely chopped chilli if you want a little more heat in the dish, I prefer it without.  This recipe can easily serve 6 – 8 people or less if you prefer larger portions.

Baked Dhal

Baked Dhal Recipe
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main Meal
Cuisine: Indian
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
  • 4 tsp ground coriander
  • 4 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 4 tsp ground or chopped ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 8 cardamom seeds. extracted and crushed
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 400ml coconut milk
  • 500g red lentils
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to season
  1. Preheat the oven to 180c
  2. Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear
  3. Cook the chopped onion in the sunflower oil on a low heat for around 8 minutes until soft.
  4. Add the garlic and cook gently for a further two minutes
  5. Add all of the spices and turn the heat to high. Cook on high for one minute, stirring continuously
  6. Add the tomato purée and stir in
  7. Add the lentils and coat with the spice mixture
  8. Add the stock and the coconut milk and stir until well combined
  9. Bring to the boil, season and transfer to an oven proof dish
  10. Bake in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes
  11. Enjoy

Baked Dhal Recipe

Cheeky Chompers Comfortchew Giveaway

For those of you with very little ones, I have a lovely and very new product to give away.  Cheeky Chompers; the mums behind the award-winning Neckerchew, have come up with a very clever 4-in-1 product that I am sure will become a baby essential.

The Comfortchew is an attachable teething comforter with textures and patterns to stimulate babies and soothe tender gums. It brings together all of the baby essentials in one; a comforter, a teether, tags and the feel of a soft teddy or blanket.  The cuddle fleece is made from soft jersey cotton that is delicate but absorbent and it can be easily attached to baby’s wrist, cot, car seat or buggy.

Comfortchew from Cheeky Chompers

Manufactured in the UK, the Comfortchew is the brainchild of Amy and Julie who founded Cheeky Chompers in 2013 after identifying a gap in the market for an attachable teething product. The Neckerchew has been a resounding success with it now being sold worldwide.

Comfortchew from Cheeky Chompers

The Comfortchew is suitable from birth and is available from, RRP:  £17.95.

–           Teether: the soft, chewy textured Hippo-teether gives a great bite, using an innovative, dimpled design to massage and soothe tender gums & encourage new teeth to break through with a cute hippo character to cuddle beyond the    teething years.

–           Comforter: soft jersey cotton and cuddle fleece bring the feel of baby’s favourite teddy created to  be little ones favourite soothing blanket whilst being  highly absorbent to help catch those teething dribbles

–           Stimulating: great colours, textures and shapes to stimulate little senses

–           Attached: don’t lose this one! The Comfortchew can attach to the baby, cot, car seat, buggy and dummy

–           Washable and safe: easy machine washable at 40 degrees, BPA and phthalates free and 100% safe to chew on!

So if you would like to win your very own Comfortchew, please fill in the Rafflecopter below.  Please follow the instructions carefully as all invalid entries will be deleted.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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