BEFORE Lauren Wilkinson started studying to become a nurse she was "silly" with money.

The now 25-year-old regularly splashed out £500 a month on clothes, fancy dinners and nights out as she earned £1,500 a month.

But when she enrolled on a nursing course at university in 2019 she knew things had to change.

She had just £1,375 a month from uni grants, but using a super strict budget, she lived off £250 – which included transport costs.

As she got her financial support in three month chunks, Lauren would have to plan her budget far in advance. She wrote down everything she spent on a list on her phone.

She even managed to save £400 a month – putting £200 into a Help to Buy Isa and £200 into savings.

She then took on gruelling shifts at her local hospital's Covid ward to help earn extra cash – £375 a week.

It took her two years to save up £8,000, which is half the amount needed for a £16,000 deposit to secure her dream home.

She moved into Alex's grandparents' house when the pandemic began in March last year, helping care for them throughout the whole of the Covid crisis.

It meant she could live rent-free in their house for a whole year, helping to supercharge their savings plan.

However, she took plenty of precautions to make sure Alex's grandparents were safe when she came back from working on the wards.

She put her uniform in a dis-solvable washing bag so she could put it straight into the washing machine.

She made sure she had a shower as soon as she got back from work, and would use lateral flow tests twice a week.

Her 26-year-old boyfriend, mechanic Alex Turner, stumped up the remaining £8,000 for their £160,000 three-bed house in Stoke-on-Trent.

Alex earns £36,000 a year, while Lauren is still a student nurse.

We sat down with Lauren in her new home to see how she managed to scrimp and scrape her way to buying her dream house for The Sun’s My First Home series.

Tell me about your home

It’s a three bed semi-detached house in Stoke-on-Trent.

We have a bathroom upstairs, and a kitchen/diner space downstairs which leads into a conservatory.

The conservatory opens up onto our back garden – we have a patio and a patch of artificial grass.

There's also a shed at the bottom of the garden that's great for storage.

We exchanged on the house in May this year, and moved in a week after.

How much did you pay for it?

We paid £160,000 for our house, and put down a 10% deposit for it at £16,000.

Halifax is our mortgage provider, and we took out a 30 year loan of £144,000 with a fixed rate of five years.

Our mortgage repayments are £578 per month.

My grandma gave us £10,000 towards the house as well – which we were really grateful for.

Why did you pick the location?

Me and Alex have always wanted to move to Stoke-on-Trent, but houses are so popular here that they fly off the market.

We noticed properties were being sold in a matter of days over the Covid crisis – partly because people were rushing to buy one before the stamp duty holiday started to taper off this month.

But we saw this one pop up on Rightmove for a reasonable price at the beginning of the year – so we acted fast to bag it.

My nan lives in this area, and Alex’s grandparents aren’t too far away – all the family lives nearby.

How did you save up for it?

Saving up for a deposit was really hard because I did it on a student budget – but I still managed to put away a total of £8,000 in just over two year.

I was a full-time healthcare assistant for seven years after I left college in 2012, but enrolled on a nursing course at university in 2019.

What help is out there for first-time buyers?

GETTING on the property ladder can feel like a daunting task but there are schemes out there to help first-time buyers have their own home.

Help to Buy Isa – It's a tax-free savings account where for every £200 you save, the Government will add an extra £50. But there's a maximum limit of £3,000 which is paid to your solicitor when you move. These accounts have now closed to new applicants but those who already hold one have until November 2029 to use it.

Help to Buy equity loan – The Government will lend you up to 20% of the home's value – or 40% in London – after you've put down a 5% deposit. The loan is on top of a normal mortgage but it can only be used to buy a new build property.

Lifetime Isa – This is another Government scheme that gives anyone aged 18 to 39 the chance to save tax-free and get a bonus of up to £32,000 towards their first home. You can save up to £4,000 a year and the Government will add 25% on top.

Shared ownership – Co-owning with a housing association means you can buy a part of the property and pay rent on the remaining amount. You can buy anything from 25% to 75% of the property but you're restricted to specific ones.

Mortgage guarantee scheme – The scheme opens to new 95% mortgages from April 19 2021. Applicants can buy their first home with a 5% deposit, it's eligible for homes up to £600,000.

I thought I’d regret it if I didn’t try to become a nurse – I had wanted to try and get this qualification for years.

But the same year, we also decided we wanted to buy our own place.

We had to start saving from scratch – I was really silly with money, I just couldn’t save. 

I would spend £500 a month on going out, holidays, takeaways and clothes – but that all changed when I became a student.

I would get a maintenance payment of £3,000 every three months, and a bursary of £1,500 every four months.

It meant I had to put myself on a super strict budget, spending just £250 a month – including travel – and logging everything I bought on a list on my phone.

Every month I would put £200 into my Help to Buy ISA, and another £200 into my other savings account on average.

But we didn't end up using the Help to Buy scheme in the end, because we decided to buy a house that wasn't a new build.

You're only eligible for the Help to Buy scheme if you buy a new build house and you can buy a home with just a 5% deposit.

You can also borrow up to 20% of the property value – or 40% in London – to make your mortgage smaller if you're on a smaller salary to help you get on the property ladder.

I could only afford to live on a shoestring budget because I moved in with Alex and his grandparents in March 2020, and they didn’t charge me any rent.

Instead, me and Alex became their carers during the Covid crisis.

Alex’s grandad is disabled, so he needed a carer during the pandemic to get essential supplies and any medicine he needed while he stayed indoors.

We made sure to pick up anything else they needed from the shops and drove them anywhere they needed to go too.

We also renovated their house – Alex replaced the flooring across the living room and dining area and we both redecorated a lot of their rooms too.

I also took up a job on the side, working as a healthcare worker on the Covid ward which I still do now.

I would get an average of £375 a week by working three shifts which would last 12.5 hours from 7am to 7:30pm.

I would care for patients who were seriously ill with Covid, and fit my studies in between.

It was really difficult – it was so sad to see patients you care for die.

Alex was also saving up for the deposit too.

I was able to save so much because if we wanted a treat every so often – for example, getting a takeaway – he would pay for it. 

He also did a lot of overtime, picking up an average of two hours extra a week and would sometimes work over weekends.

He saved up to £8,000 for the house.

In 24 months, I had saved £8,000 too – half of the deposit we needed for our home.

Did you have any complications buying the house?

I was worried that banks wouldn’t lend us a mortgage to begin with because I was a student.

This was even more of a concern when banks were much stricter lending to people during the Covid crisis.

But because Alex has a good wage – he earns £36,000 a year – it really helped us when applying for a loan. In fact, we got a mortgage pretty much straight away.

Although we both weren’t that great with saving, we had good credit scores – we never got into debt, and I made sure to repay any credit I had taken out back and pay bills on time.

It meant we were able to get our mortgage through without too much trouble.

How have you afforded to furnish it?

Thanks to my grandma, we had a good chunk of money still left in our savings after we put our deposit down for the house.

By the time we put in an offer for the house, we had a combined £24,000 in savings – which meant after we put down the deposit, we still had £8,000 left for furniture.

But we still made sure we got a lot of it in the sales to save money.

Last year before we purchased the house, we bought two sofas in the Next sale, one was £375 down from £500 and the other was £400 down from £700.

We stored them in my grandma’s garage until we were ready to move in.

In the same sale, we got a rug for £40 instead of £100.

But we’ve made sure to spread out the cost of buying furniture in phases, getting one item each month.

The extra money we’ve still got left over will be put towards redecorating the house. 

We’re not doing any major renovation work, but we need some money to pay for plasterers to do up our living room walls and pay for paint and wallpaper.

What’s your advice to other first time buyers?

It’s still possible to save, even when you’re on a tight budget.

I made sure to keep to a super strict budget, and give up any non-essential items – so as long as you keep tabs on your spending and give up luxuries in the short-term, you should be able to boost your savings.

It pays to be organised. I had to plan out my budget three months in advance when I got my chunks of student finance cash.

While it’s really hard saving when money is tight, it can be achieved – and it’s worth it in the end when you have a place of your own.

Here's how one first time buyer saved £2.2k in just six weeks to buy her first home.

Another first time buyer doesn't pay a penny on his mortgage repayments.

Here's a savvy saver used the 50-30-20 savings method to help save for a deposit for her £146,000 first home.

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