Just money

Holly Platt-Higgins looks at a students changing perceptions of money and how it can effect everything

Holly Platt-Higgins


Do you remember when you were younger and being given ten pounds was so exciting because ten quid was just so much money? Think of everything you could get with a tenner: endless pick ‘n’ mix, a Beano, a few Panda Pops, loads and loads of stickers, a pack of Top Trumps, some noisy putty and hundreds of Freddos. Being handed a crisp ten-pound note really was like being given a ticket to the highlife. At the age of twenty-one, I know I’m not reasonably allowed to say ‘back in the good-old days’ but really, it was all a lot simpler before interest rates and overdrafts got involved.

Earlier, my friend and I were deliberating what I should write my column on. We thought about buttery prices, taxis back from nights out, train tickets to London for when people need to escape the bubble and then I realise, everything, everything is so expensive. Why does everything cost so much money? It’s a nightmare. You think you’ve budgeted for the week but then it’s someone’s bloody birthday and you need to buy a present, or you run out of toothpaste and you’re having to pay £2.50 for Oral B Whitening bullshit because it’s the cheapest one you can find in Sainsburys, and as you pick up laundry capsules, you think to yourself, seven quid, seven quid for fifteen washes – is that a joke? What on earth are these going to be doing to my laundry that warrant them costing that much; seven hundred pennies wouldn’t even fit in that tiny capsule box. It’s barbaric.

You’re never independently poor before university, because you’re simply subject to your parents’ financial situation. But, as soon as you get given a student loan it’s a completely different ballgame. And I’m sure there are lots of people, not just in Cambridge but across the country, whose mummies and daddies will happily pay off their enormous overdrafts at the end of university or there will be people who don’t even understand what I’m talking about because they never had to get a student loan in the fist place, but, for the vast majority of us, this is not the case. My parents are in no way going to hand me the hundreds of pounds I owe Nationwide or pay the college bill I rack up over term because I’m not a child anymore, I can’t expect to get bailed out. And, that’s quite a bizarre thing. It all feels very safe in the bubble and all quite far away because the minus numbers only exist on your banking app, but when you think about it, that’s actually real money; money that I owe someone else. So, fundamentally, I’m currently in debt, which is somewhere you never are as a child.

And, I suppose, in a slightly Orwellian way, there is something very communal about it – all your friends being skint with you at the same time

And, I suppose, in a slightly Orwellian way, there is something very communal about it – all your friends being skint with you at the same time because everyone is living off peanuts and it’s probably one of the only stages in your life when, ‘I haven’t any money right now’, is a perfectly legitimate excuse to not attend something. It feels very much like a rite of passage everyone should go through; being a student and having no cash and eating buttered toast and crackers for a couple of days because those are the only things you have left.

The group chat with my friends from home constantly contains messages like: ‘I’m currently living off the £1.50 pizza they sell in CoOp’, ‘Can’t believe I work three days a week and I’m still in my overdraft’ or, my personal favourite, ‘Guys I’m actually so poor, I’ve almost had to quit smoking.’ It may just be my college, or the friends I’m around, but I really don’t hear these things said half as much in Cambridge as I do with my friends back home. People here are quite frequently ordering from Deliveroo and Asos, shelling out a couple of hundred quid for a may ball, dropping fifteen quid for a swap etc. and, I’m not really sure the Cambridge lifestyle is the normal student lifestyle.

Either way, the last year and a half has been a rather horrible realisation that a tenner really isn’t much money at all. In fact, even your student loan isn’t much money at all. Rent, heating, food, toothpaste, all of this stuff is fundamentally essential and it’s really expensive. According to a friend of mine, tea-bags are the worst because, ‘you can’t scrimp on a cup of tea.’ And I’m sure, after Cambridge I will look back in scorn at this article, thinking, ‘oh yeah poor you, getting handed money from the government that I now have to pay back’, disdainful at my current complaints with much more impressive financial doom looming.


Mountain View

POCKET: Illness and student finances

I guess it’s all relative: as a kid, a tenner is big money.; as a student, the day the loan comes in, you feel like Bill Gates; as an adult, the days without children to pay for will seem like luxury. And, doing an arts subject, with the aim to venture into the creative industry, really doesn’t stand me in good stead for anything other than a downward trajectory when it comes to financial security. So, I suppose I should just keep the overdraft in perspective; yes, I owe a few hundred quid but when I have a mortgage and council tax to pay I’m sure it won’t seem as daunting as it does now.