By Kat Smith
Coming to university is a leap into the unknown. Though the spontaneity can be exciting in many aspects, being clueless about money can be less exhilarating when the dust of the first week settles, and your bank account is looking far from fresh.
Pre-university financial education is severely lacking. Living away from home and from the monetary safety blanket many of us enjoy as a teenager means that our financial situation shifts significantly as we take our initial steps into independence. From budgeting weekly food shops to knowing when you can invest in that new jumper, having financial awareness can be the difference between thriving and surviving from Freshers’ week to finals. Either universities and schools need to step up their financial advice, or we need to take more responsibility for our own awareness of money.
We may learn a fair amount between nursery and A-Levels, but money certainly wasn’t involved in my education. With the exception of occasional pocket money and tense games of Monopoly, money never came into my peripheral vision until I earned money at 16 through a part-time job and spent about 90% of it at Urban Outfitters. I was pretty clueless when I came to uni, thinking I could do a weekly shop for less than £10 (which is now pretty laughable). Had I known how much things actually cost, how to budget accordingly and little savings tricks, I might have had a better chance of making my money stretch further.
With a lot of the direction and quality of our lives being heavily dictated by our income and expenses, why are we not advised at a younger age to understand and manage them? Why are we not made aware of how much bills are, or how mortgages work – considering that we’re going to have to deal with them for the rest of our lives? Incorporating these into school lessons would do a great deal to reduce obliviousness during university and beyond. So much focus has been placed on improving sex education at school, but money should be a close second on the priority list.
It’s also important that students are aware that not every student (or any individual for that matter) has the same finances; I remember living with people whose parents paid their accommodation in full while others had to work to keep the roof over their heads. It’s something students need to be informed about, or educate themselves about, before they come to university; being ignorant about other people’s financial situations can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. For example, schools, colleges and sixth forms in affluent areas may mean that students never get exposed to families and individuals struggling with money – the assumption that everyone’s parents can bail them out is one I’ve come across numerous times, and a highly awkward and ignorant one to make.
The government might currently have other priorities, but we can still take a degree of responsibility for our own financial education. While a lot of it can be trial and error, learning about money and the best ways to deal with it is a life skill worth learning before and during university.