Lists, votes, sprouts and student loans

As Carole drowns in her Christmas lists she asks daughter Miranda to write the bulk of the blog for her and is reminded of how the big stuff in life requires effort and learning


I am literally drowning in lists this time of year. I’ve heard that some people have Christmas spreadsheets and charts and printed address labels and probably digital turkeys for all I know. But I have lists. Not even tidy ones, but sprawled, spidery lists on torn-off scraps of paper that litter the kitchen in a decent attempt at a fake snow storm all through December.

You want me to vote, as well?

And this year, as if there wasn’t enough to do, I’m expected to vote! Putting my cross on that piece of paper on 12 December has been relegated to yet-another-thing-on-my-to-do-list. Making big decisions about our future – such as who we want to take the country into the third decade of the twenty-first century – should probably be given some proper brain power. Some slow thinking that will do justice to how important it is to get it right. And yet I fear it will be afforded the same level of thought and analysis as whether to get the sprouts on a stalk this year or go for the loose ones and see if anyone notices. Actually, come to think of it, I’ll probably think a bit more about the sprouts.

So, you will understand my reasoning for asking my Sixth Form daughter to write this month’s blog for me.

“What shall I write about?”

“Anything you like. But it should probably be about money”

“Will you pay me…?”

Blog takeover: Miranda starts to realise that there is much to get her head around

I remember being ten or eleven, and fantasising about being at uni. In my head I was some sort of film star: glamorous, excessively rich, swanning around campus with a bottomless cup of Starbucks coffee. I would motivate myself to work for the 11+ exam by making a “cappuccino” (hot chocolate) and arranging my papers importantly, pretending I was writing a life-changing dissertation in the stylish interior of my studio flat.

As I got older, the emergence of social media and ‘meme culture’ awakened me to a very different reality. Dryly humorous text posts – often accompanied by stills from The Office – spoke of overdue assessments, all-nighters, and student loans. The more I read, the more it seemed that every university student was struggling in some way or another; a far cry from the easy-going independence I had imagined.

Now I am fast approaching my uni years, I still wonder which of these diametrically opposed lifestyles I will be living. Is that care-free attitude and stable financial situation really so unattainable? Will I ever be able to view coffee as a fashion accessory instead of a means of survival? Or will I be confined to some dingy corner of a one-bedroom flat, desperately trying to meet deadlines on a broken computer, wondering whether, if I put my soul on eBay, I’d be able to pay the month’s rent?

Call me naïve (you’re not quite 17 yet – you’re allowed to be, Mum), but I had assumed university students would be focusing on their actual studies, rather than trying to keep up with debts. I have heard of the spectre of “student loans” that seems to hang over every student’s head like a nasty odour, but still have absolutely no idea what you’re meant to do about them. Are they automatically taken out of your account, regardless of whether you can afford it or not? Or is it your responsibility to remember to pay them? And if you forget, do you receive a visit from armed bodyguards in mirrored glasses, who handcuff you and march you off to some cell that is only mildly more disgusting than your current halls of residence?

You would hope that, at this stage of my life, school would have adequately equipped me with this knowledge, but sadly it seems that learning iambic pentameter and the quadratic formula is deemed a more valuable use of my time. Needless to say, this gaping hole in my (already limited) financial knowledge is somewhat worrying, what with tax, mortgages, pensions and all manner of other burdens that I hear the grown-ups talk about.

This being said, I’m sure uni isn’t all about loans and debt. Personally, I’m itching to get away from the well-meaning grasp of my parents (sorry mum) and experience some real university nightlife. I want to return home at 4am after an eventful and embarrassing night of clubbing that I can only just remember – only to do it all again the next evening.

However, until recently, I had sort of assumed that partying would pay for itself. Don’t we deserve to have some fun? Surely the government issues some sort of partying grant for first year students?  It’s practically a necessity. Failing that, how on earth does everyone manage to pay for their nights out? Does everyone have jobs? Or do they write home for a cheque from mummy and daddy to arrive via bejewelled pigeon whenever they run short of cash?

In this weird liminal stage between childhood and adulthood, how much are we expected to rely on our parents, and in what ways are we expected to be self-sufficient? I may be taller, and have fewer cuddly toys, but in essence I am much the same person as I was two years ago. In that case, how am I meant to survive when the world throws me into uni in two years’ time, having only known the comfort of my parents’ cooking and reassuring presence when things go awry?

I’m going to need a lot of help with all this. It looks like the so-called ‘independence’ that I can’t wait to get my hands on is going to be a long time coming.

The long-term stuff takes time and effort

I love this – and not just because it got me off the hook. This is our big girl thinking about her future and how she is going to make all the things that she hopes for happen (well, some of them, anyway). And recognising that this will involve effort – and not some small number of hardships and failures along the way.

For our part, as her parents, we will look to support her. Not with cheque-delivering bejewelled pigeons as much as encouragement to learn for herself and – where possible – plenty of communication about how a good relationship with money is a cornerstone of wellbeing.

Miranda’s very natural fears about the changes coming in her life are a reminder that thinking about long-term stuff – whether it’s who to vote for, or how on earth a student loan works – is hard work. We can’t put ‘Sort out finances’ at the bottom of our day-to-day lists and expect to be able to cross it off with the same nonchalance as we would ‘Stuff the turkey’. It takes time, learning and experience to understand about budgeting for essentials and nights out. And, in fact, about how money works throughout our lives. So we need all the help we can get. Thanks, Miranda.

10 December 2019