How much is Freshers’ Week costing your teen? Research I read this week shows that students across the UK can spend around £400 in Freshers’ Week. Put this in the context of the average annual student maintenance loan of £1500 and the reality of the maths is scary.
As the mother to a Fresher myself this year, I know first hand the financial pressures involved and whilst staggering, sadly this figure does not surprise me. What does surprise me is that the biggest spending city according to the research isn’t London but Edinburgh, with past and present students spending an average of £426 during Freshers’ Week and Bristol students spending the least at £334.
Tuition fees and accommodation costs aside, before even setting foot on campus for Freshers’ Week, students have numerous additional start up expenses including insurance, the TV licence fee, access to the university internet, a student rail card and of course the all important books. Yes of course some of these costs span generations and had to be paid in my university days, but for the 21st century student the impact of inflation on day to day living, makes that first week so much tougher.
Paying for entry to Freshers’ parties, signing up to become a member of various clubs and societies and simply going out and being sociable with new-found friends, places huge financial pressure upon our teens and it is easy to see how this number can be reached so quickly.
In fact the rising cost of being a student has meant that twice as many students who graduated last year compared to 2015 or earlier, felt unable to actually enjoy themselves at Fresher’s Week and with such a current emphasis on the mental health of our young people this is a worrying statistic, with potentially far-reaching consequences.
For many leaving home for the first time, keeping track of their spending is a daunting task. They have worked hard for their exams but it doesn’t end there, there is still more to come. Going through our son’s allowance with him before he headed off, it suddenly dawned on him that he would need to manage his budget carefully.
He worked hard to save for the customary bucket holidays with his mates over the summer as a final farewell to those fond and cossetted schooldays, but come last weekend he was close to penniless before his loan dropped into his account.
Numbers are his thing, so dropping him at university we had high hopes, that he of all people would manage it. Needless to say and maybe like most parents, we gave him a cash bonus as we left, to ease the pain of the first night at least. Only 72 hours in and we had our first anxious call about the possibility of exceeding his allowance, alongside a text saying “it is not me to be fair, it is just how Freshers’ is”.
Has peer pressure got anything to do with it? Well the research says yes and no doubt as a young teen trying to make an impression and not wanting to be left out of the party bubble in the first week, no doubt it has.
But what do those in the know say? London is littered with universities, so I contacted London South Bank University for an opinion on Freshers’ spending. Student Advice Manager, Chris Wright said “For many students when they get their student loan it is the first time they are receiving such a significant amount of money in one go, therefore it is easy for them to overspend during Freshers’ as they think they will have a lot left. Freshers’ is an opportunity for many to meet new people and to have a good time; everyone is trying to keep up as they do not want to be left out. Therefore many will spend money not taking into account that other students are maybe spending money they have saved over the summer or that their parents have given them, or that they have earnt. Students can also see their loan as a way to update their wardrobe and to buy the things they have wanted for a long time, especially if they are going to events and would like to make a good impression on their peers.”
The bitter truth is that the maintenance loan doesn’t cover all the costs. So is it another case of falling back on the bank of mum and dad? No parent wants their teenager stressed. How far can we or are we able to go to support them in their ambition?
Of course there will always be those parents (for whom money is no object) who do step in and bail their teens out, but life’s harsh lessons are not learnt that way. There comes a time when the safety net of mum and dad needs to be removed and they learn to stand on their own two feet.
I worked throughout my time at university. My allowance was set and there was no room for manoeuvre. It dawned on me very early that if I wanted to keep up with the Jones’ and remove all financial angst, a job was the way forward.
There is nothing worse as a teenager than being told “when I was your age” but sometimes needs must and I have banged that message home all summer. It is a divisive issue, some think working is a distraction but there are plenty of part-time jobs out there that won’t get in the way of their studies.
So what else can they do to alleviate the burden? Well my advice to my teen was avoid going out every night. Some low key nights are good. Leave your card behind. Contactless payments are a devil to anyone, let alone a young teen starting out alone on a budget. Make the most of student discounts and the NUS extra card is certainly worth applying for.
What next? Well hopefully not a financial hangover and a recognition of some vigilant budgeting, plus the knowledge that of course we understand and we will be there if needs must, but 72 hours is too soon for that. To coin a well worn phrase, your university years should be the best of your life, it would be a shame if it starts out so soon for our son and many others under a cloud.