University offers some real lessons in finance

In The Red
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The Independent Online

Ah, Fresher's week. Hellish, really, of you think about it. Hundreds of confused strangers forced through a series of bonding activities, all while hovering somewhere on the nauseating spectrum between hungover and intoxicated. It's like a hen do, only with pressure. These are the people, or so you're told, with whom you will become Life Long Friends! So if you wind up lunching with the dark-eyed psychopath on corridor nine, tough. Add to that the newfound financial responsibilities of a house outside the parental home and, well, you've got a recipe for disaster.

It was eight years ago that I went up to Edinburgh University, a naïve 18-year-old who knew not a soul in the city, let alone on campus. My fresher's week was...eventful. Probably not in a good way, on reflection. It was also expensive. So much for student finances. When you think you've only got a week to make friends, suddenly money no longer matters. The term-long supply of biscuits your mum packed for you? Gone in a flash. Travel fund? Hello, 40-minute walk to lectures. Beer money? Well, it's all beer money at that stage, isn't it? I lost both my favourite jacket (a vintage velvet number passed on from my mother) and my room keys on the first night. I didn't lose my phone – but my new partner in crime did.

Living in halls as a fresher, I didn't really get my financial education until second year. Only then did I start budgeting for groceries. It was only then that I was faced with regular bills: electricity, gas, council tax. Even so, I managed to fob this off onto a flatmate. Not the paying part, of course – but the organisation that such regular instalments require. Each quarter, she would sit down with her detailed workings-out on a scrap of paper, and we would dutifully hand over the money. Tellingly, while I now waste hours calling my mobile phone company to explain why I forgot to pay my bill, or crouching next to my broadband router because I can't figure out how to make it work properly, she is happily married, with a job in the civil service.

Perhaps it would have helped to be a little more clued up in the finance stakes before I arrived. But it wasn't the end of the world. There are always people around to help – and you pick it up eventually. If not, well, there's always a job in the student canteen.

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