Personal Finance

Kippers or red herrings?

Recent news has made much of parents stretching their finances to cover costs for their twenty and thirty something children. Debts and high property prices have forced many offspring to return home, tail between legs, under the attractive new marketing term of “kippers”: kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings.

Many graduates have developed significant debts from university and have accumulated further debt in the competitive graduate market. Student life provides an incubated protection from the reality of financial concerns and fresher fairs become increasingly populated by banks, mobile phone companies and other brands wishing to tap into the students’ borrowed finances.

It is true that many young people have got themselves into very uncomfortable financial positions because of careless spending. The ethics of student finance are somewhat dubious with many financial products branded “student”, not necessarily offering the best deal. Most shops, bars, cafés and restaurants on university campuses are fully commercial enterprises designed to make profit, without wanting to fit around a student’s pocket. Tuition fees, whilst significant, are not the biggest problem for students.

Most students run up debts because of inadequate life skills. They’re not used to doing their own washing, they don’t sew, some can’t cook and most have never been in charge of their own finances prior to university. If it’s broke, just buy a new one. One male student reported preferring to buy take-away food, rather than cook his own food, also often buying new shirts to save washing and ironing old ones. An American exchange student, who had never been taught to do her own cooking, used some of her $90,000 loan to live on take-ways, convenience meals and restaurant food whilst studying in London.

If 16-18 year olds were forced to take a gap year before university and undertake a period of community work and life skills training, it is unlikely that they would graduate with the same level of debt. Just like binge drinking, smoking in public places and increasing levels of obesity, debt accumulation is part of a distorted value system. The kids deserve some of the blame, though the government also needs to take an interest. There is no reason, even with tuition fees, why even the poorest students cannot go to university, but expectations of a suitable standard of living have to be lowered, with a genuine concern for a suitable standard of education at the heart of the matter.

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