Since when did our kids have the right to live like Henry VIII?
OVER breakfast in Manchester last week at the Tory Party Conference, I was searching the papers for something, anything, to read that wasn’t about my older brother – for some light relief, really – when my eye fell on this. ‘ Shameless Tory universities Minister tells struggling students to “live frugally”,’ a headline in a Lefty red-top wailed.
Just proving the old saying: if it’s not one thing… it’s your brother.
I then read in the Mirror that Jo Johnson MP had told a fringe meeting that in order to make ends meet, students could work, they could save, they could borrow from their parents. ‘Some students want to live very modestly and have a frugal existence, focusing on their studies,’ he said.
Now, I spent much of last week avoiding being sucked into what the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, memorably termed ‘ the Boris Vortex’. But I have to stick my oar in here for Bro Jo.
I know that student fees have trebled and grants have been cut and the loans system isn’t perfect.
I really do know, as it happens. My two out of three children who studied in the UK have left university with debts running into tens of thousands, are on low incomes, and have no immediate prospect of paying them off.
It’s not ideal for them and millions like them. But since when has ‘frugal’ been a trigger term – or the notion of budgeting because you don’t have a lot of cash to splash, offensive – even ‘shameless’?
When I grew up, I remember going shopping with my mother for new clothes twice: once was in Debenhams in Taunton, the second was in the school uniform department of Harrods.
I remember eating out in the UK only once (but only spag bol, as it was the cheapest thing on the menu). We slept in the car rather than spend money on hotel rooms when travelling.
My parents were born in the war, money was tight. It was fine.
Anyway, look at Her Majesty the Queen. She doesn’t have to cut her cloth as we did, but she still scrapes leftovers into Tupperware, she upcycles cushion covers from old sofas, she saves on heating bills by using two-bar electric fires in draughty sitting rooms, and relaxes by doing her own washing- up. She is in fact so frugal – trying not to say mean or tight – that ‘Elizabeth and Henry VIII would be appalled’, the former curator of the Royal palaces, Simon Thurley, said last week. Thurley attributes Her Majesty’s famed thrift to ‘a generational thing’.
But I can’t be alone in longing for this admirable quality to become a national habit as our finances worsen, and one that percolates down to our student cohort, including my own beloved children, who all seem to tend more to the Tudor when it comes to consumption. I have to bite my tongue when the endless packages from Amazon and Asos arrive, and the pizzas and curries are Deliverooed ( I lived on baked potatoes for four years when I was a student).
I want to frogmarch them to the full fridge and bursting wardrobes and show them all the stuff that’s there (including parmesan rinds I save for soup and the food past its sell-by that I insist, after giving it a quick sniff, is perfectly edible).
IALSO wonder where the money’s coming from for all this new stuff, while berating myself privately for not instilling the regal virtue of frugality into them from an early age. A second-year student was big enough to blog – in the brief flurry that followed Jo’s remarks – that the Minister had a point.
‘During my first year of uni, I met many people who couldn’t look after their money,’ she admitted. ‘Continuous nights out were followed by expensive takeaways or lavish shopping sprees, and when they ran out of money they dipped into that huge overdraft or went crying to the bank of mum and dad.’
Ouch. This sounds all too familiar, I’m afraid…