Monday, June 03, 2024

Oxford Life - 05 Money

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 05 - Money.


The way we manage our money now is so very different to when I was at college: no student loans, frugal spending habits and primitive banking technology. Back then there were no credit cards, no ATMs, no internet banking, cheques took three days to clear. Shopping was cash or a cheque with a cheque guarantee card. Only part way through college did credit cards arrive to join the party and ATMs appeared after I’d left.

Student Grant.

Way back in the ‘70s only 4% of pupils went on to university. These days it is approaching 40%. There was no need for student loans because the public purse could afford to pay for our education. I received a grant from the local education authority that covered tuition, accommodation and living expenses. 

It was means tested, so parents were expected to make a contribution and the grant was reduced accordingly. My father earned a modest salary working as an architect for Coventry City Council and had a wife and three offspring to support. Consequently, he was not able to make his contribution even though small.

As a result, I was on a tight budget and had to manage my money very carefully. I kept a journal in which I recorded my cash in hand or, more literally, in pocket. 

Looking back it gives some insight into the cost of every day items.

  • A cashed cheque for £6.50 was enough to cover my expenses for a week. 
  • A pint of milk was 4p
  • A pint of lager and lime was 14p
  • A packet of chocolate digestives was 11½p. 
  • Looking through all the pages it seems that I lived on chocolates and biscuits but in the first year food was already paid for as part of my college accommodation. 
  • Powdered milk was for coffee in my room as there was no fridge.
  • There was no payphone in the college so "Telephone" was going out into Catte Street to the iconic K6 red telephone box opposite and feeding it coins to speak to my parents or girlfriend. 
  • I went to the laundrette once a fortnight. I owned 15 pairs of identical brown socks so that matching them up was never a problem - just grab the first two that came to hand out of the drawer. The 15th pair was, of course, to wear at the laundrette while I washed the other 14 pairs.
  • A platform ticket “allowed non-passengers to enter the paid area of the station, for example to walk with their friends, associates and loved ones all the way to the passenger car at stations where the general public is not admitted to platforms.” [Wikipedia]
  • CADAS was the Coventry and District Archaeological Society.

What doesn't appear in this cash book is the almost weekly cheque written in favour of Virgin Records in Little Clarendon Street where my vinyl collection was augmented on a regular basis.

In my third year, my brother went to King’s College, Cambridge and the parental contribution was then divided between the two of us, meaning a smaller deduction from my grant cheque which helped with my living expenses.

Bank account. 

We had only just made the conversion from pounds, shillings and pence to decimal currency in the spring of my first year [Monday 15 February 1971] so by the time I came to open a bank account the UK was fully decimal.

I opened my first ever bank account in my home town of Kenilworth, but then immediately transferred it to Oxford because you needed to physically go into a branch to withdraw money. There was no ATM from which you could withdraw cash. ATMs had only been introduced into the UK two years previously and were not at all widespread until after I finished college. You went into the bank, wrote a cheque made out to “Cash”, handed it over to the teller and got your money in return.

I once read that people were more likely to change their spouse than their bank account. Not sure if that is still true. I kept my Lloyds Bank account open for many years even after Mary and I were married and had opened joint NatWest bank accounts. Eventually I closed it realising that I was pointlessly paying fees on a dormant account.  

Cheque guarantee cards. 

If you wanted to buy something in a shop you wrote a cheque. The cheque guarantee card promised the shopkeeper that the bank would honour the cheque provided they made a note of the card number on the back of the cheque. Banks were wary of giving them to students. When you received your cheque guarantee card you had to sign a piece of paper saying you would not run amok (I paraphrase). Finally withdrawn in 2011

Credit cards. 

Back then credit cards were almost unknown. Very few people had them. Barclaycard was the first, introduced in 1966. In the early ‘70s the banks decided to start issuing credit cards. You didn’t even need to apply. They just mass mailed them out. Initial credit limits were really low but it seemed like every three or four months they would up the credit limit and then up it again so the imprudent could rack up huge debts very rapidly. 

There was no electronic capturing of data. The shopkeeper inserted a multipart paper slip into a device, inserted the card and pushed the handle across to take an impression of the card. You got one copy, the shopkeeper retained one and the other went off in the post to be processed by the card issuer. Seems very primitive by today's electronic standards.

Having had to manage my money carefully back then installed frugal habits I retain to this day. That is, apart from Hi-Fi (see My Life in … Hi-Fi)!

1 comment:

Tim said...

All brings back a lot of memories - though some things were a little easier as I was a few years behind you. Great set of posts! Tim