Saving on a Student Loan

What a second hand hat taught me about saving

Cambridge Cambridge University fashion hat Life saving money savings spending Student Students Tab the tab

I recently was walking past a shop and saw a piece of art hanging in the window. A piece of vintage photography taken for Life magazine in the fifties of a man holding a camera.

Naturally – being both a humanities student and a millennial – I love photography. I love almost as much as I love telling people I love it. Obviously, being an undergraduate, I am in no position to be buying art for my room, but by the time I made it to the other side of the shopfront I was in love.

So in love that I found myself involuntarily pacing back to the door, walking in, plucking it off the wall and hastily punching in my PIN number, eyes firmly shut.

Now, I exaggerate. It wasn’t proper art in the sense that it was just a print, and cost less than thirty quid, but still – it was the closest thing I was going to get if my student loan was to last until the end of term. I am now, of course, all the poorer for it, but I’d be lying if I said I look at the latest addition to my wall with malice or regret. Instead, I treat it like a wide-eyed newlywed treats their honeymoon: I am both helplessly enamoured but fully aware of how much it’s costing.

Goodbye, Student Loan

Now of course, I know there are much better (and more important) things I could be spending my limited student funds on. My supervisor would agree, I’m sure: last week I wrote an essay exclusively on the first two poems of the anthology, because it was all I could get on the Amazon free sample. Nights out have had to be declined, plays shunned and the phrase “oh just tap water, please” uttered one too many times.

However – after the kind of asceticism that would put the Buddha to shame – I have finally justified my purchase to myself.

I think the reason for my throwing-fiscal-caution-to-the-wind is down in part to Hatgate, as nobody has ever called it. This was a couple of years ago when, one weekend, I went into a charity shop and – in amongst the usual knitted jackets, corduroy shoes and curtains-repurposed-as-ties – there was a beautiful brown felt hat. It was lightly worn, deeply elegant and made the featureless, plastic mannequin head it was perched look sexier than all the darlings of St Tropez.

Now, let’s be quite clear here: despite my pretentious waxing lyrical just now, I have never once worn a hat in my life. I’ve never had the inclination to. It’s not that I think they look bad – I think they can look great on a lot of people – it’s just not a fashion choice I’ve ever gone in for.

I picked it up and, on closer inspection, saw the words “Lock & Co.” on the lining. I vaguely remembered them being the really fancy hatters in St James’s. I started to wonder whether I had found one of those rare gems in a charity shop which you hear about in local newspapers. Perhaps this hat had once been owned by Elvis, or worn by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, and I was now going to become a multi-millionare. I looked at the price tag: £6. A steal, I thought.

The home of the hat

Except I didn’t buy it. Some tedious but insistent part of me was droning on that “you’ll never wear it” and “you’ll need that six pounds for something else”. Both true, of course, just annoyingly so.

On the way home, I decided to look up the hat online and see what I’d missed out on. This, I later learned, is an error. It is the retail equivalent to googling your symptoms. It turned out my spurned purchase wasn’t just any old hat. Well, I mean, it was – but it was an expensive one nonetheless. Hundreds, in fact.

Oh my god, I thought, as my hatless head fell into my hands. I rang up the shop, and they informed me it had been sold just after I’d left. “Quite a piece,” signed off the irritatingly chirpy shop assistant. Quite indeed.

As a child, my father used to give my sister and me a pound a week to teach us the value of money. The idea was, if we saw something small we wanted we could buy it, but – if we couldn’t afford it – we would have to wait until next week, when we would have two pounds. Apparently, this was to try and educate us in the elusive art of “saving” (is that how you say it?).

The only flaw in the plan was that this was the halcyon days of the early noughties, where a pound could buy you multiple bars of chocolate, magazines galore and the entire contents of Hamley’s. We felt like millionaires. I remember one occasion when my sister did decide to save up her pocket money and three weeks later exchanged on a four-bedroom maisonette in Regent’s Park. Quite impressive for an eleven year old.

The dream

But what hope do I have of an overflowing piggy bank (let alone a flat in London) if I allow myself to get so charmed by the delights of the shop window? I can’t remember what I spent my saved the six pounds on in the end, but I like to think it has directly helped contribute to my moment of madness in the art shop the other week. And as I slowly crawl out of the red, I’ll continue to strive for that happy (account) balance.

But let’s not deny ourselves every pleasure. After all, you can’t take it with you. Although – as I look up at the frame on my wall – I realise that, sometimes, you just can’t afford it at all.