What It’s Like Going To Uni With Rich Kids When You’ve Never Had A Lot Of Money

"It still hits hard when you can’t afford to go to an internship in the city because you’d have to decide on whether you’d fill your Opal card that week, or eat."

My mum was a single parent. She worked three jobs, studied and cared for me. She saved every cent we had to send me to a private school so I could have the best education possible, and the best chance at succeeding in life.

We were more fortunate than a lot of others. We had a roof over our heads, a car (sometimes) and food. Although I do remember counting five cent coins to scavenge enough money to buy a tin of spaghetti and a loaf of bread for dinner.

We made it work, and I never felt like I missed out on anything. She gave up so much and worked so hard, just so that I wouldn’t go without — something I’m eternally grateful for.

When I was six, we moved into a suburb called Minto in western Sydney. We were a community. We protected each other. If I were trying to bake a cake and didn’t have an egg, I’d ask my neighbours. If they didn’t have any food in their cupboards, we helped them. Even though it was an area with a lot of crime, I felt safe because my street was my family.

Growing up, I knew no different — until I attended private school.

Status Anxiety

It was in high school that I really began to notice the difference. Most of my classmates had wealthy parents. They lived on beautiful, lavish properties, some with ocean views, dams and acres of land. They had gorgeous fireplaces, all the modern furnishings, and one even owned horses. It didn’t affect me – other than how much I admired their homes – until we tried to go places like the pool and I couldn’t afford it.

I got a part-time job working at Maccas and was finally able to buy things. It was only an extra $100 a week, but that meant the world to me. It meant I could buy my first car at 16 for $800. It was old, red, and it didn’t always run properly and made loud noises at times, but I loved it. I felt so proud, and couldn’t wait to show it off.

Then I saw other students drive to school in brand new $30,000 cars their parents had bought them. And I heard their laughter at my little car.

Setting Up For Success

As an adult living out of home, I definitely notice the difference. Most of my friends also live below the poverty line — that is, we have less than $426 a week in income. Most of us are studying, trying to find ourselves and what we want to do. We make do — but it still hits hard when you can’t afford to go to an internship in the city because you’d have to decide on whether you’d fill your Opal card that week, or eat. Children with wealthy parents — especially if they still live with them — don’t usually have those problems.

I met a lot of people like this at university. They live in nice houses. They eat nice food. They have nice cars. They never have to worry about having only $2 to spare after bills and other living expenses are paid for, so you buy two packs of noodles for the fortnight, or having half a tin of canned corn or a spoonful of peanut butter for a meal. It’s insane that some people simply never have to worry about eating.

It’s insane that some people simply never have to worry about eating.

At university, they can afford the best technology to produce the highest quality work — technology that is imperative for good marks. In my degree, this was having a good DSLR camera with microphones, tripods, and excellent recording devices, as well as rather pricy programs like PhotoShop and Final Cut Pro. If you have mediocre resources, you can only hope to produce mediocre content, no matter how good your vision is. Quality counts and money matters. Already, they’re better set up for higher marks, and they don’t even know it.

I, on the other hand, had to borrow things. My marks were still great, but I can’t help but wonder how much better they would have been if I had the best technology at my fingertips? Had I been fully able to focus on my studies, rather than money? Had I been able to fully immerse myself into my studies, rather than juggle part-time jobs to live?

All About Who You (Don’t) Know

Some people I know have been given everything. Their parents are big in the media — so they’re never going to struggle for contacts like I have. Their parents own media organisations — so they’re never going to have to worry about getting a job. Their parents house them, feed them, and give them everything. Talent doesn’t always equal success: it’s who you know.

But I’m glad I’ve struggled. It’s taught me the meaning of money, and given me a work ethic I wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s given me a burning desire to learn, build a career, and make something of myself. I’m glad, because my successes are completely my own — not because of privilege given to me by my parents.

Zoe is a journalist with a passion for all things wacky and strange. Like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter for more.