The opinions and insights below represent a wide spectrum of the student population – and some of the results are pretty shocking.
Strap yourself in: it’s time to find out what students really think about their finances.
What’s it like living on a student budget?
While no one expects living on student budget to be an easy ride, we were shocked to hear 80% of students worry about having enough cash to get by.
We also found that money worries affect how (or whether!) students eat, and can even knock their grades, with some having to balance studying against paying rent and other costs.
One reason so many students struggle with money worries may be due to poor budgeting skills: 1 in 4 of those surveyed admitted they’d never budgeted before in their lives! That may also explain why our budgeting guide is one of the most popular on this site, with students trying to get clued-in on stuff they say they aren’t taught at school.
The maintenance loan isn’t enough
The biggest financial issue for the majority of students is that the maintenance loan simply doesn’t stretch far enough.
As demonstrated by the gauge above, the average student spends £790 per month (full stats here), but the average maintenance loan for a student living away from home and outside London is only £540 per month – a massive £250 shortfall every month. That leaves students struggling to make up the difference.
How do students make money?
First of all, where does the money come from? Here’s what students told us about their sources of income.
The student loan may not be large enough but it’s still the first port of call for most, with 2 in 3 students turning to their folks to help plug the gaps. A similar number work part time while studying in order to get by.
Interestingly, the gap between the number of students relying on their parents for financial support and those turning to part-time jobs has shrunk since last year. Fewer students are asking their folks for top-up cash, while a growing number rely on part-time work – which suggests students are attempting to be more financially independent.
On the other hand, there’s been a large increase in students turning to paid online surveys and gambling as their main source of income. Future students take note: it sounds as though the struggle to make ends meet is only getting harder, and many are turning to more desperate measures.
The good news is that the reliance on payday loans companies has dropped, possibly thanks to our campaigning against them.
What about savings?
Almost half our poll say they turn to personal savings for support – but how much do students have squirrelled away for a rainy day?
The chart above paints a pretty impressive picture of savvy savers stocking-up to offset the costs of studying.
A noticeable but predictably large chunk of students have no savings at all to fall back on, but an average of £475 in students’ savings accounts isn’t bad at all (and it’s £133 up on last year). Having said that, the average UK citizen reportedly has over £1,000 stuffed in their savings account, so it’s still well below the national average!
With over half the students surveyed having less than £500 in savings, it can mean a lot of catching up to do after university as, otherwise, some financial goals (such as buying a house) seem pretty slim.
One student said:
Where do students turn in a cash crisis?
With the maintenance loan simply not stretching far enough, unexpected bills or expenses can be major stresses for students.
We wanted to know how students cope in an emergency: where do they turn to first when they’re in desperate need of quick cash?
The bank of mum and dad remains a sturdy lifeline but, once again, this year we found that 1 in 10 students resort to gambling or selling their body for emergency cash. Both obviously carry their own risks – not to mention the emotional fall-out.
We also discovered that despite parents being a top choice for cash …
Parental top-ups is a tricky one to address. What the government stumps up in student loans varies by how much a student’s parents are earning – with the assumption that parents will pay for the extras (more on this here).
However, we all know every family situation is different, and some parents are either unable or less willing to give their children extra funds.
Whether parental income should be the basis of student finance (or extra support) at all is a contentious issue, with a massive split in opinions from students caught in the middle.
The most shocking ways students make money
We asked students to tell us the craziest things they’ve done to turn a buck at university. Some money makers turned out to surprisingly inventive – but others are decidedly riskier.
One student even said:
What do students spend their money on?
This year saw the average student spend jump a whopping £45 a month. Rent costs have risen, but the biggest increase we’ve spotted is on food – up £14 a month, equating to £168 a year.
We also noticed that average spent on socialising has dropped: are students cutting back on drinking to make ends meet? Realistically, many students can’t even cover the basic cost of rent with their maintenance loan as prices have soared while the loan has remained relatively stagnant.
Although rent continues to be the biggest burden for students, rent strikes across universities in London and a recent call for the abolition of estate agency fees suggests the situation could be set to improve.
One student said:
Do students understand their loans?
There’s been a lot of confusion lately about the supposed increase in student loan interest rates by the government, as well as the privatisation of the loans (both of which we revealed to be myths).
One thing that’s clear is that students simply don’t know enough about the huge financial agreement they’ve entered into when taking on a student loan.
Unbelievably, we found over 67% don’t understand how their student loan works. That means a huge number are signing up to borrow vast amounts of money with no clue about what their repayments will be, how much interest they’ll be charged, or the small print of student finance.
Most say their reason for entering these agreements blindly is that “everyone else does it” and that “there are no alternatives” to the student loan.
One student said:
The confusion and misunderstanding leads to students living in fear of having to pay back huge debts (not helped by media scaremongering!). 7 out of 10 students say they worry about having to repay their loans, which itself comes with long-term and drastic consequences.
One big factor behind all the confusion may be the education young people get about loans and student finance – in fact, it’s clear most don’t get enough advice before or during university.
So, what’s the deal – are teachers, parents and the government failing to get young people financially savvy enough to handle university?
Well, 4 in 5 students claim they started university without essential money skills – that’s anything from advice on renting a property to understanding the student loan interest rates.
What’s more, only 1 in 5 of those who asked for money advice at uni found it easy to get. Whether that’s due to a lack of support, funding or advice, or just not enough signposting to the resources, it’s a glum statistic.
Is university good value for money?
Naturally, we wanted to know about the real bottom line: is university worth the spend?
Shockingly, over half of those surveyed say university is not good value for money – and one of the main reasons is the lack of job prospects after graduation. Ouch.
Thinking about life after university
The average graduate salary expectation of those questioned was just £22,000 – not great when you’re spending £9,000+ each year on a top-notch degree. And, while most graduates can expect their salary to go up over time, a low starting salary leaves many struggling in their first few years on the job market.
You’ll also notice the shocking gap between what men and women expect to earn in their first job after graduation. According to our survey, female graduates expect to earn £3,500 less than their male counterparts when landing their first job.
The worrying thing is that expecting less now may mean an even bigger gender pay gap once students get a foot on the job ladder – but just who is putting out the message that women should expect to earn, or be worth, less?
Earlier this year, the government announced a Postgraduate Loans for Master’s degrees in 2016/17. The new loan will give graduates access to up to £10,000 to help with the cost of postgrad tuition fees and living costs.
Our survey showed over half of current undergrads are more likely to do a Master’s degree now there’s a new loan in place. That could mean far more students going into higher studies – or it could mean the competition for places on MA courses gets much tougher!
Either way, it’s great to see more students having access to education beyond an undergraduate degree – but whether the money worries ease up remains to be seen.
One student said:
In light of the results Save the Student’s Founder, Owen Burek, comments:
View this as an infographic
Do students get an easy ride, or do you feel under-valued and over-charged? Let us know in the comments below!
For a complete guide to budgeting and student finance, download our free “Essential Student Guide to Finance” eBook.
Want to know more about the survey, or need case studies, comments or quotes? We’re happy to help – just drop us a line.
- Source: The National Student Money Survey 2016 / www.savethestudent.org
- Survey polled 2,127 university students in the UK and ran May-June 2016
- 2015 statistics taken from the same survey conducted last year (source).