Students work hard, play hard - but only with help from parents and selling online

23 July 2019

  • Same proportion of students prioritise having a good time as looking after their finances
  • But research shows two in five worry most about student loan and a quarter overdrafts
  • Average student spends £1,046 per month despite income of just £690 per month
  • Prepared to splash the cash on treats from laptops and holidays to tattoos and takeaways

With the university term around the corner, new research shows that sorting out finances (33%) and finding somewhere to live (26%) are among the least important priorities for students. The study shows that meeting new people (43%) and having a good time (37%) are higher up the priority list among students.

Research from Nationwide FlexStudent - the UK’s only fee-free student current account - highlights that some two in five students (43%) say meeting new people was the most important priority when starting university, with nearly the same proportion, 37 per cent, stating having a good time was their number one. A third (33%) said sorting out their finances was top of the list and a quarter (26%) citing somewhere to live. Top overall was getting a good degree, with more than two thirds (70%) claiming this was the most important.

Almost two in five (39%) rely on the bank of mum and dad to keep their finances afloat while at university, while others are more enterprising, with nearly a quarter (24%) generating an income by selling things online. According to the poll, female students are more cautious, with nearly seven in ten (67%) saying they took care with their money to fund their time at university, compared with half of male students (50%).

Running a household for the first time can prove a bit of a financial challenge, with students living on an average of £690 per month, including money from a job and student loans, although nearly a third (31%) said they had less than £500 to live on. Unfortunately, their expenditure exceeds their income by £357 per month, with students saying they spend £1,046each month. Many have taken steps to help ease the burden, with just over three in five (61%) taking a job while at university and more than two in five (42%) planning ahead by saving money before they arrived. However, many will need to borrow to get by, for example using the overdraft on their student current account or by visiting the bank of mum and dad.

Monthly rental bills account for the biggest slice of the student budget, with those polled spending an average £330 a month on rent, with more than a quarter (28%) spending between £300 and £500. Next most expensive is insurance costs, at £92 as a monthly average, while essentials such as utility bills reaching an monthly average of £78 and internet access costing £45. Many don’t skimp on the added extras, though, with monthly spending on pay TV at £49.

Breakdown of costs:


Expense Cost
Rent £330
Utilities - gas/electric/water £78
Internet access £45
Insurance £92
TV subscriptions £49
Food £120
Travel £92
Entertainment £84
Studying costs - i.e books, paper, pens etc £59
Other £98
Total £1,046

Most students were not averse to splashing out, although the definition of a big expense did vary considerably. While many chose laptops for work, cars to reach their lectures, mobile phones, a reading list of books and gym membership, amongst the list of treats and extras were braces for teeth, tattoos, DJ kit, an MRI scan and violin strings.

When asked where they borrowed money while studying, the top five options were student finance (60%), funding from family (50%), their student overdraft (35%), a bursary (21%) and credit cards (16%). In fact, almost a third of male students (31%) said they’ve used or are still using credit cards, compared with just one in fourteen (7%) female students. Perhaps reflecting higher living costs, nearly two thirds of those surveyed in Greater London (63%) said that they opted to borrow off their family when necessary, compared with just a third (35%) in the East of England.

Regarding their attitude to overdrafts, two in five (40%) do not think overdrafts as serious debts, while one in 12 (8%) view them as free money. Of those, one in nine men (11%) said that overdrafts represent free money, compared with only one in 16 (6%) women.

When asked about the type of debt that worried them most, just over two in five (42%) said it was their student loan, while a quarter (24%) were most bothered by their overdraft and one in six (17%) about their credit card debt. One in six (16%) were not spending their time worrying about any kind of debt. There were some regional differences, with a quarter of those (25%) surveyed in Yorkshire and the Humber untroubled by any debt, compared with just 8 per cent in Wales.

While looking for a student current account, nearly three in five (56%) said that the features that come with the account are more important than incentives, with almost a third (32%) saying they put the incentives first. Around three in five (60%) women prioritised account features, compared with only half of men (50%). According to the poll, the top five key attributes when choosing a student account were ability to manage online (49%), free perks (44%), charges and fees (42%), amount on offer to borrow (33%) and interest earned on the money (26%). However, three in ten (30%) of men surveyed said they’d looked to see how close their branch was to their university, compared with one in seven (14%) of women.

Carl Burke, Nationwide Building Society’s Head of Current Account Product Management, said: “University is often the first time many students manage a household budget and many will see their expenditure outstrip their income. Learning to manage both their finances is an important life skill, which will help them when they move on from university into the world of work. Many students leave university with debt, so it’s important they understand their options to ensure they don’t become more indebted than they need to. Taking a sensible approach to debt and considering an overdraft as a sensible approach to borrowing, can make a real difference when it comes to their finances.”

Nationwide’s FlexStudent is the UK’s only completely fee-free student current account. It offers an overdraft which grows from £1,000 in the first year of University to £3,000 in year three. The account offers 1% AER in credit interest on balances up to £1,000.

Notes to Editor:
Research provided by Censuswide of 1,002 university students or those who have recently graduated (aged between 18-24) between 11 and 17 June 2019.

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