14 August 2019

University finances: how students balance the books

With the new university term around the corner, a new wave of students will be managing their own household budgets for the first time this autumn. We carried out research* with current and recently graduated students to shed some light on how they handle their finances, and what their priorities are.

While 7 in 10 said getting a good degree was or is their top priority, the same proportion agreed or strongly agreed that funding their way through university was one of their biggest concerns.

Student finances infographic
Student finances infographic
Student finances infographic

Running a household for the first time can prove a bit of a financial challenge. The students we surveyed were living on an average of £690 per month, but 31% said they had less than £500 to live on, including money from a job and student loans.

Students’ outgoings are more than their income by an average of £357 per month. The biggest single living expense is rent, followed by food, utilities, insurance and travel.

Breakdown of costs:


Expense Cost
Rent £330
Food £120
Utilities - gas/electric/water £78
Insurance £92
Travel £92
Entertainment £84
Studying costs - i.e books, paper, pens etc £59
TV subscriptions £49
Internet access £45
(Other) £98
Total £1,047

To help fund their studies, 39% said they had support from the bank of mum and dad. 61% said they got a job, working on average 12 hours a week, with some respondents working as many as 20 hours a week. An enterprising 24% said they had sold things online to supplement their finances while studying. 42% saved before they went to help with living costs at university.

If they needed to borrow money on top of a student loan, 35% of respondents said they’d turn to an overdraft, and 16% would look into getting a credit card.

In terms of how students feel about the borrowing they might need, 8% think of their overdraft as free money, and 40% don’t consider it to be a serious debt. Only 24% were worried about their overdraft, and 17% were worried about credit cards.

The debt that students worry about most is student loans. 42% said this borrowing concerned them the most, and that figure increases to 53% in students aged 18-19.

When it comes to looking for a student current account, 56% said that the features that come with the account are more important than incentives. In a breakdown of things students look for in a current account, the ability to manage the account online was the most popular response, followed by free perks.

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.”

We're supporting students through university. Find out more about our FlexStudent current account.

*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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