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Student Budgeting

What to do if you run out of money at uni

Money worries at university getting you down? Don’t struggle on alone! Here are the people who can help lighten your load.

man with empty wallet and fly

Credit: Dean Drobot - Shutterstock

Struggling with money can have a huge impact on your life as a student, affecting everything from your grades, to your diet and sleep pattern – and worryingly, 57% of students say that their mental health suffers as a result of money issues.

A cash crisis isn't just about being on the brink of bankruptcy, though. Anoushka Bonwick from mental health charity Student Minds says signs you're struggling include, "if money is praying on your mind constantly or making you feel overwhelmed", or if your everyday spending seems unmanageable.

Whether you’re trying to get by on a shoestring, or money problems seem insurmountable, you’re not alone: here are some of the ways you can get back on your feet.

Know someone who’s struggling to manage their money, or feeling overwhelmed by it all? Make sure they see this page – please pass it on!

7 tips for tackling money problems at university

  1. See if you qualify for extenuating circumstances

    student behind pile of books

    Students have given us mixed reports on getting assistance from uni, but regardless of the outcome, you should definitely keep them in the loop with what's going on in your life.

    Your first port of call should be your personal tutor, who will have been trained to deal with these problems, or another trusted member of staff if you prefer.

    They might be able to provide extra support in the form of extra tutoring sessions or long-term planning to help you meet deadlines if you're struggling to concentrate.

    Can you apply for extenuating circumstances?

    In some extreme cases, you may be eligible for extenuating circumstances, which can mean deadline extensions and other support. Specific terms and conditions vary across universities, so head to your department website for the exact info.

    They're usually reserved for people who have suffered a bereavement, are suffering from a severe medical condition or injury, or who have been the victim of a crime, but serious financial problems are sometimes also considered.

    You'll normally have to prove that these circumstances are out of your control, are having a significant impact on your ability to study and they have coincided with a deadline or exam.

  2. Ask about hardship funds

    piggy bank money box savings

    Your university and students' union will have money advisors on hand to offer support and advice – but don’t expect a magic wand.

    Most institutions will have hardship funds set aside for students in financial difficulty. They decide how much you receive depending on your situation, and in most cases, you don't have to pay it back (although sometimes it is offered as a loan).

    Applications are decided on a case-by-case basis but here's a list of the types of students who are typically eligible.

    Students who typically qualify for hardship funds

    •  Students with children, especially single parents
    •  Mature students with financial commitments
    •  Students from low-income families
    •  Disabled students
    •  Students who have previously lived in care (care leavers)
    •  Students who are homeless.

    You’ll need to provide solid evidence, including copies of your bank statement, letters from your student finance provider showing how much Maintenance Loan/Bursary you receive and details about your family income (which could mean that, even though you’re struggling, you may not be entitled to hardship funds).

    However, don’t let the specific criteria put you off. Even if you're not eligible, they’ll be able to suggest emergency funds you may not know about. See the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA) to find out who you can talk to at your uni.

  3. Apply for bursaries and grants

    money bags above crowd of graduates

    Bursaries, grants and scholarships are definitely something you should look into before going to university, but even if you've already started it's not too late.

    Take a look at our comprehensive guide to grants, scholarships and bursaries to see if there are any biggies you're missing out on. But remember, there are absolutely loads of weird and wonderful funding opportunities out there, so don't give up immediately.

    Also check out the Turn2us grants calculator which can pinpoint niche cash you may be eligible for, such as grants for your region, age, health, gender, faith, or any other criteria.

Don’t borrow extra cash to paper over the cracks without getting expert advice. Find ways to cut your costs or make your own income first, unless you’ve got bigger debt troubles (again – get specialist advice if that’s the case).
  1. Plan how to pay off debt

    woman managing pay off debt papers

    First things first, it’s important to get expert and impartial advice if you’re struggling to cope with debt – and especially before taking out private loans.

    Make sure you know how different kinds of debt work: your student loan repayments will never leave you bankrupt, but commercial loans can come with high interest rates and fees.

    Danny Cheetham took out his first payday loan as a 19-year-old University of Salford student struggling to make ends meet – five years later he ended up £26,000 in debt as his borrowing spiralled out of control.

    He got back on the right track by explaining his situation to lenders and coming up a with a concrete repayment plan – read his full story here. For those considering taking out a payday loan, he advises:

    Think twice, then think for a third time.

    If you're in a position where you're struggling financially, speak up. Tell friends and family – you'd be surprised how many are actually in a position where they might be able to help.

    As well as friends and family, there are several charities that can talk you through your options:

    Money advice charities

    StepChange (0800 138 1111)
    National Debtline (0808 808 4000)
    The Money Charity
    Rethink – For those affected by mental health problems

    Don't forget to talk to your bank, too. Let them know how things stand and ask what support they can give you, such as an extended interest-free overdraft, fee-waiving or advice.

  2. Know your financial and tenancy rights

    student housing advice

    If you're worried about paying your rent on time or potential eviction, housing charity Shelter can give advice by email, phone and webchat, as well as face-to-face where available. Find out when your landlord is legally allowed to evict you in our complete guide to tenancy rights.

    Over at Citizens Advice, you'll find advice and support on everything from housing to money and debt.

  3. Try free counselling or mental health apps

    Counselling won’t magic up any cash, but it can help you cope when your mental health suffers. Your university will likely offer free counselling, or your GP can refer you for NHS counselling – but expect waiting lists for either.

    The Mix offer free telephone counselling to under 25s, and aim to get things moving within a week, or you can call the Samaritans 116 123 (free, anonymous and 24/7) – they also offer an email service on [email protected] with a 24-hour response time.

    Meanwhile, Big White Wall is an anonymous online community where you can connect with others experiencing similar issues, take courses and access self-improvement tools, and track your mood with daily assessments. It's only free via the NHS in some areas, but most university students get free access with their uni email address.

    We've got loads more resources and advice in our guide to looking after your mental health at university.

  4. Consider taking time out of uni

    gender pay gap

    Credit: Álvaro Millán - Flickr

    Voluntary or authorised interruption of studies allows students to take time away from their studies without having to drop out of uni completely. This would give you the breathing space to get a job and sort out your finances.

    You have to apply through your department, and prove that it's in your best personal, financial or academic interest to take a break. The uni also has to check that there won't be any major changes to the course while you're gone to ensure a smooth transition when you return.

    If accepted, you'll cease to become a student completely and stop paying tuition fees. You may still be able to receive financial support (like your Maintenance Loan) during your break but it's not guaranteed, so check with your student finance provider first.

    Also, make sure to clarify with your funding provider whether you will still be eligible for Student Finance for the remainder of your degree once you return.

Need to save some cash? Our practical ways to save money will boost your bank balance in no time.


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