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Student Budgeting

What to do if you run out of money at university

Are money worries getting you down? Don't struggle alone. Here are some things you can do if you run out of money at university.

Wallet and pound coins

Credit: J_R Images, sibadan – 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. 55% of students in our latest National Student Money Survey said that their mental health suffered as a result of money issues.

Surviving with no money is a situation no student should be in, but sadly with the Maintenance Loan still falling short, it's a reality for some. And the current cost of living crisis makes it even more difficult than before.

But there are things you can do if you keep running out of money. Here are some solutions to help you survive being broke at uni and places to ask for help.

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 ways to survive when you're broke

Having no money is a really difficult situation to be in. Here's what to do if you're having money problems at university:

  1. Ask about hardship funds

    Your university and students' union will have money advisors on hand to offer support and advice.

    Most institutions will have hardship funds set aside for students in financial difficulty. They decide how much you receive depending on your situation. 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 may 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 and/or Grant you receive and details about your family income. This could potentially mean that, even though you're struggling, you may not be entitled to hardship funds.

    However, don't let the specific criteria listed above put you off. Even if you're not eligible or your situation is different to the examples listed, your university might be able to suggest emergency funds you were unaware of.

    See the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA) to find out who you can talk to at your uni.

  2. Apply for bursaries and grants

    money in a purse

    Credit: Yevgen Kravchenko, kamui29, Bell Photography 423 – Shutterstock

    Bursaries, grants and scholarships are definitely something to 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 student grants to see if there are any big ones you're missing out on. Remember, there are loads of weird and wonderful funding opportunities out there, so don't give up immediately.

    Funds are also set aside for students from ethnic minorities to increase diversity in higher education.

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

  3. See if you qualify for extenuating circumstances

    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. They will have been trained to deal with these problems. Or, you could talk to another trusted member of staff if you prefer.

    They might be able to provide extra support in the form of additional 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. This can include deadline extensions and other support. Specific terms and conditions vary across universities, so head to your department's 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 have been the victim of a crime. However, serious financial problems are sometimes also considered.

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

    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.
  4. Plan how to pay off debt

    First things first, it's important to get expert and impartial advice if you're struggling to cope with debt. This is especially the case 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 with a concrete repayment plan. For those considering taking out a payday loan, he advised:

    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 and organisations that offer free advice and can talk you through your options:

    Money advice charities and organisations

    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.

  5. Know your tenancy rights if you can't pay rent

    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.

  6. Get free counselling or use mental health apps

    red phone

    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. However, you may potentially be put on a waiting list.

    The Mix offers free telephone counselling to under 25s and aims 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 at [email protected] with a 24-hour response time.

    Rethink has a network of local peer support groups and an online peer support service for those living with mental health issues.

    Meanwhile, TogetherAll is an anonymous online community where you can connect with others experiencing similar issues, take courses and access self-improvement tools. You can also 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 info in our guide to looking after your mental health at university.

    These useful websites for students also include free resources for academic journals, mental health support and much more.
  7. Consider taking time out of uni

    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.

Ruth Bushi


Ruth Bushi is a freelance journalist who has written for major publications such as the Guardian, the Independent and the Big Issue. Her contributions to Save the Student cover student news, Student Finance, money-making tips and more.
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