For many students being at University is a period of significant change. Most face living away from home for the first time, the academic expectations are higher than previously experienced plus for many there’s a new town to get to know and new friendships to establish.
On top of this nearly every student has to face up to the fact that they are now solely responsible for managing their own finances, which can be a source of anxiety and stress for most people at some point in their lives.
There’s loads of help and support available both within and outside the University. The Money Advice Service webpages include a run down on budgeting (with some apps to help you keep on top of your bank balance in real time), how to save money and advice on how to handle debt.
If you are finding that your money situation is making you anxious or stressed we have some advice on how you can step back, take stock and regain control, helping you manage your finances in a more positive frame of mind. If after reading these you need some further support there is also a page of further links and support services which you can browse to get that little bit of extra help you may need.
Also remember that there are other FAQs and links provided by the Money Advice Service which bring together a range of common questions and contacts. We also can offer one to one advice which can be requested via our Student Enquiry Point.
This is hard to do if you are a worrier, but it’s an important step to try and control your level of anxiety. Panic can be good when felt occasionally as it alerts you to danger, but it’s not something you should feel on a daily basis.
If you feel panic when you look at your bank account balance or have to purchase a large item, you need to work on eliminating that panic. Panic will simply paralyze you and cause you to make bad decisions.
Focus on calming yourself in the moment so you can relax and think logically about the situation, simply concentrating on slowing your breathing will often help reduce the symptoms of panic.
Write down everything to get control
Most money anxiety comes from not feeling in control of your finances. It can be scary to be overwhelmed and out of control so the first thing you need to do is write down everything.
Make a list of all your debts and priorities. Make a list of all your expenses. Make a list of all your income sources. Write down everything you know about your financial situation. Having it all out in the open can help you feel more in control and aware of the situation.
Get help (if you need it)
If you are constantly feeling anxious about money then you may need to develop skills and strategies to manage your anxiety and may want to get help with that.
If you need personal support this help will come in two forms: someone to help you with the feelings and someone to help you with the money. You should seek out both and work with them together to help improve the situation.
It is always a good idea to see if you can take control of your anxiety yourself and advice on this can be found online advice on the Health & Wellbeing pages, but if you feel that you need assistance from a professional counselor you can complete the counselling referral form.
You have control over every decision that you make. If a purchase is causing you anxiety then this might be a sign that you need to rethink it and make a different decisions. Your decisions should not be causing you more and more anxiety, if this is the case then you need to remind yourself that you are in control of these decisions and can make better financial choices.
Find (free) ways to relax
Working on sorting out your money situation can be stressful and may take a long period of time. Something you might want to work on doing is finding cheap ways to relax so that anxiety doesn’t build up from the stress of undertaking a long-term project.
Learn how to relax in the best way you can, whether that’s through exercise or meditation or simply watching television. Find what works for you and enjoy it! Do fun activities that take your mind off your money and the stress it may cause. Just enjoy your life!
Retool your budget
Most people get stressed about their finances when their personal budget is out of whack. It can be anything from overspending on certain categories to not properly planning purchases. Regular budget checkups are essential since life, and all of its expenses, are rarely constant.
Check these items off your to-do list when your budget starts causing you stress:
Review. Go over your bills and expenditures, and make sure all your numbers are accurate by ensuring that receipts and bills match up with your budget. Of course, things can fluctuate from month to month because of car repairs, travel, and other unpredictable events. This might be the perfect time to allot a certain amount to an emergency fund for a little more peace of mind.
Reduce. Check to make sure you’re in the black each month, since going into debt is generally the greatest cause of stress. If you are ‘working your overdraft’ during your time as a student then set a realistic limit of how much you are going to use – remember you are going to have to repay it all back at some point.
If you find yourself going over your limit more months than not, it’s time to rethink your money-making or spending strategy. Try taking a part time job to bring more in, or reduce your phone bill, TV package, or travel plans to restore balance to your budget.
Pay Off. Create a debt pay-off plan -even if it’s a long term one - and stick to it so you have an idea of when your credit card balances, overdraft or other credit/loan payments are going to be paid off – this knowledge alone can help you breathe a major sigh of relief.
Bear in mind that whilst you are studying you are likely to have very little free income to dedicate to repaying loans or credit cards, however you are more likely to feel positively if you have taken the time to understand your debt and plan how you are going to pay it off once you are earning a wage.
If you are finding it too difficult to face up to your debt then there is advice on the Money Doctors webpage on how to approach personal debt.
Repeat. Repeat as needed to feel more in control of your finances.
Banish financial shame
Past financial mismanagement can lead to an aura of shame, whether it’s a lack of money, incorrect budgeting, or simply not being aware of proper financial practices.
Unfortunately, that bad feeling can perpetuate a cycle of anxiety and future mismanagement. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. When you’re feeling embarrassed about money, remember that taking the time to educate yourself and organize your finances – even if the numbers make you squirm – can set you on a healthier path for the future.
There’s no shame in wanting to be better with money, so don’t feel awkward if you need to broach the subject with your partner, parent, best friend or if you decide see an advisor and ask for help.
Comparing yourself with others can be unhelpful – especially online
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts are generally inundated with friends’ pictures of trips, cars, and other indicators of wealth. No matter how accurate your perception of their wealth actually is, comparing yourself and your finances to others’ can often cause stress and drive unsustainable spending.
Here are some things to remember the next time you feel the urge to compare yourself to others financially:
You don’t know what’s in their bank account. While a friend might seem to enjoy plenty of success, it could be courtesy of credit cards and loans.
Similarly a Facebook snapshot doesn’t show the hard work and sacrifice that goes along with financial success.
Your friends’ journeys are not yours – your experiences are unique.
Many people post the best version of their lives on social media, so perception can be skewed.
Keep some factors in your life private, so you don’t feel the need to promote a perceived sense of wealth to your friends. While it’s okay to share pics from your latest vacation, boasting online is unhealthy and can leave you spending more to maintain the facade.
The only person you can change is yourself. Instead of gauging your success by that of others, create a measuring stick by which you can feel more in control over your money - such as staying out of your overdraft or an accurate monthly budget. These are more effective indicators of your financial wellbeing and success in managing within your means, not someone’s Facebook photo album.
Links to further support
Money Advice Service
The Student Money Advice Service is available to both current students and applicants offering free one to one support and advice to those who are in financial difficulty or otherwise struggling with funding or money issues. Contact us here.
Psychological Wellbeing and Counselling Team
There is a free Counselling, Therapy and Mental Health mentoring service for students with anxiety, depression or other psychological concerns. The service operates a confidential email mailbox and also has an online referral form to request an appointment with a therapist. More details can be found on the Health and Wellbeing webpages.
StepChange is a respected UK charity that helps those who are struggling with debt, which is often a major cause of money-related anxiety. The charity offers a range of advice and services to help those who need it.
AnxietyUK is a free to use and member-led charity offering support, advice and therapeutic assistance to those who are suffering from anxiety, no matter what the cause may be.
Mind.org, the UK’s largest mental health charity, has a range of advice and information on anxiety including tips on how those experiencing anxiety and panic attacks can help themselves and access treatment and support.