With all the coverage and the debates about (the rise of) tuition fees it is easy to forget the more relevant and important debate about the cost of living. The great majority of students receive the £9000 tuition fee loans to cover the cost of tuition but fewer students receive financial support to cover the cost of maintenance, with some (mostly international) students receiving little to no support. Therefore, university can pose a significant financial challenge for the student and the parents that will require sacrifices, especially from those coming from low-/moderate- income households.
The lack of money is a constant concern for the majority of students. Partially because when it comes to spending and budgeting, students may be inexperienced. They may buy things they don’t need, overspend on the items that can be bought cheaper and waste money on the luxuries they could do without. Also, sometimes the financial support or the funds received may not be enough to cover all the expenses. Ultimately, living within means in the university life is challenging. There are plenty of temptations and attractions as well as peer pressure, failure to distinguish between needs vs. wants, lack of planning but also the lack of money. No wonder there are so many tips on budgeting and finance for students to help their money last.
Nevertheless, complaining about the lack of money to your peers is normal and there is truth to the perception that students are poor. University is expensive and to enjoy a life of some quality while studying is costly. However, there are levels to the financial difficulty that each student experiences and this is the crucial aspect that fails to be recognised. Poverty and lack can be subjective and open to interpretation based on individual experiences. It is up to each individual to decide what kind of lifestyle they can afford while studying at the university. But there is no reason to pretend and live the life you know you can’t afford, especially when your family is struggling.
It is important to experience and enjoy university life but make sure it is according to the resources you have. Even with the lack of money, university experience does not have to turn into the game of survival as long as you get your priorities right. There is no need to empty your bank account for numerous takeaways each week, excessive (and needless) alcohol use, cigarettes and unnecessary or ‘spur of the moment’ purchases. Engaging in such a lifestyle should mean one can afford it. It is very difficult to understand complaints about not having money when spending is not planned, wasteful and even lavish. It shows ignorance and disrespect to those who are really struggling and can only wish for the money to enjoy these luxuries. Lack of money does not mean not being able to afford alcohol or a takeaway but not being able to afford basic necessities like food. Sometimes it’s not as much about stretching the money you have as much as it is about understanding your priorities and spending accordingly.
However, despite all the advice about budgeting and planning, it has one major flaw: sometimes there may be nothing to budget. It is difficult to stretch the money that simply aren’t there. In these cases, sacrifices have to be made and the struggle has to be embraced. International students, in particular, are prone to financial struggles as they do not qualify for maintenance loans/grants. It is a heavy (financial and psychological) burden to fund the cost of accommodation and living with your own funds. In many cases it highlights the difference in lifestyles between the international and home students. International students may struggle to find financial help and the financial responsibility will solely fall on the parents’ backs, while home students, more often than not, can rely on maintenance loans/grants/scholarships to fund their studies as well the help from their parents. Sometimes the greatest obstacle for integrating into the culture or the social side of the university is the lack of finances to live the lifestyle students ‘should’ and want to enjoy. It is not easy to refuse various invitations and opportunities by hiding the fact that you lack money. It might even be angering to see others waste money (received from various grants etc.) on purchases not related to education. Although it is very important to note these differences, we must be very careful not to turn this discussion into the debate who has it better or make it about the jealousy and resentment of the other.
One must embody the patience and resilience in the face of adversity instead. University can seem like a lot of struggle at a lot of times even without the added pressure of financial struggle. It is demoralizing and discouraging to stand in the midst of financial deficiency and remain excluded from the fun that goes around you. But it is okay not to have money and it is okay to struggle because it won’t be like that forever. There are many great lessons to learn in the depths of your tribulations that wouldn’t be there if it was easy. The struggle hardens your mind and builds your mental toughness that will form a solid foundation on which you can build a better future. It is important to look beyond the current circumstances and focus on your goals. Take one day at a time and make the most out of what you have. Do not look at other students and wish for what they have because that would be cheating. Living life on the hard mode is, well, hard but in the end it’s worth it.
University does bring people from all social and ethnic backgrounds together, but it also divides them in terms of the halls they can afford to stay in, clothes they wear and how they spend their free time and holidays, among many other factors. It might not be fair but that’s the way it is. The only thing left to do is to put your head down and silently (and slowly) work your way up through the gritted teeth.