Written by Ola Szaran

Chief Marketing Officer

With the recent release of reports such as the Financial Concerns of Students by Universities UK¹, it has become increasingly clear that a growing disparity exists between students’ expectations of the costs of higher education and its actual cost.

Seeking to understand students’ expectations, how expectations impact financial behaviours such as budgeting, and the overall financial habits of students, Blackbullion has teamed up with University of Surrey to produce our latest report: Student Financial Expectations and Spending Habits [2018].

Methodology behind the report


Working with University of Surrey Department of Student Services we conducted an online survey in April 2018, receiving 1,917 results from students on campus. The breakdown of students who completed the survey, by year, is as follows:

  • First Year Students – 703
  • Second Year Students – 419
  • Final Year Students – 515
  • Students on Placement – 111
  • Other, e.g. Postgraduate, International Student – 169

Key findings from the student survey


The 15 page report leaves a lot to think about, particularly the ‘systemically low’ percentage of students who budget and the proportion of students coming to student services as a last resort, rather than as a preventative measure.

Here are some key data highlights from the survey, which you can read in full here:

  • 47% of students felt the overall cost of university was ‘higher than expected’
  • 67% of students had no budget in place
  • 16% owed money to parents
  • 21% had financial obligations such as credit cards, personal bank loans, and pay day loans
  • 18% would contact university services for help if they ‘found themselves in financial difficulty’

Student budgeting habits and efficacy


The survey revealed how, across all years of study, the percentage of students that created and stuck to a budget was systemically low.

Only 32.6% of students stated they ‘created a budget and regularly checked how much they were spending’, meaning only 1 in 3 students had a budget in place. Furthermore, while the data showed that students who budgeted were able to save 5.9% more than students who did not, there were no other indicators to show they financially better off for it.

In fact, students who budgeted were no less likely to get into debt than students who did not; and were almost equally likely to have financial obligations such as pay day loans, credit cards, and personal bank loans. So why are students struggling to effectively budget?

From the results there are some clear indicators as to the cause of this problem: 81.5% do not use financial tools or apps to help manage their personal finances and – in students who actively follow a budget – this percentage remains constant. Suggesting that, of students who follow a budget, 4 in 5 are not budgeting as effectively as they could be and consequently are not seeing the improvements they ought to.

Moreover, only 18.4% of students said they would contact University Financial Services if ‘they found themselves in financial difficulty’. Whereas 20.2% would sell personal possessions, and 17.1% would opt to take part in ‘research trials’.

While it is obvious that some students are in fact budgeting, many are not supported with the tools, apps, or advice to enable them to budget effectively and see impact. Indeed, are not aware enough of the financial support structures in place that exist to ensure they do not have to take part in research trials, or accrue debt.

Without this knowledge or support, it will be difficult for students to make more intelligent financial decisions, or see impact in their budgeting habits.


What are we doing about it?


In response to the findings from the survey, we developed a new service, currently used in 15 universities and 350,000 students & parents in the UK, Money-Ready for University.

Money-Ready for University is specifically designed to enable staff to deliver more effective, streamlined on-boarding, while supporting students as they take the first steps on their uni journey, and towards financial independence.

The service includes friendly, accessible educational videos covering key topics in money management, an easy-to-use budget calculator, and a loan repayment estimator.

Interested in how MRU can empower early-stage students towards a better financial present, and future? Find out more here.


You can read the full report on our website, including the mains flaws in reactive support structures, a summary and recommended next steps for universities.


Further reading


Understanding Student Financial Worries – Blackbullion

The Financial Concerns of Students – Universities UK

Student Financial Expectations and Spending Habits – Blackbullion


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