No but seriously, IDK where all my money is going
Whether you are living in a state of financial comfort or from paycheck to paycheck, money is something every student thinks about. How do I make more of it? How do I save the money I do have? How am I going to pay my student loan? Should I be saving for a house? Wait, do I even have money to buy lunch today? Some of these questions and many more like them probably cross our minds on a daily basis.
It’s difficult to generalise the types of relationships students have with money. It’s a relationship that depends on the individual and their circumstances. The current economy is unstable at best, so it’s more important than ever to be financially aware. Recent reports show that inflation has hit 7.3%, the highest in 32 years. The government’s only real attempt to aid students has been a $25 increase in weekly student allowances and a few living cost payments over the last three months. The question then becomes: how are university students in Auckland coping in uncertain times?
Before we can look at how our current students manage their money, it’s important to consider how entering tertiary education can change the way we think about money. Of course, no two students will have the same circumstances. Some live at home, others in halls, and many will be flatting all over the city or even attempting to live alone. Student finances will also fluctuate depending on a student’s workload. Those doing degrees with crushing amounts of work might be unable to find the time for a job, while others can pull off part-time or casual jobs. Not to mention each person faces their own set of hardships that can hinder their relationship with money. This can be anything, such as a disability, a family situation, or other life-altering events that can throw off a student’s financial balance.
Despite the variety of experiences, students have similar feelings about juggling studying and finances. Starting university prompts endless questions about a person’s identity, values, beliefs, and what they want for their future. Money is attached to all these changing aspects of a student’s life. Everything from the small things like what to eat and wear to the bigger costs like rent. Then there are even more monumental future aspirations like home ownership. So, how do students feel about managing money in relation to all of this?
After speaking to several students at different points in their degrees and in different living arrangements, it seems that most feel they have a reasonable grasp on their finances. However, many of them are gradually beginning to feel more anxious as living costs skyrocket. Some students, especially first-year school leavers, expressed their inexperience and lack of knowledge in handling money. They said they were unsure about how to budget, invest their money, and ensure they don’t get “sucked into inflation”, as one student put it. Others who’ve been studying longer said they had reached a reasonably stable routine in how they approach money. This then brought to light the question of budgeting; how do students budget and restrict their spending?
Most of the answers didn’t specify a budgeting technique per se. Not many students felt they had the time to commit to something like a spreadsheet or one of those budgeting apps that gets downloaded and forgotten about in the same week. The general consensus seemed to be that self-restraint was key. One student said that simply keeping in mind their different expenses like transport and food, as well as setting a specific amount they wished to put into their savings, helped maintain steady expenditure. Although all these students shared this regular habit of mentally dividing their expenses, this was not without its difficulties.
When asked what they feel are the biggest obstacles they face in managing money, the most common answer by far was rising prices. One of the more specific complaints was about food. This isn’t much of a surprise as food is something many of us buy on a weekly or daily basis, so it is easy to notice the not-so-subtle jump in prices. Several students said they had given up on eating out and resorted to packed lunches or supermarket snacks if they were desperate. One student, in particular, gave a passionate speech about the atrocious prices of vegetables and the cost of healthy food. They claimed that eating well on a tight budget has become nearly impossible. After walking hopelessly through the produce section at the supermarket, more often than not, they settled for a pie and called it a day.
The second most common obstacle students seemed to face was resisting temptations. Many admitted that learning to manage the freedoms they are given as a university student was challenging. One student reflected on how they felt it was necessary to ensure that their living costs were paid, they where saving adequately, and living life. “I believe experiences are valuable”, this student said, “but I have to be careful about how I do it”. As a young person, it can certainly be tricky learning how to balance paying bills and saving for the future whilst also enjoying your youth. After all, it can be hard to deny yourself that much-needed shopping spree after successfully handing in four different assignments in the same week. You’ve certainly earned it!
The final aspect of a student’s relationship with money, and what seemed to be the most important, was saving for the future. Starting university will undoubtedly exaggerate the need to plan out our future. We’re adults now. We need to start thinking about life after graduation—our careers and our personal lives. The loose plans we build for our future while we study determine what we decide to save for. Of course, it really is a rather complicated, perhaps even impossible, undertaking for a university student to know exactly what they are to do with their lives. That is why many students are focused on two things; the dream of being debt-free and investing their money into something beneficial. Student loans were a common reason many students save, especially those planning to pursue postgraduate degrees.
Homeownership was a goal that every student interviewed seemed to be headed towards. Many of them specified that their reason for wanting to buy a house was not necessarily to have a place to live in. Instead, they saw it as an investment and a way to get on the property ladder. This need for investment was mutual as students felt they wanted to start educating themselves and putting their money to good use now. As one student accurately said, “I’m trying to read more money books now, so I’m not broke and know what to do”.
Managing money can be a personal and unique journey. Generally speaking, all students want to do is build a stable financial future for themselves despite the increasingly unstable realities of our current economy. This can feel like quite the battle most of the time. However, awareness and balance seem to be critical in making it out alive.