THE SECRET LIVES OF UNIVERSITY STUDENTS: Why are we so poor?

CANTA issue #9, 2017

Wajd El-Matary looks at the student allowance, and asks a few UC students on how they manage to survive while studying at UC.
As most of us reading this magazine will know, funding a university lifestyle with only the help of the government is not as easy as it sounds. When it comes to older generations, a lot of responses to our constant shortage of dosh come down to what they think is the solution to our problems, to “stop partying so much!”. Most of us on the student allowance or living costs entitlement will know, partying sometime isn’t even an option when we run this low on cash regularly.

Let me break it down for those of you who aren’t on any government allowance what these terms mean. As a student living away from home, whether it be flatting or in a hall, you are eligible for up to $210 a week student allowance, depending on your parent’s income.

You also qualify if you do not keep in contact with your ‘rents or have completely cut ties with either one or both of them. So, although your parents may earn a couple of thousand less than the bracket, you are still not legally eligible for the full entitlement. This means the allowance doesn’t have to be paid back unless you fail more than half of your courses at university, or drop down to part time study.

Already, the flaws through this system are flowing out from all directions. As of 2017, it’s very safe and easy to say that not many people living away from home are receiving financial assistance from their parents, so why should the parents earnings count towards the amount of money their child is entitled to every week?

Another major flaw in the system, is that if a university student chooses to work a part time job and earns more than that $210 a week, their money is deducted from student allowance based on how many hours a week they earn, with the assumption made from study link that $210 a week is a viable and liveable source of income. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. $210 a week broken down can for one person living in the Ilam/ Upper Riccarton area can easily come down to these expenses. Keep in mind these are the average spends a student will accumulate throughout a week worth of living away from home.

Aaaaand that’s already a large chunk of money the student will earn that week. $179 will go towards living a somewhat healthy life, and those extra measly $33 will either be put aside for savings, or left in the empty bank account in hopes that no extra bills will accumulate during the rest of the week. One of the most painful parts of this article will also shine a light on the students who aren’t entitled to student allowance as their parents ‘earn too much money’. What happens to them? Well, they are entitled to up to $176 a week, which will only cover a portion of their expenses, meaning no money will be put aside for savings or emergencies. Worst part of the $176 a week? You have to pay it back at the end of your degree.

Assuming the average degree is 3 years, that debt will accumulate to $27,456 for their whole time at uni, not including the cost of the actual degree.

There is of course always the option of working a part time job, but the mental strain it can have on a university student studying full time is sometimes hard enough as it is. I decided to have a chat with a few students about their living conditions and put together profiles on how they survive their weeks, and what their weekly budget covers for them. I asked them all the same questions;
  • How do you ration out your money for the week?
  • Have you ever had assistance from your family?
  • Do you ever struggle to feed yourself or balance
  • your social life due to lack of funds?
  • Do you have any hacks or tricks that you use to
  • make your money last longer?
(may not be actual Robert…)

[Wajd]
How do you ration out your money for the
week?

[Robert]
I pay my rent/internet/power first at the start of every week, and I’m left with an okay amount of money for the rest of the week, which has only gotten smaller as winter comes in and we have to start paying more in power. Whatever I have left is all the money I have for food, drinks, activities, etc. so I’m more or less limited to either studying, playing board games, talking to friends around uni (in walking/biking distance) and watching videos/playing games on my computer for any entertainment. However, sometimes if an expected cost happens out of nowhere and I need to pay it, then my grocery budget suffers and I can be left sometimes with peanut butter sandwiches and rice with egg for a week (which has happened multiple times).

[W]
Have you ever had assistance from your family?

[R]
Unfortunately, I’m cut off from my family and have been since I was 14—when I first came out—so I’ve never been able to get any assistance, whether it’s money or food, from my family. Usually if I’m actually starving and without food, I have to rely on UCSA welfare or friends. UC Free Food Society is a godsend as well.

[W]
Do you ever struggle to feed yourself or nbalance your social life due to lack of funds?

[R]
I struggle to feed myself a lot. My diet has mainly consisted of rice, peanut butter, bread, eggs, yoghurt, and all bran cereal. Sometimes I splurge and buy things like chicken or spinach or vegetables, but if I do, then it means I can’t do anything at all for the week unless it’s free. In between all of this, I also go to the gym frequently which requires me to eat way more food than I currently am, so I have to start making the rest of my calories up using mass gainers that were donated to me.
Otherwise, I can actually lose a ton of weight—I lost 2kg alone in five days during exams, and I didn’t even go to the gym at all during that time and made sure to eat three good-sized meals a day. Hence why I eat filling things like rice and bread. I like to joke that I’m an involuntary vegetarian simply because I don’t have enough money for meat. I barely go to any
non-free events, but luckily enough my friends enjoy my company, so I don’t need anything like an event or thing to socialize.

[W]
Do you have any hacks or tricks that you use to make your money last longer?

[R]
I’d say to stop paying for any drinks that isn’t free water—the rest is a massive waste and adds up so quickly. When you consider that a coke is around $3 and you only have $30-70 of your student allowance left after rent and that, that’s about 10-2% of your allowance on one drink that’s not even good for you! I’d also recommend taking up new things that don’t have any cost—my friends and I have started board game nights so that way we have something to do that doesn’t require any money. If you’re the type to have a savings account (which you should), I’d recommend having it in a different bank that can’t be accessed using an EFTPOS card, so that way if you did want to splurge or impulsively buy something, you’d have to wait for a business day for it to transfer to your cheque account. That way you’d be a lot less tempted to make those small purchases that add up.

Ee-Li from Advocacy and Welfare wants to remind you that as a UC student, you can apply for the Hardship Grant, the Mickle Fund loan or the Mickle Fund small loan. There’s also the UCSA Foodbank. Contact her for a confidential chat: ee-li.hong@ucsa.org.nz.

WHAT OTHER STUDENTS HAD TO SAY: