It’s all about the money: National Student Money Week 2020

Spring is in the air for 2020 with the spending excesses of the festive period now seeming like a long time ago. Now is a good time to give our finances a spring clean and get those credit cards and bank balances back on track.

The student population across the UK is experiencing increasing living and accommodation costs. It’s no wonder that many students worry about how they are going to make ends meet. A Save the Student survey this year finds that more than half of students struggle to keep up with rent. This has a major impact on their health and engagement and ability to study well.

Students facing hardship and debt while studying is nothing new. In an age where the student experience and wellbeing are central to universities’ duty of care – where is the support to help students manage their money and make better financial choices?

National Student Money Week (NSMW) aims to improve understanding of the impact on students’ experience. The initiative is in it’s 9th year and run by the National Association of Student Money Advisors (NASMA). This year’s theme was ‘Spend healthy – live healthy’ and included wider issues like the environment and sustainability.

Innovating in this field are Step Up members Blackbullion. Blackbullion’s financial education platform is going from strength to strength in UK institutions. I caught up with their CEO and Founder Vivi Friedgut to talk about their collaboration with NSMW and gained some insights into the important conversations around students and money.

Vivi Friedgut - Founder and CEO of Blackbullion

“Blackbullion is a startup with a mission to empower young people to be money smart. Financial difficulty is the number one predictor of student attrition. 64% of students say financial anxiety affects their mental health. Blackbullion is being integrated into universities’ widening participation strategies to help ease worries and inject a dose of financial confidence”

Vivi Friedgut, Balckbullion

Blackbullion has been an official supporter of NSMW for two years. I wondered what impact this had on students so far. What is it highlighting about the financial problems that students are facing? “Each year, over 90 universities and HE colleges take part in the campaign. With everything from drop-in sessions through to competitions on campus. The response has been overwhelming” Vivi explains. “We’re trying to break the taboo around money by talking openly and confidently about it and our relationship to it. Gen Z is less materialistic than previous generations. Spending on things like experiences and travel rather than clothes and flashy items.”

In times of rising house prices and inflation, a culture of credit cards and ‘buy now pay later’ mentality, the outlook has never been more challenging for young people when it comes to paying off debts and saving to get on the property ladder. These are things that older generations took for granted. Despite positive moves to educate young people in schools, there is still more to do. Vivi says, “Universities tell us that prospective students too often arrive on campus ill-prepared.”

How does ‘Spend Healthy, Live Healthy’ fit with some of the deeper issues affecting students when it comes to finances? Vivi says, “Financial security affects student wellbeing and we want to start the conversation on this. At the same time, young people are deeply committed to sustainable living so NSMW brings these together. We also see that students care deeply about climate change so are looking to make positive wellness changes that support that.”

NSMW pic for blog post

On a positive note, the message seems to be getting out there. This year’s NSMW has received more engagement than ever before. “It was a record year and our university partners outdid themselves this year. During the week we saw over 1,200 Tweets, 15k books given out, and hundreds of students taking part in the #zerowastejar competition. We’re thrilled to have been able to support our student services teams in this way” Vivi says. Students are now making better choices. “Students are so much more open to ideas like sharing subscriptions, making considerate travel choices and ditching fast fashion for more considered purchases.”

“It’s about education. We want to give students access to the very best financial education out there underpinned by practical financial solutions. We created the ‘The Little Book of Sustainable Money Habits’ to inspire students to make lasting changes. We collaborated with Pingit, an app to help students manage their everyday money and develop lifelong healthy financial habits.

We definitely see a shift in the money conversation. There is a tendency to save more and be more open around money. This has resulted in improved financial wellbeing. Money’s less of a taboo.

Vivi Friedgut, Balckbullion

But this is not a short-term problem and there is no easy answer. The key is involving everyone in the conversation. We can’t rely on students to get better educated about money and seek help when they need it. Institutions have a role to play as well.

“Most universities run Student Support Teams to help students with money, accommodation, wellbeing, and other student related challenges. They help students who find themselves in difficult or challenging life situations. In emergencies they have funds (often called Hardship Funds) for those in need. Many institutions identify a skills gap in students coming for help – a lack of budgeting skills, or unhealthy spending habits, for example. They can[AS5]  then provide budgeting workshops and access to tools, such as Blackbullion, to help students develop those crucial life skills.”

The wider community must also help if we are to support future generations of graduates and ensure that higher education remains a realistic choice for everyone in society. “In our State of Financial Capability Report the majority of respondents want to see financial capability become part of the core curriculum. We’re huge advocates of the holistic institution approach where universities integrate financial education and support with other departments.

The chances are that at some point in our lives everyone will have had some sticky financial moments or known someone in severe debt or with financial problems. We know how debilitating and devastating this can be. You may be feeling the financial pinch of a child at university or be looking at prospective institutions with money in mind.

It’s also easy to forget how strange those first years at university can be, even without money problems and how easy it is for students to bury their heads in the sand. Only by supporting children to develop healthy relationships with money can this improve. Parents, universities, support organisations and students must work together to make the university experience a positive one.

Eva Stirling

Thanks: Vivi Friedgut, Antonia Taylor – Blackbullion

Eva Stirling