How do you avoid unmanageable student debts? | Debt Advice Foundation

How do you avoid unmanageable student debts?


The importance of budgeting and living within your means

First you need to set out your monthly essential living costs (things like food, travel and rent), your contracted monthly or minimum credit repayments and your monthly income (such as wages from full or part-time employment, student loan or grants). By subtracting your essential living costs and monthly repayments from your income, you end up with how much you have available each month to spend on non-essential items or even better, how much you are able to save. There are many online budgeting tools that can help you to do this including the charity’s own free Budget Planner.

Assuming you have a monthly surplus, more money coming in than going out (if you don’t have a surplus, please go to our What to do if you find yourself in unmanageable debt section), it is still good practice to find ways to increase your income and reduce your expenditure. By doing this, not only are you able to spend more on non-essential items but it also provides you with a larger buffer, which reduces the likelihood of incurring unauthorised overdraft charges and means you will be less likely to need further credit. Remember, loans cost you money. It’s cheaper to use a student loan than a commercial loan but it’s cheaper still not to use any credit facilities at all.

Ways to increase your income

Before you increase that Maintenance Loan or ask the bank to increase your overdraft again, you might want to look into the following sources of non-repayment income:



  • Check your benefit entitlements, such as child and working tax credits, housing benefit and Income Support, particularly if you’re a part-time student or a mature student with dependants (click here).

Bursaries and scholarships

  • Universities and colleges must offer you at least the minimum bursary if you’re in receipt of the maximum Special Support or Maintenance Grant whilst paying tuition fees in full (click here).

Benevolence funds and sponsorship

  • Many benevolence funds exist expressly for the purpose of supporting students on particular courses (principally engineering) that are suffering hardship. Student sponsorship is also available across a wide range of courses (click here).


  • Work flexible hours through part time employment that won’t interfere with your studies. Most students tend to look for bar work or work for recruitment agencies as temp staff (particularly outside term time). Every university has a careers service and most will have an online jobs section where you can filter jobs by the number of working hours.

Ways to reduce your expenditure

There are hundreds of ways to reduce expenditure, the trick is to find those that you are able to realistically maintain. Reducing expenditure is much the same as dieting, if you try to cut too much out, it’s going to make you miserable and it won’t work.

Benefit entitlement

  • Make sure that you’re claiming all of your student benefit entitlements, for example, if you’re living in a Halls of Residence or in private accommodation exclusively with other students then you are entitled to a Council Tax exemption. Even if you have non-students living with you, the household is still entitled to a discount (click here).

Money saving websites

  • There are a number of money saving websites that can help you reduce essential and non-essential living costs, many of which will send you money saving offers regularly by email if you subscribe to their mailing list – just make sure that you use the offers to save money rather than buy even more than you would have done without them (Money Saving Expert and Uswitch are two of the more well-known websites).

Avoid impulse purchasing

  • When it comes to purchasing non-essential items, be disciplined enough to ask yourself whether you need the item or just want it and whether that money could be put to better use elsewhere. We’ve all been guilty of impulse purchasing at some point in our lives. One of the most effective ways to avoid excessive impulse purchasing is to make a list of items you need before setting out to the shops. By doing this, you are giving yourself a tangible focus, which means you will be more likely to consider the consequences of purchasing an item that isn’t on the list.

    If you do find yourself tempted to make a spontaneous purchase, add it to your list, give yourself a week to cool off and then decide whether you still want it or not. By adding it to your list you are sublimating (redirecting) the impulse to purchase the item and by giving yourself a cooling off period, you gain perspective about the nature of your attraction to the item (i.e. whether you needed it or just wanted it and whether you can find a better use for the money).

Helpine Logo
Helpline Callback

If you’re unable to call our free debt helpline number 0800 043 40 50 right now, you can fill in the form below and one of our advisors will call you back at a time of your choosing.

Call for FREE debt advice on

0800 043 40 50

Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm