Managing Financial Stress: Tips for College Students

Ivy Steege
Ivy Steege

“Once I get more money, I’ll be able to afford the laptop I need. I’ll be able to pay off my student loans. Maybe I’ll be able to take a week off.”

Despite it still being relatively taboo to discuss, money is a driving factor in our lives. It can dominate our thoughts, and lead to either relief or fear depending on our circumstances. It’s a contributing factor in our mental health that we don’t often address. Financial stress, described as an emotional strain that is specifically related to money, can cause insomnia, headaches, fatigue, and more. And it seems like college-aged students are increasingly feeling the pressure. 

If these are feelings you can relate to, you are not alone! Financial stress affects approximately 70 percent of college students. Balancing the ability to work with classes, worrying about paying rent, and a lack of financial aid can all add to the stress surrounding money. And this financial stress can have a large impact on a person’s mental health – people can be left sacrificing things like therapy and medication for other necessities such as food and bills. 

Whatever may be causing your stress, there are resources to support you. Here are a few of my top tips for confronting and managing financial stress as a current college student:

  1. Don’t Ignore These Stressors: It’s easy to put financial stress on the back burner. As hard as it may be, try your best to work through these concerns when they are happening. Your stress is valid, and you owe it to yourself to work through it. Just acknowledging that you are struggling can be a very cathartic experience. 
  2. Speak With A Professional: There is a stigma when it comes to having monetary issues, which may cause a person to struggle to speak about what they are going through. Remember: there is no shame in asking for help. Speaking to a therapist can help you work through and relieve some stress you may be feeling. You may be able to evaluate some factors that are contributing to your financial stress. Financial therapists are specialized in helping people in financial crises. They can help you set a budget, alleviate debt, and find social support. Be honest about the emotions you are experiencing.
  3. List Your Expenses, And Try To Set A Budget: Creating a list of monthly expenses versus your income can help you to set realistic goals of what you can spend each month. This does not have to be a static list either! Check back on your budget often. You’ll find that it will fluctuate. There is no shame in setting aside money monthly for yourself! Sticking to a budget is an easy way to better understand and plan where your money is going. There is a good chance your university or community has a financial office that can help you get started.
  4. Don’t Blame Yourself For Things Out Of Your Control: Most people will experience a form of financial stress in their life. Inequalities in pay, leave, and financial aid all contribute to some communities shouldering heavier financial burdens. Your identity can also impact your financial situation. Research shows that approximately 18% of people who are living with a mental illness will be in debt in their lifetime, compared to 5% of the average population. Disparities also exist for People of Color, the LGBTQ+ community, as well as other historically oppressed groups, due to systemic discrimination in banking and other institutions. Don’t condemn yourself for things that are not your fault. 
  5. Remember To Take Care Of Yourself: Stressing about money can be exhausting. Doing an activity that refreshes you can be a great way to prioritize your mental health. Wearing your favorite outfit, taking a walk, or drawing a nice bubble bath are all low-cost ways to take care of yourself. It’s okay to decompress in a way that is meaningful to you. Along with this, utilizing tips to cope with anxiety may be helpful! 

And remember – you’re not the only one experiencing financial stress, and it’s not an indication of your character. I encourage you to connect with friends and family to discuss what you’re experiencing, share these tips, and confront financial stress together. There’s no shame in sharing our struggles.

No matter what your relationship with money is, your mental health matters. With these tips for managing financial stress, we hope that you can negate some of the fear that you may be feeling. I also encourage you to check out Active Mind’s crisis resources if you are needing some extra support, and if you are in an immediate mental health crisis, please dial 988.