One of the biggest sources of stress for most students is money. For many students, simply making ends meet can be a daily effort. To make it even more difficult to stay afloat, many students have never had to manage their own expenses or had any education on managing money before heading off to University!

This frequent stress can have several negative impacts including difficulty sleeping, frequent headaches, muscle tension, lowered immunity, and weight gain – especially putting on belly fat.



The stress of worrying about finances can also directly impact your ability to study effectively. Here's how:

Impaired memory

Stress has been shown to significantly impact the functioning of a brain area essential to learning and memory, called the hippocampus. Some studies have even shown that stress can lead to shrinking of the hippocampus. All of this means that under stress, we are significantly less able to learn and remember new things, having a massive impact on our ability to learn course content or study effectively for exams. You can read a review of the research on stress and the hippocampus here.

Limited Mental Resources

Our brains can only do so much, and the amount of time dedicated to thinking about money and related issues such as how much part time work to take on or whether to move flats to somewhere more affordable, all take up mental energy that you can’t then spend on other things.

Diet and physical health

Financial stress can contribute to poorer health choices – a $5 pizza may not be the healthiest choice but can be hard to pass up when you’re hungry and have little money. Activities like going to the gym or a yoga class also cost money you may not have. Both a balanced diet and regular exercise are essential to the healthy functioning of our brains, and therefore to optimal performance at uni.

To overcome these challenges associated with financial stress, here are a few useful tips:

Create a budget early on

Ideally identify how much you can afford to spend before making commitments to things like flats or mobile phone plans. Online resources, such as, can help you make a budget, and Studylink has some general advice on what you can expect to pay for expenses based on where you are living. You can also easily keep track of how well you’re sticking to your budget by using a personal budgeting app.

Learn to cook

Learning a few simple and cost-effective recipes will help you to save money, plus you can be sure of exactly what ingredients are going in and therefore how healthy it is. Stopping study to cook a meal is also a great opportunity for your brain to rest and recover. You can find affordable recipes at

Use what’s free

Fortunately there are a lot of free resources you can access. Can’t afford that yoga class? Don’t let that stop you; try a free app.

Apply early

Applications for student loans and allowances can take a few weeks to process. While you will typically be back paid to the date of your application, this doesn’t help your stress much when the rent is due this week and you need to eat.

Know what you’re entitled to

There are additional funds you can access which can make all the difference. For example, Studylink has grants for urgent or unexpected costs, like urgent dental treatment.

Find funding

Invest a bit of time looking at what funding options are available to you. Are there scholarships that you can apply for? Generosity NZ has a database of over 4,000 scholarships. Most universities will have free access available to search the database.

Think ahead

As tempting as it is to claim the maximum available from a student loan when your funds are low, you will one day be paying it back. Once those costs build up over several years of study, that total loan can look frightening. Think about what you intend to spend that money on and whether it is essential or not. Your future self will thank you!

Bank smart

Sign up for a tertiary student account that is fee free. Be aware of delayed costs that add up, such as higher purchases, credit cards, and overdrafts. Even ‘interest free’ offers can end up costing you – if you don’t pay them off during the interest-free period, you may end up paying all the interest anyway. Westpac has a no annual fee Tertiary Pac and MAS Members studying medicine, vet science, and dentistry can apply for a MAS Student lending package.

Educate yourself

One of the big challenges is that most people have received limited financial education before they leave home. Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources available online and our MAS advisers are always happy to talk with you about your financial health. Because they’re commission-free, you can trust that they have your best interests at heart. If you’d like to talk with a MAS adviser, simply fill out our enquiry form and one of the team will be in touch.


Dr Allanah Casey

Registered Clinical Psychologist PhD (Psychology), PGDipClinPsych, MNZCCP


Allanah’s professional career as a clinical psychologist has developed from her background in both the public health system and the Department of Corrections. This experience, alongside specialist training to help people change entrenched behaviour patterns, allows Allanah to work effectively with people who feel stuck with long term problems, including changing unhelpful personality characteristics. Throughout this difficult work, Allanah actively works with clients to maintain their motivation and engagement, successfully achieving their goals.

Allanah’s doctoral thesis and involvement in a New Zealand longitudinal research study provide her with a deep understanding of the factors that influence resilience, especially when people are experiencing highly challenging circumstances. Her previous academic experience tutoring and lecturing ensures a strong knowledge base underlies her practice.

Passionate about positive psychology, Alannah brings her personal and professional strengths to Umbrella’s clients, providing workshop facilitation and psychological services in the form of psychological assessments, psychological support, and coaching.

  • Share

You might also like

Top online tools to connect and collaborate

22 April 2020

We're all guilty of spending heaps of time online. But now with lectures and group projects online too, it's easy to miss connecting with our Profs and uni mates IRL. Here's what you need to know to help you connect and collaborate.


A passion for volunteering

26 February 2020

MAS Here for Good Scholarship winner, Justine Paddison, was asked to detail her volunteer activity and how this benefits her in life and in her chosen profession.

Woman sitting in student flat

How to handle THAT flattie

29 September 2020

Moving into a new flat comes with a slew of questions. Most important? Finding the right squad to share your space. While your besties may be crack up in the halls, the perfect flattie is chock full of qualities that aren’t so obvious.