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Coping with financial worries

Many South African students struggle with the additional pressure of financial worries, and, in some cases, this can have a negative impact on their studies. Financial worries increase stress levels, and it’s common to feel depressed and anxious when you’re genuinely short on money. On this page there are approaches that can help you to manage your stress better, as well as tips on money-management and practical on-campus resources that you can access.

If you are struggling to access enough food or to afford accommodation, please see the resources section. 

  1. Managing your stress
  2. Managing your money
  3. Resources

Infographic financial worries

Managing your stress

Take care of yourself

Financial worries create considerable emotional stress, and often include physical symptoms such as headaches, body tension and even nausea. To help counteract these physical effects of stress, it’s important to take care of yourself as best as you can, even on a tight budget.

Eat healthily: Try to eat as healthily as you can, by spending your money on healthier foods. For example, swop white bread for brown bread, and chocolates for fruit or yoghurt. Try to get a balance of carbs, veggies, protein and fats. If you don’t have access to sufficient food, take a look at the resources section in this article for information on accessing the Wits FoodBank.

Get rest: Make sure that you get enough sleep and down time. This can be hard when under stress, but it’s important to do your best. Try to do something relaxing before bedtime, and read up on Sleep Hygiene.


Exercise is a great way to balance out the effects of stress, and you can do it for free. Take a walk or run around campus, do some stair climbing or participate in a free campus ParkRun (you can also just walk) on a Saturday morning. 

Connect with others

Connecting with people who are important to you can help to reduce your stress levels. Make time to connect with people you care about, preferably face-to-face if you can. Instant Messaging is an option, too, and can be more cost-effective if you are worried about finances. You can also meet people through volunteering (such as for an organisation like the WCCO) or joining organisations that don’t charge a fee.

Focus on what’s important in your life

When you’re stressed about money, your whole world can seem to close in on you. Remember to focus on what’s important to you, such as connecting with friends or family, or the career that you are aiming for at the end of your studies. Remember that even if you have to stop studying now as a result of financial pressures, it is possible to pick up your studies later on, or to work and study via correspondence. 

Time in nature

Even something as simple as taking a walk in a green space can have positive mental health benefits. Wits has more nature on campus than you might think. Try a visit to the pond on West campus to help clear your head.

Mindful observation

Choose a natural object to watch for a minute or two. This could be a plant, flower, insect or even the moon or clouds. Just notice the object you have chosen, and really look at it for as long as you are able to concentrate. Look at this object as if you are seeing it for the first time, and allow yourself to really engage with the object and its purpose in the natural world. For more mindfulness suggestions, take a look at this site.

Grounding exercise

Take a few minutes to try this grounding exercise to feel more connected and grounded in the present moment.

  • 5 things you can see – Name 5 things that you can see around you e.g. I can see my laptop, a tree outside the window, a pen, a shoe and my phone
  • 4 things you can touch – Name and describe 4 things that you can touch. I can feel the warmth of my socks against my feet; the smooth, hard roughness of a wall; the sharp coldness of a key etc.
  • 3 things you can hear – Name 3 things that you can hear, close by and in the distance. I can hear a clock ticking, the traffic in the distance, people talking outside
  • 2 things you can smell – Name 2 things that you can smell. You may need to move around to find something to sniff e.g. food or a plant. If that’s not possible, just think of two of your favourite smells if you don’t notice a particular smell.

Breathe in and out slowly

This should allow you to feel in the present, more grounded and in your body. Notice how your breath gets deeper and calmer.

Deep breathing exercise, with extended exhalation: 3-2-4 Breathing technique

  1. Rest your tongue lightly along the ridge of tissue located behind your front, upper teeth; or to rest gently on your lower jaw. Allow it to rest here throughout the exercise.
  2. Exhale completely before you start a new cycle of breath.
  3. Close your mouth, inhale quietly through your nose as you count to three. Let your stomach and chest fill up with breath.
  4. Pause. Hold your breath for a count of two.
  5. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a ‘whoosh’ sound, as you count to four. Let your stomach and chest release.
  6. Steps 3-5 make one full breath cycle. Repeat four more times for five total rounds. Try practising these steps twice daily or when needed to break out of a cycle of anxiety.

Breathing exercise infographic

Managing your money


Work out what are the most important things to spend your money on, such as food and accommodation, so that you can be sure that you cover your basics first. If you’re struggling to cover your survival basics, take a look at the resources section in this article.

Track your spending

This may sound like a lot of work, but tracking how you are spending your money may help you to see areas that you can adjust. For example, you may find you’re using up a lot of data on Instagram, when you could be accessing WiFi for free in various locations.


When money is tight, it’s important to budget well so that you can make the best use you can of your limited resources. Put together a budget for yourself, which involves looking at your income amount, and allocating reasonable amounts for your various expenses. Put in the effort to stick to your budget where possible.

D.I.Y. food

When it comes to food, avoid buying junk food such as pies or burgers. Making yourself nutritious food, such as peanut butter sandwiches, could get you more nutrition for less money. Spending money on cold drinks also eats up unnecessary budget that you could spend on healthier food. Choose food that has a higher nutritive value to help you to feel full for longer and provide your body with what it needs. A simple swop is buying brown bread instead of white bread.

Share costs with friends

Get some friends together and buy in bulk or use 2-for-1 specials. You can also share food that might go off just for one person (like a loaf of bread).



Access to Food

The Wits Food Programme is available to all students as a service, and exists to meet the needs of students who experience food insecurity on campus. You can access the programme through the WCCO or visit them at Hostel Road (between Cricket and Rugby Fields), Wits Braamfontein Campus East,  Tel: 011 717 9217 or 011 717 9255

Access to Accommodation

For accommodation concerns, please consult Campus Housing and Residence Life.

Financial Aid

To find out what bursaries, scholarships and funds you might be able to access, go to the Financial aid and Scholarships Office.