College students’ savings habits indicate anxiety about the future

April 24th, 2014 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Screen shot of website offering financial advice to college students

Screen shot of website offering financial advice to college students

Asahi Shimbun recently reported that more and more university students are trying to save money even before they graduate and get a job. The article conjectures that young people are anxious about the future and uncertain about their job prospects so they think they have to be financially prepared.

One 19-year-old Keio University sophomore, who commutes to school from his parents’ home in Tokyo, managed to save ¥1.8 million over the course of a year. He works part-time 3 or 4 days a week in an office, sometimes until midnight, and receives ¥250,000 a month, which is actually quite good for part-time work at that age. He saves half his pay, and the rest goes to his ¥1 million a year tuition, which he pays himself. He spends about ¥30,000 a month on food, ¥10,000 on “music activities” (he’s in a band), ¥10,000 on clothing (“I buy cheap clothes”) and “only” ¥10,000 a month for his phone (because he uses Line). His sole major outside expense was a snowboarding excursion last winter that cost him ¥100,000.

The article cites a survey by the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations, which found that the number of college students who are making an effort to save money is on the increase. The survey received responses from 8,930 students comprising 30 schools nationwide, both private and public. According to the results, the average monthly savings for students who “commute from home” is ¥17,400. In 2005, this amount was ¥9,470, an 80 percent increase. It is the highest savings rate ever recorded in the history of the survey, which started in 1979. Students who do not live at home but rent apartments or live in campus housing save on average ¥12,140 a month. In 2005 the amount was ¥8,990.

Of the reasons given for saving (multiple answers allowed), the most common was “I need money for the future” (25.5 percent) followed by “leisure and travel.” However, among third-year students, the most common reason was “I need money to look for a job,” which would seem to mean that the students aren’t sure they will secure gainful employment right away when they graduate.

Another interesting finding is that average student income — meaning not only money from work but also grants/scholarships and allowances from parents — hasn’t changed in the last 10 years. Commuters on average receive about ¥60,000 a month from parents, while those living in apartments or dorms get ¥120-¥130,000 a month from mom and dad. Students nowadays are spending less on clothing than did students ten years ago, but that may have less to do with preferences than with the fact that good quality clothing has become cheaper.

In any case, a researcher for advertising giant Dentsu told the Asahi that students nowadays don’t necessarily believe that “pleasure and convenience are directly proportional to the amount of money you spend,” and the money they don’t spend goes straight into their savings accounts.

The trend seems to linger after graduation. A Sony Life Insurance survey conducted in March among 1,000 young people who are either about to start their first job or who have been working at their first job for one year found that 57 percent think their main goal as workers is to “save money.” The average amount saved by the respondents who have been working a year is ¥429,692. Thirty percent of these respondents also said that one of the most sobering realizations after a year on the job is that their financial situations are still “difficult.” And for what it’s worth, 57 percent of all respondents, whether now working or about to start working, say that the purpose of a job is “to make money.”

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