Sex, Drugs & Student Loans: The Unorthodox Ways Some Students Are Paying Their Bills

Students have turned to alternative ways to pay their way. Let’s dive into some of them.

It’s no secret that some students are struggling to survive through insurmountable expenses due to the cost of living crisis.

Naturally, students are turning to part-time jobs and additional side hustles to supplement their income. Especially as student maintenance loans no longer cover the cost of living.

However, some students are turning to other side hustles that are far from the norm, or in some cases, illegal. We’re here to shed light on these, the consequences of illegal routes to obtain extra income, and ultimately highlight how the cost of living crisis is driving students to consider these side hustles to stay afloat financially.

The driving force behind taking on additional work as a student

According to our recent survey, a third (29%) of students are entitled to less than £5000 of student finance each year, working out to just over £400 a month.

That’s a third of what minimum wage earners take in. Despite students having similar expenditures and bills to pay. According to Unipoll and NUS during a 2021 survey, the average weekly rent for student accommodation in the UK is £166. The costs have only gone up with what we’ve seen in recent news. You only need to do the maths to realise just how unsustainable this is for students.

And unfortunately, this discrepancy between income and expenditure has left students with big lifestyle changes to make. 

What unorthodox side hustles are students pursuing during financial hardship?

3 in 5 students have taken on work alongside their studies in order to make some extra cash, whilst just as many have relied on family handouts to make ends meet.

15% are also using their entrepreneurial skills to run a side business to generate income. While side hustles and part-time jobs have generally been the norm for student life (and gaining a competitive edge when it comes to post-university life), many students are resorting to unorthodox, and sometimes illegal avenues:

  • 14% have started using credit cards for extra cash
  • 9% have thought about shoplifting (3% say they have actually done this)
  • 7% are taking out additional bank loans to cover big costs
  • 4% have thought about selling drugs
  • 2% have started an OnlyFans

While loans and credit cards have long been ways students have resorted to keeping afloat, we want to home in on three: selling drugs, shoplifting and OnlyFans.

What other ways have students pursued to make extra cash?

We asked our Instagram community on stories, to submit unorthodox ways they’ve made cash. There was some serious range, from selling items from their militaria collection to…

  • Selling pictures of their feet
  • Playing mobile games for money
  • Stripping.

What are the consequences of selling drugs?

According to the drug penalties page on the government website, you can get a fine or prison sentence if you:

  • Take drugs
  • Carry drugs
  • Make drugs
  • Sell, deal or share drugs (also called ‘supplying’ them)

The penalties depend on the type of drug or substance (classification), the amount you have, and whether you’re also dealing or producing it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a student or not. The age of criminal responsibility is as little as 10 years old. In fact, young people aged 18 are treated as an adult by the law. However, if sent to prison, young adults will be sent to a place that holds 18 to 25-year-olds, not a full adult prison.

Why are students selling drugs specifically?

Unfortunately, student life is rampant with drug use. The ONS reported drug use in common in 16- to 19-year-olds and 20- to 24-year-olds (21.1% and 21% respectively) in the year ending March 2020.

Naturally, this means there’s a market, hence why some students turn to this illegal profession. They may have been using drugs before coming to university, discovered it through peers in halls or other instances where drugs are prevalent. Former student Eliot told LadBible “Student halls are literally the best place to sell drugs. You’re in a student bubble and nobody is threatening.”.

What are the consequences of shoplifting?

Shoplifting is the term used to describe theft from a shop by taking something without paying for it.

It is a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968. There are slightly different rules for prosecuting what is called “low-value shoplifting” (that is theft from a shop of goods valued at under £200) under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Why are students shoplifting?

When it comes to students who responded to our survey, only 4% actually shoplifted, whereas 15% are actively thinking about it. 

To put it bluntly, the motive to shoplift can’t be different to why non-students resort to this crime. It could be for a variety of reasons, such as not being able to afford food, rent or study materials. There’s been a rise in shoplifting cases in England and Wales for the year 2021/2022, and various outlets reporting on a shoplifting boom in the UK.

What’s the prosecution for shoplifting?

Sentences are calculated by an assessment of two factors: culpability and harm.

Culpability is a measure of how involved the offender was in the offence, the extent to which it was planned and the sophistication of the shoplifting.

Harm is assessed by the financial loss resulting from the shoplifting and any additional harm suffered by the shop/stall or anyone else. It includes damage to property and the effect on business.

The offender is more likely to receive a custodial sentence if:

  • The offender presents a risk or danger to the public
  • The offender has a history of poor compliance with court orders

However, they are less likely to receive a custodial sentence if:

  • There’s a realistic prospect of rehabilitation, or
  • There are strong mitigating circumstances such as the offender showing a determination to address their addiction or offending behaviour.

There’s tons of information on how shoplifting sentences are worked out, depending on if shoplifting was carried out at a stall, the value of the goods and more.

There’s also a rise in students turning to OnlyFans

According to the BBC, the rise in the cost of living has also led to a rise in young people posting sexual content for money on sites like OnlyFans, alongside their day job and/or studies.

OnlyFans is an online platform with over 150 million users. It’s a place users can upload their own content, stream, and charge their followers a subscription fee to gain access to their content. While it’s possible to upload all sorts of content, it’s one of the most popular platforms for adult content currently.

OnlyFans is a legitimate way people are creating a side hustle, whether for adult content or otherwise. It’s completely legal, and OnlyFans has been “repeatedly praised by creators for creating a safe space for them to share digital content with their fans”, according to the Newsbeat.

While completely legal to pursue, there are risks that come with having OnlyFans that users have to take into consideration. And while it’s becoming increasingly normalised in society, it still carries a stigma and various security risks.

So why are students turning to OnlyFans?

There’s a huge market for adult content. OnlyFans has become increasingly popular due to the user having ownership of their own content, and setting their own subscription rates.

Due to the nature of the content, it’s been branded as a “get rich quick” scheme (though, this is highly debatable). 

A 25-year-old student from Scotland made enough money to move out and quit her retail job after tripling her income using the website back in 2019. This is just one of many stories you hear about students and others joining the platform, which is enticing other students to reap as much of the rewards as they can.

What are the risks of having OnlyFans?

OnlyFans absolutely does not fall into the same remit as selling drugs, or shoplifting. This is because it’s legal to have an account and post content, provided you follow their terms of service.

However, there are risks to having an OnlyFans account. Here are the most common risks people need to be aware of before opening an account:

  • Personal privacy
  • Criticism from friends and family
  • Being “doxed” (publishing private information about the creator on the internet with malicious intent)
  • Potentially endangering future employment opportunities

Evidently, some students are struggling and turning to unorthodox methods to obtain cash. Students wouldn’t need to take risks, whether illegal or otherwise if they were receiving the financial support they need. Some students are literally risking jail time and potentially compromising their privacy.

This begs the question of why there’s little support, and why student loans can’t cover student living costs and safeguard students from participating in potentially illegal activity. Ultimately, universities need to do better, open up discussions and have systems in place that can support students going through financial hardships.