Heading off to university and starting a new life away from home sounds so exciting - making new friends, discovering new places and having the freedom that you’ve longed for. But there’s also a lot to prepare for - managing your finances, challenging coursework, and just generally being a functioning adult. We can help you with the finance part!
If you are surprised at how expensive tuition fees can be, it might also surprise you how much living costs actually come out to. Managing your finances is a big part of the university experience. It helps you anticipate upcoming payments and avoid unnecessary ones. Let’s find out how much your living costs will be and some tips on how to save so that you can start to plan a budget!
According to Save the Student, the average cost of living for students in the UK in 2021 is £810 per month. London is the most expensive area with an average living cost of £896.
You can expect to pay between £700 – £1,300 a month, to cover accommodation, bills, food and other living costs. The large range is due to different prices across UK regions. You can see the average number and monthly breakdown for each UK university here.
Table of average cost by category:
Most students live on campus in their first year. Universities offer specially designed accommodation with various room types. En-suites with good location and security come with a price - a room with private toilet and kitchen can cost up to £1,000 monthly - so if you’re on a tight budget, go for the basic options which are normally priced around £300 - £500. Rent is collected at the start of each term so make sure you prepare a big chunk of money.
University halls usually cover all your utility bills (heating, water, electricity and internet) so looking on the bright side, there’s one less expense to worry about!
If you choose to move to a flat off-campus, there’ll be plenty of options from the most basic to the fanciest. If you dig deep enough on Rightmove and Zoopla, you can find nicer places at lower prices than your university accommodation. This option is usually more suitable for second or third-year students who already have friends to share the flat with.
This number also includes the costs of maintaining your own vehicle, like insurance, petrol and parking.
Transportation costs may vary depending on the city you’re studying in, how far it is from home and how often you plan to come home.
Taking your car to uni could be handy if you want to drive home for the weekend, but it is not the best choice, considering petrol and expensive parking fines.
Living close to campus and making the most of walks, your bike or public transport will help keep costs down to a minimum. If you’re taking the bus or the underground on a regular basis, then get yourself a student travelcard. Also, plan and book your trips home for the holidays as early as possible to get cheaper tickets.
Grocery shopping can ramp up to a large proportion of your total expenses if you don’t pay attention to it.
Plan your meal beforehand and don’t rely on one supermarket/brand for all your groceries, especially express stores - they’re the priciest! Shop around for the best deal for different items, buy cheaper and non-brand alternatives, choose stores with price-match products. Most importantly, have a shopping list and stick to it.
See if there are products that everyone in your flat uses so you can buy them in bulk for cheaper prices.
You don’t have to worry about these if you live in uni halls since they’ll be included in your rent. However, if you live in a house off-campus, remember to not spend too much time in the shower, and turn the lights and heating off when you’re out of the room, especially during the holidays.
Ask your landlord or letting agent first if you could change suppliers, and compare electricity prices online to find the best deals.
Internet will also be included in your rent if you live on campus.
It’s important to check your minutes and data usage on a regular basis so that you can pick the most suitable plan. You wouldn’t want to pay that extra 2p per MB, or pay for a plan that you’d never use up.
You can avoid a lot of bank charges by using a suitable student account. Look for one with interest-free overdraft and set up alerts to monitor your spending, especially for recurring payments.
See our guide on how to choose a student bank account.
These are the things that shape your university experience so don’t give up on them! Instead, consider finding cheaper alternatives. For example:
Exercise outdoors or find organised sports games instead of spending on a gym membership.
Attend local gigs and outdoor performances instead of splurging on big concerts and festivals.
If you’re into gaming, sell old games and consoles you don’t play anymore, or exchange them with other players.
Pack your clothes carefully before you leave for uni because you might already have all the things you need. Try to buy second hand items and go to charity shops!
To stop impulsive spending, leave the item in your online shopping cart and only consider buying it if you’re still thinking about it after two weeks. This trick has proven to work for many people, including me - in most cases I even forgot that I had it in my basket.
Also, when you do laundry, remember to look at the item’s label! Try to avoid those costly laundry fails.
There’s nothing wrong with a trip to the restaurant downtown during the weekends, or some takeaways during assignment season, just don’t make them into a habit because they can be harmful for your health and your wallet. Learn how to cook, and pick up a loyalty card for your go-to coffee shop so that the 10th drink is free.
Maintain good hygiene, but don’t splurge on spa days or luxury hair salons. Always ask if your local salon/barber shop/tattoo parlour/etc offers student discounts.
If you’re going away for holidays, plan your trip and book transport early.
Remember to look for travel deals and free access places at your destination so you’re not YOLO spending all of your savings.
This category includes your course materials, household gadgets and everything else.
Check with your uni/letting agent what will be provided before moving in. You can also ask your flatmates what you guys can share so your kitchen doesn’t end up with five toasters.
Join your uni freshers’ group on social media. There are plenty of students moving out every year, and they often sell back their household gadgets as well as used textbooks for cheap prices or give them for free.
Use our little budget spreadsheet to make your uni life easier! View and download it here.
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