Understanding and managing student living costs can be tricky to get your head around - from accommodation to food shops, bills and transport. The average cost of living at university will shape how and what you budget.
Back in 2022, it was reported that 91% of students are worried about the rising cost of living. This was when national inflation hit 10% and, while this continues to now drop, the concern for students managing their own finances for the first time is still a big concern.
If you're worried about managing the cost of living at university, here are some things to consider for your move.
How much does it cost to live at university?
Every city in the UK differs in how much it costs to live there. Different sources and universities may give you slightly different information. Kingston University in London say "an undergraduate will expect to pay an average of £1080-£1909 a month" while Newcastle University estimate the average cost a month for a student is £1112.50.
When it comes to understanding your individual cost of living, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. However, there are some key elements that will help determine a student's cost of living.
This is likely the largest chunk of your student expenses and also one of the more variable costs. You'll also have to consider whether you'll be living in student accommodation or a private rental.
The cost of your accommodation can also vary depending on whether it's self-catered or catered, standard or en-suite. When choosing your uni accommodation, you'll consider what type of accommodation works best based on your student loan and other ways you're funding your studies.
Be prepared for potential commuting charges, unless your accommodation sits right next door to your lecture halls! For those opting for a city university, this might affect you more than those living and studying on a campus university. This is even more so for those commuting from out of the city to lectures - train tickets can come with a hefty fare, so you may need to adjust your budgets to cover this. If this is the case, some universities also off commuter bursaries to help with funding this travel.
University cities tend to run offers for students commuting, so definitely have a look at what your area will offer and what transport is available to you.
Of course, the cheapest commute is walking but, if the journeys too long to make it in time for those hellish 9am lectures, a lot of students invest in a bike to make those journeys a little less painstaking!
Shopping: groceries, nights out and more
Ready meals may lure you in with their convenience, but their hefty price tag may drain your pocket pretty quickly. Having a few student meals under your belt can help you to budget your shopping, as well as ensuring you eat healthily between long nights in the library. The National Union of Students (NUS) estimates that students spend roughly £20-£30 per week on groceries alone. Over a 40-week academic year, that's an eye-opening expenditure of £800-£1,200!
Every student is partial to a takeaway now and then, as well as lattes to fuel your revision. And it's not just food. There are the nights out, study supplies, and days shopping in town with uni friends.
What can help you here is the incredible selection of student discounts that are now available. Places like Student Beans and UniDays give you access to all sorts of discounts to take the edge off your shopping receipts. Some university societies may even offer discounts to local bars and clubs for joining.
For those in private rentals, these are additional costs of living as a student. And you can't forget about that student TV licence for your house Netflix nights! The cost of these will vary depending on the size of your student house, too - the more people to split, potentially the cheaper the expense is. But also, the more people, the higher your gas and electricity bill. It's a fine balance to strike!
While the rates will often vary, there are some practical measures to help curb the extent of these expenses. These include reducing your water usage with shorter showers, regulate heating to cut your gas bill, using energy saving lightbulbs and always remembering to turn off the lights.
Budgeting at university
Once you have an idea of the things you have to pay for, you can work out how you budget.
A monthly budget is a great way of looking at it. Prioritise the essential spending for food, travel, bills, and you'll be able to see how much money you have left for the non-essentials like dining out, social events and shopping. It can feel stressful looking at your finances and trying to work out the balance for you. Be kind to yourself. This is likely the first time you're looking after your own finances, so do what you can and try to not let it stop you from enjoying your uni experience.
How your university can help
If you're a full-time UK student from England, you can apply for a Maintenance Loan to help with living expenses, on top of your Tuition Fee Loan from the government. However, it's likely that this won't cover the full costs of your time studying.
In situations where you may be struggling to cover the costs of university life, many universities offer their students support in other ways.
Some universities offer short-terms loans and support funding for students who, due to unforeseen circumstances, which has led to financial difficulty. Many also have scholarships and bursaries which can help to fund your studies and support in the student living costs too. Check out your university website to see what's available to apply for. You could even check whether there's any additional funding at a course level - sometimes subjects have their own scholarships and bursaries you can apply for.
Managing finances can be overwhelming. Adding on top of that adjusting to a new city and making new friends, we can imagine the stress you could be feeling, and so can the universities. If you're finding it all too much, do go to the Health and Wellbeing Support centres at your university as they will have a better idea of what the university can offer you specifically as well as be there for you to help you through your worries.