Stretching your student loan to cover everything from rent, to food, to study materials and, of course, a few pennies for luxuries on the side is certainly no mean feat. Alas, budgeting for living costs is an immensely important part of preparing for life at university, though understandably, it can be difficult knowing where to start. In this useful guide, we’re giving you the lowdown on university living costs, from what you’ll need to factor into your budget, to how to manage it all.
What to factor into your budget?
Whilst paying up to £9,250 a year in tuition fees might seem like a lot of money, there’s more than just the cost of teaching, lectures and seminars you’ll need to cover throughout your time at university. Believe it or not, you’ll need to factor in an abundance of living costs into your budget, and some can be more easily forgotten than others. Here are just a few of the most important…
1. Course materials.
Though it may come as a surprise, what you pay in tuition fees certainly won’t cover everything you’ll need for your course. You will be expected to buy textbooks on your reading list, course specific equipment (e.g. art supplies, medical equipment, additional texts), printing, field trips, and possibly expenses for work experience and placements, all to name but a few. Expenses can vary from course to course, so it’s important to do your specific research (i.e. go online, speak to older and former students and your lecturers) into what you may be expected to pay throughout the duration of your degree.
Though, an important money saving tip is to always give it some time before purchasing course materials, particularly textbooks. You’ll likely be given a mile-long reading list, but in reality you won’t have time to read all of them. Be selective, purchase only the core texts and the ones which interest you the most. And remember, textbooks will be available in the library to borrow - though be careful around essay deadlines or exam time, as the books will be in very high demand!
All students will need to factor travel costs into their budget, whether it’s a bus to classes or a train (or even a flight) home for the holidays. We all know that travel costs can quickly mount up, so it’s important to stay on top of them. Thankfully, there are a number of ways students can save their pennies on travel, for example, the 16-25 Railcard will help you to save a third off rail fares. Additionally, many universities will offer free shuttle buses to and from the main campus. For added savings, plan your travel ahead and book well in advance whenever you possibly can.
If you’re planning on moving out of your parents’ home to go off to study, you will of course need to factor in the cost of accommodation into your budget. Many first year university students will opt for living in university residences, located either on campus or somewhere within the university town. The cost of rent will vary, depending on the type of accommodation that you apply for - though, as long as you’re early enough, you will always be able to choose an option that suits your budget.
After your first year of university, you will be expected to find your own private sector accommodation off campus. Again, the cost of rent will vary, this time depending on location, as well as the type of accommodation and its size. It’s worth doing your research into finding somewhere suitable, and doing it as early as you possibly can, as many of the good properties will be nabbed quickly by other students.
4. Utility bills.
If you’re a first year student living in university residences, basic utilities such as gas, electricity, water and internet are usually included as part of your rent. Though if you’re heading into private housing, this unfortunately won’t be the case - so you will need to factor these into your budget.
Taking some time to do your research into the best packages available to students is the best way to save on the cost of your utility bills. And, setting up regular payments and taking a note of your payment dates is the very best way to ensure all of your bills are paid on time, every single time.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to succumb to living on a staple diet of porridge, baked beans and ramen noodles when you get to university. Believe it or not, it is possible to eat normally and healthily, even when you are a student. As long as you carefully factor food into your budget, you can make it work. Though, a pointer worth mentioning is this - don’t do your weekly food shop when you’re hungry (or hungover). Impulse buys will just cause you to overspend and will likely result in food waste. Make a weekly shopping list and stick to it.
Let’s be real, what is university life without the social aspect? As a student, you’re of course going to want to indulge in everything from Freshers’ Week, to student nights, to gigs, to society socials, and even just catch-ups with friends. Although it’s no secret that the cost of socialising can quickly mount up, being sociable doesn’t have to break the bank. Try to allocate so much a week for socialising into your budget - but don’t forget that there are plenty of ways you can save your pennies on entertainment, too. Think free events at the students union (as long as you show your student ID), two-for-one cinema nights and nights in with your housemates.
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One of the harsh realities of becoming a student is learning how expensive things like toothpaste, shampoo and shower gel can really be. Don’t forget to set enough aside in your budget for the basic essentials (including any emergency medical supplies - you never know!) and be sure to make the most of student discounts, special offers and own-brands.
Trust us when we say that we know how tempting it can be to head straight to the shops the moment your student loan drops into your bank account - but you’ll definitely regret burning through your loan so quickly. There are plenty of ways you can shop for new threads and still save on your pennies. Sites such as MyUniDays offer a plethora of generous discounts on popular high street stores and online retailers. As well, there are always secondhand hidden gems to be found on shopping apps such as Depop.
Additionally, don’t forget that unless you’re regularly travelling back home with dirty laundry bags in tow, you will need to factor in the cost of laundry into your budget. Many university residences have laundry facilities, though in many cases you will have to pay a few pounds to use them.
How does location affect your university living costs?
It really goes without saying that the location of your university will affect the cost of living throughout the duration of your studies. So, when it comes to planning for university life and narrowing down where you want to go, it’s worth taking into consideration how the location will play a part in your finances. For example, expenses that come with living in a big city will far outweigh that of a smaller university town. In many cases, living at home while studying can greatly help to bring down the cost of living when attending an institution in a bigger city.
How do your parents affect your university living costs?
Though it may come as a surprise, the government actually expects your parents to contribute towards your university living costs on top of the maintenance loan that is given to you. The reason for this is because the amount of loan you are given by the government to cover your living costs at university entirely depends on your household income. As such, if your parents earn over the threshold, you won’t be entitled to receive the full loan. And, the more money they earn over the threshold, the less you get. All of this is because the government assumes that this means your parents are financially comfortable enough to be able to make up the additional living costs for you.
Alas, we certainly won’t be the first, nor the last, to tell you that it isn’t always the case. How much your parents contribute towards your university living costs ultimately comes down to personal circumstances, and isn’t always something that can be determined by a threshold figure.
How to ask your parents for support?
If you find that your maintenance loan barely stretches to cover the cost of rent alone, not to mention the above living costs, you may need to ask your parents for support. For some, parents may indeed be financially comfortable enough to make up the additional living costs, though you will need to ask them for their support, and in doing so, show them that it will go a long way.
In many cases, parents will be apprehensive about contributing to university living costs. After all, it’s unlikely that they’re just going to fork out for extra beer money. They’ll want to see that their contributions are actually counting towards your university career, and it’s up to you to prove it to them. Show them that you’ve thought carefully about your university expenses and that you’re taking life at university seriously.
What to do if your parents can’t help?
If for whatever reason your parents cannot make up your additional living costs on top of your maintenance loan - don’t panic. It certainly doesn’t mean that you have to scrap the prospect of attending university. Thankfully, there are numerous options you can explore that can help you to manage your living costs whilst at university. For example, if your term time allows for it, you could take on a part-time job alongside your studies to earn some extra income to help cover your additional costs. There are also free and easy ways to fundraise for your university studies - sites such as Funds4Uni allows your family and friends to support you each time they shop.
If you are estranged from your parents you may find that your university has special funding options for students who cannot rely on the support of their parents. Search our database for these under "personal circumstances" as the reason for the award or speak to your Student Money Advice team.
So, there you have it - everything you need to know about university living costs and how to effectively manage them. The thought of managing your living costs whilst at university can be daunting, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s certainly possible - no matter your budget.