Student living costs: what parents and students need to know

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As you start university, student living costs can come as a bit of a shock. Gone are the days of full fridges, stocked cupboards and never having to worry about the bills. Your student living costs may, at the start of your independence, seem like a lot to get used to.

You’ll find yourself in supermarkets grabbing your favourite products and muttering, under your breath, ‘how much?!’. The price of rent will drive you crazy. You’ll get an electricity bill at the end of the year that will make you need to sit down. And, of course, you’ll discover that not every pub serves cheap pints all of the time. (Usually, you’ll discover this the hard way, after you’ve offered to buy a round…)

And so, as the start of university and Fresher’s Week have drawn to a close, we have put together this quick guide to student living costs, and a few tips on how to keep them down.

Student living costs – a quick overview

Let’s break it down with some big, scary numbers first.

If you’re going to university in London, the NUS estimate that student living costs are £13,388 a year. Broken down, that becomes £6,143 for rent, £1,956 for food, £316 for household goods, £65 for insurance, £2,074 for personal items, £1,524 for travel and £1,310 for leisure.

If you’re going to university outside of London (but still in England) then the NUS estimate your student living costs to be around £12,056 a year. Again, £4,834 goes on rent, £1,956 on food, £316 on household goods, £42 on insurance, £2,074 on personal items, £1,524 on travel and £1,310 on leisure.

Ouch, right?

How to keep student living costs down

While you’ll learn lots on your course and living on your own, one of the most important things that you learn at university is how to be frugal and how to budget. You’ll learn things like how to make meals that cost less than a £1 but still taste pretty great. (You’ll also eat a lot of noodles.)

Because, unless you’re planning on getting a part-time job and working 20-30 hours a week on top of your lectures and studying, the money is almost certainly going to get tight, and there will be times where you’ll have to decide whether to eat, get to university, go out with your mates and pay rent.

But don’t despair – living on a strict budget is a massive part of being a student. It’s almost a right of passage. There’s a certain ‘all in this together’ romanticism to only having a fiver left in your account, because almost everyone, as it gets closer to the blessed student loan payment date, is going to be in the same situation.

Plus, there are lots of things that you can do. Take full advantage of student discounts – get a railcard for discount on National Rail trains (which comes free with some student bank accounts, such as the Santander 123 account) and ask in every shop whether they do student discount. They might only knock 10% off of the bill, but those 10% savings will add up.

Oh, and bookmark Student Beans. That website will become your best friend, listing every student discount that is available at the time, from pizza to pictures, trainers to tickets.

We could go on forever about ways to save money as a student – from pre-drinking to shopping and cooking in bulk – but if you’re looking for a decent starting point, check out this handy article from Buzzfeed.

How to cope with student living costs

First of all, make sure you’ve got a decent bank account. If you’ve always had a bank account, make sure you switch to a student account before you go to university. Make sure that you’ve got a 0% interest overdraft (it’s more than likely that you’re going to need it) as a minimum. And, if you can, see if you can get a few freebies out of them. Lots of bank accounts offer incentives – from discount cards to £100 – just for switching to them.

Plus, remember, banks don’t reward loyalty. The decent deals are saved for new customers. So, if you see a better deal from a bank – such as a railcard or £100 when you switch, don’t be afraid to ring your bank and make the change. You could earn £100 for doing practically nothing. Not bad, eh? (That’s like 40 snake-bites at the university bar…)

For an overview on the best and worst student accounts, The Telegraph’s have put together a fairly comprehensive review of student accounts that take into account everything from overdraft limit to freebies.

A quick bit of advice for parents:

While making sure that your son or daughter has an overdraft in place is important, you should also prepare for the panicked phone call. Every parent with a child at university gets this call sooner or later. It goes a little like: ‘Mum/Dad, I’ve just checked my bank account and I’ve only got £xx left. I’ve run out of food and I’ve got to get to university…’ If you can, it’s a good idea to be prepared for this eventuality, and to have a little source of money to help them out when they desperately need it.

Alternatively, many supermarkets do a top-up card that you can top up with credit for your son or daughter to spend. (This is particularly good if you want to make sure that the money gets spent on essentials, rather than at the bar…)

Going to university is an incredibly opportunity and experience – try not to worry about the living costs at the beginning. Just enjoy Fresher’s Week, getting to know all of the new people and the thrill of living on your own in a new place. And then, once things have settled down, begin to think about making your money last – little things like have an emergency supply of dried food (in case you run out of money) and budgeting ahead of time for nights out or trips to visit friends – can make a massive difference.

For more advice on how to make your money last a little long, check out our post on cutting expenses.

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