You’ve done your exams, you’re waiting for your grades and hopefully you’ll soon be on your way to your dream uni or college. But how much will day-to-day life cost once you get there?
Outside of tuition fees, which are fixed at £9,250 per year for home students in UK universities, this year’s UCAS Student Lifestyle Report found that students are spending an average of £219 in a typical week, excluding rent.
This sounds like a lot, but with maintenance loans of up to £9,706 per year (for students who live away from parents, outside London), it should still be possible to make ends meet and have some fun while you’re studying too. Here we break down what that money is actually being spent on, so you can be suitably prepared.
Everyone has their own definition of what’s essential, but in 2023, UK students were spending an average of £44 per week on groceries – that’s items like bread, pasta, baked beans, tuna and any ingredients you cook yourself at home – plus £31 on books and study materials. Tesco is still the most popular supermarket for students, but Aldi and Lidl saw a sharp rise in popularity.
If you’re looking to make savings in this area, go fully digital: one Birmingham Uni student we spoke to told us she’s never spent a penny on a book, because all her course materials are on-line. Another Bristol student told us that he teams up with housemates before doing a food-shop, so that they can capitalise on 3 for 2 and buy-one-get-one-free offers and bring down their overall personal spend. Smart thinking.
New clothes, comfy cushions, pot plants, framed posters – our survey found that students spend an average of £66 per week on lifestyle items. This splits into £37 on clothes and £29 on homeware. If this seems like a lot it might be because, interestingly, this year’s students overwhelmingly cut back on the pre-uni spend, only to find that they regretted this prudence when they actually got there.
UCAS asked over 1,000 students if there was anything they didn’t buy for uni that they now wish they had bought? The second most popular answer, after a laptop, was more kitchenware – such as a can opener, steak knife and kitchen scissors. An air fryer was mentioned over 20 times!
What we can glean from this is that it might pay in the long-run to invest a bit more in your home and lifestyle essentials before you get to uni, as it will free up more cash on a weekly basis. And air-fried chicken wings (or tofu for the vegans) are delicious, from day one!
Although the smallest spend per sub-category, fun – by which we mean non-course related relaxation such as alcohol, takeaways and eating out – accounts for £76 of a typical weekly student spend. Of this, eating out gets the largest slice of the budget at £28 per week, with takeaways following at £25, leaving £24 for alcohol.
Interestingly, the student takeaway spend is declining. In 2022, 30% of students had a takeaway at least once week, but in 2023, this was down to 25%. Equally, 61% of students say they are cutting back on eating out in restaurants becuase of the cost of living crisis. Make your money go further by downloading apps for any restaurant you’re likely to try - from Taco Bell to McDonald’s, there are sometimes freebies and points for regular customers.
Rents (and bills) vary hugely across the UK. Some unis charge upwards of £175 per week for an en-suite room with fast Wifi in brand new accommodation. Others are offering older, non-renovated rooms in flats with shared bathrooms for around £115 per week.
Shared houses in the private sector – such as those you typically move into in years two and three – can vary hugely in price depending on their condition and the number of other people you share with. Save The Student’s National Money Survey 2023 found that the average UK student rent for 2023 is £418.
Whichever way you look at it, rent will take up a large chunk of your monthly budget. But there is some good news though: NatWests’s Student Living Index found that rents are down 12% this year. Rents at Scottish university halls are currently frozen and Northern Irish maintenance loans are increasing by 40% for, which should make it easier for people to pay rent and still have money leftover.
Despite the cost of living crisis, UCAS’S 2023 survey found that tech is ubiquitous on campus and you guys are buying it in droves. Our top tip? Take out proper insurance so you’re covered in the event of loss or theft and don’t get sucked into the upgrade trap. A two year-old smartphone works just as well as a box-fresh one and it’s the content you create with it that people are looking at, anyway.
By the time term starts, 98% of uni students have their own smartphone. In fact, smartphones are such a mandatory buy that even a 23% (£126) price hike (since 2019) has done nothing to dent their almost universal ownership.
Samsung phones, despite being 39% (£307) cheaper, still can’t dent Apple’s lead. In perhaps the only example of its kind, price simply doesn’t matter, with average smartphone spend in 2022 being £667.
Students were slow to adopt tablets but now you’re using them for note taking, email, and reading – leading to a fifth consecutive year of purchase growth among first year students. Apple leads Samsung, its nearest competitor, by almost 70% in tablet purchases, with the average cost of a tablet in 2022 being £596.
Back in 2020, printers were the second biggest ‘miss’ when it came to students arriving on campus and wishing they'd bought one. In 2022 they dropped to fourth place, with only 10% of students saying they wish they had bought one. But this isn’t really an anomaly of academic spending, it’s a simple sign of the times. In a world of Apple Pencils, handwriting recognition, and smart notebooks – printers may well be on the fast road to obsoletion.