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Students spend £770 a month at uni – but first term is the most expensive

Upfront charges plus regional differences in Student Finance leave new students struggling to cover living costs, Save the Student has found.

  • Expenses balloon when starting uni, risking money problems for the rest of the year
  • Students across the UK may have similar daily living costs as those in London, yet get less Student Finance
  • Parents stump up £138.50/month towards student loan shortfall
  • EXTRA: 5 tactics to make your student loan last

Student living costs

Students starting university in September could be heading for hardship by Christmas, money advice site Save the Student warns. Their National Student Money Survey 2018 finds many students end up struggling because uni expenses are higher than they expect or can afford.

This year's survey of 3,167 students reveals living costs of £770/month - that includes money spent on rent, bills, books and socialising.
 
However, expenses can be even higher at the start of the academic year, when students face hefty charges to secure housing (deposit and fees) as well as travel passes, society memberships, textbooks and Freshers' Week events.

Not planning for these unavoidable extras can mean long-term money problems - especially as there's limited funding to fall back on. The average Maintenance Loan instalment* is £600/month: that's £170 too little at the best of times. And while families are first port of call for cash top-ups, the
average parental contribution of £138.50/month isn't always enough to plug the gaps.

Jules, a 1st-year at the University of Exeter says the Maintenance Loan "doesn't cover everything at all" and singles out "having to pay £350 for books at the start of term".

3rd-year Mandy received a £7,864 Maintenance Loan at the university of Huddersfield. She explains:

"My rent for the first year was £5,148, which left me with £2,716 for the year for food, clothes, course materials, a social life and travel. My parents weren't in a position to help, and for me asking for help wasn't an option.

I was very lucky to receive a £1,000 scholarship, but it didn't help that much because the uni expected us to buy a ridiculous amount of materials for my course - and they weren't cheap."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many students end the academic year stressed or struggling to get by:

  • 78% worry about making ends meet - and 46% say it affects their mental health
  • 61% of those who get Maintenance Loan say it's not enough to live on
  • 30% feel their parents don't support them enough.

While the Maintenance Loan often isn't enough to live on, students outside London face an extra challenge. London weighting means those studying in the capital can apply for a larger amount - yet students in the rest of the UK often have identical costs.

Carol, a 1st-year Brighton student, comments:

"My maintenance loan only covers 8 months rent of my current property, and I'm staying in it for 12 months. I have no money to pay bills or to live off whatsoever from my loan.

I just find it very unfair how London students get more money. My brother, who goes to Goldsmiths University, gets around £2,000 more than I do, and his current rent and bills are £50 less than mine. He has money to live off, I don't."

It's important students don't assume they'll spend less just because they're studying outside London. For example, while students at Goldsmiths say they spend more than £100/month on travel, so do those studying at Anglia Ruskin, South Wales, and Hertfordshire.

Those at Edinburgh Napier and Keele, meanwhile, reveal they spend more on socialising than students at some London universities. See the full ranking of spending (excluding rent) by university at
https://www.savethestudent.org/news/average-student-spending-per-month.html

Jake Butler, Save the Student's money expert:

"Every year we come across far too many students considering dropping out after Christmas simply because they've run out of money to live.

Most 18 year olds have never seen four-figure sums sitting in their bank account, so it's vital they understand the money has to last them the full term.

Setting a realistic budget (and sticking to it) is a must, and our annual survey helps new students get a clear picture of what's coming. If a student finds themselves in hardship, they should first speak to their university about special funding and support."

5 tactics to make your student loan last all term

Advice from Save the Student (
https://www.savethestudent.org):

  1. Put the bulk of your student loan in an instant-access savings account. Each week top up a prepaid card with your budget or withdraw it in cash - then make it last.
  2. Compare your monthly income (student loan, wages, savings etc.) against living costs and spending. If there's any shortfall, get on the case pronto: cut costs, find a job, speak with your parents, or get help from your uni.
  3. Don't join student societies without going to a free taster session. Check you can afford additional costs - sports kit, events, outings or insurance - before paying for membership.
  4. Always seek out a student discount, cash back or reward points when buying anything.
  5. Don't buy all your books at the start of term - wait a couple of weeks. That makes it easier to judge which you'll actually use, and gives you time to source library or cheaper used copies.