Welcome back to our guide to budgeting for university in the UK. In the first part of this series, we looked at the various sources of income you would need to consider when planning your budget. In this article, we’ll be looking at the most common outgoings that you’ll need to be aware of.
It can be helpful to think of costs in two groups: essential costs and variable expenses. Essential costs are the ones you can’t do without. Often, you’ll pay for these once a month or less frequently, such as:
University Tuition Fees
Assuming you have a tuition fee loan, your university course fees should be covered in full. If not, you’ll have to factor in a way to pay these.
Rent or Accommodation Costs
Accommodation will be a priority when managing your money at university (unless you live at home with your parents), as it’ll take the largest chunk out of your student budget. Some accommodation contracts may include utility bills. University accommodation may also include WiFi and contents insurance. If you rent privately, you’ll also need money for a deposit.
You won’t need to pay council tax if you live with other full-time students. You may need to get a ‘certificate of student status’ from your university to prove your exemption. If there’s a non-student in the house, the household will become liable, but often at a reduced amount.
Utility Bills (gas, electricity and water)
These bills may be part of your accommodation contract, but if you need to pay utility bills in shared accommodation, agree with your housemates how you’re going to divide them up.
Make sure bills are paid on time. Some rental properties may have a prepayment meter for energy, which can make it easier to budget, but beware that you could end up paying more than if you pay monthly or quarterly.
Gas and electricity will be the largest cost to budget for, so when you move in, read the gas and electricity meters. You can switch suppliers even in rented accommodation. You’ll need to pay the existing supplier but you can shop around to find the best rate for you.
Remember to submit meter readings regularly for energy and water to avoid overpaying or underpaying. If you underpay, you’ll get a large bill when you move out, and it’ll be harder to settle with flatmates once they’re elsewhere.
Mobile Phone, Internet and TV Costs
Mobile phone bills can also make a sizable dent in your budget. Make sure to find the best package available as a student. If you’re replacing a phone, consider buying a refurbished model from a reputable company. Buying a phone outright lets you shop around for a SIM-only contract.
WiFi is often provided for students in university accommodation. If you’re in private accommodation, budget for broadband with a decent download speed. You may have to sign up to a 12-month contract even if you’re only at university during term time. Contracts may include set-up fees.
If you’re renting and have a TV in the house, it’s usually cheaper to get a package for both TV and broadband. You need a TV licence if you watch TV, even if you don’t watch BBC TV. If you only watch on a laptop (unplugged), you may be covered by your parents’ TV licence.
With the following items, you have more control over what you spend. Before spending money on something, ask yourself if there’s a cheaper way to get what you need or want.
Food and drink
If you’re staying in university-catered accommodation, ensure you’ll make full use of the meal plan you sign up to. If you’re catering for yourself, you can make savings on food in lots of ways.
Cooking can save you money if you know how to rustle up a meal from store cupboard ingredients. You can cook in bulk with flatmates or friends to save costs or throw potluck dinner parties where everyone brings a dish. If you’re a novice cook, there are plenty of helpful websites and YouTube videos for you to check out.
Bulk out food cheaply with pulses. Buying dried can work out cheaper but tinned can be a lot easier and still far cheaper than meat. If you’re buying meat, hit the supermarket’s reduced shelves. Check if you can freeze it first if you aren’t cooking it straight away.
Branded products are generally more expensive than supermarket own brands and frozen vegetables can be cheaper than fresh. It’s always good to shop around to make your budget stretch, including making use of local markets. Try not to be sucked in by two-for-one offers unless you’ll use them. Food waste is not only bad for your pocket, but bad for the environment too.
Books and Course Costs
Check the course information on the university website for any compulsory costs such as books, equipment or fieldwork, and budget for them.
Most courses will have a recommended reading list. Get to know your university library and look for second-hand book sales from your students’ union or online bookshops. Sometimes fellow students are willing to share.
Specialised clothing may be needed on some courses. Don’t forget to budget for the cost of laboratory clothes, healthcare uniforms, smart clothes for placements, etc.
Cars are expensive – between insurance, fuel and tax, the costs mount up. Instead, use public transport (rail, bus or underground), lift-share with other students, cycle or walk.
If you need to buy a bike, remember to include this in your student budget. Bike recycling schemes sell refurbished bikes for a good price. Be wary of buying second hand in case they’re stolen bikes. Many cities also now offer bike hire schemes.
Check the price of travel cards in the area and add this to your monthly budget. Don’t forget to budget for the cost of travelling home.
If you’re going abroad for part of your course, you may be eligible for the travel grant. If you’re a healthcare or medical student on a clinical placement in the UK, you may also be eligible for this grant.
Clothes, Personal Care and Fitness
Your clothing budget can be flexible. If you like designer brands, you might be able to get them second hand or from discount outlets. Buy footwear when the sales are on. Check charity shops or set up clothes swap parties with your friends. Look online for hints and tips on upcycling or repurposing old clothes.
Branded toiletries and makeup can be expensive. Check out some beauty bloggers/vloggers for recommendations on luxury ‘dupes’ and budget skincare routines.
Haircuts can be pricey. Trainee or ‘junior’ hairdressers are usually cheaper – see if there’s a local college teaching hairdressing nearby.
Gym membership may be cheaper at university. Unis will also have a variety of sports teams and clubs, though they may not be free. Otherwise, try walking or cycling – a brisk walk will save on transport costs and keep you fit. Fitness videos of all kinds can be found online, or on DVDs from a public library.
Following these tips should help you make your money last for the full-term, while still enjoying what university life has to offer. Do you have any other tips you swear by? Be sure to drop them in the comments below.