What is the average cost of living at university?
Once you get to university and you're fending for yourself, you might be surprised how much a shopping basket of essentials or a water bill actually comes to.
Going out and eating out, takeaways and snacks, accommodation, course costs and grocery shopping are the top things students spend more on than they thought they would before they came to uni.*
On the other hand, there may be some costs you’re told you’ll need to factor into your budget which you won't need to worry about.
To help you start planning your student budget, we've done the math to work out what students actually paid out for at university each month on average.
|Expense||Cost per month|
|Water, gas and electricity||£46|
|Interests and hobbies||£46|
|Holidays and flights||£89|
|Bank charges and fees||£30|
|Takeaways and snacks||£26|
|Phone and internet||£27|
|Alcohol and cigarettes||£15|
|Coffee and tea||£6|
See average living costs for your university with our student budget calculator.
Monthly student living costs – in depth
Accommodation will probably be your biggest expense.
It's difficult for us to give you an average figure as the cost can vary pretty wildly, depending on where you are. But there are some ways you can keep this down:
You'll likely be living in campus halls in first year, paying rent at the start of each term; so before you know it, a big chunk of your student loan will have disappeared.
On the bright side, your most important expense will be off your plate (for the next two to three months at least), along with water, energy and internet costs.
Hall prices will vary from one university to another, as well as depend on what quality you go for.
Modern furnishings and en-suites come at a price, so if you're on a tight budget, look at cheaper, basic options.
This is something to ask about at open days, where you'll probably get a tour of different hall options.
In second and third year, most students move into a privately-rented house or flat off-campus, paying rent at the start of each month to a landlord or letting agent.
There are big differences in rent prices depending on where you are in the country.
For instance, living in London for university – with its endless list of things to do and see – comes with a price. If you're living away from home in London, you'll be eligible for a higher maintenance loan to account for the cost of living here.
Expect to pay less in smaller cities, towns and rural areas, but you could lose out on work opportunities and accessibility by public transport.***
Transport = £80
This will depend on the city you’re studying in, as well as how far from home you’ll be (and how often you plan to visit).
Note, this includes any costs that comes with maintaining your own vehicle (eg petrol, insurance).
Smaller cities like Edinburgh can be covered by foot or bike (healthier for you and your wallet), whereas the likes of Manchester or Birmingham will make public transport more of a necessity.
You could take your car to uni, which may be handy if you plan to drive home on weekends; however, you'll need to consider costs like petrol or insurance, as well as practical things like parking on campus.
Beware, your travel costs may spike after first year, if you move off-campus and you need to get to lectures or the library most days.
Tip: book your transport home for the holidays as early as possible to get cheaper tickets.
Buying tickets on the day is always way more expensive.
Find out more: Which? guide to buying cheap train tickets
Food shop = £74
Don't rely on one supermarket for all your groceries (especially 'express' stores, as these are often more expensive for their convenience).
Shop around to find the best deal for different items, buy non-brand, budget items, and take up stores where they offer to price-match.
There will be some items everyone in your halls/house will use, which you can buy cheaper in bulk (think toilet roll, rice and tea bags).
Just remember to take an extra pair of hands to the supermarket if you buy large quantities in one go.
Tip: plan your meals for the week ahead (and stick to this).
You'll be surprised how much you'll save in spontaneous takeaways or quick-but-pricey ready meals.
Water, gas and electricity = £46
Utility bills like this will be included in your rent for halls – that's one less thing to think about as you adjust to living away from home.
However, when you move into a private house or flat-share, you'll have to keep an eye on how long you spend in the shower or when you turn the heating on.
That said, you might be lucky and find a property where utility bills are included in your rent.
See if there's a cheaper gas or electricity tariff you could be on with our Which? Switch tool. Always ask your landlord or letting agent first if you can change suppliers.
Interests and hobbies = £46
Don't drop the activities and hobbies that make you happy; these can help you meet people who share the same interests, as well as cheer you up when university life gets a bit much.
If you can't keep these up to the same standard due to the cost, find cheaper or free alternatives:
- Gym fees making you sweat? Run outdoors or find organised sports games.
- Gaming geek? Sell old games and consoles you don't play anymore, to fund your habit.
- Mad about music? Get your live fix at local gigs featuring up-and-coming bands, rather than splash out on tickets for big acts.
Clothing = £42
Resist the urge to go shopping the moment your student loan goes in; you probably (most definitely) have all the clothes you need, especially if you pack properly for term and avoid these common laundry mishaps.
Holidays and flights = £89
Once you graduate, you can say goodbye to long summer holidays, so make the most of the time off now (if you can make it work).
Put a little aside from that part-time job for flights, package holidays, accommodation and spending money.
Bank charges and fees = £30
This is a frustrating expense you can avoid simply by banking smartly.
When choosing a student account, look for one with the largest interest-free overdraft and set up text alerts to monitor your spending.
Find out more: compare the best student bank accounts
Takeaways and snacks = £26
The odd takeaway or shop-run for biscuits when you're working on an essay is fine.
Making this a regular part of your diet won't do your wallet – or health – any favours.
Phone and internet = £27
Internet is usually included in rent for halls (and perhaps private accommodation).
Check how much data and minutes you actually use in a month. You might be surprised how much you're paying for something you don't come close to using up.
Find out more: If you're finding and paying for your own broadband deal, use Which? Switch Broadband to find the best and cheapest offering for you. All you need to do is tell us your postcode.
Alcohol and cigarettes = £15
Generations of students avoid forking out on expensive drinks at clubs and gigs by buying alcohol to pre-drink at home.
And while it can be more cost-effective for a night out, it still adds up if you go out a lot.
Remember: always drink responsibly.
Personal care = £12
While you probably won't be splashing out on luxury spa days on a student budget, you still don't want to let your hygiene and appearance slip (if only out of consideration for those sat next to you in lectures...).
If you need a cheap haircut – perhaps for an upcoming job interview – and you don't trust your housemate to do it, see if any local salons or hairdressing schools offer free cuts or discount rates.
Coffee and tea = £6
Those early lectures can be difficult without a caffeine fix; but those grande macchiatos with the heart in the middle add up quickly at a few quid a shot.
If you're fiercely loyal to your favourite coffee place, at least pick up a giftcard so every 10th or so cup is free.
In fact, this is a brilliant little stocking-filler gift for any coffee-loving student:
Other expenses = £21
Everything else, from stationery and materials for your course, to household gadgets.
Things like childcare or nursery fees also fall into this category, which might be relevant to you (especially if you're a mature student).
Check what furniture and appliances will be provided before moving into halls or a property to save you paying out for something you don't actually need.
You can also coordinate with your housemates so you don't end up with four kettles (but no bottle-opener).
Ways to cut your costs at university
Once you’ve applied for student finance and you know what you’re eligible for in maintenance support, you’ll start to have an idea of what your student budget is going to look like.
You may supplement this with:
- bursaries, scholarships or other support based on your individual circumstances
- savings from summer and weekend before moving to uni
- a helping hand from family, such as covering your phone bill or food shop while at uni
- working part-time once at uni or taking part in paid research
But even with this, your income may not quite match your outgoings (particularly rent, bills and study expenses not covered by your tuition fees).
If that’s the case, you’ll need to pull out a few tricks to make ends meet.
Here are some tried-and-tested money tips to cut your costs as a student.
1. A student travelcard is a must
The sooner you get an idea of your weekly routine, the sooner you can decide whether to buy a weekly, monthly or even termly travel ticket to get around at university.
This is nearly always the cheaper option than buying individual single tickets. Buying tickets online or topping up a pre-loaded electronic card is often a little cheaper than traditional paper tickets too.
Also, think about how often you plan to visit home. If you’re going to get the train or coach when you do, a student railcard can greatly reduce this cost.
Check if there is any financial support available to specifically subsidise transport costs for placements you must attend as part of your course.
2. Get your books second-hand
You’ll no doubt be presented with a long list of books that you’ll need to buy as part of your course.
Most tutors will insist you buy them all, but it might be worth checking how many are mandatory (and how many are nice-to-haves).
You don’t want to spend loads on something that will just gather dust on your shelf.
Find out if any necessary books are available in your library to borrow, or if the relevant bits are available online for free to download.
3. Shop in the right places
Keep an eye out for reduced items near closing time, in supermarkets on and off campus.
Be wary of campus shops; while convenient if you have a sugar craving late at night, they can be more expensive for items (and tempt you to spend money you don't need to).
Find out which supermarkets are in your local area and shop around for the best deal on different items. Some may even offer to match the price if you find an item cheaper elsewhere.
4. Plan your nights out
You’ll soon discover which clubs and bars run their big student nights in the week.
Weekends are often more expensive and busier, as this is when non-students go out too.
Sometimes you can get in free or for less if you put your name on a guestlist or arrive before midnight.
Don’t be afraid to suggest an evening in with a film if money is tight or you’re just not all that up to it.
5. Reduce your energy bills
This only really applies to those renting privately – if you live in halls, energy will already be factored into your accommodation cost.
Think about ways you could reduce energy use for cheaper bills, such as cooking with housemates or putting on a jumper rather than ramping up your thermostat at the first shiver.
We'd also recommend shopping around for a good-value energy supplier and switching to them, provided your landlord or letting agent lets you. You might be lucky and find a property where some utilities come as part of your rent.
Find a cheaper energy supplier with Which? Switch
6. Flexible student jobs
You’d be surprised what opportunities are out there for students to earn some easy money. These aren’t necessarily your typical retail or waiting jobs either (though there should be plenty of these if you're studying in a big city).
Alternative money-making opportunities might involve being a mystery shopper or answering some quick questions online for small amounts at a time. These can add up quite nicely and be balanced round your schedule.
But be wary of any ads that look too good to be true. If you’re unsure, run it by your university’s student services - it could be a scam.
7. Get involved in uni research
You may find ads around campus posted by students looking for participants in experiments or studies, as part of their course.
Don’t be put off by the scary word ‘experiment’. These aren’t necessarily the medical kind you see at the start of gory zombie movies.
It might just boil down to a scenario where you try to perform a task and you’re observed while doing so – no needles or electrocution involved at all!
8. Cook from scratch
Try to plan your meals for a week and stick to a shopping list, rather than do your shop spontaneously or on an empty stomach; if you go into a supermarket hungry and without a sense of what you need, you’re more likely to make impulse purchases, be swayed by a supposed ‘deal’, or buy too much of something (that will end up going to waste).
You'll save lots of money cooking meals from scratch instead of relying on microwave meals or takeaways all the time. Cook a large batch, take in leftovers to campus, and freeze the rest for another day.
9. Always ask about student discounts
This applies to restaurants, shops, exhibitions, museums and other events. Keep your Totum card or student ID on you at all times.
Don’t be intimidated or feel like you’re being cheap by asking – it’s widely recognised that students aren’t exactly rolling in money.
When paying for tickets online, check if they offer a student discount too.
10. Get on your bike
If you’re studying in a small city or town, you might not have to rely on public transport so much.
You may be able to get by on foot or by bike – cheap and a simple way to stay fit.
In first year when you live on campus, you might not spend as much on getting around; but this may go up suddenly in second year if you move into a house or flat in town.
Keep this in mind when discussing where you want to live with your future housemates. Sure, being in the heart of town will make journeys home from nights out easier, but you’ll still need to get to campus most days for classes.
Now you know about the average cost of uni, see what your living costs will look like for your university. Try our student budget calculator and get a personalised budget.
About our research
Costs above are rounded to the nearest £1.
* Which? Student Survey, conducted by YouthSight on behalf of Which?, surveying 3,874 undergraduate students at UK universities between 20 March and 12 April 2019.
** University halls data: collated from cheapest non-catered hall prices, as advertised on individual university websites, correct as of October 2019.
All other data: Living Costs and Food Survey (2014, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18) from the Office for National Statistics, showing the median expenditure for students in the UK, with figures adjusted for inflation and omitting those who didn’t spend anything on a particular cost category.