Costs of student living (and how to beat them)
Whether you've spent the first year tucked up in the warm bosom of university accommodation or you’re diving straight in from home, finding a shared house and all the extra responsibilities that it entails can be like walking through a minefield led by a man with one leg… tread carefully.
Here are a few quick tips containing the true costs of student living and how you can beat them.
Choose your housemates wisely
A good friend is not always the same as a good housemate. If you have to ask a friend for that £20 back over and over it’s likely they’ll be just as reluctant about household bills and expenses.
How many housemates should you have? The price per person will significantly improve as you increase in numbers so consider joining forces if there’s only two or three of you.
The more bodies to huddle together for warmth can also help with those winter heating bills!
However the savings begin to level out after four people as a five or six person house can lead to extra administrative costs for the landlord, which will ultimately be passed on to you, the tenants.
If you are having problems picking your housemates then check our tongue in cheek guide here.
Take house viewings seriously
Decide on a budget and view as many houses as you can stand (using our house viewing checklist of course).
Look in different areas to see what you can get for your money. Sometimes the sacrifice you make for not being within stumbling distance of your lecture hall can start to clock up as extra cash in your bank account.
As with any deal you need to know what else is on offer and to ensure that what sounds good on paper isn’t just a mouldy bedsit with a washing machine. You’ll also want to check that the fourth bedroom isn’t a converted airing cupboard!
However if you’re dedicated to saving those pennies your housemates might consider reducing the rent one person pays if they have a significantly smaller room. There’s no harm in asking.
Viewings are also the time to find out what lies beneath the surface of a seemingly good deal. Go prepared with questions. Remember, knowledge is power.
Find out more about how to go about viewing student accommodation.
Check the contract
Having chosen your palace, you are about to enter into a legal agreement. Before you put your X on the dotted line, be sure you've read the small print. There’s a reason this is repeated like a nagging mother; it’s common sense that few people listen to.
Most landlords will use a letting agency, which come with their own set of fees (although we always recommend going direct if possible). They will obtain references for all the tenants, to ensure that you’re not going to gut the place and run off with the spoils. This should cost around £20 per person, so be wary of those quoting a much higher figure.
You may be able to find property through a private landlord, though these will be few and far between due to students’ reputations for trashing their digs.
Find out more about what to check for when signing a tenancy agreement.
Don't forget the deposit
Remember that the first month is going to be the most painful, financially. When you sign the contract you’ll need to pay the dilapidation deposit plus one month’s rent in advance.
The deposit is usually two-month’s rent but can sometimes be more for student properties. Find out beforehand what the exact figure is so that you can budget or borrow. Your student union will be able to provide you with information on financial support.
Ensure that your deposit is put in the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. This is a legal requirement which will protect your money and aid with disputes, if there is a problem later on.
Avoid additional living costs
Rent will become your most important financial responsibility but it isn’t your only concern. It does threaten to punch you in the face but there are a multitude of additional costs that will be aiming at your kidneys.
Bills, bills, bills
Yes, those white envelopes that drop on your mat between local curry house flyers are now your responsibility. Decide how you’re going to pay. Try organising a rota for paying bills each month and use our student bills guide to save the maximum amount of money.
You might want to consider setting up a separate bills account but ensure that you’re not left holding the baby when your once trustworthy housemates disappear into thin air.
Pay promptly. Significant delays will result in your case being transferred to a debt collection agency, which will come with its extra costs.
Finally, don’t be caught short – remember to factor these expenses into your budget.
Share and share alike
Unless you want to finance your housemate’s bedroom-sauna experiment, it would be a good idea to agree about when the heating can be on. A simple suggestion that there has to be more than one person in the house for day-time heating can significantly cut down on bills.
If you’re worried that you’ll be branded as uptight then this can be packaged up neatly into concern about your carbon footprint, tied with a bow made from recycled paper.
A household fund of a few pounds a week can help to make sure everyone is contributing to the boring essentials, like washing-up liquid and toilet roll.
This will allow you to avoid colour-coded argument-inducing rotas that are bound to fail, in even the most well-meaning of households.
Do you have a licence for that couch potato?
Watching daytime TV in your pants doesn’t come without its costs. For the privilege of indulging in a student stereotype you’ll need a TV licence, one per shared household.
Unless, that is, you’re renting rooms separately, in which case a licence will be required for each room. At £147 this can be a large sum to fork out on your own. However if you’re caught without one the possible £1,000 fine will hurt you more.
To soften the blow you can pay in instalments and even get a pro-rata refund if you go home for the summer.
Are you exempt from council tax?
As a student you are granted one, not insignificant, get-out; full-time students are exempt from paying council tax. You’ll each need to pick up a certificate from your accommodation office and hand it in at the local council.
Part-time students, however, don’t have this luxury, which is something you might want to consider when you’re choosing who to live with – if even one person in the household is not a full-time student, you’ll all get a discount on your council tax bill but won’t be exempt completely.
Find out more about gaining a council tax exemption.
Don't get stung at the end
Deductions from deposits can be a nasty financial shock at the end of a beautiful relationship. Insist on an inventory.
You should be provided with a list of contents and their condition when you move in. Check it, thoroughly. If there’s anything wrong then write it down immediately. If it’s dirty, say so.
You don’t want to end up paying for a professional cleaning service for stains that were there when you moved in. Although it might seem like a hassle now you’ll kick yourself when you can’t prove you didn't break, stain or lose something.
If an inventory isn't provided then take photos and send the landlord a copy by registered mail.
We have many more tips on how to get your full deposit back in our fail safe guide.
Living in shared accommodation can be one of the best times of your life but it does come without its fair share of pitfalls. As long as you have your eyes open and you look where you’re going you can skip along quite merrily, avoiding finding yourself at the bottom of a dark, financial hole.
Are you living in shared accommodation? Do you have any hints or tips? Is there anything burning we’ve missed? Share your wisdom here.
Christie has become an authoritative voice on university life, from studying to researching and teaching, during a career path that resembles the twists and turns of a badly-written mystery novel.