How to cut the costs of shared living
Finding shared uni accommodation and managing the contract, deposit and all the extra costs that it entails can be like walking through a minefield on ice... tread carefully.
Whether you're making the leap from student halls or diving in straight from home, shared living can be a Rubik's Cube of social interactions and budgeting that you just can't quite line up.
It can also be a hugely enjoyable experience. A new house complete with a bunch of cool new mates and an unlimited supply of tea? Yaaaaaaas please.
One thing's for sure: it all gets a bit easier once you've got the boring finance stuff out of the way. So, with that in mind, we've put together a whole guide of tips and tricks to get you ready for a year of shared university accommodation bliss that won't burn a hole in your pocket. You're welcome 🙂
What's in this guide?
How to choose your housemates at university
A good friend isn't 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!
If you're having problems picking your housemates, sit down and write out the all the pros and cons you can think of for living with your friends. And if you haven't been able to say no to that slippery friend that is forever 'forgetting' to pay you back, check out our tricky housemate guide for pointers on how to live together and keep your friendship intact!
Legally, there is a limit to the number of tenants per property landlords can rent the space to. Make sure your landlord isn't letting out the property to more people than he/she should be.
Here's a table to help you work out whether your humble abode is overcrowded.
How many people are allowed to live in a house?
Information taken from Shelter.
What to ask at house viewings
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 mean 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 on your rent, your housemates might consider reducing the rent one person pays if they have a significantly smaller room. If the room is so small you have to resort to paying for a self-storage unit, reducing your rent should definitely be on the cards!
Viewings are also the time to find out what lies beneath the surface of a seemingly good deal. Go prepared with questions. Here are a few to keep in mind:
Questions to ask your landlord
- How long is the lease?
- Will the rent be increased after a year?
- What happens if one of us decides to move out before the lease is up?
- How many months notice do you need?
- How much do monthly utility bills usually come to?
Find out more in our guide to viewing student accommodation.
How to save money on the contract and fees
Having chosen your palace, you are about to enter into a legal agreement. Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure you've read the small print.
Are letting fees legal?
Most landlords will use a letting agency (although we always recommend cutting out the middle man if at all possible).
Since the introduction of the Tenants Fees Act in 2019, charging tenants letting fees is illegal for contracts completed on or after 1 June 2019. This means estate agents can no longer charge tenants fees for basic administration, referencing and credit and immigration checks.
Bottom line: make sure any fees are legitimate before you sign and get clued up on what to look for in a tenancy agreement.
You may be able to find a property through a private landlord, though these will be few and far between due to students’ reputations for trashing houses.
How much is 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 deposit plus one month’s rent in advance.
The Tenants Fees Act also capped deposits for all contracts signed on or after 1st June 2019 to five weeks' rent. 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.
Do you need an inventory?
In a short answer: yes! Deductions from deposits can be a nasty financial shock at the end of a beautiful relationship, so always 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 may 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. If you're taking the photos on your phone, make sure your phone has saved the date the photo was taken.
That way, if your landlord tries to accuse you of damaging furniture that was already dodgy when you moved in, you have dated photographic evidence to back up your side of the story.
Think about what you packed for uni – you might also want to make an inventory of your own stuff for insurance purposes, especially if you live somewhere like this. Don't get caught out if the burglars come a-sneakin'.
Household bills in shared accommodation at university
Rent will become your most important financial responsibility but it isn’t your only concern – don't forget those bills, bills, bills...
How to split 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...
You should also 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!
Agree on gas and electricity consumption
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 daytime 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.
You can also show your housemates how much energy costs per hour to bring them around to your way of thinking if they still won't budge!
The same applies to hot water. Having three 30-minute boiling hot showers a day isn't the most eco-friendly habit to fund. Our planet's water supply is slowly running out, remember?
Do you need a TV Licence?
Watching daytime TV in your pants doesn’t come without its costs. For the privilege of indulging in this particular 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 approximately £150 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.
That said, you may not need a TV Licence at all! Find out more about the TV Licence loophole.
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. To get your exemption, you’ll need to give the council evidence of your student status eg. a certificate from your uni.
Part-time students, however, don’t have this luxury – 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 council tax exemption.
How to split food shopping and cleaning products
Sharing food shopping and dinners with the people you live with means more willing hands to peel potatoes...
Do food shopping and cook together
We know you're all out and about living your separate and very exciting lives. But eating together even just once a week could save you some cash. The way to a lot of people's hearts is through their stomachs, and setting aside a night a week for a 'house meal' will also give you a chance to spend some quality time with your roomies.
Buying food in bulk is often cheaper than buying food in small quantities: sugar, ketchup, mayonnaise, butter, milk, fruit squash, cereals (always go for the family packs), rice and pasta. Basically, all the kitchen cupboard essentials.
And if can't find the time to go to the supermarket together, order it all online and have it delivered to your door!
Even if it's just the two of you, cooking a big batch of shepherd's pie could be enough for dinner AND lunch for the both of you the next day. Cooking together makes planning weekly meals that much more fun, and even if you're no MasterChef, chances are there'll be someone in your house who is!
Share essential household items
Instead of buying four 500ml bottles of olive oil which cost over £2* a pop, you could purchase two 1L bottles which'll cost you less and last longer!
Have a communal free-for-all shelf for items that everyone can dive into. This is a great way to avoid: a) wasting food that is about to go off, and b) your housemates helping themselves to your groceries.
To avoid arguments about who was the last to buy toilet roll, make a collective kitty for cleaning products like washing up liquid, toilet roll, washing powder, and even shampoo and conditioner for the super thrifty.
Some kitchen utensils, even shared, just aren't worth the hassle or the dollar. Have a gander at the kitchen items you definitely don't need and what to use instead.
Here's an example of what around £20 a month (that's £5 each between four people) could get you if you stick to home-brand products.*
Your monthly shop
- One pack of 24 loo rolls
- 1L olive oil
- 80 tea bags
- 200g instant coffee
- One 740ml bottle of washing-up liquid
- 2.6kg of washing powder
- One 500ml jar of mayonnaise
- One 550g bottle of ketchup
- 1kg butter spread
Why not check out the 15 money lessons you should have learned at school to make the final leap to #livingyourbestlife?
*Prices were correct at the time of writing February 2020.