How to cut the costs of shared living
Finding a shared house and managing 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 Rubix 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? Yes, pur-lease.
You do need to be smart about who you decide to live with, and how much money you're willing to spend to make your house a comfortable living space that doesn't haemorrhage money with every creaky floorboard.
How do you manage shared living costs and save £100s we hear you ask?
It's almost as if we read your mind, and then some. We've put together a whole guide of tips and tricks to get you ready for a year of shared living bliss that won't burn a hole in your pocket. You're welcome 🙂
Things to consider
Choose your housemates wisely
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, check out our guide to whether or not you should live with 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 that friendship in tact!
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.
Is your house share overcrowded?
Information taken from Shelter.
Research your 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 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 on your rent, your housemates might consider reducing the rent one person pays if they have a significantly smaller room. There’s no harm in asking.
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.
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.
Check the contract
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. There’s a reason this is repeated like a broken record; it’s common sense that few people listen to.
Most landlords will use a letting agency, which comes with its 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 can cost £20 – £150 per person, so be wary of those quoting a much higher figure.
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 their digs.
Get clued up on what to look for in a tenancy agreement.
Check your inventory
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. 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.
We have many more tips on how to get your full deposit back in our guide to... well, getting your full deposit back.
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'.
Budget for 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 deposit is usually two months 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.
Get a grip on household bills
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's also a multitude of additional costs that will be aiming at your kidneys.
Split your 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.
Make sure all bills are counted for, including your TV subscription package and your broadband deal (which will likely be provided by the same operator). The more retro among you might even have a landline!
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 your energy 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 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.
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?
Check out our suggestions on how to equally split bills.
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 £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 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 council tax exemption.
Master the art of communal meals
Yes, you are all out and about living your separate and very exciting lives. But eating together even just once a week could save you some cash.
Buying food in bulk is often cheaper than buying food in small quantities. So why not set aside an evening or two a week for a "house meal"?
The way to a lot of people's hearts is through their stomachs, and this will also give you a chance to spend some quality time with your housemates. Sharing the love with your housemates is the whole point of shared living, remember?
Even if it's just the two of you, cooking a big batch of shepherd's pie could be enough for lunch for the both of you the next day.
For more recipes that will score you extra brownie points with your new housemates, check out our five quick and easy pasta dishes.
Share basic living essentials
As we said before, food is often cheaper in bulk. Instead of buying four 500ml bottles of olive oil which cost £2.30 a pop, you could purchase one 2L bottle which will cost you £7 and will last you longer.
The same can be said for sugar, ketchup, mayonnaise, butter, milk, fruit squash, cereals (always go for the family packs), rice (brown or white) and pasta. Basically, all the kitchen cupboard essentials.
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.
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.
This also works for cleaning products. Make a collective kitty for items such as washing up liquid, toilet roll, washing powder, and even shampoo and conditioner for the super thrifty.
Here's an example of what £20 a month (that's £5 each between four people) could get you if you stick to home-brand products.
Your monthly shop
- Two packs of nine loo rolls
- Two one-kilogram packs of spaghetti
- One 740ml bottle of washing-up liquid
- 2.6kg of washing powder
- Eight pints of milk
- One 750ml jar of mayonnaise
- Two kilograms of long grain rice
- One 550g bottle of ketchup
- 1.5kg of butter spread (if you're willing to dish out an extra 5p).
And guess what? We've got even more tips on how to save money on food shopping.
You've gotten to the bottom of this page and have definitely memorised all of our advice backwards. Well done young Jedi. You are officially ready to fly the nest.
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.
You're on your way to getting your accommodation sorted — great. Why not check out the 15 money lessons you should have learned at school to make the final leap to #livingyourbestlife