How to cut the costs of shared living
Finding shared uni accommodation and managing the contract, deposit and bills with new housemates 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, living in shared accommodation at uni can be a Rubik's Cube of social interactions and budgeting that you just can't quite line up.
But it can also be a hugely enjoyable experience. A new house share complete with a bunch of new friends and an unlimited supply of tea? Yes please!
One thing's for sure: it all gets a bit easier once you've got the boring 'who pays for what?' stuff out of the way. Here's how to divide up the household expenses in student accommodation in your first year of university and beyond.
What's in this guide?
What to do before house viewings
First thing's first: decide on a budget (using our rent calculator) and view as many houses as you can stand.
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 student bank account.
If you're dedicated to saving on your rent, your housemates might consider reducing how much rent you pay if you choose the significantly smaller room. If the room is so small that 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 are they looking to let for?
- Will the rent be increased after a year?
- What happens if one of you decides to move out before the contract is up?
- How many months' notice do they need?
- How much do monthly utility bills usually cost?
Find out more in our guide to viewing student accommodation.
How to save money on the contract and deposit
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 if possible, we'd usually recommend cutting out the middle man and renting directly from the landlord.
Since the introduction of the Tenants Fees Act in 2019, charging tenants letting fees is illegal for contracts completed on or after 1st June 2019. This means estate agents can no longer charge tenants fees for basic administration, referencing and credit and immigration checks.
So 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 that will protect your money and aid with disputes if there is a problem later on.
Do you need an inventory?
In short: 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 something'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.
If an inventory isn't provided, then take photos and send the landlord a copy by registered mail and email. 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. That way you definitely won't get caught out if the burglars pay you an unwanted visit!
Household bills in shared university accommodation
Rent will become your most important financial responsibility. but it isn't your only concern. Don't forget those bills...
How to split bills between housemates
Yes, those white envelopes that drop on your mat between local curry house flyers are now your responsibility.
You should pay promptly. Significant delays will result in your case being transferred to a debt collection agency, which will come with extra costs and could damage your credit score.
Here are some options on how to manage shared living expenses:
One person takes charge of bills
So, one (very responsible) person will take charge of all bills, and collect the money each month.
This is probably the most straightforward option. However, it does rely on one person having enough money to cover the direct debits, as well as everyone stumping up the cash in time so they're not left out of pocket.
A mobile payment app like Splitwise is a good option for this. It lets you send out a group message via the app saying how much is owed (meaning it's also clear to everyone who has paid and who hasn't).
Dividing the bills between housemates
This option involves divvying out the bills amongst you so the responsibility doesn't fall onto one person. One person can deal with water, while another makes sure broadband is paid each month, and so on.
You can even keep track of everything in a spreadsheet, as it shows clearly what's owed and what's been paid for everyone to see.
You might want to consider setting up a separate bills account for your house. But ensure that you're not left holding the baby when your formerly trustworthy housemates disappear into thin air...
Agree on gas and electricity consumption
Unless you want to finance your housemate's bedroom-sauna experiment, it's a good idea to agree 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 £159 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 e.g. a certificate from your uni.
Part-time students, however, don't have this luxury. It's 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 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 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. Think of 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. Even if you're no MasterChef, chances are there'll be someone in your house who is!
Share essential household items
Try making a list of basic essentials that everyone in the flat uses (washing up liquid, hand soap, bin bags, bog roll, cooking oil, etc.) and take turns buying them.
Alternatively, you could have a pot of money that everyone contributes a couple of quid to each month, then use the cash to buy these essential items.
Also, it might be an idea to 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.
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.
Shared household items monthly shop
- 24 loo rolls
- 1L olive oil
- 160 tea bags
- 2 x 450ml bottle of washing-up liquid
- 2.6kg of washing powder
- 450ml of mayonnaise
- 540g bottle of ketchup.
For more tips about how to manage your money, check out these money lessons you should have been taught at school.
* Prices are correct at the time of writing (using Tesco prices as guidelines).