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Student Accommodation

How to cut the costs of shared living

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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.

housemates eating pizza and pound signs

Credit: Blan-k, MediaGroup BestForYou, Prapussorn19

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 house share with a bunch of friends with endless gossip and cups 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 to do before house viewings

First things first: decide on a budget (using our rent calculator) and view as many houses as you can.

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.

This is especially important if your uni is in a city where rent is high. The average rent for students in our latest National Student Accommodation Survey was £550 per month.

If you're dedicated to saving on rent, your housemates might let you pay less if you choose the smallest room.

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

  1. How long are they looking to let for?
  2. Will the rent be increased after a year?
  3. What happens if one of you decides to move out before the contract is up?
  4. How many months' notice do they need?
  5. How much do monthly utility bills usually cost?

Find out more in our guide to viewing student accommodation.

Having our house viewing checklist tucked in your back pocket will help you make a decision.

How to save money on the contract and deposit

people signing contract

When you choose your new home, you need to enter into a legal agreement. Before you sign on the dotted line, read the small print.

Are letting fees legal?

Most landlords will use a letting agency.

Since the introduction of the Tenants Fees Act in 2019, charging new tenants letting fees has been illegal. This means estate agents can no longer charge tenants fees for basic administration, referencing and credit and immigration checks.

Make sure any fees are legitimate before you sign, and get clued up on what to look for in a tenancy agreement.

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 usually need to pay the deposit plus one month's rent in advance.

The Tenants Fees Act 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 the money gets put in a deposit protection 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 tenancy, 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, 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.

Even if an inventory is provided, it's still worth taking lots of photos of the property when you move in. There might be things that aren't clear from the inventory that lead to deductions from the deposit later on. Any evidence you have of the the property's condition when you moved in will help.

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.

You might also want to make an inventory of your personal belongings for insurance purposes.

Think about what you packed for uni and keep a record of your valuables, just in case the house ever got burgled.

We have loads of tips on how to get your full deposit back.

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

Make sure all bills are accounted for, including your TV subscription package and your broadband deal (which will likely be provided by the same operator).

You should pay promptly. Significant delays could 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

One (very responsible) person could take charge of all bills and collect the money each month.

This is probably the most straightforward option. However, it does rely on everyone sending them money on 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 (which makes it clear to everyone who has and hasn't paid).

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.

Agree on gas and electricity consumption

Unless you want to finance your housemate's bedroom-sauna experiment, it's a good idea to agree on how long to put the heating on for. A simple suggestion that there has to be more than one person in the house for daytime heating can significantly cut down bills.

If you're worried that you'll be branded as uptight, this can be packaged up neatly into concern about your carbon footprint.

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 showers a day isn't the most eco-friendly habit to fund.

Do you need a TV Licence?

remote control pointed at television

Credit: Concept Photo – Shutterstock

To watch live TV or BBC iPlayer in the house, you'll need to be covered by 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?

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 qualify for the exemption.

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 can be a great way to save money.

Do food shopping and cook together

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 one night a week for a house meal will give you a chance to spend some quality time with your flatmates.

Buying food in bulk is often cheaper than buying food in small quantities. Think of sugar, ketchup, mayonnaise, herbs, spices, butter, milk, juice, cereals (always go for the family packs), rice and pasta. Basically, all the kitchen cupboard essentials.

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 two of you living together, cooking a big batch of shepherd's pie could be enough for dinner and lunch for you both the next day.

Cooking together makes it so much easier to plan weekly meals. Even if you're no MasterChef yourself, there might well be someone in your house who is!

To score extra brownie points with your housemates, try our quick and easy pasta dishes.

Share essential household items

cleaning spray

Credit: ADragan - Shutterstock

Make a list of essentials that everyone in the flat uses (washing up liquid, hand soap, bin bags, loo 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.

It might also be an idea to have a communal free-for-all shelf for items that everyone can use. This is a great way to avoid: a) wasting food that's about to go off, and b) your housemates helping themselves to your groceries.

Here's an example of what around £22* a month (that's under £6 each between four people) could get you if you stick to own-brand products.

Shared household items monthly shop

  1. 24 toilet rolls
  2. 1L vegetable oil
  3. 80 decaff tea bags
  4. 500ml bottles of washing-up liquid
  5. 2.6kg of washing powder
  6. 450ml of mayonnaise
  7. 555g bottle of ketchup. 

For more tips about how to manage your money, check out these money lessons you should have been taught at school.

* Using prices as guidelines.

Jess Aszkenasy

WRITTEN BY Jess Aszkenasy

Alongside editing for Save the Student, Jess Aszkenasy has shared great tips on saving money related to meal planning, finding deals online and more. Based on first-hand experience of being an international student, she shared guidance on studying abroad.
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