Budgeting & Banking

What do students spend their money on?

Piggy bankBudgeting as a student can be tough, especially when you have to take into account expenses that you may have never paid for before, like gas and electricity and weekly food shopping.

Every year students face the struggle of trying to work out whether their maintenance loan (and any supplementary income) will cover the cost of their rent and how much they will have left over to spend on leisure activities, such as heading to the cinema or having a cheeky night out.

To better understand how students budget their money (with the aim of helping other students), Save the Student! commissioned the ‘Student Finance Survey 2012'. The voices of 2,219 students from a range of UK universities were heard (thanks to those who took part!) and the results should be of interest to everyone.

UPDATED FOR 2014! View the results from our most recent student spending survey here.

The new survey asked students a range of questions, from their perceptions of debt, bank overdrafts and also details on what they spend their money on. Collating all the answers on this last section together gave an average spend for each student on certain parts of their monthly budget. Find the results below.

Average student monthly spend breakdown

What students spend their money on

Source: Save the Student! student finance survey 2012. 

What can we learn from this?

As you can clearly see from the pie chart above, rent is (not surprisingly) the largest proportion of a student's outgoings, with food and socialising the next largest drain on finances at almost half that.

Perhaps one of the most surprising statistics was the amount of money that is now spent on mobile phones in comparison to books and stationary. There may be good reason for this; many students are taking to the ever-expanding Internet for research and making good use out of improved University libraries.

It should come as no surprise that the average student spends more on socialising than on academic materials over the month. Is there anything wrong with that? It's up to personal judgement, but so long as learning isn't taking a back seat, we don't think so.

The total of these values gives a typical student budget of just £686. Students outside of London are entitled to a maximum maintenance loan of around £458 a month. There is a gap here between what students are given as financial support from the SLC and what is being spent, but of course most students have additional sources of income including any possible maintenance grants, part-time jobs and parental support.

It is important that students are aware that the maintenance loan on its own will not support their living needs and that personal finance management needs to encompass other sources.

Interestingly, the NUS offer a slightly different picture when it comes to student spending. For example, their 2012 report claims that students spend on average a massive £125 on books alone. Obviously that's a significant margin of difference between the two studies but we hope common sense would dictate that, for the average student, such an expenditure is simply unaffordable. If you are spending that much on books, you may want to have a read of this!

For a complete guide to budgeting and student finance, download our free “Essential Student Guide to Money” eBook.


  • Survey statistics taken from the Save the Student! student finance survey 2012. Conducted online. Sample size was 2,219 university students in the UK between 8-18 May 2012.

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