The students’ guide to living away from home
First published 20 August 2018 • Updated 09 September 2019
From finding a place to live to paying bills and finding the money to have fun, the art of student living may take some time to master. So prepare for Freshers’ Week with our quick guide to independent living for undergraduates.
Living away from home for the first time is a big deal for any young person. If you’re also trying to study for a qualification, the culture shock of taking care of yourself can be especially tough.
As a student you have to juggle studying with taking care of yourself, which – as your parents might have warned you – is almost a full-time job in itself. But these five tips will help you stay on top of things.
1. Where to live – halls or houses?
You can live on campus or move into private accommodation. If uni is a stone’s throw from your door you could always stay at home – but if you’re doing that, why the heck are you reading this?
Here’s the thing. Both student halls and private lets have their pros and cons, so a lot will depend on your personal preferences as well as the quality and cost of what’s available. Some are natural ‘hallsters’ – others, not so much.
In halls you’ll be living among fellow students and have access to support services provided by your uni or college. This can be less daunting than going it alone. On the negative side, you may be partying hard rather than studying hard – or find you’re not as much of a party animal as everyone else on your floor seems to be. Applying to halls of residence can also be a case of luck, as demand usually exceeds availability.
What about a flat-share or house-share? This means you’re much more your own boss, and it’s a good introduction to adult life. You’ll have responsibility for rent and bills and will have to take care of all your meals and laundry needs and so on. The main downside of a private rental may be being separated from the campus support network. You’ll also have to stay on the right side of your landlord – make sure you get a good one and not a cowboy.
2. Jobs: How to find one
Most students these days have to take on some kind of work to supplement their student loan, as it’s rarely enough (and it’s all too easy to get into student debt). This involves finding a part time job that doesn’t interfere too much with your studies.
The good news. It’s never been easier to browse hundreds of jobs via websites like CV Library or Reed. Employment agencies are a good port of call also.
Typical roles for a cash-strapped student are barwork, service industry jobs like waiting tables and factory shift work. Check out some more options here.
Look closer to home by investigating what jobs are on offer on campus. These are bound to be more sensitive to your studying needs.
If you live life online, why not get money out of it? Freelancer platforms such as Upwork have remote working vacancies, so you earn without leaving your house/halls.
There are also ways of making extra cash online, for example with surveys. All you have to do is log in and offer your opinion. Sometimes you will be offered vouchers, rather than hard cash. (For example, Toluna is currently offering free Currys/PC World Vouchers). But, either way, you don’t need any experience, and it’s fairly easy to give it a go.
3. Paying bills as a student
Bills are the dark side of growing up. Think of it as pocket money in reverse. They come flooding in, eventually they turn red, and you’ll be expected to keep track of them all.
Don’t panic! Know what to look for and what to prioritize. First up are the utilities – which as any Monopoly player knows are the electrics, gas and water. These tips will help you keep track of them. After these essentials come the nearly-essentials, like internet, TV licence and any TV packages you want (though you may decide these are luxuries - but see below).
Remember that utilities come from a range of providers, so take time working out which offer the best value for you. If you’re living in a house share, split the cost but make sure you do it sensibly. This can be a minefield, but thankfully there are apps to help you crunch the numbers.
Other apps are available for helping you with your general finances too. After all, you need to keep a roof over your head before you can think about doing anything else!
4. Fun, fun, fun
After paying all those bills you’re going to need some downtime, right? That might sound easier said than done when you’ve got an empty wallet or purse.
No need to scream, you can stream! With streaming services, you can avoid finance-draining trips to the pub, and there’s no shortage of content to choose from.
For example, Now TV gives you a decent entertainment package from £7.99 per month, which can be cancelled at short notice. And should you fancy some fresh air, then look out for free events. Many unis hold these regularly (often with free food and drink), particularly during Freshers’ Week.
5. Travel light
A major expense for any student is the high cost of travel. If you’re living away from home and have to jump on a train or plane, the money soon leaks away.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The first thing you should know about is the 16-25 Student Railcard, which gives you sizeable discounts on getting from A to B.
In addition to the savings that you’ll get once you have the railcard, don’t forget to see if there are any offers out there on the price of the railcard itself. For example, there is currently a cashback offer that effectively knocks a tenner off the price (33%)
And if school trips didn’t put you off for life, then coach travel is by far the most budget-friendly option. They take longer, but the prices can’t be argued with. National Express quite frequently sells tickets for under £10.
Hopefully those five tips will leave you more prepared for your first year living away from home. Just one last thing – don’t forget to call the old folks now and again!
Nick Green is communications manager at Unbiased, the UK's favourite place to find advice you can trust. He has been writing professionally on finance, business and many other topics for over 15 years.