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Student Finance Guide

31 August 2020

Student finance: everything you need to be ready for university

So you’ve made it through the coronavirus crisis (so far), you’ve survived the chaotic U-turn on A-level grades and the mad scramble for university places, and you’ve ruled out deferring for a year.

You have secured a place for this autumn and you are going to uni.

After navigating that assault course, some of the other stuff – such as sorting out your student finance – should be a doddle.

Well, OK, maybe not a doddle – there are clearly a lot of extra challenges and issues to consider this year because of the pandemic, and it is a fast-moving situation. Some universities have been in turmoil, with all of them preoccupied with how to best ensure the welfare of students and staff.

And then there’s the question of what is going to await students when they get there. How is the teaching and learning going to be delivered? What if you want to study remotely at first? What does all that mean for accommodation – is there going to be some flexibility? Can you even definitely afford to go to university, given that part-time work will probably be hard to come by for the foreseeable future, and many families have seen their finances take a heavy hit as a result of coronavirus? And what about freshers’ week – will it all be online?

We can’t answer every single query that people will have, but we can provide lots of information, tips and advice to help you get “university-ready” and avoid some of the potential coronavirus-related pitfalls.


How much will I spend?

Students at Oxford and Newcastle are the biggest spenders on booze, while those in Bristol typically spend the most on groceries. Meanwhile, 2020’s most affordable city for students overall is Manchester.

These are just some of the findings of a NatWest survey of more than 2,800 UK university students carried out in June this year.


They were asked how much they spend each month on average on a range of items. Excluding rent, supermarket food shopping, toiletries and household items was the biggie at a typical £81, while going out (gigs, theatre, cinema, clubs etc) and eating out (takeaways, coffees, restaurant meals and so on) both came in at an average of £33 each.

Students also said they spent an average of £23 a month on utility bills; £26 on day-to-day travel; £15 on books, course materials, printing and library costs etc; £32 on clothes, shoes and accessories; £12 on mobile phone bills and related costs; and £11 on self-care and wellbeing (gym, beauty treatments etc).

However, there were some big regional variations. On alcohol, the monthly spend figures in Oxford and Newcastle were £45 and £40 respectively – well above the £18 for London and Leicester.

Similarly, the amount you could expect to pay for a pint in your university city ranged from £2.80 in Durham and £2.90 in Swansea to £4.50 in London and £5 in Cambridge.

There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all answer for how much money students will spend each month – the costs vary greatly depending on where you are going. Also, while some students will have cash to splash, others will be watching every penny.

Your living costs could well be slightly higher during the first term because of books and equipment you need to buy, items you have forgotten to bring, and paying for any in-person freshers’ week events that are allowed to happen.

Wait until you arrive at your halls of residence or student house before splashing out. Assess what is already there. For example, Wilko is offering savings on a range of student kitchen essentials until 6 October, such as a Russell Hobbs Textures kettle and toaster reduced from £20 to £15 each.

Best student discounts and deals

Cheap food, money off clothes, lower prices on tech … there are plenty of discounts and deals out there for students.

To take advantage of some of them, you need to be signed up to a student discount scheme – the main ones include Totum (the new name for NUS extra), UNiDAYS and Student Beans.

Totum has a free digital version, but the card, which you will often need for the deal, costs from £14.99. The other two are free. There’s also the Young Scot card available free to those aged 11 to 26 living in Scotland. However, with some retailers, flashing your university card may do the trick. Be sure to keep a close eye on websites such as MoneySavingExpert and Save the Student because they feature regularly updated details.

Here are some of the best deals on offer right now:

 10% off groceries at the Co-op (for Totum, Young Scot and NUS Apprentice extra cardholders).

 20% off at bakery chain Paul (Totum).

 Apple has special pricing for students at, or heading off to, university, and parents buying for uni students via schemes such as UNiDAYS and Totum. A free pair of Apple AirPods when you buy an iPad or Mac is one tempting promotion.

 New Look is offering those with valid student ID 21% off. UNiDAYS is one of the participating schemes.

 10% off at Topshop (Totum, UNiDAYS and Student Beans, among others).

 Amazon is offering a free six-month trial of its Prime Student service. After that you pay £3.99 a month (half the usual cost). You can cancel at any time.

 Asos normally offers a 10% student discount, though for a limited period (until 14 September) it has been increased to 15%. Available via the Asos student validation form, UNiDAYS and Totum.

 Odeon cinemas is offering an additional 25% off the price of a student ticket at most venues Monday–Thursday (Totum, in-person purchases only).

 Currys is offering a basic iron, kettle and toaster bundle aimed at students for £17.