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Cheapest University Cities to Live in Revealed

Where students choose to venture for the next few years of their lives is an important decision. Not only do they need to consider the university ranking, their course of choice, and which career paths will be opened – they need to think financially.

As well as household income, university location can make a difference on how much maintenance loan that students will receive. This isn’t the only thing that can affect finances as the cost of living generally varies around the country. Some university cities can be incredibly expensive compared to others, which can make or break decisions, especially when only 36% of students work part-time while studying.

ABC Finance discovered the UK’s cheapest university towns and cities through an index looking at a variety of factors gathered from Numbeo, one of the biggest databases looking at costs of living around the world. The amount of wine and beer drank and taxi ride costs were calculated per year by the national averages, finding out the annual costs of a night out.

Bradford is the cheapest university city

According to the index, the cheapest places to go for university are Bradford, Bangor, Wrexham, Carlisle, Hull, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stoke-on-Trent, Carmarthen, and Middlesbrough.

It comes as no surprise to see that rent is the biggest financial outgoing in the index. Average rents across the UK (outside of London) have increased over the last year, with rent bills increasing by more than £450 – this was the biggest recorded increase since 2008. Tenant demand is also high while supply remains limited across the UK. Wrexham, Wales, monthly rent is the lowest in the index at £333.33, 66.6% below the national average at £997pm.

For utilities, Belfast’s monthly prices came to £108.55. Salford had the cheapest gym membership at £19pm, whereas the cheapest wine was from Bournemouth at £5.70 and the cheapest cost of draught pint in Sheffield at £2.85.

London is the most expensive university city

London, Kingston-upon-Thames, Uxbridge, Surrey, Oxford, Brighton, Bath, Cambridge, Reading, and Winchester were the most expensive places to go for university.

The south of England is a pricier place to live in comparison to the north. In fact, the economic divide has grown even more over the last couple of years. There were however some exceptions in the data with southern city Portsmouth ranking 36th out of 65 and northern cities Manchester and York falling lower at 44th and 50th, respectively. Salford, Edinburgh, and York’s rent were higher in the index than some southern cities, falling 14th at £638, 15th at £670.80, and 17th at £653.12.

The average rent in London was revealed at £1,294.69pm, 29.9% higher than the UK average. While it can cost up to 58% more to achieve a decent standard of living in London, the city surprisingly didn’t dominate every measure in the index. Bath’s monthly utilities came in at £296.56 whereas London’s was 16th with £219.50pm. The priciest gym membership was Kingston-upon-Thames with £56.14pm, and wine the most expensive in Bath at £8.75. London did earn the most expensive cost of a draught pint at £5.70 along with Kingston-upon-Thames and Surrey.

Location, location, location

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), while London is the best-paid area with high levels of productivity, it underperforms on personal wellbeing and wealth inequality. Areas in the South West and Northern Ireland scored highly for personal wellbeing and happiness while salaries and economic prosperity are lower.

There are many cities that have high student retention rates, meaning students stay after they graduate. Scottish universities Glasgow and Edinburgh had the highest retention rates, as over half (51%) of students stay after completing their studies. They were closely followed by London (47%), Birmingham (41%), Leeds, Sunderland, and Cambridge (39%), and Newcastle-upon-Tyne (36%).

When students were asked why they were relocating:

  • 24% commented on house and rent prices
  • 24% also said they moved to be closer to their partner
  • 27% were influenced by job opportunities
  • 36% wanted to be closer to family.

5 tips to manage money as a student

While it’s important to remember that it’s normal to be strapped for cash as a student, there are ways you can manage your money so you can get more bang for your buck and enjoy the next few years without skrimping the entire way. These tips are still useful even if you decide to go to one of the cheaper cities for university and will teach you good money management skills for your future.

1. Make a budget – and stick to it

Make sure you include all the sorts of outgoings included in this index, and any other things you will be paying for like groceries, phone bills, subscriptions, going out, and personal care. If your loan isn’t enough, you could look for additional funding such as scholarships, bursaries, and grants.

If this is your first time budgeting and moving to an entirely new city, it could take trial and error to understand the living costs of your new home. It won’t be long before you know how much money you should set aside for different things.

2. Apply for a student bank account

Student bank accounts are incredibly useful ways to use an overdraft with 0% interest – plus it doesn’t need to be paid back until years after you graduate. However, this depends on the bank so make sure you do your research first on which is best for you. You could also get free perks such as railcards and discounts.

3. Cook in bulk

Cooking meals in bulk and freezing leftovers is a great way to save both time and money. Cooking from scratch is much cheaper than ready meals and takeaways, so don’t fall into the trap of quick and easy meals when they can cost much more. And when you do inevitably order a takeaway when you’re hungover or tired, see if it’s cheaper to order directly from the restaurant or by picking it up, as research found that costs can rise 44% when ordering from a food delivery app.

4. Split your tickets

Heading home for half term? This isn’t just a tip for students but is something that everyone should know. Instead of buying a ticket for your entire journey, you can buy separate tickets for stations along the way, which can be much cheaper. You may have to switch trains, but sometimes you can remain on the same one the whole way.

There are several split ticket apps you can try, including Split My Fair, Trainsplitting, and Split Your Ticket. Just make sure you use these sites to make your booking.

5. Buy own brand

Also known as supermarket downshifting, this is an easy way to make savings on your grocery shopping. Instead of buying the more expensive, branded versions of things, buy supermarket own-label alternatives. Drop by one brand level on all of your shopping to cut your shopping bill by 30%. Plus, more often than not, you won’t notice any difference as most of these items have similar ingredients.