What’s the cost of living in London?
Depending on where you are from, the cost of living in London may be much more than in your home country. However this doesn’t mean it is unaffordable, but it is important to plan ahead and ensure that you will have enough money to pay for your tuition fees and living costs throughout your course, before you start. The sections below contain useful advice and information to help you plan your finances, both before you start your course at Queen Mary University and during your studies.
How much you spend is a very personal matter and will vary depending on your individual lifestyle. Under the heading 'Xiang's budget' below, you will find an example of an average ‘careful’ budget for an international student which should help you see how much you can expect to spend. A ‘careful’ budget is one which is intended to cover basic costs as well as occasional treats without being extravagant. You can adapt the amounts in the budget spreadsheet to reflect your personal lifestyle and then calculate your own cost of living for the year.
Why should I plan a budget?
Managing money is an important part of student life. Whether you are living away from home in the UK for the first time, or you are new to London, planning a budget can mean that you are less likely to experience financial problems or to worry about money, which could seriously affect your studies.
What’s involved in planning a budget?
Planning a budget means calculating what your income and spending is over a set period of time such as 9 or 12 months. You then compare your income and spending to see if there is a difference between them. If your income is less than your spending, this is known as ‘a shortfall’. If you have a shortfall, once you know how much it is, you can think about what you can do to increase your income or reduce your spending. Have a look at our 'financial options during your studies' webpage and the 'money saving' ideas section below.
To help you plan your own budget, we have created an example budget and a budget spreadsheet template (see ‘Xiang’s budget‘ and ‘Creating your personal budget’ sections below). Follow the instructions in the ‘Creating your personal budget’ section to adapt Xiang’s template to create your own individual budget.
Here is an example of Xiang’s average ‘careful’ budget showing his income and expenditure whilst he is in the UK. His budget does not include expenses he has incurred prior to his arrival - see Xiang's expenses section below. Xiang is a postgraduate student from China study for an MSc in Economics at QMUL but if you are an undergraduate or PhD student, you can still use the same template and adapt it to suit your personal circumstances.
Before he starts the course, Xiang needs to make sure he has enough income to fund his tuition fees and living costs for the whole course so he can focus 100% on his studies without worrying about money. Several months before he is due to start his course, Xiang starts his funding research. As a Tier 4 (General) Student, he will have to show maintenance for living costs of £1,265 per month up to a maximum of 9 months as part of his student immigration application. As his course is more than 12 months’ long, he will have to show he has maintenance for living costs of £11,385.
Once he begins work on his spreadsheet, he realises that this amount of money is unlikely to be sufficient to cover all of his living costs. Fortunately, he has £5,000 in personal savings and his parents, who have already agreed to pay his tuition fees, offer to meet the rest of his shortfall. He is also hoping to work 10 hours per week to supplement his income but knows he cannot rely on finding a job. He finds some helpful advice for international students about working in the QMUL advice guide: Part time and vacation work.
Xiang also needs to consider when he will have to make payments. For example, as a Masters' student, he can either pay his tuition fees in full before or at September enrolment, or he can pay 50% of his tuition fees at enrolment and sign a payment agreement to pay the remaining 50% by 31 January. For more information see QMUL's Tuition Fee Payment web pages.
Xiang needs to consider his expenses prior to arriving in the UK as well as his costs once he has arrived. Some of the main pre-arrival expenses he is likely to have to pay include:
- His Tier 4 (General) Student immigration application fee
- The Immigration Health Surcharge - a charge international students will have to pay when they make their Tier 4 immigration application
- Flight costs to the UK
Depending on which country you are from, your immigration application fee and travel costs may be more expensive or cheaper than Xiang's. If you are bringing family members to the UK with you, remember to add in any extra flight and immigration application costs. You might also want to add other pre-arrival costs to your budget such as travel insurance. If you are getting a stipend or scholarship, the first instalment may not cover all of your costs. For example, you may need to pay a rent deposit/rent in advance, buy kitchen or other items or have additional set up, moving or other costs you might need to pay as soon as you arrive, so you may need to include extra money in your budget for these costs.
After arriving in the UK, Xiang’s main expenses are:
Rent and bills
Xiang is paying an average local rent of £650 per calendar month and has also paid a deposit of £650. He shares a flat with 2 other flatmates who each pay the same rent as him and £20 per calendar month each for bills. It is usual to have to pay a deposit equivalent to at least one month’s rent as well as at least one month’s rent in advance. If you are renting from a lettings agency, you may also have to pay other fees and charges. Many private landlords require a UK guarantor - there is more information here. If you need help finding accommodation, see QMUL Residential Services and Support online information and contact them if you need advice.
Xiang is considering travelling back to China in December for a short visit and knows he needs to adjust his budget to account for this extra expense. If you are a Masters' student, remember to include the cost of flights back to your home country at the end of the academic year once you have completed your course as well as to the UK at the start of your course.
In terms of UK travel, Xiang can walk to University from his privately rented accommodation near to the Mile End campus (London underground Zone 2) but he plans going sightseeing and socialising in central London (Zone 1). He will be attending University 5 days per week. He is also hoping to get a part-time job to supplement his income. He is not sure whether to buy a pay as you go Oyster card, an 18+ Student Oyster card or a contactless debit card. He does some research and discovers:
- he can use the single fare finder to find out the cost of a journey between any two stations on London underground, Overground and Docklands Light Railway
- the daily fare cap of £6.80 (the maximum fare he can be charged in one day) for London underground, Overground and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) travel in zones 1 and 2 is the same whether he uses an 18+ Student Oyster card or a pay as you go Oyster card
- using a contactless debit card, fares are charged at the adult pay as you go Oyster card rate and also benefit from daily and Monday to Sunday price capping
- he can also make mobile payments linked to contactless payment cards - for more information, see TFL's mobile payments webpage
- a one month Travelcard using an 18+ Student Oyster card would cost £91.40 per month for unlimited travel as above in Zones 1 and 2 - see the 18+ student fares section of the TFL website for more information
- if he buys a 16-25 Railcard which costs £30 and gives discounts on national rail travel, he can load his 16-25 Railcard onto his 18+ Student Oyster card to get 34% discount on off-peak pay as you go fares and daily fare caps
- he cannot load his 16-25 Railcard onto a contactless debit card or onto an adult pay as you go Oyster card
As Xiang intends buying a 16-25 Railcard to save money on national rail fares to visit other cities and tourist attractions in the UK, he decides his best option is to buy an 18+ Student Oyster card as this could save him money on Travelcards and pay as you go off peak fares. If you do not need to travel to campus five days a week and do not intend travelling by rail outside of London, it might be cheaper for you to use a pay as you go Oyster card or contactless debit card. To help you work out what option is right for you, try keeping a record of your pay as you go or contactless payments for your first week or month and then compare the money you have spent with the cost of a weekly or monthly Travelcard using an 18+ Student Oyster card to see which is cheaper.
As it can be complicated to understand your options, it might be useful to speak to an adviser on the Oyster and Contactless payment telephone helpline. You can also find further information and advice on TFL's Help and contacts webpage.
There are 4 campuses at QMUL so check with your academic school where you will be based and how far your campus is from your accommodation to help you calculate your travel costs. If you don't have far to travel, a cheaper option may be to travel by bus, use Transport for London's cycle hire scheme or simply walk.
To help you decide what kind of transport to use, think about how long your journey will take, how many days per week you need to travel, whether you will be travelling in peak or off-peak times, whether you will be using a bus, tram, train or bicycle and whether you will be buying a 16-25 railcard to make trips outside of London.
For more information see the Transport for London website and the ‘Travel’ section in the ‘Money saving ideas’ section below. If you decide you want to use a contactless debit card to pay for your travel, read the information on the Advice and Counselling Service Banking in the UK webpage to help you open an account which offers you a contactless card.
To travel outside London, Xiang applies for a visit with Host, an organisation which arranges overnight or weekend accommodation for international students with UK residents in their own homes. The Host website explains how much a visit costs.
Xiang spends an average of £150 per month on food, mostly cooking at home and shopping at larger supermarkets. See the ‘Food At home’ section in the ‘Money saving ideas’ section below for lots of useful advice about getting the best value for money on your food shopping.
Drinks/Snacks at University
Xiang spends £80 per month on snacks and drinks on campus as he usually brings a packed lunch or buys a ‘meal deal’ from the Student Union shop or the local supermarket. He uses his coffee shop loyalty card to buy 1 or 2 hot drinks per day so once he has bought 10 drinks, he can get the next drink free. See the ‘Food at University’ section in the ‘Money saving ideas’ section below for ways of saving money on food and drinks whilst you are on campus.
Xiang spends £150 in September and £150 in January on books. He has been able to reduce his spending on books by asking staff in his academic school which books are absolutely necessary for him to buy new and which he can buy second hand, read online, borrow from the library or doesn’t need at all. The ‘Books and Equipment’ section of the 'Money saving ideas' section below has useful advice on saving money on books and equipment.
Xiang has to pay for his share of the TV licence in his shared accommodation. There is more information about TV Licences in the 'money saving ideas' section below.
Xiang also pays £5 per month for shared internet access in his accommodation. His mobile phone contract costs him £30 per month. If you need advice about finding mobile and broadband deals, see the Advice and Counselling Service webpages 'Choosing a mobile phone deal' and 'Choosing a broadband deal'. There is useful information in the ‘Internet’, ‘Mobile phone’ and ‘TV licence’ sections of the 'Money saving ideas' below. There are many comparison websites you can research online which aim to provide you with the best value options or student specific websites such as savethestudent which compare deals for students to help you to find the most suitable product according to your needs.
Apart from his main costs, Xiang also spends money on other things such as entertainment, clothes and haircuts. He knows he can adjust these once his course has started and he is more aware of what his actual costs are likely to be. The expenditure section of his budget also includes extra rows where he can include any one off or unexpected monthly costs not included elsewhere.
How has Xiang done?
Xiang’s total income for the academic year is £34,190.20 and his total spending is £34,118.16. His budget shows a running surplus until the end of the year. If your own budget shows a shortfall, you may need to work out how you can either increase your income or decrease your spending. See the Money saving ideas section below for tips on making sure you don’t overspend and ways of increasing your income. You may also wish to refer to the Planning your finances before starting your studies 'webpage.
Once you have planned your budget, if you predict you will have a shortfall and you don't think you can meet it, and have sought advice on any available options, you may need to consider asking to defer your place on your course until you have the necessary funding in place.
Creating your personal budget
Here are some basic instructions to help you create your personal budget spreadsheet
- Open the pre-populated version of the budget spreadsheet Example Monthly Budget International [XLS 24KB] you can overtype or open the blank version Example Blank Monthly Budget [XLS 24KB]
- Save the budget spreadsheet to your computer.
- Unless you are confident using spreadsheets, to avoid potential formatting issues, do not delete any rows or columns – just keep the amounts in these as £0.00.
- If you accidentally delete the formatting our cells, try copying from an adjacent cell or from the top of the page to the right of the box marked 'fx' or click the ? icon in the top right hand side of your page to bring up Excel help.
- Hover over the red tabs to read the notes which will help you think about your income and your spending.
- Decide whether you are going to do a 9 month or 12 month budget.
- You should be able to find details of your income from documents such as your sponsorship or scholarship notification letters, payslips, bank statements or other financial documents.
- To work out your spending, see the 'Money saving ideas' section below for useful advice about average spending on items such as food. If you are not sure how much you spend on certain items, try keeping a list of your total spending over a three week period and then dividing your totals by three to get the average weekly cost. Looking at recent bank statements might also help to give you an idea of your spending pattern. It is very important to adjust your budget to reflect your own spending, otherwise the budget won’t be accurate.
I don't like spreadsheets - what are my options?
There are several budgeting apps which allow you to keep track of your spending on your mobile phone. Try and find one which works for you.
How did I do?
Once you have finished your budget, you might see certain periods where you will not have enough money to cover your basic costs. For advice about what you can do to manage any predicted shortfall in your funding and how you may be able to increase your income, see the 'How to control your spending' and 'Money saving tips' sections below, and our web page on 'Financial options during your studies'.
How to control your spending
Spending money is easy. Companies use clever marketing to encourage us to buy things we really don’t need and can’t afford. Often we then spend more money to make ourselves feel better. Once we have started doing this, we can get trapped in a vicious cycle where it seems easier to continue spending than to take control and stop. It is important to know that you can take control. This section lists some practical ideas you can use to help you take control and then stay in control of your money.
5 tips for taking control of your spending
- Think about your attitude to money, and what it means to you. Think about why and when you spend money impulsively. Are you feeling a certain way? Are you buying things to fulfil your emotions? If you can identify particular patterns that lead to overspending, you may be able to prevent them, or to deal with them in another way
- Try not to allow money to determine who you are. Try to disconnect money from your sense of self-worth. You will manage your money more effectively if what you do is based on how much money you have, rather than by what you want to do, regardless of the cost. Try not to let advertising persuade you into associating your quality of life with how many things you have. And try not to give in to peer pressure and worry about keeping up with other student’s spending habits or lifestyles
- Allow yourself occasional treats. Plan for this in your budget planner, spreadsheet or app. Having a set amount to spend on treats is likely to make you think carefully about how you spend it, and to avoid impulse buys which you may later regret
- If you find that you have difficulties with your relationship with money, try speaking to a Counsellor in the Advice and Counselling Service. Often there are tips and techniques that can help you to manage your thoughts and behaviour relating to issues you find difficult
- If you are struggling to repay debts, see the Dealing with Debt section of the Advice and Counselling Service website
10 tips for staying in control of your spending
Here are some practical ideas to help you stay in control of your spending. In the 'Money saving ideas' section below there is more detailed information about money saving tips and discounts for specific types of spending e.g. food shopping, utilities bills, clothes, etc to help you keep your costs as low as possible and get the best value for your money.
- Use cash. If you use a debit or credit card, you can’t see how much you are really spending. If you use cash, you can’t subconsciously spend more than you can afford – when it’s gone, it’s gone. Studies show that most people are much less willing to buy or spend as much when paying cash
- Add up little things you spend money on regularly into annual amounts, to see how much they are costing you. For example, if you buy a coffee every day for £2.50 over a whole year, you would spend £912.50. See how much money you could save by reducing some of your small spending
- When you see something that you think you want to buy, stop and ask yourself these questions: Do I need it? Will I use it? If I really need it, can I afford it? Is it worth the price? If the answer to any of these questions is no, don’t buy it!
- Don’t feel pressured to buy something when you are in a shop; you have the right to walk away
- Understand the difference between wanting something and needing something. Make a list of things that you buy regularly and then separate them into wants and needs. Be honest! Doing this can help you to make more informed decisions about how you spend your money
- When you see something that you want to buy, sleep on it. See if you want it as much when you wake up the next morning. This will help you to avoid impulse spending. Or make a 30 day list – when you think you want something, write it on a list. Check back in 30 days and decide whether you still want it now
- Think about a potential purchase in terms of hours of work, rather than £’s. For example, if you want something that costs £150, it would take you around 25 hours of work on the national minimum wage to pay for this
- Keep a written record of all the money you spend to help you stay within your spending limits. Try using a mobile phone app which can make it easy for you to record your spending and to set limits.
- If there is something that you really need, always make sure you get the best value for your money (see the 'Money saving ideas' section below). Check whether you could get it somewhere cheaper, or even for free
- Think about the longer term, not just about now. If you keep buying more things than you can afford, you are likely to end up with significant debt, which could have serious consequences for years ahead. A bad credit rating may affect your access to credit in the future.
Money saving ideas
Here is some advice to help you budget across a range of areas listed below, especially if you are new to London or living away from home for the first time. You can find information on how to get the best value for money, where to find discounts and average spending guides for common items.
There is now a huge amount of advice about saving money you can find online such as on the Moneysavingexpert.com website which allows you to research options across different areas like banking, budgeting and bills. There are also student specific websites such as savethestudent.org which run features on lots of money-related topics.
- Bills: electricity, gas and water
- Books and Equipment
- Council Tax
- Discounts – TOTUM (NUS) and money saving websites
- Field Trips and course related activities
- Food – at home and at university
- Health costs
- Mobile phone
- Socialising and Entertainment
- Travel in and out of London
- Tuition Fees
- TV licence
If you do not want to read everything in one go, just choose the sections which you need most help with now. It is a good idea to review the list regularly to refresh your memory or to read the sections you missed the first time around.
If you are new to the UK and want to open a bank account, see the Banking in the UK webpage.
Here are some tips about banking:
- A few bank accounts charge a fee for running the account but there are many accounts which are free. When choosing an account, think about whether any fee is worth the extra benefits offered by the bank, or whether you would be better to get an account which doesn't charge a fee, as there are many fee free accounts available.
- Try to avoid using credit or store cards. The interest rates can be very high, and it can become difficult to afford the monthly repayment amounts. However, if you are sure that you would be able to pay the total balance in full every month, you should be able to avoid interest charges.
- Only use cash machines that offer free withdrawals. A machine should warn you if there is a charge. Some accounts, such as basic bank accounts, may charge you to withdraw money from other banks. Check your terms and conditions to make sure yours does not.
- If you tend to spend money impulsively, try only using cash and leaving your debit card at home. At the beginning of the week only withdraw the money you can afford to spend according to your budget plan. Once this money is spent, do not withdraw any more money until the start of the next week.
- Consider about having different bank accounts for different purposes and moving money between them at set times, to help you manage your money better, avoid overspending and earn a bit of interest. For example have a savings account and only move the amount of money you need each month into your current account.
- Check your bank statements regularly to monitor your spending and also to check for any fraudulent transactions through your account: you should report these to your bank immediately.
- Set up online banking so you can check your money regularly and set up direct debits to make transfers and bill payments. This is often cheaper than getting paper bills. Make sure you protect yourself from online banking fraud.
- If you are struggling to repay debts, see the 'Dealing with Debts' section of our website.
If you need help with banking and cannot find the answer above, contact a Welfare Adviser in the Advice and Counselling Service
If bills are not included in your rent, you need to budget for all utilities bills if you are sharing privately rented accommodation with a group of people. The amount you pay will vary depending on how many people you share with, how many rooms there are, how large the accommodation is, how energy efficient the accommodation is and the individual preferences and lifestyles of your flatmates. Make sure that the names of all the tenants are on each bill, so you share liability for payment.
Some money saving tips:
- Reduce your bills by saving energy, for example using low energy light bulbs, switching off lights and appliances when you leave a room, not leaving electrical appliances on standby, turning down the heating thermostat, cooking more than you need and freezing the rest for later, cooking one meal for all your housemates instead.
- instead of several individual ones and only heating the amount of water you need in the kettle. See http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Take-action/Start-saving-money for the full list of tips.
- Pay bills by monthly direct debit (You pay a fixed estimate each month, and any overpayment should be refunded at the end of the year or carried forward to the next payment period. If you have underpaid, you would have to pay the extra amount owed). It is estimated that you can save 5-10% by paying this way, rather than by a quarterly paper bill.
- If you choose to receive bills instead of paying by direct debit, whenever you are sent a bill for gas and electricity, take a meter reading or set up text messaging so you can be sent a text reminding you to submit a meter reading at regular intervals. Do not rely on the energy provider’s estimate of your usage. If you are paying by direct debit and you think your monthly payment is much higher than your actual usage, ask the company to change it.
- Don’t assume that getting your gas and electricity from the same supplier will always be the cheapest option for you – compare the ‘dual fuel’ rates to the cheapest tariffs for buying your gas and electricity from different suppliers.
- To a cheaper energy provider (check with your landlord first) by comparing prices to help you work out if you could get a better deal by switching to an energy provider’s internet tariff. You would be billed online, but Internet tariffs are approximately 10% cheaper than standard tariffs.
- To a fixed tariff where the rate is fixed for a set time especially if you are on a very tight budget and need the security of knowing your fuel bills won’t rise (as long as your usage stays the same). As you are normally locked in for a set period of time, if you want to switch supplier during that time, you would usually have to pay a penalty fee. This is especially important to remember if you are only staying in your accommodation for a short time. Remember that if fuel prices fall, you will lose money by being on a fixed tariff.
- To a special cheaper tariff which some companies offer to customers who they deem to be in financial hardship. The eligibility criteria will vary between companies but might for example include customers who get certain welfare benefits or tax credits. However, these might still be more expensive than an internet tariff.
- If you are on a prepayment meter, check with your energy provider if the tariff is higher than if you were billed. If it is, consider asking your landlord if they will allow you to move off the prepayment meter – energy providers can usually do this free of charge.
- Consider registering for Money Saving Expert’s Cheap Energy Club which will do all the work for you - check to see if you are on the cheapest tariff, monitor your tariff and alert you when it’s time to switch again.
If you have a personal computer, iPad or digital reader such as a Kindle, you can download academic e-books and e-journals for free from QMUL library as well as borrowing printed versions.
If you prefer printed books, you may need to spend up to £300 a year on books and study related equipment, depending on your programme of study. On some programmes e.g. Law, the cost of books can be considerably higher. Get an estimate from your Academic School and remember that not all the books on your reading list are essential. The Save The Student website has a section on discounted books for students. You can also check book comparison sites such as www.BookCascade.co.uk, www.booksprice.co.uk, AbeBooks.co.uk for the cheapest books.
Using the QMUL Library book reservation system is a good way to avoid buying books that you might only use once or twice or borrowing books you are considering buying but are not sure you want to.
You can buy and sell used books online at www.amazon.co.uk. You can also buy and sell used books at the bookshop on the Mile End campus.
Also think about sharing books with a friend so you can split the costs and the profits if you re-sell them.
Good quality childcare is usually expensive. Starting rates are around £195- £300 a week for a full time registered childminder or nursery place for one child. For more information, read the Advice and Counselling Service 'Childcare' guide.
You may find that you need to buy clothes or shoes that are suitable for the climate in the UK. Prices for clothes and shoes vary according to which shops you use. Some high street clothes shops can be very cheap and many larger supermarkets sell clothes very cheaply.
Several shops offer a discount to students who have an NUS Extra card.
The ‘Fashion’ section of the Save The Student website allows you to type in the name of the store to access discounts. You can buy clothes cheaply at some markets such as Petticoat Lane near Whitechapel. There are many charity shops in London which have second hand clothes. Type in your postcode to find the nearest charity shops to where you live. You can find new and second hand clothes on www.ebay.co.uk. Clothes swapping, sometimes called swishing, is becoming very popular. Organise a party with your friends, or go to a larger event. Another popular way of saving money on buying clothes is ‘upcycling’ your existing ones. The Save the Student Website explains how you can do this.
Full-time students are usually exempt from paying Council Tax. See the Advice and Counselling Service advice guide Council Tax for how to claim your exemption.
You can apply for a TOTUM card from the NUS (National Union of Students). This costs £12 for one year, £22 for two years, or £32 for three years, and gives you access to lots of discounts on a wide variety of goods and services such as shops, restaurants, cinemas and travel and the cost now includes a one year free International Students Identity Card (ISIC), which offers discounts worldwide.
For an additional fee, you can add the Gourmet Society Card to your NUS Extra card which entitles you to 50% off and 2 for 1 offers at 5,000 restaurants.
Save The Student
The Save the Student website offers lots of advice to students including information on deals and discounts. If you subscribe to the site, they will email you all the latest offers.
Money saving websites
www.moneysavingexpert.com and www.moneysupermarket.com give general money saving tips, product price comparisons, discount vouchers and financial product comparisons (insurance policies, bank accounts, mobile phone deals, etc). Other websites such as www.myvouchercodes.co.uk, www.codes.co.uk, www.groupon.co.uk, and www.wowcher.co.uk provide special codes which will get you a discount on many goods at a variety of online UK retailers. Www.pricecutreview.com/UK/ lists a number of Amazon products at half price or less. Many of these sites such as http://www.pricerunner.co.uk/iphone/info.html have mobile phone apps you can download to receive the latest offers.
Others have blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts you can follow. Once you have had a good look at all the information, try to identify a small number of sites you are most interested in and only look at these. This will help you to avoid being overwhelmed and wasting time reading information which may not be relevant to you.
Ask your Academic School how many field trips or course related activities you will need to attend and how much they will cost. Plan this into your budget from the start of the academic year.
If you are a postgraduate student, you may be apply to apply for financial help towards study related costs from your school. Contact your academic school for advice.
You can expect to spend at least £30-£40 a week on food shopping. Some money saving tips:
- It is usually cheaper to shop at larger supermarkets or markets rather than smaller convenience stores or local supermarket branches.
- Some supermarkets are known for being extremely cheap such as Aldi, Lidl and Netto. Even if you don’t want to buy all of your food shopping there, they can be great value for stocking up on basics like tinned and dried goods. Check online for the nearest store to where you live. There are also many ‘pound’ shops which offer a limited range of food items which can save you lots of money on basic items. At www.mysupermarket.co.uk you can compare the price of your shopping at different supermarkets, cut your bill within one supermarket, check for current special offers and shop online.
- In most supermarkets there are often four versions of common products: premium brands (the supermarket’s own ‘luxury’ range, like Tesco Finest), the manufacturer’s range (like Heinz), the supermarket own brand, and then the supermarket ‘no frills’ brands like Tesco Value. Try dropping one level on the items you usually buy, to a lower brand, to see how much money you could save and whether you can notice any difference in taste or quality. You might be surprised to find there is little or no difference but you can always change back if you don’t like the lower brand. The Money Saving Expert website claims that doing this will cut the average food shopping bill by one third. Http://www.supermarketownbrandguide.co.uk/ has independent reviews of own brand products.
- Supermarkets usually put the most profitable stock at customers’ eye level, but these are often not the best value for money. So look high and low on the shelves.
- On a weekly basis, work out your budget, plan your meals and write a list of ingredients before you go shopping. This should help you avoid buying things you don’t need on impulse as well as buying more than you need which you cannot eat and will end up throwing away. Take a calculator with you to keep track of how much you are spending as you go around the shop or use a mobile phone application such as the Spendometer which allows you to record your spending and alerts you when you have reached your spending limit.
- Try not to go shopping when you are hungry as you could be tempted to buy more than you need.
- If you order your supermarket shopping online, the cost is added up as you go along so you are less likely to overspend or make impulse purchases. However there is usually a delivery charge unless you spend above a certain amount.
- At the supermarket look out for ‘reduced for quick sale’ items. These are usually at their ‘sell by date’ or close to it. The biggest reductions are made in the evenings, usually from 5pm onwards, with bigger reductions from 7pm. The terms 'Display until' or 'sell by' often appear near or next to the 'best before' or 'use by' date. The NHS guidance explains these terms are used by some shops to help with stock control and are instructions for shop staff, not shoppers.
- Don’t confuse ‘sell by’ with ‘use by’ dates. The guidance also explains that you shouldn't use any food or drink after the ‘use by’ date as there will be a risk to your health. It also states that ‘Best before’ dates usually refer to quality and that food could lose flavour and texture and with the exception of eggs, would not be harmful to health if eaten after the ‘best before’ date.
- Eat food that is in season as this is good value, especially in markets or at greengrocers.
- Cook meals at home – ready meals and takeaways are more expensive than home cooked meals, and usually less healthy. Www.studentcook.co.uk and http://studentrecipes.com/ have useful cooking tips for beginners, for eating healthily, for eating on a budget and recipe ideas.
- If you share your accommodation, if you shop and eat as a group you can buy in bulk and take advantage of ‘buy one get one free’ deals to save money as well as saving on gas or electricity bills.
- Some supermarkets, chemists and health food shops operate loyalty card schemes where you earn points when you shop, which you can later use to take money off your shopping bill. Ask in the store for details.
- Use money off coupons. Some supermarkets will allow you to use a money off coupon for a specific product to save money on your whole shopping bill instead. Although they don’t have to, it can still be worth asking.
Buying lunch and snacks on campus will cost you at least £5 per day, plus drinks. This adds up to at least £750 a year if you are on campus every day during term time, so try bringing a packed lunch and a drink from home. Even if you just do this some days, you will save money. Bring a water bottle with you and refill it during the day. Local supermarkets often have ‘meal deals’ where you can buy a sandwich, snack and drink for lunch from a set range of products together at a lower price than if you bought them separately.
If you buy hot drinks, use loyalty stamp cards so once you have bought a certain number of drinks, you can get the next one free. Look out for ‘early bird’ discounts in coffee shops and restaurants which offer food and drinks at a reduced price if you buy them before a certain time. Check www.go2vouchercodes.co.uk for 2 for1 offers on coffee shops and restaurants in the local area and go with a friend or, for £3.99 add a Gourmet Society Card to your Totum Card to save money at more than 5,000 restaurants. For more money saving ideas on food, see the Food and Drink Section of the Save the Student website.
You might feel under pressure to buy presents for friends and family at birthdays and religious holidays. Sometimes the best presents are homemade! Think about making a picture, a nice photo, a poem, sewing something or making something tasty for them to eat. Greetings cards can also be expensive and can easily be made by hand. Craftynest.com offers online tutorials of how to make your own gifts and the Save The Student Website also has a section on gift ideas.
If you really want to buy a present, think about getting together with mutual friends or family members and buying a joint present, as this can be cheaper.
You might get help with health costs like prescriptions and dental treatment through the NHS low income scheme. Students are not automatically entitled to help with these costs. Each claim is assessed individually, depending on the financial circumstances of the applicant.
To apply, use claim form HC1. Get this from a Jobcentre Plus office, NHS hospital, dentist, doctor or optician or order one online. For more information about whether you would qualify for help from the NHS low income scheme see: See http://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/HealthCosts/1125.aspx. If your income is too high to qualify for free prescriptions and you have to pay for more than three prescription items in three months or thirteen items in twelve months, you could save money with a Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC). You can pay for the twelve months PPC by direct debit over ten months.
We strongly advise you to make sure that you are covered by an insurance policy against damage, loss or theft of your personal possessions. Insurance is not expensive and it is far better to insure your belongings in the first place, rather than find that you can’t afford to replace them if they are lost, stolen or damaged.As an international student, it is unlikely you will be covered by your parents’ insurance so you would need to take out your own policy.
If you rent a room in Queen Mary residences, the possessions in your room are automatically insured through Endsleigh insurance up to the value of £4000, but there are specific limits for certain items. This information is in the Residents Handbook.
Check the policy wording carefully as you may need to take out extra cover if the basic package will not cover the replacement costs of all your belongings.
If you are not living in QMUL residences, you are advised to take out your own insurance policy. Endsleigh Insurance Company has policies specifically designed for students. E&L is another company which offers insurance for students.
QMUL Residents Handbook explains that QMUL university residences have wifi included in the price of your rent except for the Varden Street family flats where you can set up a private wireless connection.
Privately Rented Accommodation
Unless your landlord has included broadband in your rent, you will need to pay for this. You might find it helpful to read the Advice and Counselling Service online information about getting the right student broadband package. There are also many comparison websites you could check.
Remember to think about the length of your tenancy compared with the length of the broadband contract, whether you need a phone line included, the coverage for your postcode, what you will use it for e.g. only for emailing or also watching TV online, the download speed and the monthly usage allowance.
Shop around for the best mobile phone deal that suits your needs. If you rarely make calls from your phone and use it more for texting or receiving calls, consider ‘pay as you go’. This way you are not tied into an expensive contract, there are no bills, and you can control how much you spend. If you need to make a lot of calls, a contract is likely to offer better value for money. This usually includes a set amount of included calls and texts (and data if you have a smartphone), but you are normally locked into the contract for 12 or 24 months. For advice on choosing the right mobile phone deal see the Advice and Counselling Service online guide.
To compare deals and offers so you can decide which is the best contract for you, have a look athttp://www.moneysavingexpert.com/phones/mobile-phone-cost-cutting, www.cable.co.uk and http://www.savethestudent.org/mobile-phone-student-deals.
Calling from the UK to overseas countries
There is a page on the Advice and Counselling Service website called ‘Contacting home’. This contains detailed information on some of the different ways of contacting friends and family overseas, and which are the cheapest.
Mobile phone alternatives
Whether you are calling another UK number or an overseas one, if you like to stay in regular contact with your family and friends, depending on what kind of phone/computer you have, there are a range of options including Skype, Facetime, and Google hangout as well as Whatsapp which could save you money on making calls.
Premium rate phone numbers
Some numbers are designed to be cheap to call from a landline, like those starting with 0845, 0870, 0800. However, there is sometimes a charge to call from your mobile - check with your provider what the charges are and if you are on a contract, check if these numbers are included in your free minutes. Www.saynoto0870.com lets you search for the equivalent geographical number and there is more information on 08 numbers on Save The Student’s webpage.
How much you spend on photocopying will depend on your programme of study, and the time of year. For example, this cost is likely to be higher when you are submitting coursework or preparing for exams or final year projects. You can ask your academic school for an estimate of how much photocopying you will need to do. To use the QMUL library photocopier you first need to set up an iPay account, an integrated system which will enable you to photocopy, print and pay library fines centrally.
Queen Mary Residences
Unless you are going to be living with family during your studies, rent is likely to be your biggest cost. University residences cost around £150 - £170 a week and rent for them is paid termly in advance. Your rental liability is calculated on a per day basis based on the number days in the term. This usually means you will be invoiced for two larger and one smaller instalments, as there are less weeks in the exam term compared with the number of weeks in Semester A and B. However, you can contact Housing Services and request your rent payment is split into three equal amounts to help you manage your finances better.
Your rent includes bills and cleaning, but you must also buy a TV licence if you have a TV in your room (there is a later section about TV licensing). You will need to provide your own bed linen, towels, crockery, cutlery and cooking utensils, so if you do not already have these you will need to factor the cost into your budget. These items can be bought reasonably cheaply at local large supermarkets, called Superstores e.g. Sainsbury’s at Whitechapel or Asda at the Isle of Dogs, or Primark at Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, or you can buy a bed linen and kitchen pack from QMUL Housing Services.
You will also have to pay a deposit of £300, which you will get back when you move out as long as no damage has been done to the property. If you live in university residences and will move into privately rented accommodation next year, remember that you pay your deposit in advance (see below), so it will come out of your current year’s funding. Include the deposit in your budget from the start of the year. For more information on university residences, you might find it useful to read Housing Services’ Student Accommodation guide and the Residents’ Handbook. You might also find it useful to read QMUL Accommodation FAQs.
Privately rented accommodation
The cost of privately rented accommodation varies greatly, depending on the area you live in and how many people you share with. See the price guide on the last page of the QMUL Private Sector Accommodation Housing Guide which lists minimum weekly rents for the main letting areas in east London and Docklands. If you don’t intend living locally, The London Rents Map can provide a useful overview of average rents by postcode.
The average cost of a room in a shared house in the Mile End area is around £150-£170 a week. Bills would usually cost extra. It might be cheaper to rent further east than Mile End, but remember to include the cost of travelling to university (see later section on Travel). Deposits in private accommodation are usually the equivalent of one month’s rent, or sometimes two months’. Increasingly landlords are asking tenants to provide a UK based guarantor, who would be legally responsible for paying your rent if you fail to do so. If you don’t have a UK based guarantor, some landlords will require you to pay several months’ rent at the start of the tenancy (usually between three and six months). You could consider a private company called Housing Hand, which may be able to act as a guarantor for you for a charge.
For general private sector housing advice see QMUL Housing Service’s webpage, which includes short videos that explain how and when to start looking, inspecting a property, tenancy agreements, deposits and tenancy deposits schemes and repair issues.
The University of London Accommodation Office’s ‘London student housing guide’ has a helpful ‘find a flatmate’ section as well as advice on dealing with problems. You may also find it useful to read the Advice and Counselling Service’s housing information webpages on ‘Finding Accommodation,’ ‘Tenancy Deposits’ and ‘Housing Advice’.
Live in’ jobs
One way of renting cheaply could be to do a ‘live in’ job such as a nanny or au pair where you are provided with accommodation free of charge in return for work you carry out, usually in the accommodation. You can find many online agencies which specialise in au pair and nanny jobs. You would need to carefully research any employment offered and always check the terms and conditions eg. hours, pay, holiday entitlement before signing a contract of employment.
One way of renting cheaply could be to share accommodation with an older homeowner such as the Homeshare Scheme. In return for your own room and a much reduced rent, you would be expected to perform 10 hours per week light cleaning and shopping duties.
The Griffin Community Trust offers reasonably priced accommodation to medical students who volunteer a certain number of hours per week to work with older people.
You might also consider becoming a property guardian where you pay a reduced rent or management fee in return for living in an empty property. You might also need to carry out basic maintenance of the property or other duties as a condition of living there. If you search online, there are many organisations running such schemes but with any accommodation, you would need to check the terms and conditions carefully before signing up.
It is important to be realistic when you plan a budget. If you do not include an amount for social costs and entertainment, your budget is not likely to work. However, there are ways of reducing the amount of money you spend on socialising and entertainment:
- Arrange nights in with a group of friends and ask everyone to bring food and drinks If you are going out, plan ahead so you can take advantage of discounts, happy hours and promotions in bars and restaurants. There are specific student discounts at certain places, for example through the Totum card, as well as general discounts and special offers like two for one. Look online at websites such as
- When you go out for a night, only take out the amount of cash you can afford to spend. Leave your debit card at home, so you can limit your spending and you aren’t tempted to withdraw more cash later in the night.
- The Genesis cinema near Stepney Green has comparatively cheap tickets.
- There are several websites such as The Londonforfree, Studentbeans and Time Out full of ideas of free and low cost activities in London, including walks, museums, galleries and parks.
- Joining some of the QMUL Students’ Union clubs and societies can be a low cost way of learning or developing skills and making friends.
If you are a new student, check with your academic school at which site your teaching will take place, so you can estimate what your travel costs will be.
18+ Student Oyster photocard
Full time students can apply for an 18+ Student Oyster photocard. The photocard costs £20, and you must apply online as soon as you have enrolled. For more information call the helpline on 0343 222 1234.
The photocard is valid until the end of your course, as long as this is no more than three years. You must log onto your online account at the start of each academic year to confirm your continued eligibility and the College has to authorise your confirmation. If you fail to reconfirm, your card will stop giving you the 30% travel discount. Your Oyster card can be used on the Tube, trams, buses, DLR, London Overground and some National Rail services in London.
If you need to travel regularly, you can buy Student-rate Travelcards and Bus Passes valid for 7 days, one month or one year, which cost 30% less than adult-rate season tickets. Travelcard prices depend on the number of zones you need to travel in. The Mile End campus is in zone 2 and the Medical and Dental school campuses are in zones 1 and 2.
If you live and study at the Mile End campus and you do not need to travel regularly you might decide that you do not need to buy a weekly or monthly Travelcard. For single journeys, you can use a contactless debit card or if you don’t have one of these, you can still top up your Oyster card on a pay-as-you-go basis. The ticket price is cheaper when you pay by Oyster/contactless card and daily price capping automatically calculates the cheapest fare for the journeys you make in a single day.
If you have a 16-25 Railcard discount (see below) take it to a Transport for London ticket office so it can be loaded on to your Oyster card and you will save 34% on Off-Peak journey fare caps.
Using a contactless debit card to pay for single journeys is easy. You just swipe your card against the reader at the entrance to underground ticket gates or on buses. If you don’t have a contactless card and need to buy a standard Oyster card, you can put money on this via the machines or ticket offices in tube stations, or via an online account. When you first get your Oyster card, you will need to pay a refundable £5 deposit if you are only adding cash to pay-as-you-go. Oyster pay-as-you-go works in the same way for standard Oyster cards and 18+ Student Oyster photocards.
It’s a good idea to register your Oystercard so that if it is lost or stolen, you can cancel the card and/or get a refund or the balance transferred to a new card. If you have an iPhone 6, you can also now pay for travel by Apple Pay.
When travelling on the tube, DLR and London Overground services, you must always touch in on a yellow reader at the start and touch out at the end of every journey. When travelling on buses and trams, you must always touch in on a yellow reader at the start of every journey. If you do not, you may be liable for a Penalty fare or prosecution. If you travel around, rather than through, zone 1 you may be charged a cheaper fare if you touch a purple reader when you change trains, to show that you did not go through zone 1.
Consider walking or cycling to save money on travel. There is lots of online information on cycling in London, including the Santander cycle hire scheme, route planners, downloadable maps and safe cycling tips as well as maps, cycle safety and maintenance, and details of organised group bike rides at www.lcc.org.uk/
You might like to join QMUL Cyclists Group which has over 200 members and organises many activities and events. See QMUL’s cycling webpage for more details.
Outside of London
Booking train tickets in advance is usually cheaper than buying them on the day you travel. Use national rail enquiries to plan your journey and search for tickets. If you search by destination and date, you will be re-directed to the train operator’s site which runs the trains in the area you wish to travel to.
You can book your ticket up to three months in advance and the sooner you book, the cheaper your ticket will be. Booking online is usually cheaper than booking at a train station or over the telephone. In addition to local train operators, there are several companies which advertise cheap tickets such as thetrainline, redspottedhanky and megabus but some charge booking fees which might work out more expensive than booking through a train operator so always check you are getting the best deal.
A 16-25 Railcard gives you a 1/3 discount off rail fares on the national rail network throughout Great Britain, although there are some restrictions about when you can travel. The railcard costs £30 a year or £70 for 3 years. You can buy the 3 year one up until the day before your 24th birthday. You can apply if you are aged 16-25 (you can apply online or at a rail station ticket office), or aged over 25 and in full-time education (you can only apply at a rail station ticket office).
You can also get your 16-25 Railcard discount loaded on to your Oyster card to save 34% on Off-Peak journey fare caps.
Bus (coach) travel is often the cheapest option for travel outside London. The Young Person’s Coachcard is for everyone aged 16-26 and all full time students. It costs £10 a year or £25 for three years and saves you up to 30% on many National Express coach journeys (restrictions apply). You can buy low cost coach tickets at www.megabus.com/uk.
For more information on travel see the Budgeting for the cost of living in London webpage.
For all international students (undergraduate and postgraduate), the tuition fee will vary depending on your programme.
You need to be covered by a valid TV Licence if you watch or record TV as it is being broadcast. This includes the use of devices such as a computer, laptop, mobile phone or DVD/video recorder. A colour TV licence currently costs £150.50 a year. You need to be covered by a TV Licence to watch or record live TV programmes on any channel, or download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer. This could be on any device, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder. If you do any of the above without a valid licence, you risk prosecution and a maximum penalty of up to £1,000, plus any legal costs and/or compensation you may be ordered to pay. You will also still have to buy a TV Licence if you need one. To find out more, go to tvlicensing.co.uk/studentinfo
How can I buy a TV Licence?
There are lots of different ways to buy a TV Licence. Whether that’s through weekly cash payments, using your nearest PayPoint outlet, spreading the cost with monthly, quarterly or yearly direct debit, credit/debit card or by post – just choose the one that suits you best.
For more information on the ways to pay, go to tvlicensing.co.uk/payinfo
If I live in halls, won’t I already be covered by a TV Licence?
Your room needs to be covered by its own licence if you're plugged in to watch or record programmes as they're being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, or if you download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer. If there are TVs in communal areas, check with your halls' manager to see if they’re covered by a halls' licence.
What if I live in a shared house?
You'll probably only need one licence between you if you have a joint tenancy agreement for the whole house – this is the most common type of shared house arrangement. You might need your own licence if your accommodation is self-contained. That means you have exclusive access to washing facilities, or your own entrance to the property. You will also need your own licence if you have a separate tenancy agreement for your own room.
What if I'm not at uni for the summer?
If you're leaving your halls or rented accommodation and moving back home for the summer, there's a good chance you won't need your TV Licence if there's one at home. You can see our policy and apply for a refund online.
What if I don’t need a licence?
If you don’t need a TV Licence, we would ask you to let TV Licensing know so that they can update their details. They won’t then send you any letters for approximately two years.
You can contact a Welfare Adviser at any stage in your course, or before you enrol, to help you plan your finances and ensure you will be able to cover the cost of your tuition fees and living costs for the duration of your studies at QMUL. We can offer advice by telephone or by email. Don't feel that you have to have a problem to see a Welfare Adviser: a lot of our work is aimed at helping students to budget and avoid their finances becoming a problem at all. We welcome enquiries from prospective students who are planning their finances.