Going Higher: Learn how to budget - or head east to please your friendly bank manager

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The Independent Online
If you want a city lifestyle, learn the secret of keeping in the black -

find cheap but decent places to live, eat, party and shop. It's hard

but not impossible, writes Yvette Essen, and the rewards are great.

You'll be surviving in one of the world's most dynamic cities

SO YOU have finally arrived at university. Your parents have departed in a puff of exhaust, and you are about to spend the next 10 weeks in the company of your shining new bank account. A whole term's worth of money trails its multiple zeroes across your bank balance, and you get the sudden urge to buy that stereo you have had your eye on all summer.

But not so fast. The cost of living at a university in the south-east, especially amidst the attractions of London or Brighton, could rapidly transform your bank account into a black hole. Venturing further afield to East Anglia may please your bank manager.

Yet with an idea of some of the money-drainers you will encounter, and a few inside tips on how to avoid the expense, you can still have a great time. The secret to university budgeting is to find cheap but decent places to live, eat, party and shop, although you might occasionally have to do some work too.

London is without doubt the most expensive place to live.

Beneath its sultry smog clouds lie 42 higher education colleges and institutions, all swarming with students competing to find the cheapest accommodation. Most colleges provide halls of residence, usually self-catering for first- years. This often requires an early request to the college and at some places you need to be a non-Londoner to qualify.

Outside London, Kent and Surrey universities both provide 100 per cent first-year accommodation. It costs less for self-catering - last year it was up to pounds 32 a week at Queen Mary and Westfield - but remember, food costs can quickly wipe out these savings.

Supermarket special offers are frequent though, and will spice up your meals whenever you are unable to resist buying six kumquats for the price of four.

Most students have to find themselves a place to rent.

Many universities run a help service and average rents are often similar to those of halls. In London, the Evening Standard provides details of available properties.

A large proportion of your budget will probably be spent on leisure activities: pubs, clubs, restaurants and cinemas. Each university has a students' union building which houses its own bars, restaurants and cafes, and offers subsidised prices to impoverished students.

Unions also provide film-screenings, live bands and club evenings. Most students see the union as the centre of their social lives, especially as a pint of beer can cost up to 70p less than in a pub.

In London, there is a central Union (ULU) as well as those at each college, and all are open to all London university students.

But if your party-animal instincts cannot be contained by the union's four walls, you will find many town clubs offering student night discounts.

Brighton (Brighton and Sussex universities) is almost as well known as London for its club scene, but smaller towns such as Guildford (University of Surrey), Norwich (University of East Anglia) and Canterbury (University of Kent) naturally have less selection. Central London cinemas are usually extortionate but they too offer discounts and across the south-east, prices at smaller cinemas are generally cheaper than those in a large chain.

Of course, London is also packed with shows and concerts. However, the cheapest West End tickets still sell for about pounds 8.

For a full guide to weekly entertainment, Time Out is invaluable.

Whichever university you attend in the south-east, the key lies in hunting out the bargains and offers. Your NUS student card will be worth far more than its weight in entertainment and there are many ways to budget well in this expensive part of the country.