After rent, food and beer, what's left?

Making a budget can be frightening, but it is a wise move. Ken Welsby does the sums
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The Independent Online
Even students who are careful with money may be daunted by the prospect of budgeting for themselves, probably for the first time in their lives. There are so many uncertainties, and so many opportunities to distract from spending on the real essentials.

Even having a bank manager for a father was not much help, confesses Andy Jones, who is starting his second year at Liverpool: "We spent two or three afternoons 'number-crunching' on the computer, but our best guess turned out to be miles out by the time it came to the end of the year."

With a typical banker's discretion, his father smilingly declines to say in which direction the discrepancy arose, but went on pointedly to remark how much Andy is enjoying his vacation job.

"I think I'm lucky, because there are lots of great things to do in Liverpool that don't cost a fortune," Andy says. "But then travelling back to Hampshire a couple of times each term isn't exactly cheap."

Rent is the biggest item in his personal budget: pounds 33 a week for a room in a flat shared with two others, luckily within walking distance of the university. "A girl from my school was also coming up here so we decided at the start to look for somewhere together and find a third person to share," he says.

As a guide to the cost of student living, the following figures have been compiled with the help of students in Liverpool, Leicester and Nottingham.

Rent: budget for about pounds 30 a week, and you may also need to allow for a returnable deposit - an average of pounds 100. There's also the question of the summer vacation: in most cases the landlord will want a retainer - usually half rent. In some cities, the house may be re-let to summer school students during the summer - so you need to check.

If you are living in a hall of residence, the charges will depend on whether you are catering or self-catering; fees will be paid either for the full year or at the start of each term. Typical figure are about pounds 1,300 self-catering or pounds 2,000 with meals included.

For a house or flat with four students sharing, the bills will work out roughly as follows:

Gas: pounds 30 monthly, or pounds 7.50 each. Gas heating is generally cheaper than electricity, unless you have storage heaters which soak up cut-price off- peak power. Using fan heaters and convectors is an expensive way to stay warm. For the electricity bill: at least pounds 25 monthly, say pounds 6.50 each.

Telephone: budget for at least pounds 40 a month, or pounds 10 each but keep track of the calls. "When the first quarter's bill came in we had a hell of a shock," says Andy. "It wasn't until we went through the itemised bill that my flatmate Judy realised how much she was spending on calls to her boyfriend. Now he phones her from work."

Washing machine: if you need to hire one, it will cost about pounds 20 per month. But Andy and his flatmates decided it would make much sense to buy a second-hand machine for pounds 100. "It's cheaper than renting and much better than going down the road to the launderette," he says.

TV and video rental: if you think this is essential, look for a package deal at around pounds 25 a month. And then, of course, there's the TV licence: pounds 89 for colour. Don't be tempted to "forget" the licence, it's a criminal offence not to have one.

In their first term, Andy and his flatmates had a television only, without a video recorder - but since they had different viewing habits decided to take the plunge and rent a video recorder as well. "I'm a minority of one, because I'm not interested in sport; but I watch a lot of 'serious' TV programmes because I'm doing media studies," Andy says. "Having the video also means that if one of us has got his head down with work, the others can tape things for later and not cause a distraction."

Food: will cost pounds 15 to pounds 20 a week - more if you get into the takeaway habit. Cooking fresh foods is the cheapest way to eat. Look out for reductions just before closing time in the supermarkets - and, particularly for fruit and veg, don't forget market stalls.

Clothes: the minimum is probably pounds 200-pounds 300 - but the bill will be much more if you are style-conscious. "My wardrobe is simple: shirts, sweats, jeans and chinos," Andy says, "but there are some people on the course who spend a fortune on clothes. I don't know where they get the money.

"Some people recommend the cheap shops, but I reckon that M&S is the best buy for clothes. I spent almost pounds 200 in the sale earlier, and that gave me enough kit for the year.

Personal items and toiletries: allow pounds 5 a week.

Books and equipment: this will depend on the course. Most of the spending will come at the start of term - and sometimes at the end if you have work to do during the vacation. Budget for pounds 200 to pounds 250 a year. The big item in Andy's budget for the next 12 months is his own video camera - pounds 1,300, paid for half from his summer vacation earnings and half with a "mortgage" on future Christmas and birthday presents from his parents.

"We started this when I was in my mid-teens and wanted a new bike. Dad said if I didn't want to wait for Christmas he would buy the bike but it would be 'mortgaged' - so in theory at least he gave me money for Christmas and birthday with which I paid him back. It sounds crazy - but he is a bank manager, after all."

Allow at least pounds 5 a week for entertainment: more if you are fond of a pint, says Andy. "The union bar is the cheapest place to drink, but I can't stand it. Liverpool has lots of really great pubs - when some of my old friends from school come up here they think that's why I came. But I don't bother with the clubs."

His final tip for sharers: make sure that one person is responsible for paying the bills on time - and that everyone pays a fair share. "We've been lucky, but the people downstairs had the guy knocking at the door to cut off the electricity because none of them had paid the bill. It wasn't that they couldn't afford it, just that they had all assumed someone else would do it."

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