Students & Graduates

Student Living Index 2023

Fancy some insider knowledge on student life?

The benefits of research

Going to university is a major milestone in anyone’s life. But with so many people to meet and costs to budget for, it’s natural to feel some anxiety. At a time of economic uncertainty, you’ll want to begin your studies with your eyes wide open.

The NatWest Student Living Index 2023 gives you the full lowdown on higher education in the UK. From cost of living pressures and student loans to socialising, mental health and beyond, our research can prepare you for both the opportunities and realities of university

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Working out your costs

For 10 years, our in-depth survey has revealed exactly what it’s like to be a university student. It’s a valuable resource for existing students, gauging where their town or city ranks for affordability. But it’s also handy for parents and school leavers.

This year, we asked 3,052 students across 63 university towns and cities to share how much they spend on essentials and what their approach to budgeting looks like. We also looked at how they strike a balance between socialising, part-time employment and coursework. Finally, as inflation leaves its mark, our report offers fresh insights into the cost of living squeeze.

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Student living at a glance

of students set a monthly budget

spent on takeaways per month

is an average monthly spend for students at the supermarket

of Students buy second hand to live more sustainably

Which UK city is most affordable* for students?

Bournemouth is the most cost-effective university location in 2023, achieving the lowest student living index overall. Cardiff is second, after taking the crown in 22.
*Affordability is calculated by dividing students’ average monthly accommodation, activities and item costs by their average monthly income.

How are students spending their money in 2023?

As inflation and price pressures continue to hit the headlines, how are students adapting their day-to-day money management? And what challenges and opportunities are impacting the class of 2023? From sources of income, spending habits and budgeting, to fraud, part-time employment and socialising, we reveal the latest trends.


Student loans now make up more than half (54%) of respondents’ monthly income. This has climbed from 49% last year, suggesting students are becoming more reliant on these loans. Students based in Bournemouth are the most likely to use a loan as their main source of income. Around three quarters (73%) say that this is the case. Across the UK, less than one in five students cover their monthly rent with their own income.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, rent remains the largest monthly outgoing for students in 2023. Supermarket spending takes the second spot, and it’s here where students are starting to feel the pinch. That’s because supermarket expenditure has soared by 44% compared to last year. Looking at the broader picture, students appear to be trimming both general and non-essential spending. Their average total monthly expenditure is 9% down on 2022 levels. And spending on alcohol has lost its fizz, both at home and during nights out. Alcohol spending is almost a third (29%) lower year-on-year. Students may be searching for cut-price deals or avoiding alcohol entirely.


With personal finances still high on the news agenda, budgeting has become a greater focus for students in 2023. A growing number are now making serious efforts to budget their finances. Despite this, university goers generally feel less confident about the process of managing their money. The past 12 months have seen a surge in the number of students running out of money before their semester ends. This figure has leaped from one in three last year to almost half (47%) this time around. Our researchers report wide regional differences when it comes to savings too. Cambridge students lead the way here, putting aside 148% more than the UK average each month. They also save five times as much as students who are based in Nottingham.

Fraud & Scams

On a positive note, the class of 2023 appears significantly more clued up when it comes to fraud prevention. Around two thirds (67%) haven’t experienced any scams during this academic year, suggesting bank awareness and education campaigns are playing their part. Those based in Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol and Leicester have reported the fewest scam attempts this year.

Studying versus Socialising

The balance between studying and socialising has tipped the way of coursework in 2023, perhaps reflecting a wider shift in people’s financial priorities. Less time is going towards socialising and hobbies. In contrast, formal studying time has increased significantly. It continues to account for the majority of students’ time. The amount of time spent on campus has jumped by more than 11 hours since 2022. In comparison, spending has declined significantly across every activity category.

Part-time Employment

Perhaps surprisingly given the broader economic picture, students are now spending less time in part-time work than they did last year. Nearly all towns and cities have witnessed a decline since 2022, with students working 10 fewer hours on average. Bristol, Coventry and Oxford students spend more time working in part-time jobs. Meanwhile, those in Wales and Scotland are the likeliest to rely on their term-time work income.

Cost of living squeeze in more detail

Cost of living squeeze and students

In a period of high inflation, nine out of 10 students have actively changed their lifestyles to stay within monthly budgets. Glasgow, Bournemouth and Cardiff students are proving the most thrifty. Reducing online shopping purchases is the most common way of staying on track. Amid financial challenges and cost of living pressures, more than 40% of students have thought about leaving their course early. However, the majority have not actively considered this option.

Mental health, wellbeing and sustainability

More than one in five students are very dissatisfied with the financial support provided by their university. Meanwhile, 35% have experienced stress due to their studies, notably in prestigious locations like Oxford and Cambridge. More encouragingly, general enjoyment levels remain solid in many cities, even as students navigate different challenges and financial pressures. Those based in Bristol, Coventry, Oxford and Cambridge enjoy their university degrees the most. Finally, our research suggests that some students might be putting cost pressures and budgeting before sustainability amid the current economic squeeze. Some 13% of respondents say they’re not making any efforts to lead a more sustainable life. This marks a 30% upswing compared to the situation last year.

Download the Student Living Index 2023

Keen to see how your city compares to other university hotspots? Or still weighing up where to apply after leaving school? Read our 2023 Student Living Index in full to discover which university goers spend the most on rent, who the most sociable are, and much more.

How could we help you manage your finances?

Managing a student budget can be difficult, no matter the wider economic picture. Visit our student support hub to see the different ways NatWest could help. Take a look at our selection of guides and tools, plus our handy products tailored specially for students.



Need a student bank account?

Our Student bank account comes with:

  • A four-year tastecard. Offer T&Cs apply
  • Up to £2,000 Interest-free arranged overdraft from year one (limited to £500 in your first term).
  • You can apply for up to £3,250 interest free from year three onwards.

Overdraft subject to eligibility. 18+. 


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