Making student loans last to the end of term can be a tricky business. It makes sense to budget – yet only 21% of students surveyed do actually count the pennies. Over half have spent all of their student loan by the end of the first term, so it’s perhaps hardly surprising that most students report finding it hard to manage their finances. But, it seems, some students have an easier financial ride than others.

Battle of the uni cities

We delved into the detail of the Student Living Index 2016 compiled by NatWest to find where the student pound goes the furthest and discovered that the outright winner is Portsmouth, closely followed by Liverpool, Newcastle and Belfast.

What they all have in common is affordable housing and a low cost of everyday living. Groceries are the biggest items of expenditure, and average out at £19.78 a week. Behind this figure, however, is a huge degree of variation: students who can get to a large out of town superstore spend far less than those who depend on one or two shops within historic cities like Durham, York or Cambridge.

Compared: Which city is best for cash-strapped students?

London weighting

But there’s no escaping the financial black-hole of London. Student accommodation in London surprisingly costs less than the national average, but students spend far more eating out. It also appears that effect ripples out to surrounding areas.

Leo, 21, an architecture student at Cambridge, says its proximity to London means that you’re paying London prices for a pint of beer. The additional high cost of accommodation in Cambridge is enough to lift it into the top three most expensive student towns in the UK. Edinburgh and Southampton take the top spots for dearest student living. (More on this below)

london finance weighting

While the relative costs tell you something, it’s important to put them in context. Students rightly put the choice of course first, rather than cost. But hours spent socialising have the greatest impact on how much students enjoy their course. A city such as Cambridge has students that socialise less, earn less in part time jobs, receive less income overall and spend more time doing course work – and so for are presumably less likely to enjoy their time at university.

Cities where students take on a lot of part-time work during the term such as Brighton and Belfast have higher incomes, socialise the least, presumably on account of their work commitments. It’s a thought-provoking insight into whether taking on part-time work provides income at the expense of the enjoyment of their university lives.

The cheapest and costliest cities for UK students

Best value

1. Portsmouth

This seaside town is the most cost-effective city for students thanks to having the cheapest accommodation and cheap everyday essentials such as travel, food and shopping. With four miles of coastline, the university city also boasts an enviable quality of life.

2. Liverpool

Student accommodation here costs below the national average and on top of that the vibrant city offers great value, not least from a myriad of cultural venues such as Tate Liverpool, The Everyman and Playhouse. As you'd expect from the home of The Beatles, nightlife and music are plentiful and good value.

3. Newcastle

The northern city lives up to its reputation as a nightclub and bar haven. Going out costs are higher than the average across the UK, but accommodation costs are below average. The income for students is high; at an average of £1,421.36 per term it is over 55% more than Sheffield, the lowest city for student income. With glorious countryside and beaches all nearby, there’s also a lot to enjoy for the cost of a bus ride or pair of walking boots. But if you live a distance away, train fares on the East Coast line can be prohibitively expensive if not booked well in advance.

best value city for students

Most expensive

1. Edinburgh

Household bills are high in Edinburgh at an average of £11.48 per week compared with a mere £6.35 for Reading, the cheapest city. Add in some pricey accommodation and this city tops London for expense. But, perhaps there are some mitigating factors: the views along one of the world’s most beautiful high street are priceless.

2. Southampton

Accommodation costs are in the top quarter for Southampton at £116.31 per week. Many costs in Southampton, such as household and going-out are relatively low, but as the city with the second lowest term-time income for students mixed with the high accommodation costs, Southampton gets dragged down the chart. On the upside, however, Southampton students come second only to York for the amount of time they spend socialising at 10.86 hours per week, which gives an indication as to how much students are likely to enjoy their time at university.

3. Cambridge

High rental costs in Cambridge put it second only to Oxford in the league table, coming in at an average of over £131.48 a week; a huge difference compared with Belfast, the cheapest place for accommodation in the UK at an average £73.81. Students in Cambridge spend the most hours studying per week, and despite having the lowest income from term-time and holiday work in the UK, their income is still higher than Southampton, meaning the city works out as less expensive overall.

most expensive city for students

Student city guides

Think you know your student town? Use our gorgeous city maps showing world-class art that can be discovered by walking around five student cities - Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool and London. On the front page is an artistic map of the city that’s actually good enough to download and frame in its own right.