Coping with the cost of living as a student


Since the escalation of the cost-of-living crisis towards the end of 2021, British tabloids’ front pages have been adorned with headlines emphasising the scale of the crisis. The Sun proclaims the ‘Pain in the Gas’ of rising prices, telling Rishi Sunak to ‘not be a fuel’. News outlets like the BBC now have whole sections of their websites dedicated to updates, with new headlines often throughout the day. The cost-of-living crisis, beyond media buzzwords, is undoubtedly an issue that has had serious impacts on the British population.


It is a crisis that heavily impacts students. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reports that half of students report recent financial challenges and 91% were worried to some extent regarding increasing costs of living. Most of those surveyed also expressed concerns about the crisis affecting their university studies, as well as roughly a third recording that they missed some lectures for financial reasons. As prices continue to climb, the adjustments that we must take to swim within the current of such upheaval must become more flexible. I’m definitely not the expert on how to master such adjustments – we have bills included, and I am still living in fear of going over the cap by the end of the year. However, like probably everyone else, muddling through and making small changes has been the best approach. Whether housing, food or maximising university resources, it’s worth bearing in mind the small changes that can stem the impact of the crisis.


No discussion of the cost-of-living crisis is complete without a discussion of student housing and no conversation about housing is complete without the subject of heating coming up. Stubbornly accompanied with my Percy Pig water bottle, I refused to turn on my bedroom’s radiator until the last day of term – a celebration for completing a summative. Aside from those brief 24 hours, I spent much of first term chilly. Among those I’ve spoken to, some houses haven’t turned it on at all, while others switch it on for a precious few hours. Regardless of the outcome, heating is a sticky subject. A friend from home had to intervene when her flatmates cranked up the heating for the full length of the day. Bills included or not, managing heating between housemates can be a challenge. It can be tricky but it’s an issue that requires a chat between housemates, making sure that everyone is comfortable with the heating situation. Our house is naturally absolutely freezing so stocking up on blankets (TJ Hughes has some cheap and cozy ones available) has been key.


The university and SU has put some support in place. Given Durham is rising to become one of the most expensive student cities in the North, this is definitely needed. Though nowhere near sufficient to fully stem the impacts of the crisis, and often flawed in its approach (the SU’s ASMR food bank video comes to mind…), it is worth bearing such measures in mind, and maximising them. Free breakfast is available at the Billy B and SU from 8am, and you can get free tea and coffee from the SU. Though not exactly earth shattering, it is worth using such resources if you’re in the area. And, if you are also behind on summatives, using the library and TLC’s heating is always a good shout…!


Food shopping is also a tricky one. With food prices increasingly getting steeper, as well as the limited selection of supermarkets in Durham, it can be challenging to effectively budget when it comes to food. Personally, I’m an awful planner and the thought of making a meal plan, for the first few weeks of term, was terrifying. How could I guarantee, on a Monday, that I would want pasta on the upcoming Friday? But, a few weeks in, I committed to writing down exactly what I wanted to eat at the start of the week. Rather than finding myself in Tesco, aimlessly wandering the aisles and searching for something for dinner, a meal plan keeps costs low. You can find some great ones online (especially on TikTok) that divide the cost by portion and day.


So, whether it’s turning down the radiator or planning out your food shop, taking small steps to maximise a student budget during the crisis can help soften its impact. Though the responsibility for the crisis rests much higher up, dealing with the consequences is something we have to increasingly adapt to.


Featured image by: Karolina Grabowska

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