Comparing popular cities
Find out how to calculate the cost of living in popular student cities
When you're choosing where to study, the cost of living is one of the factors that’s likely to influence your decision between the courses and universities you've shortlisted.
This can vary from location to location. And although it can be tricky to find living costs for every student city in the UK, there are a few resources you can use to find a uni that suits your lifestyle and budget.
Comparing the cost of living in popular cities
Once you've shortlisted your universities, the following sites will help you understand your university living costs at each if you choose to study there.
Sites like the Student Room can give you a glimpse into how students feel about their living costs. This way, you’ll get real opinions from people who feel strongly enough to comment, but remember you might be getting individual stories that don’t apply to your situation.
Natwest Student Living Index
If you prefer stats and data, you can use the Natwest Student Living Index. This is an annual report on how affordable cities are for students. In 2023, Natwest asked 3,052 students in 63 of the UK’s university cities about their income, and what they spend it on.
It's useful guide to what students around the UK are spending their money on, where they’re finding their income, and how they feel about their finances.
Dividing a city’s average student spending by average student income gives you that city’s Student Living Index - a number that indicates how affordable it is to live there.
In the 2023 report, Portsmouth was ranked 4th in the UK.
The key things to take from the 2023 report are:
Your biggest expenses are likely to be in supermarkets, accommodation and bills. Numbeo (below) is a good source of data on these expenditures.
Main sources of income
Natwest data says that main sources of student income are family, student loans and bursaries. Part time work also features. Read more about Portsmouth bursaries, or our advice about working while studying.
Their data also indicates that student incomes have risen faster than costs have over the past year. That sounds like good news for students, but Natwest’s data was collected before the current cost of living crisis, which means managing your living costs is still going to be part of your student life, wherever you study.
If you worry about having enough money at the end of term, you’re not alone - the report shows this is something many students around the country worry about.
That means it’s worth looking at support systems in the universities you’re considering, and help beyond that.
Here in Portsmouth, our student finance support team is here to help you avoid money stresses, or to help you navigate your way out of trouble if you find yourself struggling. They’ll give ongoing advice on their social media channels, host events like our Talk Money Week and Student Money Week and offer practical cost of living support including access to our student hardship fund.
Find us on social:
Our student union works with us on how best to support you, as well providing its own practical & tangible support, as detailed on the UPSU Cost of Living page. Portsmouth City Council provides cost of living support and advice that you can access too.
Socialising matters again
Natwest's data suggests socialising has returned as a big part of student life. Their report says students like games and Netflix more than the gym, but - whatever you’re into - it’s a good idea to look at what’s available, and what it might cost. See, for example, our nightlife and culture guide, or the university sports centre.
Numbeo breaks down the cost of individual items in all cities across the UK. Its website has loads of data that can look overwhelming, but it's a great way to compare the cost of living in popular student cities.
How to use Numbeo
Using the Natwest Student Living Index, we know that students spend most of their budget on:
- supermarket shopping
- household bills
So the best way to use Numbeo is to compare the cost of these top student spends across popular cities, adding in anything particularly important to you (such as gym membership or childcare). This helps you focus on what you need to know from all the data on Numbeo.
Compare the cost of living in Portsmouth with other popular cities
To help you compare the cost of living in popular student cities, here's the Numbeo data for Portsmouth compared to London, Manchester, Bath, Southampton and Brighton. *All Numbeo figures below correct as of date of publish on 17 August 2023.
As the capital city of the UK, London isn't going to be the cheapest student city to move to. However, the maximum maintenance loan you can receive for being an undergraduate in London is higher than it is if you move to a uni outside London, and it's a popular choice for students.
If you compare Portsmouth with London, you'll find that:
- Milk, rice, eggs, chicken and alcohol from a supermarket are all cheaper in Portsmouth, although fresh vegetables and fruit are cheaper in supermarkets in London
- Rent in Portsmouth is 58% lower than in London
- Your basic household bills will be less than half the cost in Portsmouth than they would be in London
- A 3-course meal for 2 in a mid-range restaurant is 38% cheaper in Portsmouth and a regular cappuccino is 7% cheaper
- Branded clothing is more expensive to buy in-store in London than it is in Portsmouth
Numbeo reports that you need about £270 more per year to live in Manchester at the same standard of living you'd get in Portsmouth.
Looking at the top spends for students in Numbeo when comparing Portsmouth and Manchester, you'll find that:
- Milk, rice, eggs, chicken and alcohol from a supermarket are all cheaper in Portsmouth
- Rent is lower for city centre apartments in Portsmouth
- Your basic household bills will be around 48% cheaper in Portsmouth than they would be in Manchester
- A 3-course meal for 2 in a mid-range restaurant is 17% cheaper in Portsmouth and a regular cappuccino is 2% cheaper
- Clothing in high street stores is also cheaper in Portsmouth
According to Numbeo, you'd need almost £1,000 more a year to live to the same standards you would in Portsmouth.
When you look at the top spends for students in Numbeo, comparing Portsmouth and Bath, you'll find that:
- Bread, eggs, cheese and some alcohol from a supermarket are all cheaper in Portsmouth
- Your household bills will be about half the cost in Portsmouth than they would be in Bath and city centre rent is around 32% cheaper in Portsmouth
- A 3-course meal for 2 in a mid-range restaurant is 31% cheaper in Portsmouth
- Clothing in high street stores is cheaper in Portsmouth
When you look at the top spends for students in Numbeo, comparing Portsmouth and Southampton, you'll find that:
- Supermarket prices are mixed - milk is slightly more expensive in Portsmouth, but chicken is cheaper, for example.
- A 3-course meal for 2 in a mid-range restaurant is 9% cheaper in Portsmouth, a cappuccino is a little more expensive.
- Your basic household bills will be around 56% cheaper in Portsmouth than they would be in Southampton
- Clothing in high street stores and branded clothing is all cheaper to buy in Portsmouth
When you look at the top spends for students in Numbeo, comparing Portsmouth and Brighton, you'll find that:
- Supermarket prices are mixed, with bread, eggs and cheese all cheaper in Portsmouth, while rice and milk are slightly more expensive. Meat is about the same.
- A 3-course meal for 2 in a mid-range restaurant is 20% cheaper in Portsmouth
- Your household bills will be around 48% cheaper in Portsmouth than they would be in Brighton, and city centre rent is between 33% cheaper
- Branded clothing and high street clothes shopping is cheaper in Portsmouth
When researching universities, it's important to consider factors other than the most affordable city. You'll also want to consider things like:
- student support services
- transport links home
- work experience and placement opportunities
- career prospects