Report: What first year university students have been spending their money on

Freshers have had a tough first year at university, but despite the chaos of COVID-19 the spending power of students has remained resilient, according to the first part of the 2021 Student Lifestyle Report, published today by UCAS Media

‘Brand and Spend’ is the first chapter of the UCAS Media’s Student Lifestyle Report which, in its tenth year, is the largest yet.  

12,000 students were asked 100 questions to see what they are spending and where, and in welcome news to retailers, we learnt that the spending power of first years exceeded that of their predecessors, showing the power of 2020 freshers’ finances, despite the impacts of the pandemic. 

Data shows that an average student in 2020 spent £2,110 preparing to start their first year at university (compared to £2077 from the 2019 intake), with an average of £406 spent during fresher’s week, and then £229 in a ‘normal’ week. 

During fresher’s week, students spent the highest proportion of their weekly budget on ‘books or study materials’, whereas in a ‘normal’ week, ‘groceries’ accounted for most of their weekly outlay. 

This year’s intake has had exams cancelled, grades reassessed after their results day and this is all prior to their arrival on campus. Part-time jobs that students once relied upon for income to support themselves during their studies have evaporated due to the pandemic, leaving many in unstable and uninviting circumstances at a pivotal stage of their development. 

Yet, the ability to match the spending of previous years shows just how robust and adaptable young people are. And their desire to splash out on big purchases such as laptops was one students continued to fulfil, in fact it was the most popular purchase for first years, with 45% buying a new one for the start of term. 

The report found: 

  • Once again, Apple’s Macbook was the most popular choice for those students; and of the 29% who admitted they regretted not having purchased something for University, laptops also topped the polls. Of those who had already purchased a laptop, ‘battery performance’ was cited as the primary reason for choosing one brand or model over another. 
  • Black Friday was the most popular online sale destination for both male and female UK based students last year, with 59% having spent their money here. Of those who intended to purchase items in upcoming sales, 43% said they would be looking to spend on clothes, 26% said books or study resources, 24% said shoes, 18% said stationery and 16% were intending to purchase a laptop. 
  • But regardless of whether their money ends up in the supermarket or on a streaming service, the spending habits of students have not been scuppered by the uncertainty of the last year, and that we should have every confidence that in 2021 students will continue to spend, spend, spend. 

Rebecca Hopwood, head of sales at UCAS, welcomed the publication of the survey’s results. She said: “I’m delighted to see this incredibly high level of consumer confidence from the new 2020 cohort, which would be encouraging at any time, let alone in the context of COVID and its continued impact on our economy and society.  

“Students are confidently finding their way as consumers, whether it be searching through the aisles or scrolling online. The spending power of this group remains resilient and robust despite the stresses of the results process and the significant reduction in the availability of part-time jobs, and then having to isolate in halls of residence. 

Rebecca added: “Students have managed to keep ploughing their pounds into the economy which is a real boost and a sure sign that things can improve if our fresher’s finances are anything to go by.” 

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