Living on a budget in London
Living in London can offer you the experiences of a lifetime!
If you are thinking of moving to London, for one year or a lifetime, for study, work, internship, love, DON'T THINK TWICE! London is an amazing place! It has pretty much anything you might ask for in a city: culture, endless nightlife choices, interesting people, great events and many job opportunities. It also has a long tradition of welcoming people from all over the world and helping them stand on their feet.
However, it is without doubt that it is a very expensive city. Unless you immediately get a top-notch job and a big fat paycheck, you'll sometimes find it hard to make it to the end of the month! But if hundreds of other people can do it for their first years there, so can you! Here are some tips that every newcomer should know!
#1 Rent: Sharing is Caring
Paying rent is the biggest expense you are going to have. This is not surprising, considering that rent (or mortgage payments) is typically everyone's largest expense each month. However, housing in London is very very expensive. You may have to pay up to 1,100 pounds per month for a tiny studio apartment in zone 2 or 3 (that is more than 1,850 USD!).
That's why most young professionals or students choose to live in flatshares. Renting a room in a house is cheaper, and a great way to meet new people. These flats are always furnished and have all the household appliances you'll need. A single room will cost you 450-550 GBP and a double room 500-750 GBP. It's not a bad deal, considering that bills are usually included in the price.
Another advantage of flatshares is that there isn't much paperwork involved (bank statements, references, one-year contracts). All you'll need is one month's rent as deposit; you will also be able to move out giving a month's notice.
Some extra tips:
- There is no need to pay agency fees, finding a room by yourself is easy and extremely common. Try www.gumtree.co.uk and www.spareroom.co.uk
- Flatshares can be cheaper and better than student acccomodation.
#2 Travel Smart
Public transport in London is significantly more expensive than it is in most other cities. There is a rather complicated system: the amount you pay for your journey depends on the type of transport you use and on the zones you travel from and to (there are 6 concentric zones, zone 1 being the central). Paying cash or buying paper tickets is significantly more expensive than paying by Oyster card, so you should buy one right away! An Oyster is a plastic card in which you can add pay as you go credit or buy travelcards.
Most people with full time jobs buy monthly travelcards, which cost 120,60 GBP for zones 1-2 and allow you access to all kinds of public transport in London. A cheaper option is using only buses; a monthly bus pass costs 77,60 and allows you to travel to all fare zones. However, it can take quite a while to travel to work by bus! So, why don't you try cycling? London is not the most bike-friendly city in the world and cycling can seem quite scary at times, but drivers do respect bikes and accidents happen very rarely! Check out Barclay's Cycle Hire if you want to give it a go!
- Think ahead before you buy a travelcard! If you are not planning to travel on the London underground at least twice a day, it might be cheaper to pay as you go!
- Avoid (if you can!) going to zone 1 by tube; it costs almost double as taking the bus or getting off at a zone 2 station.
- Avoid peak hours: Tube fares are cheaper from 9:30 am to 4pm and from 7pm onwards!
A homemade sandwich!
#3 Packed Lunch Re-discovered!
There are countless fast-food chains everywhere in London that offer delicious, organic, affordable sandwiches and other snacks. Also, most restaurants offer low-priced lunch deals; even supermarkets sell ready made sandwiches. All these places are packed between 12-1 on weekdays, as most Londoners are having their lunch break! This is a reasonable option; however, preparing a packed lunch can save you up to 10 pounds every day!
It shouldn't take you more than 10' to prepare your lunch for the next day. That's less time than going out and buying lunch during your lunch break. Put together a sandwich or a salad, a fruit, a chocolate, a bottle of water and you're all set! And trust me, you'll not be the only one doing it!
#4 Plan your weekly grocery shopping
Grocery shopping in London is not extremely expensive. There are many supermarket chains with competitive prices, as well as some cheaper ones, which are usually not as bad as you'd expect! There's nothing new here: always make a list, avoid impulsive buying and only go to the supermarket once a week.
Some more tips:
- You can find some really good deals among the 'reduced to clear' products.
- Be flexible about what you are going to buy. All supermarkets have special offers- so if you are planning to roast a chicken but salmon is on offer, go for the fish!
- There are usually some great 2-4-1 deals; make your freezer useful!
#5 Entertainment for less!
Going out doesn't have to cost you a fortune! Most young(ish) people in London have recently started to avoid the touristy overpriced central London and go East! East London is more alternative, affordable and easy-going. Do a little planning before you go out- most of the best bars in the city have happy happy happy hour offers! Try the TimeOut London website and www.barchick.com to start with! If you are used to having dinner out often, you should definitely check out the London Tastecard; you can also get great restaurant deals on Groupon or similar sites!
If going to the gym is your idea of having a good time, there are some great gyms in London, but they are usually pricey. Your council's community center may have a gym, or your neighborhood park may have an outdoor gym. Otherwise, the most popular low budget gyms are EasyGym and The Gym!
Last, but not least, if you are in London you'll have to go to the cinema or the theater every once in a while. Theater productions often are very expensive, but you can get discount tickets if you either book way in advance or last minute: the cheapest tickets you can get are for previews, but these go away very quickly, or day tickets! As for cinema tickets, it can cost you up to 14 GBP to watch a film on a Saturday night, which is ridiculous, considering that you can watch the same movie for 6 pounds during the week in a different area. As a rule, Central London multiplexes are the most expensive ones, with the bright exception of King Charles cinema!
Cheap Cinemas in London
on Tuesdays (limited)
There is always a cheaper option!
London is a huge city; and the best thing about it is that there is something for everyone's taste and budget. You can have a great meal for 10 pounds, buy a pretty dress without letting anyone know that it doesn't cost more than 8 pounds, watch a blockbuster for 3,50 or get in a fancy club for free. But the only way you can take advantage of these deals is to do some research before you go out! You will probably find a deal that suits you and have a really great time in a really great city!