London is a really, really expensive place to live. The rent is staggeringly high, you have to spend money travelling somewhere every time you leave the house and the booze is more expensive than anywhere else (and everyone in London is drunk all the time, so that’s a big problem).
However, London is worth it. It’s the capital city for Gods sake, where else would you want to live? I’ve lived here for just more than a year now on a small salary, so I thought i’d put together some tips on saving money, for anyone thinking of making the London leap.
- Get comfortable cycling in the city
Last summer I began cycling to work and back. Sadly, my bike was stolen just under a month later (pro tip: buy two heavy duty locks if you plan to leave your bike unattended), and so cycling was a fairly short-lived experiment. However, in that month, I managed to save a lot of money that i’d have otherwise wasted on the tube. I live in zone 2, and so my travel costs per day add up to around £5.60. If I cycle, I can save £28 per week. That’s more than £100 per month. Cycling in London isn’t as frightening as you’d expect, though I would urge anyone considering it to invest in a helmet, accidents happen a lot and it’s probably not worth having your skull crushed to save a few quid.
- Make your own lunch
This seems obvious, but so many people whinge about having no money and then buy ITSU every day. I try to make lunch as often as possible, although admittedly life sometimes gets in the way, and a food shop hasn’t been done or i’ve been out during the evening and just haven’t had time to throw something together in the morning. At the lower end of the market, a Boots meal deal will set you back around £3.60, so making lunch each day can save £18 per week. At the higher end, a meal from Pret can comfortably total £6.50, meaning total savings of £32.50 per week if you pick a homemade lunch over a Pret sandwich and drink.
- Go to BYOB restaurants
Admittedly not something that can be achieved every time you venture out for dinner, but picking a restaurant that allows you to bring your own booze can significantly reduce the bill at the end. A cheaper bottle of wine with dinner can add anything from £18 to £26 onto a bill, and if like me, your friends are all alcoholics, you’re probably going to buy more than one bottle. However, BYOB means you can enjoy a decent bottle of wine with dinner from £5 onwards – just don’t forget to check the cork charge.
- Find the fun in London’s free attractions
London actually has a lot of free things to enjoy. It’s home to some enormous parks just asking to be explored – Regents Park is a personal favourite – and around November, December and January it has plenty of Christmas markets that can be visited free of charge such as the market at Leicester Square and the market on Southbank – even Winter Wonderland has free entry, just be prepared to shell out a small fortune once inside the gates. There’s also plenty of indoor attractions to enjoy; the Tate Modern is free, and so is the Natural History Museum, and honestly, there are few things better than its massive dinosaur exhibition.
- Be smart about where you live
When I first moved to London, I moved to Camden. I wanted to be central enough so that I was never too far from home, and I wanted to live somewhere everyone knew the name of. I ended up living in a tiny, mouldy flat with three other people on a road that was full of very dodgy folk. Camden also proved to be a bit of a nightmare; it’s a tourist hotspot, and doing anything practical like popping to the shop was really hard work. I’ve since moved to a one bedroom flat with my boyfriend close to nearby Caledonian road. It’s much cheaper, much more residential, and still very centrally located.
In terms of rooms, i’d strongly recommend against living in a two bedroom flat if you’re trying to save money – it’s probably the most expensive way to rent. Either bunk in with a partner or best friend you’ll never get sick of in a one-bed, or go for a flat with three or more people.
Finally, don’t immediately dismiss living in zone 3 or even 4 or 5 (although living so far out may somewhat negate my cycling tip). For all my excessive moaning about the Piccadilly line, London has a brilliant transport network that can get you anywhere relatively quickly. Adding 15 minutes to your commute to save £100 per month on rent is definitely worth it, and you’ll find bigger places within budget the further out you go.
- Don’t fall for the gimmicks and don’t believe the hype
Sadly, London is full of pretentious places that are supposedly “celebrity hotspots.” While i’m sure the rumours and true, and London’s more upmarket clubs do play host to celebrities, it’s no fun getting ripped off just to take a photo for Instagram to show that you’ve been there.
The sorts of places i’m talking about are absolutely jam-packed (who wants to wait 20 minutes at the bar every time you want a drink?) and will charge huge sums of money. I went to an underground club in Soho, the kind that is difficult to find the entrance to, and two drinks set me back £27. It also sucked, it was tiny and full of people; there was no room to dance, and it was so loud that the only way to communicate was by screaming into one another’s ears. Overrated and not at all fun. Instead, find places outside of zone 1, Camden (obviously) has a decent nightlife and plays host to one of my favourite pubs, there’s plenty to do in Clapham, Brixton, Shoredich… there’s even some great places on Holloway road. That isn’t to say Soho is all awful, i’ve had some fantastic nights in Soho that didn’t leave me contemplating a life of crime, I guess it’s just the easiest place to fall prey to the pretentious.
7. Skip the mid-week drinks (or have a coke instead)
Finally, having an office located in Covent Garden means the lure of the pub is constant – there is literally a pub a 10 second walk from my office. While a casual one or two mid-week drinks are lovely, the chances are it will cost you at least £10. Either skip it altogether, or miserably sip or a coke or a lemonade (or better yet, tap water), and through your tears, smugly remember that you’re both saving money and avoiding empty calories.