London is notoriously one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world. However, it is also one of the most exciting, most fun, most energetic cities in the world to so no wonder that 8,173,941 people want to live here! Over my years of living in London, I have learnt some great tips to live in this amazing city on a budget. No, this isn’t going to be a list where I suggest you live on ham sandwiches forever because let’s face it, that’s not fun. This is a list of how to live on a budget but how to do it WELL. Below you’ll find some great suggestions for all areas of London life whether you already live here or are moving here. From culture and health, food and drink, and living and travelling. I hope you find it helpful and if you have any of your own tips I’d love to read them in the comment box below.
Culture & Health
The best thing about London is there are so many GREAT free things to do. Lucky for you I have put together a list of 100 free things (Yes, 100!) to do in London.
There is a scheme in the London theatre world called ‘Day Seats’. How it works is that some shows offer 6-12 seats at a highly discounted rate to the full ticket price. To get them, customers can queue up at their chosen theatre by 10 am on the day they want to see the show and purchase them at the box office. You can find the list of theatres and shows that do day seats right here. My tip? Queue early! Some shows have a queue from as early as 5 am whereas others hardly have a queue. Either go in and ask the box office the day before what time they suggest getting there or judge it by how popular you think your chosen show is by looking at reviews, social media etc.
3. Find sneaky ways around things
This is one of my favourite tips to share – Rather than pay for The View from the Shard experience, instead, visit Aqua Shard which is the bar a few floors down from the viewing gallery. The bar is free to visit and you can see the view and buy a drink for the same price (if not cheaper) then The View From The Shard. Another tip? If you fancy breakfast at the very fancy Duck & Waffle, why not just go for a pastry and coffee rather than ordering a bigger and more expensive item off the menu? You still get the experience … just a bit more …frugally!
4. Quit ’boutique’ gyms
If there is one thing that always shocks me in London is how expensive gyms and gym classes are. I looked into a few ‘boutique gyms’ in the last month and they are no short of £100+ a month or around £15 – £25 for one class! INSANE. If you want to stay healthy in body, mind and pocket, sign up to a budget gym like PureGym or The Gym Group . These are called budget gyms because they have none of the fancy shampoos in the shower or fresh smoothies to buy in the gym kitchen but if none of that bothers you these will be perfect for you. Just as an FYI, even though these gyms are cheaper than boutique gyms, the closer you get to central London the more expensive they get so get one nearer to your home if you live further out of the city.
5. Be an audience member or a seat filler
Audience member – When you watch a live tv show there is usually an audience clapping along, isn’t there? Well, you can apply to be part of that audience totally free. How? By signing up to schemes like SRO audiences or ITV or BBC audiences. Check out their websites for a list of chat shows, games shows and lifestyle shows you can watch totally free!
Seat filler – You can get your hands on very cheap (and sometimes free) theatre tickets by becoming a seat filler with schemes like Audience Club or Central Tickets. These schemes run when shows have available seats which need filling at short notice.
6. Be a hair model
To get a cheap trim, blow-dry or even a totally new look, salons across London offer discounted haircuts if you are willing to have it done by a student or someone in training. Give your local salon a call and ask them if they do something like this and sign up!
Living & Travelling
If you travel a lot around London you might be paying more for it than you should. Paying for single journeys via the ticket machine can cost around £4 a time but there are some other options that can potentially save you money!
Oyster Card: An Oyster Card is an electronic card that allows effortless travel around London. You ‘tap’ this card at the start on the yellow card readers at the gates at the beginning and end of your journey. You ‘top-up’ this card with credit. A Oyster Card costs £5 in the first instance and then you have it for life.
Travel Card: A travelcard is a ticket that you can buy for a longer length amount of travel and it can work out cheaper than a pay as you go Oyster card. You can but them for 7 Days, monthly, 3 months or 6 months. There are two types of travel cards:
- Anytime Day Travelcard: use for the date on the ticket and for journeys starting before 04:30 the next day
- Off-peak Day Travelcard: use from 09:30 (Monday to Friday)
Contactless Card: Did you know you can use your debit card just like an Oyster Card? You just tap it on the yellow reader and the money is debited off your card and will appear on your statement. If you use your contactless card instead of your debit card you for go the £5 fee for buying an Oyster Card. Note: Most cards are contactless now but double check yours has the contactless sign on it before you use it. If you are from overseas this may not be available to you yet.
I have a really detailed post all about how best to travel around London here.
If you’re a student, a family, an OAP or a 25-30-year-old you can buy a railcard that you can attach to your Oyster card that will give you approx. a 1/3 off your fare. My top tip for 30-year-olds is to buy one just before your 31st birthday and you’ve got an extra years’ worth of discounted travel! Find out more about railcards here.
3. Flatsharing or Guardian Housing
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world for buying or renting a house. Your average flat here costs around £400,000 to buy and the average rent on a one bed flat is about £1400 a month. That’s kinda possible for a couple but nearly impossible for a single person on an average wage. That’s where flatsharing comes in. Flatsharing or house-sharing is where you share a flat with different people and split the cost between you. Most people use a website like SpareRoom which I can highly recommend as I’ve used it myself many times! I’ve written an incredibly detailed post here covering everything you need to know about flatsharing.
Alternatively, there are schemes such as Property Guardians. Property Guardians are a scheme that offers cheap rent of rooms or houses in return for you acting as the guardian property. As a guardian, your primary responsibility will be to provide protection and maintain the property, reporting any issues you encounter during your stay there. Occupancy can be for as little as one month up to a couple of years. The main thing with being a property guardian is you need to be flexible. Lots more information on being a property guardian here.
Top Cashback seems too good to be true – but it’s not. It’s really simple. Every time you purchase something from one of their 4,000 major retailers, the retailer pays them a commission for referring you to their website. TopCashback passes 100% of this commission back to you as ‘cashback’. It’s especially great for bigger purchases like electricals, holidays etc. You can make hundreds a pounds a year from just shopping as you usually would.
I’m one of those people that at the start of the month I have every intention of keeping a budget tracker to help me spend more wisely in the month. Five days in, I’ve failed. Monzo has literally been a game-changer in my financial situation. You can set budgets on different areas of your life like groceries, entertainment and, eating out. When you buy something Monzo knows what pot it falls into and automatically deducts it from that particular pot. It’s very clever. It also has this great feature called round-up where it rounds up all your transactions to the nearest pound and saves the pennies. I’ve saved £98 in the last 3 months which is nearly enough for a pair of Dr Martin boots I’ve had my eye on!
Food & drink
1. Bring your own coffee mug
Most coffee shops in London will offer 20p or so off your coffee if you bring your own mug. I know that doesn’t sound much but every little helps.
2. Make your own work lunches
Lunch is like a magic trick in London. Buy it and your money miraculously disappears. Funny that, isn’t it? Lunch in London can set you back around £5 – £8 a time and if you add that up, that’s around £30 a week, £120 a month and £1,440 a year! That’s a holiday to the Caribbean you could have saved for.
3. Batch cook
To save money on your weekly shop batch cooking is your friend. Making things like big pots of chilli, or soup is a great way to get multiple dinners from one recipe. I’d also recommend making big batches and freezing them. That way you can take a different one out of the freezer every day and you’ve got a hearty meal waiting for you when you get home. You save both time and money.
4. Take advantage of early bird or pre-theatre menus
Eating out can get expensive but it doesn’t have to be. There are a few tricks you can use to dine out a bit cheaper.
- Early-bird menus – Many restaurants in London offer a cheaper version of their menu if you can get there a bit earlier/later. When I say earlier, that’s usually anytime between 5 – 6:30 pm or 9 pm – 10.30 pm.
- Pre-theatre menus – This is where a restaurant offers a set menu (usually 2 or 3 courses) for a cheaper price than if you bought from their regular menu. Remember, you don’t have to be going to the theatre to buy from the pre-theatre menu.
- Offer websites – Always have a look at websites like TimeOut, OpenTable and Bookatable. These websites usually have offers and set menus at a reduced price which are exclusive to them when you book through their website.
- First Table – First Table seems too good to be true, but it’s not! The idea is you book the ‘first table’ of the night and you get 50% off your food bill. It costs £5 for the privilege of signing up, but what’s a fiver when you could potentially save a lot of money.
5. Happy hour is your friend
One thing people notice when they come to London is that alcohol is expensive – especially compared to more rural parts of the UK. That’s why happy hour is your friend. Many places do 241 on drinks or £5 cocktails at selected times. Also, what a lot of people don’t know is London cocktail bar Be At One allows you to download an app that extends the happy hour by one hour. Result!
6. Shop in Aldi or Lidl
Some supermarkets are more expensive than others in London. Two of the more affordable stores are Aldi and Lidl which are both German brands. They basically do copies of big brands at a much cheaper price. For example, your ‘nutella’ may become ‘nuttaspread’ or your ‘rice krispies’ become ‘krispypops’ – you get the idea and you’d never tell the difference in taste, just in price!