London is a wonderful city – and one of the most expensive in the world. Visitors can flit in and out, but living here can be tough on your finances.
This doesn’t spell the end of enjoying working and living in the capital. There are many ways to make the most of the pound in your pocket, from finding low-cost accommodation to dining out for free.
London has fantastic public transport, but if you’re not canny with your Oyster card you could end up paying more than you need to. Use the TFL website to work which sort of ticket suits you best and do some digging to understand the intricacies of how and when to pay.
If you live on the periphery of one of the outer zones on the Tube, consider walking into the next closest zone and starting your commute from there.
Remember also that the Tube map is confusing; many stations are closer than they look, especially in central London. This could save you time and money, since it might be quicker to walk between locations than to get on the Underground and incur a charge.
Cycling costs you nothing. Reduce the risk of having your bike stolen by buying one that looks decrepit, but is mechanically sound.
Lower your rent by protecting premises
Perhaps the biggest expense anyone will face in London is rent. While there are ways to mitigate this – move further out from the city centre or share with other people – perhaps a tactic most people haven’t considered is becoming a ‘live-in guardian’.
In essence you become something between a security guard and a short-term tenant, living in a commercial property that would otherwise be empty. Obviously this won’t be suitable for everyone’s lifestyle but it could save you thousands of pounds in rent.
Figure out your food costs
Tip one: only eat out if you want to treat yourself. Buying a coffee and meal each lunchtime will cost you tens of thousands of pounds over the years. Make lunch at home and take it to work.
Tip two: One of the biggest ways to save money is to recce your local grocery stores to see what their prices are. You might find that walking to a shop two minutes away, rather than 30 seconds closer, could save you a lot of money over the year; cash that could go towards a takeaway treat or even pay for a night out.
Here’s an example of how strange food pricing is in London: the large Morrisons supermarket in my area is cheaper than the local Tesco Metro. Yet my nearest corner shop is cheaper than both, but only for milk, pickles and avocados. And my family-run greengrocer is cheaper than all of them for bananas and fresh herbs. All of these shops are in walking distance of each other.
For big savings, consider doing a monthly shop at the nearest large supermarket and planning your meals around it. Even if you get a cab back, you could save hundreds of pounds a year. You should also find out when stores put their almost-out-of-date food on sale – this one tip alone could save you a lot of money.
Tip three: Look for local cafes and restaurants when you want to eat out. Part of coming to London is exploring the food scene, but that can sometimes mean going to a place that’s well known, rather than somewhere that’s well liked. That seemingly-grotty kebab shop on the high street could be hiding fantastic food at reasonable prices.
Entertain yourself for free
There’s always something going on in London and often it will be free. Bookmark Time Out’s Cheap London section and you’ll find all sorts of things to go to. You should also arm yourself with The Guardian’s weekly Guide. If you’re interested in meeting new friends use MeetUp.com and, finally, go to your local library and see its messageboard for what other people in your area are organising.
Look for late sales and early birds
If you want to go out in the West End, look for theatres selling early bird tickets –for showings before peak time – or late tickets, ones that haven’t been sold or where people haven’t turned up. I had a great night out with a friend by doing this.
If you’re a film buff, consider signing up for two-for-one cinema tickets at Compare The Market (you’ll need to buy insurance through them) or, if you like quirky and cult movies, try The Prince Charles cinema in the West End. This venerable institution has been offering super-cheap tickets for late-run films and sing-a-longa events for many years.
Check for regular deals
While everyone knows that Last Minute is great for events such as plays and musicals, Hot UK Deals is another service that has all sorts of weird and wonderful offers, updated by its readers. While this website isn’t London specific, you can find unexpected deals for shops and restaurants in the capital, amongst other things.
Dine out on the house
How? Become a mystery consumer by joining Secret Squirrels. They organise vetted diners to visit restaurants and cafes to check out the food and service. You have submit a report on your experience after your visit, but it’s a great way to try out different cuisines and it costs you nothing.