Student Reflections

Living on a Budget in London

Riya Pravin Rajput
January 18, 2022
Brick Lane London

London is a BIG city with so much to offer. However, it is also one of the top 20 most expensive cities in the world. From high-end branded clothing stores to some of the most delectable food offerings, how does one resist from splurging in a city with such one-of-a-kind places? It’s hard, especially when you’re a student with a budget to stick to. School is already expensive and it only seems right that we skip the pricey stuff and opt for more affordable options that do not break the bank, all while trying to have fun and explore as much as we can at the same time.

This is not to say that you can’t enjoy a treat once in a while and spend without having to think so much, but how can you save money on an everyday basis so you have enough to spend during the last leg of your trip?

Let’s get into some of the tips I’ve been trying to stick to while living here in London!

Traveling in London

London boasts having one of the best, fastest, and developed public transit systems in the world with their underground tubes, TFL buses, and overground that can get you just about anywhere across the city. However, it comes with a price! Travelling in London can be EXTREMELY expensive (yes, even with public transport) but we’ve got some alternatives and hacks worth looking into!

If you don’t already have a London travel card, called the Oyster card, it is worth getting one. With many options to load the card, opting for the annual pass can more often than not be the cheapest deal you can score. It is also worth noting that it is ALWAYS cheaper to pay with the Oyster card than cash. These Oyster cards also come with a daily spending cap which ensures you do not end up spending a ridiculous amount of money on travel in a single day. 

If you’re someone who does not mind a bit of exercise before reaching your destination, cycling in London can be the perfect fit for you. Extremely cost-effective, offers health benefits, and even helps you save money on a gym membership! Buying a second-hand bike off of eBay or another reselling marketplace can make you a bike owner. Alternatively, if you don’t think you can get a lot out of buying a bike, you can always rent one for a couple of quid from one of the many Santander Cycle stations accessible from almost every place in London. 

Lastly, you can ditch a transportation method altogether and take the road on foot instead. This way of reaching your destination allows you to absorb more of what the city has to offer and breathe in fresh air while getting to know the neighbourhood on your way to school/work/home. And guess what, it is completely free of cost this way!

Shopping in London

London houses some of the biggest brands in the world for everything – from clothes to shoes, to watches, you name it. It is only natural to think that one cannot find cheap options or save a couple of pounds when it comes to shopping. Maybe not. But there are a few habits and tricks you could develop or make use of to save pounds and shop a big name once in a while. 

First of all, you must start your month by allocating a set budget that goes towards shopping. To make things better and more specific, you could allot a budget to every kind of shopping, e.g.: groceries, clothing and shoes, etc, so you know how much you can spend on what without having to compromise on one category after you’ve spent a lot on the other (find a budgeting worksheet here!)

Coming to London, do not underestimate the high street shopping centres like Oxford St. Oxford St., a heaven for a regular shopper, has numerous branded stores but they are also the home of many of the flagship stores of these brands, meaning these stores are HUGE, offer more variety, and more sales! Even though it is a good idea to shop sales, many times it is worth prioritizing quality over price so you can use the piece for a longer time! Shopping second hand is also a great way to save some bucks as well as the environment. Thrifting is an increasingly growing trend amongst Gen-Z and is such a win-win deal. Although it can be time-consuming to find the right shops, local markets in London (such as Camden, Brick Lane, Shoreditch) house a crazy number of vintage and thrift stores. 

If grocery shopping is ripping you off, you’re not doing it right. Going into one of the huge grocery store chains in London and buying all that they have to offer can be tempting, however, you’ve got to take care of your bank balance. Supermarket chains such as Tesco offer FREE memberships that can help you shop deals (sometimes up to 60% off) and can make grocery shopping more affordable. It is also worthwhile to shop online using websites or apps of these chains so that you don’t walk into the store and end up buying extra stuff!

Discounts and Subscriptions

Home stores, department stores, restaurants, and even clothing brands can offer you perks if you show them your school ID. Utilize perks like Amazon’s free 6-month prime trial for students, More for Students Club at Morrisons grocery, and more

If you are a regular beverage consumer and NEED coffee/tea to survive the day, investing in one of the subscriptions offered by chains like Pret a Manger may be the way to save a couple of bucks for you. Subscriptions at Pret a Manger start at £20/month (which gets used up as soon as you drink 10 cups!) and are a super affordable way to get that caffeine rush every morning without having to worry about how much you’ve spent on beverages in that month!

Living in any country on a budget can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Even with a budget, there are so many things you can do and enjoy without having to break the bank. Yes, it takes effort to find alternatives, but once you do, your future self will thank you!