5 Tips on How to Live in London on a Budget

5 mins read
How to live in London on a budget

I’ve lived in London for around nine years now and when I first moved to London I was starting out in my career. I had high hopes of renting a glorious flat, eating out every night and buying clothes 24/7. Then reality set in. I’ve been there where after rent I’ve only had a couple of hundred pounds to pay for travel, food and phone bills. It’s hard, but I’ve picked up some tips and tricks along the way I wanted to share with you. Here are my 5 tips on how to live in London on a budget.

1 – Consider Your Accommodation

Do you need a big double room in a spacious house across the road from a handy tube station? Those are nice things to have, but a single room closer to a bus stop will cost around £200 – £300 less per month depending on location. Also consider house sharing. It’s so much cheaper than renting an entire flat. Spareroom is good to find new rooms on.

You should also consider location. North and West London are on the whole more expensive than East and South. Also the further out you go the less expensive it is. The only issue is that transport is also more expensive the further away from Zone 1 you go. Some of the cheapest places in East London and South London to live include Whitechapel, Stepney Green, Bethnal Green, Bow, Camberwell, New Cross, Surrey Quays and Canada Water.

Ideally, you want a comfortable room in a location you can commute to work easily from. It doesn’t have to be super central but hey, you’re saving money here. Consider renting near bus routes that go to where you work, or somewhere near to a Cycle Superhighway. I wrote a post on how to find a room in London which gives all the tips and tricks as well as a few place recommendations.

2 – Travel

I feel this links in well with finding a room, as where your home is located will often impact how much you spend on travel. I recommend taking the bus or biking if you can. A monthly bus pass costs £81.50, yet a monthly Tube and rail travelcard is £138.70 for Zones 1 and 2. If you live further out from Zone 1, you could be paying up to £253.50 per month. Zone 9 is £361.40 but is that even really London?

My point is, even if you live super central and pay the lowest amount for a Tube and rail travelcard at £138.70, it’s still over £50 more than a buss pass that covers all London Zones. That could cover most of the cost of a monthly food shop, you know?

If you’re brave enough, you could cycle. If you buy your own bike it is an initial outlay but then it’s very little in terms of upkeep. If you don’t have the room in your house you can rent a Santander bike for as little as £2 a day as long as you dock it every thirty minutes.

3 – Eating Cheaply

I’ll share so tasty nutritious recipes than cost less than £1 each to make later, but obviously an essential cost is that of food. I assume you don’t want to sustain yourself on a sole diet of baked beans and 10p noodles.

I find food in supermarkets cost more in London, but take some time each week to go to one of the bigger supermarkets. I’m taking about a Tesco Extra or a Superstore. They offer more variety and cheaper brands compared to the Express stores, and as they are not in quite so convenient locations, they cost a little less. Of course, if there is a Lidl near you, go there too. Consider buying fresh fruit and veg from a market if there is one local. Eat seasonally.

I recommend drawing up a food plan every week so that you know exactly what you need to buy. Also plan what days you will have certain meals so that food does not expire and you do not waste it. If you buy bread and know you will not eat it before it expires, freeze it and defrost a few slices when you need it. If you buy meat, split it into portions and freeze it.

I only eat meat a couple of days a week. Mostly I get my protein from cheaper sources such as chickpeas and lentils. I also eat bulgur wheat as it is one of the few plant foods that is a complete protein.

4. Entertainment

Just because you’re trying to budget, it doesn’t mean you have to live a miserable existence. Everyone needs fun now and then! Fortunately, there are loads of free things to do in London. All of our major parks, museums and galleries are free. There is also a film festival near London Bridge called Summer by the River which is outdoors and free to attend. The Sky Garden is also free to visit for great views of London.

When I have a few pounds to spare I often meet friends for an ice cream and a walk along the Thames. Sometimes we have a picnic in the park if the weather is good. Sometimes beer is involved (okay, often). Living in houseshares means people don’t often invite friends back. But if you have a friend who has more space you could always have film nights or cook together. If you want to order in, my Deliveroo referral code can get you £10 off across the next four orders.

If you like reading consider joining your local library. It’s a good spot to spend an afternoon and of course you can take out the books for free. You have to give them back but if you have a small living space that’s probably not a bad thing.

If you enjoy dining out why not invest in a Tastecard? Often you can trial it for a month for free and for a small monthly fee thereafter. You can get 50% off or 2-for-1 discounts at some of your favourite restaurants.

If it’s colder and you don’t want to sit in a park with friends or go on a walk, you can get inexpensive beer at the Bermondsey Beer Mile and the Pride of Spitalfields.

5 – Exercise and Keeping Healthy

I find working out is not only good for the body, it relaxes me and for a while takes me away from the stresses of daily life. It’s almost an essential antidote to busy city life I’d say.

Some gyms in London are mega expensive. If you look at the boutique gyms you could be spending £150 a month or more! I’m not sure I want a bikini body that much thanks. Fortunately there are ways to work out cheaply or sometimes without spending anything at all.

Firstly, you could always go for a run or walk around your neighbourhood or park. That’s a good way to keep your heart healthy and apart from the cost of some running trainers, it’s pretty much free.

If you want to do some strength exercises, sometimes you can find outdoor gym equipment in your local park. Check The Great Outdoor Gym Company to see if there is any equipment near you!

If you find you work out best in a class environment, why not check out OurParks or Adidas Studio LDN? Sweaty Betty also runs yoga, HIIT and Barre classes from some of their stores.

Living on a budget in London can be hard, but it’s not impossible. Hopefully these tips will help and make it somewhat bearable too.

Have you ever had to survive on a tight budget?

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5 tips on how to live in London on a budget


Sarah. Almost 30. Craft beer drinker. South London resider. I like photography, boxing and visiting all of London's markets.

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