Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Surviving London on a shoestring budget

Sher was reminiscing of her time spent in London as a student who worried constantly about the high cost of living in London. For non-EU citizens, the cost of an undergraduate degree in London's universities can easily cost more than £10k per year and we are not even talking about the cost of reading materials and living expenses. That can be quite substantial unless you plan to survive on bread rolls and tea bags donated by your kind professors.


A studio flat in London Zone 1 will set you back around £1,200 per month. I know of a guy who opted for a one room flat in an ex-council building in King's Cross that goes for just £800 per month. If privacy, security and travelling time are not your top concerns, you can consider doing a flat share with your mates in Zone 2 (or even 3) for less than £300 per month. But you'll have to contend with rail networks that are conveniently closed for engineering works on weekends, which pretty much demolish any figment of social life you might have.


Other than accommodation, food is the primary cost when it comes to surviving in London. Surprisingly, if you're only concern about filling your stomach, there are rather low cost staple food available in the supermarkets. Tesco sells long grain rice (not the fragrant variety mind you) for just £0.60 per 500g pack. Baked beans goes for £0.50 per can at Sainsbury. So other than bread rolls, you can treat yourself to an occasional steam rice with baked beans. That's carbohydrates with proteins and you can get by for less than £3 per week. That's a painful existence indeed.


Transport comes a close third. Currently, a Tube ride costs £1.50 within Zone 1 and a bus ride costs £0.90 regardless of distance. Clearly, if you're on a shoestring budget, hopping on buses is the way to go. However, please be forewarn that you are at the whims and fancy of bus drivers. I have been asked to alight way before my destination, in the middle of nowhere, just because the driver's shift is over.

Do you have any tips on surviving London on a tiny budget? Do leave me a comment and I'll compile a list in a future post with a link back of course.

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yanjiaren said...

I can't afford at the moment to live in London. To buy a dent family three bedroom semi in Enfield is costing way over 300,000 gbp and so I am thrown out of London living. I am at the moment in Corby with my parents, saving every penny and am not sure what I will do next. When I go to London every two weeks to visit my Son I spend a hundred pounds easily just taking my Son out and cooking a few meals for my Sis, so the rest of the time I have to economize lol.

Fëanor said...

CK: you really should add potatoes to your staple of rice and beans. Potatoes, man! Yum-my! A complete source of all nourishment than a human being needs. (Stay away from fries, though.)

Btw, Zone 2/3 is not that inaccessible on weekends. Areas such as Ealing and Putney are on Tube and overland rail networks, so there's always an alternative.

Dana and Co said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dana and Co said...

Enjoyed reading your post. I wouldn't be able to survive on 3£ a week.

You should come to Ireland.It's more expensive here.

C K said...

Cost of living in London is indeed rising as we speak. It doesn't help that with the credit crunch and sliding economy, our pay seem to stagnate while prices rise. Doesn't make too much sense does it?

It must be hard on you to commute between Corby and London just visit your son. But I'm sure it's worth it. :)

C K said...

Great idea with the potatoes. Unlike rice, I never seem to associate it as a staple food. Will have to change my diet it seems. :)

I wonder whether the travelling cost from Zone 2/3 will be more expensive than living in Zone 1. I assume that rail cost more than the Underground even with the concession fares, no?

I was thinking that I would be probably holing up at home if I were to stay beyond Zone 2... but then again, that's just me.

C K said...

@dana & co,
I heard that Ireland is expensive but I've never been there before.

Just curious, how much does necessities cost over there in Ireland? What about the cost of transportation and accommodation?

Eaststopper said...

I live in Zone 4 and travel on the Northern line (which I consider a really good line - very few delays or engineering works so far). Living far away from Central London is better because firstly the rent and secondly, everything else is cheaper - haircuts, supermarkets, etc.

C K said...

Agreed on two counts.

Firstly, I adore Northern line... so far it has only given me trouble on one instance and that was when the engineers went on strike.

Also, services do get cheaper as you move away from London central. That's why I was contemplating to move out earlier this year. Decided against it due to cost and hassle of moving and I would want to sleep till later in the morning.

The price to pay for a little more sleep... sigh.

Better Interpersonal Communication said...

Nice post and tips on living in one of the most expensive places in the world.

Fëanor said...

CK: if you get a Zone 1-3 season's pass (not the pay-as-you-go), you can use it both on overland and Tube and bus. The annual one costs about £1100, so if you are commuting to work daily, it works out pretty economical, particularly if you also use it on weekends. so you can, in fact, save a bit on rent by moving out, and the extra cost of transport is, i think, less than the savings on the rent. Check out this page for details.

C K said...

It's not exactly tips, isn't it? Just grouses mainly. :)

C K said...

You know what? I have problem getting the 'e' in your name right...

Anyway, I understand that some companies offer an interest free loan for the season pass that you were referring to. So that'll probably make it even cheaper.

But I would really miss being able to stay out late in Central London if I were to move to Zone 3 and beyond... and I really value my sleep... so...

siying said...

hi, i was only in london and bath for holiday, for say 1.5 weeks and i do feel poor. and yes i take the bus not just because its cheaper, but because the tube is definitely messy (coming from the point of view of a singaporean).

how about french loaf/ bakery from Sainsbury.

Dutchie said...


Pls share some tips with us abt the variations with a potato. I always hv problems with our 5kg bag since we r not big on potatoes.

I once had a dish of potato cubes, dry fried with spices n crunchy mustard seeds but I couldnt get any flavour out of the seeds that I hv bought ( I did dry fry them b4hand). Any advice on this one ?

Thanks in advance

dannystaple said...

I've been in London for a long time, and I have to agree that North London was good for being a bit cheaper, as is further West. I lived here as a student renting stuff, and now have a flat in Northolt. I used to live in East Finchley, so the Northern line was my main route to work.
I am starting to review my favourite things in London, many of them relatively frugal and cheap. I started with this one: The Churchill Arms, Kensington, London. As most places in notting Hill and Kensington are really pricey, it is nice to find a cheap and tasty place there.

C K said...

Nice Squidoo you got there. I'm never really a pub person. I mean, the company's more important than the place. The fact that I can't hold my liquor well helps quite a bit. :)

letting agent london said...

London is a very expensive place to live compared to the North of England.