The basics
THE UK: Student Finances

How to live in expensive London and survive to tell the tale!


How to live in expensive London and survive to tell the tale! 

Before arriving in London I had saved what it would be considered in my country as a «small fortune» for someone of my age. That 'small fortune' slipped through my fingers when I arrived here. I couldn't believe how expensive London was! For the first 2 weeks I kept converting what I spent into Colombian pesos, a mental exercise that almost drove me to mental breakdown!. However, it is not my intention to scare you off from treating yourself every now and then, I just want to make you aware of something that you will experience anyway. With the help of some little tips you might save far more money that what I spent on my leisure without knowing it:

1. Remember to get your student oyster card as soon as you arrive! The wonderful deal of 40% off for student oyster cards really helped me to save money on my journeys and get wherever I need to. I also suggest you buy weekly or monthly cards if you can afford it, as it allows you to travel as many journeys as you need to within the zones that you buy the card for. You will see that you save money per journey everyday! Your school will assist you in this process, Transport for London.

2. Always carry your student card with you. Many shops, tickets for shows and restaurants have student discounts available for you only if you can show them your ID. The international ISIC card is a very useful card to have handy not only in London but also abroad. You can apply for it in any STA travel.

3. Use your vouchers! Many shops have vouchers available from their online sites. Compared to my country, brands have a strong online marketing accessible for everyone, sometimes is cheaper to buy goods on the internet too!. Also some restaurants have 50% off vouchers for meals at specific times, it helps a lot!. Check these websites: VoucherCodes, Restaurant vouchers and Toptable

4. If you arrive for the October start and want to treat yourself for Christmas, be patient and wait for Boxing day (26th Dec). Soon after Christmas and even in January you will see how your favourite shops advertise sales for up to 70% off in their current collections, so you won't have to pay high prices for the Christmas shopping fever that attacks everyone.

Hope this is of help for you guys... I constantly think of all the money I could have saved and didn't, but I also remember all the amazing times I shared with my friends, or bought nice dresses for myself. I am not a 'shopaholic', but life is made of little happy moments....!

Student budgeting is a serious business, more for international students like myself who unfortunately misses her daddy (and his pocket) very much!.... But I assure you that these pearls of wisdom will help you to get by without spending ridiculous amounts of money:

1. Write down your expenses

The first weeks in London are very expensive anyway because you're settling in and finding your way around. That's normal. Once you know your way and establish patterns for food shopping, rent, etc., write all that down in a list and stick to it, only spending extra when you know you can afford it. If you see that you are spending money in unnecessary things, think of ways to avoid those expenses. My mental exercise is based in two questions: "Do you want it?" and "do you really need it?" be honest to yourself and you will see your finances improve.

2. Don't take out of the cash point more than you really need

Once you know how much you spend a week, try to take that money out from the cash point every Monday and stick to it! Don't use your debit card mercilessly, as we are all tempted to. Just stick to your plan for as long as you can and try to stretch your money until the end of the week.

3. Work part-time

According to the 4 out 10 students work part-time to help themselves while studying. I can assure you that you can manage, just keep the balance and don't forget your main goal when you came here: either improving your language or achieving a university degree. It is easy to get lost in the way once you start earning money, just keep in mind that English skills or your degree are what is going to help you to forge your career.

There are many options, the most common being bar work and waiting tables. You can get jobs in the student unions and elsewhere. I can suggest Gumtreee4s or Just jobs for Students but also check your college or university website for jobs available. Also remember seasonal work either during Christmas working in shops or during the summer.

4. Travel by bus or walk

You will not believe how different London looks at ground level! It sounds funny but many people don't know how Euston, Russell Square, Holborn and many other areas in town look like despite travelling through them by every day on the tube. If you can afford it in terms of time, get yourself on a bus! You will get to see the magic city you live in while saving some pennies. Or, if you can walk, do it! You will be amazed how close places really are. Not all the stations are so far from each other mainly in the centre. Also, if you fancy a day trip somewhere nice around England, check National Express, sometimes you can get to your destination of £1!

5. Eat your greens

I have been told to be my «own good parent». That means that I have to say to myself: "sleep well", "drink water" and "eat your green!". Try to avoid fast food and snacks bought in the street. They are expensive compared to what you can get from the supermarket. If you do your food shopping every week and cook your own food at home, you will see how much you can save while having a good diet. Vegetables can also be found in food markets across London. I personally recommend Brixton market or small local stalls in your own neighbourhood. Also, London counts with the richness of having so many cultures from all around the world in one place. Be open-minded and don't be afraid of trying new types of food. Chinese and other country markets can offer delicious and affordable food that you can cook at home like an expert.

6. Avoid fines

There are certain obligations we as students need to comply with: If you are living in private accommodation make sure you don't pay council tax (as student you don't have to pay it, but get more advise) and sort out your TV licence with your housemates - you only need one for the household, not one each. Sort it out at the start of the year and will save yourself from unnecessary worry.

Also, remember to return your library books on time, especially with those seven day loan books. Don't forget to keep your oyster card with enough top-up for your journey. The fine for getting on the bus or the train without touching in is about £20, money that you could well have spent at the cinema!.

Hope you find this of help. Enjoy your time as student, unfortunately once you start working, things won't be as happy and shinny!


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Aspiring journalist and Cambridge University graduate, Londoner 'by adoption'. Tweeting for @hotcourses_Abrd