London is a very expensive city to live or to visit but there are countless ways to save money. Some of these do require some time and administration on your part but it’s worth it for the thrill of knowing you got a great deal or the feeling that haven’t been duped into paying for too much. Even if the savings don’t feel like much, every little bit helps.
Housing will undoubtedly takes the biggest bite out of your budget. There are no foolproof ways to get a better deal especially with the hypercompetitive rental market and high inflation but here are some things to consider.
- Try OpenRent. – Dealing with real estate agents can be horrible especially if you have special circumstances that mean you don’t fit neatly into their usual processes. OpenRent is a platform that private landlords can use to advertise their property. Dealing directly with the landlord could be less hassle for both parties.
- Consider your commute – the cost of public transport is high in London and if you have to commute to work often, consider whether the savings gained from moving further away for cheaper rent is worth it. Do the math!
- Consider a flat share situation – this will be cheaper if you don’t mind housemates.
Communication – Mobile Phone and Home Internet
- Shop around – there are always special deals e.g. mobile phone plans for 99p or £1.99p per month. This might be a 6 month introductory special so before it runs out, change your provider. It’s annoying but not too difficult to swap to a different provider and the savings do add up over time.
- Check for referrals – can a friend refer you to their provider or vice versa? Often there is a rewarding perk for both of you.
- Check out these websites. Often a lot of the comparison work has been done for you by Money Saving Expert or Andy Clever Cash. (These two websites come in useful for so many aspects of saving money in the UK.)
- Maximise the interest you are getting on your savings account. Use
Money Saving Export or Andy Clever Cash. They have done the account comparison work for you.
- Learn about investing so your money works for you.
- Make friends who care about money perhaps by joining a MeetUp group e.g. London Financial Independence
- Credit card hacks and collecting loyalty points. This can be very lucrative if you are into it. Try Head For Points to get started.
- Shop around, get a referral from a friend if there is an incentive to swap energy providers.
- Submit meter readings instead of relying on the estimate from the power company so you pay a more representative (and usually lower) number reflecting your actual usage.
- Adjust your hot water thermostat temperature down so you are not spending money excessively heating your hot water only to have to mix a heap of cold water to avoid being scalded in the shower. This saves money and is safer as you remove the risk of getting a hot water burn.
- If it suits, save on heating or cooling by working outside your home. There are some nice, quiet public areas suitable for working e.g. Tower Hamlets Town Hall
- Consider free stuff or second hand – look on Olio, Freecycle or Facebook Marketplace for free or cheap second hand stuff. This is good not just for your wallet but for the planet as well.
- Check out ethnic shops or Ikea for more reasonably priced goods.
- Always compare the in-store price with the online price. Often, if you don’t need things immediately, it’s cheaper purchased online.
- When purchasing things online, use a cashback website like TopCashBack or Quidco to claw back a % of the price.
- Join the loyalty club for all the grocery shops you frequent e.g. Tesco clubcard, . There are often additional perks and discounts for their members.
- This CatchAGem guy has his finger on the pulse of lots of cheap stuff, freebies and giveaways!
Food – Eating In
Eating in and cooking at home is always massively cheaper than eating out.
- Shop at Aldi or Lidl as they are consistently the cheapest grocery store. Buy all your weekly staples here. Save going to Waitrose or M&S for the odd specific gourmet luxury item. Buying pantry staples at Waitrose can sometimes be 4 times more expensive than Aldi!
- Use the Olio app to pick up free food. You save on your food budget and perfectly good food is rescued from being wasted. The best time to be on Olio is about 9:30pm at night when the Food Waste Hero (volunteers) advertise the stuff they have picked up from shops closing that evenings. There are plenty of good food from Tescos, Iceland, Pret, Amazon Fresh amongst others. (Plus the Olio community is full of the loveliest people who hate seeing useful things go to waste!)
- Take advantage of the constant discounts on various recipe boxes e.g. Hello Fresh, Gousto and others. They are always giving massive introductory discounts. This combined with large cashback incentives from TopCashBack or Quidco can result in getting a lot of food for nearly no money or even being paid to eat!
Food – Eating Out
Eating out is a fun thing to do in London but it can be eye-wateringly expensive. Here are some ways to reduce the cost.
- Consider the meal deals at various grocery stores e.g. Tesco, Sainsbury etc. offer a Main + Snack + Drink for < £5. It’s a nice way to get a sandwich and drink for lunch. Head out to one of London’s many parks and enjoy your little picnic!
- An alternative for a picnic is to use the TooGoodToGo app where businesses sell their products at a fraction of the price to avoid wasting it.
- Subscriptions at café chains like Pret or Costa could be good value if you drink a lot of coffee. Do the math!
- Street food stalls at one of London’s many markets are great for a meal. True, it’s not as comfortable as a sit down restaurant but it’s almost always cheaper and there is no service charge.
- The alcoholic drinks are cheapest at the Wetherspoons franchise of pubs. The food is hit and miss but it is good value.
- Look out for cheap deals from various sources e.g. Pre-theatre menus, Plate Deals, Soft Launch, Hot Dinners, Groupon etc.
- The best app for deep discounts at restaurants and big money off when using loyalty points is TheFork app. Use this promo code on your first booking for extra loyalty Yums! (7E8EADO3) This app works internationally as well so you can eat more cheaply at restaurants around the world! Always check it when you are on holiday!
- Sign up as a mystery diner and be re-imbursed for eating out. This sounds like a great concept but for most people, it’s not as fun as it first sounds.
- Finally, brave the awkward conversation and ask for the service charge to be removed when eating out at a restaurant. There is a minimum wage by law which all staff in the UK should be paid. The tipping culture has been borrowed from America and being normalized in London. It’s discretionary so unless the service was truly exemplary, ask for it to be taken off.
- London is a very walkable city so when time permits, walk to your destination.
- Cycling is also a cheap way of getting around. Buy a bike second hand or do the math, perhaps a subscription to one of those bicycle hire programs is worth it e.g. Santander Bikes.
- Never buy a single tube ticket. They are incredibly expensive. Use contactless or an Oyster card.
- The tube is very expensive. Where possible, avoid peak hour and get the bus. This may not always be possible as the buses can be quite unreliable! It goes without saying therefore, avoid black cabs, Uber etc. except in the most dire of situations!
- Use the Citymapper app. It tells you the most efficient way to get around and the cost associated with it.
- Get a railcard if you qualify for it. It pays for itself very quickly.
- Book train tickets in advance to reduce the price. (Don’t forget to apply your railcard!)
Things to Do
There are so many things to do for free and low cost in London and even the most costly things like the theatre can be done in a much cheaper way.
- There are loads of free top class museums that you can visit for free.
- There are always lots of free lectures, events and meet-ups you can join. Use these websites of apps to find them – Free Lectures, EventBrite, MeetUp.
- Check your local council for discounts e.g. The Borough of Tower Hamlets gives £1 entry for residents to Tower Bridge and Tower of London.
- Sign up to your local library to access plenty of free material e.g. books, e-books, e-magazines, newspapers, video content etc.
- Use bus route number 8 or 11 to go past the touristy sites of London instead of the expensive open top tourist buses!
- Keep your ear out for free festivals and events around London e.g. Open House Festival, Summer by the River, Summer Sounds at Kings Cross etc. Check out these websites to assist – Secret London, Londonist, TimeOut London.
- Go on a tips only walking tour. There are heaps of different topics to choose from and you just have to tip the tour guide at the end what you think it was worth.
- Check out free views of the city at SkyGarden, One New Change Rooftop, Primrose Hill in Camden and The Garden at 120.
- Enjoy the free parks and gardens around London, including the unexpected one in a rooftop at Canary Wharf, Crossrail Place Roof Gardens.
- Pop in and experience the architecture and serenity at one of London’s many churches and cathedrals. Many are free to enter or free during a service. Listen to the choral music and admire the interiors for free at St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey during a service.
Go to the theatre or concerts more cheaply using one of these methods.
- Buy your tickets through TodayTix. If you can, buy tickets during the various West End sales which happen throughout the year
- Buy day tickets or rush tickets or enter the ticket lottery. This can be done via
TodayTix or search on google for the information. For example, the Royal Opera House releases their rush tickets on a Friday. These days tickets are significantly cheaper than buying a full price tickets and you can be seated in the front row!
- Become a seat filler for cheap theatre tickets, comedy, live music and all kinds of events!
- Buy day promming tickets for the BBC Proms. The very best classical concerts in the world at only £8.
- At a pinch, you could try the TKTS booth at Leicester Square for theatre tickets. This will be cheaper than buying full price but still quite expensive when compared to the other methods on this list.
Are you a senior or, a student or work for the NHS or is it your birthday? Do some research, there are often lots of discounts available if you fit these categories.
In conclusion, I do sense some recurring themes when writing this post. Shop around, do some research, do the math, take the time!
Hopefully this helps alleviate some of the cost of living issues in London so you can spend more time enjoying all the fun things that London has to offer.