It’s no secret that London is an expensive city to be living in. Accommodation is pricey, travel costs can really rack up, and socialising with friends can cost you a lot of money when bars and restaurants aren’t cheap.
So, here are a few of our top tips on how to save money in London that still allow you to really enjoy your time in this exciting city.
Budget your spending
Sensible budgeting will be the best advice anyone can give you on how to save money in London or any expensive city.
It’s easy to get carried away at the beginning of term when you arrive in a new city like London with lots of exploring (and therefore spending) to be done. But, poor money management is one of the main reasons why students can find themselves running out of cash before the term is up. So, spend some time looking at what money will be coming in and when and set yourself a monthly (or even better, a weekly) budget.
Write down everything that this budget needs to go towards – groceries, bills (energy, phone etc), travel, subscription services (Netflix, Spotify etc), cosmetics, and clothes. Be realistic about what you spend money on. Doing this will allow you to see how much money you will have left over to spend on fun things like eating out or day trips out of the city. Taking the time to do this early on might mean you get way more out of your time in London than you would have if you spend all of your disposable cash on having fun at the beginning of term.
Make use of student deals and discount
Many retailers in the UK offer a student discount to anyone who has an official (Totum / NUS) student card. When purchasing clothes, always ask if the shop offers a student discount as you could save yourself 10% off. Some restaurants offer deals for students too. Chains like Itsu, Pizza Express, ASK, Byron Burger, and Zizzi offers a student discount or even better, 2-4-1 meals for anyone with a student card. So if there is a special occasion coming up that you want to celebrate with a meal out, choose somewhere where you can save yourself a few pounds.
You can sign up for websites like Student Beans and Unidays, which use your university details to give you access to lots of great deals online and in stores and restaurants. They’ll also send you email alerts for deals you might be interested in.
Savethestudent.org has a Deals section where you can find a huge selection of freebies to sign up for. You can get samples of things like beauty or laundry products delivered to your door for free. It also has a number of free-first-month deals for subscription services like entertainment subscriptions or monthly coffee subscriptions. Just remember to cancel your membership before your first payment is due to come out of your account.
Save on travel
Use CityMapper to get around
CityMapper is a travel app that allows you to filter your options depending on how you want to travel. You can choose the fastest route available – or, if you’re not in too much of a rush, you can also choose the most cost-effective route to where you need to get to.
Get yourself a student Oyster card
Students living in a London Borough can get discounted travel with an Oyster photocard. You can be studying for an undergraduate or a postgraduate degree and it can be a full-time or part-time course (as long as it’s 14 weeks or longer) to benefit from the discount. Most London schools, colleges and universities are registered with the scheme but check the Transport For London (TFL) website for the full eligibility criteria.
Once you get your student Oyster photocard, you can sign into your account and buy discounted travelcards, buy discounted bus and tram pass season tickets, and add pay-as-you-go credit (which isn’t discounted). Or, you can buy them at Oyster ticket stops, tube stations or some National Rail stations.
Get a Railcard
With a Railcard, you can save 34% on pay-as-you-go off-peak fares and daily caps by adding it to your student Oyster photocard to travel on the Tube, London Overground, Elizabeth line and most National Rail services in London. You can buy one separately too. There’s an option for 16-24 years olds and one for 26–30 year olds. You will have to pay for your railcard but you’ll make your money back after a handful of journeys.
Don’t forget that especially in busier times of the year, it can sometimes be quicker to get from A to B on foot than it is when getting the bus. There can often be crowds waiting for trains and the tube – so avoid the queueing and walk to your destinations instead. We know it won’t always be practical if you’re getting from one side of the city to the other, but if it’s a short journey, you might enjoy the walk more than you think. London can be hot in the summer and getting out in the fresh air is a better idea than being cooped up underground with crowds of people.
Save on food and drink
When it comes to grocery shopping, people tend to spend less money overall when they buy in bulk and purchase all their goods in one go (rather than popping into a local Express shop every couple of days). Doing this also means you’ll be more organised with your meal prepping. Always go with a list and don’t go when you’re hungry – you’re much more likely to pick up things you don’t need that way.
Look out for supermarkets that offer student discounts, and while you’re there, keep an eye on the reduced item shelf. If you start there, you can base your meals for the following couple of days around any reduced items you pick up. Finally, if you opt for your supermarket’s own brand products, you can save a fortune over the year – which means more money is freed up for exploring the city.
Cook at home
While we understand it can be tempting to try out all the restaurants London has to offer, your money really won’t get you very far. Dining out will be the quickest way to empty your wallet – so get into the habit of cooking at least your main meal of the day. If you have communal kitchens in your accommodation, cooking there is a nice way to spend time with your flatmates too. If you have room in your fridge or freezer, try to batch cook your meals to save you time and more importantly, money. Have a look at Studenteats.co.uk which is a useful resource for recipes that are ideal for students.
Use food waste apps
Too Good To Go is an app that restaurants and some shops use to sell their end-of-the-day food at a highly discounted price. The idea behind the app is that it combats food waste, but it also means they can still make some of their money back on items that are still fresh enough to eat. You’ll find all sorts of goodies on there from sushi to pastries to sandwiches and they’re at a reasonable price.
The Olio app has a food section where individuals give away food they no longer need. It’s often used by people who work in bakeries and sandwich shops that would rather give their unsold food away to those who will eat it rather than put it in the bin.
Make use of London’s scenic parks
London is full of green space. If you have a gym membership or you pay for exercise classes, you’ll know that membership prices in London can be extortionate – even with your student discount. Consider switching to getting your exercise in the park. There are lots of parks around London that are beautiful settings for a jog or some yoga. If you use your gym or classes for motivation from others, why not start up a running group with some classmates or the people you’re living with? And, if you play team sports, you might find that your university has a team that you could join with little to no cost. Cancelling your gym subscription could save you a precious £20-£60 per month.
Parks like Battersea Park or Regent’s Park are beautiful settings for a picnic. So if you want to spend time with friends but you don’t want to spend any money on dining out or on activities, why not meet at the park to have some food together or have a game of rounders? There are huge parks all across the city so you won’t be far from one wherever your accommodation is. Try Hyde Park, St James Park, Alexandra Park or Greenwich Hill.
Make use of London’s free attractions
London is famous for its museums and galleries that have permanent exhibitions which are free of charge to the general public. Art museums like the Tate Modern, Tate Britain and the Victoria & Albert museum showcase some of the best artwork in the country. And, you can study in these beautiful buildings for free too. There’s an art library in the V&A where you can sit with your laptop and get some work done in this picturesque setting.
Get some free tourist attractions ticked off your list for free entertainment. The Changing of the Guard happens most mornings and doesn’t cost you anything. You can watch it happen outside Buckingham palace at 10.45am. Just get there a little earlier in the summer months as it can get busy and it might be difficult to find a quieter spot you can see it from.