Naively, I moved to London when I was 18 thinking I could take on the world and live as an adult. What I didn’t realise was what a stupid decision financially that was. ‘Let’s go live in the most expensive city in the UK, at the poorest time in my life with zero budgeting or life experience’ – said me. However, I managed it and I loved it. If student-poor 18-year-old me could live in London on a budget then you can too.
Firstly, you have to lower your expectations. You’ll need to adjust your mindset if you’ve moved to London from a cheaper place. You might be used to drinks every weekend or going out with friends after work. However, this just won’t be possible in London on a budget.
However, you can absolutely have a social life in London but you’ll need to incorporate cheap or free activities to get the most enjoyment whilst spending the least. Remember that friendships or relationships shouldn’t depend on what kind of money you’re spending, but rather the quality of time you spend together.
Here are some tips I picked up from my time in London for dining out, travelling around and, my personal favourite, visiting the West End.
Food can be an expensive way to socialise so I always recommend staying at home and cooking for each other. However, If you must eat out then at least check out these two cards that will reduce your bill at certain restaurants.
Obviously the number one tip is to walk as much as possible which will be great for your heart and good for your wallet. However, here are a few more tips to help you keep the pennies down when traveling around London.
If, like me, you’re a big fan of the theatre you’ll be pleased to know that the West End is considerably cheaper than Broadway ticket prices and there are plenty of ways to get budget seats. There’s a booth in the heart of Leicester Square exclusively for last minute and discount theatre tickets called TKTS ran by officiallondontheatre.com. You can buy theatre tickets in person only for performances same day, tomorrow and the next day. These are reduced prices but you won’t find big sell out shows like The Book of Mormon or Les Miserables. For more ways to see a show in the West End for less visit this post.
If you must visit the tourist hot spots then there are ways you can do them for less and enjoy London on a budget. Also, I recommend going weekdays as much as possible – it won’t effect the price you pay but the less tourists, the more enjoyment you’ll have whilst you’re there.
Until 2019, Kelloggs are running are promotion where if you take a cut out voucher from some of their cereal boxes to an attraction you can get 241 on adult tickets to a lot of the main tourist attractions. When I took mine with my partner he was embarrassed I was holding a piece of cardboard however he relaxed when everyone in line had one.
Another way to get into London’s attractions for less is to buy a train ticket. On the back of national rail tickets into London, there are often 241 offers to get you into any of the big attractions in London. There are some short routes that technically count as coming into London – such as Waterloo East to Charing Cross which will cost you just £2 – which will get you a free ticket.
There are plenty of ways to spend nothing on an activity in London whether it’s for a first date or catching up with a friend.
There are 10+ free museums in London so take advantage and have a wander around. I highly recommend the Science Museum and the Natural history Museum above others but there are plenty to pick from. They are also great for conversation starters on that awkward first date.
One of my favourite things to do with a friend is go to a market, grab some fresh food and go sit in a park together. Here’s a list of my favourite markets in London which are all free and great to wander around:
Without a doubt I will always recommend Hyde Park above all others as it’s so large and there’s always different little nooks to explore. However be sure to check out these too:
As a personal note, I love the Sky Garden if you’re looking for a great free activity. The views are better that the London Eye as it’s higher up and it’s absolutely free. All you have to do is book a time to go as I believe there are restrictions on how many they let up at once.
One of my favourite festivals is Pride which turns the theatre district and soho into a huge mind-bending party however be sure to check out these free festivals too:
Also, and this isn’t socialising based but please be an informed tenant if you’re a student in London like I was. If you’re a young adult and living away from home for the first time you should take an evening and read up on your rights as a tenant and what’s normal to pay for. Don’t let yourself get billed for something your landlord should cover or take responsibility for a housemate’s debt if you’re not liable for it. I’m not saying all landlords prey on young uninformed tenants – I can vouch I had some supportive ones during my five years in London – however, now I look back, I know there were some costs that I should not have paid for or were overcharged for.
London is an extremely expensive city however it doesn’t have to be – you can live and socialise in London on a budget. I was able to go on first dates, catch up with friends or take my family around the city for free or cheap with a little researching and refusing to pay the full price.
I hope this article helps you survive London and leave a comment below with you’re favourite London budget tips and see how you can save in your life right here.