Disclosure: I may earn a small commission from the companies or products mentioned in this post.
London is expensive. That’s a fact. House prices and rent prices are higher than the rest of the UK. I won’t try to deny that. However, what annoys me is when people say that living in London is ‘unaffordable’, especially when discussing anything other than housing prices.
Yes, rent may be expensive, but that’s what you get for living in one of the most exciting and desirable cities in the World. But once you’ve found somewhere, living in London doesn’t have to ‘unaffordable’ whatsoever. In fact, in my experience, living in London can actually be cheaper than living elsewhere as long as you know the right tricks.
So today I’ve decided to share with you some of my little secrets for living in London for cheap.
Let’s start with an important one – transport. London is a big place, and inevitably you’re going to need to take some sort of public transport, namely the tube or bus.
Firstly, an obvious one, but make sure you have an oyster card. Fares are cheaper than individual tickets and prices are capped lower per day.
Secondly, if you have a 16-25 railcard (or if you were lucky enough to get a new 26-30 railcard) you can head to a station and get it loaded onto your oyster for 1/3rd off all off-peak journeys.
Lastly, try giving public transport a miss every now and again! On a nice summers day, what’s the point in sharing a stuffy tube carriage with a load of sweaty strangers when there are other options? London is a beautiful and safe place, so if it’s feasible, jump on a Santander Cycle (just £2 for 24-hour access) or walk! It takes me 1.5hrs to walk to work, but I still do it regularly during the warmer months. And when I arrive I feel energised and accomplished, plus its great exercise so I don’t have to spend the evening in the gym!
A common example when people talk about London’s unaffordability is the price of drinks.
Well, did you know that there’s a way to get a free drink every day? DUSK is an app which allows you to get a free drink each day at many of London’s best bars and pubs, including the likes of All Bar One, Simmons and Adventure Bar?
It’s also always worth having a look on Groupon for drinks deals. You’ll probably be surprised to find out that many London bars have offers such as 3 cocktails for as little as £12 (which is usually the price for one).
Some of my favourites deals include Adventure Bar Covent Garden, Hyde Kensington, Tequila Mockingbird and Darbaar Shoreditch. Just purchase the voucher in advance, show it on your phone when you arrive (check to see if there’s a time you have to order by) and BAM cheap drinks! Plus there’s no limit on how many you can have per group so if you all get one you’re sorted for the night.
Eating Out – Everyday
Did you know that 1/3 of all food produced worldwide is wasted?
Well luckily, plenty of restaurants across London are doing their part to reduce this. Chains such as Itsu, Tossed, Wasabi and POD reduce their food prices by 50% 1 hour to 30 minutes before closing time to stop perfectly good food going to waste.
There is also a great app called Too Good To Go where restaurants all across London (now including YO Sushi) offer their leftover food for as little as £2 towards the end of the day. All you have to do is swing by and collect it yourself.
So either wait to have a late dinner, or grab something and stick it in the fridge for lunch the next day.
Eating Out – Special Occasions
We all know that London is home to some of the best food in the World, with Michelin-star restaurants around every corner. But just because it’s 5* dining doesn’t mean you have to pay 5* prices.
Check out Bookatable – my favourite website for booking amazing deals at many of London’s best restaurants. I’ve managed to afford to dine at gorgeous restaurants such as Searcys at The Gherkin, Celeste at The Lanesborough and The Winter Garden at The Landmark with deals on Booktable.
April is Bookatable’s ‘Feast On London‘ – a celebration of London’s culinary heritage with some amazing deals at top restaurants, including 3-course dinners with a drink for as little as £20.
Us Londoners love our avocados more than most. I’m not sure what the reason for this is – maybe it’s the current health fad sweeping the Capital, or maybe we’re just all a little too Insta-obsessed – but either way, I’m going to use it as the baseline to discuss food prices.
You could go to your local Whole Foods or Waitrose on your way home from work to purchase your avocados for £1 a pop. Or, as I discovered very recently, you could head to one of the city’s many farmers markets and get 6 for £1 instead! See where I’m going with this?
So swap your supermarket shops for a trip to the market every now and again to get yourself some great deals on meat, fruit and vegetables, whilst helping out the local community. It’s a win-win situation!
My personal favourites are North End Road in Fulham (my local) and New Covent Garden Market (the largest of it’s kind in the UK).
This is one of my favourites. In London, you can get haircuts and even colours for free (or heavily discounted)!
Hairdressers need to train on real people before they’re let loose on the general public, and luckily for us Londoners, many of the training schools are here in the Capital.
Volunteer as a model and you’ll get your treatments for free or for very cheap. You don’t need to be a model to get an appointment, and all styles of hair are welcome as the students need as much practice as possible. All trainees have already had plenty of experience, and sessions are supervised by qualified tutors so there’s no reason to be nervous.
Some great places to consider are…
One thing I will never pay extortionate prices for is a gym membership. If fitness is your thing and you’re at the gym 5 times a week I understand spending £100+ a month on a membership, but for someone like me who probably makes it to the gym once a week in a half-hearted attempt to work off all of the food I’ve eaten over the last 7 days, paying anything more than £25 a month is too much.
But the great thing is, there are plenty of other ways to stay fit in London for cheap or even free. Here are a few ideas…
- As I mentioned earlier, walk and cycle more! It’ll save you money on transport too.
- Join a free run club, such as Park Run or Nike+ Run Club.
- Book free in-store fitness classes with sports brands such as Sweaty Betty and Lululemon.
- Make the most of cheap introductory offers for new customers and try out different classes and fitness activities all over the city.
For more information on these and more, check out my post ‘5 ways to stay fit in London without breaking the bank‘.
Back to the fun stuff. How do you spend your free time enjoying the Capital without rapidly shrinking your bank account? Easy. There are plenty of free activities to make the most of in London. Here are a few of my favourites…
- Science Museum – refresh your science knowledge at this interactive museum.
- Natural History Museum – because… dinosaurs (don’t judge me)!
- The Sky Garden – head to the top of one of the Capitals most iconic skyscrapers… for free! All you need to do is book your time slot in advance here.
- The National Gallery – marvel at one of the worlds most important art collections. The permanent collections are always free.
- The British Museum – millions of people travel from all over the world to visit this iconic museum, so why shouldn’t you?
- Borough Market – wander around one of the largest and most iconic food markets in Britain.
- Portobello Road – one of my favourite areas for a morning stroll, with its colourful houses and intriguing antiques market.
- Greenwich – if you’re looking for a cheap/free day out, Greenwich is a great place to visit. You can wander through the park and up to the observatory for a great view over the city, explore the Old Royal Naval College, visit the National Maritime Museum and walk under the Thames through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, all for free.
Check out this great guide to London’s best free museums for more.
This one needed it’s own section as you can’t live in London without a trip to the West End every now and again. The best way to get cheap tickets for shows and musicals is to leave it until last minute to get tickets, and here’s how…
- Visit the TKTs ticket booth in Leicester Square for last minute discounted tickets.
- Queue outside the show you want to go to for standby and return tickets on the day.
- Enter an on the day lottery at a shows box office for tickets as low as £20.
- Download app Today Tix where you can find special last minute deals and enter lotteries for free and discounted tickets.