Master of Coin: Tips for Being Frugal in London

Master of Coin: Tips for Being Frugal in London

A friend of me asked this week: “how much does it cost to be a Londoner”? I thought to myself, sure it’s plenty, London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. However, it’s not as much as it used to be. London has actually plummeted down the Economist Intelligence Unit’s list of most expensive cities to live in, and currently it ranks at 24th in the world (number one is Singapore). The drop is largely thanks to Brexit, which has seen the value of the pound drop, but it’s likely to claw it ways back up eventually.

I like making the most of my dollar, and over the last year I’ve picked up a few tricks from the locals. Here’s just a few tips for being frugal that might be of help to you!

Accommodation

By far, my biggest expense is accommodation. It’s tough work trying to find the balance of location, size, neighbourhood and potential housemates.

  • Consider living further afield (often the commute time isn’t a huge difference, and you might end up getting a seat).
  • Different zones have different costs, so work out how much it would be to commute to your work.
  • Or not – if you can find a way to walk/ bike/ Boris bike you way to your job you can save on public transport.
  • Make sure you’re aware if your flat costs include utilities, council tax, broadband etc. It all adds up otherwise.
  • Keep an eye out for agent listings. There’s often fees associated with homes managed by them and it makes the initial move in costs considerable.
  • Sometimes short term lets via SpareRoom or Airbnb could be better options.

Public transport

As above, the cost of getting to work adds up, not to count all that time!

  • Buses are way cheaper than taking the tube, that’s capped at £1.50 per ride. There is morning congestion on the roads though.
  • An annual pass beats a monthly pass which beats a weekly pass. It’s the equivalent of getting weekend transport for free. But it might depend how often you head away, if you can work from home, etc.
  • Consider CommuterClub if you’d prefer the annual pass without the upfront cost. You pay a smaller amount on a monthly basis. A lot of employers also offer a similar service.
  • Employers often have ride to work schemes, with allowances for buying a bike if you’re eyeing that up.
  • Concessions, if applicable.
  • Get a Railcard. There are ones for people 18-25, but also a new one (on trial) for people 26-30. And a few others. These offer 1/3 off rail tickets and even a few trips will net you back the upfront cost.

Shopping

  • Supermarkets differ wildly in pricing, keeping a couple in your schedule can ensure you get the best buys from each store. Chains like Aldi and Lidl will often offer cheaper home brands.
  • Supermarkets will often have clearance sections for products close to expiry. Bargain food, as long as you eat on the day (note: quality can be very dodgy).
  • Sign up for the loyalty programs such as Nectar, Tesco Clubcard. Eventually the savings start showing up.
  • Markets and independent grocers can often also be cheaper than the chains.
  • Chains I like: Poundland (super cheap everything), Primark (the cheapest clothing you’ll find with the lowest quality) and TK Maxx (nice brands, but the stores are a mess).
  • Subscription services often offer a great incentive for signing up for a trial. This makes it worthwhile just to join for a bit. E.g: HelloFresh, GoustoPactCoffee, Cornerstone (razors), Hotel Chocolat, Graze (snacks).
  • Making a big purchase? You can buy/ re-sell gift cards on Zeek.

Cashback

Probably the most important factor in being frugal: getting money back from all your spending.

  • Cashback programs offer a % back of your online shopping when you click via their site. Make sure you always check if the site offers cashback as most major e-retail sites will.
  • There’s two main companies: Topcashback and Quidco and they sometimes have different rates. There are also seasonal offers all the time, so it’s good to be part of both.
  • As well, they often offer flat cashback for things like signing up for broadband, credit card, a phone plan. I got a tidy £100 signing up to my BT broadband, that’s excluding the other bonuses from BT itself.
  • Refer people!

Manage your money

  • The UK seems quite big on incentivising users to switch accounts. I’ll get £200 with my move to HSBC, pending staying a full year and a few other easy conditions. The whole process is smooth as they sort out any misdirected payments as well as existing direct debits.
  • I have a credit card via American Express and this gets me a 1% cashback on all spend via the account. You can get about £25 via cashback which covers the annual fee and there’s usually a good offer for your first few months (i.e. a higher % back).
  • If you love your travel, get a Monzo or Halifax Clarity credit card to minimise the fees of currency exchange.
  • I do prefer to carry some cash as well, and usually find the best rates with Thomas Exchange.

Eating out

This is a food blog, so gotta have some tips for eating frugally (yes, even if that means heading out):

  • Cook (make your own lunches) instead of heading out as often as you can.
  • Keep an eye on any interesting deals from the likes of Time Out, D&D London, Groupon or Hot Dinners.
  • MealPal and LunchSmarter (formerly Mealfix) are alright options for cheaper lunches in the city.
  • Get your own travel coffee flask, a few chains will offer discount.
  • Get a Tastecard (though the restaurant selection isn’t my cup of tea).
  • A lot of chains (i.e. Itsu, Wasabi, Abokado) offer end of day specials with 25-50% off the normal price.
  • Watch those drinks! Water bottled or tap? Up to you.
  • Be a mystery diner: e.g. HGEM. That being said, I don’t find the effort required is worth it, personally.
  • Various loyalty schemes: KFC, Nandos,

Theatre

  • Shop for cheap last minute theatre tickets. If you don’t mind an early morning queue check out the options for each show (they all vary) at TheatreMonkey.
  • Download the TodayTix App for offers direct on your phone. Some are lottery based and some are first come, first served. I’ve never won the ‘lottery’-based ones so not sure what the chances really are.
  • Otherwise head in person to the TKTS store in Leicester Square (the earlier the better) or the actual box office itself for a chance.

Entertainment

  • Booze really adds up. Nurse a half for a while or be mindful of prices generally. Cocktails are always a touch more pricey.
  • Join the library. Yes!
  • Some neighbourhoods have local offers. For example, Westminster has the Westminster City Save card that gives free entry to Westminster Abbey as well as discounts on food, theatre and more. Tower Hamlets residents can get free entry to the Tower of London.
  • Secret Comedy Club always does a good cheap comedy night (£1!) with £3 drinks.
  • SRO Audiences and other companies will often provide free tickets for tapings, but these can be a bit of a pain in themselves.
  • Get on a family Netflix/ Spotify account.
  • Don’t forget most of the museums in London are free.

flight london

Travel

Study hard

Just one tip, as students are the masters of being frugal!

  • If you sign up with an online course (i.e. eCareers) which costs a tiny amount, you can then apply for an NUS Extra card. This offers lots of benefits including free Amazon Student Prime for six months.
  • Some of the places with student discount: Curzon, Odeon, ASOS, Superdrug, Co-op, National Express, Pizza Express, YHA. A lot of these will be in-store so make sure you keep your card in your wallet.

Further reading

  • Use MoneySavingExpert for more in-depth guides on specific areas.
  • Read up HotUKDeals for occasional good deals. I also use the site to research prices of products so I know if I’m getting a stellar price.
  • Camelcamelcamel for price tracking for things on Amazon.
  • And for everything else, PriceSpy is decent.

Hope there’s something there that helps you save a few pennies. If there’s anything else frugal that’s been super useful for you, let me know!