London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, which means surviving in the world’s global financial centre requires thrifty students to adopt money-saving hacks wherever possible.
Imperial College London estimates that students require about £1,500 of living expenses monthly, which factor in key costs such as accommodation, food and travel. A Student.com reports notes that London is the third most expensive city for student rent.
Despite the eye-watering fees needed to live in the city, London continues to attract countless international students every year, and it’s not difficult to see why. It houses some of the world’s top universities, and is rated as a top student city globally. It is home to a buzzing nightlife scene, a well-connected transport network, diverse culture, historical landmarks, and more.
Having said that, you should not let the high cost of living in London hinder you from getting the most out of your student experience. There are numerous ways to minimise your living expenses while still experiencing the lifestyle of a Londoner. The most important thing is to stick to a budget and track your expenses.
8 money-saving hacks for students in London
Link your railcard to your Oyster card
The London Oyster card is an electronic card used to pay for all types of public transport in the city, including buses, tubes, trams, DLR, TfL Rail, London Overground and more. With this card, you can save much more than if you were to pay for your transport fares using cash.
However, those between 16-25 years old and students above 25 years old are also entitled to a 16-25 railcard. In England, it offers 30% off most train rides (including the tube during non-peak hours). It costs thirty pounds per annum, which means you only pay two pounds fifty per month.
The best part? You can link your 16-25 railcard to your Oyster card at any Underground or Overground ticket office and some National Rail ticket offices. This means your railcard discount entitlement will be added to your Oyster card, so you will only need to carry around one card.
Hire a bicycle
Hiring a bicycle in London can be convenient and affordable. Santander Cycles — one of London’s widespread hiring public bike-sharing schemes — is available 24/7, 365 days a year and has 800 docking stations and 12,000 bicycles across the city.
You can easily find docking stations and hire a bicycle via the Santander Cycle app.
Its website notes: “Once you’ve paid the £2 bike access fee, you get unlimited journeys of up to 30 minutes during the next 24 hours. Longer journeys cost £2 for each extra 30 minutes.”
Eat out at parks
While London is home to tons of decent restaurants and cafes, these eateries can be expensive.
Instead, eat alfresco with your friends at the various parks throughout the city. You can set up a picnic with some homemade food or items bought from street food markets or food trucks in the area.
For example, Alexandra Palace Park in the north of London has regular street food and a farmers’ market nearby.
Take note of new restaurants and time-specific meal deals
If you do some research, many restaurants offer 50% discounts — if you go at the right time.
Places such as Itsu, Mugen Sushi, Tossed, and Boots offer 50% off or more on their meals right before closing time, while Sushi Mania offers half-priced meal deals when you dine in from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and after 10 p.m.
You can look out for soft launches around the city. Many new restaurants in London usually open their door quietly and offer discounted food deals. According to SquareMeal, these deals can last from a day to a few weeks.
Look out for cheap groceries
Some supermarkets are not as expensive as you think, and may offer competitive prices for selected items. For example, fruits and pre-cooked meals at Marks & Spencer can be more affordable compared to other places.
Meanwhile, supermarkets such as Lidl and Asda offer competitive prices if you want to do some heavy grocery shopping.
Explore student nightclubs and happy hour bars
Explore student clubs or nightclubs that offer student-only nights with reasonable entry rates and full use of your student perks. These include Wicked Student Nights, Le Fez and more. What’s more, these places often sell cheap drinks too, so you can have a good night out without burning a hole in your wallet.
If a relaxing night out at a bar is what you seek, London has many bars with happy hour promotions or free cocktail nights you shouldn’t miss out on. For instance, Supermax in King’s Cross has happy hour promotions with cocktails and a plate of Cicchetti priced for less than 10 pounds, while Bar Elba in Waterloo sells two-for-one cocktails from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Shop at thrift shops and secondhand stores
As London’s fashion scene is a big deal, the city is packed with thrift shops, which lets you save on clothes and live sustainably. Some popular places you could thrift shop at include Shoreditch, Camden and Bricklane.
Enjoy London’s free events and attractions
Whether you’re alone or with a group of friends, there are plenty of activities that you can do in London for free. This includes visiting top attractions such as the British Museum, art galleries, Science Museum, Sky Garden, National History Museum, and National Gallery.
There are also many free events and performances worth checking out. For example, the Royal Opera House showcases free and unticketed 45-minute lunchtime performances on selected days. The Angel Comedy Club offers free standup shows every night at the Bill Murray and Camden Head venues for standup comedy.
Another hotspot for free entertainment includes The Scoop, located nearby London Bridge. It hosts various free cultural events, from theatre and films to music and public talks.