10 Ways to Spend Less in London
10 Ways to Live Like a Londoner
London ain’t cheap. There’s no secret about that. While it’s definitely not at the top of the pricey-list, it’s definitely above the middle-ish.
There’s good reason for this: after a base-line price, you can spend anything you like in London. That’s fine if you’re one of the lucky few with cash coming out of your ears, however for the most part, a trip to London means spending wisely.
So how do Londoners do it? The fact that Greater London has nearly 10 million inhabitants, all of whom (it’s presumed) are managing to eat and survive – some even in luxury – shows that it’s possible to get by in the smoke.
Whether you’re staying for a few months, studying for years or just popping over for a day, these tips will help you keep costs down so you can spend your newly liberated cash on some really exciting things.
1. Get your maps out!
Know your way around London. This is useful for so many reasons, but the first is that you can walk. For instance, did you know how close Holborn and Chancery Lane stations are? It’s a crime not to walk. Same goes for Covent Garden and Leicester Square, and loads more. In fact, 44 tube stations are within 500 metres of one or two others. With technology being what it is, using your maps function means that you can get where you need to be on foot and learn an encyclopaedia about London as you walk! Our London guide will show you just how much you can do in London.
2. Buy an Oyster card
For those journeys that are too far to walk, or if it’s raining (or cold, or snowing), you’ll need to jump on public transport. Rather than fork out premium fares by buying singles on the buses and tubes (which, latterly, within zone 1, is a whopping £4.50 for a single), as soon as you arrive in town, get to a tube our train station office and shell out £5.00 for the little blue card. This £5.00 is actually refundable if you return your card at the end of your stay, but you could hold onto it for your next trip to London!
Then top up the card. After you’ve spent £8.00 in one day, the card automatically tops out and you can make unlimited further journeys that day without reducing your pre-paid balance. They’re valid on buses, tubes, over-ground and mainline rail services. If you’re going to be in London for a while, it’s a good idea to register your Oyster card online. Consult our London transport guide of how you get to where, when and how.
3. Meal deals
There are hundreds of late-night convenience mini-markets all over London. Like ants at a picnic, these helpful little shops have spread throughout the town, and, rather than being imposing hyper-markets, they’re small but contain everything you’ll need. The advantage is, you don’t necessarily need cooking equipment to eat quite well. The opening hours tend to be from 08:00 until 23:00 (although some are later) and many do “meal-deals”, meaning that you can get a sandwich, snack and drink at a discounted price.
If your accommodation has a fridge, then all the more reason to stock up on food you can prepare yourself and save those valuable pennies for a blow-out meal somewhere great.
4. Have a local
This is more of a British tradition than a specifically London tradition, however it’s important nonetheless. If you’re staying in London for a while, then this isn’t only a good way of passing the time, but a way to develop friends and share stories.
For those who aren’t familiar with British parlance, a local is a pub close to where you live that you’re loyal to. It’s a great way to meet people, discover about your local area, get invited to things and generally enjoy yourself! And this isn’t limited to just sitting around, drinking. Once you’ve got in with your local landlord and the regulars, invariably there are related events, recommendations you’d never hear about otherwise for eating, going out, seeing a film or any number of things. Knowledge is power, as the adage goes, and there’s a lot of knowledge in the pubs of London.
5. Our “Things To Do” Pages
For every month, we have an extensive list of what’s going on in the capital for free or for very little cost. If you’re keen on keeping down expenditure whilst wringing the most out of the capital, then you couldn’t be better placed than in London. It’s full of free and cheap events, and our pages will provide you with all the information you need to find an activity that’s right up your street without breaking the bank.
6. Be Curious
This may seem an odd sub-heading, but it’s essential. More of London is open to the public than people think (take the Inns of Court off Fleet Street during weekdays), and the best way to discover London’s more hidden charms is to definitively set aside a day to just wander. If you’re not staying in the centre, then we’d recommend getting yourself somewhere central to begin, but after that, London is your oyster.
Particularly good areas to take a peak through hidden doorways or duck down a cobbled side street are Holborn and Fleet Street, Clerkenwell, London Bridge and Highgate. Follow your nose; you never know what you might find. And if you don’t stumble upon anything that takes your fancy, at least you’ll have learned a lot and got some great exercise.
7. Get Out of the Centre
If you’re staying centrally and want to have a blast but can’t afford some of the pricier leisure activities that the centre has to offer, jump on a train out to a suburb. Typically, you won’t be on the train for more than 20 minutes, and prices plummet while a sense of community rockets. Great little gems are to be found in the South East, like Dulwich, Crystal Palace, Croydon, Brockley and Forest Hill, with Tooting and Streatham in the South West. You might want to visit the ancient woodlands of Epping Forest if you venture East bound, Harrow if you are visiting North London or Twickenham or Richmond on the river if you fancy a wander around greater West London.
8. Make the Most of the Freebies
90% of London museums are free. That’s a great start! Going to them all would take a long time anyway, so you’ve plenty of food for thought. Moreover, large arts institutions will often hold free events and concerts. Sometimes it can be tricky discovering the best free events online, and to really wring the most out of the capital, you need to be a bit of an insider. There’s normally something enjoyable in the National Theatre Foyer or at the Southbank Centre; lots of bars offer free music on many week nights, including jam nights. Check out our guide of FREE things to do in London.
9. Timing is Everything
London’s a busy place. Everyone has somewhere to be, and they tend to want to get there fast. All Londoners know the discomfort of repeated tube journeys packed to the gills with commuters, and it is miserable indeed. It’s obvious that the tubes, buses and trains are going to be busy between 7.00 and 9:30 in the morning, and between 4:30 and 6:30 in the evenings. It’s as simple as knowing the journey you want to make well and timing it right. For instance, say you need to get from Victoria to Paddington. The Circle Line takes you right the way there without needing to change – hurrah! – but the Circle Line is also slow, and while it’s not generally a commuter-heavy line, it’s the tourist line of choice, so is reasonably busy most of the day. Instead, take the Victoria line to Oxford Circus and change to the Bakerloo line for the rest. The changeover is a matter of metres on the next platform, and the Bakerloo line is seldom too busy to move, and there are far fewer stops to boot! Things that can be done directly can often be done quicker by changing somewhere. It’s also a good idea to check your route on foot and see if that will save you time. Sometimes, getting the bus from Farringdon to Waterloo (even outside of rush hour) will take you longer than it will to walk the meagre two miles!
10. Location, location, location!
The discrepancy between things that don’t cost much and the same product for whoppingly inflated prices somewhere 5 minutes down the road is abundantly clear in London. As a rule of thumb, it works like this: don’t buy things in or near train stations if you want to save money. If you’ve got no choice, use one of the chain shops rather than cafés or similar. Again, planning your journey well means you might have a chance to try out that quirky café on the corner of your road rather than a rushed, over-priced, dis-satisfactory and instantly regrettable purchase inside a train station.
Moreover, pubs and restaurants follow the same rules. The closer it is to a train station or tourist landmark, the more expensive and lacking in character it will be. The really fantastic finds in London are just that – you have to work to discover them, but the rewards far outweigh the work. Similarly, you’ll save money. Tips near London Bridge: The Globe Tavern (not to be confused with the theatre), Giuseppe’s and The Roebuck, by way of example. Check out our Cheap Eats article for tips from the top.
Alternatively, take a peek at even more ways to save money in London, free things to do and cheap nights out. Perfect for all!