Living on a budget in London
April 13, 2012 12:24 PM   Subscribe

We've just relocated to London (Richmond-area but not Richmond) from abroad, and we're looking for some budget planning advice.

My wife and I have just relocated to London through my employer, and we're trying to plan our new life in the city.

Our biggest challenge, around which we think everything will be determined, is planning our monthly budget.

A few assumptions:
* We're planning to live in the Greater London Area
* I'm going to work in Richmond
* living on a moderate analyst's salary
* two dogs and a cat
* no car, no plans to own one
* we've already accepted that it's going to be a 1-bdr apartment, so guests will have to make do on the couch.
* we've spent the last few years living on a very careful (and tight) budget, and we tend to be very calculated in our expenses.
* we don't want to give up on ALL the fun stuff.

The problem is we don't know how much things are going to cost here - how much should we expect to pay for utilities? Modest internet? But most of all - gorceries? We went into Sainsbury's on Manor Rd in Richmond, and were kind of taken aback by the costs. 80p for a bell pepper is kind of shocking... Is this normal? Will we ever be able to afford fresh veggies living in the UK?

I'd love to hear your advice/input, tips, particularly some concrete numbers, but otherwise anything that will convince us we've not made an egerious mistake...
posted by jonobarel to Work & Money (39 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Hello and welcome to London!

Property: London is a bit of a pricy city, and Richmond is at the pricer end of things. Not sure what your salary is, but I'd recommend working my way along a main transport link, such as the Overground, until you find an area you like and that you can afford - Rightmove is a good website to give you an idea on prices. What are your interests etc and perhaps we can recommend an area you'd like?

For comparison:
I pay £25 for combined line rental and unlimited broadband with BeUnlimited but you could find better deals through a price comparison website. I never make landline phone calls as I use Skype for international calls or my mobile so you may pay a little more there if you make landline calls.
I pay £40-50 for gas and electricity depending on weather.
I pay £15 for water
My council tax is included in my rent but you may pay between £80-120 a month for this depending on the borough you choose to live in.

Food IS expensive and getting worse. I try to visit local markets for cheaper fruit and veg and have cut right back on meat to two or three meals a week. You may find better prices at Asda and Lidl too.

Tip: once you find a place and are looking to sign up to utilities and get contents insurance buy things through Quidco and you'll earn a load of cashback - I got over £300 this way when I moved back to London two years ago.
posted by ozgirlabroad at 12:43 PM on April 13, 2012

If it's fresh veg that you are worried about, look for vegetable bags or boxes from an organic farm. My wife and I get one during the summer when we are in Oxford, and the value is fairly good, since it bypasses the middleman. Of course you need to be willing to cook and eat whatever comes in a particular week, which might mean lots of broad beans one week and a bunch of turnips (swedes) the next.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:45 PM on April 13, 2012

To save money on food (and everything else), get to know the MoneySavingExpert forums, particularly the section on Food Shopping where people give tips on food bargains. They often recommend the Aldi Super 6 for fresh fruit and veg.
posted by hazyjane at 12:49 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @ozgirlabroad
Thanks for the super-detailed answer!
Property - we're positively not planning on living in Richmond, don't worry! We're looking at other areas, like Isleworth, Kingston, even saw something affordable in Teddington on Rightmove.

But the area specialist assigned to assist us in locating a home seemed to balk at the idea that we're budgeting ~£900 for rent. I'm willing to commute 10k by bike to work, though I will have to work my way UP from the 5k I can just barely do. :D

@brianogilvie What about farmers' markets? Aren't they cheaper too?

@all : it sounds like food costs are a serious issue. Coming over, everyone assured me that while the rents are high, the overall cost-of-living is going to be noticably less. I'm starting to think this isn't the case.

Are people who don't make oodles of money able to maintain a 25% saving rate on their disposable income?

Has anyone looked at the London City rents map? Is it reliable
posted by jonobarel at 1:36 PM on April 13, 2012

Response by poster: @hazyjane Aldi-- wha-- I just-- I looked at their website, I don't understand what it is. Is it a supermarket?
posted by jonobarel at 1:41 PM on April 13, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, @ozgirlabroad, here's another one for ya - Quidco?
I looked at it on Wikipedia, but I still don't get it. How - and why - do they give me money? If I understand correctly: I use quidco to find an online retailer, pay the normal price online, and then they give me a share of the affiliate money?
posted by jonobarel at 1:46 PM on April 13, 2012

Aldi is a cheaper supermarket, generic foodbrands but reasonable quality. I'd second the idea of finding a local market (farmers or otherwise) since prices tend to be *a lot* lower than say, tesco (which is a rip off tbh). If you can find a market to buy your meat, even better.

I live in birmingham which is a bit cheaper than London, but to give you an idea of what we budget (2 adults), £725 for rent, £140 for council tax, £30 for water, £100 for electricity, £200 for groceries, £30 for phone/internet, £15 for netflix. We also both manage to save a bit per month as well. No idea why someone would tell you cost of living here is cheaper... It's extortionate!
posted by Scottie_Bob at 1:57 PM on April 13, 2012

My experience has been that Organic Veg boxes are generally more expensive than buying perfectly good (non-organic) veg from the local supermarket, but it might be different in the centre of London.

Aldi is a downmarket supermarket chain, which specialises in the "pile it high, sell it cheap" approach. Some of their stuff can be fantastic value, some, well maybe it's worth what you paid for it.

Yes, bell peppers are that pricey. (They're a £1 a time in my local co-op...)
posted by pharm at 2:02 PM on April 13, 2012

It's an expensive city in an expensive country, I'm afraid.

Farmers' markets aren't cheap. Try the local markets on the high streets for veg. You might have to eat it quickly though...

No idea about rents.

As to generalities...

I've no idea how much a modest analyst's salary might be, but I'm sure people live on less. Maybe not in Richmond perhaps.

For our tiny 2-bed terrace, gas & electric is £70 month, give or take, (don't know where you're coming from, but energy is expensive as hell here). Water/sewage is about £240 a year. Council tax (Haringey, band E) is £180 a month.

On transport, I spend, from zone 3 to central London, cycling 3 days a week, about £20 a week. That's probably at the lower end, but if you're not going regularly into town, you might spend less.

No need for a car, unelss youre planning jaunts to the country.

Good luck.
posted by ComfySofa at 2:07 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

jonobarel: Are you expecting to live in London *and* save 25% of your income on one salary? That's going to be tricky I suspect, unless you're on a serious financial sector salary.

Yes, probably worth signing up to QuidCo. Essentially it's a cashback site: you follow their links to online retailers (and some off-line ones if you're prepared to register your card number with them IIRC) and you'll get a (varying) discount on the quoted prices, paid as cashback quarterly.

Similarly, playing games with Tesco clubcard points or Nectar points (if you avoid Tesco) can cut the prices of stuff a bit.

The cost of living *is* generally comparable to the US in the UK, but only if you include the cost of healthcare. If you're earning the same take-home salary here as you were in the US, then you're probably going to be worse off overall, as generally goods and rents are more expensive in the UK than they are in the US.
posted by pharm at 2:10 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

@jonobarel - that is essentially it. There's other sites that do the same thing, but Quidco is the one that's been around longest. There is a good article here that explains it all. A bit off topic, I don't work for them but when I moved it was nice to get a bit of money back on utility bills.

Teddington is lovely - I worked there a bit last year. If you want to be a bit more in the middle of the action, Putney might be worth a look as well - it's roughly the same distance as Teddington is to Richmond. Chiswick is nice as well. But you sacrifice space and money to be closer to central London, so it's all about finding the balance that works for you.
posted by ozgirlabroad at 2:20 PM on April 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your input, guys. It really helps put things in perspective, and I'm starting to feel a bit more hopeful; especially about the prospect of living further out.

Just a few responses to some of the answers I got here:

I'm not from the US; but where I come from the cost of living is an ever-increasing problem, and it was getting harder and harder to stay on budget without cutting back on semi-decent food. That said, we were able to save 25% of our disposable income, even at times when I was the only one working. When we were both working, we just stuck to the same budget, so we saved a bit more. But it meant we were very limited in our leisure expenses, didn't get cable TV, renegotiated all our internet/mobile service providers. Every. Single. Year.

Our aim, at least at this point in time, is at the very least not to worsen our position. So if we can save the same amount (nominal, not relative), maintain a similar lifestyle as we did before, but at least we're in (or rather, near :) ) London, then that's a net win for us!
posted by jonobarel at 2:58 PM on April 13, 2012

You sound like you are being really sensible about it all. Just make sure you enjoy yourselves too - summer in London is really great, and if for the first few months you are relaxed a bit on your savings goals and get to know your new home without worrying too much about money then that's not a bad thing at all. This is what I did when I moved here and I don't regret it one bit!
posted by ozgirlabroad at 3:06 PM on April 13, 2012

Veg prices do fluctuate depending on season, learning what's good, when, will save you money. We're just coming into our asparagus season. Peppers are almost always imported, so they will be relatively expensive. Veg in general will be cheaper from markets and local/ethnic supermarkets, but the shelf life won't be as great.

When you're comparing different Boroughs, make sure you take into account the Council Tax rate, there can be a big difference, even between neighbouring areas.

I don't know if this is the case for you, but it might be something for other people in a similar position from other countries. If part of your reason for saving a significant portion of your income is to cover medical bills, you don't need that if you are eligible for NHS treatment.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:47 PM on April 13, 2012

Welcome to London! I moved here last year. :)

No one's said it, so I will: Avoid foxtons when searching for a place to live.
posted by Jerub at 3:56 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @jerub Really? Why? (I was going to ask "what's a foxton, and how do I know one when I see one", but DuckDuckGo's-your-uncle)

@helga-woo It's not about medical. Eventually, we do hope to go home - maybe in a year or two, maybe in five or seven, but when we do, we've got to go home with a bit extra. If we'd wanted to be a lot better off than we were, we would have relocated to the US. We thought London would be a much more interesting opportunity. I mean, hell, it's f-ing London!

So, maybe I should ask this differently; here's a totally subjective question with probably a dozen different answers:

What's an upper-middle-class household earn in London? Let's exclude the extravagance of Barclay's, or the rest of the fat-cat financial sector, and of course I'm not a software engineer either (though hopefully I'll manage to find the time to finish my OU degree...)
posted by jonobarel at 4:09 PM on April 13, 2012

What's an upper-middle-class household earn in London?

Upper middle class? You'd be looking at people like solicitors, accountants, systems analysts, and similar professionals, earning anywhere from £50k-£100k+. That said, "class" is a different kettle of fish in the UK. I earn well within that bracket yet am still working class by birth, culture and lifestyle (no pension, no education, meagre outgoings, etc.) And even the wealthiest of middle class people rarely become upper class (the Middletons excluded) so there are certainly "upper middle class" households earning millions(!)

Realistically, though, and with dual earner households being common in that class, anywhere between £50k at the low end up to around £250k for a "typical" such household.
posted by wackybrit at 6:04 PM on April 13, 2012

The defining upper middle class jobs are doctor and lawyer. Salaried GPs employed directly by [the NHS] earn between £53,781 to £81,158. In my experience this is about the average salary range for lawyers - there are Magic Circle partners pulling down a million quid a year and there's Senior Crown Prosecutors with 20+ years experience earning thirty something a year.

Welcome to London. It is an expensive place to live but you will have fun here. Food costs seem to be your main concern so do avoid anything describing itself as a 'farmers' market' as the prices will be sky high and the produce boutique. Rather you want fruit and veg markets, like the one on the Northe End Road in Fulham which is astonishingly cheap.
posted by dmt at 9:02 PM on April 13, 2012

Coming over, everyone assured me that while the rents are high, the overall cost-of-living is going to be noticably less. I'm starting to think this isn't the case.

Noticeably less than what? Regardless, this was bad advice. Food, rent and utilities are expensive and unless you're willing to state your salary, I don't know how helpful this thread is going to be to you in getting a realistic budget expectation. The salary ranges I'm seeing here (30K low end, 42 mid, 55 high) don't seem all that to me, especially so if you are a single income family.

Anyway, for food shopping, skip Sainsbury's, Tesco, Morrison's and Waitrose and go to Lidle and Aldi. If you are smart you will make access to one of those a criteria for housing. "Farmer's market's" are always going to be urbanista traps, but there are plenty of just plain work-a-day markets for fruit and veg.

When I first moved to the UK years ago, I used pricing parity to figure out if I was paying the "right" price for things. So like, to use the Economist's Big Mac Index as an example, if I pay $4.98 in the US for a Big Mac Meal, I would expect to pay £4.98 for a Big Mac Meal in London. This turns out to be about right, since the actual cost is £4.70.

I don't know what your criteria for housing is, but you may find this very helpful. You could for example maybe live in Wilsden, which isn't a bad commute and is in your budget.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:43 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

...and were kind of taken aback by the costs. 80p for a bell pepper is kind of shocking... Is this normal?

Don't worry soooo much. I know it looks dire, but you'd be VERY surprised how much prices can vary from store to store. We have a Co-Op REALLY close, and a Tescos the next block down and its crazy... I shop at both to get the better price.

For example: Cheap coffee at tescos is 47p, the co-op its £1.65... Mayo at tescos is 89p...the co-op its £2... but for laundry soap the co-op is cheaper...

Be careful of going branded because you're not aware of how much cheaper the non-brand is...I also go to poundland for stuff like deodorant, stain remover, bubble bath, drain cleaner. Parecetamol is 69p just about everywhere but Nurofen is £3. We also drink store brand sodas because of how much cheaper it is... Value diet soda is 17p compared to £2 for brand. I don't like it AS much, but I could never justify £2 for actual diet coke.

Use vouchers for eating out, keep an eye out for happy hour offers...

At the end of the day, when I go home to America- groceries are MUCH more expensive. Its not scientific- but I can buy 3 bags of groceries I like at home and it can cost 40 dollars... the equivilent for me here is about £25.
posted by misspony at 2:52 AM on April 14, 2012

London is not cheap to the point it's a major issue in the upcoming mayoral elections. Specifically train fares but also utilities etc. I actively avoided living in London for as long as I could until I got to the point it was the only place I could find a job. The UK overall is very expensive and my one piece of advice to make this easier is, if you have a choice, don't live in London. Further to that, don't live in West London. And unless you really like planes, avoid Richmond.

I guess we pull in a nice middle class income between the two of us, we live in a cheaper part of town, in a 1brm and we still don't have much left over. Part of this was because we didn't want to compromise on quality for our rental, we are home bodies and I am asthmatic so this is important. It really is difficult here and anyone who says otherwise is misleading you.

OTOH it's London, occasionally you will be able to afford to do some of the fun things the city has to offer and there are cheap pleasures available as well.

Summary: I'd rather be in NY or Paris, the UK drives me bonkers for a number of reasons and I'm not even American. But, it's life experience and it doesn't entirely suck.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 4:52 AM on April 14, 2012

A few things no-one's mentioned yet. Richmond, while also expensive, is also very noisy due to aircraft noise from Heathrow, so avoid if you're anything other than an extraordinarily heavy sleeper. (There's a nominal night ban, but Heathrow has the option of sneaking in a few dozen flights from 0430 if they're behind schedule. Which, practically speaking, is every day.) It's also rather a long way from anywhere. Look for something with good transport links to either Clapham Junction or Waterloo: while Richmond's on the District Line, it's a long, tedious trip and the overland train might be a better option. It's also above ground, meaning you can mindlessly surf Twitter check your work emails on the way in in the mornings.

You're probably low-balling it at £900 pcm for rent. Sure, it's possible to find somewhere for that much, but you'd have to wade your way through an awful lot of guff. On the other hand, we had a fantastic, 2 brm, top-floor, new-build apartment with a roof garden and all-day sun for £850 pcm last year. But it was in Milton Keynes (a 2-hour-each-way, £4000 pa commute from London). So there's that. A few other thoughts:
two dogs and a cat
Can you get anyone to look after these for you while you're in the UK (especially if you're only planning on staying a year or two)? Two dogs is going to make finding a lease on a 1-bedroom place that much harder.
though hopefully I'll manage to find the time to finish my OU degree...
... seriously, have you considered Milton Keynes ...?
even saw something affordable in Teddington on Rightmove.
Bear in mind that it's common practice in the UK to leave properties that were let long ago up on property websites for months. See it as a shop-front: most of what you're looking at won't be available. It's a set of edited highlights from the last few months' letting to make the agent's stock look awesome. You'll only know what's actually available when you contact a few letting agents and start looking at flats. (Note the plural on agents, there.)
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:45 AM on April 14, 2012

Response by poster: @wackybrit
Realistically, though, and with dual earner households being common in that class, anywhere between £50k at the low end up to around £250k for a "typical" such household.
Well, I just want to know that once we've got two salaries we're going to be okay. It'd be a stretch to live for long on just mine, but I think we can do it for a little while. Two salaries will really make a difference.

@Sonny Jim
Richmond, while also expensive, is also very noisy due to aircraft noise from Heathrow, so avoid if you're anything other than an extraordinarily heavy sleeper.
So far, so good. Been here since Wednesday and haven't had a problem. It might be the
excellent insulation, but as I said we don't plan to live in Richmond anyway.
Can you get anyone to look after these for you while you're in the UK?
No chance. None whatsoever.

(on that note, I can't wait to find out how much THOSE cost us!)

I know it's expensive; I can't tell though if you guys are saying "it's so expensive, you're better off getting the heck outta Dodge".

So here's a thought on the commute issue:
We're willing to compromise on the size of the flat, go for a 1bdrm, and even increase our budget to £1000.
The cost of a commute would likely outweigh a reduction in rent. We'd probably end up getting something bigger for the same price, but then adding on the commute costs and the travel time. Does that make sense? Anyone here chosen proximity and compactness (I love how it's called "modern" in the listings...) over space and the commute? If so, how do you feel about it?
posted by jonobarel at 8:42 AM on April 14, 2012

Response by poster: @BAKERSFIELD!
OTOH it's London, occasionally you will be able to afford to do some of the fun things the city has to offer and there are cheap pleasures available as well.
posted by jonobarel at 8:43 AM on April 14, 2012

One other thing to consider when committing to a flat with a lengthy commute: costs aren't fixed. National Rail season tickets, for instance, have been increasing by double-digit percentage points each year lately, and there's no indication the price hikes are going to stop. Commuting is expensive, even within London: upwards of £160 pcm if you're travelling regularly across London to Richmond (which is in zone 4).

I don't think anyone's saying "get out of Dodge" so much as pointing out that it's going to be more expensive than you'd think. We live very frugally, have no kids, pets, or car, have two (well-above-median) incomes, and we're in a less-fancied part of SE London, and we still have trouble saving much pay-packet to pay-packet, let alone 25% ...

On the one income or two front: we had trouble on one income even in Milton Keynes when neither of us had to commute into London. On the other hand, friends of ours lasted on one income in London for months, but they did this by sharing a scungy flat with 8 other people in a stabbier part of Stratford. So it is possible! Have you thought about somewhere in Clapham, maybe?
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:17 AM on April 14, 2012

Response by poster: Clapham? It looks like it's just outside my commute target distance, but Yikes! That's worse than the Richmond area!

It is nearer London, though, so if (when! when!) my wife gets a job the odds are it'll be nearer to where she works.

@Sonny Jim - on what side of the commute debate are you?
posted by jonobarel at 9:36 AM on April 14, 2012

When considering your commute, you have to ask yourself, OK, how am I going to get to work? And that means looking at a Tube/bus/train map and working out your likely routes and connections. The reason I said Clapham is because getting from Clapham Junction to Richmond is trivially easy: it's an 8-15 minute train trip, peak-time, and trains leave regularly. So it's not about travel distance so much as travel time and frequency, and the availability of second and third options. (What if the District Line's suspended? Is there another route I can take?).

As far as commuting goes, I'm incredibly lucky: I largely work remotely and only have to be on-campus every two weeks or so for meetings and so on. But that (5-stage, 2-hour-each-way commute) kills me. I can't imagine doing it 10 times a week. Pick London: living here's an experience and a thrill, even if the cost doesn't bear thinking about ...

Also: will your employer allow you to work glide-time? Being able to travel off-peak will reduce costs significantly and save you the horror! the horror! of, e.g., the Tube between 8 and 9 AM.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:56 AM on April 14, 2012

[Native Londoner, now elsewhere.]

Where are you now? If it's not Ireland and you didn't already sort out pet passports six months ago, the cat and dogs aren't coming. Even if they are, you can't rent via any rental agency I've ever seen or heard of because they won't deal with people with animals because they don't have to. You'll have to go find someone to rent from on a one-to-one basis somehow.

A Travelcard for zones 1-4 costs £160 per person per month. Allow approximately £850-900 per month for a 1-bed apartment (which is only barely less money than a 2-bed). Council tax will be about £100. Broadband opens at £30. Utilities up to another £100 depending on the condition of the place you're renting.

Groceries can be acquired in many different supermarkets, and the smaller ones cost more money. Fresh fruit and veg are also available from street markets, usually for rather less.

Richmond is on the London Overground line that reaches up and round to Stratford via Harlesden (cheap), Kilburn (fairly cheap), West Hampstead and Camden (forget it) and Hackney (probably too far). If you live in London you will immediately join the other several million people who have no idea or interest in how many miles away something is. The only thing that matters is how many minutes away something is. The average Londoner is actually in transit for about 40-45 minutes each way, plus however long it takes to get onto a moving vehicle and from the destination station to your home/place of work.

No weeknight evening you can have is likely to start before 1900-2000. Pubs start closing at 2300. The further away from the city centre you are the earlier your 'tube curfew' is.

Your structural costs for living in a 1-bed place in London, ignoring places that are above the central price line, then, will be at least £1300 per month. Call it a round £1500 for safety. After that you can eat. Calculate accordingly.
posted by genghis at 2:21 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

BAKERSFIELD! : ... occasionally you will be able to afford to do some of the fun things that the city has to offer....

jonobarel: Occasionally?

Occasionally, if your £900-a-month rent hope is indicative of your salary and you prioritise saving as highly as you suggest.

If you head for free activities, you can of course do lots of them. The permanent collections at the major museums are all free; you can walk in the parks or explore the different areas of the city; you can soak up the atmosphere of the markets without actually buying anything; there are often really interesting free-entry art exhibitions on at the small galleries dotted about the place; and so on.

However, non-free activities are typically rather expensive, especially if you don't book ahead. For instance:

- £10 for the London Wetland Centre, or for the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Tate Modern;
- £12 and up to see a play from a seat at the Globe Theatre (though standing tickets are cheap);
- £14 for Kew Gardens or the recent Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy;
- practically £20 to get into the London Aquarium...
- and so on.

Add in the cost of getting there and back, if you don't have a season ticket for your commute or it doesn't cover the journey, and you're looking at a good £30-£50 for the two of you before you've even had lunch.

If that fits within your budget, then that's great; once you're on two professional salaries, I'm sure it will. It doesn't fit within mine, not as a weekly thing; I rely very heavily on those free entertainments that I mentioned at the start. To be fair, though, those free entertainments are genuinely world-class! It's going to be a long time before I stop feeling spoilt for choice.

Incidentally, speaking of transport costs, get Oyster cards ASAP: single and return (2x single) tickets on the Tube are significantly cheaper with an Oyster.

To give you some more figures to work with: I'm on a bit less than £50k (software engineers don't make as much as you perhaps think they do), with no partner, dependants, pets or car. I moved here from continental Europe to start my London job in November last year. I solved the housing quandary by living in the countryside, giving me an hour-long door-to-door commute and monthly rent + train costs of £1200. Fixed monthly outgoings (gas, electricity, water, council tax, contents insurance, television licence, landline + broadband, mobile phone) push that up to around £1500, which is more than half my take-home pay; and, as you've noticed, food is expensive. I live a little less frugally than it sounds as if you do - though, set against that, I'm only paying to feed one person - and a realistic savings goal for me is 20% of my take-home pay. However, I've had so many unavoidable one-off costs since moving here that I shan't actually start achieving that until I've been living here for six months.

One other thing: I'm afraid I agree with the people who are warning you that your pets will be a problem. The house I'm renting mentioned explicitly in the listing that pets were allowed, though, so it's not out of the question. Here's a relevant article from one of the property listing websites,
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:37 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @genghis:

The laws for bringing pets in were revised as of Jan 2012. They have a three month waiting period after blood tests (which means they will be allowed to enter in May), and they're going through a proper process of getting pet passports. Don't worry, we didn't fly blindly into that part of the process. But thanks for the heads up.

As for finding a place that will accommodate them - we're not springing any surprised on anyone. We didn't pick them out of a catalog and put them in storage - they've been with us for 5 years, everywhere we've lived. It'd be pretty foolish to wait until we see the contract to find out if the landlord will accommodate pets, don't you think? It's the first thing we explain to an agent.

That sounds like plenty of fun stuff to do - I know the museums are free, so we'll be doing that for a while. The Globe is one of my favorites, and I think buying seated tickets once in a while is fine. We can't be shut ins, after all. So we won't be going out to dinner every week! That's not a big deal. We didn't do that back home, either.

I'll ask again about the commute issue, though. I've seen a few responses here that insist that I should be prepared for a costly commute. If it's so costly, how can you justify spending an extra 150/mo on commuting, plus the 1-2 hours each way it takes you, instead of spending the same total cost on rent someplace nearer to where you work? At least in my case, where the office is in Richmond (not central London), it makes more sense (in my mind) to pay 1000 pounds for something in Isleworth I can bike from, rather than paying 850+160+2hr/day somewhere else.

Really, when I think about it - better 2 hours back and forth into London when we want to go out on weekends, than 2 hours a day getting to work.
posted by jonobarel at 9:28 AM on April 15, 2012

Well, in my case, it's a no-brainer. I could spend that £1200 a month on something within walking distance of work - but my work is in central London, so it would be a tiny studio flat, and I'd have to spend an extra £ouch to keep all my furniture in storage. The cost of the commute doesn't even come close to outweighing the London weighting on property prices, and I'm OK with having 40 minutes to read on the train morning and evening.

It's a trade-off, no argument. I'm happy with my decision! But most of my colleagues choose to live in London (and cycle or take the Tube to work) and are just as happy with theirs. And you're not me; you're willing and able to live somewhere small, and you're a confident enough cyclist to be comfortable with the idea of cycling in (Greater) London.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:29 AM on April 15, 2012

Response by poster: @ManyLeggedCreature
and you're a confident enough cyclist to be comfortable with the idea of cycling in (Greater) London.
LOL. uh... yes, sure. Of course I am *gulp*
posted by jonobarel at 11:12 AM on April 15, 2012

The areas you are looking at strike me as fairly expensive ones - Richmond is very expensive, Kingston is where a lot of families live for the schools and commute in. I live in Ealing, which isn't as expensive, and I think it would be very difficult to find a flat with that budget. My friend lives in Manor House - a dodgy part of town - in a studio and £900 probably covers her rent and bills. Having a bike is a plus - it means you can look at areas that have no Tubem which are generally cheaper - but be prepared to look into the more down-at-heel areas like Greenford or Acton. A colleague of mine who is more senior to me (and so earns more) lives in Putney and says he'd love to be able to afford Chiswick, so I imagine that isn't cheap either. Also, renters here, in general, can't have pets, can't paint their walls or hang pictures/shelves or make any structural changes as they can in some countries. You are going to struggle with accomodating your pets, I'm afraid. It sucks, because I really want a cat when I move into my own place and it's probably not going to happen until I actually own the place in which I'm living (presumably via finding a bag of Nazi gold under a hedge to cover the deposit).

My living situation is different to yours as I'm living in a shared house (where I pay about half your budget) and probably earn less, but things I find particularly expensive here compared to where I used to live up north are takeaways and cinema tickets. I don't really go to the theatre or to any of the attractions listed above often - most people that live here don't on a regular basis - and public transport is expensive, but I manage to save and/or pay off debts without it being a huge problem - though I do worry about this changing when I'm renting my own place as sharing is a lot cheaper! (And there are some shared places that will let rooms to couples, so this might be an option for you initially if you are on a single income?)

The average income in London is something like £26k, so if you think about it there are people who live and work and eat here for possibly even a third of your wage. To give you an idea, a friend and I are going out next week to see a film and eat in a chain pizza restaurant. A cinema ticket costs about £10, and a meal in said restaurant about £15 each, but we will be using 2 for 1 deals on each so we'll probably pay about £25 between us. I don't smoke and rarely drink, which helps, but I couldn't afford to do this sort of thing several nights a week. But it can be done, and the website is your friend. A lot of museums are free here - I'm always surprised when I go abroad and have to pay to get into galleries...

Small, 'local' supermarkets are more expensive than large ones (if you live in the suburbs you should have one close to you) and Waitrose and Marks and Spencers are more expensive, Asda, Aldi and Lidl less so. You'll also find ways to cut costs - I almost never buy single peppers, but I buy a bag of 'value' ones which are a bit mis-shapen but cheaper. I don't eat meat very often and I make my own lunch at work rather than buying it.
posted by mippy at 2:45 PM on April 15, 2012

I've spent the last 2 years learning to cut my living costs in London.

- I prefer spending a little more on rent and living conveniently to where you work. It's not hard to save an hour a day this way which is worth a lot to me. Depending on where you're working in Richmond, the Overground is a great way to live somewhere cheaper and get there via one of the more pleasant commutes.
- Phone+internet+council tax+water+gas+electricity cost around £200pm.
- And yes, avoid Foxtons the estate agent!

- The UK shopping culture is historically based around the High Street. This means that people walk locally down a local shopping street and buy what they need. Usually this is a bad idea. Rents are high for shops and the high street tends to be overpriced and of poor quality. I buy pretty much everything non-perishable online.
- People have mentioned Quidco which is good, but is the same and they don't charge £5/year. When I'm going to buy something, I check them both and the rate is usually the same. Occasionally Quidco has a special where they give you £5 more, in which case it's worth letting them pay your annual fee.
- Groceries can be expensive but they don't have to be. Lidl and Aldi help a lot, but the main supermarkets are very competitive and I tend to buy most things when they're on promotion. If you want peppers, check which supermarket is discounting them and buy there. Yes it's a little more painful, but saves loads. A bunch also offer home delivery which is usually free if you use a voucher. There are websites that track the vouchers and there's usually a few every month that make it worthwhile.
- Supermarkets have their own label products that tend to be very good value. They often have 3 types - premium, mid-market and "value". The value ranges (except for Waitrose) tend to be excellent value and someone who works in the industry explained that they're often better quality than premium branded goods. Lidl and Aldi have their own brands but it's not obvious that they made it as it just looks like another brand. The packaging will have some small print that says "Made for Lidl by..." or something. I've found that these are not as good or as cheap as the larger supermarket own label value ranges, but their fresh produce is excellent.

- Get an Oyster card. Set it up for automatic top-up if you're not buying a monthly ticket.
- Transport around London is expensive. A cheap bicycle can help a lot but the biggest saving you can make is by living closer to work. I've seen people live far from work to save rent and end up paying more in transport, plus the wasted time.
- Get an Oyster card. Seriously. This is the first thing you should do. I saw on the bus yesterday that a non-Oyster journey costs double. For 1 ride.
- Lots of destinations are better to walk, particularly in the centre. In many cases it'll be quicker to walk than take the tube if you're travelling 1 or 2 stops. Check your map before going underground
- You've got your Oyster cards, right?

- London can be a big, lonely city. To meet people, try join shared interest groups. Socialising often happens in the pub. You don't need to drink alcohol but you do need to join your work colleagues in the pub after work.
- Read "Watching the English" by Kate Fox. It describes many of the unwritten social rules that are part of the culture.
- It's not obvious how much making a call to a particular number will cost. Numbers starting with 01/02/03 are landline prices. 07 tends to be mobile but can be more. 084 and 087 are premium numbers that companies try to make money off you calling. And from a cellphone they're even more expensive. I always use to get an 01/02/03 number. 0800 is toll-free, except from a cellphone where it's really expensive.
- You'll need mobile (cell) phones. This is another market that is highly competitive but where most people get default options that are overly expensive. I recommend buying phones outright and getting SIM-only contracts. It tends to work out much cheaper. A smartphone is very useful in a new city for the maps and now particularly that TFL have opened the bus statuses. You should easily get 600 minutes (outbound only, inbound is free), a chunk of internet and unlimited texts for £15/month and can drop that to £10 or less with good timing. I've had good experiences with Vodafone and Orange, less so with O2. Don't get attached to your cellphone provider! It's easy to port numbers and well worth switching for deals.

- is your first place to visit before buying anything. They have well-written guides for many topics. They forums can be helpful for finding deals, but I find them quite chaotic.
- is good for finding deals and coupons/vouchers. They have other sites like for cellphones.
- to avoid paying premium prices on your calls. This can save a huge amount
- for a good guide to some of the interesting things happening in London

Welcome and good luck! Don't be afraid to reach out to people who share common interests. One of my favourite things about living here is the diversity of people.
posted by quiet at 4:57 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow,

quiet, mippy - thanks a lot! there's a ton of info there to chew on :D

Yes, we have our Oystercards! Someone told us you had to register, but we just walked into a station and got the unregistered kind. Are we missing out on a discount? Neither of us is a student, so I doubt it.

We have phones we brought with us, so we just need to get SIM cards. I ordered a pair from Orange, but I think they never made it to the office... Anyway, we're open to prepaid, seems sensible enough.

The relocation service provided us with a company that's supposed to take us out on a day of looking at flats, and the rep has simply not found ANY agency that's willing to take pets... :(
We are getting desperate at this point. We can't leave them behind, and if we can't find a place, we don't know what we're going to do
posted by jonobarel at 1:06 PM on April 17, 2012

I can't really offer help on the pets front, but you might consider doing some searches on Gumtree and Craigslist for flats offered directly by the landlord, not through an agency. (These are much rarer, but they are out there.) If you can communicate directly with the potential landlord, you might have a chance of making your case for the pets. (I'll add that Craigslist is kind of a quagmire of sketchy listings, but we actually found a great flat using Craigslist.) You might also try posting a "flat wanted" add, describing your needs.

Property hunting in london is really hard. Really hard. Even without pets. Until you find something, it will be a full-time job. We found that we had to go to multiple agencies in the neighbourhoods we were interested in, and nobody's listings are comprehensive. And to make matters more difficult, many of the listings on Gumtree and estate agent websites are gone by the time you contact the agency. They turn over so quickly, the agencies struggle to keep the listings up to date.

We were surprised how many London flats (especially smaller, 1BR flats) came partially or fully furnished. I think this might have a lot to do with why pets are often not welcome. So you might try specifically looking for non-furnished flats.
posted by amusebuche at 10:50 PM on April 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your advice - we've got some really great ideas that will help.

Somehow, we managed to find a nice little annex in Hounslow, where the landlord will accept us with all the animals!

It's a bit small, but within the budget. Hopefully, in six months we'll both be working, and we'll be able to afford more money so maybe people will be a bit more open to us :)
posted by jonobarel at 2:09 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

That's great news. I'm glad to hear it worked out. Thanks for updating us here.
posted by amusebuche at 11:46 PM on April 20, 2012

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