How to live on 18000 a year
May 18, 2006 1:37 AM   Subscribe

Living inexpensively in London

My sister just got a job in London at the Foreign Commerce Office in the Spanish Embassy. This is a pretty exciting/emotional/daunting move because she's leaving Madrid (her home for the last 10 years) for at least 12 months, perhaps more, perhaps forever. The last few years for her have been pretty tough since she go divorced from a complete asshole who continues to make her life hell at any opportunity. Unfortunately, she's also going to have to leave her 10 year old son with her ex during that time, at least until she figures London out (a whole other emotional can of worms).

She won't be making a lot of money (18000 pounds gross) and she needs advice on how to live inexpensively while still being able to live in one of the greatest cities on the planet.

Let me be clear: any advice on any aspect of living inexpensively in London.

It would also be great if anyone knows where to find cheap airfares between London and Madrid. Thanks!
posted by sic to Travel & Transportation around London, England (18 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Hi Sic. Great for your sister!

As for travel - it is cheap to fly around Europe, so perhaps she should check,,, etc.

And for living - there are 2 factors to consider: 1, being in the cheapest travel zone to get to one's job and 2, living in a cheap but safe place.

As for part 1, the Spanish Embassy is located here 66 Chiltern St. W1U 4LS. That is Zone 1. She could easily live in Zone 1 or she could live further out. The higher Zone she lives in, the more expensive it will be to travel. But housing is going to be cheaper.

As for part 2, living in a cheap but safe place. I'd recommend looking at flat/house shares on craigslist. There are lots of other professionals looking for housing. is another popular craigslist-esque site that people look for roommates on. Also try for cheaper housing ads.

Hope this helps. I'll think about it some more.
posted by k8t at 1:53 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: Living in London inexpensively is not as difficult as it might seem at first - the key is finding somewhere affordable to live, and building a rewarding inexpensive lifestyle around it.

EasyJet do the London-Madrid route. If you can fly midweek and at inconvenient times you can get good deals.

A good place to look for a flatshare is Gumtree, but I imagine the best place to start would be to put the word around at the Spanish Embassy (don't they help with relocation costs?). Word of mouth is best, and thinking about it I can think of a couple of friends who might have rooms available - depends when she's arriving. email me if you like.

Travel is notoriously expensive here - if your sister is happy riding a bicycle she will save a lot of money. Otherwise an Oystercard will save a bit of money. Buses are much cheaper than the tube.
posted by gravelshoes at 2:08 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: Will the job pay for an Oyster card? (Travel card) if not pay for it, do they offer a loan to buy one?

I think she should look at forolondres for tips especially alojamiento section.
Another useful website here
Sorry I can't be of more help!
posted by Wilder at 2:20 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: I agree that she needs to get as much help from people at the embassy as possible, and ideally from those on the same pay scale.

A lot of people get caught up with living on a tube line but overland trains can be fast, effective and sometimes a little cheaper, if a little less reliable. Buses are even cheaper but often very time consuming in a manner than might cancel out the benefits. But gravelshoes is right about the bikes – though this isn’t easy.

The quality of our open air markets are crap compared to most of the continent but they are one route to much cheaper food than the supermarkets. This might not be a big enough issue to determine where one lives but its something to look out for as an added benefit. And then Tesco’s is cheaper than Sainsbury’s – these are the two supermarkets that often have a basic monopoly on London areas, particularly if you are without a car.
posted by anglophiliated at 2:22 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: I would second the commuting comments. The travel is what's going to cost you the most.

The further away from central you live, the cheaper the flats are (or at least you get more for your money) but the money you save you lose quite a bit of it on travel. Here's the price plan for 2006 (pdf). The Transport for London website is a good place for all your travel needs (including the London Journey Planner which is great for mapping out how to get to places.)

And yeah, sharing a house/flat with people is a great idea to save money. I'd also second the idea of trying to find a big Tesco or Sainsbury's somewhere for your shopping needs. There are loads of smaller corner shops, but buying groceries from these places is going to be very expensive in the long run.

£18k is an ok amount of money to live on in London. I'm currently on £15k and doing ok (and I'm terrible with money).

I recommend using Find A Property for finding flats. The problem with London is that the properties go extremely quickly, so there's very little point in trying to find a flat months in advance.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:09 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: Another word to the wise -- a lot of websites try to get you to use an agent to find a place for you. Sure, they are helpful but the fee is horrible!

Rather, try to get through loot, craigslist or gumtree.
posted by k8t at 3:49 AM on May 18, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments so far! Any other day to day tips that could be helpful?

I was thinking that she should consider getting a second job to be able to pay her bills and even (gasp) try to save some money, she has a child after all. I'm not sure if her Embassy job will give her enough free time to do so, but assuming that she can, what kind of jobs would be the best bet for her? (Night/weekends). Where should she look for jobs? She's a native (American) English speaker who is fluent in Spanish, she's attractive, outgoing and in her 40s.

Gravelshoes, thanks for the offer, she's aiming to make the move July 1, if she can work things out with her ex-husband, her son and sell most of her belongings. I may email you nearer to that date to see if something is available among your friends. Thanks again!
posted by sic at 4:36 AM on May 18, 2006

A night/weekend job?

Will her visa allow that, is an important question.

But... there are a ton of jobs for native speakers.

I teach at the Kaplan Test Prep Centre here in London. If she has good SAT/ACT/GMAT/GRE scores, she may be able to teach too. The money is certainly good.

She could try for a Teaching English as a Second Lanugage certificate and teach?
posted by k8t at 4:42 AM on May 18, 2006

Will her visa allow that, is an important question.

Assuming that she's a Spanish citizen, she doesn't need a visa.
posted by veedubya at 4:47 AM on May 18, 2006

Response by poster: Yes, to be clear, she is a Spanish (and therefore EU) citizen.
posted by sic at 4:48 AM on May 18, 2006

Okay - native English speaker, fluent in Spanish got me confused.
posted by k8t at 4:51 AM on May 18, 2006

Pubs are constantly looking for weekend/evening staff. Shouldn't be too hard to find. Same goes for a lot of retail shops in London.

Might want to look into the taxation though as it might not be worth it in the long run.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:22 AM on May 18, 2006 - good for flats. There's no consistency to rents - cheap and expensive places in all areas. Good if you can take time to look around.
posted by lunkfish at 7:00 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: I've lived in several London flats over the last few years, and gone through estate agents for most of them. I would advise AGAINST using estate agents. They really are crappy value for money - some of the fees are extortionate and often sprung on you at the last moment. Laughably they often say that this is a "finders fee", even though you will have found the flat you are interested in in the small ads or just by wandering around the area you are interested in.
Actually, it's pretty easy to find accommodation - try Loot; also it might be worth asking the employer to send an email round their staff/ put an advert up on a staff noticeboard to see if anyone is looking for a house share.

As for lifestyle - there are plenty of free/cheap things to do in London. Walks, museums/galleries etc., cheap deals on tickets to shows, plenty of live music etc. etc.
posted by jonesor at 7:18 AM on May 18, 2006

Definitely check out the busses -- my friend lives up by Hampstead, started a new job in town and has a bus that basically takes her door-to-door and I'm pretty positive it's cheaper than the alternate Zone 2 -> Zone 1 tube ride every day.
posted by VulcanMike at 7:21 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: I've had two flats in London, Camden Town (NW1) and Whitechapel (E1).

E1 is a very poor area, so you can live rather cheaply. It ain't pretty but I work a lot as well as attend Uni so the in-you-face urban scenery doesn't bother me too much. Whitechapel is in Zone two so we're talking a very central location; I can walk to work in the Financial District (Liverpool Street) in about twenty minutes.

Keep in mind in London tenants pay the property (aka council) taxes, so that's a hidden expense if you look at just rents. One of the reasons I settled down in E1 as opposed to any other part of London was Council Tax runs me only about 59 pounds a month. When I purchased my flat down here in 2001 I only paid 115K for two bedrooms, split level and a garden (after some negotiation); the same property in Camden town would have cost about 350K. Since lots of folks are active in the "buy to let" market, prices will have some bearing on rents. This is still a remarkably cheap part of London considering it's central location.

If you're flexible in terms of what produce you're willing to purchase & consume, the street markets in Whitechapel are a frugal way to get fruit and veggies . The typical deal is one pound for a rather largish bowl of whatever it is they are selling. Usually works out to maybe two bundles of grapes, perhaps ten tomatos, half a dozen peppers, etc. Ask them to top off the bowl and they'll usually do so. I try to shop towards the end of the trading day as they'll sometimes dump two bowls for one pound rather than take the stuff home with them.

These vendors also sell soap and other household goods, but before you buy anything from the street know what you're looking for and make sure you've compared prices to the major retailers. Sometimes you can get an items on sale at Sainsburys far lower than the street vendors and vice / versa. Generally it depends on what you're buying and when, but stuff like toilet paper is almost always about one third of what the stores want, and I buy a lot of it at one time to get it even cheaper.

And don't be afraid to purchase store brands - I almost always do and you'd be surprised at how cheap they are compared to name brands, with little or no quality difference. Case in point: I can get Sainsburys banked beans for 0.11p / can compared to 0.49p / can for Heinz. A little ketchup and honey and I can't tell the difference between the two. Some of the store brand soups are shakey on their own, but add some of those cheap veggies you purchased and you'll be ok.

Also take advantage of the sales. Anytime something I regularly use is on sale I stock up. Bagels are normally 1.09 for a bag of six, but I wait until they are on sale and then I'll buy ten or more bags. Same thing with fresh fish - Salmon will cost 4.99 for 200g, but once a month or so they'lll have it on sale, two for one. I almost never pay full price as I've usually got some in the freezer that I bought on sale.

Clothes at street markets also: be prepared to purchase a lot and haggle haggle haggle. For example: I usually try to negotiate my best price for one shirt, making sure I take a long time to do so. Then I ask the price for two, making sure they discount the combined price a little, and on and on. Depending upon the stall, what you're buying, and how badly the vendor wants to cart their crap home with them, you can get 20% or even more off the single unit price. Best I ever did was 40% off but I had to purchase twenty shirts cash deal. Took me about one hour to negotiate, but it was a quiet Saturday afternoon and that stuff wasn't flying out of his stall if you know what I mean.

For internet I'm using Virgin - 17.99 / month for two mbs download and a six gig cap; there are cheaper deals but this is month to month so it lets you be flexible.

I hope this helps! London is expensive but you don't have bleed money to have a high quality of life. As others have pointed out, there is lots to do that's cheap or even free, and I hope my post gave you a few tips on living frugally.

Email if I can help more!
posted by Mutant at 9:39 AM on May 18, 2006 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Going out and having fun is still important though, innit. One thing I really got into was radio/tv recordings. The tickets are free, you just have to turn up early and wait. Links:

There are often recitals at the Royal Festival Hall if you like to sit around listening to classical music.
posted by handee at 10:22 AM on May 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This may be painfully obvious, but charity shops (thrift stores) are plentiful in London. Track down a good one (some are rather expensive, others sell tat) and there will be bargain clothes, books and bric-a-brac. (It's even possible to find some that sell electrical goods and furniture.) Or this might be worth looking into.

Time Out magazine often has good tips on living cheaply, such as this, on eating out without paying London's normal vile prices.

There are also lots of things to do and see for free in London.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:14 AM on May 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

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