10 weeks in London, < $5000. How can I do it?
March 17, 2008 10:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm a Yank who'll be working in London for ten weeks this summer. My budget is really limited, and, with the dollar falling, it shrinks a bit more every day. Right now I could just use some general advice on living cheaply.

Quick background: I'm a grad student working for free, living on a grant of $5000, minus airfare. Yikes. I'll be working just north of the City, in Zone 1. This will be from late May to early August.

I've seen a few questions about finding cheap housing, but, on following up on their suggestions, I see that most require at least three months' stay. I'll only be in London for a bit over two and a half, and (though I'd love to) I can't afford to stay any longer. So where should I live, what kinds of flatshare/bedsit/hostel options should I pursue, when should I expect to find places for the end of May on the market, and what generally should I keep in mind to keep my costs down?
posted by electric_counterpoint to Travel & Transportation around London, England (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This previous thread should be useful to you too.
posted by vacapinta at 10:52 PM on March 17, 2008

A three month stay minimum isn't necessarily a hard and fast rule. If you find some options that look appealing but have a three month minimum, try contacting landlords/property managers and let them know that you want to stay for around 10 weeks instead of 12. If you offer to make part of the payment in advance or something similar, they may well be interested.

Also, keep searching for additional funding through your University. You may be able to get a supplemental grant to further cover your expenses.
posted by zachlipton at 11:05 PM on March 17, 2008

http://www.stretcher.com/index.cfm, use the Topical Index to find tips on saving money in specific areas.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:09 PM on March 17, 2008

You could buy some sterling now.
posted by pompomtom at 11:48 PM on March 17, 2008

£2,500 minus rent and transport? Oy. I am not remotely sure that this is possible.

You need to hook up with students and find a summer sublet where one party is away for the summer, or where one of six house mates is going back to NZ for a few weeks. You're going to have to cover three months' rent, though. I do not see how this could possibly be less than £1,200 for your stay, and even that would be spectacularly cheap.

Transport will be a considerable expense for you. I advise you as strongly as possible to beg your job to cover a Travel Card for you. Many internships etc where they are not paying a wage will at least do this. It is a very common request because most students and interns simply can't afford to get to a job that isn't paying them anything because the travelcard cost can be as much as £171 a month if you're living in Zone 6.

And get the student discount on your Travel Card!
posted by DarlingBri at 1:32 AM on March 18, 2008

£2,500 minus rent and transport? Oy. I am not remotely sure that this is possible.

It's possible. It's just not very comfortable or advisable.

First, (and obviously) see how cheap you can get the airfare. From this end, I've occasionally managed UK-US (albeit east coast) trips for in the low £200.

My rule of thumb for London rent is not to expect to get away with less than £400 a month. And that's with longterm. (Yes, we all have a friend with a fabulous flatshare in Hammersmith that costs them only £250 a month. Nevertheless.) The timing is poor because university is still in term for part of your trip. Still, it may be worth seeing if you can get into halls / residences or other forms of students residences. Otherwise tracking back the tube lines from your place of work to outer zones may point out some cheaper places to live. (But beware your transport costs don't suck up the savings. Ballpark about £30 a zone a month.) Consult Gumtree for accommodation.

Bring your student card, so you can attempt to get student discounts.

If you cook yourself rather than eating out, you can save appreciable money.

That pint of beer? Is going to cost 7 of your fine American dollars. If you get something it a bottle, it will go close to 10. And the English drink like fish. A night at the pub with your mates could cost you 1-2% of your stipend. You have been warned.

Is it UCL you'll be working at?
posted by outlier at 2:43 AM on March 18, 2008

I'd be very suprised if this is realistically possible.

In terms of accommodation - as you're here in the summer, you may be able to get a cheap-ish room at a university hall of residence like this. There's a more exhaustive list here.

But for 10 weeks, you're still going to be looking at around $2000 absolute bare minimum, which is a hefty chunk of your budget.

Hope this helps somewhat.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 3:04 AM on March 18, 2008

Oh I just re-read your question and realised you're coming in May - this could be a problem, as most halls are only available from mid June.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 3:05 AM on March 18, 2008

You can save much money by riding the bus instead of the Tube. I know several London students who do this. Get an Oyster card as soon as you get off the plane. Bus fare is £0.90 each ride on Oyster, which guarantees that you will not spend more than £3 each day on buses on Oyster (bus rides beyond this are free). This is much cheaper than a peak Travelcard which starts at £6.80 and goes up to £13.80 for Zones 1-6 (mostly Greater London).

Additionally, some areas that are poorly served by Tube and rail have cheaper rent.
posted by grouse at 3:17 AM on March 18, 2008

I know krautland didn't have any luck with it, but I found a 40pound/week share place in Acton for ten weeks off Gumtree. You're going to have to have pretty low standards on the money you've got - the place I stayed housed ~15 aussies/kiwis/etc in a huge old house that was a bit too rundown to be let out to a real family, and I shared a room with a couple other guys, but it was a cool experience.
posted by jacalata at 4:04 AM on March 18, 2008

Hie thee to Sclater Street, just off Brick Lane, on a Saturday or Sunday and buy yourself a bicycle for £30-50 (you'll see the bike guy - if he doesn't have any, ask where you can get one); also a bike-lock, lights, and a reflective strip or jacket. Then get to a proper bike shop and buy a new helmet. That plus any other accessories you might need during your stay shouldn't run to more than £75-£100 all in.

Cycle in the bus lanes, but watch out for taxis, who can also use them. On Sunday, anyone can use them, so be extra careful. Get some Cycling Guides and use the TfL JourneyPlanner so you can stay off the main roads as much as possible. Traffic is much friendlier to bikes in London than I've heard it is in much of the USA, but it's still somewhat dangerous.

You'll save a surprising amount of money, see more of London, get fitter and you won't have to get squished into a cattle-car of a bus or tube train 2+ times a day.

In terms of housing, a situation like jacalata's is going to be your best bet. Be prepared for a fairly long commute.
posted by Drexen at 5:46 AM on March 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I forgot to say that you should be able to sell your bike back to the bike guy when you leave for a bit of cash, as long as you keep it in good nick.
posted by Drexen at 5:49 AM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, 'antipodean flophouse' is an option, not least because you may well get a few casual cough, cough shifts doing, um what Aussies, Kiwis and SAfricans do in London.

But if this is something your university has arranged, I think it's worth going back to whoever organised this and making it clear that $5000 is worth about £4.26 and a Mars bar these days. If you are, as I presume from forensic Googling, going to be working in the City and somewhat expected to drink overpriced beer after work as part of the experience, this could be a problem.

Alternative approach: nudge your professors right now to ask Summer Employer to put out the word on your behalf. You may find that someone has a spare room that they wouldn't normally consider renting out, but might do so for some pocket money. Or, on arrival, make it clear to those at Summer Employer that you're looking for a room, should one become available. That's probably a better overall arrangement than flopping with people who are working in bars and restaurants and working to those hours, as opposed to the City commute.
posted by holgate at 5:57 AM on March 18, 2008

Seconding pompomtom - exchanging dollars as needed while over there is a waste of time and money, especially with the dollar falling constantly. Convert everything you've got to Sterling as soon as you can.
posted by stereo at 10:18 PM on March 18, 2008

Best answer: Check your email.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:35 AM on March 19, 2008

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