You’ve just secured your place at a university in London, and looking at the maintenance loan you’ll receive, there are probably many ideas spinning around in your head about what you can treat yourself to with it (I can hold my hands up to this and say guilty as charged). However, and I do hate to burst your bubble, a lot of it will go towards your rent, so you might actually end up having a lot less to spend than you initially expected. But doesn’t every student? So don’t panic, because we are going to take you through some key tips and tricks on how to live on a student budget in London, but also how to have fun doing it. It may be a lot easier than you think…
The Food Shop
Living as a student now means that we have to do our own weekly food shops, which I despised doing at the very start. Especially in London, as you wander down the aisles, you begin to realise how pricey everything can be, which sometimes makes it harder to stick to our student budget. However, if you’re wise with your choice of shop and strict with yourself about how much you’re willing to spend, then it can become a lot easier than you think. Sure, it might not be exactly wise to shop at expensive stores such as Waitrose or Co-Op however tempting they may be to just pop into if you live nearby one (my flat was perched right on top of the latter) for a midnight snack, try to save your coins and venture out to more affordable shops.
Lidl, personally my favourite one, has great produce, lots of meal preps for when we can’t be bothered to cook a full dish, multipacks and toiletries, which means that I did my entire food shop for around £15. I know that sometimes it can be hard to shop for one because fresh fruit and vegetables tend to go off quicker, but if you buy your food and cook it in bulk, you can separate it throughout the week and save even more money that way. Also, it’s also worth checking out the markets that London has to offer, such as in Camden and Walthamstow, because not only is their produce really fresh and seasonal, chances are you’ll get them for a great price, also.
So if you REALLY don’t fancy cooking, you’ve got a busy night ahead of you, or you just want to treat yourself (honestly, takeaways require no explanations as a student), then there are some great deals that you can get through apps such as UNiDAYS, which allow you to save some money on the biggest brands. A few of these include 33% off Papa Johns, 35% off Dominos, and up to 50% off Byron Burgers – what’s even better is that you’re having a flat night, then all of this becomes even cheaper!
Okay, so eating at your flat is great and all, what how about if you feel peckish whilst you’re on the go? Well, there are also many schemes that takeaway restaurants have that allow you to get some food for free. For example: if you download the KFC app, you can get a free snack, sign up to LEON’s club and you get a free starter hotbox (plus 15% off further orders for students), and you can get a free doughnut when you download the Krispy Kreme app. If you’re out and about and you fancy a snack, chances are if you just have a quick search on deals the takeaways around you can offer, you’ll often get food for much cheaper or even free.
Something that is also worth checking out is Too Good To Go, an anti-food waste app. When stores have extra stock of produce or meals that would normally just go into the bin at the end of the day, this app allows you to go to that store and get the spare stock for much, much cheaper. Just enter your location, and it can tell you what store has what to offer, some of which include: Costa, Greggs, Caffé Nero and Pret A Manger. So not only are you getting some great food for a much cheaper price whilst you’re on the go, you’re also helping to reduce the amount of stock that would otherwise be wasted – it’s a win-win really.
As I’m sure that most of us are probably guilty of this as well, online shopping has become a pretty bad habit of mine because it’s the only new thing that’s been happening throughout lockdown. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve been thinking about the holiday and June 21st outfits (just manifesting them as much as possible, to be honest), and with all this shopping, I’m probably still going to be guilty of in the near future, I want to make sure that I am saving as much money for said holidays and celebrations.
Plus, with the announcement that retail stores are opening up again very soon, we can still look good and be within budget whilst living in London. Big brands such as Urban Outfitters, River Island, Nike, New Look etc. – which can be found online or down Oxford Street, offer a 10% discounts for students, and all you need to do is show your UNiDAYS or StudentBeans ID to be eligible; if you fancy really staying within budget, then I think we can all agree that Primark is the saviour of all our bank balances! Perhaps you want to steer away from the high street? Well, luckily for all of us, London has some incredible vintage stores that you can check out, such as Beyond Retro, East End Thrift Store and Traid Shepherd’s Bush, and even some outlets such as London Designer Outlet and ICON Outlet at The O2, to keep all of our (essential) shopping costs to a minimum.
Now we all know that part of living the ‘student life’ is the nights out: the drinks, the music, and of course the embarrassing drunken dance moves that somehow everyone has a video of. So don’t think that just because you’ve moved to London for university, you can’t enjoy the nightlife that other city’s rave about, because we can definitely make room in the budget for some wicked nights. Clubs such as Ministry of Sound, EGG London, Fabric, XOYO, and Bar Rumba, just to name a few are some mega names that offer discounted entry and drinks for, you guessed it, just showing your student ID. Not only are there dedicated nights for us fellow students, but they also host events such as glow in the dark nights and paint parties, with some big names in the industry also headlining these clubs. Check out our article on the best London student nights out for some more information, because hopefully, we don’t have too long left to experience them all once again!
Travelling around London on the tube or red buses was definitely something I romanticised before moving here, but then I eventually realised how hot, sweaty, and pricey the journey’s actually are. However, this does have a silver lining because the transport is so versatile and accessible for all; as we are living on a student budget, it’s important to know how we can do this for much cheaper. By registering for an Oyster card as a student, you can get 30% off overground, underground, riverboat and red bus travel, all you need to do is make sure it’s all topped up! This works out as so much cheaper than constantly using contactless payment, and if you purchase a monthly pass, you’re going to save even more money (which is essential for staying within budget). If this is still not taking your fancy, because rush hour can be a somewhat traumatising time to travel, then you can actually hire a Santander bike for just £2, and as long as you return it to its original spot, it’s all yours for 24 hours. That way, you can get some fresh air and a much less crowded experience when travelling back and forth to university, the choice is all yours.
Sometimes, all that’s needed is some control and resilience, and you can actually stretch your student budget quite far. These are just some of the few things you can do to ensure that you stay out of your overdraft but amongst all the fun of the capital!