London on the Cheap.

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Housing and holiday accommodation in London is pretty high up on the global price chart, nobody is arguing with that. So how on earth are we managing to live short-term ( or, enjoy a very long vacation, what they call slow travel ) in a beautiful and desirable area of outer London, on the tube line, on just one fairly-modest salary?  A look at cheap slow travel in London and actual costs in one of the most expensive cities for nomads

slow travel in london on a budget

Slow Travel in London on the Cheap

I often say that we don’t travel like locals, well this time we are, like very cash-smart locals.

When we applied to rent our flat for 6 months the owner didn’t believe we could afford it, our income looked too low to him. He had to have a meeting with James to confirm that we were, shall we say, different, to normal renters. In his world our income would only cover day-to-day expenses, we’d need extra cash to pay the rent.

Anyway, he was wrong, we were right, we’re living well and having lots of fun on what looks like an impossible rent:income ratio.

So how are we doing it, how are we doing what looks impossible to so many families, living on one salary, enjoying our lives tremendously, seeing the sights and still saving?

We left London in 2007 because we thought it wasn’t possible to live here and for me to be a full-time mum. We fled to the other side of the world to facilitate that. But we’ve changed, we’re not so needy, we can do this thing now and spend extended amounts of time in our favourite city, on one salary, while saving for our next round of travel.

You can read the original posts we wrote about saving to afford travel and how we lived frugally for over a year to get this ball rolling ( I threw quite a few tantrums back then, I was normal). Living simply, frugally if you like, isn’t such a big deal now, it’s become our normal, our default setting, we’re cool with it.

Living in, and Enjoying, London on a Tight Budget

1.Finding the Right Flat

Richmond London
5minutes walk and we’re here. Love it

We needed a base that we were happy to spend time in and that gave us easy access to shops, facilities and outside space, on foot.

We were prepared to pay slightly more to get all our boxes ticked, we settled on £1350 per month. Plus bills. That’s a lot, far more than paying a mortgage. It’s also more ( when you include bills) than we were paying to stay in a cheap hotel in London. We think it works out better value than taking a holiday let, where bills and internet are included in the price, we did check out a few, but when we saw this flat we fell in love.

For comparison the cheapest Airbnb we ever had in London worked out a touch more expensive, in a nearby street, but there are AirBnb bargains to be had in London .

For that  price we have a furnished 1 bedroom flat, all new and fresh, lovely kichen and bathroom, and windows that I throw open each morning with a song in my heart as I look out across the trees to the park. Being in this flat makes me happy.

If you’re interested we have full posts on living in Twickenham and Richmond London. They’re our favourite places to hang out.

It has 1 bedroom. We have a double bed in there and we bought a double futon for the living/dining room. That’s plenty enough space for us and the location is fantastic.

2. Not buying stuff

london shoes on the cheap
NO NO NO! This is wrong!

There’s no point in buying stuff, we can’t pack it up and take it with us, but we’ve needed a few basic things to set up base here.

Bedding: We bought sheet sleeping bags, we can take them with us and use them on our travels. We had a down bag already, we’ve added a fleece blanket, we’re warm enough so far but we’ll need more as winter approaches. The futon was £100, sheets, pillows and pillow cases set us back £30.

Kitchen: We bought 4 bowls, 2 mugs, 3 pans, 4 glasses and cutlery £48 exactly and it’s all we’ve needed. We already had a sharp cooking knife and a bottle/can opener on our Swiss army knives. I had some plastic food boxes, the lid of one has become my chopping board.

Other: I bought a small TV for £100, my treat to us, I was fed up of huddling around the laptop to watch anything. We’ve bought books and toys for the kids, some second hand, but mostly we use the library. We’ve had to replace and upgrade some clothes, our things are wearing out and the children are growing. Forest school necessitated wellington boots for the boys, I found some cool ones for £3 each. Forest School is expensive but the kids get a lot out of it so I’m happy to pay. We also buy a few school-type work books, they are good value here, under £5 usually and there is a great selection. There are more and they are cheaper than Australia, less variety than Sri Lanka, they had incredible books there, in English.

3. Saving on transport

Tube station.London on the cheap
The tiube and the buses are great value, and fun!

We walk! We do not need a car here in any way at all. London’s public transport is fabulous and most things we need are within easy walking distance. My crazy Iron Man husband runs home from work, 14Km, most days to save us a couple of dollars on train fare. He worked out that taking the bus part way into work was cheaper than taking the tube the whole way, so he does that . He watches the charges on our Oyster cards like a hawk, if he can find an error of anything that needs refunding, he always chases it up. He thinks saving a pound here and there covers his new running shoes.

Kids travel free on the tube and buses after 9.30am, so that’s when we go. I limit our big days out in London to one or two days a week to get the most bang for our travel buck.

Big supermarket shops are impossible without a car, so mostly we shop daily. If I felt the need, I could get a big shop delivered to my home for just £1. I did it once to stock up on washing powder, bleach, toilet roll, all the big heavy stuff. I haven’t felt the need since.

A full day of transport in London for the kids and I , is just over 7 pounds, it’s capped.

4. Saving on Entertainment

Pint of cider. London on the cheap.

We own a TV, but no TV license. This is a perfectly legal option so long as you don’t watch any TV at the time it is broadcast. We don’t, we use BBC i view, Netflix (for free on a rolling 1 month trial),You Tube, anything we find. A satellite TV subscription is something we’ve never wanted or needed.

We rarely eat or drink out in London. I hate cooking with a passion but eating out in this city is a fast road to financial ruin. I’m saving it for Asia!

We don’t go to the cinema, we’re not into cinema. Our entertainment is mostly going places with the kids, but we have been to our local pub to enjoy the odd pint in the beer garden. It’s a British summer treat that’s well worth paying for now and then.

All the big ticket attractions we visit, we have press passes for, that is a big benefit of being a serious blogger. We could not afford them otherwise.

5. The Things We Go Without

Coffee London on the cheap
Coffee and chocolate. More once a week that every day. But boy is it good!

We go without large wardrobes of fancy clothes, we’re over dressing to impress.

We normally cut our own hair, but in London we feel like scruffs, so all of us have had professional hair cuts recently (£30 for me, which is very cheap, £8 for the kids)

We go without non-functional shoes. I wear my hiking shoes for everything, they’re on their last legs but they should see me through to next year.

We go without coffees out, most days, going out for coffee is an expensive habit I enjoy.

6.The Things We Don’t Go Without

Conkers London on the cheap
Parks and nature are everywhere, yes, even in London! They’re always free.

Fun. It’s easy to have fun with no money. We cross the road to the park, walk, play, kick a ball around, it’s easy to find fun anywhere with kids.

Days Out. We go into London 1 or 2 days a week. This need not cost more that the £7.50 for unlimited tube and bus transport ( from zone 5) but we always buy coffee and food, I wouldn’t enjoy our day so much if we didn’t.

Wine, yes, I still love my wine, it’s actually really cheap here, cheaper than Australia, and I’ve found some good ones for around £5 in supermarkets. Compare that to one cider and 2 juices in the pub at over £10, and you’ll see why we don’t go out much.

7. Finding Bargains

Be it clothes, household goods or food, there are always bargains to be had in and around London. We found a light fleece for my son for 99p in a fairly up-market shop, end of range. I found good quality, new jeans for £10 in a charity shop. I always look in the charity shops, the richer the area, the better quality the finds.

Food shopping is best done in bulk online to get 3 for 2 offers, or at the end of the day in the endless supermarkets, small and large, that you will find on every street. There is a rapid turnover of food, strict regulations and a demand for good quality, so anything coming up to its sell by date is heavily discounted.

Check for vouchers before I commit to paying for anything I always Google “Voucher codes for.. ” You’d be amazed what you can find.

8. Free Things

London Science Museum. Free. London on the Cheap
London has some of the most outstanding museums in the world. Launchpad, at the Science Museum, we’ve payed through the nose for stuff like this elsewhere. In London it’s free, as many times as you like.

You could spend months in London and only do free things to keep you busy. You can wander and enjoy the streets, parks and rivers or visit the sensational museums.We also have loads of free festivals and entertainment. London is a freeloaders paradise!

We have a post on Kid Friendly Free Days Out in London

Have a look at sites like London for Free for more ideas.

9. Lower Cost Places to Eat

Supermarkets come first. Eating out in London is always going to hit you in the pocket.

Tube stations have little food stalls, you can grab a samosa or some sort of savoury snack to keep you going.

For large meals out there are plenty of Chinese and Indian eateries that offer buffets for £5/head, less for kids.

We tend to use Pret a Manger and its sister chain Itsu when we’re in town, their food is good, affordable and not full of adatives. They have good coffee and internet too.

Try grazing the farmers markets, you could easily fill yourself up on free tasters, but it’s a bit cheeky, I always end up buying something. Borough Market, beneath London Bridge is particularly good. The food is great, but it is pricey, you get what you pay for.

Costs of Living in London?

We pay £17 /month for unlimited wireless internet at home. Free internet is widely available elsewhere.

Council tax is  £167 per month, obviously this varies, we live in an expensive area in a small flat. Council tax can be as low as £400/year and goes up to over £3,000 per year for an expensive property in an up market area

We pay £30 per month for water.

We pay £50 for gas and electricity, our hot water and heating are gas, we haven’t used the heating at all yet.

We can get by easily on £50/week for food at home, that’s including a few treats like wine and biscuits. But for £100/week I wouldn’t have to make lentil curry so often!

Dental check up £30 ( including descale and X ray) for me. Free for the kids.

All medical care free.

Most Important of All Be Happy!

I say this all the time, spend what you need to spend to make you happy. Life is supposed to be fun, make sure it is. We’re having a ball, it’s been such a great opportunity for us, to live here again. I could live in this little flat forever, it’s only other people who would think us weird and, to be honest, I don’t care what they think! If you have any questions let me know in the comments section, I’m rushing this post out because we’re going out for coffee, our treat. Thanks for being here!

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

25 thoughts on “London on the Cheap.”

  1. Hey – We are Americans living/homeschooling in South Hertfordshire, though we did live in Kew for 6 weeks when we first moved over. With 3 growing boys (including one 13 year old) I wish we could get by on £50 to £100 per week for food 🙂 We have gotten several things for free from Tesco using their club card points: cinema tickets, lamps for our bedroom and tickets to Eden Project in Cornwall (though I found out after the fact that Eden Project gives massive discounts for homeschoolers!!) They also have an option for “boost” your club card points, essentially double them, to use on certain items. I also have a Waitrose card which discounts some items + the free tea or coffee when you buy something. I don’t shop there often, but they seem to have a better selection of spices than my local Tesco. Also, Waitrose deeply discounts their fresh breads and pastries in the evening. I picked up baguettes for 8p each one day!

    Not sure if you know about zip cards:

    It ran us £10 per kid. It is supposed to give you discounted fares, but I haven’t really seen how we have saved any money… Though it was worth it just to be able to have them touch in & out on their own. We also needed one for our older kiddo.

    I do wish eating out wasn’t so expensive here 🙁

    • My kids are totally free still on tube/overland/buses, Natalie. Making the most of that! I’ve just discovered Itsu, all their food is half price for half an hour before closing, that could be a winner. Their soups and sushi are great ( and pretty cheap to start with). We’ve done this week on 60 pounds, and eaten well, including wine and a big day of coffees and lunch out last Sunday. I went without lunch today though, so Boo could have something he wanted from the National Gallery that was 10 quid, it’s doable!

  2. Well done for showing people that London can be an affordable place to live. Yes, rental prices are ridiculous and partying and eating can ruin you, but transport is reasonable and there’s so much to do for free in London. Andrew and I lived there for four years and over the last two of those years we managed to save up the initial £30,000 we wanted to start our travels. Although we lived frugally in London (cooking at home, taking sandwiches to work) we were still always able to get to the pub with friends a couple of times a week, eat out every now and again and go to our fave art-house cinema 3-4 times a month (with the help of a membership card). Our friends didn’t understand how we could save so much while living in London, but it is possible! Make the most of your time there – although it sounds as if you definitely are 🙂

    • I forgot to mention the first RTW, we were living in London then too. I totally forgot. That time we were both working so it was a lot easier, 20,000 pounds saved in a year! Thanks Amy.

  3. Fantastic tips Alyson! I used to live in London after university and I had a fab time as I was young, single and in a corporate job. I still love London although I’m married now and with a pre-teenager and living in Germany, so the last time I went to London, I got creative. Museums and galleries, are free of course. We stayed near Hyde Park so that we could walk everywhere, pub dinners and sandwich lunches. I’m on a lot of mailing lists so I was able to get West End shows and pantomines for £10.00 each whenever we’re in London!
    And as for shopping, my experience is to go to high-end shops and buy in the sales, and food shopping at the end of the day on a Saturday or Sunday when prices are slashed! 🙂

  4. This was a great post! London is my favorite city and even though we live in Florida, we have Oyster cards! Not sure when our next trip over will be, though, since things will be different now with our 1-year-old. I have always loved that there are so many wonderful free things to do in London – I feel it helps make up for the expensive lodging to balance everything out! Since we haven’t traveled since our daughter was born, I’ve never been aware of things like free tube & bus rides at certain times, so that was great to learn. It sounds like our television habits are similar to yours – we don’t pay for cable and so can’t get any live shows on our tv, but we mainly watch DVDs from the library or stream free shows online.

  5. Very interesting insights! These are really great tips for not just London, but everywhere. All you need is a bit of customisation.

  6. That pretty much describes how I lived in London for years while saving for my travels. I do think it’s possible to do that and enjoy yourself – there are plenty of things to do for free in the city, glad someone agrees with me!

  7. Great article. We were living in Central London for a few years before we left on our big adventure – for the last year we were saving for this trip. We quickly realised that London is somewhere you haven’t to be a little bit more savvy in to save some pennies!

  8. Awesome post. I often think London is not that different from the US, but when you get into the nitty gritty about actually living there, the differences are more obvious. Council tax – have no idea what that is! TV license? No clue either.

    • LOL! Council tax pays for things like rubbish collection, roads, services to your area. TV License pays for the BBC, it’s what keeps the programmes amazing and the channel ad-free. I don’t begrudge them that, I think they’re awesome, but if we can save a hundred quid by not watching live, we will.

      • Thanks for the clarification. Love learning how these kinds of little things work in other places. We obviously have a lot more things privatized here in the US, so we have to pay all these things too — just to lots of different companies in one way or another.

  9. This was amazing so read. We don’t live in London, but it was a great reminder of living with what you really need. We have just started saving significantly for our traveling and it’s a constant journey of learning what we really need to live and not just what we are used to living with. I love reading how you guys do all of this as family. So encouraging!

  10. Borough Market is right near our office, but it is not cheap! However, as you point out, London can be affordable and it is full of so many wonderful thing which are free, such as the museums and parks, and also has good (though far too busy!) transport. This is a terrific post – am sure people will find it really useful. I’ve lived here all my life and still love it!

    • No, good farmers markets never are, but the quality is outstanding Sarah, I love going there. We were away, in Australia, for 7 years and you wouldn’t believe how much I love it now we’re back.

  11. Great post, I’ve been waiting for this!
    We found Asda to be cheaper than Lidl where we were in Clapham Junction, plus of course a much better selection. It’s great to see real competition amongst supermarkets, unlike in Sydney where prices are pretty much the same due to the duopoly with Coles and Woolworths.
    Once we discovered the bus was nearly half the cost of the train we got buses everywhere. Of course they take a lot longer but we have a lot of time and not a lot of money so we didn’t mind. Plus my son loved getting the front seat at the top of the double decker buses, what a treat that was.

    • We rarely take buses Emma, because we have an Oyster card our daily charge is capped and it makes no difference if we bus-it or train-it. Asda is cheap, but just a warning to readers..some of it is so cheap it’s inedible. Pasta and meat I bought there went in the bin, but for tins, bottles, jars of known as!

  12. Very interesting insights here. I have a few of my own I can add. Like you we are on a tight budget with one not so great income living in central London! We are paying less than you but our bed sit is pretty rough, 1970s style with quite a bit of noise. The landlords are about to renovate which means we will not be able to afford the new rate they will want when they do. But we now don’t live anywhere we have to pay Council Tax. It just costs too darn much! Such a waste of our hard earned pennies. We are finding accommodation on Spare Rooms which is house sharing but this can mean your own space, bathroom, kitchen. At present there are 3 tenants in our building each quite separate bed sits apart from the front door. Often places like ours have their weekly/monthly prices inclusive of additional expenses which is wonderful to know up front what you will be up for. Our place also has free wifi. We belong to a Club which means we get free tickets to shows, otherwise we don’t go. We went to the Globe last night. Fantastic. Like you we don’t eat out except for the occasional Sunday lunch at our local pub. We always just buy one and share it! I’m lucky I’m old so don’t have to pay bus fares which is terrific. I get free coffee at Waitrose with my Waitrose card and if I spend 5 pounds they throw in a newspaper too! So that’s just a few other ways we are living cheaply in London. Obviously as we don’t have children our circumstances are different and we are able to make different choices from you with a family but thought singles might be interested in my input. ENJOY!

    • Thanks for that Suzanne, I was going to mention Waitrose cards! But you don’t want to shop there if you’re on a budget. Iceland and Aldi are super cheap, I’d rather stay at Tesco sort of level for better quality. Waitrose and Marks and Spencer are more expensive, but great for a treat. Still cheaper than Far North Queensland though, for many things.

  13. Hiya – we live similarly in Canada, saving for travel/early retirement for our family of 4, with the exception that we have a small house with a mortgage. There is lots of free fun to be had! I enjoy reading about your family’s adventures!


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