Life Hacks to Survive in Expensive (and Exciting) London

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If you have ever been curious to know “what is the world’s most costly city to live in?” you will be aware that London is on the top ten list. When I first arrived here, I could not stop converting every purchase in Poundsterlings to rupiahs. At first, I reluctantly bought a 5-Pound Katsu Rice at Wasabi, which is equivalent to approximately 100.000 rupiahs. Not to mention housing prices in the British capital have gone through the roof and take at least half of my monthly allowances. Transport costs if you commute with Oyster card are also skyward. I told myself that there was no way I could have fun in this city if the basic expenses made me broke already.

I bet some of you, who are preparing to start an academic year this September, have been wary of this financial management issue. In fact, I have received several questions from my friends whether their monthly stipend will suffice to make a normal living here or they should bootstrap themselves.

Indeed, living in one of the so-called world’s most expensive cities can sometimes limit your choices for seeking splendid refreshments. But, fret not! There are ubiquitous life hacks to survive in this town.

FOODS

Hare Krishnas

Hare Krishnas or the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is a Hindu-based religious movement. Without being too elaborative in its central tenets and history (you can read here), the devotees of the movement have been distributing FREE vegetarian food every day. One volunteer with a small cart comes to my university, LSE, every day at noon to distribute rice, cakes and fruits. Those nutritious intakes are more than enough as an appetizer, main course, and dessert. As a form of gratitude, you can come early to help the volunteer prepare the cart and also distribute the foods to the students. Also, as simple as getting to know about the beauty of its philosophy.

Meal Deal at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Co-operative

Every day you can get the 3-Pound Meal Deal –consisting of one sandwich, one snack and one beverage- at the closest convenience stores. This meal comes in handy, especially if you are in a rush or between classes marathon. Just take the Meal Deal and sit under the blazing sun in a public park. I promise you that it will be the best lunch place, especially during spring and summer.

Wasabi

If you miss eating rice, you can go to Wasabi, a Japanese-food chain that is pretty much everywhere in London. It costs around 5 Pounds per rice meal, but if your body cannot digest too much food(like me) you can divide its enormous portion for lunch and dinner, and it costs you only 2.5 Pounds for each meal. Another life hack is when you buy their meals, you can ask them to place separate karee soup in another location, and you can have an additional meal for another day. Also, in London you will be charged more if you dine-in, so you better take away the foods and find refreshing outdoor spaces to enjoy your meal.

Self-made meals

Trust me, cooking by yourself makes a huge difference, especially if you are in the mood to have something fancy. If you eat beef steak in a restaurant, that will cost you a minimum of 10 PoundsPounds. But, if you buy 1 KG beef at the local store and cook it by yourself, it can only cost you 4-5 Pounds per steak. If you live with your friends, ask them to split the bills of kitchen utilities, such as rice cookers and pans as well as food can also save you lots of money.

Drink

Bring your tumbler or bottles everywhere you go because tap water in London is drinkable and at school you can find water fountain in every corner. If you eat in a restaurant, you can also ask to have water. It’s free of charge.

What if do I want to taste more fancy food?

Well, if it is once or twice in a month, why not? It can be a treat for yourself after long tiring days studying at the library. Another alternative is you go to the place with your friends and split the bill. For example, I used to want to try afternoon tea in one of the legendary tea rooms, but I am not a dessert person. So I, along with my other three friends, order one massive package of afternoon tea, filled with delicious scones, and we split the bill. That way you can still taste the signature dish of London without ripping yourself off.

 

ENTERTAINMENT

4-Pounds Orchestra ticket

If you are into classic music, you better use your magic card, a.k.a student’s card, to buy a 65-Pound Orchestra ticket with just for 4 Pounds! Don’t imagine that you will sit far behind the auditorium. You can still get the pleasant seat and enjoy the show.

10-Pounds ticket for watching theater

You can watch various plays, such as Hamlet, with the cost as low as 10 Pounds. However, you must make the sacrifice by coming to Barbican theater as early as 6 am to queue for only 30 tickets. If you are extremely lucky, you can also get the signature from the main actors and actresses, such as Benedict Cumberbatch!

Sky Garden

As its name suggests, Sky Garden is an indoor garden at 155-metres height. It offers beautiful eagle views across the Shard, River Thames, St. Paul’s Church, Tower Bridge, and London Eye. This fancy-look sightseeing can be accessed for free! You just need to reserve the place two-three weeks before. My suggestion is to book the entry in between the day and the dusk so that you can get both views, including the sunset.

Other free places to go

London also has many free places to visit. You can go to Westminster Abbey, Leadenhall Market, various museums such as Imperial War Museum, V&A Museum and British Museum.

 

BOOKS AND CLOTHES

Books

Keep an eye on book sales events. For example, Amnesty International often conducts fundraising by selling the 1-Pound books at its office. If you are an avid reader of fiction books, that will be your little heaven.

Clothes

If you are keen to find the trendy stores with affordable prices, Primark is the place-to-go. Alternatively, you can try to go to vintage stores, such as in Mile End, re-love fair at your university, or any NGO’s charity shops, such as OXFAM’s. I used to get the best deal of buying the pre-loved winter coat just for 1 Pound.

 

TRAVELLING

While you are on the European continent, you will have a myriad of chances to explore other countries or simply a weekend getaway to other cities in the UK. Try to check Megabus. If you are lucky, you can get a 1-Pound bus ticket to Oxford or Cambridge. Megabus also serves trips to some other European cities, such as Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Brussels. If you have an NUS card for a student, you can also get a further price reduction.

If adventurous is your middle name, you can also try Blablacar. Essentially, it is a carpooling for those who want to go to the same city and still have spaces in their car. Blabla is associated with the sound of people talking. So, during the trip, you can also share your stories and experiences with the driver. As an estimate, traveling from London to Paris can cost you around 20 to 30 Pounds depending on dates.

If you are a spontaneous traveler,  you can try to go to Skyscanner and click on “Flexible? Discover Destinations”. You can set the maximum prices that you are willing to pay, and the site will evince destinations with the lowest prices. For example, last December, my friend and I got flight tickets from Paris to Milan only for 7 Pounds and Milan to Berlin only for 9 Pounds! What a perk, huh?

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So, those are all my life hacks to survive and make the most out of my time in London. Besides all the trips that I have taken, I still can save quite a substantial amount of stipends in the case of emergency. Of course, financial management will depend on your lifestyle. Some might not have time at all to cook; some others might not be able to resist purchasing the latest collections at H&M. Whichever lifestyle you are, hopefully these life hacks will be helpful for you.

 

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Josefhine Chitra
Josefhine works as Communications Specialist at World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia. She holds a master's degree in development management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her post-graduate study is fully funded by Indonesian Presidential Scholarship. Prior to pursuing post-graduate study, she worked as a communications consultant at Maverick. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science with a Valedictorian honor from International Relations Department of Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung. In 2011, the US Department of State granted her full scholarship to study at Utica College, New York.