When I asked my friends who have studied abroad in London how they think of the city, many of them came up with the same word—expensive. According to Expatistan, London is the 13th most expensive city in the world out of 218 cities and the most expensive city in the UK.
Some of my friends who wanted to study abroad in London for its diversity and internationality have to give up because of the high living cost. After being here for two months, I realized that it is still possible to live with a tight budget as long as I financially plan it well. Here are my tips to make life in London more affordable.
Best places for home essentials
It was not ideal to spend a considerable amount of money on things I am only going to use for 6 months such as bedding and kitchenware. I visited many different shops to compare price and found Primark the cheapest place. It has everything I need for my bedroom with a very low price. Even though the product quality is not what I wished for, they are good enough for my 6-month stay in London.
Besides Primark, Argos is another to-go place for kitchenware and home essentials. It has a wide range of good quality products at reasonable prices. Some of its products are a little expensive for students while others are very affordable. It is important to keep in mind that Argos’s products usually come in a large quantity. For example, they sell a set of dinner set including 4 plates, 4 side plates and 4 bowls for £5.99.
Instead of visiting different stores and carrying everything you buy all the way back to your dorm, Amazon UK is another great option. It offers free 6 months trial of Amazon Prime membership. I found many cheap products and enjoyed its one-day shipping service. I would highly suggest you sign up for its membership as soon as you know your host institution email address so that you can start to order as soon as you get to the UK. You can simply sit in your room and wait for your order to come to your doorstep rather than worrying about where to get your pillow, duvet sets, bowls and plates and how to carry them back on your own.
Keep track of how much you spend and what you spend it on
It may sound cliché to advise people to keep a ledger, but I personally find it very helpful. If I didn’t constantly keep track of how much I spend, I would have depleted my money already. I shop online often, and credit card spending always gives me the illusion that I have only spent a little since the amount of cash in my hand stays the same.
In addition to recording how much I spend, I also pay attention to what I spend my money on. Even though the living cost in London is high in general, it is easy to find cheap snacks in every supermarket. I fell into this “cheap trap” when I went shopping in the first few weeks. It is very easy to find biscuits, candies, chips and other snacks under £1. I bought many bags of tea biscuits every time I went shopping because they are delicious and under 50p.
At the end of January, I reviewed all my receipts and realized I bought excessive bags of biscuits due to the perception of its low price. My accumulated spending on snacks in January was surprising. With the money added up, I could have bought a lot of fruits and vegetables. I still paid a high price in the end and so will my body if I keep eating so many snacks.
The most efficient ways of paying your bill
There is no perfect answer to how much to bring abroad. It depends on how comfortable you are carrying cash around. It is also up to what type of debit or credit card you are going to use abroad. Most U.S. credit cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee for each purchase. In addition to the foreign transaction fee, some U.S. debit card charges an extra bank fee for withdrawing cash at international ATMs.
Tourists like to bring extra cash to avoid these fees, but as a student who is studying abroad for six months it is impossible and unsafe for me to bring enough cash for six months. After researching online, I found credit and debit card options with no foreign transaction or bank fees.
I currently use a Capital One Student Reward credit card and Capital One debit card, and neither of them charge me foreign transaction or ATM access fees. Therefore, I have only brought enough cash for the first two weeks and started to withdraw cash using my debit card. No matter what, it is more economical to pay in local currency because your bank will generally have better conversion rates. Lots of credit card and debit card options can be found at the website WalletHub.
Studying abroad does cost a considerable amount of money, but such an experience is once in a lifetime. It is definitely important to live on a budget, but it is also important to take the chance to explore. Be frugal when you want to buy something that might not be necessary, and be generous when you want to buy something unique and can’t be found in America. With good financial planning, living abroad can be more affordable than you think.
Wenli Bao is a Student at Brandeis University studying Business and Psychology who studied abroad with IFSA-Butler in England at University College London in Spring 2017. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.