Written by Juan Andres Cuervo, Communications & Campaigns Assistant at Birkbeck Students' Union
Saving money in London has never been easy. Even before the crisis provoked by the Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, the prices in the British capital were so high that living here has always been a challenge.
Furthermore, the bank Citi has estimated that inflation in the UK will hit 18% for the beginning of next year.
With all the economic problems that are going to make life harder for a considerable number of people, is it possible to organise a budget to live in London? Is it feasible to pay the bills, the food, and enjoy the positive things that the city offers?
In a previous article, we wrote some tips to help you with the cost of living crisis, saving money in a variety of fields including food, culture, transport or the University fees, apart from giving advice to organise, engage with the community and caring about your wellbeing. Following this current, in the following paragraphs there will be some advice on creating your own budget.
1) Planning a budget
According to LSE, the students should need at least between £1,200 and £1,300 to spend per month. This includes all the living expenses such as food, travel, study costs and accommodation.
A survey carried out by Save The Student shows that the average student's living costs are about £810 a month (without including University fees).
Surely you don’t just want to survive but also enjoy life in London, hence this amount will probably be higher. To avoid spending too much, it is important to plan your monthly expenditure estimation. I suggest you create an Excel spreadsheet to make a tidy strategy. This one here is from Queen Mary can serve you as a guide to elaborate your plan.
2) Essential Expenses
When you plan your budget, it is important to add first those expenses that are fundamental to living in London. Here is a list:
- Course Materials
Feel free to add more essential expenses to your plan. But focusing on those four, let’s analyse how you can save some money on each of them:
- Groceries – Make a list before going shopping
Before going grocery shopping, think ahead about what you really need for the coming weeks. If you have space in your fridge and freezer, it is a good idea to try to buy for the whole month, instead of going almost to buy daily, as this will probably make you buy stuff that you don’t really need.
It’s also a good idea to have a list of meals for specific days to ensure you do not waste any food.
- Transport – The Student Oyster
As a student, you will have discounts. Check our article ‘Top tips to help you with the cost of living crisis’
- Accommodation – Research into the housing policies
The life of a student might be relentless and sometimes it is difficult to notice the measures that are being taken to ameliorate the crisis. For example, the government is offering a £400 discount on energy bills which will be split in six months, from October to March.
Even though the gas and electricity prices have soared up, this support will cover your landlords’ budget, and knowing this information, you will have the facts to discuss if your landlord want to increase the prices using the energy crisis as an alibi.
Following with the bills, if you are a full-time student, you will be exempt from paying the Council Tax.
- Course Materials – Borrow, buy second-hand and use the digital sources
The libraries in London are free and you can borrow as many books as you need.
There are charity shops where you can buy for a minor price and donate books for other students.
Meet students from your field across the different groups in Social Media and make a deal with them, or use some websites to acquire second-hand material.
Digitisation is taking over: online sources are essential to learn without spending money.
Birkbeck Library: Borrowing books from the College is great to save money, and also to engage with the student life. Moreover, Birkbeck Students’ Union pushed the library to institute automatic renewals during lockdown and beyond, and surely this will help you during your academic year.
3) Maintenance Loan and University Support
If you are receiving the Student Maintenance Loan, remember that payment will come in three instalments throughout the academic year. It is possible that, when you receive the first one around October and check the significant amount that you have in your bank account, you fall under the temptation to spend on things that you don’t really need.
However, consider the fact that, until January, that will be a fundamental part of your budget, so plan with caution and don’t waste the money.
You should check regularly the different schemes of Financial Support offered by the University. Not just before starting the academic term, but also throughout the year, as other funding will probably be introduced to support you.
4) An empty Budget: A free-money day?
Recently, my flatmate asked me if I do a day without spending money from time to time. I had not thought of that, but it seems a great idea to save and challenge yourself to live free from buying.
Is it a realistic goal? Yes, I confirm that I have been doing it.
In order to do so, planning the budget is essential. For example, it does not make sense to not spend on food if your fridge is empty. The idea is to have all the resources needed to enjoy a free-money day.
But what If I need to travel to the University? If you can walk to the building, go for it at least once a week.
I live very far, what should I do? Then keep your free-money day for when you don’t need to attend class.
I am going every day to the University, what should I do then? OK, then it may be a good idea to take an Oyster Card, charge it at the beginning of the week, and during your free-money day, you won’t spend money on the trip.
I don’t buy that. At the end, I am spending money, but I have just paid in advance. This is true, but if we follow that premise, in our every living day we are wasting our clothes just for wearing them, paying for the water bills while we are taking a shower at home, or spending money in our phone calls through the monthly plan of our provider.
Aside from saving money and helping you with your budget, the idea of having a free-money day is to help you to organise your budget better, to challenge yourself and the society you are living with to avoid consumption, and to spread this aim among your colleagues. And who knows, maybe you all can join and think of other ways to contribute to your budget.
5) Looking for a part-time Job
Being a student, you can consider working some hours per week. If you are willing to do so, try to look for companies that pay the London Living Wage. There is a list of companies that are committed not to pay the National Living Wage, but the Real Living Wage. Check them HERE
But what is the difference between the National Living Wage and the Real Living Wage?
Whereas the former is £9.50 per hour for people over 23 years of age and is statutory by law, the latter is based on a study done by the Living Wage Foundation and it is based on the cost of living in different areas. According to this organisation, the UK Real Living Wage is £9.90 an hour, and the London Living Wage is £11.05 an hour for 2022/23.
The difference between the city and the rest of the country is significant. And considering that the National Living Wage is £9.50 per hour or £9.18 if you are under 23, think about the huge gap between this amount and the £11.05 of the London Living Wage. To mitigate the cost of living, it is important that your work is valued.