How to save money in London

We love topnotch cocktails and extravagant pop-ups as much as the next person. But when your bank account is feeling the pinch, or you need to save for a holiday, reducing spending is the only solution. But that doesn’t mean you have to make significant sacrifices. 

London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and saving is not always easy. However, It doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of bargains if you know where to look. 

I have listed some of my favourite tips on how to save money in London and answered some of the most common questions people have.

What’s the cheapest way to travel around London?

Commuting is one of the most significant expenses for Londoners.

In the capital, workers spend an average of £175.50 per month on travel.

The Oyster Card, not only simplifies the payment system, but it is also cheaper than paying for a single journey ticket every time you ride the Underground, bus, DLR or Overground. 

But you can reduce the costs further.

Link your Railcard to your Oyster Card 

If you link up your Oyster card with the 16-25 Railcard, you’ll get a third off on off-peak travel on the tube, overground and DLR (after 10 am on weekdays and all day on the weekend). The 26-30 Railcard can also be used on Oyster Off-Peak pay-as-you-go journeys on National Rail, London Underground and the DLR. Find out more about it here.

Investing in a railcard is a great idea. There are lots of different options so you should be able to find one best suited to you. Railcards give you a third off of train fares and are about £30 a year. You can also link most railcards to an Oyster Card to get reduced rates on the tube, bus, rail, tram, DLR and overground.

Start Cycling 

The Cycle to Work Scheme offers a tax-efficient way to travel to your workplace in London. If the company you work for is part of the scheme, you can buy a bike and all the safety gear tax-free, saving up to 39% overall. Here’s how the Cycle to Work Scheme works.

If your company doesn’t take part in the Cycle to Work Scheme, cycling can still be a cheaper alternative to public transport. Hop on your bike to save money, help the environment and get a workout all in one go. 

Visit the TfL website for tips on how to stay safe while cycling, find your way around and how to hire a ‘Santander Cycles’ (better known as ‘Boris bike’) from just £2 if you don’t have a bicycle!

Walk walk walk

Bizarrely, walking can sometimes save you time as well as money. Here are five London tube journeys that can be reached much faster if you walk. 

  • Leicester Square to Covent Garden

  • Chancery Lane to Farringdon

  • Lancaster Gate to Paddington

  • Knightsbridge to Sloane Square

  • Blackfriars to Southwark

UberPool if you’d usually Uber

Share an Uber! Uber POOL is a shared Uber ride that allows you to split the cost of your ride with a stranger who is heading in a similar direction as you. Your riding companion is automatically selected based on their location and final destination.  

You’ll be on the road a little longer, but it’ll save you 25% during peak times and 15% the rest of the time.

Is it cheaper to buy a Travelcard or use contactless?

As a general rule, a Travelcard is more expensive than an Oyster card or contactless payment card. 

The exception is if you make three or more journeys per day for six days or more within seven days. In this case, a seven day Travelcard works out cheaper than an Oyster or Contactless payment card.

The TFL site can help you figure out which is the best ticket for you to travel.

How can I save money on food shopping in London?

Buying lunch out every day can be an expensive habit. The secret to saving money on food shopping in London is planning. 

Cocking your meals and planning packed lunches at the start of the week will save you money on buying lunch out. Making some extra food while preparing your dinner and taking it into work can help too. Here are more tips on how to save money on food shopping in London

You could also try and use apps like Too Good to Go or OLIO to help save money on food. They reduce food waste by selling fresh but unsold food. Download the apps to find out more about how it all works.

Also, check out Taste London. It is definitely worth it if you go out for meals during the week. 

How can I save money on rent in London?

Pick the right neighbourhood

Renting costs can vary dramatically in London, depending on the area. Try Rightmove’s ‘where can I live‘ tool to find areas that fit your budget. It’s also a good idea to check how much council tax you’d have to pay as this also varies a lot by area and can make a massive difference to your overall costs.

Find a roomie

Sharing a house with others is usually cheaper than renting a one-bedroom or studio flat. There are lots of websites and apps where you can post an advert (like SpareRoom) or get matched with potential roommates (for example Badi).

Be energy efficient.

 London is home to many old houses with drafty windows and high-ceiling rooms. They may appear charming, but your energy bills probably won’t! Check the energy efficiency rating before you sign a contract for a new place. The scale runs from A (the best) to G (the worst).

How do I save money when going out in London?

Economy eats 

Find meals in London for £8 or less via London Cheap Eats. For boozy evenings with friends, try restaurants that let you bring your alcohol (such as Tay Do Cafe, which serves Vietnamese food in East London). 

Booze on a budget 

Explore London’s best happy hours and download the Dusk app (formerly Drinki) for free cocktails.

Free outings 

London has plenty of beautiful parks and fascinating museums that are totally free. You can also find free events, activities and exhibitions. 

Save on cinema 

Movie lovers can get their fix for as little as £4 per ticket by paying a £10 annual fee at the Prince Charles Cinema, just off Leicester Square. (The Odeon around the corner has sold seats at £40 a pop, so it pays to do your research.)

Culture for £5 

See Shakespeare performed at the Globe for less than the cost of your lunch. The venue offers 700 standing tickets for every production at five quid each. As the bard himself wrote: “Poor and content are rich and rich enough”. 

TV for free 

Experience TV or radio differently by being part of a live audience. Go to the BBC, ITV or Channel 4 website to apply.

‘Having a laugh?’ I sometimes do.

Find free and cheap comedy nights via Angel Comedy or the (not so) Top Secret Comedy Club.

Music for less 

Head to Camden and Brixton for more free gigs than you can shake a drumstick. Or dance for free to live music at pubs like the Dog and Fox in Wimbledon.

How can I save money on shopping in London?

Books for a bargain 

London has some unbelievable second-hand book stores. Visit Skoob Books in Russell Square for a quirky vibe and shelves groaning with thousands of titles. Or head down to Regent’s Canal near King’s Cross between 12-7 pm to browse books on a barge. Also, British Heart Foundation Books & Music shops can be found across London. These charity shops specialise in books, music and movies. They sell all sorts of unique and interesting titles. While you save, you’re helping to fund life-saving research.

Thrift shops 

Shoreditch and Brick Lane are well-known for their thrift stores and vintage shops. It takes some effort to find a bargain. But compared to something bought off any high street store, it will be unique.

Charity shops in Chelsea 

Take advantage of the locals’ expensive taste by snapping up their second-hand goods. You’ll also find clearance stores on King’s Road that offer up to 75% off. 

Oxford Street 

If you can bear the crowds, you’ll find many affordable high street stores there. You can dress for next to nothing at Primark, and Tiger has a cheap and cheerful range of homeware, toys and knick-knacks.