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How to live in London when you technically can't afford it: Part 1

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

London! So you’ve arrived, landed with your suitcase and your umbrella (and floated down with your feet flat as Mary Poppins). Full of dreams, you’re on your way! Decide to stop in at the local cinema for a quick glass of wine to celebrate, ready to pay with your hard-earned pounds and the barman says, “That’ll be seven pounds please”. At which you fall off your chair, grab your hat and splutter, “I’m sorry, HOW MUCH? SEVEN POUNDS for a glass of rosé? Where exactly does your rosé come from?” (This happened to me at The Ritz in Brixton. True story.)

Now perhaps you’ve come to work at JP Morgan or KPMG, in which case ignore everything I’m about to tell you, its not worth your uber ride home.

BUT maybe you’re like me, and you’ve arrived with your suitcase of artistic hopes and dreams which at this point are paying you millions of….no, wait… ah ha….mmm…you’re paying for them. After Equity, Spotlight, Mandy, The Actors Centre, and that coffee at The National, not to mention headshots, your showreel AND your domain name… you, my dear, certainly can not be drowning yourself in seven-pound glasses of wine. Without a massive sense of guilt at least. Or a large trust fund.

So! What can you do to keep costs low in this city, at least till you make it big with that movie or land that HBO series regular?

1. Be Ruthless with your Rent Budget

Rent is going to be your biggest expense here in London. Apparently Londoners spend something like 60% of their salary on rent so it isn’t an expense to take lightly.

With that being said I have a few tips from the several times I’ve moved (see my ABOUT ME post). I figured out the other day, whilst filling out a job application that required my full residential history for the last five years (not creepy at all), that I have lived in roughly 10 different homes over the last five years. So I can speak with some authority.

First, decide on your budget. I set myself a budget of 500 pounds max. After living in the UK before and then living in Madrid, I felt this was reasonable. I knew it was going to be a challenge but I was determined. I also knew that I could cover this even when times got tough. I mean, I could definitely sell my body for 500 at least… Just kidding. So, decide what you can afford and then the next step is STICK TO IT. I mean it. When you’re searching set your filters with your price max and DON’T LOOK AROUND IT. Its just way too tempting. You see something thats 550 and you’re like, hmmm, I mean, its just 50 pounds, I could stretch 50 more. And its so pretty! Look at that garden! NO! A few months down the line you’ll be regretting that extra 50 because you’ll probably be too busy to use the garden anyway because you’re working extra time on your survival job to cover that extra 50 that could be paying your transport or at least two more acting classes. OR the worst, is chatting to a friend who has a much nicer room than yours in the same location and is paying 50 less which proves ITS POSSIBLE. Trust me. Stick to your budget.

Then in order to make this work decide on your other non-negotiables. For me, it was location. I didn’t want to be too far out the centre because I knew I would be doing lots of travelling and to various locations so something with easy access to transport routes and not too far from the major attractions was vital.

So what was I willing to give up? I was happy to consider rooms with single beds (its just for now). I was happy to consider rooms that were maybe on the small side (I’ve lived in a boat… I can deal with a shoebox), and I was happy to cut the garden (loads of parks in London anyway). Decide what you can survive with and use that to direct your search.

What did I end up with? I have my 500 pound room(yay!) in Brixton (pretty central), which has a double bed (woo) and enough space for me to set up a self-tape studio, or do some yoga or ballet. Winning! What am I sacrificing? The flat is so small there’s no living area. The washing machine is so old it sounds like a helicopter taking off as it comes to the end of its cycle, the shower is probably the most unenthusiastic watering machine I have ever experienced, I worry my hair isn’t being rinsed properly, and there’s a crazy lady that lives next door who shoves notes through our front door letterbox telling us not to speak to her and then shoving more notes through apologising profusely.

2. Food, glorious food!

Next up on your big expenses is going to be groceries. This was another hard pill to swallow when moving from Madrid. Food is so cheap there! And then you get here and check the label, where does it come from? Spain! Now, food is important (obviously) and as an actor you need to be in top form, eating healthily and all that, so we want to find a way to get the maximum for your money and not having to skimp on important nutrient sources. Not only that but eating out is exorbitantly expensive, and there are much better things that you could be spending your money on, like a class at The Actor's Centre, or a mic for your self-tape set-up. So rather cook at home.

So, where are you shopping? Not at Sainsbury’s. Not at Tescos. And most definitely not at Waitrose! Aldi or Lidl are by far your best options. I used to go to Tescos but recently found a Lidl around the corner from me and discovered that many basic items are almost HALF the price than at Tescos.

Another little bonus tip: buy from farmers markets or general grocers. Brixton Market has an incredible assortment of fruit and veg stalls that also sell grains and beans for much cheaper than the supermarkets. Like quinoa? So do I. Don’t buy it from Tescos or even Lidl. You can buy a substantial amount from a grocery store in a market area where they probably sell a mixture of ‘African cuisine’ products or ‘latin American’ products (and it will probably be called something like Abdul’s Fruit and Veg), and it will be cheaper than the supermarkets and just as great quality-wise.

3. Travel

Buy a bike.

To be fair this is a slightly contentious point due to the risk factor but since I’ve been in London and watched my money slipping through my fingers into the coffers of the underground or bus systems at an alarming rate, I’ve started seriously considering a bike. On the other hand, there’s cycling around Cambridge and then there’s cycling around London. Just because you’re a pro in the one doesn’t mean you can just happily cruise around the other. The one includes cycling along pretty park pathways along the river, and the other is battling traffic and trying not to get run over by those famous double decker buses.

Now I think it’s perfectly possible to find a happy medium. Buy a bike for general get around but keep an Oyster card topped up for long-distance travel, rainy days or routes that look like they might kill you if you attempt them by bike. And in the case you need to leave your bike I’d try and go by bus more than underground. It’s cheaper, has much nicer views and is far less stressful than the underground. AND, if you’re trying out bikes for the first time, I’d definitely give the Santander bikes a go. They’re a little heavy-going but good to get a feel for the bike routes around your area. Just don’t die in the process.

So that is part 1! I've covered the basics of your major expenses. Next I’ll be looking at factoring in exercise plans, going out (for coffee and theatre) and any additional extras you may request!

If you have any more ideas leave a comment below!


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