So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Budgeting for Living in London

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Another frequent question I get from people who are thinking about moving to London is “How much does it cost to live in London?” This is obviously another one of those “it depends” answers, because it depends on your lifestyle and the trade-offs you are or aren’t willing to make. Below, I’ve given a descriptive idea of my experience so that you can have an anchoring point for where you might fall along the spectrum. In addition, tax (VAT), is included in all the prices I’m discussing below.

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  1. Food (Grocery)

Generally, I’ve found groceries to be at least 10-15% cheaper here than in Canada, depending on the item. I’ve included a sample receipt for some groceries I’ve recently bought. However, you can take your average grocery receipt and try to find the equivalent items on the grocery delivery sites for the major grocery store chains (which will match closely with in-store prices) to estimate what your monthly grocery bill will be (Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury, Ocado).

SainsburyReceipt

In my sample receipt, I’ve taken a few of the items and broken them down into meals in this spreadsheet here. If you consumed the food I do, you’d be able to make a breakfast for £1, and a lunch / dinner for £3.20 (you can assume £4 if you have a big appetite). You can budget in £1.28 for snacks – I’ve put in 1 peach and a bakery item. In total, a full day’s worth of food would cost £8.57 if you never ate out and ate things similar to my taste. That’s roughly £260 for 30 days of groceries for 1 person.

Additionally, there will be a slight price differential between Central London grocery stores and grocery stores further out. You can also buy produce for cheaper at local fresh markets as well as ethnic grocery stores (for example, the bok choi is much cheaper at the Chinese grocery stores in Chinatown than at the Sainsbury in my neighbourhood).

  1. Food (Dining Out) & Drink

Dining out and alcohol is one of the most expensive categories when compared to food and drink back in Canada. I’ve thrown some international brands in here as well so you can get a sense of comparables. I’ve also linked you to menus, where possible. The prices below include VAT (tax), but do not include service. Sometimes restaurants automatically add 12.5% service, other times they do not. At your discretion, though not required except on large party sizes.

Restaurant Type Sample Cost
Subway Fast food / takeaway ·      £3.40 for a 6” Tuna Sub
Starbucks Coffee takeaway ·      £2.50 – £3.00 for an Americano
Franco Manca Small chain – casual ·      £7.50 for a handmade pizza

·      £5.95 for a glass of wine

Dishoom Mid-level restaurant – casual ·      £8.50 for a Chicken Tikka

·      £3.20 for a Garlic Naan

·      £8.50 for a cocktail

Pig & Butcher Mid-level pub – casual ·      £18.95 for a roasted leg of Saltmarsh lamb (Sunday roast)

·      £5.65 Bottled IPA

Granger & Co Mid-level restaurant – casual ·      £12.95 brunch pancakes

·      £9.95 white peach Bellini

Lima Floral Mid-level restaurant – casual ·      £14 tuna (starter)

·      £24 hot ceviche (main)

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal 2 Michelin Star restaurant – upscale ·      £21 meat fruit (starter)

·      £44 powdered duck breast (main)

·      £16 tipsy cake (dessert)

·      £15.50 glass of white wine

Housing & Bills

To answer the housing question, this really depends where you live, whether or not you want flat mates, the condition of the property, etc. However, there’s plenty of rental pricing information available online, and I’ve written a separate guide here to give you an idea for how much you might pay for a given neighbourhood, including the bills.

You could probably pay as little as £300-400 per month for housing and bills, but you’d live 50 mins + train journey away from Central London, or you’d live in a lower quality building, or you’d have a lot of roommates. A studio flat in Central London would easily cost at least £1600 a month, and more if you want more space or a one bed. If you’re living on your own, check your post code to see if you qualify for a single-person council tax discount. In my flat-hunting guide, I’ve also detailed what bills you need to factor in for your housing and where you can find information for what those bills might cost. An anecdotal survey from my friends indicate the following ranges:

Bill Type Amount per month per person
Council Tax £50 – £75
Water £10 – £15
Gas + Electricity £15 – £25

Internet and Phone

This is another area that I’ve found to be cheaper than in Canada. Especially because the population density in Canada is very low, phone plans (especially concerning differences in data included) are fairly expensive. As I bought an unlocked Apple phone, my sim-only contract is £15 a month and it includes 12GB of data and unlimited texts and phone calls in the UK. Though there are quite a few mobile providers here, I went with Three because of the awesome Feel at Home feature that is sure to help you when you plan all your weekend and bank holiday trips as it allows you to use your texting, calling, and data allowance in 71 other countries. Your other main telco provider options are O2, Vodafone, and EE.

For broadband, I pay £17 a month with TalkTalk for the most basic internet speeds and unlimited usage. If you stream a lot, this might not work for you, as I do find that my internet speed is occasionally laggy. I suggest you go on to a couple of comparison sites (uSwitch, Compare the Market, MoneySuperMarket) and find the best plan / deal for your needs, as you may also want TV or a landline as well, but make sure to be aware that some of the plans in their results are sponsored (those are labelled as such). In addition, Relish are a 4G internet company for home use that doesn’t require that annoying engineering set-up appointment where you have to be at home. As a result, they may be a viable alternative if you’re just looking to get up and running really quickly.

  1. Transportation

Your transportation options around the city include tube, overground, bus, regional train, taxi, Uber, ferry, or cycle. I’ve generally found transit cheaper than back home in Toronto, but the cost of everything, as always, will depend on distance of travel, frequency, and any government subsidies / programs you should look into.

Mode of Transport Approx. Cost Subsidies / Special Pricing
Tube Single journey – Zones 1-2; Oyster / contactless payments:

·         £2.40 – £2.80 off-peak

·         £2.90 – £3.30 peak

·         Daily cap of £6.80

·   Discounted travel

·   Travelcard

Overground Single journey; Oyster / contactless payments:

·         £1.70 peak

·         £1.50 off-peak

· Travelcard
Busses / Trams Single journey; Oyster / contactless payments:

·         £1.50 all journeys

·         Daily cap of £4.50

·         Weekly cap of £21.20

· Unlimited journeys in an hour

· Bus and Tram Pass

Regional Train Varies depending on time and destinations ·   Rail Card – 1/3 off train tickets

·   Season ticket pricing

Taxi / Uber Back Cabs (taxis) are 2-4x as expensive as Ubers. Generally I can get most places for £5 -£15 with Uber Install Uber with invite code n57u3 to get £10 off your first ride
Cycle ·         £2.00 per 24 hours unlimited use for journeys <30 minutes

·         £90 annual membership

Save 25-39% on a new bike for work with your employer
Ferry Single journey; Oyster / contactless payments:

·         £4.60 to £9.90

· Discounts

Entertainment / Leisure

Rather than give you a precise number, I’ve given a list of common “things to do” and links to pricing information so you can get an idea of cost. Theatre shows, plays, gigs, and admissions all vary widely, so I believe this is the best way for you to gauge cost. One thing to note is that a lot of the regular collections (i.e. not special exhibitions) at most museums and galleries have free admission. You can see the likes of Van Gogh absolutely free at the National Gallery, for example!

Type Merchant / Vendor Examples Sample Prices
Musical Theatre ·      Delfont Mackintosh Theatre

·      ATG Tickets

·      £49.75 – £94.75 (Aladdin)

·      TKTS discounts

Plays / Operas ·      Barbican

·      Almeida Theatre

·      London National Opera

·      Old Vic

·      £18 (Crave)

·      £10 – £40 (The Writer)

·      £25 (Acis and Galatea)

·      £8.50 – £100 (A Monster Calls)

Music Gigs ·      Ticketmaster

·      See Tickets

·      Dice

·      £28.25 (Of Mice and Men)

·      £22 – £83 (Walk Off the Earth)

·      £83 – £280 (Taylor Swift)

Museums ·      Somerset House

·      British Museum

·      Museum of Natural History

·      £14 – £17 (Rodin)

·      £7 to £38 (Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Galleries ·      National Gallery

·      Tate Modern

·      Victoria and Albert

·      National Art Pass

·      £20 – £22 (Monet & Architecture Exhibit)

·      £10 – £32 (Picasso Exhibit)

Talks ·      Eventbrite

·      List

·      £27.50 to £35 (Sir Ranulph Fiennes)
Sport ·      Ticketmaster

·      Eticketing

·      Lord’s Cricket

·      £50 – £85 (England v. Pakistan)

·      £55 – £200 (Aviva Rugby Final)

Clothing & Goods

I haven’t done as much shopping here as I did back home, as I would often shop in the US. With the exception of home goods which will be the topic of another post, I would recommend you look at some generic fast fashion retailers online for pricing. Clothing prices depend so much on style and taste that you’ll have to budget for this yourself. There are plenty of thrift / charity shops that have a good selection as well if you’re on a budget. Have a look at ASOS, H&M, Forever21, BooHoo, and Pretty Little Thing for fast fashion. For some higher quality brands, look into Uniqlo, & Other Stories, Maje, Net-A-Porter, and Sandro, or check out the higher-end department store Selfridges.

For home goods, you might want to check out Amazon, Argos, Flying Tiger, Next, or H&M home. But also, don’t underestimate your ability to find free or good quality used items on Freecycle, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, or Schpock.

While this guide is not meant to be a comprehensive look at the cost of living in London, it is meant to give you at least an idea so you can start imagining what your monthly outgoings would be to support your lifestyle. If you have any tips or budgeting ideas, please leave a comment below!

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