Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Cost of Living in London / Financial Diary (II)

Well, it's that time again, dear readers.  I last completed a financial diary over a year ago, and my expenses have changed quite a bit since then.  My largest expenditure - rent - is more than it had been due to changed circumstances and this has caused me to totally rethink how I spend my remaining income.  I burned through all of my savings (and then some) when I moved into my new place and I'm now really trying making it a priority to build up a bit of a nest egg again, so that's been an adjustment, too.

I'm going to make this post an amalgamation of the two I published last January, and so we'll have an overview plus a week's financial diary here.  (Yes, this is a long one!  Gird your loins.) Transparency is always good, I think, where these nuts-and-bolts issues are concerned.  I do hope these posts help all those who are researching a possible/impending move to London and perhaps even those who live here and are examining their own living expenses!

RENT & BILLS: £650/month
Again, I think that I've hit the jackpot with my current rental situation.  My monthly bank transfer to my landlords covers not only my monthly rent, but also all bills including utilities, internet, TV license, and council tax.  This figure was £100 higher when I first moved in, but after a few months we worked out a deal by which I give three evenings of babysitting a month in exchange for a comparable reduction on my rent.  (If you assume that it costs £9/hour to hire a childminder and that an "evening" of babysitting averages out at 4 hours per session, you'll conclude that this is an equitable deal for all.)

Because I live at the end of zone 2, I have a monthly travelcard for zones 1-2.  Jon lives in zone 4, so to get to his house I either take the bus from work, take the tube to the end of zone 2 and the bus the rest of the way, or add some pay-as-you-go money to my Oyster to take the tube directly to his house.  (Bus rides, no matter where you start and/or end and regardless of how long your trip is, always count as falling within zones 1-2.)

MOBILE PHONE: £43.93 in January
As mentioned before, my 02/Blackberry contract is for £30/month, but, as always, I've gone over because of the amount of time I spend on international calls.  (Last month was significantly more because of the situation with my grandmother.)  I'm not sure I can switch to anything cheaper without sacrificing the number of minutes and texts I get domestically - it's worth looking into, certainly, and if anyone has any suggestions...

I cannot stress enough that, the above sorts of outgoings aside, your expenditures will absolutely depend on the quality of life that you choose to lead.  It's entirely possible to limit yourself to the bare minimum for food and entertainment, but I promise that you won't have much fun on a budget like that.  Plus, you have to account for occasional but necessary purchases; for instance, you don't have to buy new shampoo often but when the need strikes you must act!

Last week, just to see what could be done and what sacrifices I could make, I tried to spend as little as possible.  I kept my food costs down by ransacking my freezer and pantry, bringing lunch to work almost every day, and rarely eating out.  I also skipped the little bagatelles of life like Grazia and Starbucks, for the most part.  Watching my budget made me choose my activities more carefully; I only went out when I really wanted to see the people organizing the gathering, and guarding my wallet made it even easier to stick to my teetotal phase (except on Thursday).  I was also lucky in that I had already penciled plans into the diary that didn't involve spending too much, like two nights of theatre and a houseparty.  Below, I put my week's outgoings into a bit of context by noting each day and/or night's activities so that you can gain a bit more insight.

[brunch at home with Jon and a friend - Jon bought the ingredients for that - and errands/to-do]
£24.78 - weekly grocery shop at Sainsbury's

[complimentary theatre tickets in the evening]
£3.58 - dinner from Subway

[work event in the evening]

[date night chez moi]

[drinks with friends in the evening]
£6.48 - international shipping to post a small package through Royal Mail
£4.15 - lunch from M&S Simply Food
£30 - cocktails and nibbles at the Mews of Mayfair

[quiet night at home]
£1.89 - salad from the café at work

[about town in the morning, babysitting in the afternoon, houseparty in the evening]
£4.70 - coffee and a cupcake from Bea's of Bloomsbury

TOTAL : £75.58

Again, I do want to say that, despite my deep misgivings about the Occupy Wall Street global protests, these are unquestionably difficult financial times for millions of people around the world, and so I was initially uncomfortable with publishing all of this given the economic hardship that others are facing.  But then I realized that we all navigate our own issues and there's no shame in having first world problems.  As a commenter on one of my favorite food blogs wrote, "I'm getting so tired of the 'first world problems' line being thrown on everything to make it seem silly.  We live in the first world.  We have small problems that we can trade advice on how to solve.  That doesn't mean we have no substance or character."  Amen.


  1. Ahh, I want your rent/utilities bill! :)

    I know you said you were in save mode this week, but your personal spend seems really reasonable to me. I am going to have to start minding my expenses, because at the moment I spend indiscriminately, which often means £8 lunches and £25 dinners out or ordered in. Not good.

    Thank God for cheap, healthy (if you want), delicious Subway. :)

  2. Look into Skype-To-Go on your mobile. I pay $5 a month and can call any US number just using my UK mobile minutes from my plan. I'm sure there is a plan you can pay in GBP if that is necessary. The only annoying this is no one can call you on this plan but as long as I can call them I'm happy.

  3. Ashley, isn't that only for iPhones over here? I looked for it on my English Blackberry and couldn't find it, though it was on my American Blackberry. (Another reason to switch to an iPhone!)

    1. It doesn't mater what phone you use. It could be iPhone, blackberry from any country or not a smartphone. It through skype not your phone or provider

  4. Another option is something I've used ever since I got here called Top Up Discount. It's basically a text service that you register with and you pay £5 (top up) and get £5 credit with them to call the US (and other countries) for 1p per minute. It's annoying because you call an access number then have to dial whoever you're calling, but it's great for the long family chats. The Irishman uses Skype as well but I find Skype unreliable. Also, overall mobile - most companies give employees discount offers - I've never paid full price for mobile service, I get 30% off with O2 through my Friends & Family discount. Talk to your HR people - you can use Jon's too if he gets it. There are deals to be had - you just have to find them :) good luck!

  5. I use rebtel for free calls to the US. It allows you to register your uk phone number, and then gives you local phone numbers to contact your international friends and family using VOIP technology. check it out at, or by using their iphone app. I highly recommend it!

  6. I've really got to start bringing lunch to work rather than buying at Eat or Pret every day. Probably makes quite a big difference in the long run...I'd say your spend is pretty average, though I've never taken the time to actually write mine out! Maybe I should this week for kicks. I'd probably scare myself. Haha...

  7. A couple of things on the phone situation:

    1) We happen to have a landline and pay 10 quid a month for unlimited calling to the US and Canada.

    2) Viber, as long as both parties have the app, is free

    3) Google voice allows you to have a free US phone number. I can text via Google voice for free anywhere in the US and people can text me for free b/c it is a US number.

    Also, when I'm in massive moneysaving mode, I schedule walks in the park with friends instead of drinks or coffees (this is better during the summer obviously) but it gets me outside AND I get exercise and a visit.


I love reading your thoughts and suggestions! Please do leave a comment so we can get to know each other better.