Living in the UK as an expat you are more than likely to be earning significantly higher than in your home country; so much so that you probably send money from UK back home in sizable amounts. Nevertheless, the costs of living in a mature economy like the UK are also higher. You may want to get the most mileage for every buck you spend, and there are certainly ways to do so. Your expenses can be categorized into groups and so should your strategy.
The cost of living is high in the UK, and not just for expats, particularly in crowded cities like London. Thousands of people let out spare rooms in their homes for a fraction of the cost you would pay to get your own apartment. Another option is to rent space in a shared flat. Home owners frequently let their apartments to persons who then sublet rooms to others. In this kind of a setup you get your own room while the kitchen and living space is common. Students and early stage professionals commonly rent these spaces. There is a lot of mobility among these groups and free rooms become available often, although they also get taken quickly. There are mobile apps and websites to help find such places to stay.
Another option is to live on a ‘home share’ basis, typically with someone elderly. In addition to doing some chores for your benefactor you agree to spend some time with them on a weekly basis as part of your rent agreement. The advantage is getting a place for markedly below market price, often in a nice locale. Some charitable agencies list such accommodations.
Renting an empty apartment is popular. People travel all the time and paying rent on an empty UK apartment while staying abroad is an undesirable cost, so they let it out. These are usually nice pads available for a portion of the actual rent, for anywhere between a few months to several years. The prerequisite to getting one is to build trust with the property owner.
Consider moving. If your rent is too high you may consider getting a place in a less crowded, lower rent zone. This may add a few minutes to your daily commute while cutting your rent down in half or less. Keep in mind that the vast majority of apartments are furnished. You won’t need to buy too much furniture or take it along when you move.
Food and shopping
Shopping locally and cooking your own food is cost effective, with the added advantage of getting a taste of home. At the same time, eating out need not be expensive if you stick to the ‘local’ cuisine and don’t look for exotic home food. With a large number of outlets competing for business there are always discounts to be had on meals. Off-peak deals and ‘happy hours’ are common. There are apps for finding meal discounts and vouchers. Moreover if you eat at the same place frequently and the owners recognize that fact, they are often willing to extend a neat discount. You are also not expected to tip at restaurants in the UK. Keep in mind that a Pound Sterling is worth more than a dollar or a Euro, and don’t hesitate to collect those coins.
Public transport including the tube and buses are by far the cheapest way to get around, and also one of the most effective. Minimize your trip expenses and the inconvenience of carrying around much small change by getting a prepaid card. Plan your local travel to match the bus and tube timings (they don’t all run 24/7). Avoid paying for taxis if it can be helped. For long distance and vacation travel some airlines and travel companies frequently offer amazing deals. Signup for their discount alerts and you will be surprised at how cheap it can be to explore Europe.
Many expats quickly develop a keen eye for any store signs or ads with the words ‘discount’ or ‘sale’. Buying clothes, groceries, furniture and pretty much everything on a sale can save you a bundle. If you shop at one place a lot you should get their loyalty card for discount and cashback deals. Signing up for alerts also works for stores as they often share online discount codes for promotions. Choose the optimum mobile/internet plan to minimize your communication expense. Use a prepaid if that works out cheaper. Get a local bank card for the widest acceptance as some vendors may not honor foreign debit cards. Avoid waste in all things, buying only what you are sure to use.