London On A Budget
Tips from an artist on how to save money in London
Money is weird. As a freelancer/creative/artist, it comes and goes so quickly. Rushing in, leaking out and generally splashing about a bit. Like a confusing tide, with a tidal pattern that follows...I don’t know what - cosmic divinity (here’s hoping.) As an artist, it’s mostly slipping away. Rent, bye! Bills, See ya! Pub rounds, Shit!
Moving to a big city for the first time, with nothing but a creative degree or artistic practice to show for yourself - it can be pretty daunting. After 4 years in the big smoke as an actor, I feel I can somewhat positively call myself a Londoner. When I say “home”, in my head I see my little slice of the city. London is my home. When I think it my heart flutters in that nice, exciting way. Like you are about to go on a date or something. It also pisses me off. Big time. Making me want to shout at it, fling the door and wait for it to apologise.
Therefore, I think this metaphor somehow makes me capable of speaking about it with a little confidence. One aspect of this I do feel pretty confident in - the ways I have discovered you can save a few pounds here and there. How a few little tricks for frugal living in London have given me a better grip on the slippery old finances. Allowing a little calm to exist in all things financial.
Ah the smell of book pages. I know everyone loves a kindle these days, but there’s something about the pages of a book I don’t think I’ll ever give up. But at £8 to £9 a pop, if you love books you are going to be shelling out a lot. I used to buy around 3 books a month. That’s £30-40 (or 4 pints as I like to think of it). Plus most of them were on Amazon - which as I now know is a yucky way to buy things.
So I turned to the library. I’m not going to lie, it was daunting to begin with. So used to just a push of a button, I now had to actually go and see another human to get my book fix...
But to my surprise, it was seamless. With Better Libraries, you can order books you fancy online and they email you when they are ready to collect. You can keep them for around 3 weeks and renew online if you need too. I was also surprised at the selection. They have the old classics and the fresh hot new reads. Be prepared for a little wait for popular books, but I snapped up Where The Crawdad’s Sing, Three Women and The Dutch House all from my local Biblioteca. Not bad!
Then - if I want to actually buy them for keeps - like if it's a book I want to keep forever, I'll buy it on Hive, which supports local booksellers! Win Win!
Hear me out here. I have a confession. I used to look at cyclists and think - you are bonkers. All of them. The lycra ones, the hipster ones and everyone between. I used to think it was a bloodsport for lunatics and lycra-fetishists. But then lockdown happened...
My dusty old bike I used in Oxford suddenly looked extremely appealing. After queuing at Halfords for about 8 years of my life (worth it) I got her fixed up and ready to ride. I started gently. Around Greenwich and Blackheath. Then I got bolder and braver.
You are now looking at (reading?) a bonafide bike enthusiast. I’m a new woman. I now cycle an hour each way to work and back. I’ll cycle anywhere within a 1-hour radius if I can. I’m a maniac on wheels - I mean delirious and giddy (not unsafe promise.) I’m boring to tears anyone who will listen to me. “I can’t believe I never did it before. I’m saving so much, so much money. And the MOOD boost, god it’s wonderful”.
Yes, I can hear my self. And I don’t bloody care. It is genuinely life-changing. And as cringey as it sounds, I have fallen in love with London all over again. Seeing it from the saddle of a bike has something fresh, exciting and oh-so-romantic. It’s fucking beautiful. So there.
A few things though -
Punctures - I had my first one last week. Be prepared for it to happen every now and then. It’s a bit of a fuckery if you are on the way to work, but most shops will repair them fast and cheap (mine was £16.99!) Promise you, it’s still worth it.
Helmet - don’t chance it. Just don’t. I know you might have quaffed your hair perfectly that day, but it’ll look better on you if you are still here to tell the tale. I love cycling, but it doesn’t come without risks. I’ve had a few scary moments, nothing to put anyone off, but you have to have your wits about you. And just wear a helmet.
Hi-vis - yep. I’m that girl. In winter? I think I always will. Most scrapes and near misses come from drivers just totally missing you are there, so why not be a fucking lighthouse isntead? HEY CAR YEAH ME HI DON’T HIT ME COOL.
Ok this blew my mind. I have spent my entire London life tapping away on my contactless card, just thinking I was being bright and smart. Then, hold up, wait a minute. You can connect your Oyster card to your railcard and save ⅓ off off-peak travel. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for an artist or creative (usually working odds and ends hours) it adds up! It also means travel at the weekends is slightly discounted. So more margaritas with that drag brunch darling! (Is it bad I see every saving as another drink? Hey - whatever.)
You can connect your railcard to your Oyster at any tube or rail station - just ask the staff there to help you.
Just Get Coffee
Ok fine. I admit, sometimes I do forgo the brunch. If it’s been a heavy week - I’ve seen 2 shows, three pub nights and decided I finally need new underpants - I know my limits. I try and stick to a weekly “fun” budget so I know exactly how much I am spending. And sometimes that fun budget doesn’t make it to Sunday. Sometimes it doesn’t even make it to Tuesday but that’s a different matter..
So - if it’s Sunday brunch and I’ve got a hole in my wallet the size of a crater? I just have a coffee. No FOMO - make yourself a delicious breakfast before you go. You can still have all the social time you like, just cut the bill by 95%. And guess what - no one cares. I do it all the time and my friends with real jobs don’t give a fuck. Sometimes they let you have their leftovers. And I bloody well have them. Artists gotta do what an artists gotta do.
This is my favourite tip in the whole world, and I wish for GOD’S sake that someone had let me in on it sooner. All credit for this goes to my wonderful pal Hebe - queen of all things wild and wonderful. She's also a really smashing actress.
Now you might think - someone’s going to ruin my glorious tresses!! No thanks! But it’s not really like that. I recently got my hair cut, highlighted and blow dried to perfection in the bougiest salon you’ve ever seen in Mayfair. All because the hairdresser had moved to the salon and needs to prove what they can do the boss there. This lovely hairdresser was the top colourist in Scotland but simply can't charge for a “trial”. Needless to say, my hair was fucking flawless. And I paid exactly £0.
There are some Facebook groups to join for this. I recommend Haircut & Colour Models Needed In London and Free Hairdressing Services and models needed in London. Bear in mind - these are not spaces where you can request a service, wait patiently until the right thing crops up, and get a sense from the message level the trainee is at. Usually, they mention the salon, which a quick google can confirm if it’s a top-quality place or not. Usually, they are quite last minute, say for the next day, and they DON’T like cancellations. So be quick, flexible and pleasant and you will save yourself a FORTUNE. You’re welcome.
So this might seem weird, but hear me out. I try really hard to not be sick. I mean we all do. But what I mean is, I see my functioning/not sick self as the best way to be financially better off. Because sadly as a freelancer if you don’t work you don’t earn. As an actor, if you can’t audition - well you can’t get the job. It may be a subconscious thing that’s burrowed into my immune system - but I also try hard at it. I try and eat the veggies and the fruit and the things they tell us are good for us. I like a party, but I like to also sometimes get into bed at 8.30 with an eye mask on. Not sorry.
When it comes to food I try and have all the good essentials in stock - so there’s less excuse to reach for the Deliveroo app (also a black hole for your finances!) But sometimes getting these can get really expensive. Especially if you only live near small convenience shops that hike up the prices. Oat milk for 3.50? Fuck you. But I’ll buy it...
So - this is where Good Club comes in. I found them at the start of this year and just totally fell in love. They offer staple “health” foods (and lots of normal stuff too) at wholesale prices. You pay £20 for a year membership, which gives you one free delivery a month for 12 months! So you can get all the basics in bulk delivered for free! They are currently trialling zero waste delivery using reusable packaging too.
Plus if you sign up with my referral code, they send a food parcel to a family in need. Which is just bloody lovely.
I hope these tips save you all some cash. And no judgement how you use it. For a monzo savings pot or endless Margaritas - you do you.
Author: Olivia Foan
The links I have used take you to Hive - which helps support local bookstores and small business - these are affiliate links. It doesn’t change the price of your purchase it just helps support Chalkboard, but if you prefer not to use it we still love you.