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Navigating London’s pricey terrain: Student edition

By IOE Blog Editor, on 10 August 2023

Reka with nature on a grassy hillside. There is an ocean on the right side below. Image permission: Reka Olah.

Réka Oláh. Image permission: Réka Oláh.

By Réka Oláh, Social Sciences BSc

When I envisioned my university years, I was well aware that they would not revolve around extravagant expenses, and that I would have to work to support myself. This made me a bit anxious, as university life often seems geared towards wealthier students who can afford things like lavish brunches, fancy bars or endless clubbing. But fear not! Even with limited funds, you can still have a fantastic experience in London, this truly wonderful and diverse city. Here’s how I made the most of my undergraduate years at IOE without breaking the bank: 

Making money

While many (over)emphasise the importance of securing a summer internship for future career prospects, for some of us, a job is first and foremost a means to pay for our daily expenses. The good news is that there are numerous job opportunities available for students in London. Websites like Student Job UK are great for finding part-time work you can fit around your studies. What is, in my opinion, even smarter is regularly checking UCL Careers vacancies and subscribing to their newsletter for opportunities – trust me, it’s a total game-changer! Another invaluable resource is the UCL Job Shop website, where you can find several on-campus jobs with better pay compared to many external ones. Top tip: get involved with the Students’ Union or other university roles as soon as you can! Working in these roles can help you become part of an awesome community and unlock further job opportunities that often stay within these circles. Most of these jobs are on campus, making them super convenient to juggle alongside your studies. Plus, roles like Welcome Ambassador or Transition Mentor also allow you to immerse yourself more in UCL and/or your department. 

Other things you can consider on top of working is keeping an eye out for UCL (or external) scholarships and funds – many of these are distributed based on one’s financial needs. A really smart move is entering competitions – these can help you not only enhance your professional growth and expand your network but can also contribute to your bank account if you win a prize. Personally, I took part in essay competitions during my time at uni, but I’ve seen fellow students excel in game design events or paid hackathons as well. Lastly, don’t underestimate surveys – I know there are some dodgy websites out there, but there are ones that will actually pay you (I highly recommend checking out Imagen Insights). UCL researchers are also often willing to compensate you (usually with vouchers) for participating in focus groups, surveys or interviews – so, sign up for every relevant newsletter you can find! There is, for example, the ELFE Lab at UCL that occasionally conducts computer-based experiments, and they transfer actual money to the participants’ bank accounts. 

Affordable adventures

It may sound like an obvious thing, but seriously – make the most of UCL societies! They offer fantastic activities at a fraction of the cost that you would find elsewhere. Joining societies opens up a world of cool events and the chance to connect with like-minded people – and there is something for everyone, from serious societies to more laid-back ones. Student discounts will also be your best friend when it comes to external cultural events. Take advantage of deals, such as the offer of the Royal Opera House, which sells youth tickets for £25 (or half the original price). Last-minute ticket bookings can also score you some great deals if you’re flexible with your plans. And guess what? Most museums in London are absolutely free, so make sure to explore as many as you can!  

Eating in and out

When it comes to buying food, avoid the fancy stores and opt for budget-friendly supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi (there is a Lidl right next to campus, on Tottenham Court Road). Even if you’re in Central and can’t really find these options near you, fear not – Tesco with a Clubcard can still be a pretty reasonable choice. The savings will come in handy, whether it’s a 20p-off deal on your favourite chocolate in-store, or a discount for an external event (yes, a Clubcard has those too). Cooking at home is not only budget-friendly but can also be a fun activity if you’re up for experimenting with friends. You can even bring your homemade lunch to uni and heat it up in a microwave in the Student Centre (and some other locations). Of course, we all have moments when eating out seems to be the best choice – UCL cafés, stalls and the Refectory are your wallet-friendly heroes for these occasions. They offer a wide range of drinks, pastries, sandwiches, lunchboxes, and even hot meals like pizza or fried chicken. Plus, many restaurants near campus (e.g., on Brunswick Square or Tottenham Court Road) offer great student discounts on their tasty meals. Food markets are another gem, especially if you want to try out international cuisines without breaking the bank. You’ll find one right next to UCL on Torrington Square every Thursday! 

The art of learning

First and foremost – don’t waste money buying physical books when most reading materials are available online or in-person in the UCL libraries. If you still opt for getting your own, consider buying used ones, as new uni books can cost a fortune. Shopping online is also a savvy move – Amazon offers a free 6-month Prime membership for students. When it comes to affordable reading and study spaces, the 17 libraries of UCL have you covered. They’re (mostly) silent and they don’t require you to buy a coffee to use the space, although you certainly can take your favourite caffeine boost with you. Places like the Wellcome Collection, Senate House Library and the British Library also offer pretty cool and free study spaces. Finally, UCL’s film service is a resource many don’t know about, but you can watch many movies (not just documentaries!) for free using your university credentials. 

Getting around the city

To save on transportation costs, consider biking or walking whenever possible – I know this is not really ideal in wintertime, but spring or summer London walks can actually be lovely. If you still frequently use public transport, get an 18+ Oyster card and plan your trips accordingly to get the most out of its benefits. Additionally, getting a 16-25 Railcard can save you 1/3 on train tickets across the country. Depending on how much you travel, the Railcard can quickly pay for itself and start saving you money. In my case, it covered its cost within six months, even though I only used it for trips to and from the airport – and later, I got amazing deals like a £6 ticket to Brighton thanks to it! 

I hope this guide helps you enjoy your time in London on a budget. Remember, this city is truly one of the most unique ones in Europe, and with some smart choices and resourcefulness, you can have an amazing experience without emptying your wallet!


For more student perspectives on ways to save money while at university, take a look at:

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