London on a Budget! (From an alumna who did British Studies for under $2000)

Full English breakfast is always tempting, but a muffin on the fly costs less
English breakfasts are tempting…

When it comes to budgets and study abroad, we sometimes hear about the miracle student from a a few years back who managed to do British Studies for about $1000 over the program cost.  Given that we all live in central London for a bout a month (and the city is the second most expensive city in the world), that’s a miracle number for anybody to achieve. Just as occasionally, we hear about the student who came on British Studies and spent a king’s ransom of her or his grandparents’ money to live large all month.  Mainly, though, British Studies budget stories are based on the “average” student who comes over and spends more of an “average” amount of money.  What’s that amount and how do student who spend it keep to their budget?  Well here’s Michelle P., an alumna from BSP 2012, in her own words, offering some practical pointers on how to spend less rather than more when you’re in London…

Croissants before class? Good call!
Croissants before class? Good call!

How I did everything I wanted in month for about $2000?  Well the key to a good budget is routine, and a little self-control doesn’t hurt either. I went to London not wanting to send an arm and a leg, but I still wanted to have a great time. I not only spent under $2,000, but I had life changing time doing it. I’m not afraid of a great time and am not a person who sits in my room all the time reading. Nope, I’m a fun-loving gal who just can’t afford to be totally reckless with funds.  Here are the 5 tips I’ve got to help you enjoy your journey and manage your money:

"One of these loaded waffles today instead of the pub tonight? Done!"
“One of these loaded waffles today instead of the pub tonight? Done!”

1. Pack food- This had to be the biggest help. I packed 7lbs worth of breakfast and snack foods. This saved me from having to buy breakfast every morning and cut down on pound spending during the day. The absolute best part about this is I had room in my suitcase for all the stuff I bought with the breakfast money I saved. So grab food that’s easy to pack and that you love, and you will save time and money in London as a result.

Restaurants are so tempting. Just plan how many you will go to each week.
Restaurants are so tempting. Just plan how many you will go to each week.

2. Routine Withdrawals: I took 150 pounds over with me; this can be worked out through your bank. Make sure to tell them that you are going overseas, otherwise you might get into a bind and I have seen the freak-out first hand, not a fun memorable moment. I used the 150 as a test amount and when I ran out I made that day, “Withdrawal Day” for the remainder of my trip. When it came time to withdraw, I took out the max of 250 from the Waterloo Station atm. Check with your bank to see what transaction fees are, each bank varies, but Waterloo was only about 3 dollars each time for me. Also, be aware of the conversion rates. For those who haven’t had an economics class, brush up before you leave. Understanding that a 1£= 2$ (I always rounded to make 2) will really help to ask yourself is it really worth twice the price tag. And if you take out routine amounts and watch yourself with your funds carefully, you’re going to come home to a loving family and not a huge financial surprise.

Picnics by the river are fun and cheap
Picnics by the river are fun and cheap, and you can meet British families who are doing the same thing

3. Sainsbury- When in London, do what a Londoner does, right? Right!  Take advantage of the market place around the corner from the dorm and buy food there. I love fruit, and surprisingly London has some of the best fruit I have ever tasted. It’s also fun to see where it was shipped from to get to London. I tried some days to pack my lunch. And I bought snacks regularly to make it less likely that I would end up in a restaurant to buy an emergency meal.  The kitchen in your flat is there to be used, and I know some students cooked more than most of us did.  The people who cooked spent way less money than everybody who went straight to restaurants, so if you can cook and want to, then by all means plan on using the dorm kitchen that’s right down the hallway from your room.

Reading the paper with a great coffee is a cheap and fun way to enjoy London
Reading the paper with a great coffee is a cheap and fun way to enjoy a great London afternoon or early evening. Coffee culture is as big as pub culture!

4. Less Liquid- Drinking in London is all fun and games until you close your tab. The the buyer’s remorse hits, and you’re wondering pretty quickly why it seemed like a good idea to buy those awesome people from the Business class glasses of wine.  Anyway, drink if you must, but it’s not as cheap as the states. Plus you will see that the Brits don’t drink quite like we do in the states, either.  I personally was pretty moderate and had only a couple drinks while I was there, and I still had a totally awesome time. I just don’t see the point in wasting money on alcohol. There is so much to see that isn’t in a bar room. And it was easy to find other people in my class or just on the program who were game on any given night do something that wasn’t about going to the pub.  Pubs are fun, but as one of the professors said in orientation…”but don’t make them your life in London.”

Much of London is free! Even most museums cost nothing. So do the free things!
Much of London is free! Even most museums cost nothing. So do the free things!

5. Think First- Think about what you would spend back home. I know that I try and only eat out once a week. Maybe you eat out every night? If that’s the case, you’re going to spend serious money on your British Studies food. Always shop around before you shell out your money, and listen to where your peers found deals or felt like they got ripped off. I got a ton of good advice from my fellow students and from our professors, so I say ask for help!

My five rules helped me, and they can help you too.  But so can the rules or ideas you get from other alumni, who have been there and felt how tempting it can be to end up in restaurants or pubs or clubs on nights when you probably should be staying in and doing some work for class or maybe just taking a walk along the river with new friends.  Anyway, I hope my rules can help you and even more, I hope you have the same kind of incredible month on British Studies that I had.


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