Budgeting is boring. It’s really not much fun putting limits on things in a city where there’s so much to do, see, eat and drink. And I doubt I’m alone in wishing that I could spend money without thinking about it. But in one of the world’s most expensive cities, managing your money is a reality for most and it’s a useful skill if you want to enjoy the big stuff (like a nice holiday) too.
At the beginning of 2014, with turning 30 and wanting to buy a house on the horizon, I promised myself I’d sort out my finances. I’d spent a good three years or so of doing as much as I could, often going beyond my means, and it felt like it was time to start being sensible. It hasn’t been easy (especially with a blog based on getting out and about), and some months I’ve not done so well (those shoes were a necessity…) but I’m getting there.
These last few weeks have felt particularly tricky as things have been tight after moving flat and preparing for some things coming up. So to help keep me going, and to give anyone in the same boat a little inspiration, I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt so far about managing money in London.
1. Bite the bullet and break down your essential outgoings. I find it helps me realise what I can really afford each month. My old housemate gave me this spreadsheet a few years ago and I still use it today. I take a look at it just before I get paid and when I’m planning a big purchase so I can figure out how I’ll pay for it.
2. Download your bank’s mobile app. You can get a mobile app for most big banks like Natwest, Nationwide, Barclays and HSBC. I downloaded the app for my account last year and I use it to keep track of my bank balance, transfer money to friends (rather than drawing out cash and spending the change), and pay bills on the go.
3. Get support from your friends (emotional not financial!). Friends and finances can be awkward, but I find it helps to talk about it even if it’s just a general ‘I’m broke’ winge. When we’ve got similar goals it means everyone is happy with cheaper catch ups and days out. But even when we haven’t, they sometimes have in the past and have some helpful tips (or at least some sympathy).
4. Spread out your socialising. I had a bit of a habit of organising things for those first two weeks after being paid and then struggling to do much in the last few weeks of the month, when I then start organising things after payday. It was a vicious cycle. It’s not always possible to spread things out but if you can it definitely helps.
5. Don’t be embarrassed to say no. I think London has a pretty big ‘Fear of Missing Out’ culture, due to its frequent pop ups and regular new openings. It has taken me a long time to start turning down things that I know will stretch my finances. I used to come up with random excuses to avoid looking (and feeling) boring. But over the last year or two I’ve stopped worrying about it so much and started to be sensible with what I can afford. Most of the time people appreciate the honesty, and it’s much easier than coming up with and maintaining an excuse.
6. Enjoy London’s beauty. You can easily spend a day walking around taking the city in (which doesn’t cost a penny). I try to choose an area I’ve not been to before (tip – West London is beautiful in Spring), or make sure when I revist places I look up and take in the architecture out of direct sight.
7. Work the wish list. I love shopping. These days it’s fuelled by fashion blogs, magazines and Instagram. So to stop me buying things I see straight away, I add things I really like to Pinterest so that when there’s a discount and/or I’ve got the money it’s easy to find and I don’t get so tempted to browse. I also use my Amazon wish list for books and kitchen equipment.
8. Make more of meals at home. It’s easier said than done, especially if cooking for one, but I really enjoy cooking a good meal at home these days. There’s so many blogs with easy recipes, meaning you don’t need a cookery book to get started. I’ve recently discovered that brunch at home can be as good as in all those cafes I see on Instagram on a Saturday morning. I’m getting good at American pancakes and avocado on toasted sourdough is super simple, both are fairly cheap to make at home. I’m going to try sweetcorn fritters next as I had a great brunch at M1lk with them. (Note -I don’t eat eggs, but if I did I’d try these brunch eggs.) I’m going to start exploring all the great food shops here too.
9. Exchange a cocktail night for a cocktail hour. I love cocktails but when they cost between £8 and £15 I prefer to savour the flavour and go for a cocktail hour or two. You still get to experience all the latest cocktail bars but it doesn’t break the bank.
10. Treat yourself. Small treats help keep me going when I’m really trying to manage my money. A good coffee and croissant is my reward for a week of packed lunches, I still allow myself new clothes each month (within a little budget) and I can still due impromptu things (I just know if I can afford it or not).
As with everything it’s all about getting that tricky thing called balance!
Do you live in London on a budget? Do you have any tips to share?