London: When the Exchange Rate Bites You in the Butt

Written by Patty Hodapp. View her travel blog here.

So I looked at my bank account today and nearly died of a heart attack. A few days ago, I only withdrew £200, how in the world could that equal $324.60! London is the most expensive city in the world, and with the dollar-pound sterling ratio being so terrible lately, you end up spending almost twice as much and the value of the dollar gets you half as far.  With my savings rapidly depleting, I decided I needed ways to spend less in London ASAP. Here are quick spending tips to get you the most bang for your buck (or pound) in London.

 1. Travel Oyster Cards: One trip on the underground is £4. That is equivalent of almost $8. But, if you go to the counter in any underground station and put a £3 deposit on a little plastic card called an Oyster card, you can save over 50% on all of your travel. Essentially you top up the card by putting money on in a pre-pay fashion, and each time you swipe into the Tube or swipe onto a bus, the value on the card is decreased. Even if you don’t travel that much, it’s definitely worth it to pick up an Oyster. I applied for a student Oyster card which saves you 30% on all of your big travel passes (monthly, weekly, tri-monthly) so I ended up paying £69 for a monthly pass that was originally £100+. Translation into dollars: I saved about 55 dollars.

 2. Whip Out the Cook Book: As cool as it is to eat out, grocery shopping and cooking for yourself is one of the biggest money savers. A bag of pasta and a can of sauce can last you two meals. Cereal, cheese, bread, milk, and meat products are always cheaper at the bigger grocery stores. If you go to a Tesco or Sainsbury’s you can get their generic version of each product as well to save big bucks. Although, don’t hesitate to treat yourself out to a dinner or lunch once in a while– after all part of experiencing London is tasting the great ethnic foods! Head to the East End markets on the weekend to enjoy cheap, authentic food from all areas of the world: Morocco, Spain, Mexico, China, Japan, you name it.

3. Primark: On Oxford Street by the Marble Arch Tube stop, there is a store called Primark. Primark is a chain all over Britain but its flagship store is conveniently located in the heart of the shopping district. Here you can find very cheap alternatives to Britain’s expensive boutiques. I found myself running out of bobby pins and hair ties so I went in here just to look, and found a huge pack for £1. (At Boots, the official drug store of England, expect to pay a few pounds for bobby pins.)

4. East End Markets: In this area of London, right off the Liverpool Tube stop, you can find several vendors selling everything from dresses, vintage apparel, bags, hair pieces, CD’s, handmade jewelry etc. Some vendors will let you bargain here so it doesn’t hurt to ask if you can get an item for £5 less than the asking price.

5. Phones: Avoid pay-as-you-go phone plans if you think you’ll be using it a lot. I spent about £20 pounds topping up my first phone in the first week I had it. That is about $35 dollars, and at home I pay about $48 dollars per month for my Verizon plan. If you text and call on a pay-as-you-go plan it’s expensive and your credit goes a lot faster than you think. Instead, explore options from Vodaphone or O2 that let you pay one flat rate per month and you get unlimited texts and several hundred minutes. I signed up for a Vodaphone plan where for £20 pounds a month I get unlimited texts and 600 minutes. I’m saving more with them in the long run, than if I had kept my first pay-as- you-go plan. And the best part is that my Vodaphone plan is still considered ‘pay as you go monthly’ so all I need to do is go to the store once a month and put  down 20. When I want to stop using it, I’m not tied into a contract.

6. Internet: If you don’t have internet in your flat, sometimes getting unlimited excess (depending on where you’re located) can be very expensive. Instead, Google other free options. We have a cafe around the corner from our house called J D Wetherspoon that has free wi-fi. So for the price of a cup of coffee, we can sit and use unlimited internet. Granted there is something irreplaceable about being able to use your computer in the comfort of your own home, but if it’s costing you £50 pounds a month, there has to be a less expensive way of doing it.

7. Airline Flights: If you’re booking a mini-break weekend somewhere, don’t wait for prices to go down. After talking to Customer Reps from a few European Airlines, they said they make their money by charging lower prices when there are more seats available. Then, as soon as the plane starts booking up, there is an inverse ratio by which prices increase as number of seats decrease. My roommates and I are in the process of booking a trip to Prague, and after monitoring tickets over the past week, I saw prices go up literally in front of my eyes. Book early if you know your dates.

8. Cover Charges: Most clubs don’t charge cover for girls before a certain time (typically 11:30pm). If you show up before this time, you can save yourself £10-20, which equals $17-27.  Also, grocery stores don’t sell alcohol after 11pm so if you want to pre-game before the bars to save money on drinks, buy your alcohol beforehand. Otherwise, expect to pay £10 for a cocktail in a club.

London isn’t cheap, and the exchange rate really bites. There are definitely ways to save money, but either way, I have to steel myself each time I log into my bank account and take a look. So long to all my hard earned money waitressing– since I chose to spend time abroad in the most expensive city in the world, it looks like I’ll have to bite the bullet and dish out.

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2 thoughts on “London: When the Exchange Rate Bites You in the Butt

  1. Hi Patty

    There’s a few ways to save money in London:

    1. Have a look though Time Out’s cheap eats guide – loads of little local gems to be found
    http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/features/5617/london-s_best_cheap_eats.html

    2. Grab an offer from Top Table – there’s often special offers at decent restaurants
    http://www.toptable.com/

    3. Check out offers posted on Money Saving Expert – deals on restaurants, attractions, travel – all sorts.
    http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/

    4. London Blog The Londonist has a regular feature on cheap events, as well as a map of free WiFi hotspots you can use:
    http://londonist.com/tags/cheap and http://londonist.com/2007/05/free_wifi_in_lo.php

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