How to Work in the City on a Budget

Since I started commuting and working in London almost two years ago, I’ve met a lot of people that say they can’t save money due to big cities being too expensive.

London is one of the most expensive places in the world, but I’ve learned over this period that spending is still a choice. In-fact, I think bigger cities have cheaper options than some of the more rural places, you just need to know what to look for.

All the coffee you can drink

Every city worker needs their coffee fix. Do your wallet a favor and grab a free myWaitrose card here. This let’s you get a free premium ground coffee (Latte, Cappatino or Americano) once per day with any Waitrose store purchase. Grab a 10p Banana or 4p new potato and you’re good to go!

I once had a competition with my work colleagues to find the cheapest item in Waitrose to get a free coffee. I managed to find a very small new potato which cost me 2p. Cheapest coffee ever! I had no shame weighing the potato and selecting my free coffee. I even bought it via my American Express!

They’ve recently changed this service to require your own cup, so make sure you don’t forget to bring your reusable.

Extra Hack: You can sign up to myWaitrose with many different email addresses. They’ll send you a ‘temporary card’ in a PDF file instantly (this lasts forever). Take a picture of this to use in-store. You’ve now got as many 4p coffees as you can drink every day.

Buy a thermos

Another option is to make your coffee at home – All you need is a good thermos. The Waitrose method may actually be cheaper than this, but sometimes you just need that special type of roast.

Thermoses are also good for storing soup or tea and taking on long wintery walks. It’s one of a frugal seekers best weapons!

Avoid eating out

The number 1 spending problem for many city workers is eating out. London has so many options that are sometimes hard to resist. But nothing beats what you can cook at home, you can cook anything you like and to your own taste, and it’s much better for your savings. Some great go-to meals that I always make are Minestroni, pasta salads and chicken noodle soup. Cook them in batch at the weekend to save time.

My old colleague once told me he bought food out for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day in London and spent over £30 on most days, sometimes even as much as £50! That’s a hefty chunk of your potential future fund that you’re throwing down the toilet.

Buy in a supermarket

If you absolutely must buy something to eat, buy food from a supermarket. You can get a loaf of bread for as cheap as 50p in Waitrose. Grab a jar of peanut butter and a bunch of bananas and you have a high-protein snack for the rest of the week (all for under £3.50!) Bring cutlery from home to aide with your preperation. Some other good options are bagels and cream cheese, nachos and hummus or all types of sandwich fillings.

Use apps like Redi

Using mobile applications like this one, you can get discounted meals at top eateries for under a hugely reduced price. I once got a Burrito from Wrap It Up for 99p. Companies use applications like this to try and entice you into their resteraunt with the hope that you’ll make a return trip and pay the full price.

If you absolutely must have your eat out ‘fix’ then be smart about it and use applications like this. It will also take you to some new and exciting places each lunchtime.

NOTE: Redi has now had a name change to ‘Camdem Eats’. Click here to go to their landing page.

Commute in to work

Many Londoners that I meet exclaim that they’ll never get on the property ladder due to London house prices being far too expensive. I always say to them; “Why don’t you buy outside of the city and commute in?”

There are plenty of very cheap areas which are communtable distances to London which are ideal for first time buyers. Basingstoke, Aldershot, Reading and Farnborough are some. You can even find studio apartments for under £100k. You’ve got no excuse to not get on the property ladder.

Don’t miss out on property price increases, real estate are some peoples best asset classes. You can use your 30-45 minute commute to work on your side-hustles, read books or listen to podcasts. I’m writing this right now whilst I’m on my commute! It’s the perfect time to get stuff done.

The benefit of moving further out to cheaper areas is that you’ll always get a seat on the train. If you commute in from towns that are, say 25 minutes away, you’ll almost definitely be standing up for that whole time, unable to do anything productive. You’ll also pay a massive premium on house prices for that extra 10 minutes ‘saved’.

Get a fold up bike

The best thing that I did when I started working in London was getting a fold up bike. I now get from the train station to my office in 10 minutes. If I opted to get on the underground instead, it would take me 30 minutes, I’d have to deal wtih constant delays and I’d also have to pay upward of £1700 per year! No thanks. I’d rather get the free exercise and see the London views instead of have smelly armpits in my face.

Buy a season ticket

Buying your train ticket yearly reduces the cost by a huge amount. For even more savings buy through a credit card like American Express and try to find an offer such as 3% savings when buying through Trainline.

Lot’s of companies offer season ticket loans so that you can benefit from the discounted yearly price, this can be a good option if you don’t have the sufficient funds to buy the ticket right then. I would however recommend against this. Buying through a rewards credit card can gain you some pretty awesome rewards and for most of them, you’d be hitting the welcome bonus instantly. This year I’ve booked two 1st-class flights to America for the price of an economy ticket through Avios!

Use OLIO to be extra thrifty

There are places like Pret all over London that give out free food at the end of the day. Use this application to find out when and where. You’ll also be doing your bit for the environment by helping to decrease food waste.

The benefits of being in a big city like London is the supply of free food is never ending. You will be constantly inundated with free samples in train stations that will happily give you more than 1 if you ask. Places like Itsu and Wasabi reduce their prices massively half an hour before closing time. You can pick up Sushi sets for a 75% reduction in price!

Go to free conferences

This is a great way to network and also get a free lunch. Use websites like X to see what’s on and when. This is especially good for developers. Sky normally hosts free tech meet-ups through-out the year where attendees get free pizza and beer! All in the hope of attracting new hires through their ‘fun culture’.

These tips help make London a cheaper place. I actually spend less money working here than I did working in the south-east where I had no free food or cheap coffees and only expensive pubs with an aggressive ‘You must eat out every Friday’ vibe. Working in London has actually put me off ever eating out whilst at home. I don’t fancy paying £6 for a battered cod or £10 for a shitty Chinese anymore when I know I can get much better quality food in London for under £5. Cities are cheaper… when you know where to look.

Have you got any tips for city working? Let me know in the comments below.


32 thoughts on “How to Work in the City on a Budget

  1. Love your 2p potato for a coffee hack – brilliant! Sadly, the Waitrose 2 mins from my office has closed as I would have definitely tried that out!

    1. Haha yeah, everyone at my work has been doing it with bananas for quite a while, I pushed it to the next extreme 😉

      It’s still worth it to get a myWaitrose card incase you’re ever near one!

  2. Definitely true. There are so many options in London. I am one of those whose train trip is about 25 minutes from the city. It is the most unproductive time ever! Sometimes, I can’t even move my arms once I am on.
    But I can’t say I am keen to spend £5k + per year for a seat though.

    1. Ouch, yeah that would be hard for me. It’s not too much extra, my ticket compared to somewhere which is about 25 minutes from the city is about £1000 extra I think. Normally you’ll have a lot more than £1000 to save from the area being cheaper to live in (if you get the same sized house!)

      1. I would really really love to know where you live. Are you in the south east? My annual train costs are £1500. And I will not be saving on my mortgage if I moved anywhere 30 miles from my current home.

        1. Hey Rose!

          I am in the southeast 🙂 Check out Basingstoke, Farnborough, Aldershot, Reading for some cheaper areas (the shittier the better!)

          1. Hahaha! You mean up and coming areas surely 😉 Reading is fabulous! I lived there a while ago.

    2. Haha yea don’t get that logic roseLurker.

      Commute extra 20 minutes, get a seat, have to pay say £100/month extra on the ticket, but then save yourself £500/month (EASILY) on your mortgage…. what’s not to like here exactly?

      I love hacking my commute, but some are clearly better than others…. I try my best to use my time productively but my journey is a bit broken up nowadays, 10 min walk, 30 min train, 10 min train, 25 min walk. I listen to podcasts usually when walking (or sometimes just read stuff on my phone if the pavements aren’t too busy haha) so out of that I only really get the half hour to do laptop stuff, and once you’ve taken out getting on, starting up and packing up and getting off that is down to 25 mins. I still write as much as I can in that time but it’s hard to get a head of steam going! I often used to get the slow train deliberately to get a solid 45 minutes but they’ve stopped doing them!

      Before you ask no I am not prepared to move just to get a bit more blogging time (I would rather just quit work entirely I think if I was that bothered… haha) and I guess that is probably the main issue with people who have got a crap commute like the commenter above, they are probably already settled in their area and there is huge inertia to bother moving anywhere else (especially if it is only to slightly improve their commute). We are not all Homo-Economicus unfortunately 🙁

      Loved all the tips… I had no idea about the Olio one re: restaurants chucking out free food, I will have to re-download that and check it out again, and also have never even heard of the Redi one. Nice one!

      My favourite though has to have been this:

      “If you absolutely must buy something to eat, buy food from a supermarket.”

      I love the thought that you think there may be people out there who think food is only optional 😉

      1. Yeah, if I didn’t get forced to sit on the train for 1.5 hours per workday I’d get so much less writing done 😛 Making the most out of my lunch break has really helped me get writing done too!

        Of course, the extreme savers amongst us should surely all be on the OMAD diet? You need to step up your game TFS 😉

  3. Those are some great tips! The 2p coffee one is hilarious. And thank you for the reminder about Avios points! I have a few thousand that have built up over the years. I need to look into which credit card might be the best to try to build them up even more. I currently have a Tesco credit card – I know I could use this and convert the clubcard points to Avios, but there are several other cards out there that might be better, including the American Express card that you mentioned above. I need to do some research!

    I agree with your “avoid eating out” principle as well. I know that I personally save a lot of money by bringing in my own lunch, cooking most meals at home, etc. I need to check out those apps you mentioned though, and see if any of them work outside of London!

    1. Ha yeah, you definitely will get odd looks from the checkout people so make sure you go to self-service 😉

      I should probably write a guide on Avios point collecting. Me and my partner amassed enough to pay for 2 first class flights in only 2 years! It’s all about referring each other and closing the account after you hit the welcome bonus. Martin Lewis did a guide on it!

      1. Preaching to the converted saving ninja. I use Amex premium plus card and tesco credit card anywhere that it’s not taken. Yes the card has a fee which would normally be a no no but I get bonus miles and spend 10k a year and you get a companion voucher. We went to NYC at Xmas for 3 nights and the flights cost about 700 quid for two business flights

      2. Yes, that sounds like an excellent idea for a post. I’ll see if I can find the Martin Lewis guide that you mentioned, but would also be very interested in seeing your take on it. Saving up that many points in just two years is very impressive!

  4. Ha ha, some hard core tips there.

    When I lived in London, I cycled everywhere. Now I’m a super-commuter (I travel from Wales once every couple of weeks for day or so in the London office), I still do.

    I found the £1 bowls of fruit etc that many corner shops do very good value. Markets can often be a source of super cheap fruit & veg towards the end of the day. I often used to come away with a carrier bag of fruit for a £1.

    Chinese all you can eat buffet places still represent pretty good value for the hungry cyclist if you skip breakfast and/or lunch. University cafes can also be close on half the price of Pret etc.

    More and more places offer free tap water eg Wetherspoons.

    Entertainment in London can be free or very close to it. Lots of free events/museums etc. Add in conferences/meet up groups etc – which as you say some provide free food – and you can never be bored. Preview tickets can mean even theatre can be cheap. I saw Wicked for a fiver, for example.

    A lot of useful stuff gets dumped in London. I’ve found bicycles, computers, carrier bags of books and furniture dumped in the past.

    The key point with London is that very poor and very rich people live there and there are food/accommodation options to cater for every budget. But often those networks aren’t obvious if you don’t fall into the relevant income bracket. Get to know poor locals to tap into the cheap or free stuff.

    1. Some excellent tips there Chris! I’ll be sure to look out for those preview tickets 😉

      I find a lot of the cheapness is due to competition in London too, everyone is competing against each other as there is so much in such close proximity, prices get lower!

  5. Fantastic tips, 2p trick still has me laughing. What do you do with the potatoes I wonder… mini baked potato…. save them up for potato salad….grow another potato?

    I’ve been on the look out for more ways to save money and this has given me some inspiration so thank you. I always enjoy reading your ideas and advice.

  6. These are fantastic hacks. A lot of my money has gone towards coffees and eating out with friends this past month, and all the prices seem so crazy high after coming back from Thailand. I’ll definitely be keeping the Waitrose coffee trick in mind – especially when I need a hot drink traipsing around in this freezing cold!

    1. Remember to bring your reusable cup! They’ve started refusing people free coffees without them (bummer if you didn’t know you’d be going by a Waitrose!)

  7. Even will all those saving I think I still prefer the country. I have fallen into the habit lately of buying my lunch at work (a cost of £4.85 per day!) I need to get out of this somehow so will try. I heard (can’t remember where) that if you want a take away but don’t get one they you should put the extra money off your mortgage. I might give that a go with my lunch and if I do it for a month I will have an extra £100 to pay!

    One of the best things i did was start listening to podcasts on my commute to work. I would suggest everyone give it a go, I’m currently three years behind on the Tim Ferriss podcast.

    1. Ah, I miss listening to Podcasts on my drive. It’s now much harder to find the time for them. I do enjoy the reading/writing on the train though. The country has so little choice, no Itsu, Wasabi or Prett! 🙂

  8. Great article Ninja. On the coffee front I would add that Pret’s filter is 49p if you take your own cup. Also don’t forget the free drinks at work! Also would suggest that people look to see if their work offers a cycle to work scheme. Depending on what kind of bike you’re after it could save a lot of cash and I think you can start it at any point in the year (I may be wrong about that bit though).

    I can also recommend having lunch in front of one of those free big public screens during Wimbledon (or other major event).

    My other London freebies include various public lectures from universities, tickets for TV and radio recordings and, the dozens of museums and galleries. In the summer there seems to be a free festival of some sort or the other every weekend in Trafalgar Sq, one of the parks or on the South Bank.

    …man alive, I love London…

    1. Yes! Prett is my go-to if I’ve forgotten my reusable cup (they require one of them for Waitrose coffee now). I then use the Prett cup for a Waitrose coffee in the afternoon!

      Oooo, let me know when you go to your next public lecture, I’ll tag along 🙂

  9. Great tips.

    I have made the frugal choice and live in a cheap city in Scotland, the cost of living is laughably low considering. I do love London though, but I couldn’t imagine living there. I travel a lot there for work – probably 8 or so times in 2018, it’s fun but can be bloody expensive.

    One thing I have noticed is eating out isn’t that expensive if you look about. If I lived in London I would do what you recommend, but visiting I eat out. My favourite BBQ in Shoreditch shutdown – Red BBQ – but it was awesome and pretty reasonably priced.

    With the hell-work I end up visiting businesses in London that put on free food, coffee, snacks etc for their employees and visitors. It’s funny seeing the number of employees in the Costa or Starbucks downstairs but not using the free – perfectly decent – coffee, fruit, snacks or even meals.

    When I’m there I also walk rather than taking the tube. I look for a hotel within ~20-30min walking distance. As I’m a visitor I get to see more, probably doesn’t work if you live there. Couple of.

    Price of beer though, ffs. Lucky I’m off it at the moment.

    1. I’m basically working in Shoreditch, what are your recommendations? 😮

      Yeah, beer is ridiculous, you need to buy tinnies and go to the park 😉

      My plan is to relocate to somewhere much cheaper when I’m ‘done’ milking London out of its money!

  10. Thanks for the tips to help game the system.

    The guy I sit next to at work has a collapsible “to go” cup that he carries around in his coat pocket. Was less than £10 on Amazon apparently, folded up it is smaller than a glasses case.

    Adding to the free events theme, there are often educational presentations/conferences/meetups organised by the likes of Shares Magazine, Institute of Directors, National Landlords Association, and the PropertyHub.

    It can also be worth keeping an eye in industry publications, as well as the websites of the London Business School and London School of Economics for interesting academics/authors/speakers who are giving speeches (often for free).

    1. Ooo, the collapsible cup is an awesome idea, so many times I’ve been caught without a reusable cup on hand.

      Thanks for the tips! I’ve heard of these free lectures a few times now, I’ll have to keep an eye out for them.

  11. Fantastic tips!

    I was using the Waitrose card for free coffes back when I lived in Brighton. I remember after the gym and on the way back home I would stop in Waitrose for a free coffee to get that extra boost, good times!

    I would also use group on deals for dinning out and going to the cinemas and fill up my car’s tank at the cheapest petrol station, ASDA.

    Now we live in Felpham Village and our costs has massively been reduced, not only from rent or commuting but also for having no shops or temptations near by and free coffee at work 😉

  12. Working in a very typical “City” profession (law) I find that one of the traps so many of my colleagues fall into is getting caught up in the sterotypical City lifestyle. Fairly pricey bars followed by heading to whatever grim late night club is still open where people grind up against each other to the sounds of Pitbull. The expensive part is not so much the price of drinks in the clubs/bars themselves but people wanting to be seen as the high-rolling, generous Mr/Ms Spendthrift, who buys rounds all evening for the entire team without getting anything in return. It’s a lifestyle that I happily avoid now, but I sort of dread getting more senior where this will be expected of me, when I’ve always preferred to just pay for roughly what I’ve consumed (even if I earn a fraction of other colleagues).

    1. Hi FF. Yeah, I can imagine being in a profession like that it becomes hard to avoid. I think being a programmer is one of the only professions where it’s normal to see a 6 figure earner wearing old scraggly jumpers, not drinking alcohol and living with their parents! 🙂 With programming, you prove yourself with algorithm prowess, not status symbols 😉 Kudos to you for avoiding being a ‘spendypants’!

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