London life on a budget – part 1

To be honest, I have been reluctant to apply for undergraduate studies for any of the universities in London. There were multiple reasons for it – I didn’t feel like living in a bigger city than Prague where I come from. But another large reason was fear about financial matters. London is known to be expensive and my parents were already very worried about me taking a student loan as that is not common in my home country (as we don’t pay tuition fees). As an EU student, I wasn’t allowed to take a loan for living expenses either.

I can never know whether it would have been fine for undergraduate studies as I didn’t study in London but I came here for my PhD. Luckily, I got funding for my PhD but still, being a student in London with a middle-class family in a central-European country usually means living on a budget. On top of that, I am naturally a bit stingy and love to save money so I have found strategies how to get by even in London with a student allowance. I am happy to share some of my tips with you here! In the first part, I will look at the accommodation in London.

Firstly, rent is probably your biggest expense. For undergraduate students, there aren’t perhaps as many choices. I know one of my friends from school studying in London was getting by living with strangers here and taking care of their children part-time in exchange for accommodation or decreased rent. But I can imagine this must have been really difficult for her studies. I also sometimes see offers for accommodation where you would help an elderly person part-time. Generally, I find the student hall rents fairly similar to the rent in the city but maybe they are a bit better maintained. Students are allowed to stay in halls past their freshers year only in specific circumstances or when they get a hall senior position. It can be a lot of fun but also busy living with many other people. Halls further from the centre cost a bit less. Most of the students would, however, live in flatshares, mostly in Hammersmith and Fulham. I was estimating some £650-800 for a decent room with utilities per month in my budgets but I didn’t get an opportunity to try this for myself. That is because I got a subwarden position before I moved to London.

Subwardens are generally PhD or master students who have a particular interest (and usually some prior experience/enthusiasm to get through the application process) in mental health, welfare, helping people, and organising events. We get free accommodation in one of the halls, its quality varies, in some halls like ours it’s a room, in others, it may even be a studio. We take regular duties overnight and weekends and take care of our residents, respond to any welfare emergencies and emergencies within the building, help resolve conflicts and provide pastoral support, organise lots of events with the hall seniors to help build the student community. We also need to oversee the hall rules for everyone’s safety and wellbeing. Sadly, this year, we had to enforce a lot of COVID-related rules which didn’t help our main, welfare, role too much. But in general, it’s a fun job to do. Our team of wardens and hall seniors last year has been unbeatable, so enthusiastic and dedicated! You need to have some passion for helping others, but you can save a lot of money, meet lots of people, participate in events and organise them, learn leading teams and participating in them, solve emergencies, etc. We get lots of skills that academia/PhD doesn’t provide and they are so important! The college estimates it might be about an hour a day of work. I think it could be right, very roughly, if averaged over the whole year. But we have times of very high commitment, occasionally almost full-time day or several days, and in most halls free summer.

Hopefully, some of you will be able to use my tips or tips from my friends in London. In the next part, I will cover my tips for saving money on transport around London, getting food and household items, having meaningful and fun free time, and also some part time jobs to do with the university.

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