What do I worry about in London? Crime?...no, because no one carries a gun here. Cold weather?...no, because I have plenty of fleeces and scarves. Getting lost?...no, because I have a great sense of direction and there's usually an Underground station within a 10 minute walk. Money?...yes! If you've never heard before, London is EXPENSIVE. And business school ain't cheap. When I was working, I saved a good bit, but that's a drop in the bucket. And when I was working, I never thought twice about what I bought. If I wanted a new outfit from Banana Republic, I bought it. If I wanted to grab brunch with mimosas at Max's Wine Dive, I did. The price of a fancy gym membership didn't phase me. Life in Texas was not lavish...just never a concern. Going from that to a life where I watch every penny (or pence) is difficult. Being a poor college student in your mid-20s is not easy.
So...here's a list of frugal tactics I've discovered in London.
- Skype: Any Skype to Skype computer chat is free. I ended up purchasing a Skype subscription to make UNLIMITED calls to U.S. landlines AND mobiles for $2.99 / month. Because I bought a 12 month subscription, I got 15% off too! The best part is that I downloaded the Skype app to my iPhone. So, now I make calls to the US from my iPhone (via Skype app) any time of day without dropping another dime. It's super-convenient and makes the world a little smaller.
- Roadies: London has few open container laws. So, say you're on a pub crawl. You may not want to drink too much, and you may not want to spend alot either. If you don't finish your beer, wine, or cider, you can ask for a "to-go" cup. Lots of people do it. As long as you're not on public transportation with alcohol, you're fine.
- Groupon, Keynoir, and Living Social: Each of these "daily deal" services exist in London. And they are equally as good here as they are in the States. In fact, I bought a custom designed and tailored women's button-down dress shirt from Tailor4Less for 20 GBP vs. 48 GBP. Check it out.... http://www.tailor4less.com/
- Capital One credit card: If you ever travel internationally or live internationally, you should get a Capital One credit card. I got one a few years ago because of the perks and the fact that I could customize the picture printed on the card. Then I found out about a year ago that Capital One charges NO foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S. This really is amazing because all other banks and credit card companies will charge you about 3% on both debit and credit card transactions. Plus, Capital One gives you a very competitive foreign exchange rate (very close to spot rate) vs. the banks and AmEx which will rip you off.
- Life without TV: I know!...crazy, right? This is the first time in my entire life that I haven't had a TV. Obviously, I'm not isolated. I have subscriptions and access to FT, WSJ, Economist, etc. However, there are a handful of shows that I can't live without. So, I watch them online on hulu.com or abc.com on my laptop. I can also log into my parents' or sister's Netflix accounts and watch movies and TV shows with its on demand offerings. The trick though is to find a service / tool to mask your IP address. Hulu, ABC, Pandora, Netflix, etc all have rules that the content can't be viewed outside the U.S. However, I downloaded Hotspot Shield (http://hotspotshield.com/), and it works for me. It's free, fast, easy to install, and works!
- Find cheap forms of entertainment: There are plenty of books and cases I have on my nightstand. I like running in the evenings and / or lifting weights. Grabbing a coffee at Nash Lounge with a classmate can last an hour or two and will only cost you a pound. And finally, forgo watching movies in movie theaters to watch http://www.ted.com/. I am a huge fan of Ted and can waste hours watching it. For example, here are two good Ted talks I found today...enjoy!