Every year, roughly a fifth of all new graduates who move city after finishing their degree end up coming to London. With great career opportunities and endless sources of entertainment, moving here is an obvious choice for a lot of us – but that doesn’t mean it’s all plain-sailing, and there are a lot of common misconceptions that put people off making the most of London life.
Having studied and started my career here, I’ve learned a lot about this city in my half a decade here, so here are my 8 top do’s and don’ts that I wish someone had told me when I first moved here (and which would’ve saved me a lot of money, time and energy!).
1. You do not have spend £1000+ on rent to live here comfortably…
I have friends who spend between £520 and £1600 per month on rent.
Are the £1600 flats nicer and more modern? Of course they are, but there’s honestly nothing wrong with the less expensive ones either – they’re just a bit further out and the rooms are smaller, but they’re nice.
Don’t believe all the horror articles that tell you otherwise – it took me and 2 friends about a month of browsing online and 5 or 6 viewings to find our current flat, where we pay £600 each and are all within walking distance (10-20 minutes) of our offices in Borough and The City. It’s not a luxury flat, but it’s nice, allows us to save money and has a decent-sized living room. We’ve done this twice, so I don’t think it’s a fluke.
If you need to stick to a tight budget, keep looking and as long as you’re open to a flat share and reasonable (aka aren’t expecting to find somewhere amazing in the city centre for £500!), you’ll find somewhere that works for you.
2. That being said, do not sign for the first flat you find just because it’s cheap…
Check out the estate agent’s reviews online. If something is a definite dealer breaker for you, but you think “ah but I could just take this one and be done with it”, don’t! Make sure you go to the viewing yourself (or at least have a virtual viewing in lockdown), ask questions and are happy with it.
Ahead of my final year at uni, I found an “okay” flat by Kings Cross with friends and, with not much time until our old flat contract ended, we signed without doing much research and ended up with a mouse-infested flat managed by the world’s most useless estate agents and a nightmare landlord (who let himself into our flat multiple times to use our bathroom when in the area!).
While flat hunting isn’t fun, London really is notorious for awful landlords and shabby flats, and the stress they can cause you throughout your time living there really isn’t worth saving a relatively small amount of time and money, so whatever your budget and requirements area, make sure to do your research.
3. Do not compare salaries/ financial situation, and here’s why…
We all know that a grad on a finance grad scheme in The City is going to be paid more than someone in an entry level journalism job, and it’s all too easy to get swept up in feeling “behind” when you’re used to being on an even-playing field with people, and suddenly some of your uni friends/ people your age are making more money than you.
Remember that this does not mean you’re “behind”: you’re just not on the same scale of “what’s good” anymore. While at school and uni, we were all following the same grading system (even if in different subjects), both initial pay and rate of progression differ a huge amount between sectors in the world of work.
So while having a general idea of what you should be earning at each point in your career you’re at in your industry is useful for not undervaluing yourself, comparing yourself to people in totally different sectors simply can’t really tell you anything useful.
4. You do not need a lot of money to have fun in London…
This is such a common misconception couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are a lot of fun things you can do in London that cost money, sure, but there are also more entertaining free things to do than in any other city I’ve ever been to.
London is one of Europe’s greenest cities, and massive parks like Hyde Park, Holland Park, Greenwich Park, Regent’s Park and so many more are perfect in summer; most of the city’s best-known museums and galleries are free to visit; you can visit Camden market or Columbia Road Flower Market on Sundays; you can get £1 comedy tickets to one of the country’s best comedy clubs, Top Secret Comedy in Covent Garden; and you can enjoy one of the most beautiful views over London from Skygarden without spending a penny.
Things like a gym membership at PureGym and your food shopping don’t need to cost anymore than living anywhere else either.
6. Do explore the city…
Soon after excitedly moving to London, it’s common to get sucked into the routine of going to work, hanging out in the same few places and spending time at home. I know this because once I started this blog after 4 years of living in London, I realised just how few areas and specific places me and all of my friends had ever actually visited outside of the areas we worked and lived in!
While there’s not anything wrong with that, most people don’t stay living in London forever, so while you’re here, this is just a reminder that you might as well take some time to explore the city that millions of tourists annually choose as their holiday destination!
7. Do consider travel costs…
When looking at potential places to rent, don’t just look at the cost of rent – factor in which, if any, travel card you’ll need.
While there are a lot of lovely places to live outside of the city centre, do not rent somewhere further out if you don’t actually want to live further out in order to save, say, £100 on rent if that means you’ll have to spend an extra £160 on travel per month!
Likewise, don’t assume you’ll need a travel card just because you’re in London – I live fairly centrally and even in non-Covid times, I only took public transport about once a week. A lot of places are walkable.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by people that they live further out to save money and could never afford to live as close to the centre as I do, only to find out that when you add travel in, I actually pay a bit less, so just make sure to take this into account before renting!
8. Do not keep telling yourself “if I didn’t live in London, I could save on XYZ…”
Once you’ve made the decision to live in London, do not constantly remind yourself or others that “life would be so much cheaper outside of London.”
It’s simply not helpful to constantly remind yourself of how my friends in towns elsewhere are saving sooo much more and how they’re going to be able to buy property earlier than me etc, because at the end of the day, you wouldn’t be doing what you want to with your life at this point in time if you were doing what works for them!
Besides which, that doesn’t paint the whole picture; I don’t have a car (or pay for transport often), and my salary is higher than it would be for a similar position outside of London, and it’s the same for a lot of people.
You most likely chose to be here because you wanted to experience working and living in London, so it’s the right decision for you – there’s more to life than counting the pennies!