When I was still studying in university I was enamoured with the idea of living and working in London. This wasn't always the case being a guy coming from a small village just outside of Swansea in South West Wales, but after my first visit to The Big Smoke and seeing the different pace of life, the flashy suits, and getting the cosmopolitan feel I knew I wanted to try and make a living in the city after I graduated. But there was just one problem... how was I going to be able to afford the cost of living there?
The costs of living can quickly add up for a young guy who wants the full city experience and that probably means they're going to struggle to stay afloat, let alone save money. There's high rents, expensive drinks, and an image to maintain if you want any sort of social life. Fortunately there are a number of smart financial decisions and choices that a guy could to make to help them keep in control of their costs. None of these involve skipping meals, couch surfing, or becoming a social recluse for the latter part of the month while you wait for pay day to roll around once more - so you're not going to be missing out on everything by following these. After living in the city myself for about a decade I share some of the different tips and tricks I personally used to cut my costs of living without compromising on quality of life.
Live further out in areas with good transport links
When I first started looking for a place to live in London I automatically started looking towards the centre of the city, close to where I would be working. Needless to say the prices of rent were astronomically high and way out of my budget.
I wanted to get to work quickly and easily and my assumption was that the only way to do this would be to live within a couple of tube stops from the office. Plus, living close to the centre meant I might be able to stay out later drinking.
"Next door" not being financially viable I started looking slightly further out, in Zone 2. Prices obviously drop as you go further away from the centre but the commute time will increase also.
But eventually I came to realise that there's a point where the commute time doesn't actually increase while the prices in rent will continue to drop. These could be places in Zones 5 or 6 where there are direct trains to London's major stations, i.e. Waterloo or Kings Cross.
When you take this on balance - the time it takes to get to work for the amount of money you pay each month to keep a roof over your head - I eventually concluded that going further out made much more financial sense.
It may mean you need to wake up earlier or call it a night sooner, but you'll soon realise that most of your peers are in the same boat as you anyway - so you're not actually missing out on that much in terms of social life.
Share a house with other people
If you're renting - which is what I did during my time living in London - you might feel as though now is your chance to finally have a place all to yourself. After all, you've probably just gone through two decades of living at home or sharing some halls with other people - assuming you went to university that is.
Rent in London is expensive so the idea of living by yourself, even if a bit further out, is something you might want to reconsider if you're serious about working towards financial independence, or simply keeping your costs of living lower.
Suck it up for a few more years and see if you're able to find a place with a couple of other housemates. This allows you to split the costs of the property between you making it easier on your budget.
It's also a chance to expand your social circles and potentially meet some new friends in an unfamiliar city.
How many housemates you choose to have is obviously something you'll have to decide for yourself, but for me living with 2 other people felt like a good balance between not too many (noise and mess) and not too few (costs not being split enough).
Shop around and manage your bills
Before moving to London I never needed to set up utilities bills or anything like that - so it was tempting for me to simply go with a company I already knew of and be done with the hassle.
But always shop around.
Don't just go with the first company you find and spend time online to read customer reviews and compare the plans.
There's loads of service providers who offer new-customer deals that can help keep your bills cheaper for an introductory period of time - and when those deals are up you can find new deals by switching providers. It honestly doesn't take much effort and you only really need to do it once a year.
Do this for your gas, electric, water and internet bills.
And do yourselves (you and your housemates) a favour by using your utilities sparingly. Switch the lights off, don't turn the heating on just because it got slightly colder, and don't leave things running over night or when you're not using them.
You don't need to subscribe to every type of service
I personally don't subscribe to a lot of things but I have a bunch of friends or former housemates who literally paid monthly subscriptions to almost everything. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Sky Sports, Sky Movies, Disney+, Gaming subscriptions - you name it, they probably had it.
When I first moved to the city I found myself spending a lot of time working and most of my free-time getting involved in certain hobbies. But even if I spent all my free-time watching TV or gaming there's definitely no way I would've been able to have all those subscriptions and make good use of them for the money being paid.
So it never made sense to me why someone would subscribe to so many - it's just money being wasted.
Other culprits are monthly cleaning services, groceries delivery subscriptions, or business newspapers - honestly I think you could get by without any of these.
While I admit that having one or two of these will make life somewhat more convenient or less awkward - you need to be able to pull up Netflix if you can't actually "chill" - you don't need all of them.
Cancel all your subscriptions to the services you're not using very much of, and if you're struggling to get the "to keep" list down to one or two try cancelling everything to see which ones you actually get withdrawal symptoms from.
Cycle around the city
If you insist on living closer to the city centre, possibly within some of the less-gentrified areas in Zone 2 or by striking a balance between distance and quality in Zone 3, you'll want to offset that increased cost on rent by cutting what you spend on getting around.
The go-to travel mode - at least for me - was the London Underground network where you can buy travel cards to let you use the tube within certain zones as often as you liked. But these could be costly and they only get more expensive every single year.
Instead, see if you're able to do most of your traveling by cycling. Use what you would've spent on a TFL ticket and spend that on an inexpensive bike plus some of the safety gear - it won't take long before your "investment" starts to pay dividend on the amount you're saving each month on travel - it could even offset the higher rent you're paying compared to living further out and traveling in by train.
Check if your work place has a "cycle to work" scheme where you're able to get some financial incentives to ride a bike to work. However, weigh up the pros and cons of simply buying an inexpensive bike for around £50 to £100 compared to a bike that's worth around £500 via the scheme.
You have to consider the worst case scenarios where your bike becomes damaged or even stolen - and it's definitely easier to stomach losing the former rather than the latter.
Meal preparation and bulk cook
I developed a bunch of basic cooking skills while in university but after moving to London I started getting quite lazy on my meal preparations. Buying food from delis, cafés, or take-aways easily came to around £25 a day which resulted in a spend of around £750 a month on food.
Needless to say I quickly realised I couldn't keep that up so I started to cut down on that expense by buying cheaper, easy to prepare meals - the ones you can simply put into the oven. This helped me to reduce my spend down to about £12.50 which sounds better, but for the type of food I was eating it really wasn't.
So I decided to make time to fit cooking back into my busy schedule and found the way to do this was by bulk cooking on a Sunday evening and once on a weekday - usually Wednesday.
For my groceries and ingredients I focused on buying items on offer (the yellow stickers in Tesco), kept to supermarket brands rather than the expensive ones, and experimented by adding extra vegetables to my sauces in order to get more meals out of each pot or jar.
If you do this you'll be able to get a good amount of ingredients that are inexpensive yet still offer a good balance in nutrition - especially if you're buying frozen vegetables - and portion sizes.
But the best part is that you're realistically able to reduce your spend per day down to around £5 on food, which comes in at about £150 a month. Give yourself a bit of extra leeway and call it £200 a month, that's still a massive saving on the amounts you could be spending if you're not preparing.
The weights are just as heavy in a cheaper gym
I wasn't really into exercise before I moved to London but somewhere along the way I decided to get into better shape. It might have the beer belly I noticed developing, or simply wanting to look better to get more dates - probably both.
Whether you're new to the gym or not there's one thing I want you to keep in mind: The weights weigh the same regardless of membership price!
There's some really hyped up gym brands that charge extortionate prices for, in my opinion, no good reason. Yes, the venue might have quite sleek designs and layouts with lots and lots of equipment or classes, but it's not like you're going to be able to use them all.
Compound lifts and some functional body movements is all you really need to train your muscles, which can be done in a cheaper gym that doesn't have any frills, and if you're looking to do some cardio work then just start running or cycling outside!
A well fitting suit is better than an expensive suit
I've personally never been that bothered about being "fashionable" but I have to admit that when I was fresh into my new city job I did develop a liking for nice suits. This led to some silly spending behaviours where I thought that buying a designer suit from Hugo Boss would automatically make me look good.
Obviously for some people this might be the case, but for the majority it isn't.
When it comes to your suit, fit should be the number one thing you focus on. Material and quality also matters but they'll never cover the fact that the suit doesn't fit you, so that comes second. Then comes some of the detail such as the lapel, pockets and buttons. If you get these right the brand basically doesn't matter at all.
With this in mind you should look at some suit shops that have more reasonable pricing instead of just going to a designer store. Pick out a suit that almost fits off-the-rack and has decent quality, then take it for some adjustments either in store or at the tailors.
By doing this you'll be able to be become the owner of a suit that looks and feels high quality, yet costs something like half the price of a designer brand - maybe even less.
Lastly, don't forget that the most important ingredient of a good-looking suit is the man himself.
You don't always need the latest and greatest
Living in a world that's quite focused on being materialistic has led to the rise of consumerism. You're going to see other people purchase - usually on credit - the latest hot technology item and act as though anybody else with an older model is "out of touch".
Most common among these will be the latest phone model that has just been released but could also mean many other things such as new headphones, smart tablets, watches, televisions or gaming consoles. It could even stretch to non technological items such as new furniture for the house.
But before you get caught up in the whole fiasco ask yourself one simple question: Do you really need it?
What does the new phone do that you current phone - which is still perfectly functional - doesn't?
How often are you going to play that new games console and how many games are there to play?
What does that new sofa provide for your home that the existing one doesn't?
You will surely be able to come up with answers to these sorts of questions but be critical in your thinking. Trying to keep up with the trends of those around you achieves nothing besides burning a hole in your pocket - and only makes it that much more difficult for you to save money towards the really important things in your life.
Don't overdo it with the fancy restaurants
London offers an almost endless range of places to dine out at with cuisines and dishes from all around the world. You can get your local favourites down at the pub, grab roast duck and char siu pork from Chinatown, or treat yourself to pizza made in the style of Sicily.
One of my favourites was the Hawksmoor steakhouse - for some reason I really like their tomato sauce...
While there's nothing wrong with going out to enjoy some dinner with friends do make sure you're sticking to a sensible budget that works in tandem with your longer term financial goals. If you're sacrificing your ability to save and build your wealth for the future just to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant, you might want to reconsider.
Instead, try identifying some restaurants where the costs are much more reasonable and is a favourite among yourself and your friends. My personal go-to places were Wetherspoons, Nando's, or Byron burger and I always made sure not to over-order.
There's nothing wrong with trying to keep your bill low - play the dining game smart to ensure you're able to afford eating for the long term.
You wouldn't drink 6 pints of water in the evening
The one thing that's really strange about drinking culture is the sheer volume that's consumed in a single night.
Don't get me wrong, I'm personally guilty of doing the same in my younger years but when thinking about it, it really doesn't make that much sense.
On a normal evening where you just head home you don't typically drink multiple pints of anything. Maybe you'll drink a glass of water or two, or maybe a soft drink, or maybe even an alcoholic one. But it's never multiple pints or glasses and you're not constantly holding the beverage and sipping away.
So why do it when you're out at the pub with your friends or with your colleagues after work?
Slow your pace of drinking and just drink less in general - you can still have a good night and socialise, you just won't get as drunk or spend as much. This is a good thing and can help you keep control of the amount you're spending in the evenings.
House parties are cheaper than bars and clubs
There's no doubt that one of the most attractive things about living in a big city is the nightlife and the socialising - at least for myself this was one of the things I loved about it. If you're a young guy you might figure that going out partying is a way for you to potentially meet new people - maybe even find someone you like.
But prices for drinks in London are notoriously expensive and it's not a stretch to say that a single night out could cost you multiple hundreds of pounds. Unless you're not drinking anything which somewhat makes going out pointless since you'll probably just get agitated by everyone else's drunkenness.
House parties were always a great alternative to the clubbing scene, especially for younger people. Everybody brings alcohol that they bought from the supermarket and everybody gets to have a good time together.
This means that the costs are mostly capped at whatever drink you decide to bring for the night, which is going to save you a whole tonne of money in the long run.
Don't be too stingy with what you bring however - you want to get invited again in the future after all.
You don't need to go on expensive dates
While I'm not the guy who gets all the women just by walking into a room I did go on quite a lot of dates when I was still single, no doubt helped by some excessive swiping on Tinder.
Match first, filter later - right (swipe)?
Since I didn't have a lot of dating experience at the very start I ended up thinking I needed to go to expensive places in order to "impress" the lady I was with. Places like fancy restaurants, west end shows, or an expensive bar. Any of these ring a bell?
While the posh setting is usually appreciated by the date, I soon found myself not really being able to take her out again - or take another girl out, depending on success - without waiting for my next pay day. Which is both a good and bad thing.
Bad because of the lack of money - good because it forced me become more financially savvy when it comes to dating. Turns out there's loads of things you can do that keep the costs low, yet are still just as fun - maybe even more so - than going to a fancy place.
Museums, art galleries, picnics, bike rides, painting and drawing, riverside hikes, exploring the city, learning the history of certain sites, discovering books in Waterstones, watching the deer at certain parks - all of these are just examples of how you could spend a great day together and have fun.
It's not the money you spend on a date that leads to success, but how interesting and enjoyable you make it.
Save or invest the majority of your bonuses
I used to do a celebratory spend whenever I got my bonus, usually paid quarterly but depends on the company. This could've been on things like going out for a nice meal, buying a new suit, or just spending a bit more loosely when I was down the pub.
There's nothing wrong with treating yourself a little whenever you've earned a bit extra, but it's definitely not wise to spend all of your bonus.
If you're spending all of your bonus each time you receive it you could get into a habit where you assume that money is coming in. But bonus payments will always be dependent on a number of factors - your performance, your management, the company, and the economy.
And you have to realise that you only have control over one of these factors.
You don't want to fall into a habit where your cost of living assumes there'll always be a bit of a boost after certain periods of time - because if that boost doesn't happen you could find yourself in a bit of financial trouble.
A better approach is to use any bonuses as a chance to accelerate your progress towards building future wealth - this can be done in a number of ways but the easiest and most obvious is to simply invest it into a low-cost index fund. You're still in the early days of your life so now is the time where investments can have the biggest long-term impacts on your future wealth.
Don't let a raise push you towards lifestyle creep
I very much adopted a "work hard play hard" attitude when I first started working in the big city. I'd be in the office early, work like crazy, and live it up on the weekends to make up for the lack of social hours on the weekdays.
The "work hard" part, while exhausting, does eventually lead to career growth be it through a salary raise, a promotion, or possibly new opportunities at another company. Basically, you start earning more money.
This is of course a great result because it means you've now got more income coming in, and that means more financial flexibility.
But be careful.
While it's always great to get a raise, it's easy to let it get to your head where you start thinking of all the different ways you can spend that extra money. This is what we call "lifestyle creep".
If you let that happen you'll eventually realise that your costs of living have sky rocketed, leaving you with less capability to build your wealth for the future. This is what keeps you trapped in the "rat race".
Make small improvements to your life as need be - but keep a tight control on your lifestyle spend. Raise the amount of money you save and invest before raising the amount you spend on living - this is how you accelerate yourself towards financial freedom.
After graduating from university I found a job at a consulting firm which allowed me to move to London. Thus, the first step of my "wish" was complete - I was now working and living in The Big Smoke.
Being a young(er) guy at the time you can imagine some of the antics I got up to - especially since I was now earning "proper" money. The excessive drinking, dining out, socialising, dating, and friendly "one-upmanship" when it comes to where you live or what suit you wear.
After about a decade in the capital I eventually moved on, but everything in this article is based on my experiences and encounters while I lived there.
Will your own experiences be the same? Not entirely, or even maybe not at all - it really depends on what you personally enjoy doing in life.
But regardless of what you get up to - or where you end up living - I do think there's a number of helpful tips that are shared here which can help any young guy get a better grip on their finances.
Enjoy your own time in London - it really is a beautiful city - but don't let the costs of living rise to a point where it damages your ability to work towards financial independence!
Shout out to Feedspot for including me in their Top 40 UK Personal Finance Blogs, very pleased to get ranked 7th and hope to continue putting out articles that will help others understand their money better!