Making the most of the UK on a budget

by Nicole Clendinning

It shouldn’t be a surprise that living in the United Kingdom can be expensive. The exchange rate from Canadian dollar to the British pound is not in favor of Canadians, and the closer to major cities like London, Manchester, Dublin and Glasgow you are, the more expensive the cost of living is.

While you may not immediately be able to get a job and balance school and work, the good news is that as a student you are able to find many ways to cut costs as many retailers offer discounts and sales for students.


If you find yourself living in a major city, look into finding your way around using the public transportation system as they are often very well developed and easy to follow. Many cities in the UK have tram, bus and/or tube systems that are extensive and easy to use.

For those students arriving in London, it is important to note that travelling via bus when you can allows you to save, as it is significantly cheaper than taking the tube. Both methods allow you to use pay as you go on your debit/ credit card which not only makes your trip more efficient but also helps you save money as you are only charged for the distance you travel. Don’t worry about being overcharged, by using Pay as you go, your card is capped at a certain max per day regardless of the distance you travel. Another great feature of the bus system is that you are able to transfer multiple times within an hour and only be charged the £1.50 journey cost once.

Transportation for London (TFL- the London equivalent to the TTC) offers student Oyster cards that can be ordered online. As these are available exclusively to students, you need to provide the details of your university program and have your application reviewed and accepted by your school. Don’t fear though, this usually only takes a day or so and then your card is mailed to your house. This card allows students to save 30% on rail card purchases.

(This market normally sells flowers and seasonal fruits, here pictured selling full sized and mini Christmas trees)


Grocery shopping is relatively cheap when compared to Canada, as you should be able to do a pretty significant shop for one person for about £20 a week. Shops such as Lidl, Aldi and Tesco tend to be the cheaper stores to buy essential products such as pasta, rice and canned goods. You may be able to save even more on weekly shops if you take advantage of outdoor markets which tend to offer great deals on seasonal produce.

Further, meal prepping is a great way in general to save money on groceries as well as a way to eat healthier. By preparing good meals or dinners for the week ahead you are able to cut down on fast food or snacks on a day to day basis and also cut down on food waste. Although they are small purchases, they can quickly add up.

This also goes for buying hot drinks. Investing in a coffee maker and an insulated mug will go a long way to cut down on costs, as many coffee shops offer a 10-30 pence discount on hot drinks served in reusable mugs. In London it is easy to spend £2-3 pounds on a coffee, so investing in a coffee maker definitely works out to be cheaper in the long run. If you are a tea drinker, it may be useful to buy tea bags at the shop and bring them out with you as most coffee shops will be happy to fill your re-usable mug with hot water free of charge!

For on the go lunches, Tesco and other retailers often offer ‘Meal Deals’ where you are able to purchase a pre-made sandwich, a drink and a side (such as chips or fruit) for a set amount, often under £5.

Discount Cards

For retail shopping, there are many discount cards available to students and accepted at many major retailers. Similar to SPC membership cards, UniDays is a widely accepted discount card and app that is very popular in the UK. This allows you to save on clothes as well as subscriptions and experiences such as movie tickets.

If you opt out of one of getting one of these savings cards, it is a good idea to try and keep your student card on you when going out, as many places will offer student discounts and all you need to show is your card issued by the university you attend.

Interested in studying in the UK? You can find out more by contacting one of our advisors!