Living on Budget as a Master Student in London

Queens Mary University Student Accommodation

Are you thinking to study in the capital of England? In 2019, London took the first position as the best student cities in the world. However, it is also one of the most expensive cities to live in the world. As living cost is one key consideration when you decide to study abroad, you might think whether it is possible to live on budget in London. Read through the story of the alumna of Imperial College London, Vivi, to find the answer. 

“Baby I don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight, I love cheap thrill.” This is the hymn for broke master students in London. That song from My Queen Sia was exactly my jam during my laboratory work to boost my last two brain cells even when I didn’t have money.

London is super expensive. However, after a few months of adjustment and having supporting friends who are also on budget, I finally found the tricks. Here are some few lifehacks for you who are master’s students who want to live in London on budget.

Choosing just the right accommodation in London for students on budget is a bit challenging because it is very expensive.

Since I went to Imperial College London and could not afford to live in student accommodation that is too pricey for me (around 800 pound/month), I decided to share a flat at Queensway with other international students from Indonesia and it saves a ton of money. Moreover, my flat is all bills included with utilities such as electricity and gas as well as internet so it also saves my energy.

Flat at Queensway
Flat at Queensway

However, if your campus is not located in Zone 1, which is not in central London, such as Zone 2, 3, etc, then the students’ accommodation from the universities is way cheaper.

One of my friends who went to Queen Mary University also lives in the student hall and the room is actually comfy. You can always check the university website first for the accommodation cost. You can also check for a shared flat.

Nevertheless, if you are an Imperial’s student and live at Zone 4 or more, to get a cheaper rent, you also need to consider the transportation cost as well as your mobility since it is time consuming as well to commute.

Kitchen at Queens Mary University Student Accommodation
Kitchen at Queen Mary University Student Accommodation


In terms of Transportation, the very first thing to do is to download a citymapper. It had really saved my life. This app is more convenient and has more useful features to help us as non-Londoners to choose the most efficient and effective route if we want to go anywhere. Further, the app is updated in real time so the estimated time of arrival and departure is accurate. 

Secondly, If your accommodation is near  the campus (around 1-2 km), then it is more recommended to just go by foot because obviously it doesn’t cost you a penny. Since my flat is near the Kensington Gardens, I preferred to walk across the garden to go to Imperial South Kensington Campus. Walking is healthy especially if you walk around the Kensington Garden, it is very healthy and relaxing. 

So if you walk to campus it is better to use Oyster pay as you go. Oyster card is a payment method for public transport in London. It is probably a bit similar to e-Money in Jakarta, but London only uses one card and it is integrated for all transportation modes. 

If you want to go to any places on the weekend, don’t forget to register for a 16-25 national Railcard and link it with your pay as you go Oyster card to get a ⅓ discount fare.

You have to take your Oyster card and your Railcard to an Underground station, Overground ticket office or any National Rail ticket offices and request the clerk to add your discount entitlement to your Oyster card and don’t worry it doesn’t take time to link it. 

If you live far away from the university and decide to take the bus and London underground (Tube) regularly, it is better to subscribe to a travel card and use the 18+ student oyster photocard to get a 30% discount. There are several types of subscription such as weekly, monthly, annually subscription and the fare depends on the subscription zone. 

In terms of Bus, One tap the cost is 1.55 pounds and this applies to the hopper fare which means that if you change buses you will not be charged again for one hour. Tips for bus users must be consistent in continuing to use the bus because there is a daily cap, which is around 4.65 pounds a day. So if you tap 3 times then you don’t get charged anymore, but pay attention to the zone too. 

Lastly, for those students who love cycling, you can hire a Santander cycle with a student’s discount price for annual membership if you want to use it regularly at your university. You need to download the mobile apps and you can get the code to hire the bicycle. 


Cooking is a life-saver for a student on budget like me. One meal out can cost up to 200-300 thousand rupiah or 10-15 pounds a serving. So I could not eat out every day. Therefore, I usually cook and brought lunch box to campus.

Taste of Indonesia in London for lunch box
Taste of Indonesia in London for lunch box

At first I thought I was the only one who brought lunch box to campus. It turned out that other European students also brought lunch box to campus. Hence, we often ate lunch together in the campus park.

My flat is around 200 m away from the  grocery stores such as Tesco, Sainsburrys, M&S, and Asian minimarket and halal meat minimarket and therefore I was motivated to do groceries shopping and cooking. 

Tips if you want to eat out, it’s better to eat with other friends and buy a groupon. My friends and I had a chance to eat a buffet for 10 pounds per person with a groupon. And we could also have tea time at a low price thanks to Groupon.

Tea time in London thanks to groupon
Tea time in London thanks to Groupon


It is better to buy a winter coat in London since there are more options here. If you are on a budget like me and do not really like fast fashion, a charity shop is your solution.

Personally, I prefer thrifting at Oxfam and TRAID charity shops since the quality is quite good. However, if you prefer designer brands with discounts you can also go to Bicester Village in Oxford, it is 1 hour away by train from London.

Thrifting winter coat in charity shop
Thrifting winter coat in charity shop


One of the benefits of living in London is the NHS (National Health Service). The state takes care of the payment and you don’t have to pay for private healthcare on a monthly basis. However, it does have extra costs for dental treatment but it is still affordable. For your information, I received my MMR vaccination shot here for free.

There are lots of leisure activities for students who are on a budget like me. You can go to the museum since normally there would be no entrance fee in the UK. My favourite museums in London are  Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, Science Museum and Natural History Museum. I hope I can go to the non-free exhibition ones in the future.

Wayang at British Museum (top left), Victoria and Albert Museum (bottom left) and one of the art and science work at Science Museum (right)
Wayang at British Museum (top left), Victoria and Albert Museum (bottom left) and one of the art and science work at Science Museum (right)

We can also have a picnic in the park. My personal favourite free parks are Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.

South Kensington Garden and Hyde Park
South Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park

Another on-budget activity to do when you are homesick is to join a gamelan music group in London. I joined Sekar Enggal gamelan, a British musician Sundanese gamelan group and had a lot of fun during the gigs even though I didn’t really know how to play gamelan but it cures my longing to go home. If you are interested in Javanese gamelan, you can also join Southbank Javanese gamelan group.

Gigs with Sekar Enggal Gamelan London
Gigs with Sekar Enggal Gamelan London

All in all it is really up to your lifestyle, if you are struggling to save money during your study then I hope these tips can be useful for you. 

Photos credit: Mira Afianti, Putu teguh Dharmawijaya, Annisa Dyah lazuardini


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