Getting around London for the best value
This year marks my fifth year of living in the capital. But it’s my second year of not relying on Student Finance England to keep a roof over my head. After analysing last year’s spending habits in Excel, I realised - perhaps not surprisingly - that most of my spending was on my rent and travel costs.
So am I paying too much to live, travel and work in London? Or should I consider moving further out of the city to save money?
Londoners are spoilt for transport options. There are lots of ways to get around. You could cycle on London Cycle Superhighway 1, take the Emirates Air Line cable car over the Thames, ride a train from beyond the M25, or fight for your life at one of the city’s busy tube stations.
But everyone (except the most wealthy) has to consider a trade-off between a variety of factors when choosing where to live: the desirability of the location, rental costs or house prices, the cost and time of the commute - and by extension the impact on quality of life.
Getting a TfL Travelcard
An Annual Travelcard for London trains and buses costs from £1,404 a year for zones 1-2 to £2,568 for zones 1-6. Meanwhile an annual train ticket from Guildford would set you back £4,299.60. These prices boil down to £117, £214 and £358.30 per month respectively.
So it’s evident that commuting costs can add a hefty amount on to outgoings - especially compared to rent in the latter zones, which may be as little as £500 per month.
Getting around by bike
There are already eight existing Cycle Superhighways in London, with more on the way.
So with spring in the offing, maybe it’s worth using Santander Cycles, London’s self-service bike hire scheme (RIP Boris Bikes), for an annual cost of £90. Pay as you go costs £2 plus extra if your journey is over 30 minutes.
Or spend a lump sum to get your own bike - possibly with the tax benefit of your employer’s Cycle to Work scheme? The scheme was launched by the government 20 years ago to promote healthier journeys to work. If your employer offers this, it allows you to purchase your bike out of gross income and by instalments.
The savings from cycling instead of getting the tube can quickly add up and, as long as you don’t buy a top-end carbon racing bike, it will pay for itself over a surprisingly short period!
If you live in zones 1 or 2 this is a great way to get around London and explore everything that the city has to offer.
Living further away
Living further out complicates the calculus. The likelihood of getting a nicer place to live for the same money must be offset by the increased cost - and the time and hassle - of the commute.
For renters, whilst every £100 per month may get you 3.91 square metres in London, in Oxford it could get you more than twice that. The idea of halving your rent expenditure may be appealing, but the annual season ticket works out at more than £5,000.
Although people are choosing more than ever to live somewhere different to where they work or moving because of a job, in the case of young workers starting out it is often by necessity and not choice.
I’d recommend making sure you understand what monthly payments you’ll be committing to before planning to move.
For those in London, I found this “shorten your commute and reduce your rent” tool useful. It calculates how much time (based on TfL’s Journey Planner tool) and money (based on average rents only) you could save by moving to a different part of the city.
More importantly, I’d suggest that you do your new commute at least twice before committing to travelling it every day for an extended period of time. And do it in rush hour if you can - especially if you’re new to the capital.
Read more: Why I fell in love with renting