Surviving London on a Budget

Simon Blish

It had to happen eventually. The year started out with life being so extravagant, so decadent, and then, like a biblical locust infestation on my online banking screen, I had the epiphany that I was indeed broke. This is not in the sense that the budget is tight until the next monthly salary is due, but more an economic backlog that will take months to recover from.

Consequently, the only thing I have to share recently are my experiences of surviving the big city on a tight budget, but without staying at home every night playing with the dust bunnies under my bed. You’d think I’d take up cleaning during this time, but no, I’m not that sensible. So if you’re as financially challenged as I am, here are some semi-reasonable tips.


Exploiting Academia

The first piece of advice on how to entertain yourself on a budget is to explore the events set up on the multitude of universities throughout the city. Tuition fees are higher than ever so even if it’s been a while since graduating you might as well consider it part of an ‘ongoing learning process’. This is perfect if you’re like me and miss a romanticised idea of being a student.

Make sure to check the event calendars on all university websites and you might be surprised by how many free or very cheap film screenings, talks, gigs, lectures, books launches and exhibition openings there are – sometimes accompanied with free wine! My personal favourites are SOAS and Goldsmiths, where you can watch an Iranian film one evening and listen to a cultural studies talk the next.

Spiritual Healing

When money is tight you may be sick thinking of greed and materialism and start envisioning an enlightened existence free from such worldly shackles – at least until your bank balance is aligned with your chakras. The London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green is a perfect way to spend a Friday night searching for inner peace rather than the inner lining of your pockets for that extra change. Don’t worry if you are an atheist like me, there’s no requirement to be a Buddhist or affiliated with any kind of religion.

There are classes and events to suit most people, but I’ve only been to their Sub35 events; the first Friday of every month is particularly suitable for beginners and is often accompanied by a talk and discussion. There is an open bar – with herbal tea mind you, not wine. Most events require a small suggested donation, but it’s nothing compared to a night out drinking and dining.

Words On A Budget

If you fancy going out on weeknights there are so many free or cheap comedy or poetry nights to choose from. Compared to the pricey entry fees on the weekends you can easily spend less than a fiver for a whole evening of entertainment. Obviously since line-ups change frequently it’s difficult to assess any consistency in quality, but generally I always find it quite good. Check out the comedy nights at The Camden Head in Camden or Islington.

However, my personal favourite is definitely Bang Said The Gun, a stand-up poetry night in Borough every Thursday. It’s almost like a ‘punk’ version of traditional spoken word, so even if you’re not into poetry nights, this one is very different. The price has gone up recently though to £7/£5 – but I think it’s worth it as you can still get away with spending very little as there’s not much time to get drinks in between acts.

Cultural Injections

Most Londoners are likely to be familiar with the free galleries and museums that are always on offer, but these are not to be underestimated nonetheless. My favourites are the Whitechapel Gallery and the ICA. Neither has a core collection so if you leave enough time between visits it’s like going to a completely different art space every time. Also, they both frequently feature reasonably priced events, talks, film screenings, etc.

Another thing worth checking out are the museum lates, especially on a Friday. I’ve often spent a poverty induced Friday evening sat in a room surrounded by paintings hearing a classical music recital. Check out the event pages for specifics, but often there is loads of free live classical music to be heard.

There are also book launches, gallery openings, and other events infused with PR money happening every day in our fair city – often with freebies (ie, wine). For more up-to-date and sporadic information I recommend following @SkintLondon and @Londonist.

And, if you really can’t be bothered with any of this, just hit me up and I’ll take you to a park with a bottle of wine.

About Simon Blish

Writing, drawing, editing - Simon loves it all.