Since an American talking Burger Ring is currently trying to stop immigration…I want to make it as easy as possible. Any questions you have about moving to London please send them my way, it’s about to get honest. Flats tend to cause the most stress (and are what I got the most messages about this month) so I figured it was a good place to start. These baby-expat questioners don’t normally give a crap about aesthetics or finding the cool kids; it’s all about where and how much.
‘Where to live’ is something that everyone stresses about before they move over, but trust me when I say it always works itself out when you arrive (everyone has a terrible flat story after living in London). Unfortunately finding a flat in London comes down to money and priorities. Money because that is what you pay your rent in (good god I hope it is how you pay your rent), and priorities because that will dictate how much of your salary you have to spend on rent. As an example some people want to come over to London for their two years to travel, nothing else matters as long as they are on a plane every weekend. If that is your goal then finding the cheapest flat possible is how you will have an awesome London experience. For me, London itself was the goal. And for me to enjoy it I needed to be in a safe, calm flat with as few people as possible aka I should have known from the start that all my money was going to end up lining my landlords pocket.
Before we get down to the money I want put a little disclaimer here in an attempt to holt any trolling before it starts. This post is how I did it when I first moved to London, but everyone has their own experience. I think a lot of you will see the numbers below and think that I was totally insane spending that much on rent, but it was my choice and was what I needed to do to be happy (add a comment to the end of this post with how you did it, seriously I’m interested). I also want to mention that I 100% realise the privilege of the numbers below, I am university educated and did not have any dependants which allowed me to be entirely selfish with my spending. Being skint in London is very very different to living on the poverty line.
Since the end of this post is all from my perspective, I wanted to cast the net wider to see how other people decided to spend their money on rent, and of the 150 or so people that replied these were the results:
Question: What percentage of your income goes on rent?
Question: How have you saved money on rent?
Question: Has the cost of rent in London ever made you consider moving home?
Yeah those numbers are pretty scary, it’s not just me then. If you are in a relationship you are one of the lucky ones, it looks like it is pretty much the only way to pay a reasonable amount in rent. But for everyone whose only ‘action’ is swiping right on Tinder the reality of living in London is that 42% of people who answered the survey spend more than 50% of their income on rent. The number I find the saddest is the 87%, the 87% that have considered moving home because of the cost of living.
If you want to play along and work out how much you have to spend on rent I suggest you do some googling to find out what type of salary you can expect over here, don’t make the mistake of just assuming you will get what you were on in New Zealand. If the internet doesn’t help, the minimum wage is based on your age and can be between £4 and £7.20. I tried to find the average salary but couldn’t find anything more recent than 2015 (no, I didn’t go past the first page of google, don’t judge its late and I’m hungry) where the average salary in the UK was £27,000, which works out to be around £21,600 after tax (NEVER FORGET THE TAX).
Ok, let’s go. I don’t know why I haven’t done this level of detail before. I guess it’s because we are all so squeamish about revealing money matters even to close friends (and because HEY TROLLS). Even now I am only giving you the numbers from five years ago, but still I hope it helps! Five years ago when I arrived in London I had a fairly average admin job – entry level and soul destroying but you had to have a university degree and experience to get it. My salary was £22,000 per year, which worked out to be £1,458 in my pocket each month after tax and national insurance (NI is basically another compulsory tax that goes to pay for the NHS, pensions and benefits).
At the time I was living in a two bedroom flat in Zone 1 (this is where a lot of you spit your tea over your computer screen). Living in zone 1 is not a normal thing for a newbie Londoner; since Zone 1 is right in the centre it is very expensive and most people live in the easily commutable zone 2 or 3 for that reason. I briefly lived in Colliers Wood (Zone 3) before going for Zone 1, but the 1.5hour round trip to get into central meant I never went to experience London at the weekends…which was kind of my entire point of moving over. Side note: being sad and feeling alone in Colliers Wood is exactly what prompted me to start this blog, it was meant to force my ass to do something at the weekends.
My zone 1 flat was in Wapping and it fitted the bill in that it was safe and quiet. But for all the reasons that it worked and I stayed put for two years, it wasn’t exactly a Bridget Jones dream flat. There was mold everywhere, my room wasn’t huge so my bed was hard up against two walls and my ‘bedside’ table had to go at the foot of my bed. Oh and I could never have my windows uncovered because my room backed onto a carpark. But I was only living with one other person which was my top priority (if you are reading this, hi Chi!). My rent in 2012 (this has probably significantly increased for a similar flat in 2017) was £758 and every month bills and council tax would add about £150 to that. Yeah council tax in zone one for only two people is a complete bitch.
My monthly money looked a little something like this (this is probs 95% accurate, my brain is struggling to remember 5 years ago).
*I could have had a free bank account, but this one gave me travel and mobile phone insurance for £10 a month, oh and it also gave me 5 song downloads and a DVD rental each month…it was weird.
Once I took care of the standard expenses I had £300 to play with, as long as nothing went wrong. Turns out things quite often go wrong in London – one Thursday you get stuck paying for an unexpected round of drinks and there goes your transport budget for the month and you have to walk everywhere.
The thing with the above situation is that I was earning enough money to be able to choose to spend it on rent. Choice, that is the thing. It was tight, I ate the same thing for lunch for an entire year to be able to stick to that budget of £25 a week for food (almonds and cranberries for morning snack, peanut butter sandwich on homemade bread for lunch, chopped carrots and cucumbers for afternoon snack). For that year breakfast and lunch cost £8 a week, leaving me with £17 to sort 7 days of dinners. You can do it, but you have to be organised.
Anyway, how does this help you decide where to live? As I said it comes down to money and priorities. First up calculate how much money you will have after tax (take that salary you googled and put it into the tax calculator on this site: http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/tax-calculator/ ). Then decide what your priority is, if it is travel how much will you need to save each month to be able to afford flights and hotels etc, or if it is London then how much are you willing to sacrifice for being able to walk down the Thames. Work out a draft budget based on the one above.
Once you have all your estimates in place you can put the remaining amount in the rent column and play real life Sims. Head to Move Flat or Spare Room and see what you can afford, play around with the zone and number of people to see how that impacts things.
There is no such thing as the perfect flat in London, you will have to compromise somewhere along the line. Depending on how restricted your budget is it may be living with ten people, being ages away from a tube stop, living in a cupboard (true story) or all of the above. But as you are crying into your laptop at how much all of this will cost remember; There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ flat in London, only one that you compromise for in order to live the London life you want.