Life in the city is packed with fabulous possibilities: from eating and drinking, to shopping and world-class entertainment. The trouble is that making the most of all the opportunities on offer can take its toll on your bank balance. Fortunately, we have put together a guide to fabulous city living on a budget. There are plenty of discounts and freebies, so you can have more fun on a budget.
It’s not just the cost of going out that can be crippling, but all the sundry costs surrounding it. For anyone with children, the cost of childcare can put a full stop to a night out before you start.
However, there are ways to do it for free. You can set up a babysitting circle among a group of friends, by talking to people at school or play groups. Technically you only need to find one other family to trade babysitting with to get started, although having a handful of families involved will give you more flexibility.
Not everyone can swap babysitting – especially single parents or those who work shifts or long hours. If a babysitting circle doesn’t suit, you can tap into a skills sharing scheme too. Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) have been set up all over the country to help communities swap their skills. They work by creating a unit of ‘currency’, which can be collected when you provide a service . You then use this currency to ‘pay’ someone to provide a service for you. If you’re after childcare, for example, you might be able to cook a meal for another family to earn credits. Then you can use those credits to pay a babysitter. Check out LETSLinkUK for more information and to find your nearest scheme.
Alternatively, you can shop around for a cost-effective sitter with new technology – like the Bubble app. It’s like Uber for babysitting, so you input the times and location, and the options will appear. You pick a sitter you like the look of and pay through the app.
For more tips, check out our article on cutting your childcare costs.
If your fabulous social life requires you to get around, there are plenty of alternatives to forking out thousands of pounds for car ownership, or paying a fortune for taxis.
For longer journeys you can get pay-as-you-go access to cars all over the UK by joining a car club. Sign up with a car club like Zipcar, City Car Club or WhizzGo and rent one of their cars by either the hour or the day.
You’ll have to pay an annual fee of around £50 to join, but once you do you’ll be able to access cars all over your city and book a car by the hour. The club cars include breakdown cover and insurance, and you’re also entitled to free fuel (around 50 miles worth).
Alternatively, you can try easyCarclub, which is like Airbnb for cars, and lets you borrow someone’s car – or lend yours out when you’re not using it. You’ll need to be at least 21 to borrow a car, and have a full driving licence with no more than six points. The club is free to join, and will cover you for accidents and breakdowns during your hire period.
If you’re just looking for a lift, carshare.com lists car sharing pools that are available all around the country. Just click on a location near you and see who else is travelling your way. All you have to do is register your details and specify where and when you want to travel. Check out other car sharing websites too – including Nationalcarshare and Liftshare which are free to join. Just remember you have to be comfortable riding with strangers.
Compare prices and find out more with our article on alternatives to owning a car.
Once the babysitter and transport are covered, you’re ready for an amazing night out on the town for a fraction of the advertised ticket price.
There’s no reason to pay full price for West End Theatre tickets – you can purchase cheap Lastminute.com tickets for as little as a tenner. You can get tickets to watch pretty much any show and there are various deals to choose from, including dinner and a show for £20, tickets for a tenner and half-price ticket offers.
Another useful site is TixDaq which lists various prices and websites selling tickets for both music and theatre events. It allows you to choose the date and venue, and lists all the purchasing information alongside it.
If you’re happy watching previews at a discount, you should also try London Theatre’s list of new openings.
It may also be worth visiting the TKTS booths on the day, where you can pick up incredibly cheap tickets. The best deals tend to be available just after 10am, when the theatres contact the booths with details of the unsold tickets for the day.
You can also watch your favourite TV programmes being recorded for free through Applause Store, which offers tickets to some of the biggest shows on TV.
For more tips, visit our guide to cheap theatre tickets.
Eat and drink
There’s never any need to pay full price at a restaurant chain. There’s always some sort of offer on somewhere. The best way to keep on top of the deals is to sign up for newsletters from your favourite chains. Alternatively, use voucher sites like vouchercloud.com or vouchercodes.co.uk, where there are endless deals.
You can get great deals at fancy restaurants too. OpenTable is a useful place to start, because it has special offers at restaurants throughout the UK. It’s also worth considering going to lunch rather than dinner, where set menus can be a real bargain. Lastminute.com also has some pretty good meal deals on the site, and you can check out our guide for more top tips.
If you don’t want to spend anything at all, have a look at the freebies available through your supermarket loyalty cards. Sometimes you can swap points for four times the value to spend in some chains, which will go far further than you think. Check out our guide to eating for free for more freebie ideas.
If looking fabulous is part of any night out, then you can save a fortune by shopping online. Sign up to the newsletters from your favourite brands – which will often give you an introductory discount and will alert you to any sales. You should also search the ‘clearance’ sections of the website for hidden bargains.
You can get big-name brands at sample sale prices with certain special fashion websites. By signing up to Koodos you can get early access to amazing sales on top designers. So if you love your Balenciaga handbags and Jimmy Choo shoes, visit the website and sign up to the alerts to be the first in line to save hundreds on designer gear.
At Catwalk to Closet there are designer brands with huge reductions (and we mean huge). Again you can simply browse the items on the site – or sign up to the members’ club for exclusive offers and preview sales.
Here are some other fashion sites you might like to sign up to:
- Fashion Confidential
- Private Outlet
- Dress for Less
- Secret Sales
- Brand Alley
- Fashion Exchange and eBay both let you bid for all sorts of amazing high street, designer and vintage clothes at a fraction of the cost.
Just make sure you set up a separate email account purely for things like this, so your normal account doesn’t get clogged up with junk.
For loads more great fashion advice, read our article, Budget Fashion: Save 80% on designer clothes.
You can also snap up affordable beauty treats by shopping online. Feel Unique has a special offers text box with a drop-down menu. This lists all the free gifts that are available with purchases – so take a look to see what’s up for grabs. It’s also great for saving money on designer perfume. Other sites that sell branded perfume at low prices are Cheap Smells, Perfume Point and Fragrance Direct.
Eyeslipsface charges just £1.50 per item – the only exclusions are the mineral items and the kits (but even these work out to £1.50 per item and you get the bag thrown in for free). Delivery is free for orders over £30 – or £2.95 per order under that amount. Get friends and family to have a look and see if they want to buy anything too. If you and a friend buy ten items each, you can order together and get free delivery by spending just £15 altogether.
Fabulous city living on a budget doesn’t always come free. If you’re going to afford to be fabulous, you need to stop wasting money elsewhere. Everyone’s wasteful habits are different, so think carefully about yours, and check out these handy articles to find ways to cut your costs.
- Entertaining the kids doesn’t have to swallow all your cash, because you can have family fun on a budget.
- We waste an enormous amount of all the food we buy so try a zero waste week, and see what you could save.
- Learn how to feed your family for less.
- Discover the five steps that mean you could live on half your salary.
- Get a better deal on your home insurance.
- Cut the cost of your gym membership.
- Save by going green: A host of products that will slash your laundry and cooking costs.
- Save money with clever insulation: How to make your home more energy efficient.
- Switch and save: How comparing and switching your energy bills.
- Save water, and save on your water bills.
- Save money on your car insurance. And shop around for the best deals.