How to budget for nights out as an international student in London
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London is expensive. Period.

According to Swiss bank UBS’ survey on the cost of living in 77 cities around the world, London is the eighth-most expensive in terms of price levels, despite coming in at 24th and 23rd in terms of earning levels and purchasing power, respectively.

Figures from ECA International earlier this year place London as the most expensive city in Europe for renting accommodation for a third consecutive year.

As Jonn Elledge of The Guardian explains: “Prices are so ridiculous that it can feel as if there are magnets at the door of each shop, ready to drain all the change from your pockets and wipe your debit card to boot.”

save money on nights out

Source: Reddit

These magnets are at their most powerful during nights out. While drinking and clubbing in Beijing or Kuala Lumpur is something of a weekly (or thrice-weekly…) affair with no need for advance planning, London is a different case altogether. In the priciest city in Britain, ignorance can lead to heart attack-inducing debt.

Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate the damage. We scoured the internet and spoke to locals for their best tips and tricks for a night out in the city:

1. Pre-drink at home

Source: Giphy

With a pint costing £5 (and who stops at just one pint) and up to £6-7 at those poncey craft beer joints, drinking will usually be the biggest source of financial drain on your wallet. With self-control depleted by the increasing presence of alcohol in your bloodstream, the urge to just swipe your card for another round will be too strong to resist.

Locals (who have learnt their lessons) recommend pre-drinking at home or someplace else, also getting to the club earlier to avoid the entry charge. The maths is easy with this – a vodka orange might cost you £6-7 at a pub or club, but a bottle of vodka from Tesco is between a tenner to £15.

Load up on carbs, too. This is so when those drunken munchies come along, you could save your bank account (and stomach) from expensive takeaway food.

2. Avoid taxis and minicabs without licenses

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All taxis and minicab firms have to be licensed by Transport for London (TfL). For minicabs, you can look for the special discs on their windscreen and rear window to show they’re licensed. As for taxis, they must have these traits:

  • Have a maximum of eight passenger seats
  • Are accessible for disabled people
  • Have a plate on the back showing their taxi license number

If you’re offered a ride in vehicles that don’t match these descriptions, they are unlicensed vehicles that you should avoid at all cost. Use Licence Checker to find out whether the minicab company or driver you’re using is licensed.

Their targets are usually inebriated persons getting out of clubs (usually women), who they tell any price to get them in their cars. While they may stick to this price, there are reports that they’ll claim up to £30 extra over some “misunderstanding” of the location.

Black taxis may have a reputation for being notoriously expensive, but they often turn out cheaper than these unlicensed cabs. Public transport and booked minicabs, either via phone, apps or online, are usually the cheapest option. Always plan your transport ahead!

3. Deals, deals, deals

Time Out has a massive list of relatively affordable restaurants and cafés in the capital for great food and good value. From Syrian classics to authentic northeastern Thai cookery, you can find them all here for £10 a head or less, which is a steal in this city.

Groupon can be a treasure trove of nightlife deals, too. We found a two-hour karaoke plus drinks for up to seven people going for £28 at Pinner, one VIP ticket to World Burlesque Games for £18, a craft beer tasting session with Snacks at Islington for £10, etc.

4. Put those student benefits to use

UK students get a whole lot of discounts and offers, which if meticulously and persistently used, can add up to a whole load of savings. In our case study on how to do the impossible save on a night out in London, we found a couple of ways to put that student ID to good use:

  • Use your Student Oyster photocard to save 30 percent off the price of adult-rate Travelcards and Bus & Tram Pass season tickets (only eligible for those 18 or over, who live at a London address during term time and are in full-time education, or on a mandatory work placement in London);
  • Your National Union of Students (NUS), NUS Extra and ISIC cards should get you discounts in cafés, restaurants, shops and cinemas;
  • Sites like Design My Night have deals with some of the city’s best hangouts – you can book and use these food and drink discounts without having to print. Check out their list of pocket-friendly happy hours and the most alternative club nights in town, too.

5. Use the right card

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Ditch the credit card for a prepaid card – this is something you won’t regret. The former gives you a heart attack, something the latter prevents. These prepaid cards can be topped up with your set budget for the night and sometimes even come with an app that reminds you how much you have left before you blow your limit.

Debit and credit cards, on the other hand, are the devil incarnate here, as they make it so, so easy to lose track of how much you’ve used – especially through the contactless feature!

And when it comes to cash, withdraw all you need from a trusted ATM (one that offers free withdrawals) so you don’t get charged a few precious pounds from club ATMs. Or, be diligent – use this ATM locator tool to find the one nearest to the club.

6. Drink more water

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The beauty of UK law requires all licensed premises in England and Wales to provide “free potable water” to customers upon request. If they’re authorised to serve alcohol, they’re bound by this law. This includes pubs, bars, nightclubs, cafés, restaurants, takeaways and drink outlets, cinemas, theatres, and even village and community halls.

So, give your liver a break and drink a glass of water after every alcoholic drink you glug. You’re likely to end up with less alcohol in your system and mitigate the dreaded hangover the next morning.

It’s a win-win!

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