The basic cost of living in London

1st December 2020 Joe Graham Accommodation Basics, Careers and Finance, London Life

This is a guest post by Lisa Herms from Florida, USA, currently a resident at urbanest King’s Cross. She is studying International Health Policy (Health Economics) Masters course at London School of Economics.

Interesting fact: I actually enjoy reading Shakespeare…and all types of classic literature!

“What I love most about London are the people, the shopping, the history, the atmosphere!”

The basic cost of living in London

It is well known that London is one of the most expensive cities to live in. Yet it is also one of the most exciting cities, and studying here for a year or so is an experience you should definitely try, if you can. But how expensive is life here, really?

To answer this, I thought it would be useful to compile a list of basic prices in London – covering everything from apples, rice, coca cola, toothpaste, dinner at a restaurant and transport.

Of course, the most important thing to keeping mind is that prices vary greatly depending on location – even within Zone 1, there are big differences. Try to avoid the tourist areas and places right by the main transport hubs.

And just as a quick disclaimer up-front, I take no responsibility for the accuracy of these prices. This is a compilation based on my internet search and personal experience. Feel free to leave a comment if you disagree and if you’ve found prices to be significantly higher or lower. Please share your insider money-saving tips with your fellow students! (These prices have been updated as off December 2020)

At the Grocery Store – Food & Drink

When doing your weekly (or daily) grocery shopping, the prices you pay can vary quite heavily, especially by the type of store and its location. If possible, shy away from the small Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and M&S express stores inside railway stations – they are always a bit more expensive than the “regular” stores. Try going to off-license stores as well – they sometimes have pretty good deals. When going to one of the big supermarket chains, also be on the lookout for the store’s own home brand – it’s always a tad cheaper than the real brands. Obviously this comes at the cost of some degree of quality, but personally I do not much care, when I’m just buying basics.


  • Whole Milk, 1 L: £0.95
  • Eggs, 12 large: £2-3
  • Rice, 1lb: £0.73
  • Pasta, 500g: £0.50 for the cheap kind or £1.50 for Barilla
  • Bread/Toast: £1
  • Butter, 250g: £1.40
  • Local Cheese, 1lb: £3.50-5


  • Tomatoes, 500g: £1.20
  • Apples, 500g: £1.05
  • Green, Yellow, Red Peppers, each: £0.45
  • Lettuce Head: £0.80
  • Potatoes, 500g: £1.10
  • Onions, 1kg: £1.15
  • Bananas 1kg: £1.20

A Note on Produce: Most cafes sell some fresh fruit (apples or bananas), for about £0.80 each. Compare that to the price at the supermarket – it may be worth popping into the Tesco next-door instead.


  • Chicken Breast Fillets, 500g: £3-5
  • Whole Chicken: £4
  • Beef Mince, 1kg: £5
  • British Bacon, 300g: £2
  • Pork Sausages, 300g: £2-3


  • Water, 500mL: £0.40
  • Water 1L: £1
  • Coke Can: £1
  • Coke 500mL: £1.50
  • Coke 2L: £1.70
  • Tropicana Orange Juice 1L: £2-3
  • Domestic Beer, 16oz: £1.50-2.50
  • Red Wine, 1 bottle (decent quality): £8

Sweets and Snacks

  • Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, 500 ml: £4.50
  • Crisps, Small Bag: £0.75
  • Candy Bar: £1

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Personal Care – From the Market, Pharmacy or Elsewhere

  • Medicine Against Cold (6 Days): £4.50
  • Deodorant Roll-On: £1.50
  • Shampoo: £1.40
  • Toilet Paper, 4 Rolls: <£2
  • Toothpaste: £1-2
  • Standard Men’s Haircut: £14
  • Standard Women’s Haircut: £40<
  • Gym Membership, Monthly: £30 (student rate)

Going Out

Going out to eat in London has, to my surprise, not been too expensive – if you treat it as something special. Of course, you need to pay close attention to where you go. This city offers you anything from cheap and poor quality to expensive and gourmet. Try to find the right balance – a restaurant with decent quality, but with appropriate prices. But with a little bit of research and perhaps just a bit of walking around and luck, you’ll be sure to find something to match your taste and budget.

  • McDonalds – The famous big mac meal: £6
  • Average standard meal in a pub: £15
  • Average meal in a restaurant: £15-20
  • Movie (Cinema) Tickets: £10
  • Tickets to theatre: £11<
  • Dinner for 2 at a typical Italian restaurant (including wine & desert) £60
  • Cocktail drink: £11
  • Cappuccino: £2.90
  • Domestic Beer, 0.5L draught: £5
  • Imported Beer, 0.33 L bottle: £5
  • Coke/Pepsi Bottle, 0,33L: £1.50
  • Tap Water: FREE (do not order bottled water)

Fun Fact: Through my journeys across London, I’ve noticed that the prices at Pret a Manger are always the same, whether you’re in the city center, King’s Cross station, Heathrow Airport, or in one of the outskirts of town. If you can’t find anything else and you feel like other places are overcharging you in a certain region, going with a sandwich from Pret is always a safe (though unoriginal) bet!

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  • Regular Oystercard Fare (Zone 1): £2.80
    • If you use the Oystercard, the maximum amount you pay on any given day is capped at £6.40
  • Regular Bus Fare: £2.50
  • Monthly Travelcard for Students: £86.10
  • Taxi Trip, 1 Hour, Basic Tariff, 8km: £20


  • Internet – Free at Urbanest!
  • Phone – varies
    • What really surprised me was that the cost of a cell phone plan is very low. What type of plan you choose – or whether pay as you go is best for you – really depends on what you need in terms of texts, minutes, data and international calls. My personal favorite is GiffGaff, which also offers incredibly low rates for international calls. But rest assured, basically no matter which provider you choose, phone costs will not be a major expense item in your monthly budget here in London.


For prices on the best student studios in London, choose Urbanest of course 🙂

Joe Graham

Joe Graham

For more great posts from Urbanest about accommodation, London life, study tips and much more, visit the Student Journal.