When I left to go live in London, I think that I had an advantage many of my classmates on my program did not; I had lived in an apartment off campus for an entire year before. It sounds like a trivial thing, but knowing how to make a grocery list, find good deals at the grocery store, and cook quick and healthy meals for yourself is something that takes practice.
(My grocery store across from my apartment, Sainsburys)
While I had done this before, and felt confident I knew how to shop and cook for myself, grocery stores in London are a little bit different than my usual store at home. For example, you have to bag your items yourself, they sell a lot of delicious prepared meals, some things have different names (aubergine is an eggplant), they sell a biscuits/cookies, indian cuisine ingredients, and generally many things have less sweeteners, artificial flavors and colors, and preservatives. So…here is my advice to anyone trying to stay on budget, and still eat healthy while studying abroad in London:
(My favorite store brand juice concentrate)
– Buy store brand items. Sainsburys was the grocery store I frequented most. They had a few different levels of store brand items, usually a more expensive organic option and then the “Sainsbury’s basics” option which is quite literally the very basic version of that item. While the packaging is lack-luster, I never had a problem with the quality of any of the things I bought as a “sainsbury’s basic”. I saved a lot of money by doing this, heck, my favorite cocktail was Sainsbury basics vodka with Sainsbury basics orange “squash”!
– Stock up on basics rather than “quick” prepared meals. Where I lived, I had a Sainsburys right across the street from my apartment. This was super convenient but it also meant that an easy prepared dinner was just steps away. While most of these meals are good, they are much more expensive than if you were to buy the ingredients and make it yourself. Buy ingredients and cook at home, rather than buying a microwave meal every night.
– Shop when you have the energy/time/motivation, not right when you get off the tube. Sometimes I would try to do my shopping after a long day of work on my way home. I was tired, I was hungry and just not motivated to make good decisions. This is when I would come home forgetting the one thing I really needed, or bought a bunch of junk food.
-Bring your own grocery bags/a backpack. Since you will be carrying your groceries all the way home, bring a large reusable bag or backpack to make it easier on yourself.
(Bought this bag of apples and clementines for like 3 pounds at a street market)
-Frequent farmers markets. By far my FAVORITE part about living in London was all of the outdoor produce markets. As I have said before Borough Market is my ultimate favorite, but you can get really good deals on fresh local-ish produce from farmers markets, and it is something fun to do on a weekend.
My favorite items that they had in London that just do not compare here in the US are definitely pita bread, peanut butter canned soups, and frozen veggie burgers. They have such unique flavors and varieties of these things for SO cheap, I miss them so much!
And lastly, here is a glimpse of what I would eat daily on my tight budget:
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and muesli or toast with avocado slices
Lunch: A bowl of soup or a pita bread sandwich with fresh cheese and tomato
Dinner: A frozen veggie burger patty with sauteed veggies, a salad or pasta on the side