It’s well known that Edinburgh is a beautiful city, with loads of things to do, which offers a high-quality way of life. It’s also considered to be one of the most expensive cities to live in the UK.
If you ask me, I agree with both.
So, how do I manage to afford my life in Edinburgh?
Being in a new city and trying to start a new life away from your home can be daunting. Here is some practical advice for anyone who wants to make a new start in the “Athens of the North”.
Make a budget
Seriously, this is the most important thing. Take a pen and some paper (or use a spreadsheet on your computer, if you prefer) and write down your income and expenses. Start by writing down your salary and any other income you might have and then make a detailed list of your expenses, including both fixed (rent, utility bills, groceries etc.) and “spontaneous” ones (clothes, entertainment, coffee etc). I know that writing everything down is really annoying, but this will allow you to understand where you spend your money, and will help you have control over your wallet. By doing this every month, you will learn how to manage your money and you will even be able to plan for the future. Remember that, fundamental to financial planning, is knowing where your money is going. But even if you don’t plan for the future, a budget will make your everyday life easier and more stress-free.
Find a roommate
It doesn’t matter if you have been living abroad for many years or you just left your home country; the process of finding a home is always frustrating. When you first arrive in Edinburgh, you will soon realise that a flat hunt is not the easiest thing, especially because of the high rents, in combination with the poor condition of the flats.
For starters, you’re asked to pay a generous amount of rent, plus a deposit to secure the flat, and, in many cases, for a poorly looked after flat. It’s quite a lot, especially if you’re looking for a home of your own. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to find someone to share the flat and the cost.
In Edinburgh, there are lots of two-bedroom flats that cost £100-£150 more than a good one-bedroom flat. So, if you find someone to share a two-bedroom flat, you’ll save a lot. You can either look for an already occupied flat, with a spare bedroom, or, if you have a friend or someone you know, you can look for a flat together.
Beware of the areas
Another thing to take into consideration is the area you want to live in. It’s common sense that the closer to the city centre you are, the more expensive the rents are. There are, also, areas that are not in the city centre but are still expensive to live in (Stockbridge, Comely Bank etc). Try to find a flat out of the “expensive-for-nothing” area, which is well-linked with transport or is close to your work.
Shop in a clever way
Regarding groceries, Lidl will become your best friend. It’s cheaper than Tesco or Sainsbury’s and it generally has a good variety of products. You just have to try Lidl for a month and Tesco for another; you will see the difference in your shopping expenses. If you prefer shopping at Tesco/Sainsbury’s you will find out that, when shopping there later at night, you can find loads of meat and fish that has been massively reduced, along with other fresh food that’s approaching its best before date.
Another way to boost up your budget is by visiting local shops which offer a sustainable way of shopping. There are a few of this kind in Edinburgh, but the one I’m frequenting is Weigh to Go, on Leith Walk. These shops work in the following way: you bring your empty container/jar/bottle and you refill it with anything you like. This helps not only your wallet (as paying just for the content of your jar is far cheaper than paying for all the packaging as well), but the planet too.
It’s a sustainable way of living, which aims towards a plastic free future.
You can always count on Gumtree for furniture, electric devices and general home stuff. The things you find there are second-hand, inexpensive and, mostly, in a very good condition. I’ve bought furniture from there a lot of times and I’m really happy with it. You can find a lot of IKEA products, from someone who doesn’t want them anymore, and the prices are low.
If you want to buy clothes/shoes/home stuff you can visit Primark. It’s not the best quality, but it’s quite affordable. If you want to buy second-hand clothing, books, kitchen utensils, you can always visit charity shops. In my opinion, this is the best option, as you’re not only buying good-quality and affordable products, it’s also environmentally friendly and your money goes to a good cause.
Have fun for free (well, almost)
As far as I can tell, Edinburgh is an open museum for all culture lovers, and a big green space, for all exercise seekers. If you belong to the first group, there are a lot of museums you can visit for free, such as The National Museum of Scotland, The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery and many more.
If you are an exercise seeker and you want to keep fit, you will find a big variety of parks in the city. Many have special exercise equipment which you can use. A jog on Portobello beach is perfect for all sea lovers. For the most adventurous spirits, a climb on Arthur’s Seat is always a good option. In both cases, exercise is free.
If you want to meet people and do the hobby you love in an affordable way, you can join a meetup group, for a low cost, and have some fun!
There are always affordable ways for having fun and, if you search, you’re going to find the one that suits you. One of the most important discoveries I did last year, some months after I had moved to Edinburgh, was that I didn’t have to pay £12 for a cinema ticket, which was really expensive for me. I found out that, if I bought an insurance (it didn’t matter which one, it just had to be any insurance) for some pence, I would be able to have a discount to my cinema ticket and not only that, but I could take a friend with me and pay just for one ticket. If you’re interested in how this works, you can check it out here.
Walk, cycle, or take the bus
One of the highest expenses can be caused by transport.
Obviously, walking is the most expense-free way, but, unfortunately, is not always possible. So, what are the alternatives?
There is the possibility of hiring a bike for a few hours a day. Edinburgh offers the Just Eat Cycles, which can be found at several points across the city. You are required to follow the described procedure and move the bike from one pick-up point to another. It usually costs less than taking the bus, especially if you need it for a few hours.
Getting the bus in Edinburgh is one of the best options if you can’t walk/cycle to work and you want to be relaxed throughout your route. If you take the bus every day, then it’s a good option to buy a Ridacard, which offers you the possibility of transport as many times as you want in one month, by paying £57. You can make this £54/month if you have a bank account and you set a direct debit. If you think of how much money you save by using this card, instead of buying a single ticket (£1.70) each time you take the bus, you will see the difference that makes.
Be patient and stay positive
All of us who live abroad have experienced being new in a foreign place. We have faced difficulties and been stressed a lot, especially at the beginning of our new lives. The important thing to keep in mind is that we live in a new place, where we don’t know how things work, we don’t have a social circle yet and where we struggle to live a good life. And that’s ok; it’s just the beginning of an amazing journey.
Sara Tsompanidi is a primary teacher and freelance writer, living and working in Edinburgh. She has been providing guest posts for a year. Her educational background in primary teaching and her multicultural experiences have given her a broad base to approach many topics. She especially enjoys sharing her experiences and providing practical advice to individuals who are making their first steps in Scotland.
(You can contact her here: email@example.com)