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Stewardship of Money and Living in London on a Student Budget

September 30, 2014 1 comment

It’s that time of the year when sunny days get colder and the student hordes throng the streets of London. I’ve had a good time meeting the first arrivals, urging them to make the most of their few years abroad.

rocket, fig, proscuitto, mozzarella salad with linseed vinaigretteIt’ll be a sad thing if all they had to show at the end of their degree was, erm, a degree, selfies in front of tourist attractions, signed menus from Michelin restaurants, and a life partner to eat in said restaurants with. There’s much more to life, boys and girls! Away from the usual societal crutches of home, this is the perfect opportunity to think carefully and independently about life – to investigate properly what truth is and so set valid life goals according to that truth. After thorough investigation, Christian claims, as set out in the Bible, seemed overwhelmingly true:

  1. the deadly problem we all face is that we are all under the wrath of God for failing to acknowledge him;
  2. nothing we can ever do or say will be able to turn away God’s wrath on the Last Day;
  3. but God sent his Son Jesus to save us from this – if we trust that what God promised is true – ie. that Jesus’ death is sufficient to save us from the consequences of our sin.

Because this is such an important thing for this life and the next, I would highly recommend everyone to research this for themselves. A Christianity Explored course is a great place to start! And London universities are well served by good churches like St. Helen’s Bishopsgate and Euston Church.

While the important stuff gets sorted, there are also daily necessities to consider. (Ah but, really, who ultimately provides us with money to buy food with, enables food to grow as they should, regulates the seasons, gives us breath?) As a student at a Bible course, living off my own savings, I had to be careful about spending, but also not let frugality be an idol; to be so able to work the budget as still to be generously hospitable about housing and feeding people. We usually think that “good stewardship” of God-given money consists merely of avoiding conspicuous consumption, but miserliness too fails to properly invest God’s money for his work.

Food
Because the United Kingdom produces its own food and local food is more likely to be less expensive, it is best to eat the season.

Street markets are your best bet for fresh food. I don’t mean the organic hipster places but the “ethnic” sort in East London – for example, along Whitechapel or in Shadwell. Vegetables are usually sold by the bowl – £1 for whatever is in the bowl. And I have managed to bargain for more to be stuffed in the same bowl…

Check London Farmers Markets for more English/continental produce. Although basics are on the whole more expensive, this is for you if you care about provenance. And there are some bargains at closing time or on things that don’t usually figure in the modern London kitchen – like duck hearts, other offal, pork bones for ramen bases. Even the more posh farmers’ markets are worth checking out: I’ve gotten good bags of pesticide-free fruit and vegetables for £1 each at the Marylebone Farmers’ Market and chicken carcasses for stock (but with enough flesh left on it for a meal for one or two) for 25p each at Borough Market.

It’s also worth being a regular at your local butcher and fishmonger who may throw in stuff for free once they get to know you.

wild blackberries wild blackberry tart

Foraging has saved me a bundle on fruit and herbs. But obviously you need to be sure not to poison yourself, especially with the mushrooms. Check out recipes and advice at Forage London.

Marked Down GroceriesIf you really need to use a supermarket, you can compare prices at mysupermarket.co.uk. There isn’t a particularly generally cheap(er) mainstream supermarket: Tesco and Sainsbury’s might sell different goods more cheaply. Lidl, Aldi, and ASDA, although not known to be upmarket, have own-brand products that stand up to more expensive own-brands: like olive oil and charcuterie. Check for Great Taste Awards as well. There are also treasures in Lidl’s wine bins (eg. Bordeaux second growths).

Waitrose does really deep discounts on well-kept but expiring food. I usually snap these up for the freezer – good for lazy evenings and unexpected guests. It’s also worth signing up to be a Waitrose member for free coffee (espresso, cappuccino, latte) and tea daily, additional discounts, and a free well-written magazine every month.
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down GroceriesThe other great thing about Waitrose is that it applies original bulk-buy discounts to stickered items. In this instance, Waitrose technically paid me £0.11 to buy 18 sausages off them!

Marked Down Groceries Marked Down Groceries
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down Groceries
Marked Down Groceries Marked Down Groceries

Marks & Spencer stores tend to clear out their bakery sections at a good yellow-stickered discount about 6.00 p.m. (store-dependent) every day so you can get proper bread/pastry your dinner/breakfast there. The city center stores are also good for discounts on dairy items like milk and cheese.

Approved Food has a bit of a niche selling food near or past its best before date at good reductions.

Coffee
Brewing your own probably gives you a better cup and saves you loads off Costa lattes. Worth checking out online coffee companies for promotional discounts – eg. Pact Coffee delivers your first order for only £1.

Clothes
By the fact that everyone can tell me a mile away by my clothes, it is clear that I don’t really have much experience in this area. But for fig leaves that don’t look too cheap, TK Maxx has good stuff. There are loads of charity shops around. Also look out for clothes swaps.

For camping/hiking/walking clothes, footwear, and accessories, try the Army Surplus Store

Hair Cuts
Get them free by being a real live model for hairdressing students or juniors. Have a look at this Time Out article for details.

Cookware, homeware and home electricals
Check first if anyone has anything to give away on London Freecycle or Gumtree or a whole list of alternatives on the Guardian Green Living Blog or on the London Re-use Network. Otherwise, compare prices at:
Robert Dyas
Argos
Lakeland
Poundland, 99p shop, 98p shop…

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse
Reuse jars as cups and for storage. Reuse can and coffee cups as pen and pencil holders. Reuse fruit crates for shelves. Reuse wine cases for bookshelves.

Transportation
Cycling around London is free, though you’ll need to acquire a bicycle and an all-important bicycle lock.

Bicycles
Freecycle, Gumtree, . Or ReCycling and other sites listed on Bike Hub. Cycle training, if you live in Tower Hamlets, is free.

bicycle maintenance club bicycle repair and maintenance tools

You’ll want to keep your ride in good shape, so pop down to the free bicycle maintenance workshops.

Trains
The Man on Seat 61 has good advice about this.

Leisure Activities
It helps to live in areas that the government thinks need a leg up. In Tower Hamlets, for example, there is free tennis and relatively cheap admission to swimming pools.

For theatre, opera, concerts, check out the TKTS website for discounts, or (if appropriate) hunt for student standby tickets or platform seats.

Lots more tips at moneysavingexpert.com.

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Billingsgate Fish Market

April 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Billingsgate Market (Trafalgar Way, Poplar, London E14 5ST), say all the publicity, is the United Kingdom’s largest inland fish market. It is easily accessible by bus and DLR. There is a seafood training school onsite, the Billingsgate Seafood School where you can gain fishmongering skills and also learn how to make sushi from Feng Sushi’s Silla Bjerrumis. An opportunistic seal called Sammy resides in the waters just off the market.
Billingsgate Fish Market, London

Tsukiji Fish Market it was not. On Saturday morning, the wet floor teemed with a mess of both restauranteurs and Joe Public eager to get a good price for seafood, and also, camera-wielding tourists commenting on how it was not Tsukiji. Old clothes and waterproof footwear were the best gear for the occasion, and a ear out for warning cries of the porters shouting “mind your feet!” essential to avoid having ankles bruised by the heavy pallet trucks and trolleys pushing past.
Billingsgate Fish Market, London

The experienced came with marketing trolleys, not just because of the weight of the produce but also because bus-drivers have been known to refuse entry to people openly carrying raw seafood – for fear that the lingering fishy smell would affect other passengers. The marketing trolleys had to be left outside the main entrance.
Billingsgate Fish Market, London

Inside, fish and other seafood were laid out in styrofoam boxes. Because this was a wholesale market, some stalls only sold fish by the box. And certainly, there were no fishmongers to scale, clean, cut or otherwise prepare the fish for anyone, though some fish was sold already cleaned. On offer were mackerel, salmon, tilapia, catfish, milk fish, seabass, emperor fish, rohu fish, hara hara (?), plaice, stockfish; smoked fish from Scandinavia, and salted fish to cater to those from the African and Caribbean cultures,

Billingsgate Fish Market, London Billingsgate Fish Market, London
Billingsgate Fish Market, London Billingsgate Fish Market, London

live piles of oysters, crabs, scallops in their shells, winkles…

Billingsgate Fish Market, London Billingsgate Fish Market, London

Since only a few people would be over for dinner that night (vs the housemate’s need to feed 20), I purchased a modest amount of scallops for £5 a dozen and 4 salmon heads for £1. Not being at all familiar with Chinese cuisine, fell back on the Asian food I understand most – pseudo-Japanese. The misomayo hotate was very well-received, accompanied by buckwheat noodles in steaming kombu miso soup.

Scallop in half-shell Grilled scallops in half-shell

The grilled salmon heads, with their crisp exterior, meaty front collar, and tender cheeks, were not quite as well-liked – because they resembled (they were!)… real fish…

Salmon Heads
Grilled Salmon Head Grilled Salmon Head

We have been thinking about what it means to live for God – yes, there is the being obedient to specific commandments and also standing firm in one’s evidence-based faith, not being ashamed of Jesus because Jesus has already brought believers into his kingdom and because if we are ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of us on the last day. But what do we do that isn’t merely reactive? The working hypothesis (possibly the same vein as my frugal nasty-bits-diet-in-preparation-for-mission-to-supermarketless-lands policy, though not stemming therefrom) is to make the most of the situations (whether good or bad, humanly-speaking) God has placed us in, and of the gifts and character God has given us, to make God’s work in Jesus known to all – for surely that is what gives God the most glory.

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