I arrived in the United Kingdom ten years ago. I felt ecstatic and excited with the opportunities and better life that possibly awaits for me as a UK Registered Nurse. However, I was warned that the UK was expensive and the cost of living is high. Fast forward to 2022, our family pays £3000 a month for our monthly household expenses. I guess the warnings were correct then. I bet you also have this burning question too… How can I afford to live in the UK as a nurse?
I did not really feel the impact of the high cost of living when I first started as a nurse in the UK. I was single back then and found that my living expenses were quite reasonable to what my salary was. Perhaps this is partly because of the penny pinching measures I did to save money and be able to afford to pay for bills and other expenditures.
I was a newly qualified nurse sharing a flat/apartment with two other nurses. We're located an hour away from London so it is still worth considering that our area is really not that cheap. I was spending around £400 a month for all my bills, plus my monthly remittance to my parents in the Philippines. I only had to cross the road to go to work which cuts travel costs, I ate cheap meals (not the healthiest) and I was living in a single room. At that time, it was all I needed. For a bachelor, it was perfect. For someone earning a minimum of £1,500 a month (as a band 5 NHS nurse) I had half my salary to save which I found to be good and reasonable.
Ten years have passed and a lot has changed. I am now married and blessed with a gorgeous girl and currently live in an area further away from London with a monthly mortgage to be paid for 25 years. I no longer cross the road to go to work and as an agency nurse, having a car to drive is essential as I don’t have a permanent workplace and my work depends on availability of shifts from different hospitals.
We all have different circumstances and monthly expenditures like rent or mortgage payment varies in different areas. Also, take note of the lifestyle choices you make. Whether you choose to buy designer clothes or resort to Primark or H and M wardrobe, whether you enjoy take-aways and eating out or cook budget meals, it can affect what will be left in your current account at the end of the day. So let me break down why we spend more than £3,000 a month for our living expenses.
We have purchased a house that we absolutely love and adore in a quiet and nice area with excellent schools around. Thus explains the price we are paying for it. Being in the countryside, £1100 mortgage payment is a bit pricey but we have considered the potential equity from house appreciation in the long term. Although this is not guaranteed, statistics show that house prices in the UK increase every year and we had this first hand experience when we sold our very first house before moving to our current one.
I work full-time mostly during weekdays and my wife works part-time. We felt that this is the best option for our family as childcare fees can be quite expensive. On the day shifts that my wife is working, we bring our daughter to nursery full day three times a week. Because of the Tax Free Childcare (TFC) and the 30 hours free childcare, we only pay around £300 per month which saves us almost half of the bill if we paid it in full. Otherwise, we have to pay £684 for three days she has to go to nursery. Take into account that the 30 hours free childcare only starts at 3 years old so if your child is younger you can only avail TFC which can save you 20%.
I have to drive 1.5 hours each day for work back and forth each day. My wife works locally and drives around 15 mins every time she goes to work. So that also means we have to have two cars. We are lucky enough to afford them and have already paid them fully. However, the cost of having a car doesn’t stop there. We have to pay for their insurance, yearly MOT, car service, road tax (if applicable) and have to save for unexpected repairs.
We chose to keep our cars rather than changing every three years as we found it more cost effective. We bought it relatively new with low mileage and we just have to do the MOT 3 years after its registration. Cars below 3 years old don’t require an MOT but you still have to take it for yearly service regardless of its age. Road tax depends on the CO2 emission of the car. Our cars have low CO2 emission and we don’t have to pay road tax for it.
We also have to pay a yearly insurance for each one, which ranges from £350 - £450 a year. A little side note: we have been driving for a while, that is why our insurance is cheaper now. For new drivers the insurance can be quite steep.
For petrol expenses, our average spending is approximately about £250 per month. This is because I travel a lot for work. Also, this may change during the summer months as we drive to different places and enjoy outdoor activities to maximise the warm weather that we don’t get a lot here in the UK.
We decided to focus on healthy eating now. This also means that it can be quite expensive as we opt to buy organic fresh produce. We still consider this cheap as we cook our own food and bring packed lunches to work. We eat out occasionally and indulge in some things like our morning coffees and occasional scrumptious desserts. Overall, our budget for a month for food shopping is around £350 to £400. We chose Aldi to shop our groceries as their prices were the cheapest amongst the stores although choices are a bit limited. We definitely save a lot of money by shopping in Aldi and planning our meals as well to avoid food waste. Because remember when you throw your food, you’re throwing your money too.
Peace of mind sometimes comes with a price. We’re paying various insurances for our cars (£700/yr), house and its contents (£12), income protection (£26), and life and critical illness cover (£70). We also pay insurance from our banks that covers our family from travel, mobile phone damage or loss and car breakdown cover (£13).
The life insurance you pay depends on different factors such as how much cover you’d like, presence of co-morbidities, genetic predisposition and lifestyle habits. For us, we chose a decreasing term in line with our mortgage balance. Our personal insurances provide financial protection for unforeseeable circumstances such as sudden death, accident, critical illness and to replace income if we are unable to work for a period of time due to sickness or disability caused by illness and injury.
Car insurance protects us financially if we get involved from an accident, theft and injury claims as well. Similarly, house insurance pays out for unexpected damages caused by fire, flooding or storm to our house and its contents.
As we’re both working as nurses, we also pay indemnity insurance from Royal College of Nursing (£17/person) as part of our membership in case we need legal representation or support with regards to our professional practice. Additionally, we also pay NMC registration renewal annually for £120 per person.
Bills and Subscriptions
These are the fixed costs that we all needed to pay every month. It includes gas (£89), electricity (£59), water (£38), Internet (£31), Council Tax (£195), Mobile phone (£36 for both). It’s very important to shop around after each contract so you can get the best deals that will suit your budget. We also opted for subscriptions for entertainment and for convenience such as Amazon prime (£79/year) and Netflix (£14).
We still have miscellaneous expenses, remittance to our parents and investment savings that I haven’t included in the list. While it is true that living costs in the UK are dearer than in the Philippines, we make sure that we earn enough and live within if not below our means to be able to afford paying for them. We work extra shifts, do side hustles and grow our money through investments.
We could probably save if we moved to somewhere more rural, if we decide to just take the bus or get a smaller house. Our expenses show that we are living life where we can be happy and comfortable. We chose to spend on things that really matter to us and scrimp on some areas that we felt less necessary. Ultimately, how we live our lives can impact our outgoings and the amount we can keep. I believe we just need to find the balance of spending and saving so we can enjoy our lives but also be savvy enough to prepare for the future.