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News / City Life

What's it like being an intern in London?

What's it like being an intern in London?
Ed Miles

Millenials. Generation Y. Whatever you call them, there’s a whole group of Londoners in their twenties and thirties who have one thing in common: they’re broke. It might not be immediately obvious: as a generation, they spend more on eating out and gyms than their parents, but look deeper and there’s a looming, sense of: ‘We’re fucked… what’s the point?’

Time Out’s City Index survey last year found that nearly a fifth of millennial Londoners were earning less than £20,000. Even those with seemingly secure jobs were worried about money.

It’s never been more expensive to buy or even rent a flat in London. Transport and food costs are rising. Those who grew up here face the reality that if their parents don’t already own a house, they’ll probably never own one. Newbies arrive in the capital already saddled with huge student debts and with little prospect of things improving financially for them in the future. 

We asked four young Londoners who are all strapped for cash to talk to us as candidly about money. Their answers told us more about their lives than their bank balances. They’re career hoppers, adding up multiple freelance gigs to the sum of a salary. They’ll pick up odd jobs for freebies. They’re scared of annual rent hikes. They’re priced out of ever putting down roots. And even if they could: how expensive is living in London going to be in ten years’ time? No wonder a recent study revealed a generation who spend more on coffee than they put into their pensions. They’ve got nothing to save for… 

Josh, 25, works in copywriting internships, freelance writing and running his own magazine Sonder. He earns around £1,200 a month after tax, and lives on a house currently moored in Ladbroke Grove.

So, you live on a boat?

‘Yeah, with my girlfriend. It’s a Dutch boat that dates back to 1925. It’s one of the ones where if other boaters go past, they’re like, “Phwoar, nice boat!” They can cost anywhere between a few grand and £150,000 to buy. Ours was somewhere in the middle. My girlfriend’s dad helped us buy it.’

How is life afloat?

‘You have to change mooring every two weeks so sometimes you’re right in the mix in Hackney, sometimes you’re in the arse-end of nowhere. It’s also cold. But worth it because I don’t have to pay rent. I just need £30-£50 to heat it.’

How do you keep your day-to-day spending down?

‘I cycle to work. I try to spend less than £15 on my weekly shop, which means having quite sad cheese sandwiches for lunch. Sometimes I’ll go a whole day not spending anything. It’s allowed me to try out lots of freelancing roles and do some unpaid stuff. I run a magazine called Sonder. My girlfriend and I started it at uni when I quickly realised that getting into publishing was impossible if you didn’t have work experience.’

How do you think your generation is different to the one before?

‘I’ve already probably had more jobs than most of my family had in their whole lives. My uncle told me his dad came to him one day and said, “You’re going to be a plumber because robots can do any other job but they can’t fix pipes.” And he’s been a plumber for 40 years. That kind of stability isn’t something I’ve seen among my friends.’

Is there one thing you spend money on that you know you can't afford?

‘Drinking, holidays... I funded one last year by doing a clinical trial: I spent two weeks in an industrial medical unit and they tested new asthma treatments on me. That paid £3,000. As I get older I like to see if I can get something from nothing. I come from a background where we didn’t have much money.’

Do you think London rents means there's a cycle of privilege here?

‘Yes. I know some people from university who were set up with flats in Angel or Kensington as soon as they graduated. It’s great for them that their parents have the resources to help them out, but for most of us, no matter how much we earn, we can’t get on the property ladder.’

Are you managing to save money?

‘I could probably save 75 percent of my wages but I save half because while I think it’s good to lead a cheaper existence, I still want to have fun.’

Have you got a top money-saving tip?

‘Mystery shop. Every day. You sign up, then as long as you can spell reasonably well, you can do things like be given £200 to get dinner, have drinks and go bowling in central London. This week I’m going for burgers twice.’

What's the best free thing in London?

‘I’m a big ping-pong person. You can go to a poundshop and get two bats for a quid and there are ping-pong tables in almost every park.’

Skint? Check out our guide to cheap things to do in London.

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