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How to Live in London on Minimum Wage (And Still be Happy)

06/10/2014 13:38 BST | Updated 03/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Almost two years ago now, I left that big mass of sun-scorched land down-under for the city which has now been ranked the world's most expensive to live and work in, according to a survey by global estate agents Savills.

My upbringing was modest, sure. But, like many Aussies, I enjoyed a fairly carefree lifestyle.

Despite studying full-time, I independently spent and saved enough cash to sustain a life of relative luxury and a latter adventure overseas.

I always maintained that hard work would, in the end, pay off - because that is what my country allowed me to believe.

That was until I landed in the city which, perhaps more figuratively than literally, always rains. A place in which 75 quid will barely afford you a week's board in a shoebox, or should I say on a desk.

Working for as low as £6.50/hour in this type of climate does, very quickly, lend itself to a life lesson or two.

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Smile and shop in Poundland!

Stuff isn't really that important, experiences are

I used to love 'things'. Truck loads of cosmetics and other useless and largely unused beauty products spilled from my every bathroom draw and bedroom cupboard. Hell...if you can afford it, right? This kind of thinking - this excessive and mindless consumption - needs to stop. Just stop! No one needs 57 mascaras - defining, waterproofing, volumising, black, brown or neon pink! Buy one (okay, maybe two). Use it. Buy another. Common sense, it's a wonderful thing.

Don't get me wrong, material longings are hard to dispel entirely and I am a lady who certainly likes her 'things'. At least once daily I find myself, despite having absolutely no stylistic affinity with most popularly consumed designer labels, gazing enviously at the Michael Kors handbag hanging from that girl's shoulder on the tube ride home. She too looks typically tired and pissed off. In fact, if you listen to reports about the general mental state of those residing in the UK, her misery probably far outweighs mine. Still - the casual way in which she holds an item valued at more than twice my weekly rent slays me...just a tiny bit.

Certainly, it is okay to splurge sometimes. Why yes, ex-boyfriend, it is entirely reasonable to spend four quid on an artisan cupcake yet refuse to pay more than £1 on anything of actual nutritional value at the supermarket.

But, beyond the sugar high is a tapestry of experience so valuable you will question why that £40 bottle of Bobbi Brown goop ever meant a thing to you.

Yes, people, I am talking about travel.

Sipping a cafe crème in quaint Parisian coffee shops. Marvelling at the grand gothic architecture of Budapest and Bratislava. Learning Sicilian slang with the locals in Catania. Soaking up the rays on the beaches of Nice, Crete, Barcelona.

Seeing, doing, tasting, smelling, being everything.

I am yet to meet one person who regrets seeing the world. Not one.

Europe, in particular, is a backpacker's dream. There is never a shortage of cheap accommodation and travel options (check Sky Scanner, BlaBlaCar, HostelBookers, Airbnb). Even on London wages, it is possible. Save your pennies or cents. Make sacrifices. Get out there. This is what matters.

It is also feels really awesome to de-clutter your life. Learn to live from your backpack.

Your career isn't everything

I've always been an overachiever/borderline nerd. While many university students spend their spare time partying, I was often found pitching stories to editors or perfecting my latest journalism assignment. As a result, I scored a rare media job well before graduation.

Ironically, still so early in my twenties, the togetherness of my life terrified me. What next? Marriage, four kids?

I'm now a little older. My skill set is miles more expansive. I could have skyrocketed up the career ladder back home in Australia, probably.

Instead I sleep in a living room-cum-bedroom with my 21-year-old sister in a tiny East London share flat where we once found a decomposed rat under the fridge. While my job in media relations is rewarding, I am underemployed and paid so little I cannot select the £2.50 organic spinach over the supermarket own-brand without intense feelings of guilt and trepidation. For some time, I wasted away my university degree mindlessly in retail and hospitality gigs, shedding the occasional tear about it too (she had such promise!).

Would I go back in time? Trade my often hobo-like overseas experience for a fatter pay envelope in the city I was born? No way in hell.

It's a cliché, but you really are only young once. A nice full bank account will (hopefully) come one day.

That day doesn't have to be now.

Today, I will happily eat my packed lunch on the train from Rome to Naples or a bus through Scandinavia in my tatty charity shop outfit. Lobster and evening dresses are for later.

I am rich - in experience, not pounds.

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I may be poor, but life's okay when you're in Sweden, baby!