First came the London Underground rent map. Now, with increasing numbers of people finding themselves unable to afford rent in the capital, we decided to look at how much it costs to rent and commute in from the surrounding counties.
We're making a few assumptions here to keep things consistent. We've searched for a self-contained studio or one-bed flat across the entire county less than a mile from a train station, then looked at the cost of commuting to Zone 1 from that property. We haven't included utility bills or council tax. We also calculated the average rent for the county based on the most expensive and cheapest properties on Rightmove as a comparison.
Once we'd eliminated something which was being advertised as a one-bed flat share (presumably for two very good friends), the cheapest property we found was a one-bed for £400 pcm in Walton on the Naze. It's unfurnished but it's less than half a mile from the station. It could also be one of the cheapest sea views around. Walton is on the Abellio Greater Anglia line into Liverpool Street, and it just avoids being the most tortuous commute of all our home counties at one hour 40 minutes. A monthly season ticket, including tube travel, will set you back £600.
Cost to rent and travel: £1,000
Average rent: £975
The cheapest flat we could find in Kent was a studio in Folkestone for £300 pcm. It boasts its own bathroom and kitchen, though we think the latter is a little, erm... on the spartan side. On the plus side, it's just 300 metres from the mainline station at Folkestone centre. Commuting in would leave you at the tender mercies of Southeastern and a direct train into London Bridge takes one hour 45 minutes, beating Essex by a mere five minutes. A monthly season ticket, including tube travel, is £650.
Cost to rent and travel: £970
Average rent: £700
This place in Addlestone takes away the cheapest flat in Surrey prize. It will set you back £525 pcm, and it's a mere 400 metres from the station. South West Trains runs the line to Waterloo, and a monthly season ticket is a snip at £344, including tube travel. Most of the trains involve a change at Weybridge, but the quickest one that'll get you in for about 8.30am takes 56 minutes.
Cost to rent and travel: £869
Average rent: £1,013
If the thought of London rents brings you out in a cold sweat, we'd advise against moving to Berkshire. The cheapest one bed flat we found was this one in Reading for £650 pcm. The good news (at least on the travel front) is that trains into Paddington with South West Trains are super-fast at around 30 minutes. The bad news is that, like Marylebone, it's a pain to travel beyond the West End. A monthly season ticket is £477.
Cost to rent and travel: £1,127
Average rent: £1,000
Aylesbury is home to one of the more spacious flats we found; this unfurnished one-bed comes in at £525 pcm and is 500 metres from the station. Aylesbury station (not to be confused with the more recently built Aylesbury Vale Parkway) is on the Chiltern Railways line into Marylebone, and the monthly season ticket is £414. It'll take you an hour and if you work in the West End, you're laughing. But the downside of this particular line is that if you happen to work in the City or Canary Wharf, add on another 20-30 minutes.
Cost to rent and travel: £939
Average rent: £910
In the last of our home counties, Letchworth Garden City is where you'll find the cheapest studio flat at £550 pcm. It's furnished and 700 metres from Letchworth station, which is on the Thameslink and Great Northern line into King's Cross and Moorgate. A season ticket is £496 and the journey time ranges from a super-speedy 28 minutes to a more sedate 51 minutes. After work drinkers should note that the trains stop running from Moorgate at 10pm and go from King's Cross instead. But since Herts is the second most expensive county we looked at, you probably won't be able to afford to stay out later than that anyway.
Cost to rent and travel: £1,046
Average rent: £875
So there you have it. The average wage in London is £27,999 which works out to around £1,850 per month after tax. While it's cheaper in terms of rent paid per month outside of London, some counties aren't that far behind the capital. Add to that the cost of travelling, and you might not save much at all. Living in Herts or Essex and commuting to work would leave you with less than £200 per week for utility bills, food, council tax, clothing and fun. Living in London, you're probably left with roughly the same.
Choosing between living in London or in one of the home counties may just be an exercise in degrees of unaffordability.