10 Things That Are Cheaper in the U.S. Than in Britain

Gas is surprisingly cheaper in the U.S. compared to the UK. (Photo via AP)

The cost of living in America depends on your location. But wherever you are, some products are reliably cheaper than back home. 

1. Petrol
Americans moan incessantly about rising gas prices but don’t feel bad for them; they pay a fraction of what we do back home. Petrol is up to 75 percent cheaper in the U.S. compared to Britain.

2. Bed linen and towels
As I trawled expat forums researching this piece, these were repeatedly flagged as bargains. However, my own investigation revealed that prices are similar on both sides of the Atlantic. The only difference is that here you tend to get a higher thread count for your money.

3. Restaurant food
Now I get why Americans eat out more than they eat in: supermarket convenience food is poor quality and not especially economical. So if you’re feeling lazy it’s easier and cheaper to let someone else do the cooking.

4. Wine (but only from Trader Joe’s)
Overall, plonk – especially anything non-American – is more expensive here. So that’s why discovering Trader Joe’s Wine Shop is such a treat. They stock cheap own brands, including an ultra-economy (and dangerously drinkable) range, lovingly referred to by fans as Three Buck Chuck.

5. Meat
Okay, if you want to eat hand-reared, organic beasts then you’ll pay the same – or slightly more – than you would back home. If, on the other hand, you’re okay with gorging on hormone and antibiotic pumped flesh, you can do so for pennies.

6. Hard liquor
Store-bought spirits are a little cheaper in America than in the UK.  But order a whiskey or vodka in a bar and you’ll really notice the difference. Barkeeps don’t use measures here so if your pourer’s feeling generous, one voluminous drink will see you through the night.

7. Apple products
Don’t, whatever you do, go on a Mac binge before you leave home because you will save a packet stateside. iPads, for instance, are $125 (£80) cheaper in the U.S. 

8. Designer clothes
Regular Americans never pay full price for fancy threads. Instead, they head to creepy outlet malls, like Woodbury Common in New York, and snaffle genuine bargains.

9. Sunscreen
America gets more sun than Britain, so it’s only fair that you can protect your skin for less in the U.S. Buy drug stores’ own brands and expect to pay half what you would in the UK.

10. Painkillers
The trick here is to buy in bulk, which you’re not allowed to do in the UK. My local Rite Aid sells tubs of 500 ibuprofen tablets for a smidgen over ten bucks.

 Have you found any great discounts?? Please share!!

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis
  • dw

    In California it’s “Two Buck Chuck”!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=832785579 Mike Hill

      They made a typo I’m sure. It is 2 Two Buck Chuck.

      • http://twitter.com/scarletalphabet Katherine McClintic

        It’s Three Buck Chuck in some places. Higher prices.

    • Trintragula

      It costs 2.99 in MA, but it’s still 2-Buck Chuck

  • dw

    It would probably be quicker to list the things that aren’t cheaper:

    * healthcare
    * prescription drugs
    * textbooks (but in general books are cheaper in the US)
    * higher education (although the UK is catching up)

    In the vast majority of the US, housing and hotel accommodation is significantly cheaper, especially if one compares price per square foot. This doesnt apply to Manhattan or Silicon Valley though.

  • Kellie

    you should mention that the USA sunscreen is inferior in its UVA protection. I always buy mine in the UK.

    • dw

      Do you have a source for that?

    • gj

      BS alert

    • Mazzini

      Do you really need sunscreen in the UK??!!

    • http://twitter.com/JackieOMoleski Jacqueline O Moleski

      I’ve seen sunscreen up to 50 upf in the US — it goes higher than that? Also, many cosmetics include sunscreen, but that’s off the point.

  • Jen

    Gas is cheaper but our cars use way more of it, and we have to drive much longer distances.

    • Deb

      I never thought of that before. I have always heard British people say that gas is more expensive over there, but I never realized that we use way more gas than we do and our cars typically have a lower mpg. It’s sad when someone works minimum wage and ends up spending half or more of their paycheck on gas.

    • dork

      What I said.

  • red_fez

    Ha… Woodbury Common. I’ve never been there, but I have to agree with you about Outlets, they all seem to be alike.

    • RJ

      Isn’t that the point?

  • Adrian J

    We have jut returned from a two week vacation to the UK after moving to Florida full time 12 months ago. WOW you do not realize the cost of everything in the UK when you are used to the prices here in Florida. We do not know how we ever afforded to live in the UK filling up the car nearly brought me to tears at the pump.

  • Wineaux

    It’s almost always WAY cheaper to purchase Blu-Ray discs from the Amazon.uk website (Make sure they are region free or buy a region free Blu-ray player.) after currency conversion and removal of the VAT tax, including shipping to the USA, than it is to buy them here in the USA. We’re talking saving 50% or more off of Amazon’s low USA price by doing this!

    • http://www.facebook.com/pat.reynolds.395 Pat Reynolds

      That’s blu rays of UK TV shows, right? Regular movie blu rays are cheaper in the US.

      • Wineaux

        Nope. That would not be the case. You need to actually go to http://www.amazon.co.uk/ and look at the region free movies. The Harry Potter boxed set is a prime example, as is The Bourne Trilogy, and Band of Brothers. Right now you can get Harry Potter 1-8 Boxed Set on the UK site for $51.84 shipped, while it is $112.39 on the US Amazon website. That is a 50% savings! Sadly, most of the BBC series on Blu-Ray are not region free, so you’d need a region free Blu-Ray player in order to play the Region 2 discs from the UK.

    • http://twitter.com/JackieOMoleski Jacqueline O Moleski

      1. Depends on WHAT you are buying. As a Brit TV fan, and a media fan in general I pretty much buy all my DVDs on-line (I’m not up to Blu-ray yet) and I have a region-free & multi-system DVD player. Actually, I’m on my third. Anyway, it’s worth while to check multiple websites (including Amazon UK) for a pricy set. Also some UK series are only available in the UK. What I find hilarious is when I find a US series for *cheaper* on Amazon UK (and yes, I’m including shipping to the US and the difference between British Pounds and American Dollars). There are also websites that will hunt the cheapest price for you – but I find they are often out of date and don’t let you compare US and UK on-line stores. (Another snag – some UK retailers will NOT ship to the US, I don’t know why. But Amazon UK will).
      HOWEVER – it isn’t just Region Free you have to look for. The US and the UK use different television systems. The US system is called NTSC. The UK system is called PAL. The differences (technical as they are) include: how colors are encoded, interlaced (PAL) verses non-interlaced (NTSC), and number of lines on the screen (624 for PAL; 524 for NTSC — or something close to those numbers, it’s been awhile since I learned this or looked it up), it’s possible with the UK & US both going to hi-def TV those numbers are now different anyway, but that was the deal in the 80s. The upshot of all this is if you take a British videotape and pop it into an American VCR hooked to an American TV you can’t watch the video. Now — with DVD things have changed a bit; a truly multi-system, region free DVD player is only slightly more expensive than a regular one. From the research I’ve done on Blu-Ray players, the same is true for these. And since everything is digital, it’s possible for a PAL signal to be out-putted to a NTSC TV without a problem (as long as the DVD player converts it). The trick is — unlike Japanese Animation DVDs from Japan (which are region 4 but NTSC) to purchase PAL DVDs from the UK, you must have a multi-system player NOT simply a region-free one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/melling.jon Jon Melling

    Hotels are generally cheaper in the US. With everything in the US you have to remember that the posted price excludes any taxes

    • John Sheffield

      I really hate that. Never been to GB, but when I went to Sydney I truly loved that goods actually cost you the posted price. There was no having to guess what the final cost after taxes was going to be.

      • http://twitter.com/JackieOMoleski Jacqueline O Moleski

        I have a funny story about that. My friend and I were at a bookstore in Ireland, and when the clerk announced the price of everything we’d bought (seperately for each of us) we both looked at him like, “wait, that’s not right”. When the clerk explained the price on the book *included* VAT (sales tax) both of us were very surprised. It falls under “stuff no one mentions” even if you DO watch a lot of British/UK TV and read a lot of British books, etc. However, when my friend explained that in the US sales taxes are added *after* the total (as a percent of the total) it was the clerk’s turn to look confused. So then I said, “Well, you just round up in your head – everyone does that automatically.” Which sorta’ left the clerk shaking his head.

    • KimNZ

      I’m from NZ and the price you see is the price you pay (taxes are included). Having lived in the south in the US for the last 3yrs, that has been one of my biggest peeves. We’ve just moved to Oregon and they don’t charge sales tax, (I’m sure they make it up somewhere else), and it’s so nice to again know, the price you see is all you pay.

  • Robert Ferdinand

    I completely and utterly disagree with most of these… It all depends on location. The closer you are to California, the cheaper and better your produce may be while the closer you are to southern states the textiles and such will be cheaper… It’s not that I’m disagreeing about everything being cheaper in the U.S., ’cause, well, it just is… We can buy most things domestically while the U.K. must import most… it’s simply different and kind of ridiculous to compare the two countries… and did this reporter only go to New York or what? I’m just sayin’…

    • dw

      You “completely and utterly disagree” — except that you don’t?

    • Pam

      Just because you can buy most things domestically doesn’t mean they are satisfactory, fairly-priced or made in the US.

    • mf

      Yes, this reporter must have only been in New York, which is well-known as one of the cheapest places in America. Where we pay $9 for beers.

    • me

      I disagree with part of your disagreement Robert.
      If one shops at a Macys in New York, or a Macys in Florida or a Macys in California, the textiles will be of the same quality. The same for any other national chain of stores.
      From what I have heard from the former Brits I have met here in Florida, the housing costs are much cheaper here. For the same price, you get more square feet of living space and a very nice home. Especially, the ones living within about 50 miles of Disney World.

    • Hannah

      Produce may be better, but everything else is expensive. The closer you get the beach, the more you pay. Especially in Southern California.

    • http://twitter.com/JackieOMoleski Jacqueline O Moleski

      Um — most produce is farmed in the Midwest actually, NOT California. (Why do Californians think they have a lock on everything?) One thing you might want to try in the US is looking for local farmers markets. The initial price might be higher, but because the food is local and in season it *usually* lasts longer. However, important cavaet – be sure to check produce carefully at a market, “farm to table” sounds better than it sometimes is, shop early, and check for pest damage, etc.

  • Sam Ratcliffe

    I’m British and live in Vegas. It is expensive here for gas, food at the grocery store, airline travel is ridiculously expensive. Healthcare is insane I just got a bill for $1,500 for X-rays and that’s with insurance, car insurance is high, oh I could go on. It’s not what it used to be…everything has shot up in price due to the recession.

    • Hannah

      Also, a lot of things are more expensive if you live in a city like Vegas… shipping trucks drive hours to get there, so I’m not surprised everything is more expensive. Especially since it’s the only major city in miles.

  • http://twitter.com/JulieKirkman Julie Kirkman

    I’d give up cheaper gas for a decent public transit system. Seriously, getting anywhere in the US requires a car.

    • Autumn

      This is true and easy for Brits to overlook. Our country is so much bigger and spread out. I have to drive for an hour just to get to the nearest train station.

  • http://www.facebook.com/carolyn.torella Carolyn Torella

    We’re American, but my husband and I lived in Wimbledon for almost a year and I recall being shocked at how much I paid for groceries there. And ketchup! lol. Now, we live near Woodbury Commons…the tourist groups in NYC often include trips (and coupons!) to those outlets in holiday packages. You can find some good deals on pricey name brands. No cheesier than any other US mall, if you ask me. But you can’t get a good scone here…or a mince pie at the holidays. Or good tea cups, or tea, for that matter.

    • Johnny Walker

      If you want scones and mince pie, come to coal country in Pennsylvania, we have both and they’re both great.

  • Scott

    creepy outlet malls…LMAO

  • http://twitter.com/Yes_Babygirl Josie

    why can’t you buy bulk painkillers in the UK?

    • Matt K

      They aren’t allowed to sell you more than 2 packets at a time if I remember right. Yet you can then go back and pick up more and take them through the same checkout, and again, and again. The point of this rule is lost on me…

  • ItsMeJustG

    Mobile phones and plans are way more expensive here. In England I was paying T-Mobile £10/$16 per month for unlimited text, ‘net and calls. Here, the cheapest I find is Virgin at $35/£22 per month.
    I find that most things compare favourably (yes, with a U) with England, but petrol (gas) is way cheaper here in MN. I used to fill up for £58/$91 with my Mazda3 but I pay $50/£32 here, so I don’t really mind driving a 22mpg vehicle.

  • Autumn

    I’m glad that this article sympathizes with Americans that eat out rather than shames them. Good quality groceries are so expensive!

  • Ryan E

    A lot of this varies by state as well. Here in North Carolina, we have state-run liquor stores managed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control board. That means slightly cheaper booze and the store closes at 9 and only carries liquor. (Also, they charge bars way more for licenses) In South Carolina, it’s all private and you can pay anything for the same item. (Everything is legal in SC)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Buslady7803 Gina Gregory

    Groceries are not cheap here…omg….eating out aint cheap either. live here for awhile, anyone will realise its not cheap.

  • SandraL

    #6 – Booze. Depends entirely upon which state you’re in. State liquor taxes make a huge difference, and bartenders do have to use measures in some states.

    #10 – Painkillers. Depends on how much you need. If you develop a headache while on the go, there’s nothing in the US that can compare to those cheap 16-count blister packs of ibuprofin you can get at Boots.

    Everything else, yeah, pretty much.

  • David Cameron

    So it’s acceptable for Brits have to pay 75 percent more for fuel then? Just as long as we don’t travel long distances makes it all okey dokey

    • Dr. Who

      Our tax debt goes to roads, and our income tax, and our sales tax. So the drivers in big trucks are freeloading. Semi’s have other’s paying for their road use. We just put it on the national or state or local debt and go on.

      Cry me a river Mr. Cameron and learn some math.

      • K_L_Carten

        Actually trucking companies pay a tax to each state they drive in. Next time you see a semi on the hwy check out all the stickers usually on the side of the truck. All those little stickers, each sticker represents the state they are allowed to drive in. Nice hefty fine if you don’t. Each truck must have the sticker, so if a company has 30 trucks and each of those trucks drive in that state, they need that sticker. Just like most of us that need a sticker each year on our car tags, just letting you know that the trucks pay taxes to use the road too!

      • Matt K

        In the UK we have to pay a dedicated road tax which can cost up to
        £1,030 a year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tony.tins.7 Tony Tins

    Actually, oil here in the US costs the same as it does all over the world. This is true because the PPB is in Us dollars. The cost differences are in transportation and, in the case of gas in Britain, crazy high TAXES.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tony.tins.7 Tony Tins

    The other thing to realize about gas sales here in the US is that we pay for it twice. First, we pay at the pump and second, we pay for wars. Or should I say, borrow and spend for the wars, but that’s another (and sorry) subject.

    • ItsMeJustG

      …and the UK doesn’t do the same? ;-)

  • hwhamlin

    Automobiles!
    A Nissan Pathfinder costs $30,115 in the US.
    The UK price converts to $44,450.
    My head spins when the Top Gear lads quote sticker prices for cars over there.

  • tim

    Brits are always whining about the price they pay for gasoline. What they forget is their country is tiny compared to the U.S. so of course we complain, everything is further away and cost more to drive there.

  • Matt K

    From what I see online most prices translate from $ to £.
    Like something costing 100 USD in the USA will typically cost about 100 GBP in England (If not more).
    You only have to look at the exchange rate to see that people in England age getting bent over every which way.

    For the majority of items we pay more than anywhere else in the world. It’s well known that major retailers refer to the UK as “Treasure Island”.

  • Matt K

    *are

  • dork

    Yeah but… on petrol. Actually the monthly amount you spend on petrol is *more* in America than in the UK. Here’s why: Yanks drive big stupid trucks (like F150s) instead of reasonable cars (for various unintelligible false reasons that only make sense to yanks) which get 15 miles per gallon instead of 40 or 50 miles per gallon. They also drive stupidly long distances to work. In the end result, they probably spend at least double if not more in real money on “gas” as we would on petrol.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.spencer.1671 Sarah Spencer

      An F-150 is NOT a big stupid truck. My F-250 is a BIG stupid truck, and my boyfriend’s F-350 is a BIGGER stupid truck. But seriously, we’re from a rural area where we still chop and haul wood in the winter, and we often haul to loads of hay for our horses, building supplies, horse trailers, etc. We’re welders. We leave home and will head to other states to work. When we do that we have our gang boxes (tool boxes) in our truck(s) and haul the travel trailer to the town nearest to the jobsite. Makes sense to me. Don’t know if you consider being Native American being a “Yank,” though.