Extreme Money Saving Techniques

If you're anything like me, you check your bank balance three times a month, and each time it's an ordeal. The first time, it's to check your wages actually went in. The second time, it's Monday after the first weekend since pay day, and you want to know what the damage is. The third time is out of duty, eyes screwed half-shut, heart flickering like an old lightbulb, you're making sure you've got enough to pay the rest of the bills before the month is over. No matter how old you get, this is your relationship with your bank balance. I can promise you that although it doesn't get easier, saving money becomes simpler once you realise a few choice facts:

1. The money coming out of your account directly correlates with the money you're spending. Wild, I know.

2. Although it doesn't feel like it, you have some control over your money. It's not an organism, dying off by itself. 

3. Everyone has trouble managing their cash. You are not alone.

It has taken me years to understand the deep connection between what I spend and how often I end up in the red. I've been in debt for a long time and it took setting up a Debt Repayment Plan to straighten out my finances and get me back on the road to a healthy bank balance. I'm not there yet, but I have hope for the future. Being bad at money is a trait I've long tried to shake off and I like to think that I've developed some really good habits along the way, that help me to feel more in control when I find out I have a lot less money than I thought I did.

You know how it goes. You check your balance. It looks alright. You ease up on yourself. A week later you need to fill up the car or pay a parking fine or deal with an electricity bill and you realise you weren't quite so well off after all - particularly since you spent your buffer money on life which continued to happen all around you. We all do it.

Since I'm pretty good at getting myself into financial situations, I've developed quite a few survival techniques. These tips help me get through the weeks when I genuinely have very little to last through the month, or when I want to cut my spending right down so I can save more efficiently - for a holiday, or a wedding maybe. I hope they inspire you to get thrifty and stop worrying so much about money!

Pack a lunch

Taking your own food to work is hardly revolutionary but it's amazing how often you just_don't_do_it. There are a thousand recipes on Pinterest about batch-cooking lunches, sandwich alternatives and healthy stuff packed into soups, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with a bog standard cheese butty. On brown bread it's got most of your food groups covered and you can add tomato chutney if you're feeling fancy. 

If you're anything like me, eating the same thing every day drives you mad, so batch cooking isn't an ideal solution to your money saving problems. My advice is to make extra food at teatime and turn it into lunch the next day. Creating leftovers on purpose, it's so stupid it just might work!

I don't just pack lunches for work though. I love to get out and about at the weekend, but this can often become prohibitively expensive. Take a look at this example budget for a basic Saturday.

Fill up the car - £20
Drinks and snacks for the journey - £5

Tea/Coffee at a café - £6
Soup and sandwich x2 - £10

Pub meal x2 - £22
Pint x2 - £7

Total = £70

Dodge an expensive lunch at a tourist trap café by packing your own sarnies and treats. As a kid I hated having to eat tin foil lunches while everyone else in the world lived it up with carrot and corriander soup and a pot of tea, but now, I'm a changed woman. I'm enlightened towards the world of home-made lunches. Join me.

Get a mini Thermos

Honestly, and do not judge me, getting a mini unspillable tea flask for xmas has changed my life in the most wholesome way. No more do I nip in to Costa for an overpriced, badly-made brew. My Stanley mug and I are inseparable and since it fits in my bag perfectly, I can have a cup of tea with me all day, wherever I go. I used to refuse to pay for take-away brews, which meant I saved money but was miserable. Now I get to drink a perfect cuppa wherever I am at the cost of a teabag. Makes me feel clever, like a fox.

Get to know your local world foods markets

Most towns have decent Asian supermarkets now. I promise you, once you step inside, you'll never want to shop anywhere else. Huge bags of dried chillies for a quid. Kilos of basmati for the same price as a piddly little bag from Tesco. Every flavour of green tea you could ever wish for. Spices you've heard of but thought you'd never find for less than £4 per tiny jar. Fresh fruit and veg in better condition than at Sainsbury's for half the price. I promise you, if you like cooking, you need to broaden your shopping horizons past Aldi.

Use your freezer

I don't mean portioning and batching and all those other joyless tasks. I mean, use your freezer, all the time, every day. Freeze your bread and freeze leftover pasta sauce. Freeze half a garlic baguette and forget about it until a day you really fancy it. Buy fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme when they're yellow-stickered and freeze them to use whenever you want. Freeze homemade soup in freezer bags for an instant running-late-for-work lunch. Stuff your freezer full of frozen veg, so you've always got the basis for a curry or a pasta dish or a stew to hand. Chop up onions and garlic and freeze them, instead of paying for chopped veg and instant meals. When you buy tortillas, immediately remove half of the bag and freeze them, because you know you won't use them all before they go mouldy and you'll thank yourself for it later. While you're at it, refill your ice cube trays because 26p flavoured water tastes like such a treat when you add ice and a straw.

Cut down your drinking

Drastic? Perhaps. Necessary? Yes. I used to be a keen after work drinker, until I realised how much I was getting through midweek. Opening a bottle of wine for a glass on Wednesday means having a bottle of stale wine come Friday if you've not got a decent re-corking strategy. That's at least £5 down the pan. My response to this was to cut out drinking Monday - Thursday completely. I'm not suggesting you should do the same, everyone's habits are personal, but it's definitely saved me a wodge of cash. I'm now trying to apply similar rules to weekend drinking to mixed results. Basically, I've decided that binge drinking is costing me much more money than I'm willing to spend and when I tot up how much I save by being the designated driver, compared to when I knock back the Dark Fruits, it seems silly not to start trying to cut back.

If this sounds like a difficult task, don't worry. Habits are hard to change. I suggest keeping a diary of your drinking habits for a couple of weeks and then looking back on it to see where and when you can cut back. Good luck!

Re-assess the snack cupboard

Do you really need five share bags of crisps and a tin of Heroes in the cereal cupboard at all times? Snack foods are intensively overpriced and for the most part, aren't even that satisfying. I used to keep snacks around all the time, but I snapped out of the habit by binning the lot and being really tough on myself. I still buy snacks, but on an as-and-when basis. Not only does this save me around £10 per food shop, it means I'm not tempted to fill my face with ready salted crisps when I'm not even hungry. Which is definitely a bonus.

Learn to cook some basic meals

If you're not into cooking, I can understand. It's laborious and time-consuming if it's not a hobby of yours and it can be much less hassle to cook ready meals and oven food. What I will say though, is that one of my favourite meals of all time is a curry made from canned chickpeas and tinned tomatoes. It costs around 50p to make four portions and it can be heftily bulked out with tomato paste and water for a week of lunches if you're feeling the pinch. I also love this soup, made from kale and tinned tomatoes, which costs roughly £1.50 to make. You'll save so much money cooking simple meals for yourself and who knows, you might even start to enjoy doing it.

Planning your weekend

The worst thing for your pocket is having a free Sunday. Being bored means finding yourself in the pub, or in a restaurant, or wandering around the shops and before you know it, your debit card is in your hand and you're spending the day away. I am the worst person for doing this. Make sure you're not caught out at 1pm, the Danger Boredom Hour, by taking some of your lunch hour on Thursday and Friday planning what you'd like to do at the weekend. Even if you plan to sit in your jammies watching Friends, knowing that's how you've planned your time will help you avoid the FOMO that comes hand in hand with the sound of a washing machine spin-cycle on a Saturday afternoon.

Leave your purse at home

The next stage of making your lunches at home is to leave your purse firmly in your house when you leave for work. A coffee from the canteen might only be £1.20, but that's £1.20 you don't need to spend. £1.20 could get you a beer on a plaza in Croatia or an ice cream in the park. Think about that next time you're agreeing to buy afternoon snacks at work.

Learn to love water

Water is good for you. It's boring as hell, but it's great for your skin and you need to hydrate. You'll feel good if you do. Now, think about the turtles from Blue Planet. They hate water bottles. You know what to do. Get a refillable water bottle - mine is 3 years old and still going strong - and keep it full all day long. Drink only water or self-made hot drinks. I save about £4 per week now I don't have a fizzy drink habit anymore and to be honest, my hair and skin has never looked better. FOR FREE. 

Do more at home

Do your friends want to meet up? Offer to host them at home. Are you after some quality time with your partner or bff? Get the mixers in and fire up the record player. Your home is your refuge, a place you love, so why do you spend so much time trying to get out of it? Love your sofa. 

Get your cleaning products at the pound shop

Honestly, if you're spending more than 50p per bottle of washing up liquid, you're a mug.

Do your main food shop at Lidl

I don't care if you like Aldi better, Lidl has less emphasis on luxury items and better weekly deals on fresh veg. Being more basic, they tend to have fewer temptations to spend more too, and limited options also mean you're more likely to have to get creative - which for me is a good thing. My weekly food shop for two people at Lidl is roughly £30. When I used to shop at Tesco, it was almost double this. 

Get a cheaper hobby

Drinking prosecco on roof terraces isn't an affordable way to live your life. Get into something else. I started hill walking again last year and absolutely love it. Your hobbies don't have to be exercise-related, but given your bank balance, they do need to have less emphasis on having other people cook for you and pour your drinks.

Use your phone

Not seen a mate in a while? You don't need to go to the pub! Sometimes a phone call is enough, for now.

Read the books you own

I am terrible for this. Buying books is a a hobby all on its own and I've made a deal with myself to not buy any more books until I've read at least 10 of the newer ones I bought in 2017. Also - reading is a super cheap hobby. Boom.

These are my tips, for now. I'm sure I'll think of more, but if you've got any to add let me know and I'll add them to a follow-up post later in the year!


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