We made a big financial decision when we decided to move house in February this year. We decided that we would move to our lovely new, bigger home in a beautiful area, closer to family and to Joe’s hospital despite the fact that we would have to make some big sacrifices financially.
Now, a few months in, we are settling in to our new place and we have discovered we love it here! Driving round the local area and looking out at the beautiful views, living round the corner from grandpa and granny, sitting in our garden watching Joe play in the sunshine, these are all things that make us really glad we moved here.
The only problem is we have not been as thrifty as we originally intend!
So this morning we got out the BIG RED BOOK which is where we do a lot of our budgeting working out and where we are supposed to keep a record of our spending, opened up the internet banking and faced our finances head on.
We discovered it could be a lot worse, but it also has potential to be an awful lot better! The bank statements revealed that we have been spending far too much on frivolous things like going for coffee and eating takeaways, nipping to the convenient shop round the corner for an extra grocery or two and buying Joe one to many MacDonald happy meals! (Brilliant for extra calories for Joe’s Cystic Fibrosis, not so brilliant for Mummy and daddies bank balance and waistlines!)
These things were not so much of a problem at our old house as rent was much cheaper, but here those meals out and coffee shop breaks really add up- dangerously so.
So, for any of you out there who are also on a tight budget or need to save some extra pennies here are some ideas we are using to try and cut down on our spending without cutting out the things we enjoy- hopefully it will give you some ideas too!
Work out your budget
To do this we get out our BIG RED BOOK, but you could use a scrap of paper, a notebook, your mobile phone or a computer spreadsheet if you feel that way inclined- any thing that you can work out and keep a record of your incomings and outgoings on. There are many free budgeting and financial tools on the web to help if you don’t know where to get started such as this link below to the budget planner at the money advice service.
We wrote down a list of our monthly incomings (wages, disability benefits, tax credits etc) and an even bigger list of our usual monthly necessary outgoings (rent, gas and electric, phone and internet bills, water, credit card repayments, fuel, savings etc.) and worked out the difference between the two which gave us how much we have left over for “spending money” or non essentials for the month. This can be quite scary, but its better to face these things head on as ignoring them only makes things worse!
Put away your savings first
After we figured out how much money we could save this month we took that money out of our main account straight away and put it into a savings account- that way we are not tempted to spend it on non essential items.
Get a spending diary
Now we have started a spending diary- which is a little book that we carry around with us and write down every penny we spend (we have one each and compare notes at the end of each week, putting the findings in our BIG RED BOOK for the master copy of the budget)- this way we don’t forget the little bits of cash that we spend that soon add up to large amounts, and we can keep an eye on what type of things we are spending money on so we can make positive changes in the future. It’s also more difficult to spend frivolously if you know you have to write it down and show it to your other half later on!
Cut down on coffee’s out This is a big problem for us, so much so that Joe who is 21 months old can recognise Costa Coffee and Starbucks from 100 paces and shouts “Mummy its dinner time!” or “Joe wants a cake!” every time we walk past one of these outlets. When your toddler demands a coffee and cake hit then I think its time to review your habits!
Going for coffee is one of the things that we have really enjoyed doing as a couple and now as a family, its somewhere to go when Joe is getting a bit cranky and he can top up with extra calories with a big chocolate muffin or a cookie- while he’s munching away me and Rob can get 5 minutes break (and of course a coffee and cake hit of our own!)
But now its got to be such a habit that it’s not enjoyable any more, its like a routine, just something we do and this has really affected our spending- those coffees and cookies really add up to obscene amounts!
Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn suggests to feel richer you should restrict how frequently you have treats. She says;
“Humans are built to get used to whatever we have. We can circumvent that barrier to happiness by changing our spending patterns. Look at something you buy for pleasure but take for granted- for me it would be a £5 smoothie. What you want is to build anticipation so you’re telling yourself ‘oooh, at the end of the day I’m going to get this!’ The time spent looking forward to something actually makes the experience itself more enjoyable.”
So to combat this overspending on the coffee shop habit we are going to try:
- Utilising our coffee machines at home more- we have an espresso machine and a coffee peculator and a stove top espresso maker at home! Plus tea pots galore! This makes it seem a bit ludicrous going out and paying over the odds for coffee when we have the facilities right in our own kitchen!
- Utilise my cake and cookie baking skills- who needs a shop brought cake when you can get a tasty home-made cake or cookie straight from the oven at home. I love baking, and I do bake a lot so we should use this skill more to our advantage, and its also better for you as you know what you are putting in your own cakes- no nasty additives and preservatives.
- Make sure we take adequate snacks and food out for Joe and for us- we do this anyway as he needs more calories than the average toddler, but we would be better taking a whole packed lunch for the family rather than just a packet of crisps, chocolate and some raisins for Joe, especially if we might be out for the whole day or over dinner time. This means we need to take extra drinks, and even a flask of coffee with us when we go out for the day so we don’t get caught out and needing to spend extra at cafés and restaurants.
- Make going for coffee a rare treat and use places such as Booths supermarkets and Waitrose who give you a free coffee if you buy something in store- if we really want a cake and coffee hit it will dramatically reduce our spend if one of the drinks is free!
Food shop wisely
One of the big problems we have is that we don’t plan our meals properly and end up spending lots on a food shop, but still go out for meals or takeaways and pop to the convenience store to pick up this or that during the week. We often have fruit and veg left at the end of the week that’s gone off as we haven’t used it in time which leads to food waste which I for one really hate. So to help us shop more wisely we are going to try:
- writing a meal plan and shopping list every week that plans for lunches and breakfast and snacks too- plus plans for any time that we are going to be eating somewhere else, have guests or if we are going to be home late and too tired to cook
- Use vouchers and e-coupons from various stores to save on our shop.
- Use what we have in the cupboard to make meals and use our imaginations a bit more to stretch food further!
- Use the freezer- we have two freezers now and they are both nearly empty (apart from the obligatory packet of frozen peas and chicken nuggets) So we need to use the freezer to make use of leftovers and also to store food that perhaps is on offer to save money and save on waste. Also preparing meals in advance and freezing them will mean there’s always something ready and waiting when we get in and are too tired to cook- which will help with cutting out our takeaways.
Make cheaper versions of take away meals at home
Rob and I both love to cook and to eat, so one of the best things we can do is rustle up tasty food at home for half the price of a take away. We can easily make our own curries, Chinese food or pizzas with a bit of forward planning- this will probably not only save £’ss put lbs as well!
Find Free activities and days out
During the school holidays Rob is at home as he works term time only- this means that we have time to do things as a family but also leads to spending more money. When me and Joe are at home all day we rarely spend any money as I don’t have the car and we get into a routine of doing things for free at home, but when holiday time comes the spending increases massively as we try and find ways to entertain Joe (and daddy) that are a bit different. So we are going to try and make use of the beautiful countryside where we live and do a few more free days out, like going to the park, to the woods, for picnics, long walks and now it’s getting warmer, nice afternoons playing in the garden and visiting family.
As a rule Elizabeth Dunn states that to feel richer we should invest the money we do have in “experiences rather than things” because experiences are more likely to connect us to other people. “taking a weekend away with your family or a night out with your best friends will make you feel more connected and therefore happier than even the best pair of shoes ever will” – this is something to keep in mind if you find yourself spending a lot on inanimate objects like shoes, gadgets or bits and bobs for the home.
Do you have any tips and tricks that help you save money for the more important things in life? Please let me know in the comments below!