Today I am happy to lend my blog to Luschka van Onselen who is a staff writer for PlayPennies.com, a UK parenting blog about saving money. On PlayPennies, she digs out the best deals for mums and dads, and writes about topical parenting news stories. She also writes a personal blog, “Diary of a First Child,”, where Luschka tells the story of raising her little girl, with a focus on natural parenting and living.
The year our daughter was born, we paid off £11,000 in debts. And then we were both made redundant. And then our daughter was born.
So how did we do it?
Well, here are seven things I learned about saving money:
Firstly, don’t spend out of habit. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s true. If you take a period of a week and write down everything you spend money on that week, you might be absolutely shocked to find out how much you are spending. For me, then, it was £2.20 for a decaf hazelnut latte at the train station every morning, and a chocolate muffin for £1.00 every evening – £3.30 a day. £16.50 a week. Assuming a 48 week working year – £792. And sometimes I’d buy a latte at night too.
A friend of mine tried this and realised after a week that they had spent £30 on wine that week. They bought ‘bargains’ of 3 for £10 from their supermarket, had a bottle per night on four evenings, and between Friday, Saturday night another 4. They had spent £30 in one week on wine. And that was a normal week and didn’t include what they spent on a dinner out with friends. That’s over £1500 a year just on drinking at home.
Secondly, make a plan. I am horrible at routines (coffee aside), so I can’t honestly plan what we’re going to eat all week, but still, plan ahead. If you’ll be eating at home four nights of the week, get five types of veg, three types of meat, a bit of pasta. Day one, have two veg and a meat. Same on day two. Day three, have a vegetarian meal. Day four cook up your pasta and pop all the leftovers from days one to three into it for an interesting, and usually very tasty pasta. (Or use rice noodles for a ‘change’). And use your freezer if you’re not going to finish everything.
Third: Make wise choices when it comes to going out versus staying at home. We used to decide to stay in because it’s cheaper than, say, going to a movie. So we’d go and rent DVDs (or buy them second hand), buy some popcorn, coke and maybe an icecream. Or something nice for dinner, since we were staying in. Or a take-away. And by the end of the evening, we’ve spent £50, eaten junk and not had any human interaction other than ourselves. A movie with popcorn and coke would have cost about £20. We could have even gone for a drink after and spent less!
Fourth: take advantage of discount sites. We had a fantastic dinner out with friends one night at a fabulous restaurant in the West End. We ate like kings. We had a ball. We only paid for two of the four meals since we’d printed out a voucher before hand. We split the bill four ways and we all left having paid half-price.
Fifth: Do you need it? Impulse buys are a huge waste of money. They might be fun, but they’re rarely wise. Especially when you have a new baby coming. It might be cute, but is it practical. Do you need it? Do any of the mums you know wish they had it with their babies? Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away, think about it, and come back if you still think it’s a good idea later. Sleeping on it is even better – unless your impulse buy is a new bed, of course!
Find a trusted friend and become each other’s shopping barrier. See a great pair of bright orange shoes? Phone your barrier-friend and let her play devil’s advocate. She can’t make the choice for you, but she can remind you that orange makes you look jaundiced.
Sadly, frugality, and living without debt is a series of conscious decisions. Like any diet, however, you can’t completely restrict yourself entirely or you are more likely to fail. So, set yourself targets. For example, x-amount saved/paid off, and we’ll go for a dinner.
Sixth: Reward yourself, but plan your rewards at the start, so you don’t end up, say, buying a coffee and muffin in the evening, because you ‘deserve it’ for not buying them in the morning! We quit smoking on new years eve 2005, for example, and our ‘reward’ for 9 months ‘clean’ was a 10 day holiday in Italy. We had an amazing time, and it cost us less than smoking for nine months would have.
Finally, but most importantly, break your goals down into ‘bite-sized’ chunks. Set small goals, and achieve them, and you’ll be more motivated for the harder ones.