FEATURE: Small cuts that could make you a big saving
Four simple steps helped Nik Farah trim thousands from her family's annual outgoings
Celery, carrots, peppers - as I loaded the rotten vegetables into a rubbish bag, I was hit by a wave of frustration.
Once again, a lack of planning meant I was throwing away a fridge full of old food. It was an all too-familiar scenario.
I’ve always admired families that are organised - that don’t waste, that budget. I often wished I was better with money, but never gave it too much serious thought until earlier this year, when circumstances meant we suddenly found ourselves a one-income household. Suddenly everything changed - it had to. For the first time we began to really examine how and where we spend our money, and what we discovered was quite shocking.
- DIRECT DEBITS
It started as an experiment really. Hubby and I sat down one Saturday, with a pen and paper, and made a list of ways we could change our spending habits and save money. Our first step was to go through our online bank statement and we were both stunned by the number of things we were paying for that we didn’t need - old memberships to gyms we hadn’t been to in years, a subscription to ancestry.com I’d signed up to on a whim after watching an episode of Who Do You Think You Are, and then quickly forgotten about, old magazine subscriptions, insurance for things we didn’t even own anymore. Apparently we Brits waste £14bn a year on forgotten direct debits. It seemed our family was personally responsible for about half of that. We made a handful of quick phonecalls and soon found ourselves better off the tune of £158 a month. If you’re looking to save some pennies, your own bank account is a simple and essential place to start.
- TV CHANNELS
I was honestly stunned when I realised what our Sky Package was costing us per month. We were paying an extortionate fee for all kinds of extras that had snuck on to our bill over the years, including channels we didn’t even watch. A ten-minute phone call, trimming channels and haggling with a call centre staff member - something Sky themselves actively encourage - saw our monthly payment go from £74 to £21 in the blink of an eye. We were on a roll.
- SHOPPING LIST
Unfortunately, when it comes to meal planning, there is no quick-fix. The only way to make your money work for you, rather than finding it lining your bin, is to get organised.
South Yorkshire mum-of-two, Kate Raynor, aged 33, agrees, saying: “Food is the biggest essential cost that we have control over and wasted food is money in the bin. This is a hugely important topic. If vegetables are past their best, grate and freeze them to chuck in bolognaise, or make soup with them. Save leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. Check what’s in your cupboard and think about meal plans before shopping - and always take a list.”
That was a big part of where we were falling down. My husband or I would often call at the supermarket on the way home from work to pick something up for dinner. The cost of buying each meal on a separate day - meaning you don’t make use of items leftover in the house - plus all the unnecessary extras your shopping basket naturally accrues on these individual visits, was costing us a fortune. By making a meal plan, a shopping list and doing just one weekly food shop, we soon found we were saving an eye-watering £80 in an average week.
- SMALL PURCHASES
I remember being gobsmacked when ‘Britain’s most frugal pensioner,’ Ilona Richards, hit headlines earlier this year, claiming she makes visitors to her house bring their own teabags, wear jumpers so she doesn’t have to put the heating on and manages to make a bottle of shampoo last an entire year. I couldn’t believe that those small things made much difference in the grand scheme of things and labelled her a true ‘mean queen.’ That is, until I really began to examine the items on my monthly bank statement. Buying a cup of tea every morning on the way to the office, as I did, hardly seemed noteworthy. Neither did the second cup I usually bought at lunchtime as I left my desk to stretch my legs. Wrong. At £1.75 a pop, for 520 annual cups, this seemingly small purchase was costing us nearly £1,000 a year - for tea! Suddenly the idea of having visitors bring their own teabags wasn’t seeming so crazy... We calculated that buying a giant pack of Yorkshire Tea teabags from Costco for £8.49, and taking two pints of skimmed milk a week, at 50p each, into the office, meant £910 a year suddenly became £60.49.
By making four small changes, changes we barely felt, we saved ourselves an incredible £7,542 a year. Not bad for a morning’s work.
Savings start now:
- Transport and parking takes a lot of money. Could you save yourself a few quid by walking into work, hopping on your bike or catching a bus?
- Pack yourself a sandwich rather than buy one and you’ll soon see the pennies add up.
- Take a snack to work with you rather than hitting the vending machines, every little helps.
- If you enjoy running, hit the park trails and enjoy the fresh air, rather than paying a pricey monthly gym membership.
- Find fun ways to entertain your kids for free - let them borrow books and games from the library, take them to free museums and exhibitions, visit community events and get them out walking in beautiful country parks and on nature trails.