Manage your money without too much pain!

Lots of things are becoming more expensive these days, and the money we have coming in doesn’t seem to be increasing at the same rate! Here are some tips on managing your spending so you can hopefully minimise the impact of the increases.

Hand holding calculator

First things first – set a budget!

Firstly, you need to know what you are managing – so set yourself a budget, or if you don’t like the idea of a budget, call it a spending plan – it’s the same thing! A way of planning what money you have coming in, and what money you have going out. It’s your baseline – until you know what your current position is, you can’t manage it.  There are many apps you can use for this purpose – previously I’ve used You Need A Budget (YNAB) which is American. It’s always been a ‘paid for’ app but it’s got much more expensive just recently ($98.99 annually) and so I’m looking around for alternatives. If you want to give YNAB a go, it’s free for the first 34 days, or if you’re a college (UK – university) student it’s free for a year, after you’ve provided proof of enrolment from your university. It’s certainly been well worth it for me in the past as it has helped me to see where I’m spending my money, and to see how my savings for different categories have built up.  There are other ways to manage your money though, and before I discovered YNAB I just used an Excel spreadsheet. The important thing is that it has to be a system you can and will work with, or it just won’t do the job. Work out what money you have coming in, then detail your fixed expenses – mortgage/rent, utility bills, loans, credit card payments. Go through your bank statements or check your account online and make sure you have listed everything. You then need to add in your essential costs – like groceries, fuel, insurance payments, etc. Hopefully you then have some money left over 🤞. Next, decide what your discretionary spend is – so the ‘walking around’ money, beauty treatments, birthday and Christmas fund. If after all of this you have some money left over, congratulations (put some savings aside 😉)! But I bet you could still save money on your budget if you haven’t looked at it before. If you don’t have any money left over, you will need to either increase your income or reduce your costs. We’re going to look at ways of reducing your costs.

The big impact areas

Shopping around on the ‘big ticket’ items is the first thing to do – things like your mortgage, utilities, insurance. There are many sites that will help you do this – one of my favourites is MoneySavingExpert (MSE) – they have tools and links to other sites that will do comparisons for you. With your mortgage, if you’re on your provider’s standard rate, you can more than likely save some money. I would recommend using the Best Buys tool on MSE to check what deals are out there. Switching is usually quite straightforward; you will normally have to be tied in to a deal for a period of time. Some people like to tie themselves in for 5 – 10 years; personally I always go for a 2 – 2.5 year deal. It depends how much you want to fix your outgoings so you know what your costs are.

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

Utility bills such as electricity and gas are normally another way that you can shop around and save money – but at the moment (March 2022) the market is in huge flux because of various external factors, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What I’d advise is to keep an eye on MoneySavingExpert’s website and sign up for the weekly email. This will give you the most up to date advice on this fast-moving situation. And sadly, I am not being sponsored by MoneySavingExpert 😂

Household essential bills

Shopping around on your TV/broadband/phone contract is another way to save money. The first question to ask yourself is whether you actually use all of your current services – e.g. the sport package, the movie package. Start at the basics and ask yourself if you could live without your Sky/Virgin/BT subscription and just have Freeview. Use a PVR (personal video recorder) box and you can often get many of the same sort of functions as the big providers, such as pausing live TV, recording multiple shows etc. It’s worth thinking about it – but if you decide you do need the extra services then shop around. If for example you are with Sky, and you have been a customer for years, you are probably paying top price for your package. Check their website or look at a comparison site (Money Supermarket is a good one)  to see what package deals new customers get, and call them up and ask for the same deal. They can only say no – and the chances are they will say yes, in order to keep you. If they don’t or if you see that another provider has a much better offer, there is nothing to stop you switching. Broadband is a hugely competitive area, and there are lots of different providers fighting for your business. With many of us now working at least a part of the week from home, speed and quality of service is high on our priorities, but you can still get a good quality service at a reasonable cost by shopping around. You may need to tie your broadband in with your TV package as that’s often the most cost-efficient way of doing things. Some providers also include a home phone line – which, even if you don’t use it, could save you money on your deal! I recently negotiated a better broadband and TV package with Virgin Media and had to take a home phone line as part of the deal – but I don’t even have a home phone plugged in!

You could also cut costs on your mobile phone contract. Many people remain on their standard contract long after the minimum contract term has passed (I’ve been guilty of this myself!). If you are out of your contract, and your phone is still working (and you don’t necessarily need the latest version of your phone…a two year old model will still be just fine!) you can shop around for a SIM only deal which will likely save you some money.

Home and car insurance is another opportunity to save money – again, there are sites where you can do a comparison when your insurance is due for renewal – whether that’s home or car insurance. Money Supermarket as mentioned previously is a good one, and also Compare the Market. There is nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain by simply shopping around. And your no claims discount will go with you for your insurance so don’t worry about that!

Make sure you make a diary or calendar note of when the deal you are on expires, so about a month or two weeks beforehand you can start shopping around.


Photo by Maria Lin Kim on Unsplash

Once you’ve looked at those big ticket items, it’s time to look at your other essential spends – and the biggest one of those is normally groceries. The amount that families spend on groceries varies hugely, as it depends on whether there are children, family members with a dietary requirement, meat-eaters as opposed to vegetarians and vegans, whether there are pets in the family etc. I like to think of this as a balancing act between not overspending, but making sure that we eat well (and keep to within our budget). The first thing to look at is whether you are spending too much on branded food. We tend to stick to what we know, and if we were brought up on Heinz beans, wearing clothes washed in Ariel washing powder, then that may well be what we go for when we shop for ourselves. The difference in prices between brands and own brands can be astounding. Many shops have different tiers of own brands – it could be their ‘high end’ version (Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference), mid-range (‘by Sainsburys’) and budget (‘Sainsbury’s Basics’). The best thing to do is to start by going down a level – so if you use Heinz beans, try buying ‘by Sainsbury’s’ brand next time you shop. If you find they are ok, you may want to try taking it down even further – by shopping their ‘Sainsbury’s Basics’ brand next time. Find the level you are comfortable with and go for it. And put your prejudices aside! I find it hilarious when TV programmes like ‘Eat well for less’ give families the own-brand version of something branded the family swear they cannot do without, and would definitely be able to tell the difference, and they blind-taste it and are convinced it’s their favourite. The thing is, we are conditioned into thinking it has to be a brand if that is what we are used to. If you really wanted to mix it up you could change your supermarket entirely – so if you normally shop at Sainsbury’s try Aldi or Lidl. There are so many of these ‘budget’ supermarkets across England now, as competition is hotting up, which is good news for us customers! Aldi’s business model is to reduce the amount of variants of products – so you won’t find 5 different versions or brands of e.g. tinned tomatoes. They will have one, or maybe two. In this way, they can keep their prices low as they don’t need to find store space to display all these different brands. They have started to introduce certain branded items, so you may find for example Kenco or Nescafe coffee – but the vast majority of their stores have Aldi branded products – which are very good quality as well as low cost. Just keep yourself in check when it comes to the notorious middle aisle of bargains!

There is an app called Too Good To Go which I’ve used a couple of times – you buy discounted food from local shops and restaurants, so it doesn’t go to waste. You can’t choose what you get – it’s called a ‘Magic Bag’ – but you can end up with some bargains. It’s food on or close to it’s use by date, so it could be bread, fruit, veg, ready meals and so on. I’ve used it a couple of times with my local Co-op and had some great stuff! Other ways of buying food at knock-down prices are keeping an eye on ‘yellow sticker’ bargains at local supermarkets – where food is reduced at the end of the day. Some food has to be used on the day but others you could freeze – even veg can be frozen for use later on.

Discretionary spend

Looking at your discretionary spend, there are opportunities to save money there too. For example, do you spend on gym membership – and if you do, what is the cost per visit? Work out how many times you go per month as opposed to what it costs you. So if your membership is £50 a month, and you visit twice a week, your cost per visit is (on average)  £6.25. Is that worth it for you? If each time you go, you do a class, followed by a session in the gym, a sauna and then a swim, maybe it is. But if you just go to the gym and then straight home, is it worth it? Only you can answer that – if you have the money to cover this, and if going to the gym is the only things that gets you to exercise, then it will be worth it to you. However, if you could just as easily do a Youtube workout at home, then it’s not. It’s about considering the options available to you.

Photo by Fahmi Fakhrudin on Unsplash

It’s often said that you can save money by not buying coffee and food when you’re out and about – and this is also true. Being prepared can save you money – for example if you’re on a day out with the kids, packing up some lunch and a few drinks can save you an absolute fortune. However, it’s also true that if you don’t have something that often, when you do have it, it feels even better! This is true for me on my weekly walk with my best friend – we used to have a Starbucks latte and a pastry every time. When we started doing Slimming World, we decided we would do it much less often – but blimey, that latte tastes even better when it’s only an occasional treat!

There are so many ways to save money without even feeling like you are losing out – here are a few more:

  • Use your local library instead of buying books
  • Go for a walk with a friend instead of having lunch or drinks out
  • Don’t throw away leftovers – use them up the following day
  • Freeze food you aren’t going to use before the ‘use by’ date
  • Look on local group apps to see if you can borrow something rather than buy
  • Use Olio for free food and items
  • Buy secondhand instead of brand new fast fashion
  • Check your bank statement regularly and cancel unwanted direct debits and subscriptions
  • When shopping online, give yourself a breathing space before buying to think whether you really need something (leave it in your basket)

I hope you’ve found some information here that will be useful for you, and help you to cut your costs without reducing your standard of living. I’d love to hear your tips for saving money in the comments!

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