Looking for advice on how to save money and shop smart? As new research reveals that buying fewer products is better for the planet and can even boost our happiness levels, one woman reveals how asking a simple question helped her save thousands of pounds in a year…
It started when I was 13. Cleaning tables for a mere £2.20 an hour, I’d spend the day dotting up my wages and then working out exactly what I’d spend each penny on.
So to say I’ve never been that great at saving is a bit like saying the scorching Middle East isn’t that great at snow. It’s a concept I’d never even thought about, let alone tried on for size.
But then I witnessed a colleague at work wondering if he “really needed” a pair of trainers that he liked. He told me that he’d started asking himself one simple question before buying anything: “Do I really need this?” He was embracing a mindful approach to spending. Research has shown that buying fewer products is better for the planet than buying lots of ‘green’ products, and can even boost our happiness.
And while the thought of saving for a rainy day fund had never really appealed to me, I’m a shameless glutton for jumping on new trends.
Veganuary? Done it. Dry July? Got the T-shirt. Meditation? I once signed up to a silent retreat in the middle of nowhere.
So at the start of 2018, I started asking myself the same question every time I went to buy something. And after a few months, it transformed into: “And if I do need it, how can I get it for cheaper?”
In 12 months I saved myself the grand total of £9,700, and for the first time in my life, at the age of 34, something strange happened. Not only had I got control of my finances, but I actually enjoyed it. It didn’t feel like a chore. So, here’s how I did it…
How to save money: first things first… coffee
The first thing I eliminated was my habit of buying two daily take-out coffees. I used to believe there was no better way to start the day than with a barista-brewed soy latte. But starting the day with a home-made cup of instant coffee and knowing that I wasn’t damaging the earth, or my pocket, was better.
Yes, it took a little bit of getting used to and I was definitely grumpy for the first few weeks. But I rewarded myself with two take-out lattes a week and suddenly they tasted like foamy cups of delight because they were now a treat.
Cost before: £1,852 for the year (£2.45 for each latte)
Cost after: £265 for the year
How to save money: revamp your food shop
Not everyone has the space, the time or even the inclination to do this, but in 2018 I started to grow my own vegetables. It saved me so much money.
For example, baby lettuces can be bought in trays of six for £3. When fully grown, a whole one easily lasts a week. In the last year, I’ve grown beans, beetroot, broccoli, tomatoes and herbs. The process can be daunting, especially when you haven’t done it before, but it was strangely satisfying.
I also went through my shopping receipts in detail to see what I was wasting money on. After this, I started making a big batch of tomato sauce that could be used for pizza, pasta and soup. I also pickled my own onions, as I could get six jars for the price of one in the supermarket. And I started making my own at-home take-aways. Jamie Oliver’s website is a great place for finding recipes for this.
There would have been more room for savings if I’d been less fussy about buying free-range meat, eggs and line-caught fish. And there was also the added cost of buying more alcohol than usual, as I embraced socialisng at home rather than in bars and restaurants.
Cost before: £5,200 for the year (£100 a week )
Cost after: £3,240 for the year (£60 a week)
How to save money: look at your beauty routine
I’ve always loved splurging on beauty products, and my bathroom used to be stocked with every product imaginable. I love the packaging, I love the smells, and I love the promises. I used high-end brands on my hair and skin and had regular gel-nail manicures and pedicures.
Then, at the start of 2018, I swapped my beloved high-end brands for whatever products were on special offer in the supermarket. I also started making my own body scrub by mixing a cup of coconut oil with half a cup of brown sugar.
I’m making it sound simple but actually, this was the lifestyle swap that made me the most anxious. Thankfully, my skin and hair didn’t really look that much different by the end of the year. I’ll admit that my nails weren’t as pristine as I have the nail painting skills of a six-year-old, but at a £40-a-month saving for this alone, I’ve come to terms with it.
Cost before: £1,080 for the year (£90 a month )
Cost after: £360 for the year (£30 a month)
How to save money: cut down on alcohol
It makes me sick to think of the cash I spent on alcohol in my twenties – it’s probably enough for a home deposit or two. So cutting back on the amount of money I spend on alcohol has probably been the biggest change of all.
I’ve swapped going out every week for a blow-out night of cocktails and champagne with friends for a monthly knees-up, instead. I’ve also stopped eating out once or twice a week. And I now embrace at-home drinking sessions with friends, which also saves on that late night Uber ride home.
But the hardest adjustment has been ditching the getting ready process that goes hand-in-hand with a night out. There’s no special outfit, no high heels, and no need to do my hair and make-up. It doesn’t feel as exciting as it used to, but it’s worth it when I check my bank balance.
Cost before: £4,860 for the year (£90 a week)
Cost after: £1,620 for the year (£30 a week)
How to save money: shop sustainable fashion
While I’ve never been a die-hard clothes shopper, I have always embraced throwaway fashion. I used to love the concept of wearing something once and then upgrading it without ever really denting my pocket too much.
But now I’m fully aware of what this habit is doing to the earth. In fact, us Brits send 300,000 tonnes of clothes to the landfill each year.
So last year I started to embrace pre-loved fashion, and I’ll admit I was surprised by the amount of stellar gems out there. I’ve unearthed shoes never worn for £2.50, a vintage tweed jacket for £4 and even a brand-new swimming costume for £4 (I’ll admit that even I was dubious about buying something as inti-mate as a swimming costume from the charity shop, but the labels were fully intact).
The only brand new item I bought in 2018 was a bridesmaid dress and matching shoes for my friends wedding in July. Otherwise I’d have saved even more cash.
Cost before: £2,000 for the year
Cost after: £500 for the year
How to save money: all hail the at-home gym
In 2017, us Brits wasted a collective £558million on unused gym memberships. Gyms are undoubtedly expensive and for the self-motivated souls of us, our phones can now offer a personal trainer pretty much for free.
So at the start of the year I cancelled my gym membership and downloaded MyFitnessPal to keep an eye on my diet and fitness. I printed off Kayla Itsines’ strength training guides from Pinterest. I started doing yoga and pilates from YouTube tutorials. All of this was free and very easy to follow.
Cost before: £660 for the year (£55 a month)
Cost after: £0
How to save money: the verdict
I was dubious that this experiment would result in a change in my mental attitude. But mindful spending has absolutely rewired my brain when it comes to my finances. I’ve gone from habitually hemorrhaging cash every month to knowing exactly where my hard-earned money is going. Before the experiment I spent £15,652 in a year, and now that number is significantly reduced. Even better, I actually have savings now.
It’s an approach that was supposed to last a year but I’m finding it hard to go back to my usual spending habits. Instead, I keep looking at new ways to save money as I continue to ask myself one of the simplest questions there is: “Do I really need this?”
This piece was originally published in February 2019
Images: Getty, Unsplash