Cutting back painlessly 

cutting backStill feeling the pinch after Christmas? I blogged the other day about making extra money, but my ideas may not be feasible for everyone. If you can trim all the flab off your spending and make things leaner that will have the same impact as extra income. Some people just don’t know where all the money goes!
A tried and tested way to find out what your spending habits really are is to keep a diary. It is a bit of a fag, but it is really helpful – trust me! First find a suitable notepad – it doesn’t have to be fancy; a cheap reporter’s notebook will do. Write down every single purchase that you make during the course of your day, from 80p for a chocolate bar, £2 for a coffee, £5 for lunch, £3.50 for a magazine, £10 for drinks in the pub, £30 for petrol, £3 for sweets for the kids, etc. It all adds up.

Make a daily total. Write some notes too that might help explain your spending, such as ‘kids on school holidays’, ‘worked late’, ‘had friends over’, ‘felt depressed’. After a few weeks of keeping your diary you will start to understand your habits and motivations for spending money.

Now start to scrutinise your spending. What was essential, what could have been avoided, what could have been done more cheaply?

If I take my own examples, it is clear that only the lunch and petrol were essential purchases. The others were wants rather than needs. However, we all need a little treat sometimes, so how to scale down the expense?

Chocolate bars – multipacks are so much cheaper than buying these singly or from a vending machine. Keep some in the cupboard/your handbag for when you need a boost.

Ditto sweets for the kids – supermarket multipacks are the best value, but keep them hidden away for an occasional treat rather than every day.

Magazines – such an expensive habit. You can buy them really cheaply (3 for £2) on market stalls. They won’t be the current issue, but they churn out the same stuff each season anyway! My library service offers a free e-magazine service called Zinio. If you are a member of Essex libraries check it out. If not, ask your library if they offer anything similar.

Tea/coffee – if you are going out you could take a flask. I always do this for picnics. For trips into town I take a bottle of water and wait until I get home to make my own tea or coffee. A lot of work places provide drinks but if they don’t take your own milk, teabags, coffee and mugs and you are good to go.

Lunch is an essential, but it is clearly much cheaper to take a packed lunch from home rather than buying it out. Even a prepacked sandwich with a cake can set you back a fiver.

Drinks in the pub? I rarely do this as it costs so much. How about getting together with friends at home with a few bottles from the supermarket?

These are just a few examples of where you can save money on small purchases. Another advantage is that most of the above mean you will avoid going into any shops other than the supermarket for your regular grocery shop, so if you are somebody who gives into the impulse purchases you are less likely to encounter temptation (and if you choose the discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl there is even less choice and temptation on offer).

How do you keep your spending under control?

Mean and Green: saving money with an eco-friendly lifestyle

Cutting back on meat

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I intend to eat a lot less meat this year. This makes financial sense and brings certain health benefits, but my main reason for doing it is that meat production is really bad for the environment. I found this on Wikipedia:

The 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, states that “the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.”

Being green saves money

Thinking about this has made me reconsider how many other activities that save money are also greener, and vice versa. These are some that we already do:

Growing ourown fruit and veg, mainly organically (I have given into the odd slug pellet in a rage at having my efforts decimated by the little blighters)
Making ourown compost
Turning off lights and electrical appliances when not in use
Wearing an extra jumper rather than turning on the heating
Insulating the house
Driving carefully – boy/girl racers use more fuel and wear their vehicles out more quickly
Not buying bottled water – when this happens (very occasionally), we reuse the bottles for months before recycling
Not wasting food, including leftovers. Food production doesn’t just cost money – think of the transportation, packaging, water and chemicals used during production, etc.
Buying second hand – clothes, furniture, tools. Whatever we can find – this saves so much money and these items should be reused.
It is rare for us to buy new electrical appliances, but when we do we make sure they are triple A rated for energy and water use. This saves money in the long run.
Collecting water in water butts for the garden. We are not on a meter yet but as our household reduces in size I think it may save money and make us think about the water we use.
Reusing envelopes and wrapping paper
Reusing old bread bags to pack sandwiches
Using cereal boxes and scrap paper from work to write shopping lists on
Repairing rather than replacing clothes and household items

Eco-friendly lifestyle

I am so far from perfect when it comes to living an eco-friendly lifestyle though. I would love to only buy organic but unfortunately my budget doesn’t allow for this. I do it when I can. I would also like to only buy fruit and veg in season and try to do this when I can but sometimes will go for a bargain whatever. I try to buy food with fewer food miles, but my restricted budget means that most of the time I shop in Aldi and their produce is often imported.

This year I will be changing my car and going for a much smaller one that is more economical and greener to run as it will use a lot less fuel. In an ideal world I would walk/cycle/use public transport to get to work, but in the real one I live too far to walk and cycle and would have to get two buses, which would add hours to my working day. I want an eco-friendly lifestyle but still have time to enjoy it.

We also want to look again at whether we can get solar panels on the roof without it costing us anything. There are various schemes about that allow you to pay for the panels with the money you make from selling your excess power back to the grid but we want to research the best deal. There are some charlatans out there!!

I expect a lot of you do all this and more. What are your eco-friendly tips that also save money?