Category Archives: Household bills and budgets

Student budgeting for university: a new student’s guide

Imagine….you are 18, you have never had to worry too much about money and suddenly you get £1000s arrive in your bank account. You are rich! No, you’re not. It is your student loan and you need to pay your rent first then make it last the whole of the academic year. You know nothing about student budgeting and it is all very scary!

Next month darling daughter number 3 will be going off to university. I really hope I have taught her enough to help her get through her new life without getting into debt (well, any more debt than has already been agreed with Student Finance England!) So, here are my top student budgeting tips:

Student budgeting tools

Firstly, you need to know how much money you have and how long you need to make it last. You need to understand what your outgoings will be and make sure you keep enough by for these. There are plenty of downloadable spread sheets and calculators on the Internet to help with this. They will tell you whether you really can afford another night out or need to tighten your belt. UCAS has a handy one to get you started here.

This will only take you ten minutes and it will be a worthwhile investment of your time.

Avoid impulse buying

Before spending your precious student loan, ask yourself: do I really need this? Or do I just want it? Can I afford it? There are a lot of spending habits you can sink into as a student that will eat into your funds. Sometimes it is the smaller spends that add up. Coffees out, drinks in the pub, taxis, makeup, sweets….and suddenly you have spent that £20. Similarly, don’t rush to join the university gym unless you know you will use it constantly. Wait to see how things pan out and if you can really afford it. If you are cycling everywhere, you are keeping fit anyway!

Learning to cook

If you have never learned to cook, this is the time to begin. When I dropped my second daughter at university, the freezer was already packed full of home made ready meals for a particular male student, provided by his mother! I could have felt bad for sending my daughter off with a bag of basics from Aldi, but I wasn’t concerned as I knew she was capable of putting together a decent,  healthy meal. I was more worried she wouldn’t be able to fit her leftovers into the freezer!

Still, it is never too late to learn to cook and there are a lot of student cookbooks on Amazon. The Student Cookbook: Great grub for the hungry and the broke has good reviews.  If you are  off to uni this year and cannot cook, you still have time to learn the basics. Ask your parents to show you how. Spaghetti Bolognese, an omelette, sausages and mash, a cheese sauce (for macaroni, a vegetable bake, etc) are all simple things to try. If you cannot cook at all, the temptation is to buy takeaways and fast food – these might seem cheap, but they are a lot more expensive than a jacket potato with beans and cheese that you can make yourself in no time.

Cooking is a skill for life and essential for effective student budgeting. Even if you are going into catered halls of residence I still recommend you learn some fundamental cooking techniques.

Kitchen essentials

There are many downloadable lists on line advising on the essential kitchen items to take to university. But are they really essential? When you are concerned about student budgeting you don’t want to waste money on pointless purchases.

You don’t need a set of saucepans – just one or two with lids will do. You only need a couple of plates, bowls, glasses and mugs and a small amount of cutlery. Your student housemates will be bringing these items too; as you get to know them you can share. As I am urging you to cook, you do need a chopping board and at least one decent sharp kitchen knife, a bread knife, a small wok or frying pan, some spatulas, a colander, a cheese grater, vegetable peeler, kitchen scissors, a tin opener and some plastic food storage containers with lids.

These are brilliant for freezing your leftovers so it is worth taking some freezer labels too so that you can identify your frozen creations. An indelible pen is handy for marking your stuff in the fridge and cupboards. And as you are a student you might need a bottle opener too :).

However, you don’t need to buy these all brand new. We have been scouring the charity shops and boot sales and have found a lot of items second-hand.

Food planning and buying

I know it sounds dull, but a bit of planning can go a long way towards effective student budgeting. Have a think about which nights you need food and then write a shopping list. Have at least a rough plan for what you will eat each day.  It could be that you have a bit of time on a Monday but will be late back on Tuesday. Your plan for the week could be to make double the quantity of a meal on Monday that you can heat up on Tuesday. If you are likely to be out several nights don’t buy too much food that will then be wasted.

Check to see which is the cheapest supermarket near your accommodation. Aldi and Lidl are great for saving money on groceries. Is there a good street market? It is worth exploring what is sold there. If you are cycling, a decent back pack or panniers are a worthwhile investment for bringing your groceries home. For walkers, how about a good, old fashioned granny trolley on wheels?

If you make friends with other students in your accommodation, maybe you could share the cooking and buy food together? Bigger packs are always cheaper.

Tracking your spending

If you don’t already have it, get online mobile banking. This way you can check often how your balance is looking and if you need to start cutting back.

Save money on text books

Text books are a major expense. However, you don’t have to buy them all new. Amazon will have many for sale used for starters. This is useful article from Save the Student gives more detailed advice about how you can save money on textbooks.

Getting a job

If you just cannot make your student loan stretch far enough you will need to bring in some extra money. Part time jobs are in high demand in student towns and it helps if you already have some retail or bar experience.  Get yourself a decent CV done and make sure you include any work experience. Ensure grammar and spelling are spot on for all your applications and the lay out is attractive. There is a lot of guidance on line about CVs and going for interviews and this will pay dividends when you are looking for a graduate job later. Keep plugging away.

Whilst you are job-hunting, you could look at making a little extra doing online surveys or mystery shopping. There are all kinds of paid opportunities once you start looking. A fantastic blog to check out to help increase your income is The Money Shed.

So, what are you waiting for? Have the most fabulous time at university, make the best of the experience and come out ready for what ever the world offers. I hope this helps you with your student budgeting so you can manage your money and avoid any more debt than is strictly necessary.
 

 

Why are you always broke? How to change your spending habits

Why are you always broke?

‘I don’t know, I hardly buy anything!’ Some people are broke because they genuinely have very little money coming in each month. Maybe they live on benefits or have to support a large family on the minimum wage. However, in my experience there are many people out there who claim they have no money and can’t save who have decent jobs and salaries. Perhaps you have the cash, but need to change your spending habits to get you on track?

I knew a woman who lived in a large house with two family cars and sent her children to private school. She told me she never had any money and they were struggling. The pleas of poverty did not ring true, even when she once had the debt collectors at her door. It doesn’t take a genius to see that her lifestyle was too extravagant for what would to many of have been a fantastic income! Her spending habits weren’t in line with the money she had coming in. She was more concerned about keeping up appearances than she was about the state of her bank balance.

Ask yourself some tough questions about your spending habits

So, before you say your money never lasts and you have no savings ask yourself these questions to identify your spending habits:

Could your accommodation be cheaper? This is likely to be your biggest monthly expense. If you have over extended yourself buying or renting it will hurt. Could you move to more modest accommodation or rent a room out?

Can you travel more cheaply? Cars are a huge expense. If you have more than one car consider whether at least one of you could take public transport instead. Could you downgrade to a motor scooter or cycle? If you need your car you can find out about cheaper motoring here.

Could you holiday more cheaply? I hesitate to say give up on holidays, although many people do enjoy the odd ‘staycation’. However, if you go skiiing every winter and to Disneyland each summer you will need a very full wallet.  Could you invest in a tent for some cheaper camping holidays instead? Some of our most enjoyable family vacations have been under canvas.

Do you have money to burn?

Do you smoke? I have little sympathy for people who literally burn money whilst putting their good health at risk. Nuff said!

Do you insist on buying everything new? From clothes to furniture, whatever you need you can almost certainly buy secondhand if you really want to save money. And reusing can help save the planet!

How much do you spend in pubs/restaurants/cinemas/theatres each month? If you are in the pub three times a week your bank balance will feel the strain.

Do you enjoy a regular takeaway? How much would you save if you knocked this habit on the head and cooked from scratch instead? Even if you don’t waste money on take outs, do you use a lot of convenience food?

A passion for fashion?

Do you love a brand name? If you can wean yourself off designer clothing (or at least buy it secondhand) you will save yourself a packet. When you are in the supermarket, try some supermarket own brands – the big names make you pay for all of their advertising and fancy packaging.

Do you have too many clothes? If you buy a new outfit every time you go out the answer will be yes. Take the wardrobe challenge and then see how else you can save money on clothes.

How much does it cost you to look that great? There are so many ways to waste money on hair care and beauty products and treatments, but if you are short of cash you probably don’t need to get hair extensions or your nails done every month and could knock the designer perfumes and makeup on the head in favour of some cheaper versions. See here how you can be beautiful on a budget.

How often do you use your expensive gym membership? If you don’t use it then cancel it ASAP! If you are a gym bunny and there every night then good for you, but could you get it cheaper elsewhere?

Do you have hundreds of TV channels you never watch? You could save a lot by switching to a cheaper package or cancelling it altogether and investing in a Freeview box.

Time to change your spending habits

They are obvious questions really but people are very good at sticking their heads in the sand. Don’t be an ostrich. If you live from pay cheque to pay cheque and have no savings but you walk around in designer gear then you know why you are always broke! Have a good look around the site to see how you can change your spending habits. Start here, which gives lots of tips on how to save money.

(First published February 2017)

Keeping up with the cost of living

I heard on the news today that the cost of living in the uk has risen by 2.3% in the past year. Food itself has gone up by 1%. This is ok if your salary keeps up with it, but I have had a paltry 1% increase this year. Heaven knows how larger families manage.

So, what can you do? How about a side hustle? There are some ideas for making extra money here.

You can save money on your grocery bill with a bit of careful planning and savvy shopping.

Then we have your energy bills. Some ideas that I have tried can be found here. You can also haggle down the cost of your utilities.

Running a car can be a huge expense but it is possible to be frugal here too. This is how I save money on motoring.

Do you spend too much on clothes? You can slash costs if you embrace the idea of buying second hand. I am a happy second-hand Rose.

Days out also don’t have to cost the earth. My tips are here.

This is just a quick compilation of ideas. I hope they help! And don’t forget to check out my frugal recipes.

Back tomorrow hopefully if I have time between work and hospital visits!

What’s your best money saving idea?

I belong to a few Facebook groups whose focus is frugality and the question that comes up time and again when people join is ‘How can I save money? Where do I start?’ It seems many people are still struggling to get from pay day to pay day and looking for money saving advice and inspiration.

My first piece of advice is to have a long, hard look at your outgoings. Go through your bank statements and see what you can cut. Have you an insurance policy on an item you no longer own? Are you paying too much for your utilities? Shop around. Can you save money on your mobile phone or your tv and internet package? You need to check if there is a penalty for early cancellation but sometimes it is worth paying, or you could stay with the same provider but downgrade your package. Do you have a gym membership you barely use?

Make a budget and stick to it. I use Budget Brain from Money Saving Expert. Check your bank balance regularly so you know how much is in the account and when you need to rein in your spending.  

It is interesting to see how much cash can drip out of your account in the form of small purchases on lunch, coffees, newspapers, etc. £10 withdrawals here and there can soon add up to hundreds of pounds. You can save a lot of money by anticipating these small expenses in advance and organising yourself. For example, take your own coffee, teabags and milk to work rather than buying it. Take your own packed lunch. 

Avoid temptation. If you know you are prone to impulse purchases, window shopping is not the pastime for you!

Food shopping is often a great place to save money. You can save loads if you stop buying branded goods and use cheaper supermarket own brands, buy your fruit and veg at a local market, minimise convenience foods, plan your menus, make a shopping list before you hit the supermarket, eat less meat…I could go on. There are so many money saving ideas.

Look at your heating and hot water costs. There are plenty of ways to insulate your home cheaply, you could turn the thermostat down a notch, get the family to wear more layers of clothing, etc. More ideas here.

What about transport? Could you car share? Leave the car at home and walk or cycle?

Do you have a garden? If so, how about growing some of your own food. Digging is as good as a gym session 😀.

What are your top money saving tips for the newbie?

Should you ever buy branded groceries?

I quite enjoy the adverts on TV for Aldi, where they compare an expensive brand of coffee, tea or whatever with their own version. The message is that theirs is just as good, but cheaper!

When I initially started trying to save money on my grocery shopping the first thing I did was dump the brands wherever I could. I tried all of the supermarket basics first. Some we liked and some we didn’t. Value/Smart Price baked beans were a definite no-no, unless included in a veggie stew. Loo rolls didn’t last as long but were worth buying as they were so much cheaper. Value bacon may not look as good but it tastes pretty similar. The kids ate the biscuits even if they didn’t arrive in fancy packaging. I now wouldn’t dream of buying anything other than a basic fruit juice either.

Where we didn’t enjoy the basic products, I moved up to supermarket own brand. Most we liked, but occasionally we still resorted to a branded product.

With the advent of the discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl, the situation has improved even more. Most of their own products are very good quality and as cheap or even cheaper than the old style shop own brands. I have found them to be better overall. 

I might consider something from a range such as a Tesco Finest if it is on offer but I have found some of these are disappointing. I think they are a marketing ploy and another way to squeeze a bit more money out of their customers. 

Generally speaking if I buy a brand it is because 1. I really like it more than the alternatives (such as my Millicano coffee mentioned in yesterday’s blog post) or 2. It is a really good price. I don’t need to pay for a company’s expensive branding – they pay marketing people a lot of money to work out how to make us spend our wages. I bet at least half the time if people did a blind test to decide which product was branded and which was a supermarket’s own brand they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. So, if you really want to save money on your groceries chuck out the brands and try some supermarket own labels!

Lidl or Aldi?

I have been using Lidl for my weekly grocery shop recently, mainly because they built a brand new store five minutes from Shoestring Cottage with plenty of parking. However, I am really an Aldi girl. There are just enough differences between their products for me to prefer them.

Last night darling daughter wanted me to take her to her local Aldi so I went back 😀. Yes, you all know I am sad but savvy and this kind of thing cheers me up after a long, hard week at work!

I have particularly missed Aldi’s moisturisers. They are amazing value at under £2 a pot and really work. When you consider that some folk happily spend £40 on the same size pot, fooled by pseudo scientific claims of wrinkle reductions and firmer skin, it just proves just how gullible many of us are! All you need for good skin is to keep it clean, wear some kind of moisturiser, don’t spend too much time in the sun and don’t smoke! Seriously, I truly believe it is that simple. I have followed this advice for years and I am regularly told I don’t look my almost 54 years so it must be working 😀. Whilst I was there I went crazy and bought two. I prefer these to Lidl’s versions as I find theirs too highly perfumed. 

I have a couple of potentially stressful weeks coming up with my parents. They are both in their eighties and in great shape generally, but have operations within two weeks of each other. Today my mum is having a hip replacement. She had the other one done last year and will soon be almost entirely manmade…I am meeting her there this morning to see her in and, all being well, hope to get her back home on Tuesday. 

The week after next my dad will have a potentially more serious op to repair an aneurism. This is at a different hospital further away so will mean a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to visit and take my mum and then make sure they are ok once he is back home. 

I need to make some meals for their freezer and will start with a big vat of lentil soup tomorrow and maybe some shepherd’s pies next week. Fortunately, I have three siblings so we will be sharing the duties. 

Wish them luck and good wishes and, if I don’t manage a daily post, you will know why! Have a great weekend everyone.

Another Goode Book

Reader Rosemary reminded me of this one for my frugal bookshelf.  The Goode Kitchen was written by the late Shirley Goode to accompany her BBC series of the same name in 1986.

Shirley had a precise and logical approach to saving money in the kitchen, which has barely dated. In fact her approach to her kitchen decor (open shelves and a mix of charity shopped mixed crockery) seems positively on trend . Think shabby chic! She believed in spending more on the essentials, such as some quality knives and pans.

I first read the Goode Kitchen years ago and clearly absorbed this approach to cooking. Shirley can take a lot of the credit for much of my kitchen behaviour now – reusing yogurt pots and margarine pots to freeze soup or store leftovers, keeping old bread bags and making stock from bones and chicken carcasses.

She takes an interesting approach to budgeting that makes me think she was an influence on Jack Monroe, carefully costing her ingredients to easily calculate the price of any meal and adjusting ingredients to always get the best possible value.

The recipes are straightforward, nutritious and tasty. They use ingredients likely to be in most cook’s store cupboards or easy to find in a supermarket. For example, you will find recipes for fish chowder, Somerset rabbit casserole, poor man’s jugged hare (actually made with beef) and pauper’s pottage (a healthy vegetable stew) – great, no frills family food.

It is sadly out of print now but you can still find the odd copy secondhand on Amazon, as I did. If you see it at a reasonable price, grab it! There is a link below but you may have to go through and do a search.
goode kitchen

 

Cheaper groceries? I Approve!

Every now and again I have a look on Approved Food and get a few mega bargains. Last night, since I have my new bank card (the other one was used and abused by some scumbag and it was blocked), I decided to take a look and see if there was enough to tempt me to justify the £30 minimum order charge plus £5.99 delivery. As soon as I saw that there was the Felix cat food that my cats like (only £2 for 12 sachets), I knew it would be. I avoided all of the yummy looking sweets and chocolates, as I have given up sugar for the month, and focussed on purchases that would really save me money – items I either need now or soon would.

In case you haven’t come across them, Approved Food sells goods that are past their best before dates at huge discounts. The items are still perfectly good to use. The company doesn’t just sell food; as well as the groceries, they have alcohol (I took advantage and ordered some wine), pet supplies, toiletries, household goods and gifts.

You can’t do the week’s shop on there. There are some staples (I bought orange juice, teabags and Marigold vegetable stock), but no bread, milk or eggs. If you like branded goods such as washing powder and fabric softener you will really make massive savings. I bought a big tin of Vanish carpet spray (constantly clearing up cat sick in my house!) for £2 instead of £4 for example. There are often very cheap cook-in sauces as well for quick and convenient after work meals.

If you want to try Approved Food and you place an order using my link, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Try Approved Food

How to stop wasting money: Frugal Fran vs. Spendthrift Sue – which are you?

I had a bit of fun with this last night. Which are you most like – Frugal Fran or Spendthrift Sue? I am going to guess that, as you are reading my blog, you are all Frugal Frans! Are you spending too much? If you recognise your poor habits you can stop wasting money.

How can you stop wasting money?

I am always amazed at how much money my friends and colleagues appear to waste during the course of a working day, whilst also complaining about how little spare cash they have. It is fine to spend money like Sue if you have plenty to spare. Personally, I would be in trouble pretty quickly if I lived like that. I certainly wouldn’t be able to put anything aside for savings.

It takes a little more time and effort to be a Frugal Fran, but I feel it is worthwhile if you need to stop wasting money. More  cash in the bank and less anxiety about your finances! See you tomorrow.

 

Spendthrift Sue

 

 

Frugal Fran

Is very organised and puts the laundry on before leaving for work. Uses a brand name laundry liquid as she likes the TV ad (8 pence a wash) Is very organised and puts the laundry on before leaving for work. She uses the supermarket own laundry liquid as it is cheaper (3 pence a wash). She spends 15 minutes chopping  up some beef and veggies to put in the slow cooker
Buys a coffee and breakfast muffin on the way to work (about £5) Has a bowl of porridge and cuppa at home before she leaves for work (about £1)
Gets tea and biscuits in the staff canteen

(c£1.50)

Keeps a pack of biscuits in her drawer for when she needs a snack and takes her own teabags and mug to work (a cuppa and 2 biscuits: about 35p)
Buys a meal deal at lunch – sandwich, fruit and crisps (£3.50) Has a packed lunch she made at home the evening before – sandwich, fruit and crisps (£1)
Gets a chocolate bar from the vending machine in the afternoon (80p) Keeps a pack of biscuits in her drawer for when she needs a snack (10p)
Feels really tired when she gets home and orders in a takeaway pizza (£14) Feels really tired when she gets home and is so happy to smell her slow cooker meal as she walks through the door £2.50)
Gets the laundry out of the washer and puts it in the dryer (30p) Gets the laundry out of the washer and hangs it on the airer FREE
Perks up a bit and agrees to meet her friends in the pub (£15) Perks up a bit and invites her friend round to share a bottle of wine (£6)
 
Total spend: £40.18 Total spend: £10.98

 

No spend January – how did I do?

Regular readers will be aware that, like many people in the new year, Christmas had left my bank account feeling rather depleted. I resolved to make January a no spend month, buying nothing except essentials. I paid the bills, planned our meals to use up what we already had and then kept grocery spending as low as I could. I bought petrol but tried to minimise how much I used the car and drove like a granny so I didn’t use so much fuel. I didn’t need any cleaning products and won’t do for a few months. I bought no clothes, books or makeup. Even the cats have had to get used to a cheaper brand of food!

Did I have any slips? Well, yes, I caved and bought hair dye as I had a grey stripe on my head, I bought popcorn and snacks for my daughters from Lidl when we went to the cinema (they treated us as they had vouchers). On Friday at work I was a bit hormonal and gave in to a bar of chocolate from the vending machine (80p! Could have got a pack of 4 for £1 elsewhere). 

Other than that I have done really well – so well I am extending this into a no spend February. None of this is really a stretch for me as I am frugal nearly all the time anyway, but declaring a no spend month keeps me hyper aware of my every purchase. If I am going to create a healthy emergency fund I need to do this.

I really need a haircut at some point so that might be an allowed exception. It is also Valentine’s Day. We never go over the top with this but will have a nice meal in and I plan to make Mr S a present. (Not sure what yet but it is likely to be edible!). Because it actually IS the thought that counts.

We will need every spare penny over the next couple of months as Mr S is installing a woodburner. This was my birthday present a year and a half ago but for various reasons other things have taken priority and it has been sitting in its box waiting to be fitted. He will do everything himself except line the chimney so it shouldn’t be too expensive, but we will redecorate and freshen up the whole room. He has damaged the wallpaper, adding to the damage already inflicted by the kitten! I don’t intend to use any savings for this project, it will mean being super frugal and cutting back elsewhere.

It’s been an interesting month for my blog. I made a new year resolution to write a decent post every day and the number of views I get has doubled. I am chuffed, so thanks to those of you who have read my whitterings!

How about you? Did anyone else do a no spend month or are you planning to?