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?

16 thoughts on “Cutting back painlessly 

  1. These are great tips. When I was newly married we kept a spending journal. We don’t anymore, but setting good foundations in the beginning really helped. We were able to put two kids through college and we are still debt free aside from our home. Great post! Thank you for sharing. Happy New Year! Koko 🙂

  2. At the beginning of January my cupboards and freezer were quite full so I thought I would try to use that up and just buy what I need. Despite this I’ve still spent £72 so far this month on top up shops. As we are only half way through the month and I’m only buying mostly for 1 (with a few visitors for lunch or dinner) I must say I’m surprised by this amount, as I thought it would be lower bearing in mind what I already had in store. There is still quite a bit in the freezer and in the cupboard so I may need to look at what I have again. Plan this year is to spend on average £30 per week on food and household items but looking at my last two weeks I’m just not sure how well I’ll do. I really like your site and look forward to seeing your ideas for money saving. 🙂 Happy New Year.

  3. I love budgets! I think of them like being on a diet!
    Every month is a clean slate to start again so if, like with dieting, you fall off the wagon and overspend one month you can just resolve to do better the next rather than giving up altogether!
    December is one of the few months we actually stick to our budget, mainly because of the Christmas savings I put away all year that covers presents and the last food shop before the big day. 🙂 We don’t have any credit cards so we need to make sure we have the money in our account or in savings. But even when we did, I’d transfer the money I”d spent on the card straight into a savings account to pay the bill when it came in, so we were really using it like a debit card anyway!

    Another tip: I budget for a weekly main shop 4 times a month, but every few months there are 5 grocery shopping days. If I fail to plan ahead and adjust my weekly total accordingly, I use some Nectar points for that 5th shop instead. 🙂

  4. My financial situation has changed over the years, to do with changes in our marriage. Not easy at times, but it’s made me very careful with “my” money. I keep account of every penny. When you do that and you can therefore really see where every penny’s going it makes you think hard before you spend it, and it also makes you value it more. I think that allowing a fixed amount for treats, even if only small, is a very good idea. When I go out for bike rides, for instance, my treat is to have tea/coffee and cake somewhere. I was very much inspired a few years back by the lady who wrote “How I lived on a pound a day” (after her major bills were paid) – she also picked up any coins she found and by the end of the year had over £100!! I do the same but there just isn’t the spare change about on the streets any more!! I was on the bus with my daughter once and she found 30p on a seat. I thought “Wow!” – she wasn’t so excited and just gave it to me!

  5. The only way I can prevent spending is to not go out. I’m at home Mon to Fri so these are no spend days. However I shop at the weekend and this is when I spend on food shopping mainly. So far this year I’ve not had to buy much as the freezer is still full. However I can’t resist charity shops, sales, etc so staying in is really the best way for my purse!

  6. We kept to a budget in December, but my DH’s employer began taking out more for health insurance this month so it’s a net loss in income for 2016. Time to go back to some relatively painless frugal habits. We’re already pretty frugal. Small amounts of money add up quickly whether for spending or saving. I’ve returned to shopping at 4 different grocery stores, only buying sale items at each. This saves me between 30-40% on groceries. Also cooking from scratch when it’s overall less money than pre-packaged, but some foods are generally less expensive pre-made frozen on sale with coupons than I could make them. Those are purchased as “treats” for less money than eating out. Treats, though, must be limited. Since the holidays are over, we won’t need clothing, etc. for months. We’ll drop cable TV after the Super Bowl (U.S.), and will save about $100 per month. We can get internet options for free or cheap instead. If you don’t have a contract with a service provider, pay as you go cell phones save a lot of money, too. I’ve had pay as you go for years. Some frugal habits aren’t fun and eat time, but needs must.

  7. I had a weigh in at the doctor’s office today for my annual checkup….I told the nurse this was the worst possible time for a doctor’s appointment when I got on the scale. Yikes!

  8. Instead of walking into town at lunch time I have started going to the library and reading the daily newspaper which is free of charge.

  9. Very good tips. I used to think magazines were essential, I think I was probably addicted to them. Now I find I get at least as much interest from reading blogs and it’s often very original stuff. I don’t buy many magazines now, I have to see something really interesting.

  10. Hi I have been keeping a spending notebook (3x5inch) for over twenty years first two pages income and anunual expences insurance etc leaves net income the I note doiwn everything I spend for the week. The size is important as it fits easily in the hand or bag. I write my shopping list at the back of the notebook. We eat well on £30 a week for two, I love the challenge to make the money go further so we can do the nice things like travel. Out of an budget of £300 a week we have spent a few months in France and Spain in Our motorhome flew to South Africa cruised back toured Scotland it can be done.

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