Family Friendly Finance: How to spend less

This year is shaping up to be a tough one financially in the UK. With many families’ budgets already stretched to the limit, and the prospect of increases to gas and electricity bills and council tax as well as the rise in National insurance payments, this spring is going to hit the majority of people hard. In this series of articles I’m writing about ways to improve your family finances. The previous article looked at starting to budget – go back and check it out if you haven’t already read it.

And because most people are going to need upwards of a hundred pounds extra each month from April, this week we are looking at how to stretch the money you have and make it go as far as possible.

My first tip for this week is to make a budget. Add up how much you have coming in and how much you have going out. I explain more about how to budget in this article.

Once you have a budget you may still find there isn’t enough money to last the week or month. Let’s see how we can improve that. I divide the ideas below into spending less, stretching, and bringing more money in. Read through all three sections and pick one idea to work on. Once you have got to grips with that, go back to the next idea – don’t get overwhelmed by trying too many changes at once.

Spend less

The first idea to get to grips with behind spending less is all about mindset. Every time you get your purse, wallet or card out, think about what you are buying and why. All too often we spend to get the feel good factor. My weakness is gardening magazines – I think because they give me the illusion that I have time to sit down and read them, then follow the ideas, when in fact they usually sit unread!

Whether your treat is a lipstick or a coffee, a beer or some credits for an online game, try to catch yourself in the act of purchasing and unpack what you are doing, and think about a spend-free substitute. I can swap spending money on magazines for browsing gardening websites. If you love lipsticks, you probably have a drawer full so why not pick out one you haven’t used for a while. Over lockdown, we realised that we enjoy having a drink at home just as much as going out and paying twice the price.

Take a moment to assess things you buy as a treat and think how you can swap them for a no-cost or lower cost alternative. And remember to ask yourself, do you need it or want it when you are about to buy something.

Once you have your mindset right, it’s time to look at somewhere that money can slip away each month without you noticing it – subscriptions and direct debits. Log in to your bank account and cancel non-essential direct debits – I don’t mean the fuel bill or mortgage, but those subscriptions you signed up for and can’t remember why. Then move on to things you pay for but could swap out for a freebie – this works for some ways to watch TV. Could you downgrade other subscriptions from a more expensive version to a less expensive one, like swapping to a cheaper broadband provider.

And don’t stop there: you can also find sneaky subscriptions that take money on a regular basis via Paypal and iTunes. Check your online accounts for subscriptions and if you don’t really need them, click ‘cancel’. Add up how much you will save each month and you can make a big difference.

If you don’t need your landline you might be able to cut that bill altogether – but remember to give notice to your provider rather than just cancelling the direct debit.

Groceries are another place where it is easy to spend more than you meant to. First, make a list of what you need and stick to it. Then, you might find it better value to shop online for groceries if it stops you buying things that weren’t on your list but which tempt you as you walk past.

If you are on a tight budget you have probably stopped eating out, but this is somewhere to make big savings. You can stop altogether, or cut down how often you eat out, and swap to more budget-friendly options. You might want to swap from eating out to take-aways, but if you want and need to make a real difference stop takeaways too. A combination of lockdown and a house move means we have mainly stopped meals out and takeaways, and instead choose some fun and family friendly meals to have at home on Friday night. The boys like homemade pizza and everyone can get stuck in for a fraction of a price of an Italian meal in a restaurant or takeaway pizza.

More ways to save money

With fuel bills rising, remember to switch things off. Yes, I feel just like my Dad when I suggest the kids turn the lights off after leaving a room. Turn down the thermostat by a degree for another saving you may not notice. Switch devices off at the socket to avoid the tiny amount of electricity that is used when things are on standby: although this is only a small amount it can add up when the family has many devices on standby. Like many people who work from home I aim to add extra socks, another jumper, and even a blanket while working from home on my own rather than have the heating on all day.

If your children grow as fast as mine you will need to replace their school uniform every so often. Ask around and see if there is a  school uniform swap shop like our local one. They stock uniform for all local schools. All pieces are clean, good quality and beautifully presented – they are donated to the swap shop when kids have outgrown them. They are then made available to families completely free of charge, a godsend to so many families who are currently struggling with the rising cost of living.

One healthy cut back you could make is to stop smoking. You can get free expert help from your local NHS stop smoking service. If you smoke 20 a day that will save you over £3000 a year, making a massive difference to every family budget. Calculate how much you could save here.

This article has grown as I’ve written it, and I’m sure there are more ideas for spending less. Do add a comment if you have some good ideas, and come back for the next article which looks at how to stretch the money you have any make it go further.

Disclaimer: This advice is based on my own experiences, combined with resources that I trust and find useful. It is not exhaustive and may not apply to your situation. NB: I’m not a financial adviser, and I won’t be advising you on financial investments. What I aim to do is help you, step by step, to take control of your money, make the most of what you have, and build a better financial future for you and your family.

Antonia Chitty is the author of Making Money Online. She is a mum to three and runs Family Friendly Working as well as juggling a range of different income streams.

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