Month of Money: Cut back on expenses
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I’ve decided that October is now officially the ‘Month of Money‘. It’s after the summer holidays, with all the expenses that entails. And it’s before the holiday season kicks into high gear, with all the related present and food expenses!
My goal this October is to save/earn £500+ that I can put back into my emergency fund. What’s your goal?
Week one: Cut back on expenses
We are going to start the month by cutting back on expenses.
Expenses fall into two categories:
- fixed (rent, utility bills, subscriptions, TV license)
- variable (groceries, utilities, eating out).
Lots of people focus on cutting back on their variable expenses. It feels like you have more control over them, and so they seem like an easy way to cut back. But you can actually make a bigger ongoing improvement to your budget if you reduce your fixed expenses!
In this post I will talk about how to cut back on both fixed and variable expenses. This post ended up pretty long!
But I’m sure you’ll find something that will help save you money.
How to cut back on expenses: Fixed costs
This is, for many people, the single biggest item in their monthly budget.
Can you ask for a lower rent? If you are a model tenant, and you know you’re paying over the market odds, you might be able to negotiate a decrease. Check out this guide from thetenantsvoice.co.uk on negotiating a lower rent.
Can you move somewhere cheaper? Okay, this is a bit of a lifestyle change. But it can also save you hundreds or thousands over the course of a year. If you are single, it’s worth considering a house-share rather than renting your own place. It’s also worth considering moving in with family or friends for 6 months or so to kickstart your savings.
Can you consider alternative housing solutions? Some popular alternatives to renting or buying a house include living in an RV or on a houseboat, or living in a van! Again, this requires a fairly substantial lifestyle change. However, when you’re talking about your biggest expense, it’s worth thinking hard about what that extra money could get you. And yes, it is possible to do some of this with children (but harder).
Can you reduce your mortgage payments? There are a number of ways you can reduce your mortgage payments if you need a bit of extra breathing room each month. Citizens Advice has a great article on how to cut down your mortgage costs.
How this applies to me: sadly, it doesn’t. I have house-shared in the past, when Phillip was living in the USA. But right now we need to live within cycling distance of his work, which happens to be in the centre of Oxford. Oxford, for those wondering, is one of the most expensive cities to rent in the UK. 🙁
- My rent: £850 /month
- Potential savings: £0 /month
In the future I would like to play around with this a bit more, and I’ve long enjoyed the concept of ‘tiny living’.
Reducing utility bills has two positive results: it lowers our monthly expenses, and it reduces our carbon footprint! Win win!
Tips to reduce your gas and electricity bills:
- Do a rate comparison and see if you can get a cheaper deal.
- Submit a meter reading and make sure you’re only paying for what you actually use!
- Set up a direct debit to pay your bills if you haven’t already (most companies offer a discount for monthly billing)
- Turn your heating down by 1 degree (and put on a cardigan or fill up a hot water bottle) — this can save you around £60 a year!
- Become ‘energy conscious’ — switch off lights when you aren’t in the room, turn devices off when they aren’t in use, and avoid running half-loads in the dishwasher or washing machine.
- Get a household energy monitor to track your electricity use. Choose between a USA monitor or a UK version.
- Get an ‘energy saving timer plug*‘ to help you turn everything off at night.
- Air dry your clothes* instead of using a tumble dryer.
- Choose a shower over a bath — it uses far less hot water (typically around 35 litres, versus 100 litres for a bath)
- Make sure your home is properly insulated.
- Use a solar powered charger* for your phone and other USB devices.
How this applies to me: Firstly, I’m going to read my meters and submit the readings to my energy companies. I’ll also look into switching to a better deal.
Secondly, I’m also going to give up baths for the month of October. I already air dry my clothes and pay via direct debit, so I’m doing well on that front!
- My utility bills: £115 /month (Gas, Electricity and Water)
- Potential savings: £20 /month
Subscriptions and other bills
We all have a miscellany of other expenses. They normally include things like internet, phone contracts, Netflix, gym memberships, subscription boxes, online services, insurance premiums and so on.
I have two tips:
Firstly, go through each monthly expense and ask yourself ‘is this really necessary?’ and ‘would it be cheaper a la carte?’
What is ‘a la carte’? This means that, for example, if you don’t watch a lot of television, you might find that instead of subscribing to Netflix it’s cheaper to rent box sets individually. Instead of paying for a phone contract, you might it find it cheaper on pay as you go, or on a sim-only deal. Instead of paying for a gym membership, you might find it cheaper to pay for a single swimming session at a time.
This requires you to be honest about how much you really use things and how much value it brings you.
Secondly, negotiate a better rate!
You can negotiate lower costs for almost everything, but particularly broadband and television fees, insurance costs and membership fees. This is a really good guide to negotiating your bills, with scripts.
How this applies to me: I’m going to set aside a day this week and call all my utility/subscription companies and ask for a better deal.
- My fixed bills: £187 /month
- Potential savings: Unknown
How to cut back on expenses: Variable costs
Variable expenses are things that we have some control over. They include things like grocery shopping, petrol, leisure activities like going to the cinema or eating out, clothes, gadgets, video games and so on.
Some of these things are essential (you need to buy some groceries!) and some are not… but it’s a fact that trying to ditch all of your non-essential expenses will make you cry and you’ll probably quit halfway through the month because PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE OKAY!?
How to cut back on your grocery bill
There is so much to say about this topic that it will almost certainly form it’s own post at some point. (Update: I wrote an entire post about how I save money on my groceries!)
But as a starting point:
The most important thing is to use meal planning (read my ultimate guide to meal planning).
Giving up or reducing the amount of meat you eat will lower your food costs. Slow cooker vegetarian or vegan meals are great budget options that will keep you going for a while.
You can use coupons and take advantage of deals.
If you hate the idea of giving up meat, look for cheap cuts, learn to love offal, and make sure you use every part of the chicken.
Quit or reduce your consumption of alcohol for a month. Beer and wine can add up fast!
How this applies to me: Honestly, I spend a fortune on food. Apparently I spent £434 on groceries in September, and £78 on eating out! Ouch! I will definitely be planning meals around vegetarian options this month — and cutting back on treats!
- Current grocery/eating out bill: £512 /month
- Potential savings: £100 /month
How to cut back on travel expenses
Your travel costs will vary a lot depending on your situation.
Switch the car for a bike: The single best thing you can do to reduce your travel expenses is to switch your car commute for a bike or walk. This is a fairly major lifestyle shift, but it can lead to major savings on petrol and car expenses, as well as providing huge benefits for your health and for the planet.
Check your tyre pressure: If your tyre pressure is off, your car uses more fuel.
Drive in an eco-friendly way: See the AA’s guide to eco-friendly driving.
Give up some journeys: Weekend trips away can be expensive. I tend to go away quite a lot at the weekend, and I think I might have to give some of that up during October. I want more time for myself anyway, so perhaps I’ll focus on walks around Oxfordshire admiring the autumn leaves!
Consider going car-lite or car-free: Again, it’s a lifestyle shift, but can save you a ton of money. If you don’t use your car for a daily commute, public transport and car hire starts to actually work out cheaper. Find out more about going car-lite.
How this applies to me: Given that I have just forked out £515 to fix my car, I did run the numbers. I’ve realised I could rent a car two weekends a month, and still come out ahead on what my car currently costs when I combine insurance, maintenance, and tax. In the end, I couldn’t give up my car right away, but I have decided to sell it before my car insurance comes due in April.
What I will do, is avoid going away in October, other than the one trip I already have planned. This should save me petrol money.
- Currently amount spent on car: £60 /month petrol (insurance and tax not included)
- Potential savings: £30 /month
How to cut back on everything else
So then we have all the rest of the expenses of life. Social outings with friends, to which you feel obliged to bring snacks, beer or wine. Books. Cinema tickets (why yes, I will be seeing Thor: Ragnorak, thanks very much). Those envelopes that come around at work asking for contributions to retirement presents. Books. A new phone charger when your old one finally goes on the fritz. And did I mention books?
Cutting back on these is a case of looking at where you spend the most and seeing if there’s a cheaper or free alternative. For me, since I tend to read several books a month, joining a library is probably a sensible idea! Alternatively, I could look in Charity Shops for new reads, rather than on Amazon.
Use a ‘fun’ budget: A good technique is to put a certain amount into a ‘fun’ budget, so you have some money to spend (because life!) but it’s restricted. Knowing the money is there means you can plan to spend it on whatever brings you the most value.
Commit to a weekly ‘No Spend’ day: You can commit to a day a week where you don’t spend any money. No coffee shop treat, no ‘I forgot my lunch’, and no ‘I’ll just pop in and see what they have’ shopping.
How this applies to me: I added up everything I spent at Amazon, on presents and what I got out in cash throughout the month and it added up to £103.56. That’s quite a lot! I can definitely cut this back in October, and I’ll do that by giving myself £20 a week pocket money. Once that’s gone, it’s gone!
- Current amount spent on ‘other’ expenses: £103.56 /month.
- Potential savings: £20 /month
How the expenses add up
- Total amount spent: £1827.56 /month
- Total potential savings: £170 /month
Check back on the 1st November to see how I did!