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Budget Blues? Top Tips for Living More Frugally

Posted Dec 01 2012 12:00am

Many people living in the UK and Ireland (and elsewhere) have been feeling let down by recent government budgets and the consequent effects on individual's pockets. In effect, what the recent UK and Irish budgets mean is that many of us will have a lot less money to spend and, for some, that means trying desperately to make ends meet.

If you're suffering from the budget blues, then have a look at my top tips for living more frugally below and try implementing the suggestions into your everyday life. You might just be surprised by how big an effect each small change can have.

  • Go through at least two recent bank statements carefully. List all income in one column and and all direct debits in another. Total these up to see what, if anything, is left over. Next think carefully about any additional outgoings - things +such as car fuel, bus/train tickets, food bills, after-school lessons such as music, swimming etc, window cleaning, milk, newspaper and bread bills that may collected at the door. Take these extra bills away from your previous total. This is what you have left over to pay for absolutely everything else and this is what you need to work with to feed, clothe and buy extras for your family every month.
  • If you find that you are left with very little, simply not enough or worse still that you are into your overdraft, go through your direct debits and see if there is anything at all that you can do without or reduce. For example, you may be able to move your broadband, telephone or electricity bills to lower tarrifs or you might find that you have direct debits for things you no longer use such as online subscriptions or subscriptions to gyms etc that you had forgotten about. And talking about overdrafts, make sure yours has been authorised with your bank or you'll be paying exhorbitant charges on it. Many banks allow an overdraft facility of approximately half your monthly income.
  • Next, look again at your direct debits and see if you can reduce the amounts you are paying on those that you really need. For example, we managed to halve our own electricity bill by taking sensible measures like air drying our clothes instead of using the tumble drier, putting an egg timer beside the electric shower to reduce the time we spent in it - this has now become a bit of a competition to see who can get showered the quickest every day! We used economy settings on our dishwasher and washing machine. We also changed all our light bulbs over a number of months to energy saving bulbs and now award 'stars' to our children if they turn off unused lights to save energy and close doors to save heat. These stars are then used to reward the children at weekends when they can choose places to visit or things to do, many of which cost very little or are even free! We had also been using the teapot on the hob to brew the tea: now we use a microwave proof teapot and brew it for 30 seconds in the microwave instead! in addition, we only ever boil the amount of water we need so the kettle is rarely filled meaning less electricity usage for less hot water! Finally, I bought an electricity monitor so we could observe and monitor our electricity usage - it's been a revelation, alerting us to the amount of electricity certain items use and helping us realise when lights or other electrical equipment are running perhaps unnoticed by us!
  • Reduce heating costs by only heating rooms as they are used and turning off heat when no-one is in those rooms. For example, we only heat downstairs during the day and turn on heat upstairs just before bedtime. Keep doors and windows closed when heating is on and use your thermostat to avoid rooms overheating. Fix drafty windows and doors to avoid losing heat and do this yourself if you can to avoid extra home maintenance bills. You could also try resetting your timer to run the heating for 15 minutes less each time it is on so that your oil or gas lasts a little longer!
  • If possible, improve lagging in your roof space and insulate cavity walls to save on heating costs too! These will cost money upfront but in time will pay for themselves.
  • Try reducing your grocery bill by writing a list before going out and only buying exactly what is on it or only what is needed. You probably won't need to cut out all luxuries but you can buy own brand products such as tea bags, coffee, milk, bread, frozen food etc and this can often drastically reduce your food bill.
  • Avoid buying tea or coffee in cafes on a daily basis. Bring a flask with you and save quite a few pounds every day.
  • Buy bulk packets of treats such as crisps and bars of chocolate. You can often get these in discount stores and ration yourself or your family to just one bar or packet each per day with lunch or dinner. Or, if you cut them out altogether, you'll improve your overall health and maybe lose some excess weight too!
  • If you have are pregnant, consider breastfeeding as a healthy way to save money! If you have a small baby who is drinking formula, consider moving him or her onto cows' milk once they are  12 months old as follow on milk is very expensive and really not necessary for your baby!
  • Don't buy ready-made meals for your baby or family as these tend to be expensive and not as nutritious as homemade. Make your own meals and save some over for baby. Most family foods are fine for babies over a year old as long as there is no added salt and you are careful to use salt-free stock cubes when making casseroles etc.
  • If you have more than one car, think whether you really need more than one. Remember cars need tax, fuel, insurance and maintenance and they can become a habit. If you were to take public transport it may cost a lot less although be a little more inconvenient but your pocket will certainly benefit! If you can't do without a second car, then shop around for fuel and insurance. Also get quotes from different mechanics when work needs carried out and do the basics yourself such as filling water, changing wiper blades, adding anti-freeze and so on.
  • Do you have debts to maintain? If they are a struggle, try getting lower interest deals by shopping around and then try to reduce them by paying as much as you can afford off them every month. If you are really struggling, contact your providers and explain your difficulties as it may be possible to have the interest frozen or repayments reduced until you are in a more secure financial position.
  • Shop around for your own and your children's clothes and shoes and try to buy them in sales if possible.
  • Try reusing old clothes on younger children and even chat to family or friends and agree to pass on unwanted or unneeded clothes to one another to save on expenses.
  • The above are just a few tips that may help. Why not suggest others in the comments below and keep your eyes peeled as I'll be adding more financial help suggestions over the next few days!

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