How I Saved Three Quarters of My Salary (Without Kicking My Brunch Habit)
How often have you started a sentence with "If I had enough money...." then put whatever idea came next to the back of your mind, without giving it another moment's thought? So many young people have goals that can only be met with cold hard cash (be it travelling, paying off debts or cobbling together a house deposit), yet only a handful of us have enough disposable income to make those dreams a reality.
For a while now, I've been wishing I had more money to give me the freedom to go after my creative interests, but it's only since the New Year that I've actually moved my butt and done something about it.
Saving always seems like a good idea in the abstract, but who genuinely enjoys eating out less, turning down social engagements and hitting pause on your Asos habit? This January, I made it my mission to find ingenious ways to save cash, without feeling like I was missing out on enjoying life.
By finding ways to make savings in every part of my life, I've managed to double the money I usually save in a good month, putting three quarters of my tiny salary straight into savings. Best of all? At no point did I have to kiss goodbye to my weekly brunch habit.
Here's how I got my act together and started saving.
1. Double down on the side hustle
I've gotta be honest, if I hadn't managed to increase my net income by pure hustle, my savings this month would be much less impressive. Already having avenues to make a bit of side income set up, I just doubled down on my efforts in these. If you're interested in earning a little cash on the side to fund that big dream, you'll be thrilled to hear that you can get paid for an impressively wide range of skills, without it consuming all your time. Check out this comprehensive guide to give you some ideas.
When not saving, my default state is to fill my weekends to overflowing with fun activities. While this is a great way to see as many people and cram as much fun into 2.5 days as is physically possible, it doesn't make great sense money wise. I was spending hundreds of pounds every month on the combined cost of petrol, train fares, meals out and the general expense that comes with merriment.
When I told my boyfriend that I was managing to make great savings this month, his response was 'is that why you're being so antisocial?' (so supportive). Truth is, you have to make cuts somewhere if you want to see big savings.
Instead of going into London for a whole weekend (where I'd be eating out most meals and doing fun but expensive stuff with friends the whole time), I'd choose one day where I wanted to do a fun activity, then pare back the cost of the rest of my weekend to make it worthwhile. Okay, occasionally this meant having to say no to plans, but more often it involved having friends over rather than eating out, or going for a coffee instead of a slap up meal.
Because I prioritised the things I really wanted to, and dropped the expensive but inconvenient additions, I didn't feel like I was missing out, but I still made pretty big savings.
3. Accept that you are an Everyday Value gal
It's no secret that I love food, eating and going for romantic walks up and down the aisles of Tesco. Cooking for one, I usually manage to do my shop for under £20 a week by accepting that Tesco finest is out of my league. If you wanted to take this to its natural conclusion, you'd research the cheapest supermarkets for your normal weekly shop and do it there, but I've fallen for supermarket loyalty lines hook, line and sinker, so it's unfortunately too late for me.
To make your weekly shop as cheap as can be, plan your meals to make sure that every ingredient you buy will be completely used up (if a recipe requires half a jar of curry paste, you'd better be doubling the quantities or making use of that leftover bad boy elsewhere).
4. Kick the takeaway habit
I don't know about you, but nothing keeps me going through a bad week like the thought of a Wednesday Dominoes. When I wanted to get serious about saving, though, I asked myself what I was prepared to give up for my dream. Would I rather have savings to gain the independence to pursue my creative dreams, or sit and eat a takeaway alone on a Monday night? When you put it like that, there isn't really a contest.
5. Do everything, but slightly cheaper.
I used to scoff at people who ordered tap water on a meal out, but now I'm having to eat my words instead. I was never going to be able to avoid eating out or grabbing coffee with my friends for a month (the FOMO is real), but by ordering the cheapest options every time (Cappuccino ---> pot of tea; Starter, main, dessert and coffee ----> reasonably priced main course) I managed to knock a chunk off the amount I usually spend on eating out. If I could walk instead of taking the bus or a taxi, I did, and I always ordered a small red wine instead of a large (that alone must have saved me £50 over the month!)
6. Stop buying random crap
Just like when I'm on a diet and suddenly cave and eat a packet of biscuits, there's a little part of the budgeting Isobel that's just dying to blow a couple of hundred quid on must-have sale items. This month, I've managed to limit my random unnecessary purchases to one top that cost £7*, which is frankly the greatest single achievement on this list. Be strict with yourself about what is an essential item (I needed to buy some running trainers, but the embroidered boots I also fancied didn't make the cut).
7. Make sacrifices
If you're hoping to save cash without making any sacrifices, I'm here to burst that bubble right here, right now. With every spend that comes your way, ask yourself, do I want this more than the dream I'm saving for? I've found it surprisingly easy to say no to holidays, concerts and other pricey events just by asking myself if I want that more than my end goal. The answer is pretty much always no.
8. Track everything
Whether you have a budget or not, you need to track your ingoings and outgoings. I love the Spending Tracker app, which keeps a super simple balance sheet of what's going in and out each month. Whether it's a £100 splurge on something you couldn't live without or an 80p bottle of water, tracking keeps you accountable, and helps you see how little habits add up.
Tracking for me acted as a great deterrent to spending - I really, really didn't want to have to record it, so, miraculously, I didn't buy it.
9. Tell people you're trying to save
Few friends would be so hard-hearted as to not help you choose budget-friendly activities if they knew you were trying to save. That's why it's so important to share your goals with your loved ones. From agreeing an amnesty on present buying to sharing a cheap bottle of wine rather than a pricy night out, your friends can be there for you to help you on your way to solvency. If they don't know your situation, you can't blame them for wanting to split the bill when you've had tap water and they've downed three bottles of prosecco.
10. Be your own cheerleader
Saving is hard work, and there'll be times when you slip up and spend more than you'd like. That's why it's so important to be there to pat yourself on the back every time things do go according to plan. Celebrate every teeny tiny milestone you hit on the way to your big saving goals, and you'll be surprised at how your piggy bank fills up.
*Since writing this I've remembered that I also bought a £20 dress from Oxfam, but I'm too ashamed to put that in the main body of this preachy post. Hey, at least it's charity.