Saturday, 9 January 2016

Stopping Shopping: 5 Ways to Save Money This Weekend

I'm now 9 days into my 4 month shopping ban and so far it's been absolutely fine. January is always a tight month anyway, especially if you get paid before Christmas and then if feels like there are fifteen years until the next payday.

It's been a quiet week socially, I've been getting stuck into coursework and a few wedding scripts but last night we did go to the cinema to see The Hateful Eight, which is only £4.99 at our amazing local cinema Peckham Plex.

My boyfriend is great at meal planning so we had something home-cooked for lunch and dinner every day this week except Friday where I bought Chicken Katsu Curry from my local favourite place. One lunch out a week is a massive reduction and I didn't have coffee or croissants from Pret at all.

I've also been thinking a lot about how I got on with the shopping ban the first time round, and how much I liked finding quick ways to save more or small changes that had a big impact. So here are some ways to save money asap:

1. Review your direct debits

If you have online banking you can see all your monthly direct debits in one place and it's worth checking to see what you're automatically paying for each month and whether you could cancel anything. Obviously don't cancel your electricity or phone bill but it might be worth shopping around for a cheaper rate. It's 2016 so you might be paying for a bunch of digital subscriptions too; Netflix, Spotify, Patreon, Podcasts, club membership etc. Consider whether you still need these or could possibly cancel for a few months. Oh and by the way, if you watch all your TV on streaming services rather than live, you don't need a TV licence so you could save around £12 a month.

I've had a look at my direct debits and realised I'm still paying £2.99 a month for insurance for my iPod, which I rarely use now. Not only that I've had it over 10 years so that insurance has cost me over £350! Cancelling asap!

2. Read for free (or less)

Last year I spent around *whispers* £650 on books which is quite excessive even for an avid reader like me but there are lots of ways to save money here. Join your library, you'll need some ID and proof of address but you can start borrowing straight away. Take part in #TBR20 and commit to reading 20 books you already own before you buy anything new. Switch to a subscription for your favourite magazines. It's a bit more up front but you can save around 30-50% off the cover price by paying in advance. Or why not start a magazine swap, if you and a friend read the same ones, buy a couple each and swap halfway through the month.

3. Plan a 'Use it up week'

If you're like me you'll have all sorts of stuff in your cupboards and freezer but still look around and say "there's nothing to eat". I write a quick list of all the things I can see and plan a few meals that need no additions or just some fresh fruit and veg.

I also recommend a rummage in the reduced bit of the supermarket, especially if you have a freezer. There's often a lot of fish or less popular veg at very low prices. Last week I bought two celeriac for 2p each on a Sunday afternoon and we've since had Celeriac and Celery soup, roast lamb with root mash and the rest was chopped and frozen for later.

4. Switch up your social life

I love meeting up with friends for a catch up at the weekend which usually means food and then probably a bunch of drinks too. But if the whether is nice I love taking a long walk instead, grabbing coffee or a juice along the way while we have a big chat. If the weather is grotty head for a free museum or gallery. Could you host dinner instead of going out, or have a board game night with snacks? Lord knows we've got plenty of booze leftover from Christmas to use up!

5. Get decluttering

OK so while this might not save you money, it will potentially create more space in your home which means less to maintain, tidy, clean etc and more time to spend on the things you really enjoy. Having lots of stuff around makes me feel a bit weighed down so I'm a huge fan of the quick clearout, and the power it has to make you feel productive. Challenge yourself to fill a bag this weekend and take it along to a charity shop.

Not sure where to start? I suggest clothes you don't like anymore, books you'll never read again, and DVDs, anything you got for Christmas that you immediately thought "WTF am I supposed to do with this?"

I want to say a massive thanks to everyone who's been so encouraging about the shopping ban, and inspired to make some changes too. If you've got suggestions for how to save money quickly be sure to let me know on Twitter or in the comments below.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Shopping Ban is BACK!

Back in 2008 I had a great job as a manager at a ski centre in Aberdeen, I lived in a cheap flat with my then boyfriend, I earned more than I had ever done to that point. Life was pretty good, except I was always broke. 

I didn't have a car, I rarely went on holiday, I didn't eat out every night, but I always ran out of money before payday, didn't have any savings, and was trapped in a cycle of paying off credit cards and storecards (remember those?!) every month, only to spend on them the next.

I was kind of in denial about where my money went - I spent it all shopping. I had overflowing wardrobes, loads of unworn clothes, and it wasn't uncommon to discover bags of items I'd forgotten I'd bought. I shopped out of boredom, I shopped without thinking, and this crap habit was making me feel pretty fed up financially.

In a moment of madness (or clarity, still not sure which) I decided to ban myself from shopping for a whole year starting on May 1st 2008. I was allowed to buy food (I didn't want to die), and everyday toiletries (I didn't want to smell or lose teeth) but the following items were banned:
  • Clothes (I could buy underwear if I ran out, but guess what, I didn't)
  • Shoes
  • Bags
  • Jewellery and accessories
  • Non-essential toiletries (make up, nailvarnish, fancy face creams)
  • Homewares
  • Books, newspapers, magazines
  • CDs and DVDs
I gave myself an allowance for 2 nights out per month, and I was still allowed to go to the cinema (I had a Cineworld card at £9.99 a month) and to gigs.

Oh, and I decided to write a blog about it called Holly is Stopping Shopping (since deleted because it's damn ugly). I wrote about ways I found to save money, ways I found to make extra money, and how my relationship with money was changing. I also fell madly in love with blogging and made some brilliant friends, many of whom I'm still in touch with today.

Flash forward to May 1st 2009 and I completed the challenge having paid off my credit cards, store cards and overdraft, and I'd built up savings of about £5000. I sold a lot of things (my entire CD collection), took babysitting jobs for extra cash, downsized my food budget, had friends over for dinner instead of going out.

There's no denying that the challenge completely changed my relationship with money, and my life:
  • Savings allowed me to quit my job and move to Glasgow (where unfortunately it took 5 months for me to find work, thus obliterating a large chunk of my savings)
  • Blogging helped my grow the digital skills I needed to move into a new career (8 years later I'm a Digital Project Manager for a major UK charity)
  • Not shopping gave me more time to read, to write, and to study (I started an Open Uni course in Health and Social Care, then I did another one in Death and Dying)
  • Downsizing my stuff made me understand the value of 'things' versus the value of 'space' and 'time'.
So eight years later, what is life like now? Well I live in London with my boyfriend, a different one, we've been together 4 years. I work full time and I've also started my own business as a wedding celebrant

We live in a lovely 2 bedroom flat in South London. My rent and bills costs 4 times as much as they did back in 2008 in Aberdeen.

I have a car, I learned to drive and passed my test in September 2015, then bought a £500 car and begrudgingly paid twice that for insurance.

I go on holidays now and in the past 4 years we've been to the US, Australia (my sisters live there) and a few European trips too. But we don't go mad, we use Airbnb, we get the cheapest flight options, and I rarely shop on holiday.

I eat out a few times a month. Food is one of the best things about London, it would be insane not to take advantage of it. However I'm pretty crap at taking lunch to work, and go through phases of buying coffee and croissants at Pret every day which adds up to a frankly embarrassing amount. I overspend in the supermarket because I don't plan and then I make decisions based on how I feel there and then.

I host a podcast called Bookish Blether, and I buy a lot of books. More books than I can realistically read. It's my worst habit.

I shop. I buy new clothes, make up, whatever I want really. I'm still a sucker for a bargain though so I tend to go mad in the ASOS sale and whenever Boots has a 3 for 2 on makeup. I buy fancy bath products because I tell myself I deserve it.

I also bought a house last year with my sister. We both really wanted to buy a place but London prices made that impossible to do here, and so we bought closer to home in Scotland. We have lovely tenants, we make a little bit of profit, but not enough to cover the increased tax bill so every January sees a hefty chunk of cash go to that.

And so although I'm in an incredibly fortunate position it feels like I'm repeating old, bad habits. I earn more than I've done before, yet my outgoings are much higher and I barely save any money. As soon as a little bit gets built up it's time to pay for something else. In the last couple of years I've fallen back into that cycle of putting things on credit cards, paying them off, putting more on. It doesn't feel great. It doesn't feel healthy.

In July 2015 I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo, which I highly recommend, and it made me realise how much stuff I have that I don't need. I donated a lot of things to charity shops, gave things away, but there's still a lot here.

So I've decided to do another shopping ban following the same rules. This time I won't be doing a full year, just January - April 2016. After that I'll see how I feel, but I know that four months will be the kick up the arse I need to get my finances back in order. I want to build up an emergency fund again (more on that soon!) and ditch those crappy shopping habits.

I feel really excited about it. I've uninstalled any shopping apps. I've unsubscribed from tempting emails. I've unfollowed shops on Twitter. It's a small start but I remember that removing temptation had a big impact last time.

Tomorrow I'm going to do a meal plan for the first week back at work and avoid Pret at all costs.

And I'm doing the #TBR20 challenge, a pledge to read 20 books I already own before buying any new ones. That should take me up to April anyway and lord knows I've got a lot of unread books. Probably about 80 based on a quick glance at my bookcase. 

January is a great time to make these changes, because there's not much happening socially anyway. If you are thinking about a break from shopping or trying to spend less/save more, leave a comment or say hi on Twitter so we can keep each other motivated!