Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s impossible to miss the cost of living crisis looming over us. I’ve always been frugal and like to keep to a tight budget, and that became even more important when I became a mum. Even so, this winter will have us all tightening our purse strings and looking to reduce outgoings where we can. Here are some of my practical tips to help you cope with the rising cost of living.
First things first, it’s essential to have a budget so you know where all your money is going. Make sure you’re checking all your outgoings regularly. Some banking apps such as Starling or Monzo actually categorise your expenses for you. It can be really enlightening to see how much you’re spending on different categories such as takeaways or shopping. Check for any subscriptions you might be able to cancel, too.
Secondly, use a benefits calculator to see if there’s anything you could apply for. Some schemes such as tax free childcare aren’t very well publicised, so don’t miss out!
If you’re in a tight spot and exhausted all your other options, a short term loan might be the answer. Nowadays it’s easy to find online access to lenders, so borrowing money may be an option for you if you’re struggling. If you do go down that route, research your loan thoroughly. Make sure you understand APR and remember that you will have to pay all that money back with interest.
You can also try making extra money with easy side hustles such as online surveys or mystery shopping. Or offer services in your local community such as cleaning or dog walking.
The cost of heating is going to be a big issue this winter. Personally I HATE being cold but I’m also trying to keep my heating off as much as possible! I’ll have it on for a couple of hours in the morning and in the evening to keep the chill off, but I’ll try to keep it off during the day.
A smart meter will help you budget your heating and other energy costs if you don’t already have one. My energy supplier installed one for free, so check if you can get one too.
I work from home and I do get freezing when I’m just sitting still all day but I don’t want to put the heating on when I’m home alone, so this year I’ve invested in an electric blanket. There is an initial outlay of about £40 (depending on the model you go for) but it only costs around 5p per hour to run – much less than putting the heating on. I can put it around my shoulders for 20 minutes to get nice and toasty, and also put it in the bed before I climb in to warm it up.
I’m also planning to get one of those giant hoodie blankets for being in the house – I resisted at first because there’s not the most fashionable of items, but I know many people swear by them!
Also, remember you don’t have to heat the house if you’re not home. It might seem counterintuitive to go out in the cold, but if you’re out walking, playing and staying active, you’ll get your blood pumping. Plus, the house always feels warmer when you come home!
If you have small kids, make use of the free/cheap playgroups run in church halls. They usually include free hot drinks and they’re a good place to play and keep warm for a couple of hours. There’s a different one every day of the week in our town.
If you work remotely and don’t want to stay in a cold house, you can work from the library. Depending where you live, you might find other free spaces that allow coworking such as hotel lobbies, museums or community centres.
Food is another area where the rising cost of living is very obvious. I’m constantly shocked at the increasing prices of many of my basics!
One tip, if you haven’t already done this, is to downgrade your brands. If you always buy brand names, try supermarket own brands. If you already buy own brands, try the ‘basics’ range. You’ll find some products you don’t want to compromise on, but in many cases you won’t be able to taste the difference!
Also, try ‘downgrading’ your supermarket e.g. from Sainsbury’s to Lidl, depending on what’s local to you. Bargain supermarkets don’t always have all the same ranges available but you will probably find many substitutions you can make.
Next, there are a whole host of apps out there for getting free or cheap food. Check out Olio (where people offer food they don’t want/need to their neighbours) and Too Good To Go (where shops and cafes sell off unsold food at bargain prices at the end of the day). Another app to save money on food is Shopmium. You can get money off selected products (usually fun new things to try) and sometimes freebies too.
Lastly, if you are really struggling with your food bills, don’t be ashamed to turn to a foodbank. It’s what they’re there for! Trussell Trust runs a big, nationwide network but there are many smaller independent ones run by churches and community centres. Your local council may have a foodbank finder on their website.
I hope some of these tips will give you some ideas of how to manage your money during the cost of living crisis. Do you have any tips to share?