I’m not going to patronise anyone here and say that it’s easy to live on a small budget. Anyone can do it, right, foods super cheap and easy to come by. What with people being given “handouts” and buying big TVs… blah bloody blah. I’ve heard it all before. It’s vacuous nonsense.
What I am going to say is, a lot of people in the UK struggle on a day to day basis to feed them and their kids. It’s far from easy. It’s downright disgusting that in 2018 there are more food banks and homeless shelters being used than affordable housing opportunities.
The price of living in the UK is out of control. Families, some working three or four jobs just to keep the roof over their heads are still struggling to feed themselves. The Citizens Advice Burea claim that as many as 140,000 households are going without the basics. Many of the poorest skipping meals and these are not always the most vulnerable. “Normal” families are going through this. The most vulnerable of society are treated a whole lot worse.
So what can you do when you are faced with abject poverty? You can’t just sit on your laurels and wait for rescue because you won’t receive help. The government have done away with crisis loans and the like, and asking for a nil income form from the council is like studying for a politics degree!
Firstly. Don’t panic. Everything is made a whole lot worse when you panic. So try to remain calm. Once you have your calm head on, lay everything out on the table and start working out the numbers.
Things to ditch
- Satellite TV Packages. Freeview/Freesat is pretty good so give that a go. You can always catch up online anyway. I haven’t watched TV for nearly six months now and only watch the odd thing online. You don’t miss it! If you want to see the footie, then find a pub that’s showing it, ordering yourself a pint of tap water (since it’s free, be careful the pub doesn’t charge you for the pint glass). Sit with other people and make some friends too.
- Streaming services. These are an unnecessary expense if you’re skint. You can nearly always find what you want on YouTube or something equally as impressive.
- Any subscriptions you have like magazines, the newspaper, or iTunes. Great when you have money, needless when you don’t.
- Branded foods. Be careful though; sometimes they are cheaper than supermarket brands. They are nearly always made by the same manufacturers so give them a go instead. Cheaper doesn’t always mean less tasty.
Savings Around The Home
- Put a water displacement object in your toilet cistern. Remember “if it ain’t brown, don’t flush it down” to save overnight flushes.
- Don’t run the tap to brush your teeth. Just fill a small tumbler and use that instead.
- Fix all dripping taps.
- Take four-minute showers instead of baths and use an aerated shower head.
- Fill bottles with water and put in the fridge instead of running it cold.
- Buy a water butt for the garden. Using rainwater instead of tap water saves enormous amounts of money and helps grow better fruit and veg.
- If you know that you are going to be struggling, try and get hold of some LED lamps. Use them in the evening. It’s quite cosy sitting around with an LED light on, and it drains very little of the battery too so even the cheapest one’s last ages. Plus they are far safer than candles.
- If you insist on using main lights, only have one on at a time.
- Switch everything off at the mains. Even the internet. You don’t need any of it live while you’re asleep.
- Charge things via USB if you have a laptop rather than take up an extra plug. It won’t use any more electricity than the computer on its own.
- Run full loads of washing and try to hang it outside to dry instead of a dryer.
- If you need to use a tumble dryer put a dry towel in with the load as this removes excess moisture.
- Don’t use the microwave and buy a slow cooker to put on early in the morning, so it’s ready in the evening
- Steam food in stacked food steamers rather than boiling everything in separate pots on separate rings.
- Turn the heating down two degrees (this can save you at least 5% over the year).
- Soften hard ingredients like butter over a radiator (or a sunny windowsill).
- Only put the heating on only when it’s necessary. Layer up if you can.
- Go yellow sticker shopping.
- Always look out for coupons and stack them to get more off. Check Money Saving Expert for more.
- Try me offers. Buy the items and if you don’t like them, get your money back (loads of own supermarket brands do this).
- Download money-making apps and make extra money, see Five Smartphone Apps That Make You Money.
- Also use Apps for freebies, like CheckoutSmart and Shopmium (buy first and claim after offers).
- Search websites for freebies and find things like these: Free Coupon for Milk, Free Crisps from Tescos.
- Local foraging (you won’t believe the number of pears we gave away to people who asked).
- Join FB groups like Thrifty Lesley’s Feed Yourself for £1 a Day, Food-Surviving on 50p a day and Feed Yourself for £1 a day
- Visit Thrifty Lesley’s site too as she creates some spectacular things on a budget as well as Jack Monroe’s Cooking on a Bootstrap.
- Make stuff from scratch. I dabbled with creating foods on a budget too. Check out my Fake Betty’s over at Brassic Munchies. To buy them from Betty’s you’re going to pay £2.20 each. These work out at just 20p each. Cheap and delicious.
- Check sites like Approved Food. I try and buy all our snacks here as they’re cheap in bulk.
- Become a Freegan or Skip Diver. A lot of supermarkets don’t allow you to do this so they will either give the food away to the local food bank, homeless shelters or will just ruin it deliberately by covering it with dangerous substances. Smaller supermarkets still throw out food that hasn’t sold on a yellow sticker; you just have to look for it. Facebook groups such as UK Skip Diving Freegans and Skipping are worth a look.
- Wombling can also bring in much-needed money for food. Again, Facebook Groups like Wombling and Wombling, Couponing and Cashback Tips are a wealth of knowledge.
- Like a beer? Then make your own. Keep an eye on places like Approved Food as sometimes they sell ready to go kits. But if not, try brewing in a bag. It’s a technique my Dad used to use in the 70s, and he always had 100s of bottles of the stuff ready to drink when it was needed. It’s not as difficult as you think. Check out this tutorial over at Colchester Homebrew Supplies.
- In London? Then keep an eye on places like the East End Thrift Store. They run the odd promotion where the first five people in the queue get to fill a carrier bag with as many clothes as they can for free instead of £10 (even that’s a bargain). And Paper Dress Vintage but you need to keep an eye on the PDV Facebook page for details. You buy a branded PDV tote bag for £20 (£15 for TOTEM card holders) and fill it up.
- If you’re a larger lady like myself, FB groups such as Plus Size Women All Over The UK and Fuller Figure Wardrobe V2 sell and swap clothes between members. You can pick up some tremendous bargains.
- Table Top Sales/Jumble Sales. Salvation Army Groups around the UK still hold these types of sales. You might get school clothes for kids at these since they get donated a lot.
Grow Your Own
- Look out for seeds at the end of Summer. This year Wilko sold the majority of their seeds at the end of August for 10p per packet. To grow them you only need some compost, a tray and somewhere to keep them warm until you can put them out in the Summer. Use margarine tubs and ice cream tubs (just pop a few holes in the bottom) fill them with compost and pop in as many seeds as you want. Start January-March for crops ready in June-September.
- Lettuce is a cut-and-come-again plant so at when the frost is over at the end of April, sew the lettuce seeds and leave them to grow until June. Then when you use one, cut the tops off leaving around 0.5in above ground, and the roots still buried. As you go through them, the first ones will continue to grow.
- For more tips and techniques on how to grow on an allotment, or on a spare patch of land join The Allotment Shed.
Out and About
If you love spending your day outside or window shopping then grab yourself some freebies while doing just that. Here’s a list of things you can sign up to and use on the go.
Food on the Go
- Greggs Rewards give you a free drink up to £2 on iOS and Android.
- KFC give you a free side when you register on iOS and Android.
- In London, pop into PAUL and get a free loyalty card which once registered gives you a free coffee and croissant.
- Too Good To Go on IOS and Android lists shops that have freshly made dishes (sushi, cakes, noodles to name a few things) left for sale at the end of the day.
- Community Fridges also known as Honesty Fridges. There aren’t that many in the UK yet, but they are gradually growing in popularity. Check the Hubbub Foundation for locations.
- Pay what you can places. The Brixton Pound is one of many community cafes where you pay what you can afford. Generally, these cafes use food that would otherwise go to waste. It doesn’t matter if it’s a penny or a pound. Just pay what you can afford. A lot is run by volunteers of the Real Junk Food Project. Sadly the East of England isn’t covered, but there are quite a lot of others. Just check on site for more details.
- If you get to the point where you have to cancel your internet, you can use free wifi courtesy of O2 at a wide selection of places. Check Wifi-Map for locations.
That’s just a few things you can do if you are surviving on a small budget. I hope you never need it, but if you do, it’s here. If you do find yourself in this situation, please don’t think it’s your fault. It’s all too easy to blame yourself when companies are banging on your door for bills to be paid.
Reach out and speak to someone who can help you. Ask your doctor to refer you to local food banks. Ask your council for the nil income forms and if you are in arrears with your council tax, ask for a section 13a write off which is a discretionary discount. Utility companies like British Gas also have a trust to help if you are struggling to pay your gas and electric. Don’t sit and suffer in silence. There is always help. Don’t be shy. Keep your head held high, just make your voice heard.