How to Manage on a Low Income
For various reasons which I don't need to go into right now, my husband and I now find ourselves on a greatly reduced income. In fact, our finances are due to take a further nose-dive at the end of the year!
Instead of panicking or getting stressed out, I actually find this rather an interesting and challenging position to be in.
I am generally a positive and optimistic person who loves to rise to a challenge, so in a perverted sort of way I am fired up with ideas, many of which I already have in place.
Managing your finances efficiently takes imagination and discipline. Imagination, because you need always to be thinking of new ideas to economise and make ends meet. Discipline because you have to stick to it or else you will find yourself in hot water further along the line.
You know the old saying - 'take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves'. In other words, saving pennies in the present will amount to pounds in the future. You will literally reap the rewards!
It it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are doing all you can and there's nothing more you can do. However I believe there is always SOMETHING else you can do to help your finances.
The surprising thing is (and we discovered this quite quickly), it actually makes life more interesting!
Living like everyone else does who has a reasonable amount of money actually makes for a boring life. What makes us truly human is creativity and spirituality, both of which go hand in hand.
So by using your imagination and being creative you actually create a better life for yourself, not worse.
The first and most obvious place to look is how much your household expenditure is costing you. By this I largely mean utility bills.
Many people are extravagant with gas and electricity, taking these things for granted and not realising they are luxuries to be used sparingly as and when you really need them.
Many countries in the world do not have instant access to light and warmth, or hot water to bathe in or to wash their clothes. Yet we do things things every day without giving them a thought.
I truly believe we in the west are wasteful profligates who should pay more attention to how much of the world's limited resources we use.
Take bathing and showering. Unless you live in a very hot region and sweat (and stink!) profusely, do you really need to bathe or shower every day? I'm sure many people reading this will raise their eyes to heaven and pray to be spared such apparent madness, however, bear with me...
Our ancestors did not wash as often as we do. Ok, so they probably stank, I accept that. Queen Elizabeth I apparently only bathed once a year!!! Relatively recently people took a bath maybe once a week. When I was a child in the 50's and 60's Sunday evening was bath night. The only people who bathed every day were those in jobs which required hard dirty labour such as coalminers.
Many old people today still dislike baths and showers as they were brought up to have a wash down. Victorians had wash stands with jugs of water to wash themselves in their bedrooms,. Bathrooms are a recent innovation and now taken for granted.
Until recently I bathed twice a day (I could afford it!). Now I bathe about once a week. Constantly getting in the bathtub or shower (unless you stink) is a habit that can be broken like any other habit. It is not good for your skin, it is not good for your finances and above all, it is very very bad for the planet. Think of all that gas or electricity and water you are wasting! Think before you act!
Now, in case you are all wondering - no I don't smell. When we moved into our cottage we had no hot water for 3 weeks. I had to boil a kettle for hot water and have a wash down every day. I asked a colleague at work if I smelled and luckily she said No!
This is an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper - do read the comments as well!
So why not do that instead of wasting money on baths and showers? Think on it. Call me crazy if you like, but believe me, you will save money - this summer I stopped bathing altogether for about 6 weeks, and only washed down, morning and night. When I received the quarterly gas bill last week (Oct 14) I noticed our usage was down by 6%. This could only be explained by not running so many baths. Project this across the year and you will quickly see that huge savings can be made!
Whilst in the bathroom - do you really need that bath-sheet? Opt for a hand towel. Okay, so you can't wrap it around your body, but when it comes to laundering you will cut down on the quantity that needs doing.
By the way, did you know the word 'launder' comes form 'lavender'? Our ancestors didn't wash their clothes, they kept them in lavender to keep them fresh and repel clothes moths!
Still in the bathroom - use soap not shower gel. It is cheaper and if you buy it wrapped in paper (or preferably no wrapper) is not so bad for the environment as the plastic container shower gel comes in.
Instead of using harmful (and expensive) bathroom cleaners use a good old fashioned brush to clean the toilet and specially impregnated cloths instead of cream cleaners on the basin and bath. This will help both your pocket and the environment.
I mentioned laundry earlier on, so let's have a think about that -
Let's get personal here (I love getting up close and personal!) - do your clothes smell? Are you a messy eater? Do you work in a dirty job? Are you a sportsman? If the answer to all these questions is "no", then consider this - do you need to change your clothes every single day? If you get a mark on your clothes spot clean, don't wash the entire garment.
I remember when I was a child asking my mother what I should wear on a particular day. Her reply was "the same as you wore yesterday". I still put that into practice. In fact, I have been known to wear the same clothes for over a week! (my husband too - I'm glad we agree on that one!).
Consider this - apart from dirt and smell, why do people constantly change and wash their clothes? Answer - because they have been told to. Who by? Soap manufacturers, of course!
Unless I'm having a purge, I use the washing machine about once a fortnight. Once a week max. And in case you're thinking - no, I don't have a tumble drier. What a waste of electricity! What damage is inflicted on our precious planet by thoughtless, need I say it, selfish behaviour in the laundry?
Cut back or give up ironing! Ironing uses a HUGE amount of electricity, and most of the time it is completely pointless. Don't iron bedlinen or underwear. In fact, unless you need to look smart for work or a special occasion, why bother anyway? A few creases won't ruin your reputation! If anyone comments just laugh it off or say you're into the shabby chic look! If you must iron, turn it off a few minutes before the end and use the residual heat which you've paid for. Why leave a scorching hot iron to cool when you can use that precious heat to finish off your ironing?
Anyway, I've discovered that creases drop out as you wear the garment. The heat from your body is free!
More household savings
Switch off lights when you leave a room and are not intending to return immediately. Don't leave electrical items on 'standby'. Only boil the amount of water in a kettle that you actually need. Use the oven less. If you have to, put several things in to bake at once. Plan your cooking around this. Invest in a slow cooker and learn the art of one pot cooking!
Over the year you will save by implementing these simple economies. (I have a hub on managing food on a low income. Do take a look).
Whilst on the subject of the kitchen - are you a big meat eater? Maybe try to kick the habit; but if you really can't, then maybe consider eating meat every other day instead of every day. There are some really cheap vegetarian alternatives which can enjoy. This will also help improve your health.
Do you really need all those biscuits (cookies), cakes and crisps (chips)? They are expensive and unhealthy. But if you can't live without them try making your own. This is where my idea that economising is creative and imaginative comes in. It is so much more creative to bake your own than to get in the car to the grocers to buy their expensive rubbish! And very fulfilling and satisfying. The same thing applies to bread. Homemade is cheap and delicious.
Powdered milk is so much cheaper than fresh, if you can tolerate it! I admit it doesn't taste as good, but if you make it up the night before and store in the fridge it will taste better, I promise. And you never know - you might actually get used to it...
We all know that ready made meals are unhealthy and expensive, a real drain on personal finances. So develop good cooking and baking skills.Think ahead and write up menu plans for the week.
Bulk buy non perishables like dried or tinned food when they are on really cheap offers.
Recently I bought 30 shampoos because they were a third of the usual price, making a saving of £50.
Toilet rolls are often on special offer, so if you have storage, buy them up by the dozen.
I once bought 100 toilet rolls in order to get 10 free tickets to see 'A Hundred and One Dalmatians' with the family! Hahaha! Luckily I had a big house with loads of storage space! Well I saved on cinema tickets, and everyone uses toilet rolls, so it wasn't so stupid!
If you don't have a pet but are considering it, I beg you not to. If you are living on a shoestring pets can be a real financial drain. Veterinary bills can add up to thousands unless you have insurance, which in itself is expensive. So many animals are abandoned or put down unecessarily because their owners simply can't afford to keep them any more.
So think again, please, for the sake of the animal as well as your finances. When my parents were first married they were so hard up that my father went without food so the cat could eat. Bless him. What a kindhearted man he was.
If you really love animals volunteer as a pet sitter or dog walker for an elderly person who can't get out. This will provide you with the satisfaction of close contact with pets without the expense.
I could go on all day, so here are a few other ideas in brief -
* Buy secondhand clothes. Here in UK we have charity shops and I spend an awful lot of time browsing them. Not only have I kitted myself out in nice clothes, but I recently bought myself a beautiful soft leather shoulder bag for only £1!I was invited to a classy wedding earlier this year and couldn't imagine how I could afford to buy a 'posh' outfit including a hat. However with persistance I managed to kit myself out for only £15 including the hat (the outfit was worth £150 new), shopping at charity shops.
* Sell your clothes on ebay when you've finished with them.
* Walk or ride a bicycle as often as you can. Leave the car in the drive. This will improve your health, hugely benefit your finances and go a long way to saving the planet too!
* Exchange the car you do have for a smaller, more economical one.
* Grow your own fruit and vegetables. This is an absorbing hobby as well as a good way to improve your finances.
* Take up knitting and sewing.
* Chuck out the tv and read, knit, sew, cook, generally be creative. Watching the tv is the exact opposite to being creative. It is totally passive. You will also save electricity if you get rid of the tv.
* If you use plastic foodbags reuse them, don't just throw them away, which is so wasteful!. Be sure to thoroughly wash them first, but don't reuse bags which have had meat or fish in them.
* Give up smoking - for your health and your pocket. You will save a packet!
* If you live in a region which is cold in the winter, don't sit about in tee-shirts with the heating cranked up high. How wasteful is that! Wear warm clothes indoors, if necessary, a coat. Make yourself a hot water bottle to keep yourself warm. Fit thermostats to the radiators in every room, and only heat rooms you are going to be using.
* Make your own greetings cards from your own photos or 'free' images on the internet. So much nicer than trashy shop ones which cost 4 times the price!
* Switch to a pay as you go phone when your contract ceases. I pay £10 a month for 300 free texts and I almost always only use my phone for texting. Over the year this works out on average as £5 a month. So much cheaper than a contract!
* Write up a budget plan for the month and stick to it!
* If you own your own property and have a room to spare, let it out to a lodger. Over the years I have had students and business men stay in my spare room. A permanent lodger will go some way to paying your mortgage. Your property is your greatest asset and should pay for itself.
* Alcohol is extrememly expensive, at least here in the UK it is! Below is an interesting video on how to make your own cider. Cider is a regional speciality here in the West Country of England, and is made with apples.