Thanks to some interest in the topic, I thought I’d write a post on methods I’ve found that save me money. Obviously it’s not exhaustive but thanks to living in a household that’s never been rich for the vast majority of my life, I think I know a few handy things. I say handy things, often they’re things that I think are obvious but it seems that’s not always the case. Yes, many of them do take time but I’m assuming you’re desperate. Remember, every penny counts. As clichéd as it is, it does all add up.

Anyhow…

Before buying anything, work out your budget. How much money you’ve got to last the month after you’ve paid all your bills. Don’t forget to include petrol/transport costs. Divide what’s left up so you’ve got a set amount each week to buy food and pay for your entertainment, whatever that may be. You don’t have to do this but I find it works – take that money out of a cashpoint. If you pay for everything with your debit card, you’ll sub-consciously not think about it as much as you should and you’ll buy things you shouldn’t. Have the cold, hard cash in front of you and you’ll think that second longer about it.

With that money, stick to it! There are certain occasions that I’ll explain where you can overspend but 99% of the time, stick to it rigidly. It won’t be that hard after the first few weeks and you’ll feel smug that you’ve managed it.

Food
You can make ridiculously good savings with food. First of all, organisation is key! Plan ahead. Work out what you’re going to cook for the coming week. Breakfast is usually pretty simple to arrange but figure out what you’re going to have for lunch and dinner in advance too. Plan for batch cooking and you can cook up 3-4 portions of one thing, thus saving you time and effort. If you don’t know how to cook, it’s ok, you’re on the internet. Go Google food you like, that helps a treat. I once didn’t have a clue but I’ve learnt thanks to the internet and Jamie Oliver cookbooks for the most part.

Second step: actually food shopping. Make a list. Work out what you’re going to eat for the week. Write a list of everything you need. STICK TO IT. Having said that, if something is on offer and it’s excellent value, then go for it, buy it. I eat a lot of quorn mince as I don’t like beef. Quorn mince isn’t very cheap usually so I look out for when it’s on special offer and buy a dozen bags for the freezer. It means I go over budget for a week but it saves me a small fortune in the long run.

While you’re at it, consult MySupermarket.com regularly. It’s so, so handy. Obviously don’t drive out of your way to buy one item that’s on offer, it’s false economy. But often, supermarkets are relatively near to each other so take advantage.

Think long and hard about it when you see something on offer that isn’t on the list. It might be on special offer but that doesn’t mean it’s a good price. Dig around for the longest date on fresh produce. Compare prices. For example, I buy spinach regularly for my guinea pigs. A bag of young spinach is often on special offer so it might look more attractive at £1. However it’s only for 170g. The bag of regular spinach is 300g and £1.37, better value in the long run. Don’t be afraid to do the maths, it only takes a few seconds longer and most price labels tell you how much a product costs for 100g, for example.

Look around the reduced section. A surprising amount of things are freezeable so don’t worry if the date is today’s date. Pots of fresh sauce can be frozen easily and make for a convenient meal another day when you don’t want to make a sauce from scratch. Plus, every once in a while you’ll find an utter bargain.

I’ve gone to Asda not long before closing and found bags of pre-cut veg for 10p which can bulk up a curry or pasta sauce, or makes a lovely soup, or casserole, or fajita mix….you get the idea. Sometimes there are similar bargains to be had in the bakery section just before closing. Even better, bread is great for freezing.

That’s another one. Buy nice bread even if it is slightly more expensive. No point buying a 60p loaf that’s boring and you end up throwing half of it away, if you could have paid £1 for a loaf that you’d have eaten every slice of. Waste is bad!

Prioritise what you spend your money on. I eat cereal every breakfast but no matter what cereal it is, I don’t overly enjoy it. I just eat it as it keeps me going. It’s an entirely functional meal that’s quick for me to do and keeps me going till lunch time. So I only buy whatever cereal is on special offer. No point in spending nearly £3 on a box of Kellogg’s whatever, if it’s purely functional.

And remember, this food is to last you the week. The only other things you should pick up outside of this shopping trip are fresh things like milk and bread. Mind you, bread does last a surprising amount of time especially if you don’t mind eating toast rather than fresh bread.

Entertainment
You’re going to need things to keep life cheerful. I, and my Mum, might be broke but we still go to the cinema every week courtesy of Orange Wednesday. It only costs £6.20 for both of us so it’s not a bad price. Crucially, we never buy food there. It’s a rip off and really, it’s not hard to not eat for a couple of hours. If you’re lucky like us, your local cinema doesn’t care if you bring in a subtle shopping bag which happens to contain a drink and some chocolate. If you’re unlucky though, again, just survive for a couple of hours. The £9+ you could spend on popcorn and a drink can go a lot further elsewhere.

Games wise (I’m assuming you play games), keep an eye on SavyGamer, browse through Find Games. Shop around! Avoid trading games in, at least at first. A lot of the time there’s more money in eBay or private forums. Yes it’s more hassle, yes you have to go to the post office, but you’ll frequently gain a few extra quid doing this.

Having said that, sometimes it is beneficial to trade games in. Some games just don’t fetch as much on eBay as you think, so do look around. It’s an odd one. One that you kind of learn as you go along. Sorry about that.

Also, you’re going to succumb sometimes, everyone does. I’ll talk more about that in a bit. With games though – succumb by occasionally accepting that yes you will collect up a pile of old games and trade them in, just so you can get your hands on a new game like all your (rich) mates. Play the shops against each other if you can. Don’t go in the first shop you see. Go to HMV; go to Game, Gamestation, CEX, Argos, Asda and so on. And remember some of these stores have price match guarantees so use them. Those £1s add up fast.

Finally, do try to avoid shops unless you have to. You won’t be tempted as much if you’re not forever window shopping.

You will succumb. It’s like a diet. If you keep to it too strictly, you’ll only give up all the faster. This shouldn’t be a quick fad thing anyway; this should be a lifestyle change. Yup, like a diet. A financial diet. Don’t worry about it too much. If you’ve had a bad week, of course it’s fine to buy some extra junk food to cheer you up, of course it’s fine to buy that bargain DVD or game. Be sensible though. Don’t spend ridiculous amounts, it ruins the point. Calculate it all.

Treat it all like a game. You’re not skint; you’re trying to figure out how little you can live on each week. Instead of not being able to buy any new games or DVDs, you’re working your way through the backlog. You’re not living on home made food instead of eating out because you have to, you’re learning to cook. Everyone loves to live with someone who can cook; it’ll pay off one day in other ways. Plus while you’re at it, you’ll be healthier too. Less processed ready meals mean less salt for example. You’ll know exactly what’s going in your food and it’ll all be good.

I’ve forgotten other tips. I know I have. That’s how many there are. Actually while I’m at it (and as it’s a pet hate of mine), those mobile phone contracts where you get a free console or TV? Rip off 9 times out of 10. You’ll be paying for that item anyhow in the contract thanks to being tied into overpriced 24 month contracts or worse.

Anyway, this entry is rather more timely than I originally anticipated, you’ll see.

Hope it’s of help to someone!

Blog a Day 302of365: Money saving tips