Earlier this year, Samir and I booked a trip to go to Vancouver, BC in 2018. We were fortunate enough to go to Canada last year for my best friend’s wedding and due to flight delays were given hefty compensation from the airline to use on another trip. It’s safe to say we absolutely fell in love with the country and were really excited to have the chance to explore a different area. We were given a year to book out flights in, so naturally waited until the last day possible to book so that we could schedule the flights for as far in advance as we could and hopefully when Spring would just be starting. We settled on the last week of April – beginning of May..although we accidentally ended up booking for a week instead of 2 and realised only last month so had to pay a fee to change the flights which wasn’t fun. However, the overall cost was super low thanks to the generous offer from Westjet and it was definitely worth it to get the two week break that we dreamed of. We had a small city break earlier this year in Berlin which in comparison to last year’s 3 trips – Lisbon, Morocco and Canada, felt pretty small, although absolutely incredible – what a city, and ever since we landed in the airport I’ve been hankering to fly away again..
Once we’ve booked our flights the reality set in that although we’d got that part sorted, we now needed to organise accommodation and our spending money and it was only 5 months to go until our holiday. I have always prided myself for being pretty okay with money, but when I really looked into my bank statement I’m not that good at all! The cost of living in Bristol is extremely high and I only have a day job for 3.5 days of the week, the rest of my income is made up by self employment. Lots of people ask me when I’ll quit my day job in events management to do full time food touring but for me it’s too much pressure, at the moment, for me to be reliant on that money alone. It’s safe to say that I always spent what I have and despite my best efforts to put some money back each month, it rarely happens and a week before pay day I’m carefully planning how to spend the last £13.56 in my bank account. Anyway, back to the holiday. We’d looked on Airbnb as it’s our favourite way to stay during trips abroad and found our dream apartment which was available for the 2 weeks we were going to be in BC. The price for two weeks was £500 which is vastly cheaper than hotels and many of the hostels we looked into but would take a huge chunk of our earnings to make it possible. I made a plan to save as much money as possible throughout December and then at the end of the month to book the apartment using the money I’d saved plus an additional sum from my end of the month paycheck. However, each day I logged in to Airbnb more and more of the apartments in the area we wanted to stay in were becoming unavailable so it was clear that I needed to book it sooner rather than later. This worried me, because the initial plan had meant I had money on back up, if I panicked I could dip into the money pot whereas this took away all security. But before I could second guess myself, I booked the apartment and decided to leap into the world of budgeting.
I love a good plan so I worked out how much money I’d have left in my account once all my bills and other outgoings had been deducting plus the cost of the holiday and decided to spend to the following plan:
Week 1 – £20 total spending money
Week 2 – £20 on food shopping, £20 other spending money
Week 3 – £20 on food shopping, £20 other spending money
Week 4 – £20 on food shopping, £30 other spending money (higher due to Christmas commitments)
This was around a third of what I would usually spend in a week. Our weekly food shop would easily cost £45 and I could burn through around £80 of cash in 7 days on going out for dinner, buying lunch at work, getting buses and other unnecessary things. A lot of my money went on food and I knew that this was the main area I needed to cut back on. But I also had to be careful that food never felt scarce and that I was still eating what I wanted to because otherwise, my ED would have jumped on to that and used it as a gateway to restriction. For week 1 I’d set myself a very low amount of money because I wanted to use up the food leftover in our fridge and cupboards before we did another food shop, the weeks following we were allowed to spend £20 on our big main shop and then it would be up to me if I wanted to dip into my other spending money for additional items along the way. I also realised shortly after setting myself this challenge that December is a notoriously expensive month and I was going to have to get savvy in order to achieve my targets without feeling like I was missing out on festive fun.
How I saved:
- Batch cooking – This was a godsend for me throughout the challenge, cooking up a big cheap meal that could last a couple of days was a great way to save money. Things like pasta and sauce with lots of vegetables, baking a whole bag of baked potatoes so that we had jacket spuds ready to be warmed up for lunch with baked beans or curries made with curry paste, a tin of coconut milk and any additions we could get our hands on. This also took the stress out of cooking every day and meant that I had a filling lunch to look forward to the next day which was a bonus.
- Free food – Working next to a café meant occasionally I’d be offered some free end of the day leftovers. I made sure never to say no and stocked up on random pots of soup, bits of leftover salad and almost gone off bread (which still made excellent toast). Adding these bits to my batch cooked meals made them a little more interesting!
- Work lunch planning – On weeks where I didn’t have time to do as much batch cooking, I’d buy things in bulk to leave at work and easily make up at lunch time – e.g. a loaf of bread, a pack of baked beans and a block of cheese would means beans on toast every day for the same price as one Boots meal deal.
- Yellow sticker shopping – I am an absolute convert to yellow sticker shopping and became borderline obsessed with the practise of going into supermarkets on the hunt for reduced food. The best place I found for reductions was Morrison’s, I was snapping up coleslaw for 7p, crumpets for 19p and their reductions start in the morning so I didn’t have to wait until half an hour before they closed for the best deals. We don’t live near to a big supermarket so would mainly do our food shopping online but during the challenge we’d get our basic things on an online shop and *mostly* everything else came from the reduced pile. I’ve put some links to helpful resources for this down below, you basically need to get to know your local stores and work out when they start cutting prices and then remember only to buy things you actually need and will actually eat/use, otherwise it’s not a saving.
- Veg boxes – I had paused my veg box order for the month but decided on the last week to re-book it and see how it went. The veg box we get costs £11.75 for a week and in line with my budget, left me £8 for additional food items. Bristol locals – this is the farm we order from. It was really fun to do something a bit different for the last week and meant that we could centre our meal ideas around the fresh produce. Definitely shop locally for a veg box delivery as they are much better value for money, plus you’re supporting independents too. If it’s out of your budget then why not chat to a friend or neighbour and see if they fancy going halves with you?!
- Cash not card – At the start of each week, I’d take out the cash that I was allowed to spend for the next 7 days. This helped me massively as it meant I physically had to see the money that I was parting with. Using a bank card sure is convenient but it can also feel like you aren’t actually spending anything, having to take out that crisp £10 note and break into it to buy an artisan flapjack I thought I definitely needed, sometimes was enough to make me change my mind.
- Walking everywhere – Before the budget month, I was already a keen walker but the challenge made me step it up a notch. I walked everywhere and anywhere to avoid breaking into my cash. It meant I got a whole lot more thinking time, fresh air and exercise plus I really enjoyed exploring new areas of the city.
- Tell your friends – I was really upfront with my pals about what I was doing and they were totally understanding that I wasn’t going to be able to splurge money on festive get togethers. Instead, we planned free activities to do together – going for walks, meeting up to play board games and drink tea, making Christmas decorations etc. There are so many nice things you can do that don’t include spending money. I’m also not a big drinker so when out for drinks would opt for a cheap soft drink instead of a pricey pint. However, I did allow some of my spending money to be spent on a mulled wine or 3. Can ya blame me?
It seems like the 4 weeks have whizzed by and I did it! I managed to pay for our holiday accommodation, stick to my budget and have a little left over to add to our spending money fund. I feel really proud of what I’ve achieved and slightly sickened by the amount of money I’d been spending week in, week out with not much to show for it. Thank you so much for all of your support and suggestions throughout the month and allowing me to hold myself accountable via Instagram. Although I will relaxing my budget constraints a little going forward, doing this for 4 weeks has revolutionised my spending and has instilled some good habits going forward to 2018.
Psst.. here are some fantastic resources that really helped/inspired me along the way:
Cooking on a bootstrap – A budget cooking website with incredible recipes. We made a huge batch of the 11p granola which we ate throughout the challenge and also tried some of the other recipes for cheap dinner ideas.
Reduction raider – A great Instagram account dedicated to finding the best yellow sticker bargains in Supermarkets.
Yellow sticker guide – A guide to when each Supermarket gets out their yellow stickers!
A year of no spending – A story about not spending any money for a whole year – this woman is brilliant and I have so much respect for what she achieved.
If you have any money saving tips or advice, please let me know via email and I will add them to this list!