I tried living for a week on the £179.60 of the full new State Pension – and here’s how I got on.
The State Pension is a financial lifeline for millions of people, but at less than £10,000 a year, it’s not very much to get by.
Even after I stripped out rent or mortgage, life insurance, work expenses and any costs for the kids, it still needs to cover everything else.
The week was really was eye-opening for me, although luckily not all in a bad way.
Table of Contents
My week on the State Pension challenge
Day 1 – Monday
As explained in this post after the first day, I started with a couple of big shocks to the system.
First, I discovered that I definitely couldn’t afford to live in my home if I was on my own, as I’d only be left with a tenner after essential bills. Even assuming shared costs with my husband, my half of the bills came to £92.42. This left only £87.18 for everything beyond Council Tax, water, electricity, heating oil, landline, broadband, mobile, TV licence and home insurance.
The second realisation was that I couldn’t afford to run a car, with all the associated costs. So I started my week on the State Pension by borrowing a shopping trolley bag from my mum, for the walk to the nearest supermarket.
Spent: £23.92 on food for the week
Day 2 – Tuesday
Today I looked longingly at our oven but fired up the slow cooker instead, in an attempt to keep a lid on energy costs. I cooked vats of veggie chillie and chicken casserole and froze portions for later in the week. Really don’t want any of the limited food I bought to go to waste!
I also finally got round to emailing Cole & Mason about fixing our broken pepper mill under their lifetime mechanism guarantee. Before, I’d been think of chucking it, but now the £11.49 to replace it loomed large.
I couldn’t afford Netflix on the limited budget, so rewatched a Buena Vista Social Club DVD and did my nails with a free sample from Essie.
Day 3 – Wednesday
I really had to grit my teeth to resist turning on the central heating. I resorted to extra jumpers, chunky socks and hugging the dog instead. (He’s very patient).
I also managed to book a swimming session at our local leisure centre the next day, for £5.50. If I was a pensioner, I could book for even less: £4.50 for concessions, or £3.50 a time if I spent an extra £2 for a membership that lasts a year.
Late afternoon, I met up with a friend. Normally we’d go out for drinks, but this time we headed out for a (free) country walk, putting the world to rights.
Day 4 – Thursday
Today’s highlight was the swimming I booked the day before. Hadleigh’s brand new swimming pool opened earlier this year, but despite my best intentions I’ve only been once for a ‘family fun time’ session. I felt virtuous about ploughing up and down 30 lengths. I also did a reading on the fancy Boditrax machine for the first time since 16 March 2020, just before the first lockdown. Cheers to the pandemic for the extra 10lbs since. Because obviously that’s not due to eating my head off and slumping on a sofa.
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The State Pension challenge has definitely inspired me to check out more activities nearby, even if I didn’t feel brave enough to go to try Hadleigh Choral Society, morning ping pong at the leisure centre or the ukulele club. It’s also made me more sociable, as I nipped out to see friends visiting from Cambridge and had a long phone call with my old boss.
May need to get some exercise from housework, as we can’t stretch to a cleaner on the State Pension.
Day 5 – Friday
Friday was busy busy busy – though with work which I guess I wouldn’t have if living solely on the State Pension. Excitement was limited to walking the dog in the dark, while my husband headed out for a manly Pilates class.
I was trying to make plans for the weekend, but kept worrying about spending any additional money. Although in theory I started the week with £87 odd left after essential bills and my food shopping, that could so easily be wiped out if I had to replace anything.
Things kept popping into my mind. What about dog food? Any vet’s bills? A postcard arrived with a reminder that our chimneys are due for their annual sweep – another expense that I hadn’t considered. Could I afford to wear my contact lenses? How about if I needed new shoes? Could I ignore a twinge in my tooth and a potentially budget-busting dentist’s visit?
On the plus side, taking the time to do a budget meal plan, and sticking to healthier recipes and quantities, meant I have more energy. With no TV streaming services to binge on, I’ve been getting outside more, walking the dog and nipping down to my mother’s to take meter readings and help her switch energy provider.
Day 6 – Saturday
Saturday was most exciting, despite the hideous wet and windy weather. Normally, I have a flute lesson by Zoom, but I couldn’t afford that on a State Pension. Instead, missing biscuits, I experimented with my limited ingredients to make bars from oats, butter, peanuts, raisins and marmalade, bunged in the oven when cooking for the kids.
In exchange for a lift to the local cinema, I booked free tickets to see the latest Bond film, ‘No Time To Die’, using free cinema vouchers from my Club Lloyds current account. Even better, turned out they were valid for comfy Premier seats smack in the middle of the auditorium.
As it was my treat apart from the lift, I also shelled out £4 on parking and £3 on snacks for the cinema. I insisted on trudging through the rain to a corner shop, to buy chocolate and popcorn at £1 each, rather than pay £3.49 a bag inside the cinema. Please tell me I’m not the only person to sneak snacks in the cinema! I also took refillable water bottles, to avoid buying soft drinks.
Day 7 – Sunday
I had grand plans for Sunday.
One of the advantages of reaching State Pension age is the free bus pass, so I intended heading into Ipswich for a jolly – until I discovered there is no bus service from Hadleigh on Sundays. Rats.
So I stayed at home, pottering about and reading the paper (£2.50 a week share of monthly Sunday Times subscription). I checked my food supplies and decided they would stretch for another 3 days, after buying an extra lemon (29p).
Also, to celebrate the London Marathon, I finally got back out running again, for the first time since I sprained my ankle really badly back in January. I took extra care though. I’ve had to have several sessions with the local physiotherapist, and my State Pension isn’t going to stretch to £38 a pop.
In the evening, we decided to resubscribe to Disney Plus for a month, for a family movie night watching Free Guy. Let’s face it, £7.99 is cheaper than a single cinema ticket.
Spending on the State Pension Challenge
£92.42 my half of essential bills
£22.99 everything else
Reflections on my week on the State Pension challenge
Somewhat to my surprise, there were positive parts to my week living on £179.60. It forced me to think about how I spent my time, inspiring me to get out more, exercise more and be more sociable. Investing so much time on a making a meal plan meant I ate more healthily and had more energy. Even taking a bath was different – I used some of the assorted creams and moisturisers I’ve been given, appreciating them all the more because I couldn’t afford to replace them.
The main issue was the nagging money worries at the back of my mind.
Although at first sight there was a gap between my state pension income and my food and essential bills, I was worried about everything it needed to cover. I’d already cancelled assorted subscriptions right, left and centre, but kept remembering additional items – chicken food, the boiler service.
I really noticed not turning the heating on, as the weather took a chilly turn. I would have been more cavalier with the thermostat if I wasn’t thinking about the tight budget. I felt guilty switching on the oven, and tried to pack it with food for more than one meal.
I didn’t miss buying stuff, as it’s not something I enjoy at the best of times. I steered clear of shops and shopping sites after my trip to the supermarket, to avoid temptation.
It was fascinating to find out how tough Mrs Mummypenny found it without any emotional spending, and what a relief it was to treat herself on the last day.
Meanwhile I worried about what would happen if I was forced to buy things. On paper, I had £40 left, but coped by not spending the extra money.
I live a pretty quiet life and it would be pretty easy to hole up for a week under a blanket, waiting for a week on the State Pension Challenge to pass. I didn’t have any major birthdays or celebrations to afford. I could push off present buying or charitable donations until the week ended.
The trouble with living on a tight budget in retirement, is that it continues, week after week, year after year. It’s the grinding reality of never being able to afford extras. With no savings, it’s the panic if anything goes wrong. That, more than anything else, would keep me awake at night.
Fundamentally, this week on the State Pension challenge reminded me of lockdown, when so many things I’d normally enjoy weren’t possible. I don’t want to spend my retirement as if I’m under lockdown. It has made me immensely grateful that I can afford to set aside money for retirement, and determined to pay more into my pension.
Now – over to you. Could you imagine replying on just the State Pension? If you do, what are your top tips?
Check out Mrs Mummypenny’s post about surviving on the State Pension
This post is a collaboration with PensionBee (affiliate link) but all views are my own.