With the children back at school after the summer holidays, I’m now part way through Thrifty September, really trying to cut costs.
Liz Truss may have capped energy rates and standing charges from October so the average household will only pay around £2,500 a year in energy bills, but that’s still more than double the cost a year ago. Plus so many other bills, for food, fuel and everything else, have shot up.
So far, I’ve been trying to reduce our spending on food, energy and activities and avoid spending much on anything else. I’ve also been keen to boost my bank balance by taking advantage of any other money I can magic up.
I’ve been posting about my progress on the Much More With Less #MoneySavingYear Facebook group (do come on over to share tips and support).
Fair to say it’s been a mixed success! Here’s how I’ve got on.
Cutting food spending
Food is one of the biggest bills for most families, along with housing, energy and transport, so it always seems like a good place to start. I also reckon I’ve been snarfing a ton of rubbish over the summer and need to eat more healthily.
What’s gone well: Doing a stock take of everything we had in our cupboards, fridges and freezer, really helped me identify food that needed using up. I was able to delay going shopping for several days, making meals out of what we already had, and actively using up leftovers. I’m pleased I put together a meal plan and made a shopping list for a big shop up, as it then reduced the top up shops that can turn expensive. I’ve also tried to cut down on assorted requests by the kids for Co-op meal deals, Greggs snacks and even a cream tea, by making cookies, flapjack, scones and brownies at home.
What hasn’t gone so well: Lost at freezer roulette, when the mystery cream lump turned out to be mashed potato rather than cheese sauce. Not so great for macaroni cheese. Didn’t bless the mice that took lumps out of a couple of ripe pears (eek!) and regret the banana that got left too long (RIP). Also bowed to pressure from my kids and took them to McDonalds, and wasn’t organised enough to take a packed lunch for a recording day in London.
Cutting energy spending
Our house is about the worst combination for energy bills – old, draughty, detached and with oil central heating.
I started by taking electricity meter readings a week apart, to get a sense of how much electricity we normally use, and then a reading a week later, after making some changes.
What’s gone well: I’ve tried to put a few things into practice – using our slow cooker more, chivvying the kids to switch lights off, charging my phone during the day and unplugging it when it’s charged rather than leaving it on over night. I’ve also started washing clothes at 30 degrees and filling the washing machine more than I used to. We’ve changed the timer on the water heater, so rather than heating up twice a day, it only goes on once in the evening.
Our electricity consumption dropped from 76 kWh the first week to 64 kWh the second, down more than 15%. However, I suspect a chunk of that was due to our fridge freezer being off for three days (gulp), of which more later…
What hasn’t gone so well: Realising the oil tank was running low is not a great moment during a supposedly frugal month. Caught it in time to take part in a bulk order via The Oil Club, which is typically cheaper but takes a while to deliver. Still came to nearly £475 for 500 litres. Ouch.
Cutting spending on activities
Family outings can really add up if you’re not careful. I’ve been trying to focus on ways that we can still have fun, without spending a bomb.
What’s gone well: Thanks to National Cinema Day, I was able to take the kids for a ‘back to school treat’ to see ‘Thor: Love & Thunder’ for just £3 a ticket plus booking fee. The £3 tickets applied anywhere in the cinema – so I chose fancy recliner seats in the back row, which were huge fun. I double checked the prices, and the tickets we got for £11.10 all in would have cost £38.07 for the exact same seats, film and showing the day before. Better believe I took home made popcorn and bottles of water rather than bankrupting ourselves on cinema snacks. We also took advantage of the Heritage Open Days this weekend to visit Peake’s House in Colchester for free.
What hasn’t gone so well: Booking tickets at the cinema that doesn’t refund parking was a school boy error, doh. Bribing the kids to come to Colchester with the promise of McDonalds wasn’t terribly thrifty either.
Cutting spending on anything else
I reckon as soon as I announced I wanted to do a Thrifty September, fate said: “Really?? Hold my beer.”
What hasn’t gone so well: The oil delivery hasn’t been the only chunky expense. I could have done without our elderly fridge freezer giving up the ghost. Cue dashing round to my mother and mother-in-law, transferring our frozen food to their freezers. I also paid a fiver to join Which? and check fridge freezer reviews, compared prices, then forked out nearly £660 for a brand spanking new fridge freezer, plus extra for express delivery and removing the old one. I suppose (said through gritted teeth) this is what emergency savings are for.
Also – back to school expenses! I had already spent a ton of money in August on new school uniform – my youngest had a growth spurt and basically grew out of everything apart from his tie. Then when term restarted he announced that (surprise, surprise) his feet had actually grown too, and my oldest produced a list of art supplies and stationery needed for his Art, Drama and Design courses.
Bigger feet never just means one pair of shoes, on no. We spent a chunk of Saturday buying school shoes, school trainers, rugby boots, out-of-school trainers and bigger socks, plus the assorted fine liners, cutting mat, A3 paper, metal ruler, masking tape, file dividers and whatever else. Got as much as possible from The Range and Sports Direct but still.
What’s gone well: I’ve resisted buying anything for myself. Took a bottle of wine we already had to the ‘meet other parents’ school drinks. Trying to squeeze a silver lining out of the new fridge freezer – we went for an energy efficient model to cut running costs, and one with a bigger fridge compartment so we could switch off our separate small fridge.