Just over 7 months ago, I waved goodbye to a pretty sweet life situation. I left a spacious, comfy, very cheap flat in central Fulham, where I lived with my boyfriend and housemates, in probably the most convenient location imaginable to move back home and save. We’d been looking very loosely at moving and eyed up a few one bed flats that we could rent and commute from easily, but we decided to take the plunge and try to buy.
Disclaimer- there’s two of us, I have not and could not have done it alone in this time frame or honestly maybe ever in south London. We’re also so lucky I have parents who live in zone 4 and let us come home, and this has been a massive advantage. We don’t have to pay anywhere near the amount we would to rent a flat, and still get to work in 35 minutes. Without these circumstances, saving 30k would have been laughable.
But not all the saving has come from this period. We started before. We came home with an almost £6,000 head start thanks to making a few thrifty life changes and becoming very careful with money. We’ve now saved 85% of what we need as a deposit ourselves (Southern house prices are no joke, let me tell you) and I’m pretty bloody proud of it. We’re getting a very, VERY unexpected loan with the rest. Because we moved with the game plan of saving it all for ourselves, I never really, truly thought we would make it happen because the amount just seemed too much and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to stick to our monthly target. But now we’re looking at houses and the ball is rolling and we’re doing all kinds of adulting with brokers and lenders and learning about interest rates and getting emails that contain a lot of complicated maths.
It hasn’t been a walk in the park by any means but we’ve made it. We have had to seriously adapt the way we live over the past 7 months and it’s not easy going from disposable income aplenty to counting the pennies every time you go in a supermarket, but we haven’t had to compromise on everything, and that’s mostly down to research, the iphone calculator and learning what it means to be thrifty. Also, I realise there are loads of factors that affect people’s ability to save, this is just what has worked for us.
These are a few things we’ve done differently and a few ways we’ve still had a life in the past six months:
1) Do simple maths.
I started out by getting a spreadsheet, putting my monthly take-home pay on it, then deducting every single outgoing I had until I was left with my disposable income. While saving, this has been less than a third of what it was before, so the maths didn’t end there. I looked at my plans every month, worked out what each would cost, and took that out of my disposable income. Whatever was left was how I budgeted day to day. I worked out a daily amount and then re-worked out weekends by looking at what I had spent in the week. This then left me with an amount to decide what food I bought, if I could afford to restock the make up that had run out- you name it, I counted it.
It might sound tiresome and boring and way too structured (because it is and I can’t wait to stop), but it worked. I hated it at first, with a deep burning passion. But you can really get into it. Saving is quite addictive and I am not even joking.
2) If you need to get away, do it in a group.
We’ve been struggling a lot on the ‘time and space to ourselves’ front, but besides one trip this month that was a very special occasion and that I saved and paid for before moving home, we haven’t had the budget to go on holiday or weekend trips like we would normally.
We did however, get away to the Welsh countryside, because we went with friends, we drove, we used Air B&B and we split the cost between eight. When there’s as many of you as possible to split the cost of petrol, accommodation, food and alcohol shops, you really can get off lightly. I know not everyone likes to go away in big groups, and me and my boyfriend often joke (or talk deadly seriously) about how we don’t like other people, but this is always one of my favourite trips every year and we do it cheap as chips.
3) Change the way you buy food.
If you buy for convenience then you’ll be paying more anyway. When you buy for both convenience and health, like I do, you can really start hemmohraging money. It’s hardly groundbreaking that buying lunch every single day adds up to a hefty sum each month, especially the amount you can pay for good salads and healthy meals in ‘artisan’ coffees and other such fancy things. Making your own really, truly is a way to flatten the costs and while I’m not great at this all the time, when I stuck to it religiously I was saving about £90 a month.
Two things made buying fresh fruit and veg and making nice lunches cheaper- one being markets and the other being the internet. If you live near a market, or any kind of grocer, go by your fruit and veg there. The prices compared to supermarkets make it a no-brainer. My old local market in Fulham sold 2 punnets of blueberries £1.50- bloody BARGAIN. The other was ingredients like chickpeas, courgetti and rice- cheap staple ingredients that make you a shed load of servings.
4) Be open minded about clothes shopping.
I’ve long been a charity shop lover, something my sister hates me a bit for, but this is simply because she hasn’t tried it properly. I’m not saying all your clothes should be second hand- mine most certainly are not, but from the first time I found a bargain in Sue Ryder on a hungover stroll through London, I was hooked. I haven’t actually been on a charity browse in a while, but over the past year, particularly after clothes shopping became unaffordable for the most part on my tight new budget, I’ve come to realise there’s nothing wrong with not buying new. Also, eBay, Depop and all the other auction sites- you can buy unworn, new clothes for a fraction of the retail price.
Oh and I really recommend stuff like the Vintage Kilo Sale, where you can combine cheap clothes shopping with a rather fun morning out. They usually do cheap cake and coffee at these events for when you’re all rummaged out.
5) Set yourself a target.
Back in January, when I had the full on winter blues, my vitamin D was probably at an all time low, I’d just moved home and felt like I was going backwards, I had very little will to do the saving task ahead of me. I needed something to aim for, so I set myself little targets which might sound really lame, but they pulled me through. I did stuff like getting out £20 cash and making it last as long as possible, without using my card. Sometimes I did really, quite remarkably well, and other times I stumbled half asleep and with one eye closed into Starbucks and messed it all up.
6) Get a hobby that won’t cost you much
Me and my boyfriend both had cameras already when we started saving. He has a really good one, I just have a standard point and shoot Sony thing. We needed to start spending more time without spending money and photography helped us do that. Learning how to take really nice photos requires spending time taking photos, which you can do for free- obviously. We spent days wondering the streets of London, days wondering around parks playing with settings and snapping away and it’s become a really useful skill- he’s now earning money out of it. It’s also on my list to learn to knit, but I haven’t *quite* got round to that one.
7) The Time Out website for your city should become your bible- or any website that lists free events.
Turning down social events due to money when you actually have money in the bank isn’t the greatest, but just use your initiative. I’ve gotten my friends on board for freebies ranging from cocktail making to craft fairs. There is free fun to be had out there.
8) Do your research
One example of this- I found out I was paying more than I needed to for my commute, by doing what I thought was the cheap option. Look into these things. Don’t be wrong. Don’t be me. Research goes a long way.
If you’ve got any other whizzy tips to stretching money do share, I need to save for furniture now as I currently only own a bed. Minimalist.