How can I spend less money, and still flourish in life? Now there’s a question that flies in the face of the cultural norms.
If I could earn less money, have more time and less stress, what difference would that make to my life and to the lives of those around me? It’s a path that can lead to having more time for the people we love and our wider community. Living on less is usually easier on the environment, too.
Recently, I’ve challenged myself to cut down my spending, so I can work fewer hours and have more time for missional work. Here are some of the ideas I’ve picked up along the way.
Cut down on meat, alcohol and other expensive non-essentials
Examine your supermarket receipt when you get home to see what the expensive items are. Meat is expensive, as is alcohol, and those impulse buys you pick up by the till, such as DVDs. I tend to do this when I go to discount supermarkets such as Aldi or Lidl, who have great cheap food but also lots of aisles filled with tempting non essentials, which can easily wipe out the savings made on the food.
I’ve tried giving up ‘spending’ for Lent—cutting out everything except food, health and work essentials. It’s probably the most challenging Lent I’ve done, but I learned a lot about my relationship with shopping. Another interesting experiment is doing the ‘dryathlon’ or ‘live on a £1 a day’ to raise money for charity.
Cook your own meals, get social
When you’re busy with work and/or family commitments, convenience food can become a lifesaver. However, it’s also expensive, and not always healthy. If you’re able to free up time to cook instead, you can save a lot.
I cook a lot of veggie Indian meals which are very cheap, after the initial outlay on spices (and a good cookbook)! They have very simple and cheap ingredients of rice, vegetables and beans, but the spices make them taste good.
Cooking at home can also be a cheaper way of socialising, instead of going to the pub or for a meal. I like to cook fancy meals, but if I keep them simple (and cheap) it means you have more time to chat to guests. I’d love to try a ‘Come Dine with Me’ event with friends, though I think we’d have to set a strict budget.
Try cycling or going by bus
I was surprised to discover that it was much cheaper to use taxis and public transport instead of my car – even if I used taxis quite a lot. Selling the car brought in a lump sum, too. Even with a long commute, getting the train to an outlying suburb and then cycling from there may save cash – there is often a premium on public transport that gets you into the centre of a city or town.
Go part-time or self-employed
Finding a way to have a more flexible income is a natural partner to living on less – if you need more income you can work more hours, but as you cut down on spending you can work less too.
It’s not always easy and it depends on your career, obviously. As a journalist it’s fairly easy for me. You don’t have to go the whole hog though – for example you could take a part-time teaching position but do flexible tutoring or supply teaching on the other days when needed.
Free up time
A lot of things that are expensive are time-savers: the extra car, the convenience foods, the technology. As I’ve freed up my time, I’ve been able to live on less.
If cutting down on work hours isn’t an option, it’s worth exploring what eats up your time. I’ve done a few ‘time diaries’ logging how much time I spent on various activities. I found I spent a lot of time watching films or TV, or on social media – all things I could cut down.
Go on ‘cheap and cheerful’ holidays
I’ve heard a lot of cheap options from friends with kids: camping or hostelling… or for a more comfortable option try a ‘home exchange’ holiday. You can go kitsch and go to Butlins or a caravan park, hire a friend’s caravan… and for somewhere warmer than the UK, ferries or Eurostar to France can work out very cheaply.
Personally I’ve cut down on going on holidays at all, but instead gone to stay with friends for a break from the routine. Alternatively, there are some really cheap coach holidays via Oak Hall and similar holiday companies.
Living on less is very liberating – try it!