Living with poor mental health can be expensive. Not only can it impact our ability to work, and, consequently, our income, but we might also have to pay for things like prescriptions, taxis (because we can’t cope with public transport), and pre-packaged food (because we don’t have the energy to cook). Money worries can negatively impact our mental health. While we might not be able to focus on having a pot of savings, there are still things we can do to save on our costs.
1. Regular Payments
Most of us will have regular payments coming out of our accounts – entertainment, energy suppliers, council tax, rent, mortgage, insurance, mobile phone, vet cover, petrol or diesel, water bills… the list goes on. And on. And on.
When it comes to renewing these payments, it’s always handy to look at comparison sites to see how much we could/should be paying for things. Different comparison sites might show different things so it can be a good plan to try a couple of different ones. Once we’ve done that, it’s a good idea to give the company a ring. Sales reps might be able to give us a discount if we ask them. Even if we choose to stick with our existing company, it’s worth looking at their site to see if they offer new customers a better deal. If they do, then again, our phone is our best friend – ringing up the company and politely enquiring as to why loyal customers pay more than new ones can be a good way to get our payments down.
With some regular payments, such as insurance, it’s often cheaper to pay it in one lump sum rather than paying a little bit each month (it also means we can forget about it for a year!). That’s not something that we can all afford to do, but it might be an option for some of us, particularly if we’re in a position to save a bit each month. Some regular payments will give us a discount for paying by Direct Debit, it’s always worth asking or giving someone else permission to ask on your behalf, whilst you are sat with them.
Mobile phone companies can be sneaky. Ofcom are setting out proposals to make contract costs clearer, but some companies will continue to charge us the same contract price even once we’ve paid our handset off. Being vigilant about this and contacting our mobile phone provider once we’ve paid the handset off, asking them to reduce our monthly fee, can help us to save some money.
Food shopping can be incredibly stressful, particularly if money is tight.
Writing a weekly meal plan and a list of exactly what we need can help us to stop making so many impulse purchases, and to waste less food. Evidence shows that eating before we go can help to reduce how much we spend, too.
If we’re a frequent impulse-buyer, then doing our food shopping online can reduce the temptation to slip a few extras into our trolley. We could also try doing our food shop just before we head somewhere else (such as work). Having a shorter time-frame means that we have to be more focussed and don’t have time to browse.
When thinking about the things we’re buying, using cheaper supermarkets, sticking to own-brand products, and utilising the ‘world food’ aisle (which often has the same products as other aisles but cheaper) can all help to keep costs down. If we’re someone with food intolerances or allergies, or we choose to restrict our diet in some way, then doing a bit of research about generic products which are naturally ‘free from’, rather than always buying products specifically advertised as ‘free from’ can also help to keep our total spend down. Some supermarkets have lists on their websites as to which products in their shop are vegetarian, vegan, or ‘free from’ common allergens.
Batching food when we’re well, rather than falling back on ready meals can help to make things cheaper; they do tend to be more expensive than cooking from scratch. When looking for new, affordable, recipes, we love the ‘bootstrap cook‘ website.
Food waste can be a big problem, and if we find that we’re throwing away large amounts of food then we are effectively throwing money into the bin. Meal planning can help us to reduce how much we waste, as can using leftovers, freezing things (such as spinach that we’ve not got round to eating or bread that’s approaching it’s sell-by-date), and using our nose/eyes rather than sticking rigidly to ‘best before’ dates. Shopping in the ‘reduced’ section can help to keep costs down too – but only if we’re buying things we would have been buying already. If we start thinking ‘oh that looks nice and it’s 3p off – bargain’, then it’s worth remembering that even if we ‘save 3p’, we’re perhaps spending £3 more than we would be if we didn’t buy it.
3. Don’t Get Caught Out By Fees And Fines
Fees and fines are everywhere. Every time we slightly overshoot our overdraft, buy something on credit that comes with interest, withdraw cash from a machine that isn’t free, accidentally ring a phone number that costs money, or get caught without a TV licence (because we forgot to pay it on time), we get charged. These charges can catch us off guard and can be a nightmare to pay if things are tight. Being vigilant can help to prevent these not-so-fun surprises occurring. If we struggle with organisation then it’s always worth putting reminders to pay things into our phone or diary, and double-checking whether a phone number costs money, and whether a cash machine is free or not. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
If we’re driving somewhere, there’s nothing like the cost of parking to double the price of a day out. Parking fees can be phenomenally steep, and depending on where we’re going – it can feel as though we have no choice but to pay them.
There are a few things we can do to decrease the amount that we spend on parking. If we do need to pay for parking in the centre of town, some towns have car parks that you can book online for a cheaper price than we would need to pay on the day. Most city centres will have a range of car parks with some costing more than others. The internet often has a pretty good idea of where the cheapest parking is – doing a little bit of research before we go somewhere can save us a few pounds. Some city centres offer residents a discount on parking, too. This might be through a pre-paid pass or a different sort of scheme, but our council website should be able to tell us whether anything like that exists in our area.
If we are meeting friends or family in town, it might be an option to meet them at the nearest free street to town. If the street is too far from the city centre to walk, then we only need to take one of our cars into the centre and can split the cost of parking between us. Alternatively, it might be cheaper to do a park and ride or to get a bus in from the closest free street.
We could also find somewhere to meet our friends or family where parking isn’t such an issue. For example, rather than meeting them in the centre of town, where parking might cost upwards of £15 a day, we could meet them at an outlet centre just out of town where parking might be free.
5. The Cost Of Coffee
One coffee here and there might not seem like it’ll make that much difference to our finances. But the cost of coffee can add up. If we buy a cup of coffee for £3 every work-day, then by the end of a week that’s £15 and by the end of a month that could be over £60.
Taking our own coffee, for example, on our train ride into the office, can minimise this cost. Sometimes that won’t be possible, but even when we can’t take our own coffee, if we take our own mug or reusable coffee cup then some coffee shops offer money off our order (and we’ll be saving the planet!).
If we work in the same place each day, then finding out if we can have a kettle and bringing our own tea/coffee can bring down the cost of our hot-drink-habit. If we can’t have a kettle, it can still be worth bringing our own tea/coffee because some places will sell us hot water far more cheaply than they will tea or coffee.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying coffee-shop coffee if we enjoy it and we can afford it, but if we are a bit tight on money then it can be something worth looking at to see whether we can reduce how much of our income goes on our caffeine supply.
6. Take A Picnic
Picnics or packed lunches are usually far cheaper than buying food ‘on the go’. Making and taking our lunch to work each day might take a bit of effort, but it’s likely to be much cheaper than cruising the canteen. If we’re not eligible for free school meals then the same can apply to lunches for our kids at school.
On days out, picnics are likely to be cheaper (and possibly easier) than hunting for a café that we like the sound of. If we haven’t quite managed to pull one together before getting out of the house, and we’re with our family or a group of people, then we could nip to a supermarket and get the materials to make some sandwiches on-the-go, and a giant bag of crisps for everyone to share – this often works out far more cheaply than buying numerous meal-deals.
7. Learn New Skills
Some skills can save us quite a bit of money. For example, if we learn how to sew a button on, and to sew up a hole, then we can make our clothes last a little longer. If we learn how to unblock a toilet or sink, then we won’t have to invite a plumber in when we get stuck.
Unless we’re a super-human, we probably won’t be able to learn every single skill we might ever need, but we could always try skill-swapping with friends or family if needs be. For example, if our lighting needs fixing, we could swap an electrician friend a day of childcare for some lighting-work.
8. Embrace Second-Hand
Embracing second-hand items can result in some amazing bargains. Charity shops or local community furniture stores can be great places to pick up items for less than we’d pay if they were brand new.
If we’re friends or colleagues with someone who has a child a little older than us, then hand-me-down clothes can be a lifesaver. Small children grow very quickly and we’ve no sooner bought them something and they’ve grown out of it. Having a set of clothes that get passed from one new parent to another (and back again when they have a second child!) can save us a fortune.
Many schools, sports teams and uniformed groups will offer a hand-me-down service for their uniform, too, so it’s always worth speaking to the person in charge if we’re struggling to pay for it.
9. Make Things (But Not If It Costs More!)
Making things can sometimes be cheaper than buying them. This could include things like birthday or Christmas presents, cards, cakes, soft furnishings and decorations.
Depending on what we’re making, we don’t have to be the most artistic or crafty person ever. Often there are simple instructions for making things at places such as Pinterest.
We do have to be a little bit careful when making things. Buying expensive equipment or supplies can be an investment if we’re going to make the same sort thing multiple times, but whenever we’re thinking about making things for the sole purpose of saving money, it’s always worth checking that we’re not spending more on supplies to make the ‘thing’ than we would spend on buying a ready-made one.
10. Do Your Research
Shops don’t all sell the same things at the same price as one another. In fact, sometimes the same company will have a different price for something depending on whether we buy it online or offline. Doing some research before we part with our money can often save us spending more than we need to. Some companies offer an ‘if you find it cheaper anywhere else within a month we’ll refund the difference’ service. It’s always a good plan to keep our eyes peeled if that’s the case, just in case we come across a bargain.
The cost of things often fluctuates as the year goes by. Christmas cards will always be cheaper after Christmas. An ‘amazing deal’ on some technology in November might not look so cheap if we compare it to the cost of the same thing in September or January. Seasonal items, whether it be clothes, garden equipment or a sofa, will always be cheaper at the end of the season. If we have the brain-space to be organised and the living-space to store things, then picking things up in end-of-season sales and saving them for the following year can be helpful.
Sometimes there will be cashback available on big purchases. Unfortunately, claiming this cashback can be complicated. It might involve jumping through a lot of hoops and making phone calls or going online. However, we are owed this cashback if the company has agreed to it with us, and sometimes it can be a fairly substantial amount, so the claim is often worth it.
Research can even be helpful for banking. Different banks will pay different levels of interest – some might have schemes such as a ‘regular saver’. Others will offer things like ISAs or savings accounts. Researching how much interest different banks offer can allow us to move our money into an account with the highest rates of interest available.
Travel can be expensive; it can be one of our biggest expenditures. But there are ways that we can make it a bit cheaper. If we’re able to, then timing when we buy our travel can reduce the cost. Travel is often cheapest if we buy it as far in advance as possible. However, sometimes it can be cheaper (if more stressful) when we buy it last-minute.
If we’re a frequent traveller, then buying a monthly or yearly ticket might work out cheaper than purchasing individual tickets for each journey.
If we’re planning a train journey, particularly if it’s a long way, taking a look at whether we can split our tickets can reduce the cost of our journey. What this means is that we would have two tickets for the same journey. One for point A to B and one from point B to C. We might not have to change trains or stations, but it still works out more cheaply than buying one ticket from A to C.
When it comes to driving, many of us will drive alone. Sometimes there will be someone who lives close to us and who goes to a similar place at a similar time. Sharing lifts as and when we can helps us to save money both on fuel and on car degradation.
It’s easy to get into the habit of driving everywhere however long the journey might be. Walking or cycling for short journeys (providing we’re physically able to) can be good for our overall fitness as well as our bank balance.
If we have to travel for work, then we might be able to get that travel reimbursed, especially if our travel is during working hours. This can often involve filling in a form or two which can feel like a hassle when we’ve already got too much to fit into our working day. But if we do put these claims in then we might be surprised how much our work journeys add up.
12. Home Energy
Heating, gas, water and lighting are all inevitable expenses, but the overall cost of them is something that we have control over.
As well as shopping around for the cheapest deals, and using any referral codes from friends and family, being mindful of how much energy we’re using can help to keep our bills down.
Do we need to turn the heat up or could we grab a blanket? Does the heating need to be on while we’re in bed? Do we need lights on in empty rooms? Do we need to leave the tap running while we clean our teeth? Is our house set up in a way that means we could choose to only heat the rooms we’re regularly in?
It’s also worth thinking about how much we’re getting from the energy we’re using. For example, if we use draught excluders and put an old curtain over outside doors, it can help to keep the heat in. Using low-energy bulbs might mean that we can use less electricity for a similar amount of light. Checking that our taps don’t drip can stop us from using water unnecessarily. Adding energy-saving and energy-preserving measures to our home can help to keep bills down.
Some of us rely on several medications and other medical supplies to manage our health conditions. At £9 per month, per prescription, the cost of these items can add up.
The first thing that we can do is to check whether we are eligible for free or reduced prescriptions. These are available to those who are a certain age, have certain conditions, or are on a limited income.
If we are not eligible for free prescriptions then buying a prescription pre-payment certificate can save us a lot of money. If we need more than 13 prescriptions a year, then buying a 12-month pre-payment certificate should save us money. If we are unsure how long we’ll be on our medication, then buying a 3-month certificate can save us money if we need more than 4 prescriptions over that time.
Libraries are fantastic places. As well as offering us a wide range of books for free, many will also offer audiobooks and even films. Some have an e-book provision, too, if we find physically accessing a library difficult.
Libraries aren’t just about the free things that we can borrow, either. Many will offer different events and classes for both adults and children. They can be real community hubs and can help us to occupy our kids or meet other people in our local area. Some of these events and classes might be free, most will be a lower price than we would pay for a similar offer elsewhere.
15. Look After Things
Replacing things costs money. Looking after and protecting our existing items can stop us from having to replace them quite so quickly. This can include things like having a screen protector and case on our phone, installing antivirus on our laptop or computer, regularly oiling and checking our bike, keeping up with repairs on our car, and washing our clothes and soft furnishings according to the instruction label.
16. Rotate Toys
Any of us with children in our lives will know how much kids love new toys, and how few of their existing toys they play with. This can be a constant source of frustration for many children-looker-after-ers.
Putting the toys that our children aren’t playing with into storage and then bringing some of them out once our children get bored of the ones they’re playing with (and putting the ones they’re now bored of into storage) can help to keep toys fresh and interesting without us feeling guilty for not buying them new ones. This rotation can be repeated as the year goes on – even ones they’ve previously got bored of playing with can become appealing again after some time in a cupboard!
There are all sorts of reasons for needing a night away from home. Some of these things might be optional such as a holiday, some might be happy events like a wedding, others might not be so optional, such as needing to work away from home but being unable to get our accommodation covered, or needing to the there for poorly family members who live far away from us. With Airbnb, people rent out a room in their house or flat, or sometimes the whole place, often for a cheaper price than we’d be able to find a bed and breakfast or hotel.
Sales-people will frequently offer us ‘amazing deals’ at a ‘reduced price’ but ‘only if we say yes right now’ and we can ‘ring up and cancel it within 24 hours if we decide we don’t want it’ so there’s ‘nothing to lose’.
Being people-pleasers who find it hard to say no, this can be a challenging situation. Sometimes we might have no interest in the thing being sold to us but end up agreeing to it to get the person off our doorstep.
Having a rule for ourselves that we always leave decisions about big purchases for at least 24 hours, or until we’ve spoken to a particular person, can help us to avoid buying things that we can’t afford. If we make a rule like this, then it can be much easier cope with sales-people, because we have a simple formula to use each time, rather than having to think of a response on the spot. It can also give us time to ensure we’re making the right decision.
19. Gigs And Festivals
Many of us enjoy live music, but going to gigs and festivals can be expensive. Some companies, such as Oxfam, recruit volunteers to steward these events. Though it might not be exactly the experience we’d pictured, and does involve some work, volunteering at these events can not only allow us to see some acts for free but can also introduce us to new people who’re interested in similar things to us.
20. Haircuts And Beauty Treatments
Some of us quite like a bit of a pamper and most of us will need our hair cutting now and again. We could choose to invest in clippers, scissors and hair-dye and do a DIY job. But if we decide to get our treatments done professionally, then checking out local colleges can be a great way to save some money whilst helping someone at the same time. Hair and beauty students often need ‘models’ to practice on for a whole range of treatments. They’re often supervised by a tutor until they’re confident in the techniques themselves, and it might take longer per treatment than it would with someone who’s qualified, but it can be far cheaper and occasionally might even be free.
21. Cancel Free Trials
Companies can be very good at reeling us in with a ‘free trial’. Unfortunately, many free trials require our card details before they’re activated, and the minute the free trial ends, the company begins to take our money. It can be all too easy to forget about these outgoings or to feel overwhelmed by the hassle involved in cancelling them. Taking stock of our regular monthly expenditures can help us to stop us paying for anything that we don’t use or isn’t affordable.
22. Check Delivery Costs
The majority of us will have been caught out by delivery costs at least once. We buy an item online that seems reasonably priced, forget to check delivery, pay for the item, and later realise that the cost of delivery is two or three times the cost of the item itself. Checking the cost of delivery before we pay can help us to stop getting caught out. This is particularly important on sites where we can ‘buy with one click’ and don’t have to go through checkout, because in those circumstances it’s often much more likely that we’ll miss a hefty delivery fee.
23. More Mindful Spending
In this day and age, we have phones that can pay with a wave, cards that can spend money with a single tap, and online accounts that save our cards so that we don’t have to hunt out our details each time we buy something. As convenient as this is, it means that we can spend money without thinking about it.
Being more aware of the money we spend, and even making it harder to spend money can help us to think twice before buying on non-essential items. We could choose to ask for a bank card without contactless capabilities, remove our cards from our phone and online accounts, use cash, or join a bank who text us whenever a transaction is made. Putting in measures that make us feel as though we’re spending and/or make it harder to spend money can mean that we spend less overall.
24. Check Statements
Bank statements will often get sent to us regularly, whether it be via post or online. It’s always a good plan to give our statements a quick read. The main reason for doing this is to check that there aren’t any outgoings that we disagree with and to ensure that our income is what we expect it to be. If there are any problems at all then it’s a good idea to speak to our bank as soon as possible to try and sort it out.
The second reason for reading through our statements is that we might notice patterns in our spending. This might be expected, for example, many of us will regularly spend money in a supermarket. However, we might notice other costs creeping in; we might not realise quite how often we buy ‘just one book’ or how much music we’ve been buying. If we can afford it and it’s where we choose to spend our money then that’s absolutely fine. But there might be times when these expenditures are unexpected and give us a bit of a wake-up call.
25. Ensure You’re Getting What You’re Entitled To
Benefits can be confusing. Different parts of the country have different benefit systems, and our circumstances will affect the benefits that we can apply for. Navigating the websites and systems involved can feel utterly overwhelming, especially when we’re stressed or feeling less than our best. Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) should be able to help us to make sure that we’re getting all of the benefits that we’re entitled to. They might also be able to support us with filling in forms or making appeals. We do not need to feel guilty for accepting benefits – they are there for a reason and we wouldn’t be granted them if we ‘shouldn’t’ be getting them. All sorts of different people are on benefits for a myriad of reasons.
Another thing that many of us forget is our points balance or the vouchers and ‘gifts’ available to us from companies whose loyalty cards we have or survey sites we use. Many of us might also forget that we have gift cards. These points, vouchers and gift cards will expire all after a certain amount of time. Remembering that we have them and spending them before the expiration date can help us to save money, too.
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