Since this blog is about living lightly I thought it was about time I start writing about how that can be achieved. The term living lightly would have different connotations to different people, but for me part of it is to make sure our footprints are leaving light marks on the earth. It’s a big topic today with climate change, dimishing biodiversity and our oceans turning into plastic. It also means to look at how we live and whether we are proffering up the capitalist, exploitative financial system of the western world and buying into the paradigm of buy more, buy more, buy more. The start of this journey are these Five Tips for living better on less.
Sometimes tightening the belt is a financial necessity and sometimes it’s a choice. Many opt for a less stressful and less money-fuelled lifestyle with time for life and creativity and others may have chosen a career which they find personally fulfilling, but will never make them well-off. For British people with Brexit looming the future financial situation in the country is also very uncertain and finding a way to spend less would be a way of getting more financial security for the future.
For me it’s about living as an artist and choosing to have time to build up different creative and entrepreneurial ventures, which means that my regular income is not as high as it could be if I chose a career where I had a higher salary, but less creative freedom. Over the years I have become pretty savvy financially, and have lived on very little for years without ever getting into debt or living on credit. Now feels like the right time to share my top tips for staying on top of your finances. So here we go!
Tip number 1 – Keep your receipts…
…. and always check your bank statements. Old fashioned as I may be, I get paper statements sent by post and I religiously check them every month to make sure there are no outgoings I don’t know about. Every single outgoing on my statements has a tick by it to show that I have definitely spent that money. I have in the past stopped card fraud by doing this and it’s also a good way to make sure your direct debits don’t go up unexpectedly. It could be deemed a waste of paper, but for me it’s worth it to know I’m in total control of what comes in and goes out. And I am with an ethical bank, so I am sure their paper is eco-good.
Tip number 2 – Keep your receipts…
…. and write down what you spend every month. With ‘what’ I mean everything. Even the £1 for the bottle of milk you get on a Sunday night to make sure you have milk for your coffee Monday morning. Get a notebook and write down everything you spent money on at the end of the week. It’s important to write what you spent it on so you can keep tabs on where your money is going. Some useful headings are: food, coffee/meals out, household items, toiletries, clothes, books, culture, stationary, travel and more. At the end of the month tally everything up and write it in a spreadsheet. You could have a notebook for that too, but spreadsheets are much easier and you can see your yearly total for each category.
Once you have an idea of how much you spend every month you can start budgetting. Each person has their own individual needs and ideas of what is enough or too much in each category, so it’s important to be realistic and know what you are able to do. Can you really halve your monthly coffee/meals out budget in order to tighten the belt or would it be better to cut down on cultural events, clothes and shoes or food.
I could imagine that to some people this sounds excessively meticulous and incredibly boring, but if you want to be able to live on very little being totally conscious of your spending is absolutely necessary. Over time you will find that this consciousness leads to different spending habits and more awareness on what you are spending your hard-earned cash on.
Tip number 3 – Use Cash
We are living in an increasingly cash-free society and contactless card payments have made it far too easy to spend without thinking about it. If you really want to be in control of your money, use cash. You can tap a card without being conscious that you are spending money, but if you are getting money out of your purse to pay, you can’t help but noticing it. Cash payments are far more likely to make you stop and think about if you really need to buy something.
If you really want to go the whole hog, get separate purses for each category you want to put in the ‘cash only’ category. One obvious category for this would be coffee and meals out, as well as food. One way of really being in control of your money is to get your food cash out for the whole month at the start of the month and separate it into weekly amounts. Meticulous yes, but a very effective way of making sure you only buy what’s absolutely necessary. British households are estimated to spend on average £700 on food that is thrown out unused per year, savings which I am sure everyone could find other uses for. You can start tackling both your food waste and unnecessary spending by becoming more conscious of what you buy.
Tip number 4 – Do You Really Need That?
Tell me now, and please be honest: how many items of clothing have you got tucked away in your wardrobe or drawers that you thought were absolutely essential when you bought them, but you never wear? I like to think that I buy very little, but I still had quite a few before I decided to declutter them. However, my biggest spending addiction has got to be books; I mean, who really needs 500 books? Well, apparently I do. Ever heard of the library? Edinburgh has great libraries. It even has a poetry library and yet, I still need to buy books. In my new budget there is nothing set aside for books, so I’m kind of scuppered, and I feel the pangs of addiction tugging at me whenever I see an Amazon logo or a bookshop. However, I think I need to read the +100 books I own that I haven’t even read yet before I buy more, so if I really need any more books for my work or my studies I go to the library.
Tip number 5 – The Best Things in Life are Free
There are many great things you can do that will cost neither you nor the earth. If you habitually like doing things that cost money, it might take a bit of weaning off and adjustment to doing something that doesn’t. However, it can be just as much fun – if not more – and you have the added pleasure of knowing that what you would have spent can now go into your savings account.
Some worthwhile free activities are: staying in to read a book (note to self!), going for walks in nature (has the added benefit of exercise and the added benefit of being good for wellbeing), visiting public art galleries or museums (has the added benefits of being good for the soul and educational), meeting with friends in parks on a nice day with a flask of tea rather than in a cafe, exploring new parts of your city by foot. If you live in a city there will also be free events on for both adults and children in many places, museums are a good way to start. If you have other favourite things to do that you’d like to share please leave a comment.
I hope my tips have given you the incentive to start looking at how you spend your money. I promise you, it is really not boring, and once you start, finding ways of not spending or spending less actually becomes a bit of a game. The money you save can instead be put aside for that holiday you always dreamed off, early retirement or just so you have a bit extra for those rainy days.