January ready-reckon and on to February…

January is up which means it’s time to reflect on how the month has gone. I started the year with two aims for the month:

  • Spend on only the essentials
  • Audit my finances – work out what I spent at Xmas and what I’m starting the year with

It’s been a huge success in my eyes for both, and having a quiet month has helped enormously with trimming expenses to the minimum. Though I’ve been spending less for some time now, starting from a more extreme mind-set of ‘I’m going to spend as little as possible this month’ turned the month into a short-term personal challenge with a fixed end date, and I was more motivated to cut out spending on things that have become routine. Though it’ll be a few days before I have an exact picture of total money spent, it looks as if for the first time in a long while we’ll be very close to having spent within our means. The extent to which I feel absolutely thrilled to bits with this achievement shows just how much I’ve been bothered by the constant dipping into savings, and I’m so motivated that I’m going to continue next month.

No-money days

I found trying to have as many days as possible where I spent no money worked very well for me. I had a whopping 18 days out of 31 where I spent no money at all, and I loved the feeling that I was more in control of the constant drip-drip of money going out. We typically have lots of small top-up shops in the supermarket, which undoes any efforts to stick to a budget when doing the main supermarket shop.

Do without and see what you miss

Stripping out most non-essential spending has created a strange void, which has been quite insightful. Some things I’ve found surprisingly easy to do without – posh coffees fall into this category, which is unexpected, so ingrained were they in my daily routine. My ‘dry January’, which has been a ‘damp January’ thanks to a few glasses of wine, made me realise that though I can absolutely do without at-home drinking, it’s also something I really enjoy. Possibly because I had such a quiet month, doing without felt a bit like I was removing all fun from life! In fact, having a latte or glass of wine felt much more like a treat compared to usual, and I might start drinking less but spending more on a better bottle of wine that I savour. I’ve realised that I’ll need to look into ways of enjoying myself without spending cash, and of feeling fulfilled without buying things, as it’s just plain depressing if there’s not much excitement, and all you are doing is working and spending on essentials.

So what exactly did I try in January?

The following is a list of things I’ve done this month to save and earn some cash, I’ll take a bow!

  • Saved about £30 by not buying lattes every day. I switched to coffee from the machine at work, or hot water and herbal tea bags, and even took a flask of coffee one day.
  • Took home-made lunches to work every day. This has meant bigger supermarket bills, and time of an evening to prepare salads or soups, but it’s worked well.
  • Planned a month’s worth of dinners in advance – yep, really, a whole month in one go!
  • Tried for no-money days.
  • Saved at least £20 by not buying alcohol…and I even followed a tip from ‘A Girl Called Jack’ and made red wine ice cubes so I don’t have to open a new bottle for the next red-wine recipe.
  • Washed up rather than used the dishwasher every day (I ran out of dishwasher tablets and didn’t want a top-up shop…)
  • Switched to some budget toiletries – mixed results!
  • Subscribed to free finance emails, borrowed heaps of finance library books.
  • Husband started the penny-day challenge – £4.96 saved so far!
  • Signed up for Barclays Rewards scheme which will earn me £48 over the course of the year.
  • Free Talk Talk upgrade.
  • Signed up for moneysavingexpert’s Cheap Energy Club, first comparisons suggest I could save over £600 a year by switching gas and electricity supplier.

Information please!

One of the best things I’ve done this month has been to sign up for email newsletters. Martin’s Money Tips I’ve mentioned previously, but I’ve also signed up for emails from The Telegraph Personal Finance, Skint Dad, The Money Principle, SavvyWomanMiss Thrifty….The news is completely up-to-date, and I’m definitely more informed about deals out there. More importantly, they’re keeping me focused and inspired to keep working on my finances.

Don’t be fooled into thinking it only takes an hour or two…

Along with questioning every purchase, I’ve spent a LOT of time this month looking at my finances – setting up a spreadsheet, working out how much I earn, how much tax I pay, what I have in savings and debt. It has taken me literally several days, and I’m still not finished. Wherever I’ve read ‘set aside 10 minutes / a couple of hours / afternoon / a day’, I can comfortably say I’ve spent double or treble that length of time. It’s felt like a never-ending task, but I’m reassured by the thought that it will only get easier and I think it’s totally been worth it. I have a much better idea of what needs to be done, and I’ve come up with a new monthly budget that I already know is much better than the earlier ones I’ve tried to stick to. It’s a bigger budget, but I feel so much more hopeful that it could work.

February’s challenge

I feel so much more positive at the end of this month than at the start, and have decided to look at the following in February:

  • Continue my focus on everyday spending, and see if I can stick to my new budget.
  • Find out exactly where I stand with my pension. My retirement shortfall is what prompted this blog, so it’s logical that this is where I cast my beady eye next.

Wish me luck!

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