Most of us feel the pinch in January, what with the aftermath and indulgence of Christmas and the New Year. Credit cards are nearing their limits, and bank balances are looking less than healthy. Gone are the days of “fuck it, it’s Christmas”, replaced with “Oh shit, we better tighten those belts…”
It was fun while it lasted, eh?!
For us this January came with an extra financial ‘cry into your coffee’ moment because Mr C started a new job a week before Christmas. With a fab pay rise, the new job is a great thing. Or at least it will be. Leaving his old job part way through the month meant only a part salary paid at the end of December, and with none of the new salary being paid until the end of Jan we have had to make some serious cut backs.
So if you’re feeling the pinch this month, here are my 9 top tips to save money and survive the January financial blues without feeling like you’re totally destitute.
1. Switch to a budget supermarket
This one’s a no brainer really. The likes of Aldi, Lidl and Iceland really stepped up their game in 2017. There’s rarely a week that I can’t get everything I need in Aldi for a full and varied weekly shop.
2. Consider switching baby brands
If you’re formula feeding, I’d highly recommend both Aldi and Lidl’s powdered formula. Before he moved onto cow’s milk, we switched Wills from Aptamil to Aldi formula with no trouble and saved ourselves a cool £4+ per tub. A quick google search and label comparison confirmed to me that there’s no nutritional difference between the two. The same goes for Aldi’s Mamia nappies and wipes. I used them for both Amelia and Wills, and compared to the more expensive brands, I rate them way higher!
3. Set budgets, track your spending & ditch the cards
Setting yourself realistic budgets and sticking to them is one of the best ways to save those important extra pennies. A tactic I used a student that often makes a reappearance in our lives when needs must, is to draw out the cash for essentials like food shopping. If you have a cash amount on you and nothing else when you hit the shelves, you’re less likely to impulse buy and more likely to make considered choices.
Tracking what you spend on a day to day basis helps too; use a journal, your phone, or a piece of paper stuck to the fridge! Write down everything you spend each day and tot it all up – you’d be amazed how quickly the little bits add up.
4. Set yourself a challenge
I’ve set up a basic challenge in my journal to track ‘no spend days’, and I’ve challenged Mr C to see who can go the most days out of the month without spending a single penny. I know that I’m at a slight disadvantage because I’m at home so more likely to have to pop out for bread or milk than he is, but that has given me more motivation to watch my spending elsewhere.
5. Swap your usual indulgences for cheaper alternatives
You know I can’t live without my coffee, right?! I’d say on average I usually buy 2-3 coffees a week (which is waaaaay more frugal than the 1-2 per day I used to buy!). I already save money on those by using apps to their full advantage (Starbucks Gold Member anyone?!) but by swapping those for home alternatives I’m saving nearly £10 a week.
For Christmas I got a brand new thermal take away cup and some jars of amazing flavoured instant coffee that I love. For the price of 1 coffee, you can get a jar of the coffee I’m drinking and it’ll last a good couple of weeks. Drink that coffee out of a cool cup you probably have lurking in the cupboard and you don’t feel deprived at all!
6. Cook fresh, wholesome & healthy meals
Save money and be healthier? Isn’t that like the January dream?! Seriously though, I hear daily how expensive it is to eat healthily, and I just don’t believe it’s true. To feed a family of four (five if you count that my son eats for 2!) we usually spend an average of £60 a week. This month we have challenged ourselves to cut back the treats, be healthier, and cut our spend to £50 a week. And this isn’t for half our food shop, or just the bits we can get; this is for the whole damn lot!
Swapping jars of pre-made sauces, for example, for home-made alternatives will do wonders for your purse and your waist! And it’s not as long winded as you might expect. By making your own, you can flesh meals out with chopped veggies like courgette, carrot, sweet potato and swede, all of which come with a tiny price tag and huge filling power. If the kids aren’t fans of ‘bits they can see’ take a portion of the sauce out for them and give it a quick whizz in a blender. By going one step further than this and avoiding anything pre-made or packaged, we save a pretty penny every week.
7. Meal plan & batch cook
Meal planning and batch cooking really is something everyone should be doing. Whether you work full time, part time, work at home, work your arse off raising tiny humans, are on a diet, or just hate cooking, it’s the way forward. By writing out your plan for the week, you’ll then be able to go through and work out exactly what ingredients you’ll need, and what you can save on by buying larger packs. For example, instead of buying 2 carrots for your spag bol, you’ll be able to see easily where else you’re going to need carrots and it may well work out cheaper to buy a bag.
Then dedicate a morning or afternoon, really just a couple of hours at the weekend or whenever you have time to cook and portion up as many meals for the week as you can realistically fit in your freezer! Plastic portion pots from pound shops are excellent for this, and almost everything can be frozen. I regularly freeze bolognese, shepherd’s pie, risotto, chilli, and a whole bunch of other stuff too. This way you’re less likely to nip out for junk or takeaway when the last thing you want to do is cook.
8. Check your energy account
All energy providers give you the option to pay a fixed monthly amount, but they actually still bill you quarterly. So what happens is that your account builds up a credit over the course of 3 months, then they bill you for what you have actually used and any surplus could just be sitting in your energy account.
I make sure to give regular meter readings (using an app on my phone) and almost every quarter we get a small amount back because we’ve used less energy than anticipated. In October we got back £60, and this month we’re due back around £40. Starbucks here I come!
9. Make the most of loyalty benefits you already have
You probably already have a whole bunch of loyalty rewards that you’re not using nearly enough. There’s the obvious store loyalty cards like Nectar, and Clubcard, but there are loads of others you could be using. If you really can’t quit the frothy coffee, then both Costa and Starbucks have apps which pretty quickly rack up free drinks.
If you’re an O2 customer you need the O2 Priority app in your life. Last month I got the kids’ chocolate coins and Christmas cards for nursery free from WH Smith through the priority app. There are also regular offers for free or £1 lunch at various outlets on there too. From Tuesday 9th Jan they are running an offer for a free coffee at Caffe Nero, and they currently have available free de-icer from Halfords, 50% off AA breakdown cover, first 2 Graze boxes for 99p, and a whole load of other stuff too.
Boots also often have fab offers on their app for loyalty card holders, and even more if you make sure you’re signed up to their parenting club. At the moment you can get extra points for buying any deodorant, boots toiletries, Batiste Dry Shampoo (which is basically my go-to product these days) any toothpaste or mouthwash, and healthcare products. If these are things you’d usually buy, it might be worth grabbing them in Boots this month, as the extra points could quickly rack up to cover one or 2 free lunches.
So there you have it, 9 ways that January can be broke but still fun!
I’d love to know if you have any life-saving, money-saving tips that I could use! Let me know in the comments.
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