Christmas Shopping on a Budget

I was chatting in a money management group the other day about spending habits and someone mentioned that they had recently finished paying off their debts and found that they kept the positive changes they had made during their time of financial hardship and it made me think about Christmas and how much my habits have changed since I started my debt repayment plan in 2015.

Before 2015 I would spend, spend, spend. I always left my Christmas shopping until the last minute and probably every year would either end up with another loan or put the shopping on my credit cards. Shopping was always based on a form of social pressure; to get the biggest, most expensive presents no matter whether they were fit for purpose. Nearly always people just ended up with whatever gift sets were in the shopping mall I happened to be in. Not very thoughtful gifts and no wonder I ended up in debt (one of the reasons).

I think now I am a much more thoughtful gift buyer even if I don’t gift very often. Being in debt and on a budget makes you recognise just who you should be spending your limited finances on. Firstly I cut my Christmas list down to those who were most important to me and of those remaining I made an agreement with siblings that I would only buy for their children (I have 11 nephews and nieces so still a lot!). Over the last few years that has been reduced again with siblings to a family gift so the 11 has gone to 4.

Another thing I have learnt is to shop over 12 months. I don’t set out to buy something each month and put it away but I do take advantage of year round sales or small, small business owner shops or craft fairs. I found that doing this has made me a more conscious shopper not just with the amount of money being spent but actually matching a gift to a person. As an example pre-2015 as mentioned I would blanket buy gift sets at over-inflated prices that whilst nice, you could change the name on the gift card and no one would be any wiser. Post-2015 people will get gift or a gift bag of small items that I’ve chosen when I’ve seen something that fits them perfectly. There is one present I have this year for my best friend. It’s small, cost me next to nothing but fits her perfectly and is something I know she enjoys very much. And probably 1/20th of what I had paid out in the past yet I believe she will get more lasting enjoyment (I’m being careful about what I say as she reads the blog J )

It’s not all positive. I did find when I started this some people took exception to not receiving a present any more no matter how much I explained my circumstances and while I believe that you don’t buy to receive it did amuse me the amount of people who would say ‘well if you’re not buying me one, I’m not buying you anything either’ but said in an incredibly grumpy way that suggests all they cared for was the gift and not anything else. But also funnily enough, they also turned out to be people that didn’t stick around as friends when they learnt that being good and sticking to a budget meant cutting back on lots of things. You certainly learn who are real friends and who are social friends when you have difficulties.

However this is all their problem and not mine. The majority of people accepted my decisions and are grateful for even a small gift. My dad always talks about it is the simple act of gifting and not the size of the gift and he’s right but when the world is bombarded with advertisements and social pressure at this time of year it’s hard not to fall for it.

I have one more restricted Christmas buying year (2019) and then from 2020 I have no budgeting anymore or rather not as strict as it is now. I am hoping that what the guy in the group said about keeping the good habits learnt is true and that while I may have a few more pounds to spend I won’t be silly with it and will stay a more thoughtful gift buyer.

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Budgeting Success

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know I have debt issues and am trying to work out the best way to budget for myself.  I have a debt repayment plan and my household bills and food budget is always covered but I rarely make it from one month to the next without having to borrow  or swap money around.

I tried keeping all my spare cash in a tub and just taking as i needed it – didn’t work.

I tried dividing into weeks and only using a weekly allowance – didn’t work.

So this month I tried in days. I had so much per day and that had to cover treats like a cafe drink plus the usual bread and milk. Anything left at the end of the day went in the tub. If needed I could use the tub money and mostly I did. It went on food.

And yesterday at the end of the month I had £1 left over. One whole pound. If you’ve never had money problems you may not understand how proud I am of that little pound. I’d had 2 birthdays (mine and my sons) I’d had a week off work and a trip to NOrth Yorkshire. I even went to the cinema. And I never had to borrow. I didn’t have to juggle money at the end of the month.

I made conscious decisions every day. On my week off I rounded the money into the whole week with the thought that I’d need more on the day trip but less whilst at home. The rest of the time I asked myself constantly if I needed to spend. That £1 is now in a savings tin. I have one of those where the only way to open it is with a can opener.

It stops me taking cash out and overspending. This is what I used to do when I had depressive days and how I ended up in trouble. I tried it last year with just loose change and the result was £90 saved in 2017. However because I was still struggling with the budgeting it didn’t last long. I intend to leave as long as possible this time and either use it for Xmas gifts or if I can avoid that save for something nice.

I can’t say it’s a perfect plan as it’s only been one month. I’m going to try it again and see what successes I can achieve in July

Loving yourself in style

I’ve just finished a book called Loving Yourself in Style by Shabana Feroze. It’s made me think yet again how depression, anxiety and debt have taken away a lot of what used to make me…me and leave a bit of a shell in it’s place.

There’s quite a bit of information despite being a small book. One section in there is about style. I used to have quite defined style; as a teenager it was all about the bands that I loved and being a rock chick with a bit of 1950’s thrown in. Then as I aged it became a mix of rock chick with 1940’s and 50’s. I love those eras; the music and the styles.

I lost a lot of this when I had my breakdown in 2010. I put on loads of weight and didn’t feel the confidence to wear the clothes I loved. Instead I ended up wearing smart work clothes and jeans/Tee’s day wear. Casual, comfortable and reeking of invisibility.

When reading the book my first thoughts were to shout ‘But I can’t afford it’, my life is on hold until 2020 when the debts are cleared and my money is my own again.

Are you tired of seeing posts where I say this? I’m annoying myself with it. A later chapter though talks about money and starting small. Ok I can’t go out and buy a whole new wardrobe or pay for events to meet like minded people. However I can try and put a few pounds away each month to be able to afford something form ebay or a vintage shop. I can still listen to the music which I have been doing all weekend). I also found a cafe nearby that is based around 50’s rock n’roll that put on special nights for £3. These are things I can do while I work towards my debt free goal.

I was speaking to a friend about restarting her life this week as a series of baby steps and it’s something I need to take on board myself. We discovered one cinema has halved it’s ticket prices and with a 2 for 1 offer on Wednesdays we can see movies for £2.50 each. Another way to have a little bit of a life for little costs.

The answers are out there if you fight the negative brain talk and look around to see what is out there. So I’m going to try and embrace life (within it’s financial constraints) and remember how to have  little fun and rediscover a style that makes my heart sing

365 Day Blog challenge Day 177 Change of Plans #365daychallenge

I go back to work tomorrow after 6 sunshine filled days. I was meant to be having a long weekend in Ibiza, Spain after winning a competition but sadly it didn’t work out. I’ve posted numerous blogs on the state of my finances and despite hotel and most food paid for I couldn’t pay for the rest. Plus my passport is about to run out so I would have had to find the £85-ish to renew that first as well.

This is where I get fed up and my mood swings drop. I made the mess thanks to my mental health and I accept that and am taking steps to fix it. I’ve just under another 2 years left before I can be debt free. Most of the time I get by but sometimes I just want to be like everybody else and be spontaneous with trips.

My recently retired boss is on her 2nd holiday this year. Everyone around me is talking holidays even if it’s a week in this country. I’m desperately hoping that we get a bonus this year so I can look at the £99 2 day trips so I can have something. I know the next 2 years will fly by and I’ll be able to make up for everything I feel I miss out on now and I try not to have regrets as what’s done is done.

However lets be positive as that is what this blog page is all about. I could have spent the 6 days feeling sorry for myself and despite what the above paragraphs might say I haven’t done that. Instead I spent the time smashing my to-do list.

I painted the cupboard after saying I would for the last 18 months. I cleaned out the shed, I gave the garden two cuts and it’s now ready to be dug up so I can start looking towards the plans I have when the debts are paid. And I’ve finished and sent in my assignment 12 days early! Today I’ve done very little. I think I deserve at least one day just chilling and reading (although I did take advantage of the library 10p book sale – even my budget can’t argue with that amount)

Tomorrow is back to work although only for 2 days then it’s my weekend again.

365 Day Blog challenge Day 171 Time Off #365daychallenge

This week we had a bank holiday followed by two days of working. I’m now off for another 5 days, will work 2 more then off for 3 days! The week of the 21st will be the only week I work a full week this month. I love May!

I was meant to be in Ibiza, Spain this weekend after winning a competition but with money being so tight this year I couldn’t afford to put the money away. We’re waiting at work to see if we get any bonuses paid this year (it’s complicated. We took a pay deal after a 5 year freeze and so the bonus is up for a re-negotiation every year until 2020). If we get a bonus I’ll be able to book a long weekend away somewhere.

If not I really need to try and re-start my day trips away even if I don;t spend any money except on lunch. I need to work something into my budget. I’m a bit fed up of only seeing work and my house at the minute.

I’ve got these 5 days off them with no real plans. I do have to finish my end of module assignment for Open University. It’s done except for the referencing so it won;t take long. And I’d promised myself I would finally after 18 months paint the downstairs cupboard (glamourous life eh??) but I need to think about the rest of my time. Whatever I decide will be cheap and cheerful but I do want to go somewhere. I need to get my thinking cap on and see where I can go.

365 Day Blog challenge Day 156 Financial Challenge #365daychallenge

I’ve been looking at finances this week. I’ve beaten one struggle in that I never believed in myself enough to lose weight and had been hiding my true self behind flab. My last giant issue is money. You guys know I have a debt repayment plan if you’ve read previous blogs. I’ve talked about how that wrecks your self esteem and causes anxiety in itself as you struggle to try and have even the smallest of lives while you clear the debts. And they should be cleared I have no problem with that.

I have a limited budget each month after the debt repayment has gone out and my bills have been paid. That budget is to last me all month and covers treats, hair cuts, dentists, emergency cat bills (thankfully none for a year) and essentials such as bread and milk etc when we run out.

I can never make it last to the end of the month. There’s always some kind of juggling around in the last week and this month is no different. I’ve discovered my willpower and strength with the diet and health so now I need to find it with money. I’ve tried the envelope scheme where you divide the cash into weeks and can only spend that amount per week. I’ve tried leaving the lot in a tub and taking only what I need or think I need. Neither have worked so far, not because they don’t work in general. I know plenty of people who have trued it and succeeded but because I can’t stop my chronic overspending. However! I said the same about chocolate and fizzy drinks and still haven’t had any this year so it is do-able. I just need to break some habits.

I did a bit of research and one of the things I found was to go through your bank statement and see just where your money goes. Then look at how to change these habits. I have still to do this but off the top of my head I can think of 4 issues straight away:

  1. Books: As my budget is tight and I can’t have many treats or nights out books have become the way to spoil myself. I use the library (good), I have my free books to review on netgalley (good) and I decided that I wouldn’t buy new books but get them from charity shops thereby also giving something back to those less fortunate too. Except I’m always in them! I possibly spend between £10-20 per month doing this under the guise of collecting the works from authors I like. It never works like that because you see other things. Now I have, thanks to free or 99p books on Amazon about 1000 books on kindle, I have a good 50 paperbacks that need reading and as I got over excited by the downloads on netgalley about 300 to get through there too. I really don’t need any more books!! I’ve decided then I can have the books of one author only from the charity shops and seeing as her books are not there very often that limits that. I will also set a maximum of £6 (up to £2 per book) for the month. Once that’s gone I have to wait.
  2. Takeaways: We are terrible in our family for takeaways. Some days I am tired and just want comfort food. I’m probably spending £20-25 minimum on this. I don’t think I’m spending once a week (that would be about £40-45 per month) but my bank statement will give me a better picture on that. So when I do the monthly shop I need to stock up on easy foods. Maybe some frozen pizzas and things I can throw in the oven. Then when I want a takeaway I can swap for one of these. Not the greatest food options when you do that but probably still less calories than a pizza or curry
  3. Eating out: This isn’t even eating in fancy restaurants. It’s McDonalds after work when on a late shift and waiting for the bus. It’s having an hour to kill before book club and going to Subway. It’s agreeing to have the pub meal when it turns out all but the organiser said no because you think somebody should do it (last week). And probably more. It’s also having that cake/slice because you ‘deserve it’. What for? Deserving a piece of cake because you’ve gone into town to pick up some train tickets (also like last week) and equally silly reasons. When I started dieting at the beginning of the year the sugary treat was limited to Tuesdays before work (pain au chocolat) as a breakfast and one on a weekend. That seems to have become an anytime treat so back to my limits again in May. I also need to think about whether I really need that meal or whether a hot drink is enough until I get home and my guess is it probably will be. That’s easily another £20+ of my money
  4. Coffee shops: The cake/slice is mentioned above. This one I will keep in some respects but not others. I started having a tea before work when my anxiety was high and I still do it. I find it a really good self care practise as I get to the city centre, I sit with a tea and my book for 20-30 minutes (dependent on the traffic getting there) and then I waltz into work without any negative feelings. What I have done, apart from my Tuesday late, is switch from an expensive coffee shop chain to using McDonalds. The tea tastes the same but is half the price and with the coffee bean stickers every 7th cup is free. That’s the bit I will be keeping. My Fri-Sun routine is where I need to change things up as I seem to be creeping in the chain stores and cake and have no real reason for doing so. This point actually ties in with learning to better manage my free time and do more. This is not a priority. I can read at home and make my own drink. When the weather is nice I can do it in the garden. That saves me £6-12 per week if I did this every day

So without really getting into it (my weekend job) I can see how I can save a minimum of £83 per month. Writing it down is harsh but just with a surface look I can see why I don’t ever have any money.

Going forward then these are all habits and as I’ve proven to myself with diet, habits can be broken. This is my big challenge for May and June. If I can manage that then I can hopefully get to the end of the month without struggle, I can then  start to see what is genuinely left at the end of the month and fingers crossed start saving some of this money for clearing my debts earlier or having a genuine treat like a night out or a trip away.

365 Day Blog challenge Day 148 No Spend Days #365daychallenge

I’ve read a few times about no spending days. I’ve been trying to remember if I’ve attempted this before but in all honesty I think I’ve managed to find an excuse every time.
So I’m having a go today. I’ve attached a couple of really interesting articles below for anyone that wishes to try this. There’s on one invisible spending. That’s where you spend money without thinking. For example; dropping something off at the charity shop then buying a book you probably don’t need (me!) or treating yourself to a magazine for the train ride to go with the coffee and chocolate. Do we really need all that?

I read (and attached) a story of a woman that did this for a whole year. I’m a bit daunted by a day!
I used to be terrible in my sugary eating days. When I used to commute I’d often have to wait half an hour for the connecting train. Ample time for a drink and a chocolate bar. Then up until the end of last year I’d had a good or bad day/ it was raining/ the sun was shining/any excuse as I passed the supermarket on the way to the bus stop to go in and buy some treats. On Saturday I went to the supermarket for milk and spent £6. That’s an extra £5.5 wasted on junk I didn’t need.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an over spender so this seems like a really good way to rein that in. I went for my morning drink after the doctors today but I had a voucher for the coffee shop so it didn’t cost me anything. I managed to not buy some pastries to go with it. I’ve a locker full of fruit tea at work so I opted not to spend money on buying milk for other teas. I’ve brought my dinner and as long as I avoid the canteen at work I shouldn’t spend any money until the journey back home.
My bus pass is on my phone so no ticket to buy and if the weather is ok I have plans to walk home anyway. I have juice and a spare water bottle at work so I don’t need to buy a drink to walk with. And then I’ll be home and got through a whole day without spending any money.

I think I’m a bit reluctant to give up my morning drink. It’s one of my calming techniques for my anxiety and as I drink tea rather than coffee it usually costs me £1 rather than £2-3 but there are lots of other ways I can probably not spend if I think about it. I do waste an awful lot of money on food and treats that I don’t need so there is definitely work to do there. I think as well it doesn’t have to be a no-spend day going forward but just mindful spending. Do I really need that? Are there other ways of getting out and about that are free?

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/blog/revealed-the-hidden-habits-that-cost-you-money

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/blog/could-you-do-the-no-spend-day-challenge
https://www.theguardian.com/money/blog/2016/nov/26/no-spending-year-over-new-way-living-wealthier-wiser