saving money

How to save money on a low income

Disclaimer — I will talk about chilli a lot in this post. It’s largely unintentional, but as cheap meals go, it’s hard to beat, since it’s delicious, cheap, and full of beans and veg. I’m not sorry.

If you’ve had more than a passing acquaintance with trying to pay off debt, then you’ve probably stumbled onto Pinterest. Yes?

If you’ve no idea what I’m on about, then I urge you to go to Pinterest, and search ‘debt’ or ‘paying off debt quickly’ and have a quick look.

NOTHING puts fire in your belly quicker than the inspiration provided by a ‘low income’ couple that paid off £150,000 on three years.

By the end of the article, you’ll have sold your kids, have enough pasta sauce to make Dolmio sweat, and started your own brothel as a side hustle.

But here’s the thing. This couple isn’t on a low income. They probably earn a decent salary — just not a mahoosive one. They’re on a ‘normal’ income. Say 50 grand between them. Fine, fine, fine.

What about those people on minimum wage? If both partners, or heaven forbid, a SINGLE PERSON, barely bring in £25,000, what are they meant to do? Starve to death? Accept debt as a way of life?

Make a list of your expenses

Hopefully, the money you bring in exceeds the money that has to go out. If it doesn’t there are a couple of things you can do, neither of which are fun, but you just have to believe that it’s worth it.

  1. Make more money

Wow, jeez, thanks Caroline, I’d never have thought of that.

Look, it’s an option. Ask for more hours, get a bar job one evening a week, sell printables on Etsy, whatever you fancy.

If you fancy starting a blog, and don’t mind doing the work and getting paid for it later (blogs are a slog), then on Monday I’m gonig to do a post on starting a blog for free. And actually free. And then if you enjoy it, you can save up some money and buy all that crap (hosting, a domain) that everyone says that you NEEEED (you don’t).

2. Spend less on food

You could plausibly feed 2 adults a week very healthily for £30, and if you were well-prepared, you could even make it somewhat varied.

I’m vegan, so eating is pretty cheap for me. Staples like milk may seem more expensive but when you consider how long they last it ends up being cheaper.

If you have the time you can be soaking beans and stuff, but if you stick to a basic diet of cereal for breakfast (vegans: weetabix is fortified with iron, so it’s a good choice if you don’t want to fork out on supplements), homemade soup for lunch, and homemade curry/chilli for dinner you can easily save money.

You can make a batch of soup and chilli in an hour on a Sunday. Bulk both up with beans and tinned tomatoes.

It’s samey, but we’re dealing with a low income here.

Assess your debt

Seek advice from Citizens Advice or the National Debt helpline if you’re struggling, but the biggest thing is acknowledging your debt. If you can pay more than the minimum payment, do.

If you have multiple debts, google the .

I’m not qualified to give proper debt advice, so I’ll say only this: try not to take out more ESPECIALLY not on things you don’t really need.

Set a goal

If you feel like you’re drowning a bit, setting a goal of putting a deposit on a house is just cruel.

Instead, set a goal of building a little cushion so that you can stick to your plan of not taking out more debt.

If you don’t have any debt but don’t have much left over to save, then maybe set a goal to save a week’s wages. And then a month’s.

It can do wonders for your mental state to have a financial buffer against the world.

Finding money to save

As I mentioned before, see if you can shave money off your food bill. I’m not suggesting you cut out that takeaway you look forward to all week. However, maybe you do think twice about the takeaway you order because you can’t be arsed to cook.

Having that curry in the fridge can really help with moments of can’t-be-arsedness. I’m not suggesting you meal prep all of your meals, but making twice the amount of a dish when making food that can be refrigerated/frozen is as easy as just making what you immediately require.

Such dishes include:

  • Lasagne
  • Cottage pie
  • Curry
  • Chilli
  • Pasta & sauce

Chilli is great because you can eat it multiple times but change up the carbs — make burritos, have it with rice, stick it on a jacket potato…whatever.

Selling stuff

I hate this tip. I don’t have anything to sell. But if you do, go for it.

Go out for lunch, rather than dinner

Don’t think I’m above going to Greggs and sitting in. Lunch for two for under a tenner. Go to Tesco, get a £6 bottle of prosecco (or two) and share that in front of the telly (after you’ve had your chilli for tea).

If you would prefer going somewhere a bit fancier though that’s fine. A lot of places do set menus at lunchtime that are cheaper than going in the evening.

A word of caution

Just be sure to actually save all the money you’re freeing up, rather than just wasting it on other things.

There are countless small ways to save money

But they’ve been documented a thousand times elsewhere — don’t buy new cars (don’t though), turn down your thermostat, take shorter showers, don’t buy coffee every day…

And it’s sound advice, but lifestyle is so so personal. I LOVE a long shower, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I went out to a pub or bar.

You might be happy to have a three-minute wash in exchange for happy hour once a week. If that keeps you saving a bit of cash but still having a life that doesn’t make you weep, GREAT.

A big deal was made about the so-called Latte Factor, but if that first Starbucks on the morning makes getting out of bed a thousand times easier GO FOR IT. However, if you decide that money is better spent elsewhere, and you’d rather save up that money and spend it on a fancy meal monthly (or something dull, like new tyres), do that.

OR, radical thought, you think you might need new tyres in a couple of months, you could quit the coffee, save up the money, get the tyres, and go back to the coffee. Or decide you don’t need it. Or halfway through saving discover that you need the coffee, and you’re going to pick up a couple of extra shifts to pay for the tyres.

Money is hugely personal. The only trick to saving is keeping an eye on what you’re spending.

My chilli recipe (makes a massive pan):

  • Vegetable oil, 1 tbsp for cooking £1.10
  • 2 medium red/white onions, diced 99p
  • 2 sticks of celery, diced 99p
  • 1 medium carrot (top tip: I once bought single carrot from Coop and I got it for free because the scales couldn’t register the weight), grated 49p
  • 1 pepper, diced £1.50
  • 1 pack Tesco soya mince £1.75
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes 56p
  • 1 Knorr stock cube £1.50
  • 1 tin black beans 55p
  • 1 tin kidney beans 55p
  • 1/2 pack mushrooms, diced £1
  • Smoked paprika, cumin, any other spices you fancy £1.70
  • Chilli flakes (unless you don’t want it spicy) 85p
  • Method: fry onions, celery, carrots, pepper, mushrooms on a low to medium heat for ten minutes or so, add the spices and stir for a minute, add the mince (deglaze the pan with water if it sticks). Add everything else (tomatoes, beans, stock cube). Leave to simmer for half an hour.

You could make it more quickly if you cook the veg at the start on a high heat, but I think you get a better flavour if you caramelise them a bit.

Total: £13.53

And that’s not per portion. That’s for four massive portions, probably six normal portions.

I put the full price of buying everything, so whilst we only need one carrot, 49p buys a pack. The cumin and smoked paprika were 85p each for a pot, not a portion, so we still have leftover oil, onions, carrots, celery, peppers, mushrooms, stock cubes, and spices. Buy a can of coconut milk and some garam masala and you can make yourself a curry.

Writer, blogger. Rabbit parent to one. Plant parent to many. Occasional runner, jigsaw puzzle enthusiast.

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