Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Savvy Spending (or How to Have a Life When You're on a Budget)

Amongst my friends and colleagues I am regarded as the Money Saving Expert.One friend even told me that recently when she was considering whether something was a bargain or not, she asked herself whether I would approve....maybe we need 'What Would Kati Do' bracelets?! The truth is, at university I was terrible with money and lived in my overdraft at all times. After finishing, things didn't pan out all that well on the job front and I often worked three jobs at once. Around 2008 I started keeping track of all my finances on a spreadsheet on a memory stick. Fast forward 5 years and that spreadsheet rules my life, although now I keep it on Google Drive. I haven't been overdrawn at all for at least two years. I never miss payments or completely run out of money, and I've even managed to save a little.

My income isn't amazing although I am pleased that I only have to keep one job now to make ends meet, that feels so much better, working 9-5 plus weekends and evenings really takes it's toll! My fiance is on an internship therefore minimum wage (yes, in London!), and I think we have pretty good lives despite the low income! I just wanted to share with you some basic tips to make my money stretch further, none of it is rocket science but you might pick up something new.

Quidco is an online cashback site and I think it's one of the best out there. I have told friends about it in the past and they've surmised that it sounds like too much effort, but I have received nearly £800 in cashback over the last 5 years for little effort at all. A lot of the bigger earnings on the site are from bigger deals such as signing up with Sky, switching your gas and electricity suppliers or signing up for a new credit card so it's worth joining if you're about to set up a new home and need to set up up all your utilities. You can earn cashback on everyday things if you remember to go via the Quidco site, such as train tickets, clothes, and deals on Wowcher and other group buying sites. You can register your cards to the site then when you spend in certain physical stores you can get cashback too, such as Debenhams and Cineworld. You can see the fashion stores you can earn with here.  You can even check into physical stores using the Android or iPhone App and earn 5p-25p for doing so. Cashback is paid into your bank approximately on a monthly basis by BACS and some transactions do take longer than others, so you need to be patient. Please also remember it doesn't make sense to buy things you wouldn't have bought in the first place, just for the cashback - that just isn't money saving.

Lucky enough to be a student? Good, remember to USE your discount card! You can get 10% in a lot of high street shops, and at some special student events up to 20% off. If your student days are over or you never went down the further education route, check amongst your friends if anyone's doing an evening course for their job which qualifies them to get an NUS card., I am sure they wouldn't begrudge your for wanting to shop with them. If you buy a pair of shoes in Topshop for £60, standard student discount reduces this to £54, meaning you've got £6 left over. Win!...spend it on a cocktail, some earrings a coffee for the friend who shared their discount with you, whatever, just enjoy making your money go slightly further, this is maths that makes sense!

I mentioned in a previous post the Seven Dials Christmas shopping event, where stores were offering 20% off everything in store with their flyer...these things aren't to be sniffed at, we did so much of our Christmas shopping that night and managed to get everyone more than we might have otherwise been able to. Keep your ears sharp and eyes peeled, it's all about opportunity! And speaking of grabbing every opportunity, I've just been checking out the Seven Dials site and came across their privilege card scheme, which entitles you to 10% off in shops and restaurants if you live or work in the area, so I've signed up seeing as my office is right in Covent Garden.

Whilst perusing the Metro this lunch time I also came across an advert for the Orla Kiely Sample sale this weekend - I will definitely be popping down to Clapham for it to see if I can find this little number from my previous post!

February 2013
Thursday 21st -11am - 7pm
Friday 22nd -11am - 7pm
Saturday 23rd -11am - 6pm

Studio Voltaire
1a Nelsons Row

*Cash and cards only (regrettably we are unable to accept Amex)
*No refunds/return
*All items sold as seen

*£1 entrance fee - all proceeds go to Maggie's Centre*

On the subject of charity, never underestimate charity shops. If you saw my previous post you'd have spotted the gorgeous brand new tagged M&S top I got last weekend. My shopping buddy also got a set of gorgeous, brand new LHA wine glasses for £14.99, which is at least half price. And it's a good way to actually give some money to charity without even realising you're doing it.

I love eating out, but the cost definitely rack up when you do it all the time. When I know I am going to be eating out, I trawl for discount vouchers. The best places for them is Money Saving Expert but you can often stumble across them in other places. I also trade in my Tesco points for restaurant vouchers, where they are worth 4x their values, so £5 of Tesco vouchers is worth £20 in Strada, Pizza Express, Cafe Rouge and other such restaurants. On a trip to Bristol, my mum and I saved tonnes on eating out with the vouchers she'd amassed! While the food in these places is always good - I especially like Strada - it is nice to go somewhere different sometimes, so I am always on the lookout for deals elsewhere. I got an email at work the other day from Henry's, as we do a lot of client entertaining there. The email contained a voucher offering 50% off food which suited me well as I was meeting a friend for dinner in Covent Garden. We really enjoyed our meals, and it's a really nice atmosphere, so it was a bonus to be paying Wetherspoon prices!

When it comes to entertainment I find cinema and show tickets can be so expensive at times, and I rarely used to go to the cinema because it just ends up being so costly. One day though I caught onto free screenings, and now many of my cinema trips are free! On the Money Saving Expert forum, there is a thread for free cinema tickets and another for free theatre and concert tickets (mostly in London) where people list free screening codes from websites like ShowFilmFirst. I am subscribed to both threads, so every time somebody posts something, I get an email and I am straight it! This is how I recently got to see Let It Be at the Savoy Theatre for nothing, and how I am getting to check out Safe Haven next week. I have however been turned away from a screening, this has only happened once but was quite annoying so if you manage to get tickets, make sure you get there early to avoid disappointment. Do also join the Show Film First Mailing list as occasionally they might invite you to events specifically.

I love my loyalty cards and am partial to a bit of extreme couponing in Boots when I have a big shop to do, I always use the "x extra points when you spend £x" vouchers you get through the mail, coupled with checking out that instore machine to see if there are any extra deals on things I was planning to buy anyway. You can save your points up for something special or spend them on everyday things, but £10 of points is 3 free lunches or a nice eyeshadow, so not to be sniffed at in my book.

I enter a lot of competitions on lazy Sundays when I haven't got much else on, and have had some good wins. You might not want to enter hundreds at a time, but if you spot one while surfing there's no harm in entering (as long as you tick/untick the appropriate boxes to avoid spam), somebody has to win, and it could be you. I've won £1000 and a car for a weekend, £500, vouchers, shampoo and shower gel, perfume, and Xbox, a phone. It can pay off! You can win major life-enhancing things, like cash or holidays, or even day-to-day stuff like shampoo which saves you having to buy it yourself!

Finally, even if something is super-discounted, it's not a bargain if you didn't need it in the first place. When you spot an amazing item at a ridiculous price, ask yourself if you actually love it. Are you going to wear it? What with? Is it dry-clean only? Is it really worth it? Is it just going to hang in your wardrobe and look nice? I've saved myself fortunes by questioning myself on this.

Some people might think it sounds like a lot of effort trawling for bargains, and can it really be worth it? The answer is YES! If you're in the same boat as me with a modest income, living in the most expensive city in the UK, then every penny counts. You can either lock yourself up and have no fun at all, or go wild and get into loads of debt. Or you can start spending a bit more wisely.