How to save money on your shopping

Ever heard of extreme couponing?

It’s the act of collecting and stockpiling enough coupons that you can get something ridiculous like £1000 worth of groceries for 6p, or even free.

There is a hit US TV series of the same name which will help give you the gist of what it entails.

I am nowhere near those leagues yet, but then again I am a baby in terms of my time spent extreme couponing. But through a few hours of work sat watching the TV I have amassed a useful amount of coupons for my shopping.

Basically I won’t be running out of yogurts and tea bags anytime soon.

I started doing this in the Summer of 2016 when I was temporarily unemployed. I didn’t want my boyfriend to ‘suffer’ in terms of not having a fully stocked kitchen filled with all his favourite treats, but I needed to be a bit creative with how I food shopped.

I am the sort of person who always has a stockpile of cards and stamps, and I love writing and receiving letters, so what I did was of little hardship to me. I can understand it might not be to everyone’s taste, but here is how I saved money on my food shopping.

Basically I wrote to companies I liked, explaining how much I liked them, and I received coupons in return to save money on my shopping.

Here are my top tips.

  • Never ever directly ask for a coupon or voucher, even if you are complaining about something and feel it’s fair. I think it is human nature (or British nature) to feel a bit put out when someone demands something for free. I recently complained to a major supermarket about a perceived injustice. The injustice was to the matter of 20p. I didn’t ask for anything, just clearly stated my disappointment. They sent me a £5 voucher.
  • Be creative. It would not be unheard of to send a company you like a poem about how great they are or draw a picture about their brilliance (or get a willing child to do so). I haven’t gone to quite these extremes as I am not that talented, but what I do is send Thank You cards (£1.49 for ten in Card Factory) and decorated the cards and envelopes with stickers saying things like ‘Fab’ and ‘Good Work’.
  • Be truthful and specific. Companies love feedback. If you say something generic like ‘You’re great’ that won’t really be good for them, but if you say something like ‘Despite living on a strict food budget and having to buy own brand or value products, we would never compromise on the brilliant taste of X Product and always find the money to buy them.’ They will be more likely to reward you for some information they can take to their directors.
  • Be selective. Don’t write to every company under the sun as not only will you most likely waste all your profit on the stamp costs, but you can’t guarantee how much, if anything, the companies will give you in vouchers. Also you should write to companies you genuinely love as if you get a £1 voucher for a product you only sort of like which normally costs £4 anyway, you won’t really be motivated to use it and would therefore have wasted your time and money on the stamp.
  • Don’t expect immediate results as big companies have lots of mail/emails to go through, but you will hear from them eventually.
  • If you choose to go down the email route make sure you put your postal address in the email as they may send you a voucher in the post. A voucher sent to you is better as with print off vouchers you will normally have to download a (free) bit of software to make sure the barcode scans, but some supermarkets can be funny about print off vouchers.
  • When you have obtained your lovely vouchers, don’t head to the shops straight away. Instead head to the website mysupermarket.com and check to see which supermarket is selling it cheapest, or doing an offer on it. If you have a ‘One Free Product’ voucher, then it would be worth checking to see if a supermarket is selling if buy one get one free, because that way you’d get two for free. Also if you have a £2 voucher for a normally £3.50 product, it would be worth using mysupermarket to see if a supermarket is selling it for £2, as again you would get it for free that way.
  • It would be best to head to a major supermarket to use your vouchers, I know Savers don’t accept vouchers.
  • In my experience it would only be worth writing to a supermarket if you have a complaint. I have sent many (genuine) praiseful letters to my favourite supermarket and whilst they have been thankful for the feedback, they haven’t felt the need to reward my praise.
  • There are two websites, Everyday Caring (Johnson and Johnson) and Super Savvy Me (P&G) that have vouchers available all year round for free for the specified companies.
  • One of my favourite websites ever is the Money Saving Expert website, and they also have a supermarket vouchers section. They also use mysupermarket to tell you if the voucher will get you the product for free anywhere.
  • Whenever you are going to a chain restaurant look to see if they have a voucher offer on their website (maybe for signing up to their newsletter which you can always unsubscribe from) or see if they have an app as that may also give you a voucher. I joined the Hungry Horse newsletter and got a £5 off £15 on food voucher, and downloaded the TGI Friday’s app this year to get a free appetizer.
  • I know you may be thinking “who has time for all this?” and be put off. I won’t lie, it will take time, but it doesn’t have to be a chore, just do it whilst watching TV. The main way to think about it is like this-based on your hourly wage, if it takes you say 3 hours to earn £25, then would it be fair to say it should take 3 hours of effort to save £25?

Now I will get into the admin side of things. For anyone who likes spreadsheets this will be heaven. For anyone who doesn’t…maybe find some other way of doing this.

I have two spreadsheets for my coupon collection. One is a Profit and Loss spreadsheet, which I will talk about first. This takes into account how much I spent sending the letter to the company (stamp cost plus 15p for the card and envelope) and what I got in return. When I first started this in the summer I didn’t receive a coupon from every company I’d written to, but I had made nearly £30 in coupons, £15 of which was profit. Sure that may seem like a small amount, but the cards and stamps I already had, so they could have been considered a sunk cost. Any money I saved during the summer of the great unemployment was of great benefit to me.

(I’ll admit it’s probably only a loser like me who loves spreadsheets that would go to this much effort)

The second spreadsheet is one I would definitely recommend having. It’s just a simple way of keeping track of how much the coupon is for, if there are any conditions for using it, and when it expires. You don’t want to go to all that trouble of collecting these coupons only to have them go out of date. This is a good excuse to acquire a pretty folder.

I have now imparted all my wisdom. I hope some of this may help you.

Better (NSD too)

I guess it’s fair to say I am neither one thing or another. I have good days with my anxiety and bad days.

Today was a good day. Yesterday I could barely follow a colleague’s conversation without feeling panicked and wanting it to end. Today I actively took part in talking to people and didn’t feel as desperately anxious in my customer facing roles as I normally do.

I still have great trouble interacting with people in a ‘normal’ way. Whenever I leave a social setting I tend to slip out quietly rather than saying goodbye to lots of people.

I know this seems like rudeness, but I’m not trying to be rude even though my anxiety can come across as being aloof as the very least and downright infuriating to the unsympathetic.

I don’t say goodbye to people because I’m convinced no one will say goodbye back, that it will just fall in an awkward silence and I will be embarrassed.

I am convinced people hate me. I guess this stems from my low opinion of myself, I mean if I don’t even like myself how can I expect anyone else too?

Despite my conviction that I am a truly awful person I have somehow managed to convince a great guy to be in a relationship with me for nearly 6 years (of his own free will!) and have so many friends that I tend to bankrupt myself each year buying them all presents.

Yet I can’t seem to be nice to myself.

I am scared of talking to people because I’m scared they will verbally attack me. I don’t know where this stems from. I have had my fair share of verbal abuse, but not an excessive amount and no more than the average person (though being told to my face that I was ugly was not a particular highlight in my life)

I am petrified of conflict. I hate a raised voice. I would far rather be told quietly that I was an awful person then be screamed at with a mild insult.

Yet today was a good day, so let’s focus on that. Whether it was just the ‘T.G.I Friday’ feeling or a sense of calm after banishing my anxiety at football yesterday today was ok.

It was also a NSD, which is great considering I had run out of milk at work yesterday, I decided to just fill up a plastic bottle with milk from our fridge at home and take that in.

I made a promise to my boyfriend that I would take my social anxiety seriously this year and tackle it. So I will try harder.

Fighting the Impulse

Now that I have enforced a spend free year, I have become a lot more conscious of my shopping impulses.

There have been a few scary moments where I have thought ‘I’ll just get one of these/pick up that/go and buy one of those’ and have to fight that thought and remind myself that this year is an experiment I must do.

I’ll admit, they have mostly all been food related.

The other day I was in Sainsbury’s picking up Bread (which was on the list) when I became tempted by some rather good yellow sticker discounted treats.

Such as a whole Coffee and Walnut cake for 79p.

That would have been a terrific saving, but I put it back, because it would only be me that would eat it (my Boyfriend hates coffee. And nuts) and I don’t need the calories, and I also decided that it would be a NON ESSENTIAL PURCHASE.

Which would have seen me fail the challenge before even one month had been completed.

Today I had two more incidences. I didn’t really fancy what I had bought for lunch from home and had to fight the urge to go to the work canteen.

Then after Football training I was walking home through town when I thought casually ‘I’ll get a subway for dinner’ then had to remind myself that all solo food and drink is banned.

It is hard undoing years of giving in to my impulses and also my lack of discipline concerning my spending.

The funny thing is I have been through all this before when I gave up smoking. Even now years after my last smoke I occasionally have moments where I’ll think about smoking and have to tell myself that I am done with that shit.

I have heard it takes a short time to develop a habit (around 3-4 weeks) but can take so much longer to break a bad habit.

I am proud though to see that 12 days into the year my spending totals so far equal what would have been about 2 1/2 days before. I am pleased that I am putting things down, that I haven’t broke the rules, that I am still going.

This weekend will be a challenge as I am going to watch a football match. I have set a budget, and ideally I want to come under it.

I guess I will just have the one Gin and Tonic.

Once again I am saved by my stockpile

So this morning I was about to make breakfast when I realised we only had a small amount of bread left, which I would have to leave for my boyfriend as he would kick off if he had to have anything other than a sandwich for lunch.

Luckily I remembered that I often secrete leftover slices of bread into the freezer for such an occasion as this, so a quick route around and I had the two slices I needed for my breakfast.

Ok, so they didn’t match, but I can live with that.

Today will not be a NSD (I haven’t managed one yet this week) as a coffee date I had arranged with a work colleague for yesterday had to be rescheduled for today.

I am really looking forward to this, and not just because I will be allowed to have an illicit takeaway coffee as I will be with someone and therefore it will be a ‘Social’ spend.

No, the reason why I’m looking forward to it is because I had struck up a conversation with this colleague at the Work’s Christmas do in December and I forget exactly how it came about but I discovered she had been in quite a lot of debt before and had managed to clear it. So we had a happy chat (if you can call it that) about debt, 0% Balance Transfer cards, the Money Saving Expert website and yearly budgets.

I belong to a forum about debt and post on there, so I know that people in debt exist but it is nice to meet someone in the flesh who has been through it all, it gives me hope that I won’t fail and that I will smash the debt.

My old friend Mr Anxiety strikes again

Today involved a fair bit of spending-all from the approved categories.

£1.10 for Milk (Work Expense), £3.90 Train fare to friends house (Travel Day to Day) and a £2 donation to my Boss’s maternity leave present (Gifts).

The reason why I was travelling to my friend’s house is because she is the Vice Captain of the girls football team I am a part of and we were having a theory session.

I started off in good spirits but soon my mood deteriorated.

The trouble is other than the hostess who I have been good friends with for years, I either know everyone else a little bit or not at all. Some people are new and I don’t even know their names yet.

Some would see this as an opportunity to get to know people, but I am scared and intimidated by these girls. They are all lovely, some of them I have spent a lot of time talking too and we have even competed in the same running events, but I am shy and feel too scared to strike up a conversation.

Why? Well I guess the answer is I think very little of myself. Indeed I have often wondered how other people’s insults could ever hurt me as I don’t think there is anyone on this planet who hates me more than I do.

Ultimately I think of myself as worthless, and I find it hard to talk to people and to get to know them because I am scared that the more I reveal myself the more they will hate me.

I am genuinely puzzled when people say nice things about me.

I think this is the route of why I got into debt. Part of me was desperately trying to be normal and liked. Have nice clothes so that people wouldn’t realise I was weird. Buy a round of drinks so that people would like me. Get people good gifts so they might just give me the time of day.

Yes, effectively I was trying to buy people’s affection.

I do have a strong core of friends who I am almost completely certain do like me for who I am. My problem is I need constant validation just to believe it.

When you feel bad about yourself you search for a quick buzz in whatever makes you feel good, no matter how temporary. So maybe it’s better that all I did was run up a lot of credit card debt then get addicted to drugs or alcohol, but my vice is just as damaging and will have a lasting impact on my life for the foreseeable future.

Some days I feel good about myself, and actually my debt has given me a drive and a focus that I have never had before. Bizarrely the thing that makes me happiest is my debt because I am obsessed with saving money, getting the best cash back deal, comparing price per gram across different foods and seeing the debt decrease month after month. I love everything about my tackling my debt, I just wish I didn’t have to be in this situation.

 

 

 

When a bargain isn’t all that great

I had today off work to go to the Dentist. As is customary for my days off I overslept and woke up at midday. This in theory should be a treat as I have to get up before 6am on a working day, but when my ideal time to get up is 5am you can see why I wasn’t best pleased.

The trip to the Dentist, which was thankfully nothing more than a check up, resulted in my first health expense of the year, £13.50 for the check up. Eagle eyed readers will notice that this is more than the £5 a month budget for Health related costs, but I don’t really expect to be back in the Dentists chair until July so I do have time to save up and make the money back.

I also had to pick up my prescription from the Doctor’s surgery and it was there that I noticed they had half price offers on a range of gift items.

I spied some things that would have made good gifts for my two nieces to put aside for their birthdays later this year. But in the end, although two sets of gifts for the grand total of £7 would have been a bargain, I didn’t splurge.

Why?

Well two reasons. First of all I am in negative equity, by which I mean after doing a financial forecast I have £11.32 that is surplus money this month (in that this is what is left over once all the other budgets/expenses have been taken out). BUT my boyfriend has got us tickets to see a comedian in late March, which comes to £24.50 each. The tickets arrived today, so I owe my boyfriend £24.50.

£11.32 – £24.50 = -£13.18, which I guess I will have to spread over from next month’s Social budget.

Secondly, I don’t want to get my Nieces, or any family member, a gift I got on the cheap that they may like. I want to get my friends and family gifts I think they will love. Like is not good enough, only Love will do.

After spending 2016 in the friendship wilderness, being too anxious to see most of my friends most of the time, I want to spend this year reconnecting with them and showing them that they do mean something to me. That the problems I had socialising were not a reflection on them but all down to me and my insecurities.

I reconnected with one friend in the autumn of 2016. I hadn’t seen her since October 2015, although to be fair she does live in a different county (and country if we want to be technical about it). The reason for me not seeing her for so long was very much to do with the whole ‘I was a twat with money’ and would make a plan, then get distracted by something shiny in a shop and suddenly have no money for a takeaway coffee, let alone the train fare to see her.

When I reconnected with her I explained about the fact that I had gotten myself into a bad financial way and that’s why I couldn’t see her, nothing more. She, being the reasonable and lovely friend that she is, very kindly said she had been concerned about me and had been a little hurt by my behaviour, but figured that I was going through something and would come back once I had worked it out.

So, the problem is, all my other friends probably feel a variation of that. Or may have wondered why I disappeared off the face of the friendship earth in 2016 (I have also come close several hundred times to nearly deleting my Facebook account as I find it too traumatic). Do I do a public Facebook apology? (The idea of which makes me want to break out into hives), or do I explain things on an as and when needed basis?

The trouble is my social anxiety hasn’t gone away, it is still very much a part of me, it is just that this year I am determined to beat it up and vanquish it to the fiery pits of hell.

Saying that doesn’t automatically mean the problem is gone though so I still have to fight it just to reach out to my friends.

Still if I can resist the charms of a half price lip gloss and nail varnish set then maybe I can fight my social demons.

 

 

A review of this week

I’m bending the rules a bit here as there have actually been 8 days of the year so far, but I thought I would do a little review of where I stand statistics wise, and Sundays always feel like a nice day for reflection.

NO SPEND DAYS (NSDs) = 3

SPENDING

FOOD/HOUSEHOLD

Tissues £0.80

Milk £1

Bread £0.50

Milk £1

Frozen Onion Packet £1.29

Milk, Orange Juice, Bread, Parsnips, Cucumber and Bananas £4.34

Apples and Grapes £2.19

TOTAL = £11.12

 

PERSONAL SPENDS

HOME: Printer Paper and HDMI Cable = £5 (paid for with a £5 note I found on the floor)

WORK EXPENSE: Milk = £0.80

SOCIAL: Train to friends baby shower = £3.90

SOCIAL: 3 Drinks meeting recently engaged friends with my boyfriend = £7

TOTAL SPEND = £16.70

Also this week I have earned 25p in a supermarket survey (to be uploaded to that supermarkets loyalty card) and a £5 Amazon voucher through the app Shopprize.

I have also earned enough points to exchange for a £10 voucher for a store of my choosing (from a selection) through a shopping data collection company I use.

Including the £5 note I found this week I have earned £20.25 on top of my wages.

The food shopping money comes from a separate budget so this week I am in profit when you compare my personal spends against what I have acquired.

I would find it extremely hard to make every week like this week, but I feel very positive about this start to 2017.

Also I have lost three pounds through healthier eating so go me.

Next week is going to have a few more spends in it than this week. I am on annual leave tomorrow and am using the day to go to the Dentist for a check up. Then I am travelling to a Football Theory session with my team on Tuesday, Wednesday should be a NSD, but Thursday will involve travel to my Football training, and also paying for the football session, Friday will hopefully be a NSD but then I am watching my football team on Saturday and may be seeing friends afterwards.

All of those things have been budgeted for but it still involves money leaving my pocket, something I am keen to do a lot less of this year.

I need to do a tally of all the money I have this month as I am determined to clear one of my credit cards-the one with the balance of only about £90 on it-before payday.

Wish me luck guys.

 

 

 

 

I am doing better than the national average person

Hi everyone,

I have been awake for about 45 minutes and in that time I have learned something of value to a person in my situation.

According to a new report by the TUC, full details of which can be found here the average household unsecured debt in the UK is £12,887.

So my debt of £5996.12 isn’t looking so bad.

That is until I realised that a household normally contains more than one person when taking debts into account, so I am actually doing my fair share of the debt.

And as my boyfriend has no debt I am the household debt in our house.

Oh dear!

I am for the most part managing, I have a very small disposable income (which isn’t really a disposable income as all of it is budgeted for) which I can cope with as all my other expenses-bills, food, football training-are covered, so I don’t really need a disposable income.

But I do live pay day to pay day, I have no savings, and my contract at work ends this April.

So as long as everything stays the same I will survive.

If things change for the worse then that is when life will get very difficult.

I know my debt may seem smaller than some, some people may have £6000 debt on just one of their credit cards, but for me it is very much proportional to my income. It is a third of my annual pre tax, pension and student loan income, so it is difficult to pay off quickly.

Also my income is going to take a hit as I was under the impression that I was paying into my pension at work from the start of my contract, it turns out it only comes out of my wage after three months of employment.

This will be tough and I may have to readjust the budgets.

I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

 

Adventures Close to Home

I have finally learned how to shop well.

All because I nearly undid my 6 days of good work.

I was food shopping, just a few essentials, when I went into Iceland (cheapest place for frozen veg based on price per gram-I work this stuff out) and saw a shelf full of Wok’s.

I could do with a wok, so I had a look, and the offer was buy three Uncle Ben’s products and get a free wok.

Good deal surely.

So I had a look at the products available. I can take or leave Uncle Ben’s, and I would never spend £1.70 on a packet of microwaveable rice when it is 50p down the road in Home Bargains, but there were some nice little rice and curry pots (vegetarian as well) for £1 each. That was only a spend of £3 for food and a wok, great deal.

But then I put them all back, because the rice pots were probably full of fat and sugar, because the wok looked cheap and nasty and I have been down that road with wok’s before and I want a good one when I next get one, and also because I was considering asking for a wok for Christmas and I didn’t because me and my Boyfriend do not need a wok on account of my boyfriend not liking stir fry or curry.

Yes I’m sure a wok is more versatile then that, but space is a premium in our kitchen on account of me having every kitchen gadget under the sun, most of which have been used once, or less!

It would have only been £3, it would have been nice, but I’m glad I didn’t buy it.

Anyway it’s my birthday in a few months, I can always ask for one then.

I still did my usual looking down every aisle for a good deal, or something magical and exciting (do such things exist in Tesco?) but in the end I left with just the items on my list.

SPENDS

ICELAND – Frozen Chopped Onions – £1.29

TESCO – Milk, Orange Juice, Bread, Cucumber, Parsnips and Bananas – £4.34

All from the food budget.

I started off with the best of intentions, honest! (Also NSD # 3)

When I acquired my first ‘didn’t belong to a bank I was with’ credit card it was honestly with the best of intentions.

I have spent most of my employment history on a zero hour contract basis. A zero hour contract is basically a contract where I would be employed by a company on an ‘as and when needed’ basis. I would have no guaranteed contracted hours. Some weeks I could be working 30+. Sometimes I would be given a three week rota with only one shift on it (a short one at that).

This made it impossible to predict an income or even to budget effectively. Some weeks I would be flush, and other times I would be buying a reduced loaf of bread on a credit card as I didn’t even have 40p in my bank account (true story).

So I discovered you could get credit cards through places that weren’t banks. And as I was sick of borrowing money off my boyfriend just to pay my share of the household bills (although he was happy to do it I thought of myself as a parasite during these moments) I decided I would get a new and shiny credit card to use only in emergencies when I had a shortfall in my income.

But then I decided that I ‘deserved’ that new book by my favourite author. I decided I couldn’t possibly wear my current clothes on a night out and I ‘needed’ a new outfit. I wanted some new jewellery and make up to go with the new outfit.

Soon I had maxed out the card, so as at this point I still had a passable credit rating, I applied for another.

And then another.

Until I had 5 maxed out credit cards, increasing bills to pay and was still on a zero hour contract.

I wasn’t afraid of hard work. At one point I had SIX part time jobs at the same time just to try to desperately earn an income.

That is why one thing you will never hear me say is that my income is too low or that I need a better paying job.

Because they wage I’m on at the moment, whilst still entry level, makes me feel like a millionaire.

It’s just that I spend nearly £300 of it getting to work a month, and I spend an almost equal amount of that just on my debt repayments a month.

It’s not my income that’s the problem. It’s me, and my bad habits in the past.

But I have good news.

In 2016 as all I did on 4 out of 5 credit cards was pay towards them each month they started throwing balance extensions my way. This meant my ‘credit utilisation rate’ went down (meaning I had borrowed a small amount of money compared to what was available to me) which meant my credit rating went up!

I get a free credit report every month. It is by no means a perfect indication and the company I go through isn’t the best, but since I am not really applying for anything major in terms of credit all I want is a happy little indicator that I am doing good. And the day the report comes out is a good day for me as I can see the little, probably meaningless, numbers go up.

This means I have better options available for me in terms of credit, such as a nice low rate balance transfer card.

I have been accepted for a new 0% balance transfer card and soon all my credit card debt will be at 0%, meaning when I spend £250 a month on my debt payments, you know that it will all come off my debt.

Previously I was lucky if over £100 of it was cleared from my debts a month.

I got myself into this mess and I don’t mind working hard to get out of it, but will still do things to ease the journey. A 0% balance transfer card is a good compromise, it is still a debt, but one at a better rate.

I know the year is only 6 days old, but things are going well.