The world can feel a very scary place at the moment, the news is a constant reminder about inflation and financial woes. It is therefore a breath of fresh air to see people, much like us, choosing to try and offer solutions. Jane at Shoestring Cottage is one such enterprise. Off the back of her winning :best blog’ UK Money Bloggers People’s Choice award, we caught up with Jane to hear some incredible ideas to live a frugal, but happy life.
To start, please could you tell us a little bit about your channel?
I write a blog called Shoestring Cottage, which has followed my journey towards a frugal lifestyle for more than a decade. I look at all of the different ways to save money, from ideas to reduce your utility bills, learning how to be creative with what you have, cooking budget friendly recipes, buying second hand and finding ways to cut back without feeling deprived.
Recently, I have started a YouTube channel as another way to offer money saving ideas to those seeking to tighten their belts. I think that now, with inflation going through the roof, more and more people are looking for money saving inspiration.
Congratulations on your recent award. What do you think really resonates with your viewers?
I was really delighted to win the UK Money Bloggers People’s Choice award for best blog, as it was voted for by my readers.
I think my viewers and readers appreciate my authenticity. I am not a millionaire telling them to forego their daily Starbucks in order to sort their finances. This is how I live! The advice I give is always based on my own experience.
Choosing a simple and frugal lifestyle means that I don’t have to work a 50-hour week in a job I don’t enjoy. I am mortgage and debt free and have time to spend with my partner Justin, my family and my dog.
With inflation everywhere: what are your top five tips to save money on everyday items and bills?
1. We all know that energy bills are rising worryingly fast.
You probably can’t avoid paying more, but you can expedite the amount they go up by being as energy efficient as possible. Turn your thermostat down a couple of degrees, and have a short shower rather than a long bath. Layer up rather than immediately putting on the heating. A heated throw can be a good investment. Get your loft insulated, fit reflective foil behind radiators, stick insulating tape around draughty doors and windows, line your curtains, etc.
2. Walk and cycle short journeys rather than always driving.
Not only will you save fuel and wear and tear on your car, you will exercise for free!
3. Go through your bank statement with a fine-tooth comb.
Find out where your money is going and see what you can cut. Make a monthly budget and try to stick to it.
4. Renegotiate with all of your regular service providers*.
If you have an all singing, all dancing TV package, can you reduce it to a more basic deal, or cut it altogether and get Freeview? Can you get a cheaper mobile phone deal, car or household insurance? Could you switch any of your utilities to pay less? A day spent on the phone haggling might seem like a chore, but it could save you thousands each year. (* It’s probably not worth fixing your energy bills at this point, as explained here.)
5. Change your money mindset.
Instead of feeling hard done by and deprived because you can’t buy a new outfit, go out as often, or get the latest gadget or gizmo, set yourself goals. Why do you need to save money? If you are in debt, give yourself a target of paying off a certain amount each month. Perhaps you want to save enough for a family holiday or you are putting money towards a mortgage deposit. Having a goal can be hugely motivating.
Is saving money with groceries always possible?
When you begin your frugal journey, your grocery bill is a great place to start. Even with food prices rising, there is a lot you can do.
Write a meal plan from the food that you already have and then base your shopping list on that. ALWAYS take a list to the supermarket and try not to be swayed by the buy two get one free type offers. Don’t shop when you are hungry and if you can leave your kids at home then do. If you don’t already, try the budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl. I immediately saved £30 a week on my family shop when I swapped to them. If you are stuck with the bigger supermarkets, don’t be a brand snob. Trade down and try supermarket own brands and the value ranges. Stick to the food aisles if possible so that you don’t impulse buy clothing or homeware. And use your leftovers. Either freeze them or have them for lunch the next day.
Is there a way to stay healthy on a smaller food budget?
Definitely. Most of us eat too much. Our portion sizes are bigger than is recommended, so cutting back will benefit your waistline as well as your bank balance.
Fresh fruit and veg can be expensive, but there are ways to find it cheaper. Nip into Lidl first thing to see if you can find their £1.50 too good to waste boxes. Look for the wonky veg lines in places like Morrison’s and Asda. Buy frozen and canned instead of fresh, as it’s often cheaper. If you have a market in your town, check it out for the cheapest produce.
Try incorporating some vegetarian meals into your meal plan too; meat is more expensive and there is plenty of evidence that a vegetarian diet is healthier. Or use meat more as a garnish than the main event. For example, a 75p pack of cooking bacon from Asda goes a long way. It adds flavour to meals like pasta bake, frittata and risotto.
What would you say to reassure people who are really worrying about finances at the moment?
You may not have control over the inflation rate or the price of energy, but you do have control of your household budget. One of my best investments was a budget book, which lists my income and outgoings, my savings targets and acts as a spending diary. I keep it on the dining room table so that I remember to add any spending and see if I am sticking to my planned budget.
You don’t have to buy a special budget book, though. A simple notebook will suffice or there are a number of free budgeting apps available for your phone. Find the method that suits you best. The important thing is to know what your costs are, what you are spending and what you can afford.
If you are concerned that you can’t pay your bills, talk to the companies involved. Get debt advice if necessary from an organisation such as Citizen’s Advice. The important thing is not to hide your head in the sand. There is help out there.
Do you recommend secondary income sources and if so what forms of passive income would you suggest anyone can try?
There are various ways to make extra income if you are prepared to think out of the box. If you have a spare room, letting it out to a lodger is easy. We find it very easy to live with other people and have been lucky in having several lodgers that we now consider good friends.
The government’s Rent a Room Scheme allows you to earn up to £7500 tax free. Find out more here.
If you don’t want somebody living with you full time, then taking in language students for a few weeks at a time can be lucrative and fun. We did this for several years and I wrote a blog post about it that you might find helpful here.
A friend of mine who lives close to the town centre rents out her driveway during the day whilst she is at her office. This is a great idea if you live near a station or airport too.
Can you sell your excess stuff to make extra money?
I prefer eBay and Facebook Marketplace to sell online, but there is also Vinted, Depop, Schpock and Gumtree.
If you enjoy the online selling process, you could even start a reselling business. You find items cheaply in charity shops and boot sales and sell them at a profit. Don’t forget your tax obligations if you do start a side hustle, however. You will need to keep records and register as self-employed.
To find out more about why I am frugal and how I live my life, you might like to check out this video on my YouTube channel.