Many people caught up in the daily grind dream of a more fulfilling life. The events of 2020 have offered a fresh perspective on what’s important. And very rarely does the rat race feature near the top of that list.
If you have what society perceives to be a nice, comfortable office job, then you go to work to earn money to pay the bills and buy nice things. Money is a powerful incentive and keeps us plugging away at this soul-destroying work. We become trapped by ever-increasing obligations, unable to take a step back. The more we earn, the more things we desire as compensation for sitting in front of a computer all day. It becomes a never-ending cycle where we are never fulfilled.
So today’s post is all about spending less. The idea being that if you don’t spend as much then you don’t need to earn as much so you don’t need to work as much so you don’t have to worry as much about not having time to live your life.
In other words, cutting back on your expenditure makes you think: could I actually afford to work less and have a little more time to do the things I enjoy instead? This will make you far richer than any pay-packet in terms of time, health and experiences.
As a Yorkshireman, I’m really good at not spending money. And what follows is a list of some of the things I choose not to buy to achieve my goal of working less and living more. Yes it involves making sacrifices. And it won’t be for everyone. But this mentality ultimately helped me to move away from a stressful office job and enjoy more days in the hills.
Quick disclaimer – I’m not looking to shame or judge people for what they spend their money on. Everyone’s circumstances are different. But if you have a comfortable office job and worry about how you might afford taking a step back, then thinking about how you currently spend your hard-earned might just give you that option.
I’ll start with the unpopular one because not drinking alcohol saves me a small fortune every year. I’ve never been that interested in the taste, the feeling of being drunk or the blinding headache the following morning, so being teetotal isn’t too much of a hardship. The only negative I see is having to endlessly explain to people why I’m not drinking!
Let’s crunch some numbers. The Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines suggest people don’t drink more than 14 units a week. That’s around six pints of beer. The last time I went for a drink with some work colleagues in London they paid £7 a pint! Gulp! But let’s take an average of £3.75 a pint. If you drink a couple of pints three times a week, that’s £22.50 a week. Or over £1,000 a year.
Ahhhh coffee. I used to drink a lot of coffee. There’s something about the aroma, the taste, the theatre of grinding the beans, plunging the cafetière and that comfortable feeling of wrapping my hands around a warm mug.
I know lots of people who like to grab a takeaway coffee every working day. A flat white at £2.50 a pop adds up to £575 a year. It’ll be even more eye-watering if you go for something in a bigger cup.
Swapping your posh take-out coffee for one you make at home from ground beans could slash those costs to nearer £85 a year. The tricky part is stopping at just one cup a day…
Giving up coffee isn’t easy but the global pandemic helped me to do just that. During Lockdown♯1, I ran out of coffee. In my decaffeinated state, I wasn’t prepared to battle through the crowds of people panic-buying toilet roll and pasta at the supermarket. So I just went without for a bit instead. After a few days of feeling groggy, and drinking a substantial amount of peppermint tea in its place, my cravings for coffee just stopped.
Once released from our homes, I thought I’d treat myself to a cup. Expecting my senses to be overwhelmed by that first whiff of caffeine in over a month, to my surprise it tasted, well… just OK. And while it might have been psychological, that night I was wide awake and felt a headache coming on. Coffee just didn’t do it for me any more.
The point is if you can get over that initial caffeine dependency, you might not need it as much as you think.
Eat more veg
In recent years, I’ve started to question the way we consume meat. Not just the environmental cost of being so reliant on animals for our food but the questionable welfare standards of some (not all) producers, processors and retailers. This has made me more fussy about how much meat I eat and where I get it from.
Around the same time came the conscious decision to eat more vegetables. Variety and lack of inspiration has always been the tricky part when it comes to stuff grown in soil. So I started buying weekly veg boxes from the local farm shop. The beauty of this setup is I never know what I’m going to get. It’s forced me to get creative with recipes using veg I’d never normally think to go out and buy.
And because I don’t like to see things go to waste, if there’s a load of beetroot left over at the end of the week, I’ll use that up instead of heading to the freezer for the sausages. And being local produce, it’s so much tastier than the insipid, plastic wrapped stuff you get from the supermarket.
But the unexpected benefit was the costs saving. Veggies are much cheaper than slabs of meat. So this healthier eating habit is kinder on the wallet too.
Pack a pack-up
When I worked in an office, I was useless when it came to making my own pack-ups. I would always buy lunch on the day, tempted by the fancy (and not so fancy) options on offer in the city. I could easily spend around £5 a day. And that soon adds up. To over £1,000 a year!
Working from home makes it a lot easier to prepare healthy and interesting lunches. But even if you do have to leave the house for work, making your own sandwich only takes a couple of minutes. And it’ll save you more than just a couple of pounds.
This is the big one. And when you stop to work out just how much you spend on simply getting to and from the place you go to earn money, it’s frightening.
Given the dire state of public transport in the North, lots of people drive to work. Let’s say parking is £8.00 a day. Add to that the cost of fuel and you can easily spend nearly £3,000 a year. It’s like paying to get paid.
Many workplaces now offer a cycle to work benefit. But even if they don’t, you’ll soon find the cost of a bike makes sense. If you live close enough to your workplace, then cycle from your front door. Or park for free on the outskirts of the city and pedal the last few miles. You’ll miss the traffic and feel so much better for it. And if you are shelling out on a gym membership, then you can go right ahead and cancel that too.
Eating out and takeaways
We all have our favourite restaurants and takeaways. And when you are working hard, it’s tempting to get someone else to do the cooking from time to time. If you eat out or grab a takeaway once every couple of weeks, then without drinks (you’ve given up alcohol remember…) you can still easily spend £15 per head. Over the year that’s around £400.
If the pull of a poppadum is too much then why not learn to cook a mean curry from scratch. Check out somewhere like The Spicery for inspiration. Pick up some balti serving dishes and find an appropriate playlist on Spotify to recreate the restaurant atmosphere at home. You could even get the kids to wait on you! It’s nearly as good as your local but you won’t need to ask for the bill at the end (although there’s nothing to stop you from bringing out the After Eights on a silver dish). Plus the house smells amazing for days!
I’ve just done a search for mobile phone contracts and found many of the providers boasting plans costing ‘only’ £91 a month. And that’s after paying up front for the phone. That’s a phenomenal amount of money – £2,214 over the course of the contract – for something that probably doesn’t do much more than your current phone.
Now admittedly, this is for the top-of-the range iPhone 12 Pro Max with unlimited everything. But the point is, if you are prepared to stick with the same handset for a number of years and can cut down on your phone usage, you’ll have a healthier bank balance.
I’ll probably be in the minority here but I really don’t get what people see in the paid TV packages. I once had a month’s free trial on Netflix and spent about three hours trying to find a film I actually wanted to watch. I gave up and cancelled it that night.
If you are into your box sets and TV dramas then it probably offers incredible value. But things like Netflix and Sky can end up costing a lot of money. And you’ll probably still moan that there’s nothing on.
We’ve become a throwaway generation. Things aren’t built to last and we’d rather buy new than mend-and-make-do. Nobody’s perfect but it’s worth thinking about every purchase and whether it’ll last you. Stay away from the cheap and nasty – it’s all too often false economy. Buy quality products, look after them and they’ll last you a lifetime.
The internet can teach you how to fix most things. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. Here’s my recent attempt at patching up a small hole in a top. I soon got over the fact I didn’t have the right colour cotton when it saved me the cost of a new baselayer.
Is there anything in your life you could cut back on? For many, the idea of giving up alcohol, or coffee, or eating less meat just won’t be worth it. And that’s fine – cutting back doesn’t necessarily mean missing out. It’s all about prioritising how you prefer to spend your money and what’s important to you. For me, that means standing on top of a mountain. Being surrounded by nature and breathing fresh, clean air. These aren’t just things I do for a hobby; they are a fundamental part of my life. And that’s something I’m simply not prepared to give up.