Putting money aside on a regular basis is one of the best ways to build up your net worth over time – but where are you supposed to find the money for this? While it’s not possible for everyone, many of us who don’t currently have savings and investments could start to build them up by cutting back our spending elsewhere.
I’ve been keeping a spending diary with Scottish Friendly for the past couple of weeks to give you a real-life example of how to find room for improvement, giving you the opportunity to read my confessions and learn from my mistakes. Depending upon your individual circumstances, it might be simpler than you think to start prioritising the longer term over some of the ‘here and now’ impulse spending that a lot of us do, as I’m about to demonstrate.
My 2-week spending diary
The timing of my two weeks of monitoring fell outside my usual regular bills such as energy, water, insurance, home payments, council tax and travelcard. That means that most of this is discretionary spending, or in other words much of this is non-essential costs where I had far more opportunity to shop around and cut corners.
The spending diary time period runs from Saturday 3rd of June to Friday 16th of June inclusive, and here’s what I spent during Week One:
- 3rd: Out with a friend for coffee, £2.80 including tip
- 4th: Cocktail masterclass (won in a competition), plus snacks, coffee and cocktail, £16.00
- 5th: Groceries from local supermarket, £6.80
- 6th: Out for coffee, £2.80, t-shirt from Amazon, £3.37 including delivery
- 7th: Web hosting, £7.04
- 8th: Perfume Genius gig, £20, Pizza Express meal, £14.85 (with voucher code), drinks £14.50
- 9th: Groceries, £3.00, editing software, £5.00
Not too bad, but some room for improvement. The following week was far more pricey to the point where I might need to have a serious word with myself. See what you think:
- 10th: Exhibition at Barbican plus lunch, £14.00
- 11th: Groceries, £3.85, coffee, £2.80
- 12th: (no-spend day)
- 13th: Pop-up restaurant evening including drinks, book and tip, £74.75
- 14th: (no-spend day)
- 15th: Firedog restaurant, £13.00 (half price food), gig at The Water Rats, £6.00 entry, two drinks, £9.00
- 16th: Tea and patisserie, £8.00, free cinema screening, bar food and drinks, £21.85, supermarket groceries for next week (including dinner party), £49.43
Analysis of spending, and places I could cut back
Here’s a collated breakdown of the discretionary spending, in simple categories:
- Groceries: £63.08
- Tea, coffee, cake: £16.40
- Tickets, entertainment: £33.00
- Web hosting, software: £12.04
- Clothing: £3.37
- Restaurants & bars: £170.95
Grand total: £298.84 for two weeks, or a weekly average of £149.42. That’s a lot more than I thought I was going to spend!
Where and how could I cut back? That depends on whether you’re looking for easy savings and quick wins, or very strong savings – I’ve gone somewhere between those two extremes for balance:
- Groceries: Serve cheaper food and wine at dinner parties, shop at budget supermarket half the time, keep growing own fruit and vegetables, doing meal plans and taking advantage of offers – I think I could cut this fairly easily by about a third though (£10.51 weekly save)
- Tea, coffee & cake: I sometimes meet people for coffee to save on going out for wine or a meal, so I wouldn’t want to cut this to zero, but no more patisserie for a while (£4.00 weekly save)
- Tickets, entertainment: While we’re pretty good at finding free or cheap things to do, we could go to fewer gigs (£13 weekly save)
- Web hosting, software: I could cancel one of these or shop around for a better deal (£3.01 weekly save)
- Clothing: I have a low spend on clothing anyway, and probably won’t be cutting that back to zero realistically speaking (£0 weekly save)
- Restaurants & bars: We had six meals out over the fortnight which is more than usual and definitely an opportunity to cut back – no more pricey pop-up restaurants this year for us, that’s for sure, and I’m definitely cutting back on the drinks as well. Meanwhile, when we do go out we can look for voucher codes and soft launch discounts more often (£47.00 weekly save, easily)
So those are quite a few places where it would be almost completely painless to save money, and that would easily add up to £77.52 per week, £335.92 per month, or £4,031.04 per year. You could be stricter with those changes and save far more too. Okay, the last two weeks don’t accurately represent our average levels of spending in many categories, but it still gives you an idea of many of the opportunities that exist for cutting back.
Many of us could focus and plan our spending a little more efficiently, and free up some extra cash for saving and investing without a huge amount of effort.
Why not try monitoring your outgoings for a fortnight or more, and look for a few areas where you could cut back to help reach your long term financial goals?
Full disclosure: Post created in association with Scottish Friendly. All words and thoughts my own, there has been no editorial interference.