Hello. How are you doing? I hope everyone out there is safe and well, and life is treating you kindly.
This week I’ve been reviewing my finances and I noticed some interesting new patterns and changes in my personal behaviour during 2020, so I wanted to pick up on those and write about them. It’d be interesting to know how many other people have changed their spending patterns since the lockdown situation earlier this year too.
Spending less money in total
As a freelancer, I’ve noticed that some commissions have become harder to find during the Covid crisis. This has translated into a drop in total earnings in the last couple of months, so as a consequence I’ve cut back on my general spending as I’ve been going along. In normal times the most basic principle of budgeting is to aim to spend less than you earn, although I do understand and sympathise that that’s difficult for many people right now. Sometimes you might need to spend the same as you earn to keep your head above water, or simply do the best you can, depending on how bad things are.
As things currently stand, our household seems to be okay for the time being but we’re keeping a regular eye on the budget and not doing anything impulsive. Hands firmly on the reins and all that. We see ourselves as relatively lucky to be in a sort of holding pattern and know it could be so much worse, but we’re making 100% sure our costs don’t exceed our earnings because nobody really knows how the next few months are going to turn out.
No big ticket items are likely to be purchased any time soon, and when we have needed to spend – like the shock horror moment when our much loved coffee machine keeled over from old age during lockdown and couldn’t be mended in a cost effective way (rest in pieces, Lady Gaggia) – there’s been plenty of shopping around plus some haggling to find the best deals. We’ve also been looking at energy suppliers and streaming services to make sure we aren’t overpaying on our regular bills.
The mantra is shop slowly, shop carefully and shop with purpose.
Shopping less frequently, and sticking to a few trusted shops
The weekly ‘big shop’ is back. Picking little treats up like a magpie is out.
I honestly cannot be bothered to schlep out somewhere and then queue and queue for ages just to get one or two items at the moment, so I’ve been mostly telling myself to get things done in one fell swoop. No more ‘just nipping out for this and that’; I can make do without this and that, and all the associated hassle. If we run out of milk before the week is out there’s UHT and you can like it or lump it, or if we run out of bread I can make a quick no-knead loaf or some rolls.
If nothing else, it’s been an excellent reminder that many of the things we tell ourselves we really really need often turn out to be things that we kind of want but could probably do without. Priorities and all that.
In addition to this, we’ve had issues with the behaviour of various couriers and postal workers in the last few months, with multiple items going missing, lies being told, and occasional belligerent refusal to follow basic hygiene rules. As a result, we’ve ended up doing a limited number of large shops and sticking to a very small handful of trusted retailers when doing any online shopping for the time being. You want my money? Well, I need reliability and honesty now more than ever before.
I checked my monthly bank statement this morning as I always try to do, and these latest changes in my personal spending habits were plain to see. There were far fewer entries on the ‘outgoing’ list than usual, plus it was a real morale boost to see that I’d got my sums right in my budgeting plan and my expenditures hadn’t exceeded my earnings.
Shopping online way more than in person
Regular readers will probably know that I love a quick mooch around the local and city centre shops and markets, picking up bargains and interesting new products here and there, but oh my how things have changed. Two rounds of self-isolating and big queues at local shops meant that we ended up shopping online more than in person, and that habit seems to have stuck.
Iceland Foods were our unexpected local saviour, and turned out to be the only nearby supermarket that was doing proper home delivery for those who were self-isolating but not officially classed as vulnerable during the first few weeks of Covid lockdown chaos. I’ll definitely be doing a decent pre-Christmas shop with them, partly because the food was reliably good and partly because they’ve earned my loyalty with the customer service.
The companies that have impressed me the most recently have been Iceland, Cult Beauty, facetheory, our local independent pharmacy, and eventually Sainsbury’s online once they got themselves into gear. The ‘do not substitute item’ function at Sainsbury’s has made life so much easier, and I wish all online grocery shops had this option.
On the courier front, our relatively new local Hermes delivery woman has been fantastic and so that company has gone way up in my estimation of late – I no longer avoid businesses that use this service to deliver or flinch when I see it named on a confirmation email or SMS.
Spending waaay more on food
This area of spending is more complex. We’ve been eating more meals and snacks at home, and we aren’t big takeaway people, so the shopping list has grown to cover all these additional items.
However, the total cost has a number of other contributors. For example, in recent months it’s been damned near impossible to get supermarket 3-for-2 offers on anything I buy regularly – fair enough if that helps with stock levels for the more vulnerable at times of crisis, but definitely less thrifty over all. It’s certainly not great for people to have the double whammy of lower incomes plus increasing costs.
There’s also been obvious ‘shrinkflation’ with many big names and own brand products. The total price stays the same but you get less product, meaning that you have to buy the product more frequently and it costs you more over time. The own-brand laundry liquid I usually buy still costs the same, but what used to do 21 loads of laundry now only does 17 and I have to purchase it more often. It feels… sneaky.
It’s been harder to get hold of the budget brands and basic own-brands too, and some of these lines have also been rebranded and changed by various supermarkets, meaning higher prices and/or poorer value for money. Some of them are still available in store but that’s not much use to, say, vulnerable people who are shielding.
As a consequence of these multiple factors, I’d say our grocery bill has gone up by about 30% extra since February. That’s way, way above the standard rate of inflation and needless to say I’ll be keeping a close eye on it in days to come. There are ways around some of the problems so I’ll do some separate articles about those soon.
Have you noticed a steep rise in your regular grocery bills too?
Spending less on socialising & going out to eat
Okay, this is a bit of a no-brainer, what with a global pandemic, lockdown, self-isolating and so on. For a long period of time we simply weren’t able to go out, and many of our favourite venues are still closed as I’m writing this. We’ve bought tickets to various online events, enjoyed a few free screenings, paid to stream some independent cinema, and chipped in various donations to the arts here and there though. Things have changed and evolved, and hopefully it’s helping a few people to continue to earn a living keeping us all entertained, even if it’s not as electric as being right there in person.
For many venues it’s still impossible to have proper social distancing, and sadly I don’t think that situation’s going to get any safer any time soon with hospital admissions now increasing again, so I’m resigned to being at home a lot more in the short-to-medium term. Some of the shows we had tickets for this October and November have been postponed until October 2021 so we’ll have to be patient and wait until then.
What I miss most is the spontaneity of meeting friends for a post-work drink, dropping into a restaurant on the off-chance of a hot table or grabbing last minute tickets for something on a whim, but it won’t be like this forever. We can change our habits and improvise for a while longer, it’s okay.
Meanwhile, I’d love to see some more government support for UK arts and entertainment as it’s a massive industry that employs so many people and contributes hugely both to our culture and the economy. A fully functioning Test & Trace system and coherent messaging, ideally combined with a vaccine, would go a long way towards solving many of these issues – but that’s a topic for another article, isn’t it? I’ll keep buying online event tickets and books, and supporting hygiene-safe local independent restaurants as best I can for the time being, but I’ll be taking my health and risk advice from doctors and not politicians. Trust, as I might have mentioned earlier, is important.
Being cautious about the future
What’s next? Well, I’d be lying to you if I said the situation was looking entirely rosy for the next few months, but I do firmly believe that fortune favours the most adaptable. Change is inevitable, whether you like it or not.
I’m trying to focus on everything practical such as sticking to my budget, eating well, keeping the household running as smoothly as possible, building new skills and tentatively planning ahead for Christmas and 2021. All unknown territory for this year and next but I generally like a challenge.
My next projects will be getting my storecupboard ready for the winter and / or a second wave of Covid, sorting out the kitchen garden for the end of 2020 and the start of next year, and hunting down all kinds of Christmas gift ideas and bargains.
Hope you can join me for those – think it’s going to be busy!