Day 37: #EpicFail

For those of you who read my post on the Livingstone Tanzania Trust two days ago, prepare yourself for a stark shock.

Readers, I confess to you that I have slipped up. I have not kept to the budget at all recently. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, in diet-terms, I have just had an ice-cream/chocolate/crisps and cake all-out binge. And now I feel a little bit sick.

This used to happen a lot. It’s how I ended up buying an iPad, in fact. I was having a particularly rubbish day, and after leaving work, I went home via the shopping centre. Before I knew it I was walking out of a shop having just paid an inordinate amount for a gadget for which I had no need. It’s as though I’m in a hypnotic trance when it happens; my head is wrongly programmed to react with “BUY! BUY! BUY!” in response to sadness, stress or anger.

Recently, though, I’ve been a lot better. I think this is to do with feeling accountable, as a result of writing this blog. I could have just lied to you all, and pretended that I was behaving like an angel, making no mistakes, and generally being perfect. I’m not, though. Obviously.

However, I have been feeling a bit low, and my old shopping habits came back in force. I even used all my old excuses to let myself get away with it, to convince myself that I was doing nothing wrong. “It’ll be an early Christmas present (to myself)” or “Well, I do really need it” or even “If I buy it on my credit card, it doesn’t count as part of this month’s budget”. It’s just too easy to click “Buy Now” in an internet browser, without thinking through the consequences.

Fortunately, I haven’t quite gone to iPad extremes, this time.

I know I need to do something more useful, less destructive, to help myself when I’m down. I’m too hyper for yoga, pilates or meditation. But, generally, I’m open to ideas. Readers, please, I’m depending on you now! What should I do to calm down and relax, without resorting to shopping? All ideas will be appreciated. You can write on the wall of the Shopaholic Cuts Back Facebook page ( or in the comments box below.

Thanks, readers!



Day 33: The Ugly Duckling

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.


On Saturday night I, unusually for me, joined my housemates for drinks in a fashionable bar. Days before the event I’d started to get anxious. How would I pay for drinks, and stay within my budget? What would I wear to fit in with my glamorous friends?

In the end, I just felt like the Ugly Duckling, the odd one out, pale and frumpy. I stumbled in my shoes like a child dressing up in their mother’s heels.

My housemates were tall and beautiful, bronzed and dolled up to the nines.

I bought the first round of drinks, and almost had a heart attack at how much they charged to my debit card. Why would anyone pay this much for drinks on a regular basis?! I shook my head in disbelief.

My pulse was racing. It was as though I was in the 100 metre final at the Olympics; except that while everyone else legged it to the finish line, I had to wade through Marmite to get there. I was falling behind, and getting very frustrated.

So, would it have made such a difference if I’d been able to buy a new party dress, a glamorous pair of heels, or if I could have bought that round of drinks and shrug at the cost?

Last year, the NHS was good enough to pay for me to have a series of sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It transformed my life, and I am forever grateful that I was able to have this treatment without having to pay for private healthcare.

Something I often discussed with my therapist was the importance I placed on the “packaging” in life. She taught me to see that even if others’ lives appeared flawless on the outside, nobody’s life is perfect in reality.

The guys and girls in that bar looked stunning, rich and care-free. By comparison, I was just a “loser”.

Yet I know that I must convince myself that just because I can’t afford a new dress, shoes, or overpriced drinks, I’m no “worse off” (figuratively speaking) than them.

When you place too much emphasis on “packaging”, you quickly forget what’s really important in life. Cutting back has, at times, made me feel like I’m not keeping up, like I’m not good enough, like I’m a “loser” (whatever that means).

Life’s too important to waste on feeling inadequate, simply because I can’t afford as much as The Glamorous.

I don’t think that this (re-)discovery will transform my mindset overnight. It’s a good reminder, though. It’s something that I have to keep reminding myself, too. Otherwise I very quickly become anxious. And life is too short for such superficial worries.

Thanks for reading,


Day 30: Reflecting on the first 30 days

I realise that I’ve made this all sound very easy. I’ve written about all the new experiences I’ve had, from the mundane (writing a shopping list) to the more exciting (becoming a mystery shopper, “upcycling” my desk).

Perhaps I glamorise “being poor” because, in the grand scheme of things, I’m not. What’s more, I expect to earn more, and not less, in the future. So, ultimately, I’m play-acting.

I’m not skipping meals for lack of money. When the boiler or fridge break, they are fixed. I’m not shivering with hypothermia through winter as a result of having no more money to feed the meter.

I hope I haven’t offended people as a result of my flippant references to not “having enough”. I’m only too aware that I am very lucky to earn as much as I do, and that I only have such a well-paid, professional-level job as a result of my upbringing. My parents prioritised my education at every stage, and supported and pushed me to the best of my abilities. If they had not, I would not be where I am today.


I’m also lucky enough that when I was stupid and irresponsible enough to get into debt, my parents were able to bail me out.

If I told you that I have struggled with this budget-slimming, you’d have every right to be totally unsympathetic. I struggle with not buying overpriced caffeine. I struggle not walking into a shop when I see something beautiful in the window. I struggle not meeting my friends for drinks or meals out. I struggle not to buy theatre tickets, especially when I see a great review, or a favourite actor starring.

So what? Get over it!

That “we’re all in this together” slogan is utter nonsense. Boo-hoo, I can’t see Simon Callow or Hedda Gabler. Alas, one shall have to cut down on caviar and champagne for breakfast. To argue that the impact of this recession is equal across the social classes is absurd. Our difficulties are simply not on the same scale.

Nevertheless, the hurdles that I’m confronting, while minute trifles to most, are difficult for me.

I am of the opinion that I must do two things to avoid being a risible figure here.

One; never lose sight of what most people have (and do not have). Be it by giving to the South Wimbledon food bank, volunteering with Crisis at Christmas and the Holy Trinity Church Winter night shelter for the homeless, or simply by lending an ear to lonely people at church, who just need someone to listen.

Two; by taking on a personal challenge, to be less materialistic and to spend less. In the first instance, it doesn’t matter too much if my spending levels are still relatively high, so long as I attempt something that is difficult for me. In time I can work on beating down my expenses further. For now, though, I’m satisfied that I’m trying. When the going gets tough…

Wow, 30 days already! Thank you so much for reading (almost 2,000 views in the first month!!)

Day 28: Cashback Queen

Hi everyone! Say “Happy Birthday” to my Mum, please 🙂

Tell me something, readers, is this cash-back thing a really well-kept secret, or have I just been oblivious to the whole movement?

Recently I signed up for a cash-back website, as part of my Money-Making Challenge.

Essentially, instead of buying things directly from a shop’s website, you find a link on the cash-back website, which tracks your purchases, and gives you cash in proportion to how much you spend.

The only snag to this approach is that, as with discount voucher websites, you have to be very disciplined in only buying what you would have bought anyway – deal or no deal.

So, for example, I’m in desperate need of a new pair of shoes for work. Rather than going straight to the retailer, I go via the cash-back site to the same page. I buy the shoes, with free delivery and am also given 6.5% of the price off the shoes, in cash, for making the transaction. Mental, or what?!

There’s another money-spinner on the website. Once you’ve downloaded the free app onto your phone, you “check-in” whenever you get to a shop featured on the site. This action of clicking to check-in earns you between 5p and 15p. Yes, okay, it won’t make me a millionaire overnight, but it all adds up very quickly. If you’ve got time on your hands, you can spend ten minutes walking in and out of shops, clicking, and earning yourself a couple of quid.

Getting paid for window shopping? Now that’s what I like to hear.

I realise several of you will be worrying about the Orwellian feel to this; retailers track everything I buy from one centralised site. My movements are also followed, by that apparently harmless act of “checking in”.

From my perspective, retailers already have much of this information. Think of those side-of-page adverts that show you the dress you were just looking at on another website yesterday. Or CCTV, which could follow our movements up and down the country, if anyone felt like doing so. Equally, my Nectar card has already categorised me into one of six groups, as a result of each and every purchase I have made, from paint at Homebase to milk at Sainsbury’s. Tesco’s Clubcard, and other loyalty cards, do exactly the same.

This is just one more option for Big Brother to watch me, and it doesn’t feel any more or less sinister than those other ways.

Sorry, freedom-fighters, I’ve lost my integrity: I’m opting for the cash these days…


Day 23: Come Dine With Me

Hi all,
On Tuesday you set a new record for the most number of visitors to my site in one day. Plus, lots of you have spoken to me face-to-face about my blog. I’m really glad that so many of you are enjoying it (or maybe just relating to it).

On to today’s topic:

I have a confession to make. It’s been quite a while since I last made a shopping list.

It doesn’t usually occur to me to buy food in advance; I tend to pick up a ready meal as I rush home from work, to eat as soon as possible when I get home.

When trying to save my pennies, though, I decided I needed to cut back on food, and drawing up a shopping list seemed like the best place to start.

Now, then, I suppose I have some explaining to do here. Despite having just said that I eat ready-meals after work, it hasn’t always been this way.

My university friends know me as the girl who baked pies, quiches and cakes from scratch.

Starting work, with long hours and an hour’s commute each way, transformed the way I eat. For the worse. I used to keep a strict budget, planning my food to the penny. In my first year at university (2006/7), I stuck to £14.50 per week, which, even then, was fairly economical. In 2012 I spend a lot more than that, although I suppose inflation and rising food prices have also played their part in the explosion of my food receipts.

When I had the time to devote to preparing food, I wouldn’t have dreamed of buying convenience food. Bagged salad or pre-chopped vegetables just seemed ludicrously profligate. You may as well set fire to your cash.

As my free time diminished, my inclination to chop, slice and dice fell likewise. A packet of ready to stir-fry vegetables became not just understandable but the rational thing to do.

Back to this week’s shopping, then. For the next three weeks I’m at college, so I wanted nutritionally balanced meals, which would keep me going all day long. Unlike the days when I’m at work, I now have to organise three meals a day, which have to be prepared and fitted in around a full day of study. The other concern, in a blog called Shopaholic Cuts Back, is, of course, money!

My first attempt is probably a bit of a joke to most people. I know that my best friend Claire, for one, won’t be impressed with my efforts. At least I’ve never been drawn to brand names when food shopping, so everything on the list is supermarket own-brand. The issue, though, is the content. I automatically opt for Fairtrade bananas, free-range chicken and responsibly sourced salmon. The vegetables I choose still include a pre-chopped stir-fry mix, as well as asparagus (one of the more middle-class vegetables?). I’m even picky when it comes to fruit; I really dislike traditional (and cheaper) British varieties, like apples and pears, but I balk at the cost of the more exotic fruits.

I’m fully aware that lots of people would look at my shopping list and assume that I’ve made no effort at all. However, I still think it’s a start. Pre-planning has definitely saved me money, when compared to buying lunch out and dinner in a microwaveable packet. I hope that by factoring in my nutritional and energy requirements, I’ll also feel better, and less likely to make that chocolate run come 3pm.

If you want to see my first shopping list, and plan for the week’s meals, you can click on the “Shopping List” tab above. I’ll be back in two days, when I’ll tell you about something important I’ve learned while writing this blog. Thanks for reading, folks. xxx

P.S If you’ve enjoyed this post, please do me a quick favour and click the “share” button below. 🙂

Day 8: Dream Destinations and… Desks

My housemate is returning home to Brazil at the end of the month, after ten years in the UK. “You must come and visit!” she tells me. Having promised to visit my family in Cambodia, and one of my best friends, who lives in America, I’m steadily clocking up those imaginary air miles. I’ve told her I’ll visit when I have enough money. That’s quite a flexible statement. What’s the definition of “enough”?

Unfortunately, my dream destinations fall pretty low on the priority list at the moment. The laptop I inherited from my (then) ten year-old sister is on its last legs. Two of the keys are missing, so I have attached a clunky old keyboard I inherited from my grandmother. Yesterday, booting up and opening the internet took twenty five minutes.

I tell you what, if my blog goes viral, and I get a six-figure contract with the Times, I’ll buy myself a laptop.

Part of the downsizing I mentioned in yesterday’s post was getting rid of my luxuriously large desk. I love being able to spread out when revising; laptop in one corner, study manual in another, paper to write on in another, and question bank in another. Fellow ACA students will know what I mean… Now, though, the desk has got to go. There’s no way it would fit in my new, scaled-down bedroom.

Within an hour of putting the desk up for sale on Gumtree, I’d had a response. Sold, and fifteen quid in my back pocket. That’s 3% of my loan taken care of!

Serendipitously, my grandparents were getting rid of an old sewing machine table, to make way for a bookcase. (The hoarding of books is a family trait; my great-grandfather was a librarian, see Day 2’s post at Voilà, one new (free) desk!

The local free entertainment on Sunday night started up again this week, after a four-week summer hiatus. It was lovely seeing my friends again at church; although I’m a somewhat esoteric atheist-Christian, I had been feeling spiritually bereft in August. Even if, intellectually, I’m a reluctant believer, I do get a great deal of pleasure, warmth and friendship from my Sunday-evening outing. Plus, to add to my savvy-saver credentials, it is a free night out…

After the service, three of us were discussing meeting at the pool for a swim before work. “Oh, you go to the posh gym” one of them noticed. Yes, I suppose I do. I go the gym that’s on my route to work and back, because it’s pretty much the only way to get myself in there. If I had to take a ten-minute detour to get to the pool, I’d be far too lazy to ever get to the door, let alone do an hour’s workout. It’s something to consider, though, isn’t it? The gym is one of my regular outgoings, and crossing that of the list of direct debits would certainly help the bank balance. I’m not saying I’ll cancel my membership, or switch gyms, just yet. But I’ll think about it…

Thanks for reading folks.


Day 7: Ah, ah, ah, achoo-sday

Hi. Thanks for reading; I had 114 readers yesterday, which I’m extremely chuffed about!


I’m downsizing. It had to be done. Although there’s no official figure defining “rent poverty” in the UK, the housing department in the U.S. offers a guideline as 30% of your net monthly salary, a percentage which includes electricity, gas and water. I suppose that overlooks the statistic showing that London is the second most expensive city in the world for property rental.

Even excluding the utility bills, my current rent reaches 43% of my take-home pay, so it was logical to look to my largest outgoing as the first place to start slashing expenses.
My new rent is almost 40% less than before, and brings the proportion I spend on accommodation down to a much more reasonable 31% of my net wage.

In order to downsize, though, I have to rid myself of those pointless items, bought as a result of my old want-it-buy-it mentality. It’s harder than it sounds, let me tell you. How can you look at a wardrobe of clothes, all in perfectly good condition, and, for lack of storage space, arbitrarily give them away? I have a knack for remembering the price I paid for things, down to the penny. This is a curse, rather than a gift, when it comes to decluttering. I may as well be setting fire to a wad of bank notes. Still, I can’t live in a room where my possessions reign supreme, where I have to crawl through the clutter like the distressingly out-of-control hoarders you see on TV.

It’s not just clothes, though.

Check out the half-used pill packets pervading my living space. I’ve got enough Sudofed to cure the common cold and enough ibuprofen to knock out a hippo for several days. Why? Well, every time I get a cold, or have a headache, I go the pharmacy and buy a box of tablets. Being the nut case that I am, it has apparently never occurred to me to finish off the packet I opened the last time. Perhaps I forget that I have ever been ill before.

This odd, slightly random collection is symptomatic of one thing (and that’s not the ‘flu…). I am programmed to buy. In order to stick to the budget, to clear the debt, to start saving, I have to stop buying so many things that I don’t actually need. I have to stop and think.

Oh, and the next time you hear me sniffle or sneeze, do me a favour. Remind me that I don’t need any more medicine.

Thanks for reading! X


Day 6: Just Another Manic Monday (couldn’t resist, sorry…)

Hi readers! (I have readers – it’s VERY exciting)

Back to work Monday blues? Look to Noel Coward, who advocated that “if you must have motivation, think of your pay cheque on Friday”.

I had a busy weekend in my new status as “recovering shopaholic”. It was interesting how many people got in contact to let me know that they were in a similar situation to me, living beyond their means, and dipping into credit or savings by the end of the month. I suppose it shouldn’t have been such a surprise.

Last Tuesday, the Independent reported that women have an average £22,418 of debt. 11% reported keeping their debt levels hidden from their partner. I find it upsetting that so many people (and women, especially) are secretly in debt, and running a monthly deficit. It also makes me question whether the stigma over debt is as bad as ever.

In years gone by you lived within your means, and society looked down on those in debt. Now, everyone’s encouraged to take on credit cards and payday loans, in order to buy a new sofa, iPad, or shiny Mini. Yet people are pretending that they can afford all this, while hiding the credit card bill. It’s a sham, to show to the world that they are successful, that anything you can buy, they can buy better.

Just take heart that if you’re struggling to make ends meet, many others are in the same boat. If I’ve learnt one thing from writing this blog, it’s that getting deeper into debt to keep up the façade is just plain silly. True friends will support you, not judge you.

Right, I got a bit soppy there, so let’s get back to the practicalities, shall we?

When it neared lunchtime on Sunday, I idly considered wandering over to Caffè Nero to pick up an overpriced sandwich. As Savvy-Saver-In-Training, though, I stopped myself. Instead, I opened my kitchen cupboard and found a Narnia of hidden foodstuffs. This included two hot cross buns with a February 2012 use-by date. Oh dear.

Digging a little deeper, I found a whole load of tins (use-by date late 2014). I even got a couple of my 5-a-day in the form of a can of ratatouille. Chucking the veg, some couscous and a tin of mackerel into a saucepan made a super-yummy meal. Much more delicious, in fact, than a mass-produced, bland Nero panini. Carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals; a cheap, nutritionally balanced and delicious lunch. Win!