Day 31: The Acid Test


This is the acid test.

Consider these facts. For one month I have (unlike a usual month) bought no DVDs, books, magazines or newspapers. I have not once eaten out, or been out for drinks. I have cut down on buying drinks (tea/water) when out and about. I have cut my rent by £175/month. For half of the month all of my food was paid for by the company. For the two weeks when I paid for my own food, I made my meals from scratch, rather than buying ready meals; I took packed lunches to college. I have not been to the theatre or cinema, etc, at all. Not once have I bought cosmetics, accessories, etc.

So, what do you reckon, have I managed to live within my means, and not get overdrawn?

Made up your mind?

Well, the answer is: No, not this time, I’m afraid.

And here’s how it happened. . .

The Wicked One-Offs

There were a couple of “unfortunate incidents” this month. For one, my super-efficient, low-emission, congestion-charge-free car. . .

Rosa, my car

. . .scored a spectacular own-goal by racking up a £60 congestion charge fine, which was exacerbated by a £30 “admin fee” to my company car organisers. Yes, you read that correctly; “congestion-charge-free” and “[£90] congestion charge fine”. That’s because, somewhere in the need-a-magnifying-glass-to-see-it small print, TFL informs those who can hunt down the terms and conditions, that even congestion-charge-free cars have to pay £10 annually for a congestion charge exemption. Otherwise you still get the fine. Ouch.

The second annoyance involves my downsizing to a smaller room. In order to do this, I’ve enlisted my wonderful Superman of a friend, Dan, to come and help me move. I’d never be able to move beds, bookcases and chests of drawers without him. Nevertheless, there are a few unavoidable, one-off costs of moving.

The Awful Annuals

Unfortunately, this was also a harsh month for annual payments. My resident’s parking permit was £65, and the television license we finally got around to paying was £48.50 each.

Less awful is the £12 I shelled out for the NUS card, which often gives me a discount of 10% in shops, and which easily pays for itself.

£10 annual congestion charge fee exemption. See above. Grump, grump.

Queasy Quarterlies

Isn’t it horrible when the gas bill lands on the doormat? Especially over the winter months. Fortunately, having just survived the British summer, the gas and electricity bill wasn’t too scary. Nevertheless, it’s another £44.83 to add to the pile.

The other quarterly I paid for this month was a haircut, which I bought a voucher for, at £29.00, and which I hope to use in late October.

The Miserable Monthlies

It’s this category where the costs stack up at an eye-watering rate.

Rent, at the new, lower level is still nearly £500.

My travel-card came to £135.50, because in addition to the three weekly passes I had to buy to get to college, I also had some weekend travel, which meant topping up my Oyster card with a large bank note.

Next on the list are council tax (£58 per month) and my gym membership (£51).

I pay £33 for my mobile phone, and £10 for the landline and internet. I have a monthly prescription, which is £7.65 a pop.

Petrol, net of reimbursements from work, came to £80 this month. I’m paid a pittance for my petrol expenses. This is for several reasons; firstly, due to the efficiency of my car. Secondly, reimbursements simply aren’t keeping up with increasing fuel prices. Lastly, as I lease rather than own my car, I am remunerated for petrol only, and not depreciation or anticipated repairs and maintenance.

Add to these fixed costs a variable amount for food, depending on whether I’m away with work, and for how long.

The Rest

Until our new housemate moves in, I’ve covered her portion of the television license (£40). Of course, this only impacts on my budget in terms of the month’s cash-flow; overall I’ll be no worse off.

A couple of things I’ve already mentioned in the blog: a couple of bargain Christmas presents and the costs of renovating an old desk, as well as buying a water bottle, to save money on bottled mineral water.


So, Shopaholic still has a LOT of Cutting Back to do to really earn her stripes . . .


As always, suggestions are very welcome. Click the “Help!!” tab in “The Learning Curve” at the top of the page.


Thanks for reading. Start a trend – share with a friend 🙂


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 24: Defensive? Me? NO, I AM NOT!

 “Women defend themselves by attacking, just as they attack by sudden and strange surrenders.”- Oscar Wilde

This money-saving journey has taught me something about myself that I hadn’t expected. I’ve discovered that I’m very defensive when I feel I’m being criticised, even if the other person did not intend to attack or offend me.

This defensiveness asserted itself in several situations recently.

  • Firstly, when one of my housemates sent me a message to say that the house was very dirty, and hadn’t been cleaned recently. She felt that she had been taking on the cleaning single-handedly, and was therefore upset.

  • Secondly, when my parents looked at my budget, in considering whether to give me a short-term loan, and told me that they were shocked at my high level of spending. They felt it was outrageous that I, as an individual, spent more on certain categories than they did as a family.

With hindsight, I find it very easy to see the point of view of the other person. Indeed, with each of the examples above, I’ve given a justification of their position.

What I was going to do next is tell you what I felt at the time these things occurred. However, I’ve now decided not to do this. Not only might it be hurtful, but it would also be unnecessary. Suffice to say, at the time I was very angry, and deflected every comment back onto the other person, in a rather unpleasant manner.

So, what exactly does this have to do with my theme, Shopaholic Cuts Back?


Well, I’ve discovered that the reason I failed in my previous attempts at cutting back was because I refused to acknowledge that my spending was out of control. I had a stroppy teenage response to every constructive suggestion. Parents and friends who suggested ways of cutting back were given short shrift, but they didn’t generally intend to be attacking or accusatory. I felt blamed, and I lashed out in a fight, rather than a dialogue.

A couple of examples to illustrate the point:

 “Oh, you go to the posh gym”

“It’s on my way. 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.”
“Why not sell some books to make some money?” “I don’t get rid of books.”

Lesson learned. For the remainder of these first 90 days, at least, I will consciously try to be less defensive and more open-minded. I’ve seen how it’s hindered me when trying to cut back, and I’ve seen how uncomfortable it’s made me in day-to-day life. I shall try to be less stuck in my ways (I’m only 24, for goodness’ sake!) and less sensitive when I feel I’m being criticised. It just needs a step back, to look at the picture from someone else’s position, to change the way you live.

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 20: Changing Rooms (Part IV)

Good morning, people!

Today was the day that I finished off my gorgeous new desk.

Yesterday I primed the whole thing, and then left it to dry overnight.

I started by putting masking tape over all the areas I wanted to do in pale pink, and started with the ‘wine’. 

 The first layer of paint goes on. . .

After a second layer over all the darker sections, I peeled off the tape and started on the ‘rose’.

The final stage is to varnish, to protect the paint, and, of course, to add the beautiful drawer-pulls.

Et Voilà!

From this:

To this:

Lots of Love,

Shopaholic xxx

P.S. Yesterday I reached 1,000 views. Thank you so much for reading!

Day 17: Changing Rooms (Part I)

Do you remember the BBC2 programme ‘Changing Rooms’? I used to love it.

Smiley, smiley, Carol Smillie. DFS sofa-designer Linda Barker. Fuchsia and zebra-print –obsessed Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen.  Good old Handy Andy.

A friend of a friend had her house made over by the Changing Room team. Unfortunately the end result was foul and shoddy; curtains had been hung, in a gravity-defying trick, with blu-tack.

Those were the days.

But this is 2012, not 1997. Although the word is not yet included in the OED, ‘upcycling’ generates a whopping 1,850,000 results on a well-known search engine. In Changing Rooms, there was a certain catharsis in ripping out high-quality, if unfashionable, antique furniture. Instead, cheap materials such as MDF were revered for their very disposability.

Nowadays, though, we are all aware of our carbon footprint, and of the need to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill. While the “see it, want it, buy it” mentality is still our society’s mantra, the increased use of websites such as Preloved, Freecycle and Gumtree indicates that some are turning their backs on cheap, throwaway products, preferring to invest in antique or high-quality, second-hand items.

Upcycling is part of this movement. On the web, it is defined as “the practice of converting waste materials into products of greater value” or “reusing unwanted items by turning them into new products”.

In the past I’ve rather snubbed this idea. Generally, I prefer modern pieces over antiques. I also thought that it was only any use if you had a great haul of old furniture stashed away in your loft, bursting with potential. I, on the other hand, am starting from scratch, having only moved out of the family home comparatively recently. If you have to shell out for battered old furniture, you may as well opt for the minimalist, relatively inexpensive designs of IKEA, I believed.

As I mentioned in a recent post, though, I have just inherited a sewing machine table from my grandparents, which I am going to use as my new desk. In contrast to my usual style of plain white or light-toned wood, this is very dark, with brass handles. I began to wonder how I could adapt the piece, to fit in with the rest of my bedroom.

From this…

To this?

I started out by researching how to paint a wooden piece of furniture. I learned that it would require a primer, paint and then a polyurethane gloss to protect the finished article. All very technical!

So, I placed my order with Homebase, and when I get home from another week away with work, I’ll get started. I’ll let you know how it goes!