As much as I loved my Nan when I was growing up...
How to save money on your guilty pleasures
Everyone likes a little treat every now and again, but when you add them all up it can cost you an awful lot of money. Even something as small as a coffee a day could cost you hundreds of pounds over a year.
Little habits can add up to big costs. That’s why we wanted to highlight some of the bad habits that sometimes leave you wondering where all your money has gone.
I’ve had many years’ experience as a debt advisor, helping people to plan their finances and make a monthly budget. Part my job has been to help people find ways to reduce their costs in a manageable way. For each of the bad spending habits, I’ve suggested a few ideas to help you spend less, without having to sacrifice the things you love.
Buying coffee from coffee shops
Potential annual cost: If you pay £2 a day for a coffee, five times a week, then you’ll pay £512 in a year.
Here are some suggestions on how you can save money on coffee but still get your caffeine fix:
- Buy an insulated travel mug. Take coffee from home and keep it hot on your way to work
- Experiment with different types of coffee. Making your coffee at home will save you money, so experiment with more expensive types of coffee. Remember to look out for special offers on the premium brands
- Use the free tea and coffee making facilities at work. This might not an option for everyone but you can take advantage if it’s there!
- Join your favourite cafe’s loyalty programme. That way, if you do find yourself powerless to resist your morning java (it happens), you can rack up some points that you can exchange for a free coffee in the future
- Sign up to your coffee shop’s mailing list. They may email you vouchers for free coffee and other treats every now and then.
- Order a drink size down from what you’d normally get. If you get a regular-sized latte, for instance, try getting one in a small cup. That way, you get that lovely latte sweetness without the sour price tag.
Drinking in pubs
Potential annual cost: If you drink four pints a week and they each cost £4 it’ll add up to about £832 a year (not including taxis and late-night kebabs).
Drinking in pubs is expensive. You’re not really paying for the drink; you’re paying for the rent, staff wages, and all the other things that go into running a pub. If you cut out the pub you can also cut out much of the cost.
Here are some suggestions to help:
- Invite friends to your house. Unlike meeting at the pub, you get to pick the music and everyone can bring their own drinks instead of paying pub prices
- Switch to soft drinks. Try switching to soft drinks or even tap water to avoid spending money on expensive drinks. If you’ve got a vehicle, you could be the designated driver and give your friends a lift home in exchange for a couple of lemonades
- Try something different. Not able to host your friends at your house? Organise a social activity that doesn’t involve booze. A walk in the park or a trip to a museum can be cheap and fun ways to meet up with your pals.
Look, we get it. Expecting you to give up nights out altogether is probably unrealistic. Someone will eventually have a birthday or hen do, or perhaps it’s been a long month at work and some payday drinks are just the ticket. Socialising with your friends has huge benefits for your wellbeing, so you shouldn’t feel bad about the occasional night out. As with many aspects of life, it’s all about moderation.
Here are some quick tips to help you save money at pubs and clubs:
- Sign up to your favourite pub’s mailing list: Just like with your favourite coffee shop, your favourite pub – if they’re savvy – knows that there’s a lot of competition for your hard-earned cash, and they’ll fight tooth and nail for your loyalty. Many pub chains will give you a discount on food and drink just for signing up.
- Butter them up. If you’re going out in a group, why not message your pub or club of choice in advance and let them know? Tell them you’re looking forward to a great night out there with your mates. If they’re feeling generous, they may give you something nice like a discount!
- Go ‘off-peak’ drinking. Clubs and pubs can really struggle to get the punters in during the week. If you and your mates have the time off, try going mid-week. You might find venues to be more relaxed and staff less stressed, which in turn means a nicer experience for you!
- Resist getting a round in. There can be a lot of pressure to buy everyone a drink at once. If buying solo drinks is a no-no, see if you and a friend can sort one another’s drinks out for the night. When it’s your round, try switching to a soft drink. This’ll keep your liver as well as your wallet happy.
Technically, the following tips aren’t to do with drinking per se. However, they can still save you a few more quid for the pub:
- Tie the visit to the pub in with another event: Check your local council website for fun and free events you can do before you hit the pub. There might be an art exhibition, open mic night, arts and crafts group or something else going on.
- Eat some carbs before going out. Lining your stomach with good, stodgy food should reduce the chance of you getting tipsy too quickly. You’ll also be less likely to splurge on greasy takeaway food later in the evening.
- Prepare your late-night munchies in advance. If you know you’re going to be ravenous when you get home, have something ready to eat. For example, you could cook a pizza in the oven while you’re getting ready, and put it in the fridge to warm up later.
- Getting a cab? You can split your fare between your friends with the Uber app. While you’re at it, get your non-Uber friends to use your referral code to download the app. Their first ride will be free, and you should also get a free Uber ride out of the deal! If you don’t mind sharing your cab ride with strangers, you could try UberPool. Only one of your friends can ride with you, however.
- See if your local cab firm has a booking app. They may have the fare-share feature or their own special offers.
- Getting the bus? Visit your local operator’s website and see if they offer group tickets. For example, First West Yorkshire has a group ticket on their app that allows up to 5 people to travel together for £5.50 a day.
- Getting the train into town? If you’re travelling as a group of between 3-9 adults and setting off from the same station, you could save up to 34% on your train tickets with GroupSave. Simply book your tickets online, and select ‘Groupsave’ from the Railcards dropdown. Just make sure you’re all sat close together on the train, as the ticket inspector will ask if you’re all part of the same group (not all rail providers have signed up to the GroupSave scheme, so make sure to check first before booking).
I need help with my drinking – what should I do?
Going to the pub is meant to be a time to relax, socialise and bond with your friends. If it’s impacting other aspects of your life such as your career, finances or health, then it may be time to have a chat with someone about it.
Talk to your GP in confidence, and see if they can put you in touch with a local support group. You can also chat to DrinkAware advisor anonymously.
Unused gym memberships
Potential annual cost: If your gym membership is £30 a month, then you’re spending £360 a year.
Getting fit is an admirable ambition and if you use the gym regularly then a monthly membership can represent good value. However, recent research revealed that Brits waste £558m a year on unused gym memberships. There are millions of pounds being wasted every month on gym memberships.
Getting fit doesn’t have to mean shelling out on expensive gym memberships though. Alternative options include:
- Go for a run outside instead. Rather than pounding away on a treadmill you can get outside, see some nature and get a bit of fresh air. All for free! You could even try this fun Zombie app I reviewed, if you find jogging a bit boring like I do.
- Join a sports team. This is particularly useful if you struggle with motivation. You’ll be more likely to turn up if you don’t want to let your teammates down. The NHS Change 4 Life website has a tool to help you find a local sports team
- Pay-as-you-go. If you enjoy going to the gym but don’t go that often then you’ll save money if you pay by the visit rather than being tied to a membership. Your local authorities should have gym facilities you can use for a reasonable price
Potential annual cost: If you smoke 20 a day, seven days a week then the annual cost comes to £3,620 a year, assuming a pack of 20 costs about £10.
The best alternative to smoking is not smoking. If you’re a smoker then you’ll have heard this message on a regular basis, including every time you look at a packet of fags. Obviously it’s hard to give up smoking, so you could look to change in other ways:
- Try switching to e-cigarettes. There’s some debate about the health risks involved with them, but the consensus tends to be that they’re better for your health than cigarettes, and much cheaper too!
- Switch to roll-ups. There’s more planning involved, but it’ll help to bring the costs down
- Smoke less. I know this is obvious, but if the alternatives don’t work for you and you want to save then cutting back could be a reasonable option
- Quit altogether. You can get free help to quit smoking but it’ll also take willpower and determination to succeed
TV packages you don’t need
Potential annual cost: If you’ve got a £40 a month package then it’s £480 a year you could be spending. If you have the sports channels included in the package it’s likely to be even more.
Getting rid of your TV package might feel like saying goodbye to an old friend, but it might not be as bad as you think. Here are some tips to save money on TV without losing out too much:
- Look at the channels available from Freesat or Freeview. Either service offers a wider range of options than you might expect
- Keep track of your favourite programmes. See which ones are only available through subscription TV services and see if it’s worth paying for them. In most cases it isn’t
- Find cheaper ways to watch films – Move away from film channel subscriptions and only pay for films you’ll actually watch
- Check regularly for better deals on your Digital TV
Lunch at work
Potential annual cost: £3 a day on a meal deal, five days a week, would add up to £780 a year.
Buying meals at work can be tempting but the costs add up over time, taking food from home is usually a lot cheaper. Here are some suggestions to keep lunch fun but bring down the cost:
- Follow our suggestions for fun packed lunch ideas. If the idea of endless ham sandwiches bores you then use our suggestions to jazz up your lunch
- Set your alarm five minutes earlier in the morning. Then you’ve got time to put together a tasty lunch to take in with you
- Make your lunch before you go to bed and pop it in the fridge. You can grab it out of the fridge on your way out of the door (especially if you’re not the morning type).
- Chuck last night’s leftovers into a tub. Packed lunches don’t have to involve a lot of effort. Reduce your food waste by eating last night’s tea for your lunch
Contract mobile phones
Potential annual cost: If you’re paying £30 a month then it comes to £360 year.
Mobile phone contracts run for a minimum amount of time, typically for two years. If you’re outside this contract period then it’s likely that you’re not getting good value for money. Here are some options if you’re able to quit your contract:
- Switch to a sim-only contract. This way you’re just paying for the minutes, texts and data rather than the phone too. The costs will be much less and you don’t have to tie yourself to a long contract
- Try pay-as-you-go. If you don’t use your phone a lot then it could be cheaper than a contract
- Avoid the temptation to upgrade. The hype around the latest mobile phones can make it feel that it’s essential to have the latest and greatest handset. However, the difference in day-to-day usage between this year’s phones and those from a couple of years ago is minimal
Do you have any suggestions on expensive habits that you can save money on? Put a comment below, especially if you’ve got suggestions on thrifty alternatives.