I often get asked why if we are saving for a deposit to buy our own place we 'waste' money on stuff for our rented home. This obviously depends on your opinion, but we have to live so will spend money whether we have nice things or not and I don't want to put off my life because some other people messed up our economy! I'm also hoping that this means when we do finally buy somewhere we will have lots of the stuff we need already and won't have to spend a fortune on furniture when we might have work to do on the actual house.
Although saying this our home is furnished on an absolute shoestring budget and I often get a lot of stuff at either a massive discount or for free. While I'm not telling the internet how much I earn it's not a lot, so here's my advice on how to save a packet when decorating your home. There is a list of hints and tips at the bottom if you want to skip my waffle on what we've got for free or cheap :)
I believe very strongly in only having what you can afford, I'd love to have everything brand new but on my wages that just is so not going to happen, and it would take all the fun out of hunting for a bargain and finding something you love without just spending a load of cash to get it.
For example, in the entrance hall the wardrobe cost £10, the bookshelves we did buy new but they were basic range so were only about £100 for all 3, the chair that's now in there was free, the small chest of drawers was free, the chairs were free (I spent about £40 on repainting them) and the shoe racks were £10 each. All the stuff in the storage wardrobe I'd estimate to cost no more that £200 and most of that is in the toolbox. So that's one room and the total comes to no more than £360. If we had bought the wardrobe new at full price we could have paid over that just for one item. Now I'm not counting any of Toms music equipment into that total which would probably increase it a lot because a. I have no idea how much all that cost b.it isn't really furniture or homeware and the average home is unlikely to have that may amplifiers or cables or microphones or pedals or...the list goes on and on, and he moans about my shoes :)
The only bigger things things we have bought new and not with vouchers are the sofa, the TV, the bed (about 7 years ago when I lived with my mum), the bookshelves in the hallway and living room and the ottomans on top of the wardrobes (not actually shown you these yet post coming soon). The sofa cost £800 new and is on finance, I am severely finance phobic and really thought hard about taking this out versus saving up, but as it's interest free I'm not paying more to have it on finance and we didn't have a sofa at the time just 3 armchairs in the living room. This will give you an idea of how low cost I am that it was the most money I have ever spent on an item that wasn't a car or a holiday. There are plenty of other smaller things I've bought new of course like crockery, small kitchen appliances like the kettle, bedding, towels etc but I always try to get a good bargain on these and often go on eBay or to discount stores, or places like Ikea, The Range or Argos for them that have reasonable prices. The TV was actually an ex display model that was deeply discounted because someone had returned it as it had a scratch on the screen, the people at Comet couldn't point it out to Tom and we've had it for about 5 years now and I couldn't tell you where this scratch is, but just because it had been returned we got loads of money off it.
The TV actually is an example of where I can go a bit far with living on a budget and Tom balances it out, I had a TV when Tom moved in, an old grey CRT one but it worked fine. Tom wanted a playstation so wanted (see wanted, not needed) a HD TV as well and this was back in the olden days when HD TV's were expensive (equivalent to 3D TV money nowadays), I didn't think it was really necessary. Tom went out 'to get a wardrobe' and came back with a new TV. I would probably have got a new TV eventually but he still actually didn't have a wardrobe and his clothes were all piled up on the floor!
Other bargains have been our other £10 wardrobes in the bedroom, our Ikea coffee table that is actually a lack side table and cost I think about £8 back when I got it, the turtle tank which was second hand and only £60 for the large tank, the stand and the massive filter which on it's own should have cost that much, lots of our ornaments and photo frames are charity shop finds (they are absolute gold mines for home decor items sometimes) that only cost a few quid.
I also love to get something for free (Who doesn't?), either from freecycle or as hand me downs. So far things we still have that were free are our desk, desk chair, bedside tables (the old ones in the corner of the bedroom), my retro chest of drawers (Made by Avalon Yatton similar going on eBay for over £50), the chair in the hallway that used to be in the bedroom (I think I spent about £30 restuffing it), the chairs stored in the hallway (I also spent about £40 on repainting them), a sandwich toaster and lots of other things that we don't have any more or have gradually replaced.
We also get a lot with vouchers or on offers, for example we often get given Debenhams vouchers for birthdays and Christmas so we save them until we need something, we got our vacuum cleaner last year in the sales with vouchers. Tom also gets love 2 shop vouchers from his work so we save those up and use them for holidays now but we bought our mattress, pillows, barbecue and Tom also bought his playstation with them years ago. We also used them for part of the washing machine, fridge freezer, dishwasher and lawnmower at our last house (None of the these came to our current house with us). I also use Groupon for some things, I have a large canvas on the way that I bought from there and am doing a web design course via an offer on Groupon from last month.
All in all on average, obviously it varies, I spend less than £100 a month on my home and myself (I have the same attitude when it comes to buying clothes etc) and considering I don't smoke (anymore) or drink excessively or go out all the time to eat or to party I can actually put away money each month into my savings toward my dream house, or towards a 2 bed semi in the suburbs or a bedsit in town, but lets not get into that as mortgages and the housing market are a whole other story.
There are however a few things I don't skimp on, and will always buy new or make sure we buy quality:
- Mattress - We got a memory foam one last year and some nice pillows, it made so much difference especially as I'm prone to back ache.
- Insurance - While I try and get the best deal always make sure everything you need covered is covered.
- Pets - Our cats are insured and we have a payment plan with the vet, we probably don't need both but it means we're covered for emergency care with the insurance and the annual boosters and check ups with the vet payment plan, which also includes their flea treatments and worming. Which means no matter how skint we are the cats will get any treatment they need. The turtles also while they have a second hand tank will get any upgrades they need, we're about to splurge on some new pipes for their filter.
- Food - While we buy own brand and shop around etc I always buy fresh, healthy food and don't go in for cheap prepared meals. I always upheld you never knew what was in them and the whole horse meat scandal has proved that theory right! (I've been a vegetarian for over a decade now so still don't quite understand why it's OK to eat a lamb but not a horse?)
General tips for saving money while still having the home that you want:
- Most importantly - Be happy with less and be grateful for being able to aspire to more. Tom and I have nothing compared to some people we know who own houses and flash cars and loads of gadgets and expensive things, but I'm not jealous (well, not often) because we have everything we need and more, and there are millions of people who would be so grateful to have what I do and could never dream of having more. I try to remember this and get perspective when there's something I'd like to buy and I don't have the money for it, if that pillow or whatever is the only thing I have to sacrifice today then I'm OK really.
- Don't be scared to get second hand - I often look for second hand before new as I find I can get something more solid and full of character for cheaper than a new laminate or plastic piece of furniture.
- Find your local freecycle group and look out on there, you can get some amazing things for nothing - A lot of them are a Yahoo group. Freecycle is also great for getting rid of stuff without having to pay to get a skip or hire a van or pay to get it collected by the council, also people will come and get it from your house so you don't have to cart it all to the tip yourself, and it keeps things out of landfill so it's a win win situation really.
- Re purpose items, like our old bath mat under the cat litter tray, rather than throwing them out then buying something similar to do another job.
- Don't buy something just because it's cheap, if you don't like it or it's flimsy then you are going to be replacing it sooner and it's a false economy.
- Wait if you can, don't panic buy - wait for sales, wait until you've saved up, wait until you have some spare cash, wait until your bonus or a good month, wait until you find the perfect second hand item
- Although if you see something at a good price and you like it don't be paralysed by indecision, you might miss out if you wait too long!
- Finance and credit cards - I can see a place for it on expensive things like new cars and houses, but I own neither so I avoid it where possible as I think you pay more because of interest rather than saving up, and I am actually almost credit free other than the sofa and I've survived just fine. I try to always have some money in my savings for an emergency. Don't get me wrong there have been months where I have struggled, and lived on pence until pay day, but as long as I had food in the cupboard and petrol in the car I have never had cause to live on credit.
- Save - I save every month, but if there is something I want that is over the amount I can spend just out of my pocket I save up extra for it. Any money left in my account at the end of the month on the day before pay day goes into my savings and I also have a direct debit that goes out at the start of the month.
- Don't waste money on bills or expenses - shop around for providers for gas, electricity, internet, mobile phones. Get freeview rather than paying for satellite or cable, eat out less, buy budget and own brand at the supermarket, get a service like Netflix or Lovefilm rather than going to the cinema, have people round rather than going out to socialise, it can be surprising how much you can save by making a few small changes.
- Be 'Green' - this often equates to being cheap but it's just trendy now - save water by washing clothes on a quick wash cycle where possible and turning taps of while brushing your teeth, grow your own fruit and veg, turn the heating down and lights off, compost food scraps rather than buying compost for the garden, reuse carrier bags rather than being charged for them at the shops, repair, reuse, recycle. Walk or cycle more, take public transport or even get a smaller engine car if you can bear it, maybe even go mad and get rid of your car, if you are a 2 car household do you really need 2?
- What can you get rid of or do without? We had our old fish tank hanging around and I sold it the other week for £50. I got rid of my car when we moved and now walk to work and I am saving an absolute fortune without paying tax, repair costs, insurance and the petrol bill which got more and more every year. We both stopped smoking last year and the last pack I bought cost £7.15 so it goes without saying that is saving me literally thousands of pounds a year. To be honest I think this is where I became so frugal, I was so used to just going without half of my pay packet as it went on smoking that I just got used to living on nothing, after stopping smoking I felt like I'd had a pay rise over night! Tom and I both did it using the Allen Carr easyway book and it really was the best thing we ever did.
That's my little collection of tips on how to live for less and how to get the things you want for little or no money, any other tips you have feel free to post them in the comments!