When making the big leap from being an employee to become self-employed I knew there were sacrifices to make. The main one was cutting costs: even more so because I was taking six months out to retrain as a coach. I still remember to this day the realisation that initially our income was going to fall by around 75%.
Over the next few years we managed to dramatically reduce our outgoings whilst still enjoying life, nearly halving them in the space of three years.
I had some savings to get me through the six months training, but that had to last. Starting up a business meant income would be low for the first few months at least, let alone allowing for start-up costs, course fees etc.
I allowed myself a few hours of worry tinged with mild panic, but knew that burying my head in the sand ignoring the situation wouldn’t help. Action was required and a determination to reduce bills was the positive way forward.
I concentrated on what was in my power: reducing outgoings. I made an action plan, looking at where we spent, what money would be coming in and then writing down how I would reduce bills, including the benefits that would give us and just got down to it.
Over the next few years we managed to dramatically reduce our outgoings whilst still enjoying life, nearly halving them in the space of three years. I actually enjoyed finding money-saving ways.
Here are my tips to spring-clean your finances.
Have a positive objective
It's easy to get disheartened by setting an objective that has negative connotations; for example, I need to spend less, which gets you to focus on losing out rather than gaining. What’s better is to focus on what we ‘want’. For example, saving £x will allow me to enjoy a holiday, be debt-free, run my own company or spend more time with my family. List all the benefits that making your money go further will give you, so if you lose momentum you can remind yourself as to why you’re doing this.
Divide the spends
Separate the areas of spend into sections, for example; shopping, regular bills and travel. Pick a sector a week, spending half an hour looking at your typical spend, setting yourself a target and finding ways to reduce the costs. It’s important that you also decide upon a treat to give yourself after meeting each target – it doesn’t have to be expensive; it may be reading a paper whilst enjoying a nice coffee with a pain au chocolat.
Cut out the unnecessary luxuries
Cutting out the unnecessary luxuries was a small price to pay to spend more time with family and to run my own coaching business. Some examples of areas that can easily be cut out:
Expensive multi-channel TV bundles – stick with Freeview – it’s free!
‘Unlimited everything’ on broadband – do you need this amount? Cut down and save cash
Gym memberships - exercise for nothing in the park
Buying lattés and lunches at work – make a flask and bring DIY sandwiches
Expensive nights out - go out less and/or choose cheaper locations
Take Aways - cut them down dramatically
Every time you’re about to spend, ask yourself 'do I really need this?'
Reduce costs in each sector
I gave three examples of sectors, but choose ones that are applicable to you.
Look at ways to lower your grocery bill. I managed to reduce my shopping bill by around 40% becoming a savvy supermarket shopper, including using vouchers and money-off codes.
For general shopping – simply don't buy what you can't afford. If you are purchasing, shop around as stores often vary massively in price for the same product. I bought a game for my son that in one store was £44.99, managing to get it for £17.99. Equally look for cheaper alternatives to the product you want to purchase.
You may be able to get some products for nothing via freecycle and consider auction sites like eBay.
Monthly and annual bills
Whether it’s insurances, broadband, mobile phone bills or landlines there are so many competing brands you have a plethora of choice and dedicated websites to help you choose the best deal.
List all your regular payments and go through each one looking at ways to reduce the bill. For instance, if you haven’t changed your gas and electricity suppliers for a while there’s every chance you could save a small fortune by swapping or changing tariff.
Do you have a car, if so how much do you spend on fuel? Can you reduce this by driving more efficiently? Can you cut your mileage by walking more and driving less?
Could the bus or train be more economical? I've used Megabus in the past getting tickets to Birmingham New Street for around £8 each way instead of paying around £50.
Learn a new skill
Shrug off your inhibitions and negotiate - inhibition doesn’t pay the bills. Whether it’s getting money off your mobile phone bill or knocking twenty pounds off your food processor, learning to negotiate can greatly reduce your outgoings. For example I managed to reduce my broadband package from £26 to under £14, got £4000 off our family car and even a third off my gym membership (I have now gone back!)
Marc Lockley is a coach and money saving writer. He is the author of How To Pay Less For More, a book showing people how to negotiate in shops, showrooms and even with the boss over working part-time. As a dad of two, Marc values his work/life balance and is a dab hand at using money saving techniques to keep the bills down. He tweets at www.twitter.com/negotiator1.