People get into debt because they’re spending more than they’re earning. It’s simple cause and effect, but can happen for many different reasons. What matters, once you’re in debt, isn’t how you got there but how you’ll get out of it again.

To get out of debt, you’ll need to change the balance. By spending less, you can start to pay back what you owe.

Here are some of the best ways to spend less so you can clear your debts:

Keep an Eye on Where Your Money Goes

The first step to spending less is knowing what you’re spending already. Create a budget that details your spending and include your bills and everyday purchases.

Your budget should be realistic. Many people skip those little costs like their weekly visit to the coffee shop, because they don’t consider it significant enough. These little expenses can quickly add up, so don’t just budget for your ideal situation. Budget with everything in mind, so your budget reflects real life.

Once you have your budget, you’ll be able to see exactly what you’re spending each month. You can compare this with your income. Now, you’ll have a clearer picture of your financial situation.

Are you spending more than you’re earning? Your budget will help you to identify spending that you might be able to cut back.

If you’d like help making a budget, we have a blog post that can set you on the right track.

Use an App

If an offline budget isn’t your thing, there are lots of good budgeting apps. Some will automatically put your spending into a relevant category.

Budgeting apps can be really useful, but remember that they’re just buit on computer-based systems and sometimes they’ll get things wrong. Review your budget carefully. Be prepared to step in and make adjustments if something doesn’t look right.

Some of the best budgeting apps cost money. Spending on something else might not be ideal when you’re trying to get out of debt, but sometimes these tools can help enough that they’ll be worth the money you spend on them.

Some of the most popular budgeting apps are You Need a Budget (YNAB), Money Dashboard and Emma. You could also consider joining a bank that offers separate budgeting pots so you can split your money and see how much you have left to spend. Banking apps that offer separate pots include Monzo, Starling and Virgin Money.

Cut Your Household Bills

There are lots of surprisingly easy and effortless ways to cut the cost of your household bills. If you can make small and painless adjustments, it’s easier to save a bit of money. Here’s a check-list:

  • Move furniture around
  • Draft-proof your house
  • Bleed your radiators
  • Use curtains effectively
  • Use LED bulbs
  • Unplug electricals
  • Use a slow-cooker
  • Switch energy provider
  • Check your energy provider’s website

And here’s a bit more detail on each option…

Move Furniture

It costs a lot to heat a home through the cold winter months, but did you know that the layout of your rooms could be adding to your monthly heating bill?

If you have furniture in front of your radiator, that furniture will absorb the heat. You’re heating a piece of furniture, not the room as a whole. Most of the heat that your radiator generates is stopped before it even gets moving, so you’ll spend a fortune trying to heat your whole house.

If you have a sofa up against the radiator, or storage like bookshelves or boxes, an easy thing to do is move furniture away and give the warm air room to circulate. You’ll be surprised how much difference this little change makes, and how your energy bills can go down.

Draft-Proof Your House

Look out for gaps where there are drafts. Air coming in from outside the house will reduce your home’s energy efficiency. Your house should be sealed when doors and windows are closed, so your warm air doesn’t get out and cold air can’t find its way in.

Seal any drafts that you find. These are often around doors and windows, but can occur in other places. You can even seal your chimney if you don’t use it, to stop warm air from escaping that way.

Bleed Your Radiators

If there’s too much air in your central heating system, your radiators won’t work effectively. The air sits at the top of the radiator, so only the bottom is warmed by hot water flowing through. You can check if your radiator needs bleeding by putting your hand at the top and bottom when it’s on. If the top is significantly cooler, you should take time to bleed it.

If you don’t already have a radiator valve key, they’re available for less than £1. You could make your heating much more efficient and spend a lot less in the long run.

Use Curtains Effectively

Closing the curtains can trap warm air that would otherwise reach the cold window. Use this to your advantage on a cold winter day.

It’s even better if you can take advantage of the weather outside throughout the day. When it’s sunny, open your windows and use the sun to heat your room. When the sun goes, close the curtains and trap all that warm air inside.

The sun is a free source of energy. Even without solar panels, you can take advantage if you know when to open your curtains.

A young woman is opening the curtains at sunrise

Use LED Bulbs

LED bulbs have been found to be more than 10% cheaper than energy efficient fluorescent bulbs, and more than 70% cheaper than incandescent bulbs, which means that they can reduce your household bills because they’re cheaper to run. These estimates include the cost of purchasing the bulb, so even with the initial outlay LED bulbs can save money.

Unplug Electricals

Leaving electrical items on standby is a great way to throw money away. Leaving chargers plugged in when items have charged is doing nothing but adding to your bill. When electricals aren’t in use, unplug them.

Use a Slow Cooker

You might be surprised to learn that cooking all day is cheaper than cooking your evening meal after work. A slow cooker costs about 3p an hour to run. If you switched it on in the morning, it’d cook your meal for six hours and still cost just 18p. A typical oven uses 14p of energy per hour, so if you’re roasting meat you could easily spend the same amount in just over an hour. Then, there’s the extra cost of boiling vegetables and anything else you want to add!

Switch Energy Provider

You don’t need to be loyal to an energy provider. They’re not your best friend, or someone you need to support. You’re free to move to a different provider and find a better energy deal.

MoneySavingExpert’s Cheap Energy Club can help you find out who to switch to. Then, you won’t need to change your behaviour to see a change in your household bills.

Many people are paying too much for household energy because they think it’s easier to settle. They can’t be bothered with the hassle of switching and think that it won’t be worth their time. In fact, switching energy provider could save you more than £100 per year even if you don’t make other changes.

Check Energy Provider Websites

Your energy provider’s website might help with more ways to save money. You can also look at the Energy Saving Trust and might even be able to find grants to make your home more energy efficient.

A water meter could also save you hundreds of pounds a year. You might also be able to get a discount on your water bill if your household’s surface water doesn’t drain into the sewer. Ask your water supplier for more information.

Save When You Shop

There are lots of ways to save money on the things you usually buy, or to make small changes to your habits and cut the cost of your weekly food bill:

1. Eat Less Meat

Meat is expensive. Other forms of protein can include beans and lentils, which will bulk out a meal for a fraction of the cost of a steak or a chicken breast portion. You don’t need to completely remove meat from your weekly shopping list. Even changing just one or two meals could make a big difference to your food bill.

2. Supermarket Own Brands

Supermarket own brands, like ‘Value’ and ‘Basics’ labels, are cheaper than branded items. Sometimes, you can taste the difference but other times you really won’t notice. Try supermarket own brands and see if you can use these to cut the cost of your shopping.

3. Multibuys

Multibuy offers, like ‘3 for 2’ or ‘Buy One Get One Free’, can make it easy to stock up on items that you frequently use. Just watch out for supermarket tricks! Sometimes, buying a multipack item’s more expensive than buying several separately. Also make sure that you’re not swept up by the idea of special offer – only take advantage of a multibuy deal if it’s something you actually need.

4. Plan Your Meals

Plan meals in advance and buy exactly what you need to make them. Most food waste comes from people buying things that they don’t end up using. If you plan your meals, you’ll only buy the food that you need for the week.


5. Check for Reduced Items

Items are often reduced if they’re damaged or coming to the end of their shelf life. Most supermarkets put these items on specific shelves for reduced products. Check these shelves and see what’s on offer, as you might find your favourite items cheaper. Some items are cheaper simply because the box they’re in has been damaged.

Usually, supermarkets reduce the cost of items at the same time every day. Ask what time they do this, and they’ll probably be happy to tell you. If you can, visit the supermarket at the time this is happening. You’ll be the first to see what’s on offer and grab it before others notice.

6. Olio and Too Good To Go

Download the Olio or Too Good To Go app. These apps aim to reduce food waste, by allowing users to advertise food that they’d otherwise be throwing away. These food items must be edible and safe, but may be things that people have bought and realised they don’t actually like.

Check the app every day and see what’s on offer in your area. You may be able to find free food that you can collect from other people.

7. Shopmium

The Shopmium app provides digital coupons to use at your favourite supermarkets. You don’t make savings up front, but scan your receipt once you’ve purchased eligible items. You’ll receive cashback that you can withdraw once your receipt has been processed.

Health Savings

Looking after your health can, in many ways, help you save money every month. There are also lots of ways to save money on essentials like your regular prescriptions. Here are a few ideas.

Shop Around for Glasses and Contact Lenses

Glasses and contact lenses can be expensive. Now, there are several reputable companies that offer better prices online. Instead of buying from your usual optician, look online for cheaper glasses and lenses.

Shopping online can be a great way to save on vision care products. Just remember that your eye tests are still incredibly important. You’ll still need to visit your usual optician at least every two years for a checkup. You can ask for your prescription and take it away to use the information elsewhere.

Quit Smoking

If you smoke, you could save not just £100s but £1000s per year if you quit! You’ll also reduce your risk of long-term health problems and the costs that those incur.

Get help to quit smoking, or save money by reducing how much you smoke each day.

Free Prescriptions on Benefits

If you’re pregnant or on certain benefits, you will be entitled to free prescriptions and free dental care. This applies to people on ESA or JSA, people that are pregnant and those that gave birth in the last year. If you don’t have the relevant information, you can get forms from your GP.

Support on Low Income

If you’re on low income, you can get help to cover medical costs like prescriptions and dental care. If you can’t get a full certificate, you might still get help with certain items like sight tests, dental treatments and travel when you need to go to hospital. Ask your GP for the forms you can use to apply for this extra assistance.

Prescription Pre-Payment Certificate

If you have regular prescriptions, you could save money with a pre-payment certificate. With a PPC, instead of paying for every prescription individually, you’ll pay a set monthly price that covers as many as you need.

Prescriptions cost almost £10 each. A pre-payment certificate costs almost £30 for three months, and just over £100 if you pay up front for a year. So, if you require more than one item on prescription every month you could save money.

NHS Minor Ailments Scheme

The NHS Minor Ailments Scheme provides support if you can’t afford to pay for certain items. This is only available if you are already exempt from NHS prescription charges, but entitles you to everyday medicines for things like coughs, colds and eczema.

Save on Travel and Getting Around

It’s no fun being stuck at home, but travel can eat into your bank balance. Look for ways to save money on travel and the world will be yours to explore.

Walk and Cycle

If somewhere’s within easy reach, and if you have the time, choose to walk or cycle instead of getting in your car or on the bus. Walking and cycling will keep your costs down whilst boosting your health and also helping the environment. It may take a bit longer to get where you’re going, but there are no other downsides.

Car Pool

If you’re making the same journey as someone else, ask about sharing the car. You can take turns, so the pressure to drive isn’t always on the same person. Alternatively, one person can be the designated driver every day. The other person might offer some money towards the fuel for the journey.

Car pooling is a great way to help the environment by having fewer cars on the road. It’s also financially beneficial for everyone that’s involved. You’ll either get money towards fuel for a trip that you’d already be making, or you’ll save money by sitting as a passenger in someone else’s car. If the two of you share the driving duties, you’ll use half the fuel you would otherwise burn through.

Flixbus

For longer trips, consider using Flixbus. Flixbus offers cheap tickets for buses and coaches, with more than 2,500 destinations to choose from. Enjoy a cheap city break or long-distance trip with tickets starting at less than £3.

Have More Fun for Less

You might think that having fun or buying something new will be expensive. But, there are lots of ways to have fun and treat yourself on a budget. In fact, it’s important to budget in occasional treats, or you won’t stick to it!

Staycations

Instead of going away on holiday, why not have a staycation? You can stay at home but visit different places each day. If you really want a complete change of scenery, consider camping or a UK caravan park. You don’t need to go far from home to have a great holiday.

Book time off work, set up tents in the living room or sleep in your comfortable beds. Find things to do around your local area that you wouldn’t usually have time for. You don’t need a beach abroad to make wonderful holiday memories.

Find Restaurant Vouchers

If you want to eat out, look for restaurant vouchers or places that will feed the kids for free when you buy an adult meal.

Use Voucher and Cashback Websites

Whenever you shop, look for online voucher codes that could help to cut your costs. You can also use websites like TopCashback and Quidco to earn money back when you make purchases. Websites like MoneySavingExpert, Meerkat Meals and MyVoucherCodes are great sites to look at.

Trainee Haircuts

If you want a haircut or beauty treatment, you can get pampered for a fraction of the cost by choosing a trainee to do the job. Trainees need practice, but their work is overseen by more experienced and qualified people. If anything goes wrong, someone more qualified will step in to correct things.

In exchange for your trust and any small risk, you can receive a treatment or haircut for less than it’d usually cost. Ask at your local salon, or at a college if you have one nearby.

Say No to Social Events You Can’t Afford

Social events are important, but not if they cost too much money. Going out with friends isn’t enjoyable if you’ll need to worry about money. Don’t let the fear of missing out take control of your financial situation. If you can’t afford a get-together, say a confident ‘no thanks’. There’s always next time, or you can suggest a more affordable option.

Cheaper social events might include a picnic, museum trip or a walk or hike. If you’re having a dinner party, host an event where everyone brings a dish with them.

Quit the Gym

A gym membership can be expensive, and you’re likely to stick to your gym routine for just a few months once you’ve started. Then, you’ll have a Direct Debit that you pay for absolutely nothing. Instead, quit the gym and run home from work or go out for a jog in the morning.

Secret Santa

Instead of buying dozens of Christmas gifts, suggest a far cheaper Secret Santa. Each person is secretly matched with one other, so every person buys just one gift and receives one gift from someone else. This is far cheaper than purchasing presents for everyone you work with, or for every member of your family.

Avoid the National Lottery

It feels good to win. Sometimes, the thrill of a chance at a prize is a feeling you don’t want to miss out on. Unfortunately, the National Lottery only ever gets more expensive. Your chances of winning are ridiculously low, so you’re throwing your money away.

Skip your National Lottery ticket and visit Pick My Postcode instead. This free lottery provides the same thrill without the initial investment.

Set Your Own Purchasing Rules

Save money by setting yourself a few rules. Sometimes, some self-control is needed if you want to save those pennies. Here are some ideas:

  • Wait a week
  • Sell one, buy one
  • Check charity shops
  • Make your own
  • Borrow from someone else
  • Take advantage of sales

Below are some more details on what each rule means and how you might apply them…

Wait a Week

Impulse purchases can deplete your bank balance faster than those everyday essentials. You might not even realise how much you’re spending on things you don’t even need. Before you buy anything, wait a week from the moment you first decide you want it. If you still want it seven days later, buy it if you can afford it.

Often, we want to make immediate purchases and never use those items again. 

Sell One, Buy One

For every item you want to buy that isn’t an absolute essential, you must choose something to sell before you place your order. By forcing yourself to sell before you buy, you’ll see what’s really important. Is that shiny new item really worth selling something you already own?

This is also a great way to make sure your house is always free from clutter, since your old unused items can be sold on before you buy anything new.

Check Charity Shops

You never know what you’ll find in a charity shop. Always take time to check charity shops before you buy something brand new.

Make Your Own

Not everyone has the crafting ability to make their own items from scratch, but almost anyone can learn to upcycle items that are now beyond their best. Before you buy anything, take time to decide if you could have a go at making your own.

Sometimes, making an item is more expensive than buying it brand new. Other times, you could save a small fortune buy making your own.

Borrow from Someone Else

Often, we buy things that we only need to use once or twice. If you’re not sure that you’ll use something frequently, or if you know that you won’t, ask around. A friend or family member may be able to lend what you’re looking for.

Borrowing’s better for the environment and your own bank balance. If you try an item and discover that you love it, it’s never too late to buy your own.

Take Advantage of Sales

You’re never too far from a sale. January sales, Black Friday sales, Boxing Day sales…the list goes on! If you don’t need something straight away, wait for the next sale to save money.

Think Before You Spend

It’s the little things that will make the biggest difference to your financial situation. You can’t just stop paying rent or your mortgage, but often lots of money goes on everyday purchases you might not even realise you’re making.

Check your budget at least once a month to make sure that it’s still up to date. Always be prepared to make adjustments, and take action if you’re going off-track.

Getting out of debt, and staying out of debt, requires a conscious decision to spend well. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional treat, as long as you can actually afford it.

About the author

Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson is a financial services expert, with over 10 years’ experience in the industry, including 6 years in FCA regulated companies. Read more
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