Going from skint to saver requires a complete transformation of your bad financial habits. Many of us are in the habit of spending, whether we need the things we are buying or not. When we start trying to improve our finances, we use coupons, get discounts, source the best deals and buy second hand. And it definitely helps us to reduce our expenses.
But in being open about how we paid off £16,000 debt in one year, I often get asked where I find the best discounts.
My forever response?
There are a lot of great discount sites out there, but if you start scrolling them, you’ll spend. You’ll buy things you didn’t even know you wanted or needed. So in my opinion, it is better to avoid them. Unless you are buying something you need, and then you can check for a discount. Otherwise, you’re buying because you’re getting a discount, not because you want what you’re buying.
In paying off my debt, there were no quick fixes. I accepted that I would have to cut my spending, and find new ways to fill my time. Old habits were dropped, and new ones that didn’t centre around spending were adopted.
I know it’s not the popular opinion. We live in an age where everyone will tell you happiness is just a purchase away. But the truth is that if you want to get out of debt or build savings, spending less in the answer. It’s as simple as that.
Often, the reason we spend is because it’s an easy way to fill time. In my pre-debt days, I was guilty of nitpicking my way through my life. My critical eye ran over the contents of my wardrobe, or a nook in our house, and I would decide that it needed something more. Saturday night without a plan needed to be filled with a £100 restaurant bill. I sought out opportunities to spend. At £16,000 in debt, enough was enough.
Starting our debt payoff required getting out of these habits. So I started choosing activities that filled my time productively instead of spending money. Not only did it help me to get out of debt, but my life improved so much as a result of these new habits.
I don’t think I’m particularly breaking any new ground with the activities below; many of them are just plain common sense. But today, you’ve probably viewed a ton of marketing on your social media, persuading you to spend. Telling you your life won’t be complete without this thing or that thing (unlikely). Convincing you that all your problems will go away with the tap of a credit card (they won’t).
So this is a little blog post dedicated to the exact opposite.
Here are my ten activities to do that improve your life instead of spending money.
Warning: Some of these suggestions are productive and others are just for fun. But if it makes you happy, then that definitely qualifies as productive to me!
#1: Instead of Spending Money, Get Fitter
Getting fit is the number one New Years’ Resolution that many of us share (fun fact: Saving money has become an increasingly popular resolution in recent years, too!). The benefits are endless; more energy, potential confidence boost, feeling healthier, you know the drill. So every January, we hit the gym armed with good intentions, only to quit by February. But why?
Getting fit requires focus, and our busy lives can only cope with so many demands at once. So we make exercise less of a priority. But how many of us can say that we are so busy that we don’t have time to scroll through shopping websites or social media? Most of us are guilty of it.
I once heard the phrase: don’t tell me you priorities; show me what you do and I’ll tell you. To me, this means that we say that our priorities might be family, work, health and self-care. But if you are guilty of scrolling through social media in the morning, that’s your priority. When you keep deferring exercise and eating well, your health is not your priority. When you want to pay off your debt but haven’t gotten round to starting, it’s not your priority.
We tend to confuse intention with priority. A priority is only a priority if it’s prioritised.
So what I challenge you to do is add up all that time you spend spending money throughout the month, and figure out if you could swap some of this time for running, yoga, going to the gym or even doing a quick HIIT at home. Getting fit doesn’t have to cost a thing.
Even after that first month, you’ll see an improvement in your physical and mental health, and your bank balance. Yes, it’s a little tougher than spending money. But if we spend money to temporarily feel good, why not do something that will actually make you feel good?
#2: Instead of Spending Money, Earn Money
A few months into my debt payoff, with my expenses already lowered, I started side hustling. From there, my financial life had transformed. Within a few months, I went from being perpetually broke to actually having more money than I was spending. We used my side hustle earnings to pay for a holiday to Thailand, which allowed us to continue to overpay our debts from our main salaries. Side hustling completely ups your game when you’re getting out of debt.
Here are the ways I make money from home:
- Matched Betting– easily the quickest way to start earning decent money from home in the UK. I made £4,000 in my first few months. In the spirit of this article, attempt the free trial before deciding to sign up to a paid membership. In doing so and with following the guidance, you’ll earn up to £45 profit for your time without committing to anything. (Warning: if you have a history of gambling addiction, I wouldn’t recommend this as a side hustle as you’ll be signing up to bookie sites and placing bets).
- Online Surveys and Market Research:
- YouGov– a Government research site. While this won’t earn big bucks, it’s a pretty handy task for anyone who sits on their phone in front of the TV as the surveys don’t require a huge chunk of concentration. A slow burner as you’ll accrue points and can cash out £50 when you’ve hit 5,000, but still worth doing IMO. I’ve made £50 from this for little effort.
- Prolific– an academic research site. You’ll do surveys on a range of topics and they will pay you in cash, which you can cash out once exceeding the £5 threshold.
- Testing Time- a market research agency. I took part in a market research interview with them via Skype and made £20 for 30 mins work. If you hit the criteria for a survey, this is a great earner.
- Shoppix- an app that you scan receipts with to earn points. I cashed out £20 with this app, and while it took some time to build up enough points to do so, the process was incredibly simple and each receipt takes a few seconds to scan.
- Job Spotter- an app that you upload photos of job advertisements to. I’ve found the more obscure the advert, the more money you make. I was able to cash out in Amazon vouchers on the same day I started, and while it was only pennies, this app is great for generating instant funds compared to those that have a threshold that you need to hit.
In the past year, I’ve also learned to monetise my blog by using my site to advertise and endorse affiliates that I use (some of the above are affiliate or refer-a-friend links, for example). If there is a topic you are passionate about, start a blog! In my experience, it takes a while to make money with blogging, but it’s also a way to earn money by writing about what you’re passionate about.
If you have an area of expertise, why not consider turning it into a business? Your craft hobby could become an Etsy shop, or your field knowledge a consultancy business, for example. For me, I’ve turned my understanding of paying off debt into a blog. I’ve met and connected with so many lovely like-minded people through running it, and of course, through social media.
One thing I’ve learned since putting myself out there: opportunities arise. This year, an email turned into national press coverage for me. A social media post turned into a ton of exposure in my workplace. Putting up a few budget recipes on my Instagram stories resulted in working with a major brand. A press snippet turned into an interview on national radio.
All of this because I stopped scrolling through social media and shopping websites, and started working on my goals and creating my own content instead.
The point is, if you’re not in, you can’t win. So whether it’s actually starting Matched Betting, or setting aside an hour to do surveys, setting up that blog, or listing items for sale online, just get started.
So I urge you to put your money away, and get your notebook out. I know you have an idea, that thing that you’re know you can make a success of if you just had the time. Make time, you need this and so does the world around you!
#3: Instead of Spending Money, Spend time with Friends and Family
Since paying off debt, my relationships have improved so much. An unexpected by-product of financial freedom, yet probably the one benefit that has enriched my life the most.
Beforehand, I was working longer hours and my mental health was poor. This brought on intermittent depression, insomnia, and I was taking medication. Looking back, I was really just getting through the days rather than actually living life to it’s fullest.
In the past year, I have more time to spend with friends and family. I actually have time to meet a friend for coffee on a Friday, or to have a long chat with my family in the afternoons. My husband have better date nights than we ever had when we were exhausted and going through the motions. All because I have some time back.
Often when we don’t have time, we de-prioritise relationships, which leave us a little isolated. Then we spend more time on social media, getting an artificial social fix.
So with that time you spend shopping, it’s time to reach out and send that ‘Fancy a coffee?‘ text you’ve been putting off. It’s a cliche but few of us will be on our deathbeds wishing we’d spent more money, but almost all of us will regret not shooting the breeze with the people we love while we can.
#4: Instead of Spending Money, Binge Watch a TV Series
Okay, so this is one of those ‘just for fun’ suggestions! A few years back, when my TV-buff friends would ask if I’d watched (insert groundbreaking series here), I was that person who’d reply, ‘not yet but it’s on my list‘. Truth time: there was no list. I was confusing intention with priority, assuming one day I’d make time for all these things that had built up.
At the same time, I absolutely made time to peruse Next Homeware at length, himming and hahhing over feature chairs and bedsheets. I would drop everything when a River Island sale email hit my inbox. I spent lots of time in the Oasis fitting rooms, dithering over tea dresses. Spending for the sake of spending was my priority.
When we swapped date nights at fancy restaurants for fakeaways a la sofa, we had a lot more free time. So we started browsing IMDB to find the top rated TV series’ out there, and started working through them. Since then, we’ve watched so many amazing shows.
I know watching TV is a fairly obvious one, but when you are required to put away your phone and actually take it in, a good series can be absolutely magical. And it’s one of the few things on this list that requires little effort beyond clicking a few buttons. Go on, you deserve this!
#5: Instead of Spending Money, Clean Your Space
Cleaning is like Marmite: you either love it or loathe it with the power of a thousand suns. But regardless, we all covet a clean space. At the same time, we live in an age where we are more likely to watch someone deep clean their bathroom on social media than actually do this ourselves.
At the start of the year, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo became a hit on Netflix. It caused a worldwide trend of clearing and cleaning out our homes, donating the things we no longer use, and simplifying our physical lives. And that suggests to me that rather than acquiring more things, many of us crave a life with less. So why are we buying more?
So if this is you, swap spending money for cleaning. While I don’t enjoy particularly enjoy cleaning, I have a system that works for me. I keep my home pretty tidy daily, and then take two hours once per week to tackle one or two of the bigger tasks, like deep cleaning the bathrooms, windows or kitchen. I use this as an opportunity to get caught up on my favourite podcasts, too (The Minimalists Podcast and Sh*gged Married Annoyed, incase you were wondering!).
One thing that really helps cut down on cleaning is that we don’t have a lot of clutter at home. We used to bung every shelf with candles and trinkets, cram the living room with cushions and throws, load up surfaces and windowsills with dust-gathering decoration. But then little by little, our home was de-cluttered through two years of donating or not replacing when something was at the end of it’s lifespan (like candles, for example). So instead of cleaning becoming a mammoth task, it’s a matter of keeping on top of our already-tidy space. All this thanks to spending less on things for our home.
So don’t spend money on cluttering a home that becomes unmanageable because of that very same clutter. Spend less and get your marigolds on. Turn that claustrophobic feeling into a space that leaves you calm and energised.
#6: Instead of Spending Money, Learn a New Skill or Activity
I think spending can be an addiction; and the more we do it, the more we keep needing the thrill of a purchase. So instead of spending money, why not choose to do something that will enrich your life?
During my debt free journey, I took two classes: one on mindfulness, and another on writing. I spent a total of £132 on all of the sessions for both. These not only kept me busy by focusing my mind on activities other than spending, but both really improved my life. Mindfulness helped to control my anxiety, and I self-published my first book in March- and have made a profit way beyond covering the cost of both courses. So money well spent, in my opinion.
I also viewed figuring out Matched Betting as learning a new skill. I had absolutely no experience in this field, and it took time to master. Now I know how to do something that can enable me to earn money any time I want to.
So take this time to learn a new skill. This could be the perfect opportunity to take a course, or further your career skills.
#7: Instead of Spending Money, Put Together a Budget
I’ve had a budget for as long as I can remember, but I only really started stick to it in July 2017. We had started our debt payoff and I realised that it wasn’t enough to just have a budget but I’d actually have to pay attention to it, too.
Once I started making it a focus in my life, my finances transformed. Less money was spent on things we didn’t need, and we actually had funds to buy what we needed. We found money in the budget to overpay debts. The debts started to disappear, and we had even more money to play with. Eventually, a year into budgeting and paying off debt, we became £1,000 per year better off.
The funny thing is, many of us are climbing the corporate ladder to get a payrise when there is one waiting for you if you take control of your finances and pay off debt. Taking control of our budget was the equivalent of getting a post-tax payrise of £12,000 per year. So instead of allocating your spare time to standing out at work, why not re-focus your efforts on budgeting and giving yourself that payrise?
So whether you start with a spreadsheet or paper is up to you; just get started. Here’s my guide on how to build a budget. Allocate that time you would have otherwise spent spending and you can’t go wrong.
#8: Instead of Spending Money, Have an Online Cleanse
This idea is great, as it feels like you’re having a proper clear out. But in reality, you’re can do it with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.
If you’re on a debt free or savings journey, I’d recommend first focusing your efforts on cleansing your social media, email and bookmarks of spending triggers. So those influencer account that encourage you to buy everything from contouring kits to designer watches: unfollow. Then move on to unsubscribing from mailing lists, or blocking senders that keep trying to sell, sell, sell. Remove any spending triggers from your bookmarks, because you don’t need to see them every time you scan past your bookmarks, as it reminds you to spend.
#9: Instead of Spending Money, Start a Journal
I am a massive fan of journalling for two reasons:
- Notebooks are one of the few things I can’t get enough of
- It allows me to express my feelings in a way I don’t get from talking it out.
I started journalling when my anxiety had been deteriorating for around five years, and within three months, my mental health had saw a huge improvement. Journalling helps to makes sense everything that’s crumpled up in your brain. Once you see it written out, it gets it out of your head and suddenly you have clarity over your feelings. It’s a huge stress reliever.
Most people don’t journal because they don’t have the time. We spin it to ourselves that it’s self-indulgent to take the time to process our feelings, but we still have time to catch up on social media and check our emails every day. Swapping this time for journalling would have the opposite effect to such activities. Instead of consuming, we are unloading, getting a little bit lighter, or clearing some headspace.
#10: Instead of Spending Money, Sleep
We manage around 6.3 hours of sleep per night in the UK, meaning we are missing out on the recommended amount of sleep by 1.7 hours per night. So if you are spending time spending, swap it for sleeping instead!
Prior to paying off our debt, my anxiety had become so bad that I developed insomnia, and struggled to sleep through the night. Working full time meant I was still getting up at 6 a.m., and getting through the day like a caffeinated zombie. Other nights I would take a sleeping tablet, and wake up groggy and exhausted.
When we started our debt payoff, we went from eating out several times per week and having lots of nights out to doing very little. So when we had a budget to stick to, I found that we naturally did less because we couldn’t afford to go out every night. Some nights were so boring that I went to bed early and read.
And something amazing happened.
My sleep started to regulate itself, and I found myself slowly cutting down on medication. I wasn’t as stressed anymore. I was swapping nights out for the gym (because it was already paid for!), takeaways for home cooking, and not drinking as much. Bedtime became something I prepared for instead of an after-thought.
I know sleeping may seem like a just-for-fun suggestion but this one is no joke; I know few people who can wholeheartedly say they sleep enough. Instead, we survive on coffees and energy drinks to get us through the days, and stay wired at night under the blue light emitted by our tiny screens. It’s unsustainable, and we will only find out in later years of the impact this will have on our long term health.
So that’s why it’s important to embrace the positive side of the otherwise-incredibly-dull-activity that is cutting your spending: you have some time back. We need our time back. We need sleep.
So these are my ten suggestions for activities to do that will improve your life instead of spending money. Let me know in the comments what you like to do instead of spending money.