Before I graduated from university money was tight. My adult life, until shortly before I got married, was spent not spending money. No, really. Money was so tight that a $5 banking error could have meant destruction. I relied on the goodwill (and good cooking) of family and friends to pad out my grocery budget (I rarely turned down a free meal!). On more than one occasion, I had to call the power company to get my electricity turned back on. I had to cancel my phone. I didn’t have cable TV. I didn’t own a car for a while.

Or, to put it another way, I lived on such a meagre income that there wasn’t even enough money to make a budget, let alone live by one!

But the lessons I learned about pinching pennies and denying myself luxuries like haircuts, clothes, and shoes meant that when I finally had a healthy income, I had more money than I knew what to do with. And that meant that my savings account grew and that my spending increased. Oh yes, I had disposable income. And I used it!

And when I decided to quit my job and return to Scotland for graduate school, I used those early penny-pinching skills to pad out my savings account. Of course, now I’m back in scarily familiar territory again: I’m poor! I have no income and I have a limited budget. So, once again, I have to pinch pennies and deny myself luxuries.

Thankfully, I’m prepared. For nearly two years I’ve prepared myself emotionally and financially for this adventure. But I fear that no amount of preparation will stave off the fears I have about things not working out the way I want them to.

I am constantly fearful that I’ve done the maths wrong or that I’m kidding myself about how much things will cost. I am also aware that, with no income, the money I spend will not be replenished and I fear that watching my bank balance decrease over the next several months will cause me to be a little over-cautious with my money. Yes, I fear that I will start denying myself too many things, to hold on to as much of my money as I can!

All of that said, I am not broke. I can afford this adventure. And if everything does go wrong, I have the option of moving back to my parents with my tail between my legs.

And so, I’ve managed to work out a new budget for the next year. And I’ve done it in part by looking at emotional triggers. Like I knew that living in a squalid rat trap would make me sad, so I’ve put a bit more money towards my housing budget than I originally planned. And I know that I like some of the finer foods, so I’ve increased my food budget so that I can have fresh salmon and quality steaks for dinner from time to time.

But those higher budgets mean that I have to sacrifice a bit elsewhere. I will have to scrimp on things like weekend city breaks. My clothing budget has been slashed (not that it was ever that high in the first place). My booze budget is almost gone – no more fine wines, premium beers, expensive Scotch (sorry, whisky), or fine Cognacs.

It’s not really a complaint. I mean, I’m the one who chose this path. I’m the one who decided to give up her middle-class lifestyle. I’m the one who decided to take this adventure out of the dreaming stage and into reality. And I’m mostly excited about it. I just need to re-learn what it’s like to be on a strict budget. And I need to try not to let it make me sad!

As I said, I’m not really broke nor will I be forced to eat rotting food ‘salvaged’ from back-alley Dumpsters. It’s just that I can’t decide – on a whim – to buy the latest-and-greatest gadget or that really pretty green dress that’s not even on the sale rack.  And I will be looking for occasional work to help my budget – and to allow me splurges from time to time.

So, now that I’m just over a week away from moving into my new flat, I need to really remember to stick to that new budget! And that’s where you come in! I’d love to hear any great ideas for living on a budget – including ideas for entertainment and home decorating. And great ideas for recipes for cheap food that looks and tastes expensive!

Yeah, I’m looking forward to having a proper income again so that I can splurge on things like name brand shampoo!

10 Replies to “Budgeting”

  1. Don’t worry, I’ll sub you the occasional tin of beans, and have you round for dinner if that helps. There’s always an open bottle of wine at my place and you know you’re always welcome!
    But your own place again, how cool is that???!

    1. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Knowing that I have friends like you here for me is such a great help to my emotional well-being!
      I am super excited about having my own place, and am pleased that I can afford it, but even better is knowing there’s a good friend around the corner. So just because I’ll be living alone doesn’t mean I’ll be living in isolation!!
      (And don’t worry, I’ll help you with the wine!)

  2. Not quite in the same boat as you but we’re trying to make one income cover three people’s living expenses so budgetting is all to familiar here.
    What I will advise though, is plan for your treats and seek out those which give you great pleasure but cost very little. For me, it’s thrift shopping for clothes, cooking from scratch, and cultural stuff like visiting museums, galleries with no admission fee. I also take great satisfaction from my art and photography, and making gifts for people who really appreciate them and their value. Even if you’re skint, you still need to treat yourself somehow, and it is possible on a very tight budget if you look hard. The treats really do make the difference to a frugal life.
    One extra thought, think about your treats when family ask what to get you for birthdays, christmas etc. For example, Mum recently ‘bought’ my subscription to Ballet BC – it’s a gift that repeats several times in a year, not just at unwrapping time.
    All the best in your frugality 🙂

    1. I do need to work on planning my treats better. Normally, I promise I’ll treat myself to X but then I feel guilty (normally before I’ve bought whatever) and I go into panic mode. It’s silly, but that’s how I roll. (I was like that even with a comfortable income. I’m trying to get better at it, but it’s just the way I am.)
      I’m really into thrift shopping, so that’s likely where I’ll get most of my clothing. I’ve included a monthly clothing budget and everything!
      It’s the cultural stuff that will be hard. Stirling is a rather small city (well, it’s pretty big to me!) so there’s only so much free stuff to do. But I’ve got some great ideas and a great local guide, too!
      You did get me thinking, however, that I can combine hobbies for my entertainment–it would be fun to take my camera out on a mission to find, say, 15 different types of flowers or trees that I could then turn into an art project the next weekend. (And would it be too cheap to then give those things to people for Christmas?)

  3. I have always been on a tight budget. Before I had a good job, I had no money. Tim and I used to dumpster dive in Eburg, not for food, but for towels, blankets, funiture, etc, when the college kids left town.
    With S, he was a spender, so there was never any money for me so I just paid his bills and bought what the boys needed and I did without anything I wanted that wasn’t neccessary.
    Now I am paid fairly well, but have a kid in college and a teenager at home. ONe of my best things is to never go shopping. If you don’t shop, you can’t buy. Recycle catalogs as soon as they enter the house. Shop sales and thrift if you need something. I keep a list of movies and music I am interested in, like a wish list.
    For food, Trader Joes is like a budget gourmet shop. Perhaps you can find something similar over there. I am sure you will find you r deals somewhere. Even if you ahve to go to another town every few months and stock up. It pays.
    Good luck. Welcome back to the poor starving college student syndrome!

    1. I don’t know if there is a Trader Joe’s equivalent, but it seems that fresh produce here is a lot less expensive than in the states, which helps!
      Paul and I loved Dumpster Diving! Living in a college town, it was easy to just drive around the apartment complexes at the end of term–there was always loads of great stuff for the taking!
      I am very lucky that my new flat is fully furnished so I don’t need to worry about that, and various people have offered towels and bedding, which helps. But I will definately hit the thrift stores when I need to!

  4. Entertainment: you live in studentland, find out about student theatre & learn to love it. It’s cheap! Although sometimes that’s the best can be said about it.
    Discounts: as a full-time student you qualify for the ‘young person’ railcard (check the website, as sometimes people think this is All Lies, & the ever-handy NUS extra.
    There are loads of things but they’re not really UK-specific, so I’m sure you’re on the ball with that 😀

  5. Having come from the same place & time as you, I know exactly where you’re at. I know you already know how to be thrifty, it’s the cheap food that doesn’t taste cheap that’s always a challenge. Luckily it’s winter time & that means you can bust out the crock pot(that I am sure you’ll find at a thrift store)and make some great smelling & tasting soups & stuff! One thing that I found is that rutabagas have a similar texture & taste to potatoes & are way less in carbs & usually are cheaper, depending on your market of course. my point is that sometimes there is cheaper “substitutes” you can look for! here is one of my particularly favorite cheap recipes!
    crockpot add an onion(if desired), a layer of potatoes(or substitute), a layer of chopped up ham(you can even use deli slices if needed)& a shredded cheese. repeat until about 1 inch of space left or you run out of ingredients. Then over the top season to your liking with salt, pepper, etc & pour a can of cream of mushroom(or equivalent) soup & let it simmer, stirring after a couple of hours. best au gratin Potato soup I’ve had 🙂

Join the conversation!