Last updated in December 2020
Living does not come without costs; however, you can still learn how to live cheaply. Most people spend their money without a second thought. A new phone here, a fancy dress there. If you have a regular salary this lifestyle may be sustainable. But does it bring happiness?
There are also cases when you are forced to drastically reduce your spending. Redundancy, illness, a recession are only some examples of events that may leave you without an income. How can you live a happy and fullfilled life without being able to spend money?
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Table of Contents
How to live cheaply on next to nothing: Change your mindset and plan ahead
It is possible to live cheaply on next to nothing. And you can do it. You probably have not yet realised how many ways there are to live cheaply on next to nothing. Or how little money you actually need to live.
So do not worry. Living does not have to cost much. And even if your bank account is empty (or even overdrawn), your life will continue. If you are in a crisis, you may feel like every day is a Monday morning with rain pouring down. But do not let this feeling take you down! Instead, learn to embrace the living on next to nothing.
If there is nobody to support you, you have to support yourself. If there is nobody to motivate you, you have to motivate yourself. But no matter how weak you may feel, you are strong enough to master the life on next to nothing.
You can still live happily
First and foremost, learning how to live cheaply requires you to change your mindset. Embrace frugality and you will understand that having money does not make your happy. Equally, not having money does not mean you have to be unhappy. It is a choice that is yours to make!
One of the most important considerations is that time equals money. When learning how to live cheaply, you have to learn to plan ahead. For example, planning to cook your own dinners and office lunches, cleaning your home, etc. This has the side effect that you will feel more in control of your life.
How to live cheaply on next to nothing
If you want to or are forced to drastically reduce your expenses, you have to focus on the basics which are:
- Leisure time
How to save on food
There are a number of ways you can drastically reduce your food expenses.
How to live cheaply with home cooking
Cooking yourself is by far the most effective way when learning how to live cheaply. However, if you have been looking into saving money, the fact that cooking is cheaper than eating out is probably nothing new to you.
The key to living cheaply on next to nothing is choosing the right ingredients. Rice, potatoes, and pasta are super cheap staples that have great versatility and are long lasting. These could be your sources of carbohydrates. Cheap sources of protein include beans and peanut butter. For your daily portion of greens, you can buy seasonal vegetables.
All of the above can be combined in various ways to make cheap and decent-tasting meals. You can add homemade sauce (e.g. tomato puree or blended beans) for more taste.
Batch cooking and meal prepping is a great way to keep costs down. These will require planning ahead but the time spent will pay off.
How to live cheaply with cashback
Learn how to live cheaply with cashback. Even though you are trying to reduce your spending, you will still need to buy some money. This is were cashback comes in. With this, you are getting a proportion of the money you spent back. For example, if you buy pasta for £1, you may get £0.20 of that refunded. Thus, cashback is a great way to save money!
The easiest way to start receiving cashback is to sign-up to Shopmium. You will get a free pack of Pringles crisps with the code q2766a!
The app that give out free food
Restaurants, coffee shops, and supermarkets often have foods left at the end of the day that they cannot sell. They can help you to learn how to live cheaply. If it is still good to eat, it would be a waste to throw it away. Or perhaps your neighbour has food in their cupboard they do not plan to eat. Why should they let that food take up their space?
Olio is an app that gives you the chance to connect with these people and your local shops. Simply sign up to the app, browse the listings and see if there is anything you need. You can then contact the owner of the product and see if you can come by and pick the food up for free.
Of course, if you have anything you do not want, you can also list your food and maybe help someone in need. As you see, figuring out how to live cheaply is not that difficult.
How to live cheaply: Mystery shopping
Mystery shopping is the best way to get free food–because you also get paid for it! Mystery shopping is a way for market research companies to collect data for brands. These data involve information about products or staff at a specific store.
Mystery shoppers are ordinary consumers that are tasked to buy specific items on behalf of the market research company. This is being a bit like an undercover agent so that companies can better understand how they can improve.
Your compensation depends on your mystery shopping company. Some will reimburse you for the item you bought and the good ones will also pay you. Thus, mystery shopping is a great way to live cheaply on next to nothing. The only disadvantage is that you will unlikely be able to afford regular meals from mystery shopping alone.
Foodbanks provide food to people during emergencies when they have no other way of obtaining food. This food stems from donations made by the public. You may have already noticed their collection points in supermarkets, schools, churches, and sometimes businesses. When this food reaches the foodbanks, volunteers sort through everything and make emergency food parcels.
These food parcels commonly contain three days’ worth of nutritionally-balanced food. They are distributed to people in need who are identified by Citizens Advice, social workers, school staff, and other professionals.
These referrers will then give the person in need a voucher which can be exchanged for food parcels at the foodbank. Often, they also offer help and advice so that the person can overcome their crisis. Foodbanks are a great help when you learn how to live cheaply.
How to save on shelter
Everyone needs a place to live. So what do you do if you cannot afford to pay your rent anymore or are looking to reduce your rent costs? The answer will depend on your personal circumstances.
How to live cheaply as a single without dependents
Singles often face higher costs when renting because they cannot easily share a room with another person. However, on the bright side, reducing rent is much easier for singles than couples if you are prepared to move!
For example, I spent time as a homesharer where I lived with an elderly lady and only paid £150 rent per month. Note that this is not the same as a live-in carer and actually quite easy to do. There are often similar arrangements available on spareroom, all you have to do is keeping your eyes open.
When looking for such arrangements, it is important to prioritise safety over rent savings. It is not worth putting your life in danger for a small saving in rent.
How to live cheaply as a couple with or without children
For couples, the easiest solution to reduce accommodation costs is to downsize and share a room. For those with kids, life gets a bit more complicated. Moving is more difficult due to having more stuff and the requirement of a safe environment with nearby schools.
There are a few options if you are forced to reduce your rent. Firstly, you can contact your current landlord and explain your situation. Perhaps they will agree to a temporary reduction in rent!
If this does not work, you could try to sublet one of your rooms. It may mean you have to squeeze together a bit more, but the extra income may help you to get through a tough period.
Ask friends or family for help
If you have friends or family you can rely on, now is the time to ask them for support. Perhaps your friend can let you sleep on the sofa? Or you can move back in with your parents? Even if you feel the answer would be no, it is always worth asking.
With Couchsurfing, you essentially have free accommodation and will help you find out how to live cheaply. The website matches travellers with hosts, who will allow you to stay at their place for free. This can save you a lot of money but may take some time to organise and has some drawbacks:
- Only suitable for solo travellers
- Cannot stay anywhere for more than 2-3 nights
- No privacy
- No key to the property (dependant own host)
- Hosts may not be reliable
- Potential danger of staying in a stranger’s flat
As you can see, Couchsurfing is intended for travellers. However, if you really have nowhere to go, Couchsurfing can help you bridge the gap until you have found new accommodation.
Living in a van
Living in a van means you can save on what is the biggest expense for many people, rent. Plus, you are fully mobile and can travel on a moments notice. The cost of living in a van will vary depending on which van you use and what lifestyle you have, in this example, the costs are just under £300 per month excluding food.
However, living in a van also means adopting a different lifestyle that may not be suitable for everyone. While it is a great way to save money, you should do more research before you embark on your own van life.
How to save on transport
When you have to dramatically reduce your expenses, transport is one of the easiest areas to save on. Though this also depends on where you live. Consider selling your car or take it off the road temporarily, if you live in an area accessible by public transport.
Generally, a lot of trips people use their car or a bus can be walked. Even if you have children, they can use a bicycle or scooter. This also has a number of health benefits!
Even if you have to travel further, there is still plenty of potential for saving. Saving money when travelling is easy and can be a great help.
How to save on leisure time
If you have expensive hobbies, now may be a time to put these on hold. This does not mean you have to miss out though! In fact, this may be a great time to try out new things.
Free activities include visiting the museum, reading (join the library), going to a park, watching freely available documentaries, etc. You can even look for a hobby that will make you money.
For example, my hobby is blogging and Monethalia now makes around £200 per month. Starting a blog comes with some upfront cost, but you should be able to recover these costs quickly. Learn how to make money from your blog.
When looking for a hobby that makes money, practice caution. If something sounds to good to be true, it probably is a scam.
How to live cheaply on next to nothing summary
Following this, there are a few practical approaches you can take to learn how to live cheaply:
- Reduce your food expenses
- Save money by reducing your rent
- Travel and commute for less
- Make the most of your leisure time
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