Millenials broadly fall into two camps: those who have resigned themselves to never owning a home and instead enjoy what remains of our fleeting youth and time on Earth, and those who have decided to cut out everything that brings them joy to get themselves on the property ladder.
We’re all used to features where these lost young people explain how they’ve managed to save money by batch cooking, quitting the pub and feeling guilty for spending £1.20 on a tin of tuna. Personally, I am overwhelmed with sadness every time I read one of these money diaries – not because I will never own my own home, but because for a second I imagine what it would be like to live like these joyless losers all for the sake of owning 32 percent of an ugly new build in Colchester.
With this in mind, I set about putting myself in the shoes of these thrifty kids by living like one for a week. Would I save £3,000 by cutting out coffee? Or would I lose all my friends by virtue of being a cheap prick?
By virtue of being a freelance writer who doesn’t even earn enough to pay tax, there is more chance of me marrying into the royal family than owning a home, but through careful budgeting and a lifelong fear of debt instilled by my accountant dad, I still manage to live a reasonably happy life in London without forcing myself to eat wet sandwiches for lunch every day. But could I be even better (debatable) with my money?
I head to the Big Sainsbury’s to do my weekly shop on a budget of £15. I focus on staples such as potatoes, pasta, and tinned tomatoes, along with cheese, coleslaw and a loaf of bread for sandwiches. Left to my own devices, my usual weekly shop is mostly comprised of luxury beverages. I can’t resist adding one to my basket today – it’s on offer with a third off! – bringing my total to £13.51.
I decide to use my leftover budget to buy a limited edition Phantom Frappuccino from Starbucks (£3.20) because it’s Halloween. Unfortunately, it turns out to be one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever ingested, but there is no time to regret. It’s nearly dinner time, and I have to recreate one of the most cursed melanin-deficient meals I have ever seen: frozen cod, a single slice of lemon, plain couscous and mug-boiled carrots. Mmmmm.
Side note: aside from how disgusting this meal is, it’s also incredibly unsustainable and not particularly cheap – what’s the point of owning a house if we’ll be living on a barren planet with nothing left to eat on it? Buying four packs of frozen cod for £3.40 is bad praxis unless you are a struggling adult with a family to feed!
To no-one’s surprise, this tastes like shit. I douse it in hot sauce and go out drinking to forget about the assault on my tastebuds.
I’m a freelancer. This is shorthand for someone who doesn’t eat anything except coffee until 3pm when I feel like I’m going to collapse, and then realise I have been mainlining caffeine and so go to an over-priced café to panic order a £7 sandwich because I have no food in the house. Today however, I have my own ingredients! I make a sandwich and eat it. It feels good.
It’s Friday night, and in the spirit of saving money I’ve decorated the house and invited friends over for a spooky movie night. However I am not of a ~certain demographic and was raised to have too much pride to host people and provide them with nothing. I go to Poundland and buy a load of sweets for £2, then head to the supermarket for ingredients to make spiced mulled cider and guacamole with the avocados I already have at home.
At some point in the night someone orders pizza and I have a couple of slices. Free food, baby!
Wake up to it absolutely pissing it down outside, so decide to make the most of the miserable weather and tidy the house. For lunch, I make myself another cheese and coleslaw sandwich. Before I know it, it’s time for dinner: pasta bake. Ingredients: onion, garlic, pasta, tinned tomatoes, tuna and cheese. I make a whole tray worth, which should give me about four meals.
I’ve done social things for the last three nights and am therefore quite happy to stay in and watch movies and read on a Saturday night. This is fine for me because I am 30 years old, but a lot of the people doing these saving challenges are like, 21. To that I say: what the fuck, man. This is the age you should be out having fun and doing stupid shit – not sitting at home alone just so you can pay £100 less in rent and put it towards a mortgage on a house you will never actually own.
Anyway, I have managed a grail #nospendday. Go me!
I have recently started exercising (I’m talking literal weeks), which could be an expenditure but isn’t because I signed up to an app with referral credits. This means I can attend a Sunday morning yoga class for free (who the fuck have I become). If this sounds too much like cheating, I, like literally everyone else, recommend Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube, which is totally free and can be done naked in the comfort of your own home.
Afterwards, I meet a friend at Caffe Nero for coffee and a pastry (£2.60) – the coffee is free because I downloaded their app (more data!). I debate the pasta bake again for lunch, but have early dinner plans with a friend so decide to just firm it until then. I take a bus into central, and we eat about £300 worth of sushi and cocktails but it’s all free because she’s an influencer-cum-food blogger. Sorry to those of you who are not as cool as me, but no-one ever said life was fair.
I generally have pretty low monthly travel costs due to the fact that I don’t have to commute to work. If I do have to go somewhere, I try to walk or take the bus. But a spanner has been thrown into the works of my usual low-cost, low-calorie, low-movement lifestyle: I am doing shifts in an office this week like the rest of you disgusting serfs.
Unused to the ungodly hour that is known as 7AM, I accidentally press snooze and wake up late. My proposed two-bus route from south to east London is off the table. I spend £2.90 on the overground and £2.95 on a coffee.
Feeling sorry for myself simply because I’ve had to go into work on a Monday (do you hate me yet?), I buy myself a wrap from the fancy deli (£5.50) for lunch. For the sake of posterity and to counter my OUTRAGEOUS spending, I take two buses home.
£1.50 and a mere 83 minutes later, I’m home and once again faced with the pasta bake. I can’t lie – it was nice to come home to dinner I’d already cooked so I could proceed to immediately get stoned to five B2B episodes of Brooklyn 99 instead. I cancelled my Netflix subscription, but no-one said I couldn’t stream illegally.
Start off my day right by sleeping through my alarm. This means I once again grab coffee on the go – I opt for filter (£1.50). Lunch is another £5 sandwich (bad), because I seem to be working in the only office in London not surrounded by 18 branches of Pret.
I take the overground home because the street I live on has organised a little bonfire night get-together and I don’t want to miss the scheduled fireworks display. Someone has made a veggie chilli, so that’s dinner sorted. Dulwich, baby!
I freeze the rest of the pasta bake because I can’t bear to look at it any more, and spend the evening signing up to an online survey service that promises me cash in exchange for uploading my grocery receipts, wasting hours of my life in pointless drudgery and more of my valuable data.
Cost: £12.30 + high chance of falling victim to a future data breach
Woke up feeling good because today is my last day of doing this shit, and I decide to try extra hard to play by the rules. I skip my coffee on the way to work and make one for free when I get to the office.
The other freelancer asks if I want to get lunch – I say yes because it is more important to make friends than save £2, IMO! I have a jacket potato with cheese and beans, and a can of coke (£5.70). It ends up being an intense day at work, and by the time I get my two buses home I’m so exhausted I can’t face anything except chucking chicken nuggets in the oven for dinner.
For the sake of argument, however, I would like to stress that it’s possible to eat well on a budget without resorting to prison food. My own personal budget-friendly recipe is spaghetti with garlic, black pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, parmesan and basil from my plant. If you’re feeling fancy you can add cherry tomatoes. Delicious!
What a boring week. Honestly, it’s been a revelation having food in the house which I then make and eat instead of buying overpriced sandwiches, but there are only so many times I can eat the same batch-cooked meal without wanting to throw up on it.
Ultimately, this is no way to live. No matter how thrifty I am, I will never be able to buy a house in London. I’ve made my peace with it! If the choice is between renting forever and enjoying your one life v.s. part-owning a home while feeling guilty for buying 70p packets of crisps, I know which one I’m choosing.
My total weekly spend came to £74.24, which was actually considerably higher than the previous week (£50.40) when I was living my life normally, leading me to conclude that the main hindrance to saving money is… going to work. In conclusion: luxury communism now!