Living costs have jumped over the past year, making it increasingly difficult for most of us to make ends meet.

In January this year, 92% of UK households said that their cost of living had increased compared with a year earlier, according to research by Statista. It’s a figure that will surprise few, with interest rates continuing to rise and food and energy prices at an all-time high.

In our ‘Thrifty over fifty’ series, we talk to our Rest Less members about how they’re managing their money in these difficult times, and what tips they might be able to offer others looking to keep their costs to a minimum.

Our fourth article in the series features Rest Less member Anna Hart, who talked to us about what she does to rein in her spending. If you’d like to read the previous articles in the series, you can follow these links to our articles with Ray Parr, Dee Darrell and Kirstin Higgins.

About Anna Hart

Anna Hart - Thrifty over fifty

Anna is a psychotherapist and counsellor who lives in Surrey with her two dogs. Anna only recently joined Rest Less but is really engaged on a number of topics including relationships, pensions and the people who fall through the cracks of government support.

Along with her therapy business, Anna also makes podcasts on conversation-based social media platforms and likes to create her own skincare products.

Managing the cost of living alone

Anna got divorced three years ago and now lives by herself. Like many of us, the cost of living is at the forefront of her mind and she told us how she manages living costs alone:

“I don’t have a partner, or children or parents, so I’m on my own and don’t have anyone who can bail me out. So my lifestyle means that I really need to think about how I spend my money and every penny counts. No one really talks about how the cost of living is affecting single households but because there’s not a second income to fall back on, we don’t have the extra cushion.

“I’m very aware of the cost of living crisis, I read about it and watch the news every day. I want to know what’s going on. I’m from Yorkshire originally and we’re quite hardy people and pretty thrifty. I’m sitting here with no lights on and no heating – I’m not cold, as I can just put on more jumpers.”

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Finding ways to save money on energy

One of the things Anna does to keep her living costs down is to be mindful of how much energy she uses and she also looks for cheap DIY solutions to make her home more energy efficient: 

“I’ll have the heating on in the living room, but I don’t have it on in the bedroom, kitchen or the hallway – no one sits in the hallway so it doesn’t need heating,” she said. “When I put the heating on, I’ll put it on for an hour in the morning and probably half an hour in the evening. If it’s really cold I’ll push it on for another hour.

“When we had that cold snap though, I sat in my blanket and extra layers, but I ended up putting the heating on. I’ve got arthritis in both hips so I thought I can either freeze to death or I can be warm, so I just had to take the hit and deal with it later on. I would try and go for as long as I could without the heating but gave in eventually.

“If I’m feeling a bit chilly, I’ll fill two hot water bottles and have them with me under the blanket. A hot drink can help too.”

When Anna moved into her house, she noticed a draught that was making her home colder than it should have been, so she came up with a quick low-cost solution. She said: 

“I need new windows in my house, but I just can’t afford that at the moment. The windows let a draught through and I was freezing. So to stop it, I bought some white duct tape and taped over all the draughts around the windows and it dramatically cut them down. In the summer I’ll take it off, but there’s no mould or build-up. I also have draught excluder strips that go around the doors – I’ve amazed myself with how well it’s all worked and I’ve found that keeping doors shut also helps.”

Anna has found other areas she was overspending on energy and has made changes to save money:

“I had a smart meter installed when I moved in and I found I was burning through gas and electricity and realised I had my water heater set to come on for four hours each night, which it really didn’t need to so I changed that.

“I also don’t leave chargers plugged in overnight as they’re charging nothing. Every night I do a sweep and unplug them and put them away. I switch everything off, unplug it, and turn the lights off when I’m not using them. I only turn the lights on when I’m in the room and using things.”

Anna also changed the way she pays her energy bills to make budgeting easier. She said: “I pay as I go for energy so they can’t suddenly say I need to pay an extra sum of money a month.”

For some more tips on saving money on your energy bills, have a look at our article 11 practical tips to keep warm and save energy this winter.

Switching subscriptions

Another area Anna cuts costs on is TV and media subscriptions. She now only subscribes to one platform at a time to keep costs, and the endless list of choices, to a minimum:

“I don’t need the subscriptions all the time,” she said. “I’m a big Channel 4 and BBC iPlayer person, and that’s fine, and I can watch it when I want to. With subscriptions, there are just too many options and I don’t need that many choices, so I pick and choose them.

“I had Netflix but I cancelled it because I got option anxiety from watching too many things and then at Christmas time I activated it for a month, but have cancelled it again. I signed up to Paramount for a month to watch Yellowstone season 3 – and I’ve now cancelled that too.

“It’s the first time that I’ve dipped in and out and it suits me. I know it’s not very much money, but it all adds up over the year.”

Anna says the same applies to gym membership, while she used to have one, she now uses cheaper or free options: “I do classes online now. I’ve signed up with a local one, but there are plenty of great youtube videos you can watch.”

You can read more about saving on subscriptions in our articles Are you losing money on subscriptions you don’t need? and 8 ways to save money on your streaming services.

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Making her own skincare

Anna has an interest in aromatherapy which led her to trying her hand at creating her own products. She said: “I was using this brand and I looked at the ingredients list and thought to myself that I’ve got a bathroom full of essential oils, I could definitely make my own, so I did. I’ll make a mix of a general emollient cream, essential oil, rose hip oil and salicylic acid.

“It probably wouldn’t pass health and safety measures, but I’ve always liked it for my own use. I have a book called Fragrant Pharmacy, which has a whole range of aromatherapy recipes, from sprains to bruises. A bit like Mrs Beeton for aromatherapy. It’s really easy.

“I’ll sometimes keep old face cream jars, run them through the dishwasher to clean them out and then I’ll put the cream I’ve made in there, so they look nice too. I’ve gone down the route of really expensive face creams in the past and these are better than any I’ve used.”

On average, in the UK, people aged 50 and over spend between £360 and £561 on personal care items, according to Statista, so finding cheaper alternatives to your favourite skincare items and toiletries can make a huge difference to your regular living costs.

When Anna isn’t making her own products, she’s found some great budget-friendly options: “Handmade Naturals is a really affordable brand for things I can’t make myself, like cleanser. They’re really good for mature skin too. I’ve also used Faith in Nature. They do bottle refills too and are a really nice brand. Their shampoos are a lot cheaper than some other brands.”

If you want to find ways to cut your spending on skin care and beauty products, have a look at our article 21 ways to cut the cost of your beauty routine.

Enjoying luxuries without breaking the bank

While saving money wherever possible, continually scrimping and saving can feel exhausting, so finding small ways to treat yourself can be important for your mental well-being. 

While Anna is careful to live within her means, there are times that she will splash out and treat herself. “I have flurries of spending,” she said. “I don’t go out and spend lots of money on clothes. I’m not really into clothes much anymore, to be honest, but I allow myself little luxuries sometimes.

“I like aromatherapy oils so sometimes I’ll treat myself to those and I’ll also use them to make my own skincare products.

“I’ll also buy food items, so for example, instead of prosecco or champagne, crémant is cheaper. Chocolate’s another thing I like to treat myself with, but I don’t mind buying Asda’s own brand. I’ll also buy perfumes every now and then, but you can get really good deals on them in the Amazon perfume shop.”

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Creating additional income streams from hobbies and interests

Many people are looking for ways to boost their income at the moment, and Anna has found some additional streams of income based on her interests. Although she admits she doesn’t bring in a huge amount, the big benefit is that she’s getting paid to do something she really enjoys.

She said: “I do voiceovers and content creation on societal issues, dating, sex and relationships and spirituality. I teach English as a foreign language too. 

“I fell into podcasting by mistake. During the pandemic, when we were all locked down, I found this app called Stereo (a conversation-based social media platform) and met some amazing people from America. It was a new app then, in BETA testing mode and I became a verified content creator and could start earning money from it. I think I bought an office chair with my first earnings. And I just went on to other platforms and did more and am verified on other social audio platforms. 

“I’ve done over 600 episodes on Stereo. Some of the conversations are quite interesting, some are heavy, some are not, and some are fun. I really enjoy it and I seem to be quite good at talking.

“I get paid for one of the platforms in Amazon vouchers, which is useful. Stereo isn’t monetised, but they do soundbites that they pay certain people for. It’s sort of a passive income, it won’t pay my food bill but it’s nice to have. You can only start earning money on most of these platforms if you’re a verified content creator and to do that you need to have some sort of kudos behind you, as in from another platform or you have a niche qualification.

“It’s easy to get started, you just need a regular microphone that you can get on Amazon, some headphones and a stand. It’s really not hard. You can just use a cushion for muting echos – If you put a cushion under your microphone, it’s really easy.”

If you’re looking to increase the amount of money you have coming in each month, have a look at our article 24 ways to make extra money and boost your income.

Anna’s final tip

We asked Anna for her best money-saving tip, to which she said: “Before you buy anything, ask yourself do I want this thing or do I need it? There’s often an emotional drive to wanting something and often if you really think about it, you’ll realise you don’t actually need it.

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