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.

Many of us are finding it hard to make ends meet at the moment and might be trying to cut costs and boost our incomes. Our own Rest Less research found that more than one in 10 of our retired members were looking to return to work because of increases in the cost of living.

Separate research from The Exeter found that 81% of people have reported a change in their spending habits due to the cost of living crisis, making cutbacks on weekly shops, utility usage and leisure activities.

Our second ‘Thrifty over fifty; article features Rest Less Member Dee Darrell. If you’d like to read the first article in the series, you can read it here.

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About Dee Darrell

Dee, originally from North London, is a single mum to two teenage girls and lives in Essex. She works for the NHS and spends her free time going on weekend breaks and staying active.

Dee joined Rest Less to find people at the same stage in life, who she can share life’s ups and downs with: “I have no clue how I found Rest Less in the first place,” she says, “But it’s a really nice and comforting place to be. At 51, it can feel like you don’t sit anywhere – like you’re in this no man’s land. I’m not retirement age yet, and I’m not in my 30s or 40s and you feel like you’re in the middle.

“That’s what I like about the group – it’s really mixed. There’s such a range of people and experiences and it’s useful and uplifting. Even when people post things that are challenging, the support from other people in the group is really nice. It’s comforting to think that there are other people my age who are in the same situation or have gone through it and to know how they’ve coped with it all.”

A constantly evolving approach to money

Dee wasn’t always as cost-conscious as she is now, but rather her financial management approach has evolved over the years:

“For me, money is a means to an end,” she says. “When I was younger I was definitely more frivolous with my money, but as time goes by and you get a mortgage and become a parent, you get more financial responsibility and your priorities change.

“Now, if I’m going to spend money on things, I care more about experiences than items. I love going on a mini break – for example, we might go to Brighton for the weekend. That’s more important to me than expensive items like clothing or things for the house. 

“I definitely try to be frugal to help cover the cost of doing things, and we’ve made cuts across the board. It’s about being more discerning when it comes to spending your money.”

Currently, Dee is going through a divorce which has meant her views on money have shifted once again: “What is apparent when you’re in this situation is that you have a different outlook in terms of finances. Suddenly you’ve gone from two incomes to one and I think being a single parent with a mortgage and bills to pay gives you a whole new way of looking at your finances.”

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“Doing an audit is really important and actually asking ‘where is my money going?’”

With the cost of living rising, Dee says one of the most useful things she did was to take an audit of her finances:

“I think doing an audit is really important and actually asking ‘where is my money going?’. With the situation that we’re in now, with the cost of living and my personal situation too,  looking for those things like subscriptions that you don’t really use could help you save money in one place to use somewhere else.

“For example, one of the things my daughter will do is set the washing machine on a timer so it comes on at midnight or four in the morning when it’s cheaper. That money I save on the washes over time I might then use to help fund a trip into London.”

If this has got you thinking about what your appliances might cost to run, have a look at our article The 10 most expensive appliances to run and how to cut costs for some tips and tricks on saving money.

Rather than just looking at one area of her finances, Dee has taken a holistic approach to reducing her costs. She’s made changes to how she shops, switched providers for things like her energy and her mobile phone and started shopping around much more than before to find the best deals. All of this means that she’s been able to cover her costs and still afford the things she wants.

Dee told us how she prioritised these things: “There are some things that you will immediately notice if you make changes to them, like food or gas and electricity because these costs have skyrocketed. Before a basket of shopping might have cost you £20 and now it costs you £30 or £35. My utility bills have almost doubled too, and you can really feel that difference in your purse. So those are the go-to places to make changes because they usually have a noticeable impact. It’s only when money gets tight that you start having a proper forensic look at these things and how much you’re spending.”

Changing shopping habits

Changing the way she does her food shop has resulted in significant savings for Dee:

“When it comes to shopping I’ll go at the end of the day or on my lunch break and have a look for the reduced items – the ones with the yellow stickers.

“I love Aldi and Lidl, I think they’re brilliant, but I do have to do a multi-shop. I will usually go to either one and get the bulk of my stuff, but there are always a few bits that they don’t have, so I might have to go to Sainsbury’s to get those. I’m also a big fan of Iceland and I love the Poundshop too. It’s the only place you can go and fill up a basket and it doesn’t cost you half your salary.

“I don’t really plan my meals before I go to the shops. I tend to just get what’s available at a good price. I like to go and see what’s reduced and think ‘what could I do with that?’ I tend to stock up so I always have stuff in the freezer.

“Before the divorce, I might not have looked at these things, but now I’m searching for them. Especially now for things like meat that you can freeze. If I find meat that’s reduced I tend to buy a few packs and stick them in the freezer.

“Shopping like this is one of the reasons I love my slow cooker, you can put anything in it. If I find some meat that’s reduced, I’ll chop it up, season it, marinade it overnight, fry it up in a pan a bit and then chuck it in the slow cooker with whatever I’ve got in the cupboard and add some spices and seasonings. It doesn’t use a lot of energy and if you’re going out for the day, we can put the slow cooker on so when you come home, you’ve got dinner.”

If like Dee, you’re looking to change supermarkets to save some money, have a look at our article Food price barometer: which supermarkets are cheapest? for insight into how much switching could save you. If you’re considering investing in a slow cooker to cut your cooking costs, our guide 12 best slow cookers for low-cost meals 2022 may help.

Cutting down on takeaways

Like many of us, Dee and her daughters found themselves ordering more takeaways than normal during lockdown, but it’s a habit they’ve kicked, finding a more cost-effective alternative:

“We really try to limit the number of takeaways we get, and now if we want one, we make it all ourselves,” she says “We make kebabs and tacos, and yes it takes longer and a bit more effort, but if you plan it, it’s not so bad. Even if it’s buying a takeaway from the supermarket rather than getting one delivered, it’s such a difference in price.”

For more ideas of how to cut your food costs have a look at our articles 5 ways to cut energy costs when you cook and 21 ways to save money on your food bills.

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Comparing prices and switching to the best deals

The changes don’t stop here, though. Dee says that shopping around for the best deals means she’s able to save money on one thing to use elsewhere.

“I also changed providers for my gas and electric, when it was possible to make savings from doing this, and I’ve got a smart meter which I didn’t have before. Generally, I’ve been doing more shopping around and I’ve started using comparison websites and comparing prices to find the best deals. I’ve changed my mobile phone tariff too. I rang up my provider and told them I was leaving as it was too expensive and when you do that, they start offering you all these deals to stay. So I’ve made savings across the board, but some things are much more noticeable and others you have to do a bit more research into.”

If you’re thinking about switching your broadband or phone deal, you can use these tools to compare deals from across the market.

Clearing clutter to make some cash

Dee likes to sell items that she no longer needs or wants. She says that having a clear out is a great way to declutter her home and the small amount of money she makes from it doesn’t hurt either:

“I’ve always loved a car boot sale,” she says, “and I regularly do car boot sales and sometimes eBay things or put them on Facebook marketplace. I’m not really a hoarder and once or twice a year I’ll go through everything and think oh I haven’t worn that, I don’t need that, or I don’t like that anymore. 

“I like a car boot because they’re quite social and you get to talk to people. At the end of the day, you can see your profits in your bag of coins and can see that the effort has paid off. 

“It’s just great to have a clear-out and get rid of the things you don’t use. If I can sell it, then great, but sometimes I just give stuff away too.”

If this has got you thinking about making some money from your clutter, have a look at our guide on How to make money from your clutter for inspiration.

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Taking inspiration from her kids

Dee’s approach to money has changed over the years, but her kids and the social media they like to use are still teaching her new things all the time:

“When it comes to my girls, they are both really good with money and save regularly. My eldest is at uni and is very cost-conscious. She’s doing art so she’s got materials to buy, and travel to and from London to pay for. She’s got her student loan and has a part-time job, but she’s really aware of the cost of things.

“My youngest is quite frugal too. She likes to save money and she seems to be completely switched on to financial management already. We laugh about it sometimes. We’ll go out and I might say “Shall we get a coffee?” and she’ll say “Oh mum, that’s £2.50, that’s too expensive.” She’s only 14 and sometimes I wonder if I’m the parent or if she is. She’s already saving and I think it’s a good quality to have. Of course, you need to have a balance. 

“They might have picked up some of their money attitudes from us. As a parent, you have a massive influence over how your children develop and grow and their values. I definitely think some of their approaches are from me, but a lot of it is through her own experiences too.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that on places like TikTok there are a lot of conversations around investment and how to make the most of your money which I think is really important. 

I was watching this TikTok on the return on investment you get when you put money in the bank versus other investments which really hit me. Traditionally you’re told that putting money in the bank is what you do and you hold it there for however many years and the interest you get back is small, but investments can give you much bigger returns. Obviously investing comes with risk, but it’s good to see these conversations happening.”

You can find out more about the pros and cons of investing in our guides Is investing right for you? and Investing – the basics.

Dee's final tip

We asked Dee what one money-saving tip she would give to someone at the moment. She said: “If you need to think twice about something, don’t buy it. Even if it’s something that’s £2.99, if you have to think about the price of something, then it’s probably not worth it to you.”

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