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 third article in the ‘Thrifty over fifty’ series features Rest Less Member Kirstin Higgins. If you’d like to read the previous articles in the series, you can do so here and here.

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About Kirstin Higgins

Kirstin is a recent Rest Less member, who found out about the site through one of our Facebook posts asking for people for their best money-saving tips. Despite not even being a member at the time, she commented on the post with several great ideas.

Kirstin is a retired nurse, originally from Edinburgh. She currently lives on the Yorkshire coast near the moors, with her husband and 18 year-old son, where she spends time reading, watching films, and volunteering where she can.

“It’s all about looking after the local community”

Kirstin spends a lot of time supporting her local community, including donating to her local food bank and previously volunteering at a refill shop. It’s opened up ways to save money, as well as ways to help others. Find out more about food banks in our article Everything you need to know about food banks.

Kirstin said: “During the war I think everyone mucked in together, and there are a lot of communities that have always supported each other, but I think since we’ve become so widely dispersed – my family’s all over the UK – it’s quite difficult if you move into a new area and don’t know people. Hopefully food banks and community shops are drawing people back in.

“Volunteering in the local shop made me realise that when you go to the supermarket and you buy something in a container, it’s more expensive than if you just take the container to a refill shop and fill it with what you need.”

Refill shops are usually independent stores that sell goods like food and toiletries without any packaging. Customers come equipped with their own containers, fill them up, and pay for the amount they’ve taken. This way, you can get the exact amounts you need and don’t pay extra for packaging. Kirstin is keen to buy as few new products as necessary, and is a firm believer in the ‘make do and mend’ philosophy.

“We’ve had our washing machine repaired a few times,” she said. “Some people like to buy new appliances, but there’s a movement here where I live; there’s a repair cafe setting up in the next couple of weeks and there’s a library of things people can borrow rather than buy. People can join the library for an annual fee and come in and borrow things like a power drill, a stepladder, a party setup and so on. You don’t want people to be buying new every time and not using it again.”

“We’re in the most socio-economically deprived area in the UK. so there’s a lot of poverty. Our local food bank has a clothes bank, and has been donated a washing machine, so anyone who can’t afford to run their own can take their dirty washing to them and they’ll provide the powder. It’s all about looking after the local community and sharing our resources with people that can’t afford them.”

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Saving at the supermarket

Kirstin credits some of her money-saving ways to her mother, and when she does use supermarkets for grocery shopping, she’s careful not to go over her budget.

“Going way back to going shopping with my mum when I was a little girl, she taught me how to work out the unit cost, per 100g or per litre,” she explained. “Those prices are displayed in the supermarket for us now, but back in the 70s we had to work it out ourselves. But I’ve carried that through, so if you’re buying something that I can’t get in a refill store, work out the unit cost because sometimes you pay a lot more for a brand.”

“When I got married we got into the habit of planning menus once a week, thinking about what we would need for lunches at work and snacks and main meals. It does help you save money; you’re not getting tempted at the supermarket because you have a list to stick to. Ordering online helps too, because there’s less opportunity to go off-piste.”

When it comes to cooking, Kirstin tries to reduce waste wherever possible. She said: “We try to make sure nothing gets thrown out. If you have leftover vegetables you can always throw them into a soup. It’s all about saving money and trying to reduce waste, so it’s not just going to a landfill.”

You can read about some more ways to save on your shop in our article 11 thrifty tips to save money on your shopping and on food costs in our guide 21 ways to save money on your food bills.

“Trying to save energy and protect the planet”

Much of Kirstin’s approach to meal planning and saving money is informed by her interest in sustainability and helping to save the planet.

“I got interested in climate change during the pandemic when I started volunteering in the refill shop. They were also doing work locally to educate people about single-use plastics and generally living in a way that’s better for the environment.

“When I worked in the shop, I was surrounded by like-minded people trying to save energy and protect the planet. Because I live on the coast, I’m always aware of what’s going in the sea.

“We try to have a vegetarian meal every week – my husband and my son love meat, but meat’s expensive, so if we have a jacket potato or stuffed peppers, that saves money and is also helping the planet a little bit.”

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Keeping the bills down

With energy bills still spiralling, Kirstin and her family are exploring ways to keep their energy and heating bills down.

“We’re definitely being careful, especially with things like the heating.

“My energy provider is Octopus and they did a customer challenge last year where you could join a competition and try to save as much gas as possible. At the end of it, everyone who took part got a share of a million pounds and the person who saved the most gas got a prize, so that incentivised me to look at ways to conserve energy.

“Since the weather was hot at the time, we stopped using hot water. We have an electric shower so we stopped having baths and using hot water to wash our hands or wash up, and our gas came right down to £8 a month. We just stopped using it.”

Kirstin’s family are using hot water again now that the weather is colder, but plan to go without again this summer. Our article Energy saving tips: how to reduce your bills contains more tips and tricks for keeping your energy bills down.

She said: “Make sure that your boiler is serviced regularly and that your radiators aren’t blocked by furniture. We wait until the dishwasher or washing machine is full before we switch them on and switch appliances off at the socket when they’re not in use. Our house is a new build, so it already had things like energy-saving bulbs when we moved in.”

“I ordered a thermal top and some thermal leggings I wear underneath my clothes to keep me warmer. So if I get cold but my husband says “no, don’t put the heating on!” I layer up and make sure to have hot soup on the hob or a hot drink, or do some exercise to warm up.”

Our article Best low cost thermal clothing to keep warm this winter takes you through some of the best low-cost thermal wear on the market at the moment.

Buying and selling online

Kirstin sells goods and clothes she doesn’t use, and also buys items on auction and secondhand sites to keep her outgoings down.

“When it comes to presents, if I get something I can’t personally use, I don’t have a problem re-gifting,” she said. “I’ve also bought new things second-hand. On sites such as Ebay and Vinted, for example, you can select that you want something new in the search options.”

“I sold some things in my wardrobe a few months ago on Vinted, and raised enough money to buy a new vacuum cleaner. These were clothes that I would have probably eventually given away or let sit in my wardrobe for months.”

You can read about the best ways to sell your old stuff online in our article How to make money from your clutter and how to reduce clothing costs in our guide 19 ways to cut clothing costs.

Kirstin also only purchases big ticket items once she has compared prices in a range of different shops. She said: “If I’m shopping around for a new appliance, I put the model number into Google search. I was on my way to Currys to get the vacuum, then I noticed that JVC had it as their deal of the day and I saved £85. I was sitting outside Currys in my car ordering it on JVC’s website – I never even went in!”

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Kirstin’s final tip…

We asked Kirstin what her biggest money-saving tip would be, and she reaffirmed the importance of being disciplined with your weekly food shop. “For us, it’s planning the menus, doing a shopping list, and sticking to it. That does save a lot of money”.