Countless people across the UK are finding it hard to make ends meet at the moment and are looking at ways to cut costs and boost their 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. 

Stuart Lewis, chief executive of Rest Less said: “With spiralling inflation and volatile financial markets impacting pension funds, some people who thought they could retire comfortably during the pandemic are now having to unretire and find work again to bring in some extra income and top up their pensions whilst they still can.

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.

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

Our first article features Rest Less Member Ray Parr, who you may well have seen posts from if you’ve spent any time on the Rest Less Lifestyle Faceboook group.

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About Ray Parr

Ray Parr

Ray first joined Rest Less in 2019 when his wife, Alice, sadly passed away. Seeing others posting, and wanting to contribute, he started uploading recipes and photos of his food and before long became a regular feature of the group.

Ray now lives near Aberdeen on the edge of the Grampian Mountains with his Yorkshire Terrier, Lexie, and spends his time cooking, baking, playing numerous instruments and travelling in his campervan.

We spoke to Ray about his cost-conscious cooking and how his frugal approach to life has stood him in good stead over the years.

A cost-conscious approach

A thrifty attitude is something that Ray feels comes naturally to him and is a value that was instilled in him from a young age.

“All my cost saving is inadvertent – I haven’t purposely gone out to do it, but I’ve always been cost-conscious. I think it comes from my childhood. I grew up in a home where you had Jack Frost on the inside of the windows. We didn’t have double glazing, we just had a coal fire and a range.”

When he met his wife Alice, their approach didn’t change much:

“When Alice and I first started together, we had no money, absolutely nothing. We had two chairs in the house and when we had any visitors, we had to sit on the floor. The kids couldn’t understand why they got school clothes for Christmas and everyone else got toys. 

“We were really frugal though and worked through that until eventually, Alice got her own restaurant and we started earning quite a bit of money, but our attitude to money never changed. We were still exactly the same.”

Image of Lexie

“We’ve always lived a pretty frugal life…but I don’t like to overspend on food, and try to keep those costs as low as possible.”

Like so many of us at the moment, Ray is aware that the cost of almost everything is on the rise, but he feels comfortable knowing that he’s managed on less before, and has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to keep costs down.

“I’m feeling okay about the cost of living crisis – we’ve always lived a pretty frugal life and have savings built up for a rainy day so can afford the costs I’ve got at the moment, but I don’t like to overspend on food and try to keep those costs as low as possible,” he said.

“I find that meat is getting more and more expensive so if costs carry on rising, I’ll probably cut back on that a bit. Chicken isn’t too bad, and vegetables are still really cheap so I’d manage. 

“Cooking oils are expensive at the moment, but to make it go further I like to put olive oil into a spray bottle and do a very light spray with that. It’s enough to fry an egg with it, and if you put the lid on the frying pan – fry it for a minute – take it off the heat with the lid on and leave it for another minute, you get a perfectly fried egg with virtually no oil and less energy than usual. I think the steam in the pan helps the egg not stick too, so it works really well.

“I know some people might not be keen on this, but when I’ve cooked an egg in a pan, I’ll just give it a quick wipe out and then use it again later without any extra oil.”

Ray’s tips are great for anyone looking to save money on their food. You can read some more ideas like these in our guide 21 ways to save money on your food bills.

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Air fryer shepherds pie

“Simple home cooking saves you a lot of money, it’s good for you and it heats your house too!”

When it comes to keeping cooking costs down, Ray is clued up to the most cost-effective cooking methods and is always looking for ways to save money without sacrificing any of the quality. One of his best cost-saving suggestions is his air fryer.

“I got my air fryer when Amazon was having a sale, but you can get ones where they say it’s used, but it’s actually a return, mine was £57,” he said. 

“I wouldn’t buy the top-end air fryers, because you’ll never make that money back, but generally, they are cheaper to run than your oven and for certain foods, they’re far superior for cooking. Anything you can do in the oven you can do in the air fryer. So for example, you can’t batter your own fish and put it in the air fryer, but you can buy pre-battered or breaded fish and that works brilliantly.”

“I’ve also bought myself a pressure cooker, and recently made some soup in it and rather than taking 15-20 minutes, it took 6. It’s fantastic and I’m sure it tastes better. They also say it’s healthier because it keeps all the nutrients in. Depending on how much cooking I’m going to use it for, I’m saving two-thirds of the energy. It only cost £47 which isn’t bad.

“I also have a slow cooker, which again is cheap, and you can buy cheap cuts of meat, and it breaks it down nicely. It’s so tender when it comes out, it saves on the cost of the meat. 

Ray does still use his oven, but finds it most useful for batch-cooking. “When I use my gas oven I use it to cook five or six pies at the same time, whether that’s shepherd’s pie, fish pie, mince pie or cottage pie.

“You can do casseroles and lots of things all of which can cook in the oven at the same time and then freeze them in portions. Each pie is around two or three portions, so I’m getting anywhere from fifteen to eighteen portions in one cycle in the oven.”

“Whatever you cook, simple home cooking saves you a lot of money, it’s good for you and it heats your house too!”

These suggestions really could save you money, and you can read more about how different cooking methods can impact your costs in 5 ways to cut energy costs when you cook.

If you’re considering buying either an air fryer or slow cooker to reduce your energy usage when cooking, our articles 13 best air fryers 2022 and 12 best slow cookers for low-cost meals 2022 might come in handy.

Saving money while travelling

One luxury that Ray and Alice used to afford themselves was extended holidays in Tenerife, and since Alice passed away Ray has bought a campervan so he can carry on travelling, but keep costs down and continue cooking at the same time:

“I head out in my campervan every summer,” Ray said. “I work my way down the country, stay in Staffordshire for a while before I work my way down to South Wales, then back up past Inverness and onto the North Coast 500 route, and over to the west coast.

When I’m travelling, I have a semi-outdoor cooking set-up that is tailgated to the van, which means I can cook more or less the same as I do at home. I did have a microwave and an air fryer in the campervan, but it meant that I had to go onto proper campsites so I decided to take them out and get a solar panel on the roof so I can wild camp more. 

My next trip will be over to the continent with my sister. They’re much better set up for campervan road trips over there, with aires that we can spend the night in, so that’s something to look forward to.”

An aire is a low-cost or free private camping area in France, often run by the local town council.

“Money isn’t a worry for me, but I don’t like to waste it”

On top of everything else, Ray makes sure he keeps a close eye on his savings and how much interest he’s earning. 

He said: “I’ve got savings, but at the end of the month I like to see more money in the bank than at the beginning and I try to stay on top of that. 

“Savings rates haven’t been great in recent years – you know around 0.5% – but now I’m moving them into three-year bonds where I’m seeing interest rates more along the lines of 5%. I keep a few bonds at a time, and if I ever need to get the money out I can close it. Money isn’t a worry for me, but I don’t like to waste it.”

For more information on bonds have a look at our article Fixed rate savings bonds explained or at our Savings and Investments page where we have lots of guides on a range of different savings options.

Ray's final tip

As we rounded up our conversation with Ray, we asked him what one bit of advice he would give to anyone trying to save money, to which he said: “If there was one tip I would give people, it would be to do your own cooking.”

You can find plenty of other frugal living tips in our guide 23 frugal living tips.

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