I’ve never exactly been a spendthrift.

But, I’ve certainly never been a person whose really learnt the art of living within my means. At university and when I graduated I racked up a lot of debt. I wasn’t buying designer shoes and jewellery, but I was spending money I could ill afford in River Island, eating takeaways and buying bottles of wine on my credit card.

If you’re a regular reader then you’ll know that about 6 months ago Mr Chick was made redundant. That’s led to a hefty drop in our household income as we both opted for self-employment as a lifestyle. With the wisdom of adulthood, these days I know that racking up debt on credit cards is NOT the way to maintain the lifestyle to which you wish you could become accustomed.

So my aim has been to look for ways of reducing the money we spend on some of lifes more boring things. The plan being to leave more disposable income to spend on luxuries, and make sure we don’t feel deprived of the fun stuff we used to do. Sure, there’s been a reduction on the fun stuff. We eat a lot less takeaways than we used to, but we cook better food, so I’ve not missed it all that much. Nights out are more strictly budgeted than they used to be, which sometimes feels a bit stifling and I have to plan ahead a little more for expenses like prescription costs. It’s also amazing how the little things add up. A few pounds on a coffee from Starbucks, buying a sandwich instead of making one, petrol costs and parking are all things I’m not really used to having to worrying about too much, but now all take a surprisingly large chunk out of a monthly budget.

Today I thought I’d share some ways I’ve managed to reduce our household budget by over £250 over the last 6 months. Mostly by saving money on the incredibly dull things, so that I can still afford decent shampoo and a weekend cocktail.

Online Shopping and Meal Planning – Saving approx £150 a month

PB (pre-budget) our weekly shopping involved a trip to the supermarket in our car. We would wander around putting things we thought we needed into our trolley. We would often raid the reduced shelf and keep an eye out for special offers, but with no real meal plan for the week. We would invariably come home with many things we didn’t need. Giant crumpets, packets of biscuits, interesting looking beers, bunches of flowers and DVDs, all of which added to our weekly shop.

With no meal plan we would then end up popping to the corner shop to buy extras to turn the things we’d bought into actual meals, or alternatively decide we had no idea what we could cook for dinner, we were tired, and order a takeaway.

I honestly couldn’t tell you what we spent per month on food, but including takeaways I’d guess it was probably close to £300-£350 a month.

The first thing I did when we started budgeting was impose a strict £200 a month budget for food and household products and start ordering our shopping online. Each week we plan a meal for each day (sharing the cooking) and we print that out and stick it on the fridge. We order the ingredients online, along with lunches, cleaning products and other household items. We always choose a cheap delivery slot so delivery only costs £1, probably about the same as petrol to the supermarket would cost us. Shopping online means that we aren’t tempted by the special offers in store and we only order what we need.

We use My Supermarket to compare basket costs among local supermarkets and choose the cheapest one. It also gives me the opportunity to add and remove things from the basket to stay under budget. I can swap things for cheaper items, or replace a meal in that weeks plan if it turns out the ingredients are too expensive.

We save money, we throw away less food, and we’re healthier.

Got a Smart Meter – saving approx £10 a month

When we moved into our house it was on a pay as you go meter. Which bugged the hell out of me. I wasn’t used to keeping it topped up and I’d end up sitting in the bath with shampoo on my hair and no hot water to wash it off because the meter had suddenly gone unexpectedly. We kept meaning to change it, but along with many other things, it kept getting pushed to the bottom of the list. We’d just top it up when the money ran out and keep using electricity, I had no idea how much it cost us a month, I didn’t even know what tariff we were on as we’d never looked.

My shiny new budget allowed for £50 a month for electricity, and when we managed to use all of that in December before Christmas Eve I was a little bit gob smacked. So I finally looked at switching.

We are with EON, and in January they came out and installed Smart Meter for free. This means we can monitor our hourly usage during the day and turn things off. The Smart Meter has helped me spot hob rings accidentally left on low and meant that we will probably never use our tumble dryer again. Fluffy towels aren’t worth the cost!

I also moved us to a lower tariff, and monitor our usage regularly to make sure we are still on the lowest. My investigations also revealed that we were on an Economy 7 tariff, which means our electricity between 12:30am and 7:30am is less than half the price it is during the day. We now put our washing machine and dishwasher on over night to take advantage of the cheaper electricity.

We’re still on a pay as you go tariff, but with the smart meter it is actually the cheapest way to do it, and I can top up the electricity online. Our energy usage in February has gone down, despite us both being at home a lot more often.

Is it really worth leaving a few extra lights on if you could spend that money on shoes? (Or save it for a rainy day, you know, if you really want to).

Remembering Coupons and Happy Hours – saving approx £50

Blooming heck going to the cinema is expensive, isn’t it? Popping out to see a film for 2 of us could easily cost £40 for a couple of hours entertainment. Then I discovered that we could get free cinema tickets with Tesco vouchers. So we save them up for the occasional cinema trip, and we smuggle in our own bag of chocolate and bottle of coke from the Tesco metro up the road.

If we want to go out for a drink it’s worth remembering that our CAMRA membership card gets us 10% off a pint of beer in a lot of places, and that if we pop out for a cocktail before 7pm we can get 2-4-1, which is a lot when a cocktail is £8.

Apps like Vouchercloud can help you find discounted places to eat and drink while you’re out and about, and I never purchase anything online without first searching for a coupon. Also, dare I say it, Groupon can be a great way to do fun things for a lot less cost. Just make sure you do your research and that it really is a bargain.

Check Your Bills – saving approx £20 a month

And do it regularly. Seriously this is so dull, and everyone tells you to do it and you know you don’t. First thing is, check your tariffs. When your contract comes to an end don’t just renew, you might be able to get a better deal with your current supplier, or move to a new one and save money.

But it’s not just that. Remember, your utility company is NOT on your side. No matter what the nice leaflets and shiny websites say. They are on their side, and if you are overpaying they are not going to tell you. Check your direct debits and make sure you’re not paying more than you need. I knocked £10 a month off our BT bill by doing this. Even better, unless you get a Direct Debit discount think about cancelling your Direct Debit, paying that money into a savings account and then paying your whole bill when it comes through, that way you’ll earn interest on it in the meantime.

Once you’ve done that, check through you recurring payments on your bank account, PayPal and your credit cards, its amazing how many subscriptions you can find that you forgot about. I upgraded my Rafflecopter subscription for one month so I could have extra features for my Christmas giveaway, forgot to cancel and accidentally paid them about £8 a month for over 6 months.

Ditching the impulse pub visits – saving approx £40 a month

I’ll be honest, sometimes this feels like a bit more of a hardship. I do enjoy the occasional impulsive “pop to the pub for a pint on the way home”. We still do it, but these days we’ve realised that every time we do it costs anywhere from £7.50-£15, so we do it less often.

When Mr Chick was away all week we used to go to a local pub when I finished Derby practice on Thursday nights and have “Wine of the Week” which was their house wine at £11.95. It gave us a chance to catch up after not seeing each other all week, and me a chance to unwind after practice. These days we’ve ditched that and I have a protein shake and some peanut butter on toast instead, after all, we work in the same office all day now.

When you add up those times you stopped for a pint or had wine of week, you realise it could be costing about £50-£100 a month, every month. So these days we’ve probably halved our impulsive pub stops. We wouldn’t want to cut them out completely, life is for living after all.

That’s just a few things, with varying degrees of effort and hardship, that we’ve done to reduce our monthly outgoings and make sure we can still enjoy the occasional night out with friends and new pair of shoes while we build up our business.

Any money saving tips you have are whole-heartedly welcome! Please tell me about them in the comments!