A super-savvy mum has revealed her tricks and tips for slashing bills and saving money during the cost of living crisis.
Having struggled to make ends meet during the 2008 UK recession, Tess Bolton-Gould, 54, who lives near Halifax, West Yorkshire, picked up some money-saving hacks and is now doing everything she can to ensure her family are financially secure.
The frugal mum-of-two uses a strict weekly food plan, grows her own vegetables to make meals for as little as 30p per person and resells charity shop and car boot sale bargains to cover the family's £40-£50 weekly food bills and stash away cash in an emergency fund.
“Living frugally means even in times when it has been really difficult, we have managed to stay out of debt or only have very minimal debt in emergency situations," Bolton-Gould, who lives with her husband, Sam Bolton-Gould, 54, and their two sons, aged 18 and 15, explains.
“We have been able to save up an emergency fund of £3,000 now, so that if the car breaks down or something happens, we have the money we need to fix it.”
Bolton-Gould first learnt the art of frugal living when the family were impacted financially by the 2008 recession.
“There were many times we had 50p in the purse to last us a few days and it was very stressful to live life like that," she recalls.
“Shopping in charity shops and car boot sales for school uniform or toys for the kids became a way to manage.”
Dumpster diving in skips also yielded some useful bargains.
“When the kids were little, I found a plastic slide in one skip and a garden sandpit in another – all in perfect condition,” she says.
But the mum soon realised she could add to her money saving, making cash by reselling her car boot sale and charity shop finds.
"I would buy some bits, like a nice blouse or jumper, which I could flip online through eBay and make £20,” she explains.
“Now, I go to a car boot sale or charity shop with £80 or £90, spend half or all of it, and then re-sell what I find on eBay or Facebook Marketplace.
“Last week, I spent £72 on vintage clothes, jewellery and crockery and I made £750.
“Once you take away the cost of postage and packaging, the eBay fees and PayPal fees, that works out as about £500 – but it’s still really good.”
Watch: UK announces 80% spike in costs as energy crisis worsens
When it comes to food shopping, Bolton-Gould has also figured out how to stick to a budget.
“Meal planning is key," she explains. "If I go to a supermarket without a shopping list, I will pick up all sorts and not actually get anything I can make a meal from.
“So I sit down at the start of the week and write down every meal there will be and then generate the shopping list from the meal plan.”
Bolton-Gould estimates said she can feed her family of four for £11 per person, per week by sticking to smart buys.
“I will always be looking at buying the most basic and value brand, so getting the 20p spaghetti and not the £1.20 fancy spaghetti and then trying to find ways of getting as much veg in as I can – like tinned tomatoes or basic onions to keep the price down.
“A classic in our house is basic penne pasta, with a tub of the cheapest cream cheese, sweetcorn and some onion, which will feed four for £1.23.
“I also like to buy bags of frozen chicken thighs which I will air fry and use in stir fries or rice dishes with vegetables and then use the bones left over to make a stock for soup or stew.”
While the family doesn’t have a big garden, Bolton-Gould makes use of the space she does have to grow her own vegetables.
“It’s amazing what you can do with a few pots,” she says.
“Wilko do a really good seed sale at the end of summer with fruit and vegetable packets for 25p a pack.
“I always get packets of tomatoes, and grow things like kale, cucumbers, lettuce and courgettes.
“Things like spring onions and herbs don’t take up too much space, or salad cress only needs a bit of tissue paper to grow.”
With energy bills set to spiral, the mum is also looking at keeping her family’s energy use as low as possible.
“I’m genuinely really worried about what’s going to happen in October with the fuel bills.
“Ours has already doubled from £125 a month to £240 and if the increase is what’s predicted, it’s going to be about £440 pounds a month – that is insane.
“We are turning everything off at the socket except for the fridge freezer and we are avoiding using the hot tap wherever possible.
“I’ve been collecting free firewood from skips or on Facebook Marketplace for our multi-fuel stove, so I will be using that mostly for heating.”
Bolton-Gould has other energy-saving plans too.
“We have hot water bottles that we will use to keep warm, or under our feet at desks while we work.
“We’ve stopped using the oven and I just use a pressure cooker or air fryer instead, because they use less energy than an electric oven.
“And I’ve stopped watching the TV – I just watch it on my phone instead because it’s cheaper.”
Though the family are more financially secure now, Bolton-Gould says her household income is still “significantly below the national average” – which is £31,400 a year according to the ONS – and she tries to make her earnings stretch as far as possible.
“It’s so important to be careful with every penny that you earn because you work hard for your money and it’s amazing how quickly your spending adds up.”
Bolton-Gould's top tips for frugal living
Write out your budget (all your income and expenses) and keep track of it every month.
Focus on Wants vs Needs – If you’re short of money, don’t buy anything you don’t need.
Plan your meals for the week and write a shopping list from that plan – stick to it.
Set a food budget and work within it.
Turn things off at the socket when not in use – don’t leave them on standby.
Turn the thermostat down on your heating and hot water.
If you need help, and there is help available, take it. There’s no shame in going to a food bank or claiming benefits to which you are entitled.
See what you can pick up for free – Facebook groups are great for this.
Batch cook once a week and then just re-heat daily to reduce fuel use.
Heat the person, not the house – wear layers, use hot water bottles.
Bolton-Gould shares her frugal tips on her YouTube channel, Tess – Frugal Living.
Additional reporting PA Real Life.