When functioning on a small budget, or any budget, carefully choosing the most economic purchases is a top way to save money, requiring very little time and effort.
Once you’ve taken care of your accommodation and other regular bills, economising on your other necessities is a great way to save money. I’m not talking about buying and cooking a chicken, cooking it and freezing it in pieces rather than buying one of those stupid plastic tubs of chicken bits – which you should do. I’m talking about which brand of muesli you buy; with negligible difference in taste and significant savings, what is to lose? If anything that I advise seems obvious, sorry, though I only address what I’ve actually noticed people doing.
I recommend No Logo by Naomi Klein (though I, by no means, share her politics) – in her book, she discusses the economic transition between generic products which were produced locally and the modern situation in which companies build a relationship with their customers through a brand-identity. Today, to a large extent, the products are the same, differentiated only by the strength of their respective ethoses, colour-schemes and logos.
It can be difficult to choose another company’s product when one has a relationship with your normal choice, especially if it is the choice of one’s own family. Don’t mistake this for a socialist argument, I’m using my own free choice within the capitalist marketplace; this is the type of choice which the customer who economises will have to make.
There will be times when a premium brand product will be superior to a supermarket own-brand or a cheaper name-brand but, generally, the difference is negligible. In most cases, the top products are there because they have good marketing.
Get used to scanning the shelves in a shop to take in all the products, not just the ones on eye level. Familiarise yourself with the labelling system, particularly the statement which advertises the price per weight (e.g. 16p per 100g). Allowing for similar quality between products – which you can test for yourself – the price per weight is your main consideration.
For example, in my local supermarket, the premium muesli and granola are at eye level and above, while the supermarket ones, with essentially the same ingredients, are below. The supermarket choice retails at around a quarter the price of the premium types. Buy it and try it, it’ll probably be decent.
Those pasta sauces which come in jars are one of the biggest scams – don’t get the cheaper version, get a some tinned tomatoes and some herbs. This will cost a fraction of the price and will taste better, you can add different herbs according to your taste and create your own recipe.
One caveat is that the cheapest meat and eggs often involve the unforgivable treatment of animals. If you want meat or eggs at a reduced price, pick up the free-range choices but from the cut-price area in your supermarket, or buy from a shop where good treatment is always guaranteed. If today is the use-by date and you don’t need it, put it in the freezer. Freezing eggs on their use-by date works too if you want them for cooking, crack them into a take-away container or a tuperware before freezing. The best option for animal products, especially eggs, is to get them from someone in your local community where you can see whether the animals are being treated properly.
I find that people often go through this process for food, but not for choices like pharmaceuticals or other non-edible products.
For most of the time that I’ve been making my own purchasing choices, I’ve bought supermarket own-brand toothpaste and toothbrushes. I think that this is an area, especially for toothbrushes, where there is a lot of talk but not much difference between the brands. My toothbrush and toothpaste are both a fraction of the price of the big brands but both are endorsed by the British Dental Health Foundation.
The same is probably the case for shampoo. I know people who are quite particular about their choice of shampoo, but I’m sceptical. Try this: buy the cheapo brand and your favourite brand, and have your partner or a close friend squeeze a bit of a either one into your hand without telling you which when you’re in the shower. Do this a couple of times and see the extent to which there is any difference.
Razors are the same, the supermarket brands work fine, but people are aggressively marketed the more expensive choices. The only problem that I have with a cheap razor is that (when I’ve been lazy) my long stubble gets stuck in the blades, which doesn’t happen with the more expensive ones. My solution to this is to use a retired toothbrush to scape out the hairs, which takes a few seconds, thus saving on the pounds.
I say that we should all use our place in a capitalist economy to make the best choices for ourselves – don’t let yourself be mislead or buy something through habit. If you know that a premium brand is better and you can afford it, it makes sense to buy it. There is no reason, however, to buy the expensive option if the cheapest one is just as good or if you haven’t even tried it. This way, you can have more money left over with minimal effort.