Like most people, I too have felt the sting of inflation over the past 1+ year. But its scale and impact as a full-blown cost of living crisis has hit home for me relatively recently. For the past several weeks, I’ve been staying in London’s Kensington and Notting Hill neighborhoods. The average price of home in Kensington last year was £2,354,275—or $2.97 million USD. And yet, when I went into Kensington Public Library for some quiet work time, I noticed flyers for supporting local residents facing cost of living crisis.
I’d grimly accepted paying Ł5.5 ($6.94) for a hot chocolate or Ł19 ($24) for a vegan burger with fries since I figured this must be “local customs.” And plenty of Brits look comfortable spending that much. But it turned out that the breezy affluence is concealing a terrifying wealth gap where most people are struggling to make ends meet. 40% of U.K. households end the month with no money left, and a quarter (24%) run out of money for essentials most of the time.
Skyrocketing food prices and energy bills are also making life increasingly expensive and less abundant in the U.S. and around the world. When I first immigrated to the U.S. in the 90s, one of the first things I noticed was the abundance and cheapness of food. Supermarkets were stocked to the brim, and most essential goods were cheap (too cheap, one could say, given how they were produced). If someone was willing to buy groceries and make their own food, living on $100 a month was doable. Now, $100 for a dinner out for two is common occurrence, depending on where you live. Although I consider myself lucky in being able to afford what I need and then a little more for my happiness, I’m inspired to re-consider my expenses.
How to save money and make smart decisions during the cost of living crisis
Coworking space / café
If you work for yourself, you may have a habit of forking out $10 or more a day just to sit at a cafe and work. Or, you might have a coworking desk with its own rent. While uninterrupted focus is great indeed, do you really need to spend this money to get work done? Public libraries are free and accessible to the public and offer WiFi. I find their studious atmosphere also more encouraging. Bring your own water bottle or beverage of choice. Another option is creating your workspace in your home.
Limiting dining out is the easiest way you can reduce your spending during the inflation era. Yes, it gets pretty repetitive to eat your own food. How about buying one “treat” item that can elevate your cooking easily? This could be a gourmet sauce, probiotic vegan cheese, Italian-made pasta, or foraged wild mushrooms. Even if you add such a gourmet item, your grocery bill will be a lot lower than a dinner out at an “okay” restaurant.
I’m guilty of a few unnecessary subscriptions like that one newspaper that I never have time to read. Magazines, streaming services, multiple music streaming, gym memberships, and extra data storage all go in this file. Do you really need insurance for your iPhone that came out two years ago? Call AT&T and cancel it! Do you really love that subscription box for beauty discoveries? Is your dating app premium account really getting you better dates? Should you make it official with your romantic partner and cancel one of your HBO accounts? You know it’s love when your screen asks you, “which one of you is watching?” And you see your name next to your sweetie’s.
Speaking of the gym, I haven’t bought new gym clothes in at least 3 years. I can work up a sweat in any old rag and don’t need to impress anybody with expensive leggings. Personally, I feel like we’re living in a post-athleisure, post-Lululemon era. If I want expensive clothes, I want to be able to have a date or business meetings (or maybe both!) in it. Gym clothes don’t let you do either. But I do make an exception for appropriate footwear, which needs to be changed once in a while.
According to The Guardian, “our frequency of laundering is way above that required for sanitation.” Of course, what feels clean to one person might be dirty to another. My sister washes her clothes if they no longer smell like detergent. I wash mine when they smell neutral but look soiled. If you’re in the former camp, it might be worthwhile for you to experiment with longer periods between washing. Use the eco setting for a full load, and a little less detergent than you think you need. Try to hang your laundry instead of using a dryer. This is also quite common in Europe and unheard of in America—and completely down to a cultural bias and not any benefit to clothing.
Unplug appliances not in use
Unplug all the appliances that are not in use, like your iPhone charger. This simple practice can save you $100–200 a year.
Run dishwasher and other big electronics during 9–5 on weekdays
Energy prices go up when they’re more in demand. Most people work outside the home, which means it’s cheaper to run appliances during the day on weekdays.
For dates, friends, or professional reasons, coffee meetings are common—and also quite a drain on your resources, if done enough. Plus, all those paper cups piss me off, even if I say no to the plastic lids. Recently I’ve started suggesting walks in the park with acquaintances so that I don’t have to feel obliged to spend $7 on some hot drink in order to talk. This has worked really well for me—and helps me get a little extra exercise, too.
I make a habit of asking for non-monetary gifts like eating vegan or watching an eco documentary. With others who may expect gifts from you, of course it might be different. See if there are other ways to show you care besides spending an increasingly large amount of money for a so-so gift. Quality time together, cooking a meal for them, making something artistic are all great and affordable ways to celebrate.
Getting nails done
I love beauty treatments, but I’m increasingly against getting nails done. Did you know that gel manicures even destroy your DNA and expose your hands and feet to more UV than tanning beds? That’s not even counting the chemicals involved in an average session. Considering that an average cost of manicure in London is Ł30 ($38), that’s an easy thing to give up.
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Photo: Chewy via Unsplash