Living on a budget: Readers' stories
A recent article about how little money someone can realistically live on generated a big response from readers.
It looked at whether it was possible to eat healthily for £12 a week, how much in the way of clothes a person needed, and other budget essentials in the wake of the new cap on benefits. Here is a selection of readers' tips, thoughts and feelings about living on a tight budget:
Murray, Edinburgh: I am a single unemployed person. My total benefit is £9,700 a year, from that amount my rent is £6,000 - it is a far cry from the £26,000 cap. From the remainder, I obviously have my normal living expenses. My biggest expense is motor insurance. Although I don't use my car, I will need it if I find work. Next big expense is broadband, which is necessary for looking for a job. These two items cost me £65 a month. My dog eats better than me.
Rachael, London: In January I moved to London from Darlington. Since then I have lived on £1,242 a month after tax. Half of this goes on rent, which is twice what I was paying in the North. I also run a car, pay all of my other bills and go out at least twice a week with the money left over. The last week of the month is "porridge week". It's 99p for 500g of porridge and I eat it for breakfast, lunch and tea in the seven days before I get paid again. It sounds bad but all of my friends are in the same situation and come pay day, we are back on the town, having a good time. Having so little money at the end of the month makes you really grateful and means you make the most of what you have when you have it.
Delia, Bolton: I was made redundant in February 2013. I have not been unemployed for over 10 years and living on £71 a week is impossible. I live in a three-bedroom house (mortgaged) with two of my sons, who are also on benefits. I have always paid my bills, but this is totally impossible. There is no life to be had. You go from week to week wondering and worrying about bills and having nothing to look forward to. I live for the day when I'm back in work and so do my sons. I spend all my time searching and applying for jobs, but I'm 52 and I'm starting to think that time is not on my side. Perhaps I should allow the house to go to repossession - which may become a reality - and then the council will have to provide us with three properties, all of which will be paid for with housing benefit.
Sarah, Lancaster: The hardest part of budgeting is the way it affects your mood. Although some people argue it is possible to live on £15 a week, it is not viable. Living on so little money (£650 a month from benefits and work) and never being able to afford to buy a nice meal, for example, without having to look at your budget first and spend less on something else, would leave the most optimistic person depressed. Especially when you're constantly bombarded with advertising, living in a very consumerist society and being brainwashed into thinking you need the best of everything to be happy.
Simon, Colwyn Bay: I can't believe that people on welfare benefits can earn £26,000 or more and not budget accordingly. We (two adults, one child) live on £14,750 a year and live well. I work full-time for my partner and child. The average wage in north Wales is about £14-15,000 a year, so I guess I'm right on it. I get food from supermarkets in the evening from the "whoopsies" area and have never spent more than £3 to £4 a visit. I get bread at 10p and fruit and veg at similar prices. Admittedly you would have to eat most of it within a few days, but that is not a problem to us.
Graham Steel, Macclesfield: We are a household of two. We are not really poor, but feel very "squeezed middle". We keep to a budget. Our average grocery bill over the past year is £105 a month, or £24.40 a week. We each allow ourselves £10 a month for clothes, and we both have a healthy budget surplus here. We don't smoke, barely drink, rarely eat out. We are vegetarian and have cut down on the amount of convenience food that we buy - it's much more expensive than preparing your own. We buy a lot of "value" items from the supermarkets, but we do not buy the cheapest of everything, and manage to enjoy a few treats. The hardest part of budgeting? Earlier this year our electric shower went "bang" and triggered some leaks which meant that the hall ceiling had to come down. Our previous car was always in the garage for repairs - very expensive - and we ended up replacing it when it was four-and-a-half years old. It is the unexpected problems that make life expensive.
Laura, London: The hardest part of living on a low budget [£1,250 a month, with £450 a month earmarked for loan repayments] is the social alienation it can cause - having to turn down drinks and meals out, being unable to contribute to birthday gifts or "new baby" gifts. Don't even get me started on Christmas and weddings, not being able to travel to visit friends and family, not being able to put credit on your phone so you can call them, not being able to go on holiday, finding that there are almost no social groups that can be undertaken without paying money, not wanting to go to someone's house for dinner because you won't be able to repay the invite from your £5 food budget a week (and there's no table in your one-room living space anyway). I can live on £5 a week for food, but it is very lonely and very boring.
Milda, Dundee: As students working part-time, my partner and I together earn £650 to £800 a month. We don't have any student loans and pay all our bills ourselves, except tuition fees and council tax. Our utility bills and rent are about £410 a month, plus about £40 for internet and phone contracts. This leaves £200 to £300 for essentials. We don't go out much (just on special occasions) and we would buy clothing and equipment only when we actually need new, not because we like something. We live a healthy lifestyle - we can buy as many fruit and veg as we like, and walk everywhere or ride bikes, as we do not own a car. We still can occasionally buy video or boardgames, have people over for dinner and pay for local gym and music streaming service. To my view, £500 - or even £350 a week for a couple - would allow us to live nearly a splashy lifestyle.
Jackie, London: I am a 25-year-old American living in central London, currently working full-time as an intern. I make under £950 a month after taxes, and pay roughly £770 in rent. This leaves me with less than £200 a month to spend on living expenses. Without the luxury of any financial support from my parents, I have resorted to odd jobs (from babysitting to pouring wine at events) and other creative ways of generating extra income (eg focus groups). The budgeting itself is quite easy, as it just requires common sense. It is not very difficult at all to determine what is essential v non-essential. I work very hard and, without any recourse to public funds, am able to survive and even occasionally enjoy evenings out.
Lisa, London: I have a degree but due to the current economic situation I only get paid casually. Although my income is below the living wage, I am not claiming benefits and I do not feel I need to. I'm a vegetarian, and pasta, homemade bread and bananas are cheap. I live in a shared house where we pay £3 a week to a kitty for essentials like toilet paper, cleaning products and cooking stuff (oil, spices etc). My room wasn't furnished but I've paid nothing for that. I got essential stuff like sheets and towels from friends and people who'd left it behind, and my landlord was happy to pay for paint when I did all the work for refurbishing my room. The most expensive things I buy are jeans and shoes, but I only have one pair of each and they last for a year or two.
Jamie, Turkey: Living on a low income is only a problem when you choose to live in an environment which requires you to have large amounts of money. People choose to live a life in which they live in a house, drive a car and go to the pub, then they complain that they don't have enough money to survive. A few months ago, I walked out on my job and home and I went into Europe. For five months I was travelling around Europe with very little. I slept outside, I couch-surfed and I stayed with people I met while hitch-hiking. People introduced me to skipping - recovering discarded food - and many other forms of alternative living. I realised that there are many, many incredibly happy people who live on next to nothing.
Charley, Rawtenstall: I'm a single parent, now unemployed due to redundancy/closure of business and struggling to live on the little benefit money I get. I'm not happy at being classed as average in regards to smoking and drinking as I do neither, yet still have no money. How does anyone on benefits afford to do it? What little money I get goes on our food, my daughter's needs (nappies, wipes etc) and £15 a month on dog supplies. I am suffering from depression as a result of having little to no social contact or friends due to a lack of money for travelling or doing anything.