Sitting outside a city pub one sunny weekday evening a few years back, I was told that, as a single (speaking in marital status terms) person, it’s “impossible to live in London on less than £25k a year”. I immediately called bullshit on that one. At the time, I was earning a hell of a lot less than that in my Publications Assistant job in a theatre and still managed to live comfortably while enjoying plenty of the good stuff. And even though I’m earning a bit more now (although really not much, as I took a pay cut to change career), I still have a bloody great time.
The first thing you might think is that I’m super good at budgeting. Truth is, I’m really not. My history of being sensible with money is sketchy at best, and although I’ve got a fair bit better as an ‘adult’ (ha), I’m still not the best at sticking to budgets. But thanks to finding a relatively cheap place to live and learning to make amazing meals from little more than tomatoes, chickpeas and rice, I just about have enough left in the month to both save and spend. However, beyond just making my money work, there are ways I put a little more fun into my life and treat myself without actually having to touch my monthly salary payments...
NB: This might sound like a bit of a 'hey look I'm gonna brag about getting free stuff' post. It's not (much), as I'll let you know in the final paragraph.
Competitions: A few years back, I discovered a hobby referred to as ‘comping’ – that is, taking part in free-to-enter competitions as a hobby. Sounds a bit weird, and it gets some negative press, but having won £12k worth of prizes in the past 12 months, I don’t really care. Some of my best wins include a GoPro, three (yep, THREE) iPads, a £1000 Reiss voucher, hair extensions from one of London’s top salons, a few hotel stays and tons of beauty and fashion prizes (okay, that was the kinda braggy part. BUT READ ON, DEAR FRIENDS). Every now and then, the rag papers will put out a story about someone ‘winning their life’ – but they gloss over the huge amount of effort that goes into it. Entering hundreds of comps every week, thinking up creative ideas for effort-based comps. You definitely won’t just enter 50 competitions and win a telly unless luck’s REALLY on your side – but I find the anticipation, and the ‘YOU’VE WON!’ email so exciting.
Blogging: Ah yes. If you’re reading this, chances are you know I have a blog. I started putting words and pictures onto this little space back in 2013, when blogging was becoming a ‘thing’ and I had no idea that people would actually offer you things in return for writing about them. I’ve never really had a huge urge to turn my blog into a career – something which now seems quite unusual if Twitter chats are anything to go by, with passionate and dedicated girls (and guys) who’d chew off their right arm to be a pro blogger (which could make typing that blog a pretty laborious affair). But even as a ‘smaller’, hobby blogger, the experiences and things I get to try from writing a blog have made a huge impact on my life. It's not so much about getting free 'things' so to speak, but experiences - being able to regularly spend evenings out with great company without having to fork out for dinner and drinks that I can't really afford. The things I get to do that I wouldn't otherwise because of this little space of internet hugely enrich my life. (and I wouldn't get to do those things without lovely people like YOU reading my blog. Thank you, tons)
Free/Cheap Stuff: Who doesn’t love a freebie? Sometimes, it’s just fun to embrace the things in life you can do for free. I keep a regular eye on the Skint London Twitter account for events or goodies for free or a couple of quid. I have quite an active mind, and like to DO stuff rather than, say, sit in a park and lap up nature all day long – but if you look online, in your local paper or on noticeboards, chances are there’ll be something to do that doesn’t involve spending loads. Free/very reduced food in new restaurants, apps and coupons are in plentiful supply if you keep your ear to the ground and an eye to your Twitter feed.
As I mentioned above, this might all seem like a bit of a BRAG post – but it’s not, really. I put in (quite a lot of) work for the things I get to have, and anyone can do the same. Although I’m obviously not at all as disadvantaged as many less fortunate people out there, and there’ll always be someone skinter than I, taking as much advantage as possible of the things that can inject a little extra fun into my life is a priority. There’s something very satisfying about getting something for ‘free’.
I say free in inverted commas as I’m talking in monetary terms, not time. I spend a lot of time working (pretty damn hard) for things that would usually cost money – but I love blogging, love scouring the internet for freebies and cheap things, love the feeling of productivity when I’ve caught up with all the competitions I can. I actually feel like if I had the money to buy all the things I wanted to have or do, I probably wouldn't appreciate them anywhere near as much. There might be people out there who call me a ‘sponger’, or just plain ‘sad’, or a ‘cheapskate’. But when they’re spending every single evening drinking cheap wine watching Netflix and I’m out sipping prosecco and meeting new people, who’s REALLY winning? You don't have to be rich to live your life to the fullest, you just need to put in some time, effort and know where to look.