Secrets of the Money Mum: GEMMA BIRD is mortgage-free at 40
Secrets of the Money Mum: GEMMA BIRD is mortgage-free at 40 and has 200,000 Instagram followers hooked on her savvy tips – now she reveals how to supercharge your bank balance just as the cost of living is set to soar
You could say I’m a natural-born saver. As a little girl on my walk to school, I would scan the pavements for copper pennies and sometimes, if I was lucky, would find silver five and ten pence pieces.
I squirreled my findings away into an old Kenco coffee jar in my bedroom, writing the new total down on a little piece of paper every time I added another coin to the pot.
As soon as I was old enough I got two weekend jobs, worked hard and carefully counted my cash.
Among my friends, I was always the one with the voucher codes and the discounts, an expert at getting a bargain or a deal.
By 17 I had saved £7,000 to buy my first car. And by 23, juggling three jobs – as an estate agent, a barmaid and a driving instructor – I put down the deposit on my first home. When I met my husband, Adam, I had enough in the bank to pay off his mortgage.
Among my friends, I was always the one with the voucher codes and the discounts, an expert at getting a bargain or a deal
I have long known that money is not a secret recipe that only rich people know. It’s a mindset and an attitude that anyone can have.
I’m now a 40-year-old mother to Brody and Bronte living – mortgage- free – in Essex.
At the start of the pandemic I tentatively began sharing my money-saving tips on social media. The response was incredible and my Instagram account, @moneymumofficial, has more than 200,000 followers.
Now, just in time to help you tackle rising inflation, I’ve written a book full of practical advice to help you reboot your finances without feeling the pinch.
I’m not here to be a bore and tell you that you don’t need a big house or a new car and that you don’t have to go on amazing holidays.
Quite the opposite. In fact, I’d say those three things are the most important symbols of achievement to me. But you don’t need to be wealthy or earn a huge salary to achieve them.
Whether it’s listening to a subscription music channel, showering in expensive potions or grabbing a takeaway coffee on the way to work – it’s the small, everyday costs that rapidly accumulate to the point where you could end up spending half a day’s wages before you even reach the office.
Just by spending a little less on household bills, the supermarket shop, car insurance and even your clothes, you will naturally leave a little more for all the things you want to do in life.
And it all adds up. Here’s how to shrink your expenditure without any sense of sacrifice…
Whether you use an online app, a notebook or a whiteboard in your kitchen, the most important first step in wealth-creation is to keep a record of spending and income every month.
Simply write down all your expected monthly outgoings in one column: rent/mortgage, bills, food shop and so on. Then, in a second column, list your income for that month: wages, any tax credits, refunds you might be expecting, birthday money, a bonus etc.
Now add up each column and subtract your outgoings from your earnings.
The difference between the two is the amount of money that is available to spend or save each month. This is the figure you need to keep at the front of your mind when you find yourself tempted by the lure of a new top or an overpriced hot dog at the cinema.
Is that little treat worth an hour of hard work?
One clever way to help curb thoughtless spending is to compare the cost of whatever you want to buy against the amount of money you earn in an hour.
If you are not paid by the hour, divide your annual earnings (once tax and national insurance has been paid) by 52 to get your weekly income, then divide that number by the number of hours you work each week (the national average is 40).
The idea is to keep your HRP (Hourly Rate Principle) in mind every time you queue for a latte or swoon over a pair of new party shoes, and to get into the habit of asking yourself if what you are about to spend is worth another hour (or more!) of work.
DO go window shopping …DON’T get a store card
I love clothes and I love shopping! But I always do loads of research first to make sure that I’ve got the best deal.
DO visit the shops: Think of a trip to the shops as part of your research – like visiting an art gallery or museum. Many are beautifully styled by interior designers with highly curated soundtracks and loads of interesting things to look at (especially the people). But let go of the idea that you have to buy something and just enjoy being there instead. Take pictures of anything you like – they can serve as an inspiration file for later. And if you find that you’ve forgotten about the items a few days later, you probably didn’t need them anyway.
DON’T miss out on reward schemes: If you buy from one store regularly, download its rewards app and use it to get bigger discounts, even if you are shopping in store.
DON’T get a store card: Only sign up for a store card if opening an account means you get a juicy discount on something you really need – a new TV or a dishwasher – but then cancel it as soon as you can. Most have horribly high interest rates.
I love clothes and I love shopping! But I always do loads of research first to make sure that I’ve got the best deal
DO join Honey: Type ‘joinhoney’ into your search engine before shopping online. Honey is a fabulous little browser extension that sits on your search bar and finds online discount codes and vouchers for you.
DO use Google Shopping and eBay: If you are looking for something quite specific, do a quick Google search and then hit the Shopping tab.
It will give you links to all the places you can buy the product, along with prices. I also save searches for all my favourite brands on eBay and wait for cherished designer pieces to become available second-hand.
Boost savings with ‘No-Spending Days’
Putting the brakes on spending for just one day a week can make a real difference to your bank balance and it certainly makes you more aware of where your money is going.
I’ve been doing ‘no-spend days’ for years – sometimes three or four times a week when I was saving hard.
Yes, it might mean meeting friends in the park rather than the cafe, painting your own nails or getting creative by cooking something from the freezer, but it’s worth it!
Do you need something …or just want it?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to want things – I want things all the time.
But knowing the difference between wanting and needing can help you decide whether or not to spend the money. Ask yourself:
1. Is this thing necessary for my family’s (including my own) health or safety?
2. Is it vital for something else?
3. Can I wait a while before I have to buy it?
Drive up savings
To maximise mileage, only half-fill your car with fuel each time. A full tank is heavier, which means your car will burn more fuel. You’ll make further savings by removing a roof rack if you’re not using it and emptying your boot so that you don’t drive around with excess weight.
To maximise mileage, only half-fill your car with fuel each time. A full tank is heavier, which means your car will burn more fuel
Don’t be fooled by sly subscriptions
Cancel your subscriptions – most of them are money for old rope.
When you sign up for subscription deodorant refills, vitamins or cat flea treatments, cash automatically exits your account for something you might not even use or need. It’s a brilliant business plan that allows companies to make money from people who often don’t even notice.
So take a good look at all your subscriptions. I’ll bet you find a few you’d forgotten about and I guarantee that you’ll be surprised by how much they are costing you every month.
I’m not just talking about gym membership or your TV package – look at all your apps too.
Have you been tempted to join a music-streaming service, a beauty club, a meditation app, a fitness app, a supermarket discount pass or pet-food service after being lured in with a low-cost (or free) starter offer?
Now cancel them all. Yes, ALL! You can always sign up again if you miss them, but I have a hunch that you won’t.
Haggle hard on your household bills
Whether it’s home or car insurance, phone or TV packages, it’s always worth talking to your supplier to see if they can beat the price they’re offering.
When we get a renewal quote, we spend a whole morning researching prices, looking at price comparison sites and making calls. It is an effort but it can save hundreds of pounds.
Tell suppliers that you’ve found a better price elsewhere and see what they say. You could be amazed at what they do to make sure they don’t lose your business.
When we queried our Sky TV package and said we were thinking of leaving, an £8 monthly increase became a £2 monthly reduction and they threw in an upgrade.
Save when buying the exact car you want
Don’t buy a new car unless you have got money to burn.
New cars lose significant value as soon as they leave the showroom. Instead, buy second-hand or lease a car (think of it as renting a car from the dealer). But do your research before you commit.
I will phone five or six different garages around the UK – North and South – and tell them exactly what I’m looking for. It is amazing how varied the offerings can be for exactly the same vehicle.
You might need to take a journey to collect your car, but when there are thousands of pounds at stake, why wouldn’t you?
Cut the cost of your mobile phone package
Avoid the word ‘unlimited’. Many packages offer endless hours of minutes or texts, but do you really need that? Think hard about how you use your phone and get a deal that works for you.
If you have a monthly contract, set up text alerts for when you are near the end of your data allowance. That way you can watch what you are using and avoid racking up loads of extra charges.
Smarten up your beauty regime
How many half-finished tubs of body lotion and cans of hairspray do you reckon are sitting in your bathroom and bedroom cupboards right now?
Here’s how to cut down on wasteful spending:
- Make them last longer by putting the lids back on properly after you’ve used them and squeezing out every last drop. A freezer-bag clip at the bottom of a tube helps get everything out.
- If you’ve got half-empty bottles of shampoo you no longer use, decant them into travel bottles and you’ve got instant toiletries for holidays.
- Storing nail varnish, lipsticks and other make-up in the fridge keeps them fresher for longer. This might not work for products you use all the time, but if you’ve got an eye-shadow set for nights out or a lipstick that you use more in the winter, pop them in the fridge and they’ll be good to go next time you want to wear them.
Brighten your home with thrifty tricks
- Paint old leather chairs and sofas with chalk paint instead of buying new ones. Yes, you can paint leather! Chalk paint is amazing as it goes on easily and you don’t have to prepare surfaces as you would with regular paint.
- Buy picture frames and furniture in neutral colours, then you can just change the fabrics or the pictures if you want to do something different. The same goes for lamps – you can simply change the shade or spray it a new colour instead of buying a new lamp.
- Personalisation is a brilliant way to make your furniture look unique and interesting. Stencil your children’s names on their toy boxes and wardrobes and you get an instant upgrade.
Don’t let kids’ toys mess up your budget
A lot of my children’s clothes come from eBay and other second-hand marketplaces – especially the big stuff such as winter coats.
I love Moncler jackets and I have bought my son Brody one every winter for the past few years – and then resold it when he’s grown out of it. It’s an expensive brand but that’s because it’s such good quality, so they hold their value. I even sold one of his jackets for more than I paid for it. My other tips are:
- Children don’t care about the packaging or if something is from a shop – they just like the novelty of having a ‘new’ toy to play with for a bit. So try toy-rotation. Keep a few hidden away and, every few days, get them out and hide some of the ones that have been out for a while.
- Set a rule for what you will spend at Christmas and birthdays, and stick to it. Otherwise it can get out of hand and your children come to expect too much.
- Organise informal clothing swaps between a few of your friends. If you can find a friend with children who are the right age and whose clothes you like, you can share and swap their outfits for years!
A lot of my children’s clothes come from eBay and other second-hand marketplaces – especially the big stuff such as winter coats
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