From 27th September to 3rd October 2021, I took part in a State Pension Challenge. I lived off £179.60 for 7 days alongside Faith Archer from Much More With Less in collaboration with PensionBee. The £179.60 was to include bills for the week and all food, travel, social life. A tricky challenge, right? YES! I can assure you that it was one of the most difficult challenges I have ever taken part in.
Planning for the Week
Possibly where I became unstuck was with my non-existent planning. I still had a relatively busy social life planned for the week, I had work events to attend, and my food planning wasn’t good enough. Also, I had a pre-booked nails appointment with a friend that I couldn’t cancel.
I began by working out the cost of my essential bills for the week. I included the following: –
Octopus Energy Electricity and Gas £23.18
Council Tax £33.87
EE Broadband £5.45
EE Mobile Phone £7.99
TV Licence £13.37
Car Tax £2.77
This left me with £83.23 for the week to spend on everything else. Both Faith and I excluded mortgage/rent, business costs, life & income protection insurance and anything child related. We assumed that these costs would not hit after state pension age. To read the full assumptions, read this post.
Monday started with my nails being done and spending £25 on them. Everyone on Twitter seemed to think that I would fail the challenge at this point. They had little faith in the competitiveness of Lynn and wanting to beat the challenge and spend less money than Faith.
I soon realised that I wouldn’t be able to afford to eat much food, (especially after those nails). Monday’s food included bargain Aldi fajitas and some chicken that had been given to me, so free. I realised that I had forgotten about the costs of feeding Trev the cat.
I only drove 11 miles but realised this short distance would cost £1.59 in fuel and pay as you go insurance. My conclusion was that having a car was not affordable on the state pension challenge.
Total spend £27.96. Remaining money for the week £55.27.
I did very little on Tuesday, keeping things very simple food wise and life wise. Although I was very shocked by the 50p cost of each Japanese machi balls that I ate as a treat, 50p each.
Totally spend £3.71. Remaining money £51.56
Wednesday was one of my bartering days. My friend Eve was over for dinner and to stay for the night. In exchange for a bed and her not needing to book a hotel, she brought a Japanese M&S dinner box. I provided us with raspberry fizz and non-alcoholic booze that was gifted.
Total spend £4.10. Remaining money £47.47. And I am back on track!
I kept the daytime simple, cooked a mindful chef lunch and went out for a date in the evening. I walked to the pub, getting muddy and wet in the process. Date knew about the challenge and bought me a pint of lemonade and cranberry (nice drink!), hummus with pitta bread and we shared parmesan fries. Pushing the boat out here, I was a very cheap date. It was also a barter as I gave him a Kellogg’s voucher code to get him a free adult ticket to LEGOLAND.
I was meant to be going to a wedding on Thursday night, (sorry Nat & Mark) but it was miles away in Kent and petrol cost would have been an issue. Also, I was single and not drinking and didn’t know anyone there, I cancelled. This challenge also meant that I couldn’t afford to send a card and present.
Total spend £5.02. Remaining money £42.45.
A quiet day, with a trip to the gym, more mindful chef food and two more mochi balls as a treat.
Total spend £6.84. Remaining money £35.61
I spent Saturday afternoon at Green Live in Westfield with PensionBee. We had a panel event booked where we spoke to an audience of Westfield shoppers talking Fossil Fuel Free Pensions. My train ticket was covered by PensionBee. When the talk was over, I did a circuit of the event chatting to brands and picked up a few freebies (shampoo, toilet roll, fruit, cat food, all useful stuff I needed!).
I treated myself to a salad and chocolate bar at Kings Cross on the way home.
Total spend £5.25. Remaining money £30.36
I had a bumper £30.36 left to spend so went for it. I met up with my friend Fran for lunch AND offered to pick her up. We went to a local garden centre for lunch, tuna melt sandwich with a can of pop and I bought a purple and green hanging indoor plant for £10.
I also had a day of good food day, eggs for breakfast and mindful chef health for dinner.
Total spend £26.49. Remaining money £3.88
I ended the week with a treat day and with a positive balance of £3.88 left.
How Did it Make me Feel?
The Good – Appreciating the privilege of being able to spend
This was a good lesson for me in hardship. It has made me appreciate that I take for granted all those little purchases, coffee at the gym, jumping in the car to go anywhere, socialising, giving gifts to me friends. All those little purchases add up, and very simply put are unaffordable when you only have £180 a week to live on.
I have been more conscious of my spending the week following the challenge. And have spent less as a result. I think everyone should try this challenge!
A Sense of Achievement
I am really pleased that I managed the challenge and could just about live off the £180 for the week. I was happy to be left with the £30 for the last day to give myself a treat of good food and a pretty plant.
Community and friendship
I was so glad that Faith was doing the challenge with me, we messaged a lot during the week with frustrations, ways of saving money and funny moments. Faith did laugh a lot when I shared my dating bartering tricks and reminded me that my date could have got a free Legoland ticket in cheaper ways. Ha-ha.
I absolutely did not eat enough food (as I was eating Mindful Chef dinners, not the cheapest of food) and wasn’t drinking alcohol. The result was a bigger chunk of weight loss than expected.
I thought about money ALL the time
Money was constantly on my mind, saving it, not being able to spend it and I worried about future purchases. My friend who got married, I will need to send a card and arrange a charity contribution gift. My friend who had a baby, I need to send a card and present.
And what about all the emergencies that happen, when the washing machine breaks or the car won’t start or the roof tiles are blown off, or the kitchen floods. All these things have happened to me during 2021, all costing hundreds to fix.
The realisation that Spending Money is a Coping Mechanism for me
A hug realisation was that I take immense joy from spending money. It gives me a dopamine hit. I like to gift things to people. I like to give to charity and treat myself to a new dress. And this joy or coping mechanism was taken away from me.
On Saturday after a long day in London I got home to an empty house, (except for Trev). It was peeing down with rain.
I sat on the sofa and cried, I was hungry and tired. I wasn’t allowed to spend money and I couldn’t have a G&T (as also on a 28-day booze free challenge). My house purchase appeared to be falling apart and there were ongoing family issues coming to a head. It was all too much.
I was hit with overwhelm and the lack of budget contributed to this. A friend called and I cried, and they did their best to talk for 30 minutes whilst I cried to stop the overwhelm. I had a bath and went to bed early.
The solution was the lovely day on Sunday where I looked after myself, ate good food, went to Yoga, met another friend and bought a beautiful living thing.
Imagining the Reality
I cannot imagine living on £180 a week EVERY week. Indeed, this was an experiment for one week only but SO many people living in poverty live off this and less every week in week out. I would love for every politician to try this challenge for a week.
I will not be in a position like this when I reach state pension age. My pensions savings will be enough to give me joy and the nice to haves in life. I want to go travelling, I want to give gifts to friends and family, I want to donate to charity, I want a life. And the only way this can happen is if I look after my future self by saving money into my pension (and investments and pay off my mortgage).
As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice. This post was written in collaboration with PensionBee.