Money saving expert Martin Lewis begins Thrifty Ways for Modern Days by explaining that this is a crowd sourced book. He gives all credit to his resourceful forumites, on the Old Style Board.
He explains he himself is not an old-styler, as it is a lifestyle, not just an adjustment. He recommends it for people who *need* to do it, due to debt or unemployment, and for people who want to live a greener, thriftier lifestyle. The book is divided into cleaning, shopping, fashion, DIY, special occasions, presents, growing your own and recipes.
The old style board started from a single post – “Could we live like during World War 2?”
The members set challenges where they try to save money by using coupons, utilising BOGOF deals, or their famous Store Cupboard Challenge, where they cook only what they have in the house; a challenge quite relevant during Corona!
The book starts off with old style cleaning methods. Full disclosure, i’m a sceptic. I’ve tried quite a few old school cleaning methods. In my opinion / experience, most don’t work. White vinegar is great for stainless steel, and combined with baking soda can be good for light drain blockages. Soap nuts are also pretty good for delicates, if you don’t mind the lack of scent. Microwaving a cup of water can also definitely loosen caked on gunk. Also, while they may be greener, lemon juice and olive oil are both way more expensive than an ordinary bottle of spray polish. Of course, i’m no Martha Stewart. These natural methods might work better for people more skilled at housework.
The shopping section starts with tips on avoiding the impulse to shop at all. And on how to reframe shopping from being a leisure activity to a necessary evil.
It warns of the false allure of the sale racks. As India Knight once acerbically remarked,
“All the stuff no one wanted all year, just for you.”
He brings up his downshift challenge, where you try the cheaper version of the same product. In some respects, he’s spot on. There often isn’t that much difference between the £3 rice in fancy cardboard packaging versus the 55p rice in a plain plastic bag.
However I’m going to take a stand when it comes to hair and body lotion. Cheap body lotion often contains ingredients that irritate the skin. And while the hairdressers in budget places are often excellent – my partner gets his done regularly for £10 and looks great – there can be a marked difference when it comes to quality for women. Especially if you have challenging or unruly locks. Although to be fair he does say it’s about finding what fits, not blindly going cheaper.
He brings up menu planning, which is an excellent choice to save money, but in my experience, fiddly and irritating. The book mentions cookingbynumbers.com, a site where you can type in ingredients and get recipes. I use a similar app, called Supercook; really helpful and incidentally helps you keep a stocktake of the food you have in. I’d also heartily recommend the work of Jack Monroe, including the book Tin Can Cook.
Clothing is an essential. I used to be pretty broke and as a result sort of forgot that. I decided to do the 33 item wardrobe challenge and found I had more like 15 items. Nowadays I put aside 5% of my salary for clothing and don’t spend a penny more. I’m also very into second-hand shopping, especially when I worked in the kind of ‘posh’ town that had designer bits and bobs in the local Scope shop. (The book has some really useful tips for getting the most out of thrift shopping).
But it’s still true that most of us only wear 20% of our wardrobes, which is a total waste. One of the first tips is to check what you actually need. Write down what you have and where the gaps are. Guides on creating a capsule wardrobe might be helpful here.
The book also suggests shopping at Primark, which I heartily disagree with. Their clothes are flimsy, often break after a couple of wears, fade quickly and lose their shape fast. They’re just not worth it.
Grow Your Own
If you want to get started, the book gives some useful tips. Personally, I think that unless you’re already green fingered, or have spare cash, skip this one. It’s easy to spend money on supplies then have slugs eat your whole crop. Ditto keeping chickens. It sounds romantic, and the sharp absence of eggs in the supermarkets during the Covid crisis has made it seem like a good idea. But they’re living beings, ones prone to parasites, disease and scratching up your garden.
This is a sweet and useful section, covering both homemade goods and thrifty present shopping. Did you know we as a nation spend £1bn a year on cards? And that was in 2006. The key piece of advice in the book is to start a gift cupboard. This is an excellent tip, especially as prices ramp up seasonally. Think about 3 for 2 offers, BOGOFS, or beauty clearance; that Sanctuary gift set will be just as good for a birthday in 3 months time as it is now.
Christmas and Special Occasions
The book has excellent tips for these, especially for spreading the cost of Christmas. One I always forget and mean to do is saving up my Nectar and Boots points to use in December. It’s such an easy way to save; it’s a lot easier to pretend the ‘money’ doesn’t exist than it is with actual cash. They also suggest buying a couple of presents every month to spread the expense.
I’m less sure about the thrifty wedding tips. I wholeheartedly agree the cost of weddings has gotten out of hand (while accepting that vendors feel the need to charge more due to the pressure involved). However the tips are all a bit… cheeky. Asking for help with decorating might be one thing; straight up asking a stranger if you can borrow their car strikes me as more than a little OTT.
They have a great section on baby tips, which reminds me of the heavy handed WW2 pamphlet – “Did you know, babies need less clothes than you think?”
In the End
The book concludes with Old Style Recipes, which are really the books’ piece de la resistance. They’re genuinely excellent, and manage to avoid the “Now take your fennel seeds, dodo feather and mascarpone” trap that a lot of well meaning cook books and shows fall into. They’re also actually aware of what constitutes cheap food – there’s no ‘budget’ recipes requiring a whole leg of lamb.
Overall would recommend this book, useful and cheap – think I got my copy for £3.99.