“Cash stuffing helped me save £3k in a year”

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Marie*, 49, lives on the North Wales coast with the youngest of her two grown up sons. She works for a national park authority and earns £23k a year.

She’d been in debt for almost all of her life until five years ago, when she decided to leave her partner of a decade, get to grips with her finances and pay off her debts. Since then, she’s developed a steady savings habit and managed to save for a new kitchen with Monzo.

Her secret? Using what she calls “old school” savings methods like cash stuffing and saving the spare change.

I’m 49 and spent most of my life in debt

I started out young and naive. At 18 I got a catalogue and let friends order from it but they stopped paying so I was left with that debt. Then I can remember getting a credit card at about 21. It didn’t feel like real money, so that went wrong quickly.

I eventually found myself with £8,000 of debt. I was buying bottles of wine, jackets, pairs of shoes, sometimes fuel for work. The only time I’d clear my overdraft was on pay day. And I was back in it the next day. When you've got bank charges over £100, you're really struggling to claw your way out of that. It was sickening.

I felt ashamed, almost dirty, because I was an adult and should have known better. When you've got an issue with how much you earn versus how much you spend – once you're in that spiral, it’s grim.

My (now ex) partner was part of the reason I was in debt

He earned £48k, which is a bucket load of money in rural North Wales. The median wage here is about £20-23k because the work is largely tourism based. He had all this money but asked to borrow money from me for basic necessities like groceries and fuel.

To this day, I don't know where his money was going. He was in debt in excess of £10k. I remember getting a letter from my then high street bank saying I’d been pre-approved for a loan of £18k and him asking me to take out the loan and give him the money to clear his debts.

We broke up on New Year's Eve five years ago.

I avoided reading my bank statements – it was never good news

For me, one of the side effects of debt was zero acknowledgement of bank statements. I didn’t want to open or read them. But the first thing I had to do was go through the bank statements to see how much the bills were, write it down and just accept where I was at.

Fortunately, I was eligible for Working Tax Credit and Child Benefit because my son was in full time education. That was the start of the change.

I got Monzo because my eldest son said I’d love it

At first I used it for groceries and fuel in a bid to rein in my spending, give myself accountability and separate my money.

Compared to online banking with my old bank at the time, with Monzo it felt like I had a little digital best friend. You could tell it your outgoings and what you wanted to spend. It was like money coaching.

Marie's Pot for Bills – it has £440.72 in it 

The picture of the Pot has an illustration of a woman – with text that reads "If you're going to have opinions about my life, then I assume you'll be paying some of my bills."

Pots have changed my life. I currently have nine Pots – including one for bills and another for car insurance. It’s great ring-fencing my committed spending and knowing my bills will get paid – no matter what I do this month! Then whatever’s left is mine.

Then I have my shrapnel Pot, where my round ups go. I used to have a little pot that I’d throw loose change in. That's money to get me out of a sticky spot or treat myself to something nice.

Marie's Shrapnel Pot, it has £50.47 in it, and the image is a jar of pennies.

Monzo features remind me of the old school money-saving tricks my grandparents used

Like envelope stuffing! Cash stuffing is having a comeback, and Pots are like digital envelope stuffing.

I have a Christmas Pot and save a set amount every month. Earlier this year Uggs had a good sale on. Because my Christmas Pot is digital, I just took the money out the Pot and they were paid for. I didn't have to run down to the nearest shop and pay the cash into my bank account first!

I also set up IFTTT so I’d save money whenever it rains. I initially set it to £1 but it got really expensive in Wales! So I changed it to 25p. Since January 2021, when I ramped up my saving for the kitchen, I’ve had 562 rainy day charges. That’s £140.50.

A savings Pot for Marie's downstairs cloakroom renovation – regular automatic payments of 25p go in as she has the Pot set up to pay in 25p whenever it rains. She lives in Wales!

I like that Monzo offers old tried-and-tested ways of saving money and makes it up to date. You have your round ups, which is like your old random loose change pot, but now it's digital so you're not carrying pocketfuls of coppers. Then Pots are a digital version of cash stuffing.

"I like that Monzo offers old tried-and-tested ways of saving money and makes it up to date."

I started saving for a new kitchen last year

My initial budget was £3k, which included new unit doors, wall plastering, a new worktop, new window and a new floor. But the final figure ended up being £4,980 because I also needed to get the whole room rewired and buy a new oven (which I did on credit). My son and I broke ours just before the kitchen was due to be finished.

It took me a year to save the £3k. I set a strict monthly budget and worked out I could save £300 a month, but there was no fun money. My eldest son owed me £850 and when he repaid me that also went straight into my kitchen Pot.

"I set a strict monthly budget and worked out I could save £300 a month, but there was no fun money."

I’ve been dragging everybody to see it. During work Teams meetings I’ve been carrying my laptop into my kitchen very proudly, doing a twirl to show people the result. It's a relief. It's hard to believe I've finally done it.

Marie's new kitchen!

Once the kitchen was done, I decided I wanted to get the downstairs bathroom done, too. I originally budgeted £2k but it’s going to come in at just under £2.5k.

Marie's Pot for her downstairs cloakroom. It has £1,291 in it – and a picture of her plans for the room, to keep her inspired

I made a lot of sacrifices to save the money – doing it with friends helped

I gave up my social life. There was the odd drink or meal with a friend, but mostly I’d go to friends’ houses and we’d take it in turns to cook for each other.

My close friend was also managing her money carefully and we thought it was a good opportunity to embrace not having any spare cash. I think friends were just as happy to not be spending money.

The rising cost of living is making it much harder to save

I need £3-4k to completely re-do my son’s bedroom, and the current situation is affecting how much I’m able to save.

My utility bills have gone up by over £100 a month, despite me living frugally and switching things off at the wall. My groceries are up by about £40-50 a month and the price of fuel has gone up. I’ve told my boss at this level of expense I can only afford to go into the office one day a week.

I'm going to give myself two years rather than one to save up this time.

The advice I'd give others trying to save? Be realistic and keep yourself motivated

Make a budget. Work out what your bills are, know what you’ve got left at the end of the month and be honest and realistic rather than being too optimistic.

When I opened my kitchen Pot, I put an inspirational picture from Pinterest on it and set my goal. And I scheduled a monthly deposit from my current account into the Pot.

The photo motivated me. In my mind, that’s what I wanted my kitchen to look like. It’s visualising your goal.

When I started saving, the first £1,000 was difficult mentally and emotionally, but when it told me I was at 33% of my goal, I felt ‘I can do this’. When I got over halfway, it felt great – it’s like that Wednesday feeling in the week. Then you start to really enjoy saving, because you’re seeing the impact.

* We've changed her name.