As the cost of living crisis rages and UK inflation remains at one of the highest levels in 40 years, many people are finding that even the most meticulous budgeting can no longer make up for astronomical price rises in many areas of life.
Here, four people from different parts of the country share why they have had to take more drastic cost-cutting measures to stay financially afloat.
‘I’ve moved my whole family into my mum’s small attic’
Marc, 37, an office worker in the food industry from Salford, was faced with an impossible choice last July when his landlord said the rent would have to nearly double.
“He said he would offer a ‘generous’ increase from £800 to £1,400, from October”, he says. “At that point, my utilities alone were costing me about 500 quid a month. The sums just didn’t add up.”
After seeing that rents in the area were similar for comparable properties, Marc decided to give up the rented four-bed family home and has since moved his wife and three children, aged 5, 11 and 12, into an attic space in his mother’s house close by.
“I’ve had to borrow £15k to make the attic livable. I’ve put windows in, a shower, plumbing, and electrics.
“Living with my mother is not something I want to do, at almost 40, but otherwise I’d have to stop eating just to pay for housing costs, which would have been £2,200 monthly had we stayed,” Marc says.
Putting the money towards a house purchase would have been out of the question, as it would have taken 15 to 20 years, Marc estimates, to get a 25% deposit together.
“I haven’t measured how much space we have now, but it’s not a lot. The master bedroom is roughly as big as two kingsize beds pushed together; the other sleeping quarters are much smaller. We share the kitchen with my mum downstairs.”
Although the family is relieved to have escaped some of the financial pressure, the move has put considerable strain on everyone.
“It’s not been easy sailing, this move has been based on trade-offs. I’ve given up significant privacy, I can’t do what I want. My 22-year-old sister is also living here.
“One of my kids, my son, has taken the move hard. He’s complaining about a lack of space, a lack of freedom.”
How long the family will stay in the attic remains unclear, Marc says. “I want to pay off the loans, which could take between two and five years. Then we can explore further.”
‘My daughter is sleeping in her winter coat this year’
View image in fullscreenVicky Page, 51, is working in near freezing temperatures to keep on top of her family’s bills. Photograph: Vicky Page/Guardian Community
Vicky Page, who lives in Warwickshire and works for an environmental charity, says the family has had to switch the heating off almost entirely this winter despite working from home and having young children.
“I work in my north-facing conservatory – the only room with space for a full-sized desk – and this year I’ve had to turn the heating off completely. I’m wearing three jumpers, two pairs of trousers. I also have a heated mat on the floor for my feet, and a heated mouse mat – a little furry cave you can slip your hand into to keep warm. Today it was 2C in there when I started work. I sit shivering in this room six hours a day.”
While the family is able to heat the living room with the help of a mini wood-burning stove to about 15C, her children’s bedrooms upstairs are much colder, she says.
“My 11-year-old daughter sleeps with a winter coat and three blankets on top. We’re not destitute, but electricity prices have tripled and we have to be very careful.”
‘I gave up my plans to adopt’
For Natasha, a full-time civil servant from Leeds paid £30,800 a year, many smaller cost-cutting exercises over the past year failed to generate enough savings and forced her to make bigger, life-changing decisions to create financial wriggle room.
“In November my energy bills rose to £175 a month. My flat has very old heaters which are really expensive to run. I work from home and have requested to go in more, but I’m only allowed in once a week due to limited office space,” the 34-year-old says.
When cancelling subscriptions, cutting out meat from her diet, buying a box of 600 teabags on offer and sleeping with a hat on did not bring her costs down sufficiently, Natasha decided more drastic action was necessary.
“I was looking to adopt so I moved to a two-bed flat in March,” she says. “But I’ve had to put that on hold indefinitely because of my financial uncertainty.
“I read about ‘one-room living’, and created one room for living, working and sleeping. Hopefully only having to heat one room will generate enough savings.
“I have a Cpap machine for sleep apnea and I’ve started using it every other night, I don’t know what else to do to cut spiralling costs. I used to spend £25 a week on groceries. Last week my usual shop came to £60, so I had to put things back. It’s a shock when, as a middle-income earner, I have to give up some food so I can afford sanitary products.”
‘I have to give up my career in London and move back home’
Pre-pandemic, Eileen, in her 50s, had a relatively comfortable life in London, taking home about £40,000 a year as a theatre makeup technician.
“I’ve lived here for 35 years, but now I can no longer afford to. It’s no longer working for me, and pushing me into debt,” she says.
Eileen is single, lives alone, and pays £1,100 a month for her mortgage for her one-bedroom flat, which is due to go up again.
“My bills are £1,800 monthly, leaving me with about £600 for food and everything else. I watch every flipping penny, buy mostly tinned food now, never go out – but you just can’t keep up with inflation, and run out of money. Two weeks into a month I have to use my credit card. I can no longer afford going to the dentist. I’ve built up about £7,000 of debt since the pandemic.”
Eileen has come to the bitter conclusion that continuing in her career of 30 years is no longer financially sustainable.
“I’m experienced and highly skilled, but the last time I was this hard up was when I was a student in the late 1980s. I’d be better off working at Marks & Spencer and owning a house outright back in my home town in Nottinghamshire – even on universal credit I would be better off. Many colleagues feel the same; everyone’s become really demotivated.
“I’m going to sell up and move back home. London is no longer this place of great opportunity – it’s become unliveable, for so many of us.”