I tracked every penny I spent in a week and this is what I learnt

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I like to think that I’m ‘fairly good’ with money. I’d give myself a B+. I’ve never been overdrawn, my only debt is my student one (which to be fair, is five digits and utterly unthinkable) and I have two savings accounts, including a stocks and shares ISA. But, I also have an Amazon One-Click problem and an Outnet Premier problem and I really like flat whites, and snacks, and Uber. I also never, never chop my own garlic.

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But with the end of the year looming and my thoughts turning to how much money I was going to need to save for the upcoming festive season (which naturally means plenty of parties/presents/prosecco), I decided to challenge myself to keep a record of every penny I spent for seven days. After all – if I don’t know where my money is going, how can I reign in my spending habits?

To make my experiment as accurate as possible, I decided not only to take note of all of those ASOS splurges and Sainsbury’s bills, but also to monitor my energy spend. How? Via the smart meter that lives in my house, which basically records in near real-time how much my getting ready routine or heating is costing me. By checking the meter right before and right after whatever I was doing, I could track my spend and learn exactly where all my cash was going.

For background, I’m a freelance writer and I live at my family home (with my two parents) in South-East London and spend about half the week at my boyfriend’s place in Brixton. I earn around £30,000 a year and my days are sometimes spent working at home, and other days, hot-desking. Let’s begin…

DAY 1

The first day of my money diary happens to be the day of my boyfriend’s birthday party, so it’s not going to be a cheap one. It’s a Saturday, so I sleep in and spend most of the day snoozing in front of Netflix until it’s time to go out. I washed my hair the night before so it only takes a bit of tonging to get my locks ready, plus 40 minutes stood in the bathroom mirror (which has Hollywood-style bulbs all around it) doing my make-up. All of this preening causes the electricity reading on my smart meter to go up by 94p. I get on a train into central London (£6.20) and debate getting an Uber to Shoreditch House as it’s drizzling but decide against it and hop on the bus instead (£1.30). It’s a fun dinner for twelve with lots of wine and food. My boyfriend earns more than me, so we usually split bills 70-30. I pay £30 and he gets us an Uber back to his.

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TOTAL: £38.44

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DAY 2

Now it’s my turn to treat my boyfriend as it’s his actual birthday. We go to a restaurant in nearby Clapham and I pay for brunch (£50). We go for a walk on the Common, chase after some cute pups and then go into town to mooch around the shops. I resist the urge to buy anything, and then we head back to mine (another £9.20 in travel goes to TFL). We skip lunch after eating brunch so late and then I cook us dinner using mainly stuff I already have in the cupboard plus a few extra groceries (£7.44). When we head to bed, I note that our heating spend has gone up by £1.72 since the start of the weekend – winter is coming.

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TOTAL: £68.36

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DAY 3:

Back to the grind – it’s Monday. I order a new watertight sports bottle on Amazon to stop myself from buying protein shakes at the gym (£3.65) and head into town to hit said gym (£10.80 for a day’s travel). I work from Soho House until around 5pm, spending £18 on food, part of which I’ll be reimbursed for as I was entertaining a client. I buy some dry shampoo on the way home (£3) and gratefully eat a dinner cooked by my wonderful mother when I get there. After an evening of doing chores while half-watching Broad City, I note that we’ve spent 77p that day on electricity.

TOTAL: £36.22

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DAY 4:

I wake up and blow-dry my hair from dry (weird but works), adding 14p onto my electricity spend. I head into town for a breakfast meeting (£10.80 again) but it’s on someone else’s tab -score!. I then head to the gym. After my workout, I crack and buy one of their shakes as my bottle hasn’t arrived yet so that’s another £3.95. I go to my boyfriend’s to work and knowing that he won’t have any food, I spend £3.44 on some snacks for the day. I work until 5:30 then head to the supermarket to buy some groceries (£6.53). I do an hour’s more work before starting on dinner. My boyfriend comes home and we watch Stranger Things while eating my world-famous sausage and fennel pasta.

TOTAL: £24.86

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DAY 5:

I start the day with another gym session (no shake!) and another breakfast meeting, and then I’m home to work for the day (£6.20 for the morning’s travel). I graze on food in the fridge and then cook for my parents as they’re both working late. I renew my website domain (£11.24 monthly) and my monthly donation to Refuge (£20) leaves my account, as well as my monthly pension payment (another £20). After having my laptop in all day and the lights on, the electricity’s up another £1.20 since I last checked, with 33p having been added onto the heating.

TOTAL: £58.97

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DAY 6:

I head into town for a meeting, spending £10.80 for a day travelcard. It’s pouring with rain and I’m meeting someone who’s always impeccably turned out so I fork out for a £7.50 Uber. After we’re done, I work out, and this time I have my homemade protein shake in my bag – woop! Feeling smug as I leave the gym, I grab a sandwich which somehow costs me £5 (less smug now.) I spend the day in meetings grabbing free food when I can but when mid-afternoon hits I buy more snacks (£2.44). I then head to my boyfriend’s to cook and watch more Stranger Things before we book flights for our upcoming holiday – £84. Yikes.

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TOTAL: £109.74

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DAY 7:

TGIF! I munch on breakfast at my boyfriend’s after spending £3.44 on a few extra bits because the man has nothing but beer and ketchup. I need to get a Halloween costume so I head into town (£10.80 for a travelcard). All of the small sizes of everything non-offensive have sold out so I buy a medium costume (£20) and resolve to adjust it at home. I head home to work and grab a £5 sandwich on the way. When I’m done with work at 6:30 I enjoy a long, leisurely dinner with my parents before retreating upstairs and watching Netflix until I’m about to fall asleep. I get a second wind of energy and make myself shower, adding £1.21 onto the electricity bill, before treating myself to a face mask.

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TOTAL: £40.45

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WEEK TOTAL: £376.86

What I learnt

Making myself keep track of every penny I spent was eye-opening. I knew about some relatively fixed expenses – paying for holiday flights, renewing my domain name – but I was surprised by how much travel and food ate into my spending. I’ll definitely be planning my days out a bit better so I’m not flip-flopping between home and central London so much, as well as remembering to prepare lunches. Being able to see where all my cash was going when it came to my utilities was a game-changer too – having the screen on my smart meter in plain view every day encouraged me to be a bit more prudent with my love of blasting the heating and leaving lights on. Plus, with the cost always visible, there’s no nasty surprises when you get your bill. Win-win.

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And, this season, if you’re wondering how much a house party is going to cost you in energy, watch our video to see how far 10p will take you…

To track your weekly spend and to spot where you could be saving money in your home in near real time, contact your energy supplier about installing a smart meter at no extra cost. To find out who your supplier is, visit the Smart Energy GB website

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