This year I decided to employ a more informed approach to my resolution-making. So I’ve taken stock of the past year, financially. It’s been an expensive year, not least because we’ve made some major improvements to the house: namely converting our cellar into LiveLight central – also known as ‘the man cave’, my office, plus a sometime family film/music room too. (It packs a lot in!)
This has made adding up all our family expenses throughout the year quite tricky. However, with a bit of cut and pasting into Excel from our various bank accounts, I have come up with the following financial highs and lows of 2014 – plus a new year’s resolution that I just might keep.
[clear-line][clear-line]The upside successes
Leaving aside the building projects, here are the financial highlights that my digging threw up. Our four bedroom house / one car family household spent:
- £1,101 on fuel (diesel) for the car (a Passat estate)
- £240 on gas (for cooking on the hob, hot water and central heating), and
- £438 on electricity.
Way to go! The average spend on these things in the UK was £3,313 for roughly equivalent homes*. Saving over £1,500 in the year on these things is pretty good, I think, especially as we are a family of five, and there is someone in the house all day, every day.
The wood burning stove keeps the need for central heating to a minimum. It’s mostly fuelled currently from scrap wood and chopped up leilandeii from the site of my friend Mike’s amazing eco house project. Added to that, October was ridiculously warm here in the north of England, and we only started getting proper winter weather in November.
Year of the Power Tool…
There was almost continuous daytime use of power tools and builders lighting for the two months that me and me old mate Steve turned our dank cellar into the small but very pleasing (and very well insulated) space it now is. This bumped up the electricity use somewhat.
In the car fuel total, we counted holidays to France, Northumberland, and Cornwall in the car, as well as numerous trips to the seaside and to visit friends and relatives. As we live right in the middle of the action in our city, there is little need to use the car for ‘nipping’ about, though, and we are able to walk to most of the attractions, and kids activities rather than use the car – unless the weather is particularly vile – because the short journeys can really add up.
The downside fails…no frugal living here
If these were the wins, then the surprises were a little harsher. I have never particularly warmed to the ‘frugal’ or ‘live simply’ slogans. This is mainly because I love really good food and drink – and plenty of it. We eat as much organic food as possible, and this does come at a price.
With three ravenous and rapidly growing children in the house, I’ve noticed our food bill escalate over this year – but I was still expecting to spend around £140 a week on average. The reality was that we spend over £180 a week on food.
This does include quite a lot of (organic) wine and beer, I should add. We love having people round for food, so there is an amount of entertaining in there. I also included all of the ‘holiday food’ in there, whilst we were away on holiday and at Christmas, which really bumps up the overall average. But still. Sheesh. Got to do something about that, I feel, purely from a cash point of view.
Please, before you fire off the comment telling me how you and your family of six survive on £22 a month from Lidl and that’s at Christmas, let me remind you how I got these sums. I downloaded every single transaction from our bank accounts and labelled all of the grocery transactions. If I hadn’t done this, I would have told you with conviction that I ‘only’ spent £140 a week on food. So make sure you do your sums properly!
Fancy pants, organic food!
I can hear some of you thinking “no wonder Dave is spending a fortune with his fancy-pants organic diet!” So it’s probably time to address my love of organic food too. It’s something that I’ve looked at again recently, and I’ve found the conclusions to be quite disturbing. But those revelations will have to wait for another blog, because it’s time to unleash:
The resolution for 2015…
…which is to reduce the truly ridiculous amount we spend on food and drink to the price level of an average weekly 5 person family supermarket shop. This will doubtless mean that I will be redoubling my efforts to hunt out the best organic, free range, and super local produce to eat and drink – not to mention new recipes and food tricks. Organic or not, why not try it with me?
What about the G.H.G.s?
Carbon-wise, groceries are probably our most carbon intensive regular buys, as well as financially intensive. It’s really hard to estimate, but I have put our annual greenhouse gases from food stuff at just under 6 tonnes for our family. This is because it’s almost all organic, UK produce, and we don’t eat much meat. A regular UK supermarket diet could easily be 3 times that for a family of 4 or 5. Or more. In greenhouse gas terms, the results are correspondingly meagre: 2 tonnes for the diesel, and 1.2 tonnes for heating and lighting at home. 3.2 tonnes of greenhouse gas is ok for a family of five, I think, especially as it includes all our holiday travel for the year too.
There’s still plenty to improve on, of course – I will keep you posted. And look out for some good deals on organic food coming soon…
Find out how much you really spend on food, fuel, and stuff
* I used Office for National Statistics figures from 2012 used from the table here: