She’s the “world’s stingiest woman” – and she’s got the best tips for saving you money.
When the weather finally warms up for those shorts, Ilona will also be able to enjoy her summerhouse, which she built last year from a couple of pallets and old wooden doors for the grand total of £20. “I’ve entered it in Channel 4’s Shed of the Year competition,” she says optimistically. “But I haven’t heard anything back. It’s good though isn’t it? There’s enough room for me and a few friends.”
Sarah Freeman meets Ilona Richards, Britain’s most frugal pensioner.
WHEN Ilona Richards emails to confirm Sarah Freeman’s interview, she adds a short PS. “If you want a cuppa,” she says. “Bring your own teabag.” Well, what else would you expect from the self-styled Queen of Mean and the woman who might just be Britain’s most frugal pensioner?
Just to be safe, Freeman also take her own milk and put on an extra jumper, but Ilona has in fact gone the extra mile. Not long through the door, she announces the heating has been momentarily switched on in my honour and she’s also used a little bit of electricity to vacuum the living room carpet, albeit with a Dyson she found in a skip round the corner. Later, she’ll bring an electric kettle out of the cupboard (normally she heats water in a mug in the microwave) to make a round of tea and she’s also splashed out on doughnuts. Four for 15p.
“That’s the difference between being frugal and being penny-pinching. I don’t deny myself anything, but I never go mad.”
In fact over the last 10 years, Ilona, who lives in a quiet village, close to the Humber Estuary, has rarely paid full price for anything. Even before that, when she worked full-time driving lorries for B&Q, she had never been particularly extravagant with money, but the real turning point came when she was forced to have 12 weeks off work following an operation.
“Not long after I went back they announced they were shutting the depot. I was seven months short of my 60th birthday and the time seemed right for a bit of a change.”
With no regular income, Ilona, now 66, had no option but to watch her outgoings and for a while noted down her daily spend in a small notebook. It didn’t usually take long. A typical entry read ‘walked up the road to a smallholding and bought six eggs for £1.20’ and splashing out involved a haircut at a local college for £4.50. These days, Ilona no longer uses the notebook. Her frugal skills are so well-honed she doesn’t need to. She also now cuts her own hair.
Old habits though die hard. She still writes on every tin of beans and every packet of cereal what she paid for it and when she does a supermarket shop it tends to be after 7.30pm when the big discounting begins.
“I went last night,” she says, opening her new fridge (bought using £49 worth of supermarket vouchers). “At Tesco they tend to stick the first yellow label on at lunchtime, the second at teatime and the third a few hours later. It means I can’t go out with a shopping list, I just have to buy what’s there.”
The previous evening that meant she came home with a tub of pease pudding. She’s not entirely sure what you do with it, but she does know it was reduced from £1.35 to 15p so it ended up in her basket. It was joined by more familiar items, which at some point she’ll turn into vegetable stew, but she admits lunch and dinner can be a bit of a lottery.
“I have to eat things in date order. Those beetroots will probably last a couple more days, but I’ll have to get onto those raspberries and tomatoes pretty soon or they will turn into mush.”
“I used to pile dirty dishes up on the side here and wait until there was enough for a full bowl full of hot soapy water. But I realised that if I rinsed them and gave them a little scrub like this…” she pauses to demonstrate her technique just so I’m clear. “…I needn’t bother with washing up liquid at all.” Ilona says that she spends around £10 a week on food, her last quarterly gas bill was just £32 and she has only been in debt once in her life.
Most of Ilona’s own clothes are bought from charity shops, although there are a few exceptions. Underwear is obviously bought new, but she prefers pants made for teenage boys, partly because they last longer and also because they don’t incur VAT.
“These are my latest purchase,” she says holding up a pair of brightly coloured men’s Bermuda shorts, which cost her £1 from Primark. “They’re XXL, but they’ve got a drawstring, so I reckon they should be OK.”
“A lot of people say they want to downsize or cut back, but they are not actually willing to change their habits,” says Ilona. “When you stop worrying about material things and when you stop working just to earn money to buy things you don’t need, you suddenly find that there is an awful lot of time to do the things that really matter to you. Buying stuff rarely makes people happy.”
Richards, a pensioner from the UK, has seen her fame sky-rocket this year after word of her incredibly thrifty lifestyle erupted on the internet (she calls herself a “superscrimper” on her blog Life After Money – My brilliant life on a pension).
She lives on less than $AU5000 a year.
Sure, not all of her money saving tips are conventional, but they sure are inventive.
12 money-saving moves that are actually more expensive in the long run
1. Buying cheap household furniture or appliances.
It’s difficult to convince yourself to buy home necessities at full-price, especially because there are an abundance of holidays that large retailers celebrate by offering wild savings on stoves, refrigerators and mattresses. However, buying a big-ticket item for a low price might mean getting rid of it a lot sooner. My first couch was from a discount store in L.A., and while I loved it dearly, we got the comfort level we paid for, which was regrettably uncomfortable. It was about $200. I recently bought a quality, used couch from a previous tenant in my building (for the same amount), and am fairly certain it will last longer than the discount furniture. Sometimes buying used but good-quality appliances and furniture is better than opting for a lower-quality piece.
2. Buying something just because it’s on super sale.
If you’re someone who responds to flash sale emails, and only goes into stores when they have a 50% off sign out front, then your frugal-adjacent logic may still be costing you. If you wouldn’t have bought anything had you not seen the flash sale message pop up in the right-hand corner of your screen, then buying the sale item isn’t saving you money. Buying something you don’t need at a reduced price is still buying something you don’t need.
3. Cutting down your insurance plan.
Those who are insuring themselves under the age of 30 can opt for catastrophic plans, which demand a low monthly payment, but a much higher deductible. U.S. News breaks down the differences between a bronze plan and a catastrophic plan, and while bronze covers 60% of estimated health care costs, a catastrophic plan covers, “three primary care visits and specified preventive services before the deductible. [It] only covers additional services after the plan deductible – $6,600 for an individual plan or $13,200 for a family plan – has been met.” Unfortunately, if something happens, you end up paying a lot more than had you been paying more every month.
4. Ignoring your car maintenance needs.
If you ignore a sore throat, you at least have a shot at it disappearing a few days later. That principle doesn’t hold true for cars. If your brakes need attention, they aren’t going to need less attention if you wait it out. The longer you put off car maintenance for, the higher the mechanic bill can potentially climb.
5. Constantly visiting sites like Groupon and Living Social for deals.
Again, if you’re buying things you wouldn’t ordinarily buy, that’s when it stops becoming frugal, even if it is a great deal. Two on-sale massages in one month may still be two more massages than you would have otherwise paid for. These are handy sites, but one solution might be to only visit them when you’re already looking for a specific service, rather than frequenting them in your spare time.
6. Setting a too-strict budget.
This is the financial version of overly ambitious dieting. If you cut out too many foods that your body is used to eating on a daily basis, you might stick to that plan for five days, and then binge on day six. Similarly, if you go from eating out four times a week to cutting restaurants completely out of your budget, you might not be pleased with the results. Instead of going cold turkey, eliminating things from your budget incrementally will help reduce the chance of binge-spending.
7. Refusing to use your credit card.
If credit cards have gotten you into trouble before, then paying off your debt and restricting your swiping may be the right choice. In fact, after an expensive month, I put my card aside in July and went on an all-cash diet. However, by not letting yourself ever use a credit card, you’re missing out on rewards and a way to build your credit. One solution to this is to only set recurring payments on your credit card. This year, Credit Sesame surveyed 1,000 millennials and found that 60% “do not have a credit card by choice.” Many avoid credit cards because they don’t trust them. While going credit card-less ensures you remain credit card debt-free, it also means you won’t build credit that lenders might want to see, and you’ll miss out on rewards.
8. Spending on fast fashion.
Buying clothes and shoes at incredibly low prices often means you’re compromising on something else. Aside from the ethical issues surrounding fast fashion, the inexpensive clothing may wear out sooner, or you might rationalize getting rid of clothes sooner because of the price. On shopping for cheap clothes, Quartz writer Marc Bain says in his shopper’s manifesto, “That price tag isn’t telling the whole story. Even a gorgeously tailored black dress isn’t worth much to you if you already have 10 just like it. A $15 t-shirt is no bargain if it’s worn out after a few washes. And those jeans on sale aren’t worth $40 if you’ll wear them just twice before consigning them to the back of your closet.”
9. Skimping on groceries.
While it may seem cost effective to not buy foods you really want at the grocery store, buying things you don’t want to eat could prompt you to waste more food (and money along with that). Furthermore, if you’re not cooking a somewhat satisfying meal at home, you’re more likely to buckle and go out to eat.
10. Not contributing to a retirement account so you can keep the cash.
Keeping as much of your salary as you can may seem appealingly frugal, but it could put you at a financial disadvantage later on. If you contribute $5,000 of your income to a 401(k), you may have the option for a company to match that and you get to put the money away without paying taxes on it. However, if you kept that $5,000, you’d only be taking home about $3,500, assuming you’re paying about 30% to taxes. According toNerdWallet, the IRS’ maximum 401(k) contribution allowance this year is $18,000 for those under 50, and 24,000 for those over 50.
11. Capitalizing on promotional rates for your utilities.
When you’re shopping around for a new provider, rates can seem miraculously reasonable because of the promotional rates being offered to you. However, there is nearly always a caveat that doesn’t appear until 10 months later when your promotional rate ends and your internet bill goes up $15 a month. At this point, so many have fallen victim to these promotional rates (myself included) that there are now heaps of forums on how to keep your promotional rate, or fight to get your bills back down after they surge. Here are a few resources to sift through:
12. Buying singular household items because you don’t want to spring for the eight-pack.
Buying in bulk can go two ways; buying eight or 16 rolls of toilet paper is more cost effective than picking up one roll at a time at your neighborhood bodega. However, buying in bulk is also a frugal move that can cost you money if it isn’t executed properly. The key is to know your needs, know your storage space, and always calculate the cost-per-unit. At a bodega near my house, toilet paper is $1.19. On Overstock.com, a 24-pack of Angel Soft two-ply is $22.39 (93 cents a roll), and a 60-pack of Angel Soft two-ply is $63.49 ($1.05 a roll). Obviously, the best bet is the 24-pack. However, if you don’t have storage, either you need to forgo bulk buying or get creative and consider group buying.
10 Additional Tips from Ilona Richards:
Wear men’s underwear
Why? Because men’s undies are cheaper and last way longer, according to Ilona’s blog.
“It’s true, I have been wearing boys and men’s pants for years, some of them have lasted up to ten years. Womens’ knickers stretch, they go baggy, the elastic comes off and the lace comes adrift, in no time they will look tatty. Buy mens pants, give it a try.”
Spend no more than £1 ($2AUD) on every meal.
Looks like it’s rice with stolen soy sauce packets from the local sushi shop every night. Or items off McDonald’s loose change menu.
If you’re struggling to feed yourself for under two bucks, Ilona suggests you “scrape every last bit of food out of the pan, then use it again for the next meal.”
Don’t put on the heater, just put on another jumper.
Although you risk looking like this:
Save your dirty sink water and use it to flush the toilet.
Nothing says thrifty like storing dirty sink water.
Cut your own hair, or go to the local hair college.
Ilona says: “If you want a cheap haircut contact your local college, the students will give you a trim for a knockdown price. Don’t worry, you will not come out with a higgledy piggledy hairstyle, there are supervisors present to watch the trainees at work. If necessary they will tidy up your hair before you leave the premises.”
Only go shopping at night, when the prices are knocked down.
When it comes to saving money, Ilona says timing is crucial. Also… don’t be afraid of the use-by date.
“Go supermarket shopping between 5pm and 9pm when they reduce prices of goods on their last date. The closer you go to 9pm the cheaper they will be, but you take a chance on whether there is anything left… You have to be prepared to take whatever is on offer and not be too picky.”
Find a hobby that costs no money.
Ilona suggests “walking”… or becoming a bird watcher.
Brush your teeth once a day.
Dentist, Schmentist! Ilona says one good brushing of those pearly whites per day is adequate.
“Only use toothpaste once a day, in the morning to freshen your mouth.”
Give up coffee and tea, start drinking hot diluted juice.
Those pesky tea bags are costing you, so the Queen of Saving says ditch them, pronto.
“Instead of tea or coffee, drink hot water with a dash of fruit juice. You can get a lot of drinks out of one bottle of squash. A lot cheaper than coffee and tea bags.”
Make sure your writing is teeny-tiny.
might be is DEFINITELY my personal favourite…
“Write in very small writing then you will use less ink and your pen will last longer.”
If you want to follow Ilona’s money-saving adventures, you can find her blog at meanqueen-lifeaftermoney.blogspot.com
She signs-off every post with “Catch you soon, Toodle pip”, which just makes her impossibly more awesome.
Do you think these tips are bizarre? Or ingenious?
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“You want as many people as possible to consume your art. And to do that, you have to be a businessperson.” ~ Halsey