Page last updated at 23:27 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 00:27 UK

Surviving on the best things in life

By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance reporter, BBC News

Sign at Boots on Oxford Street
Many High Street stores advertise "free deals" of some kind

With food and fuel prices and utility bills going up and more than a million households facing more expensive mortgage deals, this year is being dominated by talk of the squeeze on household finances.

But, supposedly, the best things in life are free. So is it possible to survive the day without spending any cash?

Walk down any High Street and you'll be bombarded by billboards offering "free" extras when you visit the advertiser's store or website.

Look a little harder and there are deals and lifestyle choices that mean you do not have to put your hand in your pocket at all - as I found out.

Testing the theory

Transport costs accounted for 16% of household spending in 2006, double the proportion of 50 years previously, according to the Office for National Statistics.

With oil prices hitting record highs, the cost at the pump is set to rise further. It seemed to be a good place to start on my economy drive.

Most people will be surprised and comforted to know just how much difference small daily cutbacks in spending can make to their long-term financial stability
Malcolm Cuthbert, Killik & Co

Instead of a 90p bus journey to work, I put my faith in the flatmate's rusty bicycle.

No thanks to the inattentive driver of a red Ford Focus and some poor orientation skills, the trip was a success. The bike survived. More importantly, so did I.

I was ready to kick off the working day with a coffee.

Yet that single daily caffeine hit could cost me thousands, according to Malcolm Cuthbert, of financial management company Killik & Co.

Discounting inflation, he calculated that by saving on the daily cappuccino, the average 30-something could add 3,843 a year to their retirement pot.

Here's the maths: someone spending 1.80 on coffee every day is handing over 468 for the luxury every year. When compound interest of 7% is taken into account, this would amount to a total of 8,648 over 10 years, 25,661 over 20 years and 59,127 over 30 years.

If a 35-year-old were to put all the money they spend on coffee into their pension pot instead, at 65 they would receive 3,843 more in their pension every year for the rest of their life.

Vidal Sassoon School
Student hairdressers often charge a live model nothing

"Most people will be surprised and comforted to know just how much difference small daily cutbacks in spending can make to their long-term financial stability," said Mr Cuthbert.

As a result, my drinks for the day would be supplied by the water cooler.

In the Vidal Sassoon Academy near Oxford Street in London, the receptionist was busy making appointments for customers.

Here, as in many hairdressing teaching colleges, if you collect a voucher from a free newspaper, no charge is made for a haircut from one of the 100 or so pupils keen to practise on a live model.

"We tend to get regular clients... and students. All they need to spend is a couple of hours here," said principal Josh Gibson.

"It is good for them and rewarding for our people to work on live models instead of dolls' heads."

Is free easy?

After spending a few hours having a cut and blow dry, thoughts turn to food.

There is, of course, no such thing as a free lunch - a point contested by the US-based Freegan movement.

spending on household items

Freegans - a compound of free and vegan - often go on "urban foraging" sessions to find edible, clean and safe food thrown out by offices and retailers.

Ruling out bin diving, I only managed to find a complimentary bitesize sample of bacon being handed out at a Kensington food store.

Signs indicated I was 24 hours too early for "gluten-free day", with its promise of free tasters of bread and cakes.

Instead, lunch consisted of the "free" half of a buy-one-get-one-free offer from one supermarket. The Cornish pasty was among the healthiest lunchtime "Bogof" products, with offers dominated by chocolate bars.

By now, the regular trips to the water cooler had their predictable conclusion.

The irony was that, thanks to a well-placed department store, spending a penny cost nothing at all.

Culture vulture

Free deals have been seized upon by companies wanting to step up their marketing, especially when they could be seriously affected by any weakening in consumer demand during the economic downturn.

In the last few weeks, you could have spotted an offer of a free cuppa during a chat about fitted kitchens - or no fees levied by an estate agent for the first houses sold at a new branch.

Hundreds of vouchers are available on the internet for those willing to fill out questionnaires.

Meanwhile, one of the delights of living in London is that there are numerous opportunities to attend free cultural events in the capital.

A lunchtime recital was ruled out owing to work commitments, but a search of the internet led to an remarkable range of options for the evening.

The opportunity to hear comedians try out their material in a crowded bar ahead of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival caught the eye.

So did a university talk entitled A Beginner's Guide to Cryptozoology. The lecture on the study of animals unknown to science or extinct would apparently include highlights of expeditions searching for the Mongolian Deathworm, the Mexican goat-sucker and the Loch Ness Monster.

To my shame, I decided instead to join friends at the launch of a new variety of canned lager. I judged, correctly, that complimentary food would be available.

Ultimately, I found the search for free products regressed to mankind's earliest quest - the need to feed.


A selection of your comments and money saving tips...

If you are working, then make a packed lunch to take with you. Use a thermos flask for coffee or tea. These two things will eliminate the need for buying lunch and having the usual fix of a coffee/tea. Put a bottle of tap water in fridge the night before to take with you. If working in London, then go for a walk round any one of the parks available to you. It's fresh air and it's free. The list is endless, if you only look.
Christine Claridge, Longfield, Kent

How bizarre that the idea of spending no money for one day should appear difficult. This is a normal day for me: I walk to work, take my lunch with me, make use of the tea and coffee facilities at work, walk home, have dinner and maybe go to a friend's house for the evening... Perhaps I am missing something, but if a happy and contented, slightly slower pace of life is what you want, then this method has a lot to recommend it.
Sarah, Norfolk

I don't spend any cash most days. Of course I'm using items I have paid for previously, but a day without spending anything is normal. I bike to work (having bought the bike a few years ago) buy milk and tea once a week, eat a packed lunch (bought ingrediants over the weekend) and cook my own dinner from ingrediants ditto. I seldom go out on 'work nights' preferring the company of my OtherHalf, a good book or even the computer. Now spending a weekend without parting with any money could be trickier...
Rey, Manchester

Ah, the hard life of the employed. As a postgraduate student I have around 200 a month after rent and bills, from which I need to buy food, a monthly bus pass, and textbooks. I'm left with about 18 a week to spend on luxuries (i.e. cinema trips, clothes, newspapers, a new umbrella) which I try to only spend at the weekend. The thought of blowing a tenth of this on a coffee or shop-bought sandwich is a pretty alien concept. So yes, I manage to survive many days in a row without spending money.
Martha, London

For the last year I've tried not to spend money at work. I take my own lunch, make my own coffee and find free parking spaces. In the last month I don't think I've had to spend a penny. My only expense tends to be fuel, which is quite enough.

Anyone stupid enough to be paying 1.80 for a coffee every day deserves to be taken for a ride.
Mark, UK

Well I am 16 and live with my parents so in that respect I can easily survive a day without spending money. But if I want to go to the cinema for example, then inevitably I will have to spend money on food, transport and of course the cinema ticket itself. However, even when I don't have to spend money I find myself doing so, even if I don't need what I'm buying, but I don't spend money on alcohol so that perhaps compensates for it.
Jamie Arkle, Newcastle




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