Saving in suboptimal conditions

Saving in suboptimal conditions

How do you save money in suboptimal conditions? Or to put it another way, how do you keep hold of your hard earned cash when life is throwing shovels full of shit in your direction?

Funnily enough (funny peculiar, not funny ‘ha-ha’), I almost postponed publishing this post because I couldn’t polish it as much as I would like. My osteopath treated my neck and shoulder yesterday, and though I have re-gained my normal range of movement, my muscles are so, so sore. But then I thought, it’s even more reason to just go for it. 

It’s easy to save money when you had a great night’s sleep, a productive day in the office, the sun is shining and your pre-cooked bolognaise is defrosting in the kitchen. At least, it’s easier. If the day has gone well, it’s easier to push through tiredness to do something financially sensible. It’s easier to avoid the pull towards retail therapy and mindless spending. But saving in sub-optimal conditions? Now that’s a lot tougher.

Don’t get me wrong, my life is far from sub-optimal. Even so, there have been swathes of time where I’ve not found it easy to make good financial decisions. Where circumstances have been sub-optimal and saving has been hard work. Like a few years ago, I sustained a neck injury. Until this point, I had always recognised how fortunate I was to have my health, although it is something we cannot fully appreciate until we lose it. I woke one morning at 3am in agony and that pain stayed with me for several weeks. Like when I got home tonight, after a day where the muscle down my shoulder blade has a searing pain that has sapped my energy all day.

The question is, when life hits us with inevitable challenges, how to we find the energy and focus to make good financial decisions, when what we feel like doing is eating a tray of krispy cremes and ignoring the fact that the car insurance renewal is due and the price you’ve been quoted is a joke?

Here are a few suggestions to keep you saving in sub-optimal conditions:

Buy the right treats

It is easy to waste money on things intended to lift your spirits but make sure you’re spending money in the right places. A new handbag, pair of shoes or PS4 game isn’t going to help your situation (although the PS4 games would at least provide some distraction). Eating a tray of krispy cremes may sound good in theory, but neglecting your health is going to have negative consequences overall.

Instead, use your money to make your situation easier. When my back was bad, we’d buy microwavable rice pouches as well as fresh pasta and sauces to make cooking in manageable. We spent more on groceries, but we still ate well without eating out or buying takeaways all of the time.

When we spent a period of time doing almost nightly hospital visits to visit my Nana, we booked a table for a restaurant at the weekend, to give us something to look forward to and feel positive about and get us through the working week.

I won’t be buying anything tonight. I’ll be lying down with my wheat bag placed under my shoulder and resting. 

Eat a banana and drink some water

I’m not even joking. If you can choose a banana when what you really want is a bar of chocolate, and a glass of water when you want a coffee or can of coke, it’s not only cheaper but it is better for your health. Keeping yourself from becoming sluggish with a sugar crash will help stop you making lazy decisions that cost you money.

I have drank water for most of today. It’s a habit I’ve deliberately built so it’s easy to keep up with. I’ve also eaten my banana, although I didn’t decline a cream cake when someone bought them into work either!

Know when saving money will cost you money

You could expend a load of energy making a meal from scratch for the lowest price possible. But if that leaves you without the energy and motivation to even lift a finger in the kitchen the following day, the cost of a takeaway will far exceed the money you saved the previous night.

It might not be the very cheapest option, but purchasing a few more convenience foods mean you’ll avoid caving in and buying a takeaway and will save you money in the long run.

Dinner this evening has cost £7 for the two of us. I’ll buy a chicken tomorrow for £4 that will stretch to at least three meals, but £7 less than a takeaway, much less than eating out, and means I’ll have the energy to buy and cook that money saving chicken tomorrow

Keep your goals manageable

It is better to keep inching forward than draw to a halt. Don’t expect yourself to move mountains everyday and don’t give yourself too hard a time if you spend more than you would like; it is only money, after all!

Consider your larger goals and what small things you can do (or avoid doing) to get there.

Money can feel completely irrelevant when you’re in a lot of physical pain or carrying a heavy emotional burden. I find it helpful to have non-money related goals that were cheap or inexpensive, but that helped me deal with the situation.

For example, when I first hurt my back and couldn’t work, I would get up in the morning, have a shower and get dressed (a challenge in itself). Then I would go for a short walk before lunch. Achieving these things helped the physical pain, made me feel more positive, and didn’t cost me anything to maintain.

Today’s goals have goal has been to use my lunchtime to take a relaxing walk. Being lazy is easy but it wouldn’t help me. I need the right balance of relaxation and exercise, and I know that walking and fresh air gives me an emotional boost too. 

Give yourself some leeway

Beating yourself up or feeling guilty that you’re spending more than you want to (or saving less) will leave you feeling demotivated and you might find it takes longer to get back to a place where you can push yourself to save more and spend less.

Accept that your situation means you’re going to let yourself have a little more flexibility (remember- you’re in control) for the good of your own emotional and physical health. Because lets face it, financial wealth isn’t much good if you don’t have those two things.

There are always a load of things I could do to improve my finances, earn a bit more or save a bit more. Right now, I’m not worrying about it. Well, I’m barely worrying. I can’t help but turn lights off as I go past empty rooms. Seriously, it’s like Blackpool illuminations here!


These are the things I have learned over time and I’m sure they will serve me again in the future. If I can find out how to completely avoid suboptimal conditions, I’ll let you know (maybe this is how I’ll make my millions?) I really hope this is helpful if you’re struggling to find the energy and motivation to save money when life and events conspire against you. If you have any other suggestions, I would absolutely love to hear them. But right now, I’m going to lie down and rest.

How have you kept on track with your financial plans when everything’s going pear-shaped or have you let them fall by the wayside? 


Disease Called Debt

12 thoughts on “Saving in suboptimal conditions

  1. Great post, Sarah. I thoroughly agree with your philosophy. There’s a time and place for frugality. When you’re not feeling well an overpriced pouch of Uncle Ben’s rice isn’t going to break the budget. You need to do nice things for yourself when you’re feeling fragile.

    I hope you feel better soon.

    1. Thanks Mrs Groovy. In the past I’ve learned the hard way that powering through isn’t always the right approach so I’m looking after myself now so I can get better sooner and back to normal expenditure 🙂 “When you’re not feeling well an overpriced pouch of Uncle Ben’s rice isn’t going to break the budget.”- Sums it up perfectly!

  2. I really like the advice to spend on something that actually makes your situation better, rather than letting the spending make you feel better. It’s such a simple concept, yet lots of time we don’t take it.

    1. I guess when things aren’t going perfectly, it’s even easier to make rash decisions. I’m sure I will make plenty more in future. But I’ll try and learn from them and cut myself a little slack 🙂

  3. We are currently renovation our bathroom and kitchen ourselves (frugal!) For a long time, all we had to cook with were crock pots and induction cookware. We gave ourselves leeway to go out to eat (not so frugal) but then we started buying prepackaged meals from Sam’s Club (frugal in comparison to restaurant meals.)

    I think you’ve illustrated wonderfully that there are degrees of frugal-ness and that sometimes you can only do your best to fall somewhere on that line.

    1. Wow that’s ambitious! Sounds like you’ve struck a great compromise- renovating the kitchen and bathroom yourselves will be way cheaper than paying someone to do it, so spending a little of that cash on convenient meals makes perfect sense. How exciting it will be to cook in once it’s finished! (The kitchen that is, not the bathroom!)

  4. I know all about sub-optimal conditions, as both my wife and I have chronic illnesses. You’ve given some great tips to help keep decision making financially sound, even when everything else isn’t going according to plan. Personally, there are times when I’ve gone a bit over budget in one area, so I try to make up for it by saving in another area. Overall I think I do a pretty good job of balancing life’s issues and money. Flexibility really helps. I hope your neck and shoulders are feeling better soon.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that Gary but it’s good to hear real stories from people’s lives. I think it’s important to be positive but not to ignore the negatives either. I’ve read some of your articles and sounds to me like you’ve done an awesome job of balancing life’s issues and money. Thanks for your well wishes 🙂

    1. Start going wonky- that’s a good description! When things are properly upside down, money isn’t on my mind. But when life’s a bit wonky, I know I should still be trying even though I need a little slack.

      It’s gradually feeling better, I expect I’ll be back to normal by Friday 🙂

  5. Great suggestions, Sarah! I’ve been feeling sub-optimal of late too. And it always seems like the food budget is the first to slide a little. I admit, I bought the frozen veggie burgers a couple weeks ago and loved them. I still ate fairly healthy and they were fast, plus I didn’t go out or order take-out.

    1. Thanks Amanda! I knew you were doing a bit less on the blog to prioritise your health, and I’m glad you’re taking other short cuts too. In an ideal world, we’d all feel well enough to cook from scratch every day. With a little thought, you can still eat reasonably healthily. My freezer is always stocked with frozen vegetables, so even if I go for something unhealthy or low in nutrients, I can add some brocolli, beans or sweetcorn really easily and keep myself getting those vitamins 🙂 Hope you’re feeling better soon

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