A thrifty dad who lived on yellow sticker food bargains after his £300,000 business debt forced him into bankruptcy has shared his top money-saving tips.
Al Baker, 48, from Aldershot, Hampshire, was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2017 after falling behind on debt payments when his business went bust.
The dad-of-two ran a successful food import company selling American goods in the UK and led a “comfortable” life up until import rules changes in 2014.
“Life was pretty good – I had a nice car, money in my pocket, owned a house and had nice holidays,” Al told Jam Press.
“The rule changes meant we could no longer bring in our most popular ranges in the future so our revenue dropped by about 80% and the business became insolvent.
“As I had personal guarantees, I became liable for £300,000 for a large percentage of the debt.
“Although I did my best to keep up with payments for the debts, I was in a position where I was unable to pay so I had to make myself bankrupt.”
Al was “barely scraping by” after selling his home and moving into a rental costing £1,500 per month.
He said: “Every month we hoped there would be a new miracle that would give us just enough money so we would be able to pay the rent.
“I was suffering from severe depression and anxiety with little idea on how the next bill would be paid and it affected me deeply. I had little idea on how things were going to improve.
“As someone who had experienced a better lifestyle when the business was booming, being thrown into a new world of desperation and poverty when it all crashed around me was a short and sharp wake up call.
“Somehow we managed, but it was insanely stressful and challenging.
“We lived mainly on yellow sticker bargains found at our convenience store and side hustling to try and save, and make every penny we could.”
Luckily, a family friend let them rent her house which allowed them to cut £400 a month and have cheaper bills.
Meanwhile, Al got a job setting up an e-commerce platform for a local company – who he still works for – and their finances improved enough to cover their rent with less worry.
The food bargains were an integral part of his cost-cutting plan, with Al snapping up yellow sticker foods like salmon fillets reduced from £6 to 62p, hauls of fruit costing pennies and huge meat joints for a fraction of the price.
Al said: “We were able to survive due to savvy shopping and had £3-£4 a day budget for food and shopping – which the yellow sticker buying made possible, otherwise we’d have had no chance.
“I suspect I saved around £10,000 over the most important two years when our finances were at their worst.”
He also started picking up various “side hustles” to try and set aside as much money as possible, and is now one year away from his bankruptcy being wiped from his credit file – which will allow him access to credit, loans and a mortgage.
Al has shared his three top tips for how to cut costs in a pinch using his tried and tested methods.
For Al, it has been crucial to hunt down the best food bargains and purchasing reduced food items before their expiry date.
He said: “Yellow stickers all the way! You’ll save up to 90% by ensuring you snap up bargains which can stretch your food budget.
“I still buy yellow sticker food now and look for bargains because it’s a way of life.
“I’m still a year from my bankruptcy being wiped from my file so still supplement a lack of access to credit by shopping savvy.”
Al also uses food saving apps like Too Good to Go and Olio to save money and help prevent food waste.
Another key area where Al has been able to make savings has come in the form of cashback apps and gift cards.
He said: “Always use cashback apps to save you money! If you are buying something online,
always go through a cashback site – why wouldn’t you want to earn cash back on something you need to buy anyway?
“Use the cashback sites to buy gift cards for purchases you need to make in-store,
not online. As an example, you may spend £250 a month at your local supermarket, which you are unlikely to get cashback on.
“However, if you buy a gift card for your supermarket, you will generally earn between 3 and 5% cashback for purchasing the gift card, so potentially that’s £12.50 a month in cashback, maybe more.
“If you buy supermarket fuel, you can also use a gift card to pay. My van costs
me £100 a time to fill up; I get 5% cashback on a £100 gift card, so I save £5 every time I fill up, and the more you use your car, the more you will save.”
As well as it being a numbers game, Al also says your mental attitude is equally important when shopping.
He explained: “Take a breath when looking to buy something! Don’t be impulsive – sleep on what you are going to buy and you may well think differently.
“But if it’s something you need to buy, and are buying online, pop the item in the cart and leave it. You will likely get an email reminding you that you still have something in your cart.
“Often you will get a discount code to use on your purchase, reducing the cost – and make sure you can’t buy it cheaper by using Google shopping to find out who’s cheapest.
“You can also install a browser extension such as Honey, which will automatically apply discount codes to your cart to try and save you money.”
Now, the dad is counting down the days until he is no longer bankrupt.
He added: “The bankruptcy still hangs over me. Next year, my six years of having the record on my credit report will be removed, putting us back in a more favourable position for credit, and we are hoping to be able to buy our own place.
“We still have to be very careful, as many people do, and the extra costs of the increase in fuel and food cost mean we are still far from comfortable.
“I started blogging about my experiences on The Penny Pincher as a way to help others find ways to save and make extra money, using the side hustle and money-saving ideas I had come across during my most difficult days.
“I had struggled to find information and tips when I needed them and thought it would be good to document them so others could find them easier.
“As someone who needed the help and knowing how difficult a period it was and
how stressful I found the whole experience, it helped me mentally to know that I might be helping someone else who had found themselves in the same position.”