Tips for budgeting and managing stress in the cost-of-living crisis

Stress Awareness Month may be over for another year, but with issues like the cost-of-living crisis continuing to put pressure on our mental health, it’s still so important to talk about stress and what we can do to take care of our mental wellbeing. This week, we’re looking at the impact of the rising costs of living on our stress levels and Second Step administration assistant and equalities champion, Terry, shares some great tips on budgeting during a cost-of-living crisis.

There’s a common saying that goes, ‘work to live, not live to work’. Of course, when people say this, they usually mean that work shouldn’t be central to our lives; that the purpose of work is just to enable us to live life to the fullest.

But for many, ‘work to live’ is starting to take on a very different meaning. With the costs of basic necessities like housing, bills and food rising much faster than wages, many are now merely working to survive.

We can’t underestimate the mental health impact of the cost-of-living crisis. In December 2022, 29% of adults in the UK reported feeling stressed about their financial circumstances in the previous month. 34% reported feeling anxious and, very worryingly, 10% said they felt hopeless.[1] The Samaritans report that in February 2023 their volunteers received an average of 400 calls a day from people worried about finances and unemployment.[2]

Here at Second Step, we also know just how hard it can be to cope with financial issues like debt and unemployment. We’ve set up projects specifically to help clients with mental health challenges caused by these issues. For example, our Hope Project aims to reduce the risk of suicide in men aged 30-64 by combining emotional support with practical support, such as helping men sort out their debts. Hope has now been nationally recognised for saving hundreds of lives through its ground-breaking work.

Taking care of mental health during the cost-of-living crisis

Most cost-of-living crisis advice out there focuses on the basics – keeping up with rent or mortgage payments, maintaining a healthy diet on a budget, heating your home as cost-effectively as possible. We’ve also put together a cost-of-living crisis guide with links to organisations and charities you can turn to if you’re struggling.

But while no one should find themselves in a position where they can’t afford to live, it’s also not enough to just survive. Having to work harder for less is chipping away at our work-life balance, and the chronic stress that comes with this can quickly lead to burnout and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

That’s why, as well as our cost-of-living crisis support guide, we’ve also put together this list of budgeting tips, making sure to include lots of tips about treating yourself and taking care of your mental wellbeing on a budget.

Budgeting tips for a cost-of-living crisis

Talk to your family and friends

Opening up to your loved ones about your worries can be a huge weight off your chest. It may be that your partner, family and friends are feeling stressed too, but by being honest with each other, you can support each other. You may even find ways to save money together. Here are a few ideas:

  • Buying groceries like tins, dry goods, and toiletries together to take advantage of bulk deals.
  • Swapping or lending clothes when you feel like a wardrobe refresh.
  • Setting up a group chat to share any deals you spot, from shop sales to coupons on the back of cereal boxes.
  • Sharing your skills, such as doing a small DIY job for a friend in exchange for them fixing a rip in your favourite jeans.

Don’t forget your key commitments

If you have bills to pay, these must take precedence. The same is true if you pay rent to Second Step.  If you think you are going to have a problem or are worried, speak with your Housing Worker early or visit our cost-of-living crisis guide.

Make a list

We’re all guilty of impulse buying now and again, but even small purchases can hurt a tight budget. Try making a list of the things you need before you go shopping to help stop impulse buying. Factor treats you often find yourself impulse buying and other fun purchases into your budget because, while impulse buying is best avoided, we all deserve a treat once in a while.

Visit your local library

Libraries aren’t just great places to borrow physical books, many also lend eBooks, audio books, films, language materials, music, and sometimes even video games.

As well as lending, libraries are community spaces where anyone can go to spend time, get some quiet work done, connect to WiFi, or use the computer.

Some libraries also offer free groups or activities, from baby & toddler groups, to book clubs, to educational workshops.

Find your nearest library on the government website.

Visit your local cost-of-living crisis community space

Having money difficulties can be lonely, but it’s hard to know where to go when you’re struggling. Even having a cup of tea in a warm café or getting the bus into town may be unaffordable.

Due to the cost-of-living crisis, many local councils have opened community spaces where people can go to keep warm, socialise, grab a bite to eat, and find out about the cost-of-living support available to them. These community spaces have different names depending on where you live:

Get creative with gifts

Events like birthdays and Christmas can be extra stressful when finances are tight. But you don’t have to spend loads to treat your loved ones. Making gifts can be affordable and it’s a lot of fun (not to mention, exploring your creative side can be great for your mental wellbeing).

If you’re a Second Step client, speak with your support worker about doing some painting, crafts, or other activity to make something. These can be charming gifts for somebody (or brighten up your own home – who said you can’t make gifts for yourself).

We also run free arts & crafts sessions for adults in Bristol and North Somerset where we provide materials and a safe space for you to explore new creative pursuits, from canvas painting to pom-pom making.

In Bristol, our art & crafts sessions are run by Bristol Wellbeing College at community venues across the city. You can book your space online using our booking form.

In North Somerset, our arts & crafts sessions are run by North Somerset Wellbeing in Nailsea. You can book your space online using our booking form.

Brainstorm free & low-cost ways to have fun

There are loads of hobbies, activities and days out that are very low-cost or don’t require you to spend a penny. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Walking is not only free but also great exercise. There are loads of beautiful walks right on our doorsteps in the South West, even in the cities – check out Visit Bristol’s list of 20 spring walks for inspiration.
  • Museums and art galleries are often free and offer hours of entertainment. Search museums near me online, ask your support worker, or ask in your local library.
  • Writing & journaling: whether you decide to pen an epic fantasy novel or record your day-to-day life in a journal, getting your thoughts out on paper can be therapeutic and calming as well as fun.
  • Singing: it doesn’t matter whether you’re the next Pavarotti or you’re tone deaf, whether you perform in a choir or just love to sing in the shower, singing is a wonderful way to express yourself. It’s also a great way to release emotions, similar to laughing, shouting or crying. If you enjoy a social aspect to your hobbies, see if there’s a choir near you – search for local choirs by going online, asking at community venues or local businesses, or checking local noticeboards.
  • Workshops & group activities: many community venues offer free and low-cost activities. For example, our Bristol Wellbeing College and North Somerset Wellbeing offer a huge range of free workshops, courses and activities to help people look after their mental health.

Treat yourself on a budget

While there are loads of free ways to have fun, it’s also ok to spend money on yourself if you have some room in your budget.

Take your list when you go shopping to help you keep track of your budget and how much money you have allocated to treats and hobbies. Avoid impulse buying if possible. If you see something you really want, you can always go back for it.

Here are some other ways you can save money while treating yourself:

Check out charity shops

The South West is chocka with charities running all sorts of shops. You can find some lovely items for a small amount, from clothes, to books, to furniture, to gifts.

If you’re reading this around Christmas, a birthday or another gift-giving event, why not agree with friends that this year, all your presents are going to come from charity shops?

Look for discount shops

Bookstores like the Works and Book Extra have remaindered titles for just a few pounds. Poundland increasingly stocks toiletries and remaindered books. Look at second hand records stores and bookshops. Remember to make a list of what you’re looking for before you go shopping to avoid impulse buying.

Go second hand

Charity shops and discount shops aren’t the only places to pick up bargains. Keep an eye out for church or community jumble sales in your local area. Who knows what you’ll find? Remember your list to try to resist impulse buying.

Check out the alternative shops

Bloom and Curll Books on Colston Street, Beware of the Leopard in St Nicks Market, Rough Trade Records, Specialist Subject Records, Dreadnought Books and The Hydra Bookstore (political and environmental books at Café Kino) are all known for their relatively cheap stock, or have remaindered sections. You never know what you might find.

Shops are constantly coming and going… it is good to check the internet or pick up a free local newspaper like B247 to see who is trading near you.

Shop online

You can often find better deals online and it’s easier to compare prices between retailers. But be careful not to get bedazzled by what’s available. Be disciplined.

You could also try a website like Freecycle, which aims to put people getting rid of items in touch with people wanting them.

Find cost-effective ways to eat out

If you enjoy eating out at restaurants, pubs or takeaways, but are worried about the cost, why not try visiting a community café? For example, in Easton (Bristol), the Kebele Base Co-operative (14 Robertson Road) run a cheap vegan café on Sunday evenings. Some church groups or religious institutions provide free or cheap meals at this time of year – ask your support worker to consult the internet.

Save (if possible)

If you have some money left over at the end of each month, look into your saving options.

There’s so much information out there it can be overwhelming, so do as much research as possible. For example, has loads of free guides on saving options, such as this guide to top savings accounts which tells you about the different kinds of accounts available and how to choose the best one for you.

Ask for help

If you have debts or problems budgeting, or financial stress is affecting your mental health, there is help available. If you’re a Second Step client, talk to your support worker and they can help you find the support you need. Otherwise, find out where you can go to get help below.

Where to find support during the cost-of-living crisis

If you’re worried about money or finances, or the cost-of-living crisis is affecting your mental health, there are places you can turn to for help.

We’ve put together this cost-of-living crisis guide where you can find organisations and charities that offer support with cost-of-living related issues.



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