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How to get by on the state pension when it’s your only income

Five ways to get by on the state pension – and make your money stretch further
Five ways to get by on the state pension – and make your money stretch further

The state pension might have increased significantly over the past few years thanks to the triple lock (from £9,110 a year in 2020 to £10,600 today) – and will exceed £11,500 from April 2024 – but any pensioners trying to make ends meet on this alone still find it a struggle.

In fact, the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association suggests that to pay for a “minimum” lifestyle in retirement, you would need income of at least £12,800 a year as a single person. This would involve having very few luxuries, meaning you’d have to do all your own house maintenance, only eat out once a month, and you wouldn’t have the money to run a car.

However, some pensioners may be living on less than this. According to the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), 13pc of pensioner families – including single people and couples – receive all of their income from state pension and other benefits. Furthermore, the majority of pensioners (60pc) receive at least half their income from the state pension and benefits.

If the state pension is the only income you have, there are plenty of ways you can make your pounds and pence go further. Telegraph Money spoke to some professional “thrifters” and savings experts to find some top tips you might not have come across before.

Split costs with friends

According to the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the average weekly income for single pensioners comes in at £239, or £12,428 for the year – so there are plenty of people struggling to make their finances stretch to the essentials.

“Check in with your local community. You might find ways to share meals or transport, as well as selling old bits and bobs you have lying around the house,” said Zoe Burt from Female Invest, an online financial platform.

“If you’re able, there could also be options in the community to dog-sit or home assist, which could be exchanged for other services that you currently pay for, like cleaning.”

You could even bulk-buy food with friends. For example, at Tesco a box of 80 Yorkshire Tea teabags costs £3.30, or 4p a bag, while a large box of 480 teabags costs £13.25, about 2p a bag. If you split the cost among friends, you could all halve your tea costs without coughing up the extra money upfront and filling up your cupboard space with multi-packs. Do the same with other kitchen essentials and you can find yourself making some significant savings.

Make the most of supermarket offers

When you’re strapped for cash, trying to find a nice morning out for you and a friend or partner can feel a little daunting, especially when the weather is bad. However, there are plenty of places offering cheap deals for pensioners – and many of them can be combined with picking up your essentials.

Liz Hunter, managing director at Money Expert, said: “If you have a Waitrose nearby, consider picking up a (free) MyWaitrose card and heading there for a coffee or tea, which you can get free with any purchase.

“There’s no minimum spend either, so you can simply pick up a newspaper, a chocolate bar or a pint of milk to take advantage of a free coffee.”

Note that you will need to bring a reusable cup, or you’ll be charged a small amount for a disposable one.

As for lunch, that one’s on Asda. The supermarket chain is offering soup and a roll for £1, and unlimited free tea or coffee, for anyone over the age of 60 until February 2024.

In total, the whole outing could cost you little more than a few pounds.

Reduce the cost of your food shop

Pensioners over the age of 60 can get 10pc off their shopping every Tuesday at Iceland and The Food Warehouse – all you need to do is sign up for an Iceland bonus card and come with some form of ID.

Even if you can’t get your whole food shop at these stores, it’s worth heading there on a Tuesday for any frozen food or cupboard items, especially if you are out of expensive household items like toiletries and cleaning gear, or extra food items, such as table sauces.

Polly Arrowsmith, 56, a self-proclaimed “savvy saver” from London, goes a step further with her food shopping tactics.

She said: “Check pricing at supermarkets carefully, because it’s sometimes tricky to work out the best deal. A decent tip is that the cheapest goods are usually on the lower or upper shelves, and those that are profit-making for the supermarket are at eye-level.”

There are ways to get the same goods for cheaper prices too, according to Ms Arrowsmith. Most people will already be aware that branded items tend to be more expensive than own-brand equivalents, but the aisle you shop from can also make a difference.

If you go to a large shop with international sections you’ll find items like Kefir are less expensive in the eastern European section, while herbs and spices are typically cheaper in the Indian or Afro-Caribbean section.

Get cheap – or free – outings

For some living on a state pension income, interesting outings or days out might seem like a stretch, but some companies go out of their way to help you head out without breaking the bank.

Cinemas are a good start. Tickets to Odeon Silver Cinema screenings are available from £3.50 and include tea, coffee and biscuits, while Cineworld runs a similar screening called CineSeniors on Wednesdays for £4.50.

If you like a bit of culture, English Heritage charges £46 a year for a single over-60 pass, or £70 for a couple, compared to £54 or £96 for the standard price. The National Trust also gives a 25pc discount to those aged 60 or over.

While these are still expensive upfront, if you prioritise visiting these particular locations for your days out, it will save you money in the long-run.

And if you live in or near London, you can save money seeing live entertainment by signing up to be a “seat filler”. This means you can get free tickets to live comedy, panel shows and West End theatre in cases where organisers are seeking a full audience. You can sign up via websites such as the BBC, SRO Audiences, Lost in TV or Applause Store.

“It is ideal for those who are retired, are available to see matinees, or can attend shows at short notice,” according to the Saving in London City blog.

“There are opportunities to see different shows every week, and there is plenty of variety.”

Haggle for your home costs

Adam Walkom, financial planner and author of Plan for Happy, suggests haggling with your utility providers to try and secure a cheaper deal – nearly every company will offer discounts when you ask, according to him.

He said: “Suppliers rely on their customers’ inertia. If you don’t change your supplier from time to time, you will almost certainly find that your direct debit is increasing, especially with gas and electricity, where you can get into credit.

“These companies will usually throw discounts at you to keep you, simply because you’re being active and have researched the other options out there. If you call to say you’re leaving, you have a high chance of being offered a much better deal to stay.”

If you are struggling financially, some goods and services may also offer you a discount.

Thames Water will give up to 50pc off if you are in need, and some electricity companies will provide grants to reduce your bills.

Your local council may be able to help through the Household Support Fund and, depending on your income, you could get money off your council tax bill.

If you receive pension credit, you should also look at social tariffs, which provide cheaper broadband and phone packages.

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