Who’s the Thriftiest of them all?

(I wear fingerless gloves indoors too)
(I wear fingerless gloves indoors too)

Yesterday on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show (with Vanessa Feltz sitting in for him *sigh*) there was a segment about “Britain’s Thriftiest Woman” Ilona Davis (some call her the Thriftiest Pensioner, or the UK’s Stingiest Woman, or refer to her as Ilona Richards… but that’s how well researched “News” works I suppose.)

How she lives provides, I think, a fascinating insight, and I draw many parallels with my own life and from all our efforts; I see where we can all improve and change.


To begin with Ilona lives off her £10k a year state pension and apparently manages to save £3k of this. Money is an awkward thing for me to talk about but some months ago I worked out how much money I need to earn to live off, based on what I was found myself needing to spend money on (and compared it with what I typically earn from being self-employed) and what Ilona achieves with her pension is basically similar to what I live off. It wasn’t necessarily my intention to live off so “little” but I have always lived “within my means” so therefore I have naturally found myself cutting back where I can and re-framing so-called wants and needs.

Cars and Electricity

My biggest unnecessary expenditures are my car and electricity. Technically I could ditch my car, so to speak, because I drive it so little – even though I do occasionally drive it for work purposes (and combine these journeys with other errands for convenience), I have worked out that on average, each time I drive my car it costs me… wait for it… £100! When it comes to electricity I use a lot mainly because of my SETI@home hobby which uses a “few” computers to search for ETs, but again I combine this with something more practical; my computers heat my home during the coldest months (I used to run them throughout the whole year).

Heating and Baths

I have oil-fueled central heating but I rarely use this, like Ilona I will don an extra layer when I feel chilly, and I find that cycling all year round helps me to feel acclimatised – if you feel cold indoors then go outside for a walk or run, or bike ride, then when you come back in you will feel warm. This should be the advise to older people but instead they are told what temperature they should keep their home at – a temperature that would demand my heating never turns off. To the horror of Venessa Feltz (stating that some are appalled by this), Ilona baths only once a week, but for me this is typical; I grew up having “Sunday bath night” and have changed little since aside from usually choosing to shower rather than have a bath. Ilona pointed out that the need to be clean is largely in the mind, saying “I don’t do anything to get dirty … it’s all in the mind… if you work down a coal mine then you will need a bath every day.” She is also conscious about the chemicals we flush down the drains. I think we are all different and some people are naturally more smelly than others – perhaps this is due to one’s chosen diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Sweating is a form of excretion, therefore what you consume (eat or drink) will dictate what your sweat consists of; I cycle hundreds of miles a month so yes I perspire, but I drink plenty of water and typically only one cup of coffee and two or three cups of tea a day. Fatty and unhealthy “foods” will cause sweat to smell more too. Of course I accept that there are some people who, no matter how careful they are about what they eat and drink, and exercise regularly, will find themselves being smelly. Having your home an “unnaturally” high temperature probably doesn’t help either. A downside to letting your house get cold is that visitors who are used to a warm home will feel uncomfortable, but like Ilona I rarely have these.


When it comes to food shopping Ilona likes her reduced-price items and I will always look out for these, but only of certain types. I will consider reduced priced fruit and veg, bread and cheese, but beyond this I see far too much stuff that I don’t consider to be food; processed and excessively packaged stuff; even reduced-price yogurt I avoid unless it’s one large tub because all those little plastic pots make me nervous. It can be tempting to just buy things because they’re reduced – you’re shown a saving but you’re not saving if you wouldn’t normally buy it. Ilona avoids sweet treats, chocolates, ice creams (unless having a day out), biscuits and crisps (potato chips), and she doesn’t consider cakes to be food. I stopped eating crisps a good few years ago; I considered the nutritional value of a packed and decided a slice of toast was good enough (that and the packet itself would just end up in landfill). I stopped buying biscuits and instead bake my own (while my oven is being used for other things). I do like an occasional sweet treat, including cake or something chocolaty, but it’s surprising how something very cheap and simple will suffice when you’ve cut down on sweet stuff – refrain from having it and then the treat is more satisfying.


When it comes to clothes I’ve never been shy of buying second-hand; I’m very slim so the priority for me is finding things that fit, if it happens to be something second hand still with some miles left in it then great, and once something starts to wear out I will downgrade it to the “playing-out clothes” draw. I bought a few new clothes in the January sales and probably wont need to buy anything else until the next ones come around.

Needs and Wants

Ilona sounded deeply insightful and explains how everyone can live like this just by considering what their wants and needs really are. She says: “You need a list of priorities, of what you’re going to pay for first: – a roof over your head, council tax, gas and electric (but cut down where possible), she likes a nice car because she feels the need and likes to go place at her choosing, pets, broadband…” Council Tax is forth on my list of expenditures and some say you can’t avoid it, but one caller to the show said she avoids it by living in an old motor coach in a field… perhaps I will consider something similar for my next home!


Further insight comes from Ilona saying to “spend only your own money” and echoes my own thoughts about how people get sucked into consumerism; seeing other people buying something new, and living off credit, and how doing so will only bring misery, she says: “Don’t owe anyone anything.” For me it’s not only about not owing other people (or business and corporations) anything, but not being a burden on the planet either. It seems there are two ends of a spectrum in operation here, and at either end are people who take issue with those at the other; people who scrimp and save and live a frugal and abstemious life to such an extent that could be a problem for society if everyone lived like that* vs. those that think like if for enjoying and to enjoy life means basking in materialism, blindly, so it either is, or will be at the expense of everyone else.

*It’s a strange consideration but I realise that if everyone lived like I do then the world as we know it wouldn’t function; all the businesses that would fold because I don’t support them (or limit my involvement with them); from the banking industry, to the motor industry, the technology industry, and the fast food industry…

You can check out Ilona’s blog here: http://meanqueen-lifeaftermoney.blogspot.co.uk

…and read more on the Telegraph’s page: www.telegraph.co.uk/…/ilona-richards-uk-stingiest-woman-how-to-save-money


  1. Thank you for writing about my story. At least you haven’t twisted my words out of context like the media have. It reads pretty well. Ilona

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s