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How I do it – living on the State Pension


Line drawing of a ladies headI don’t smoke and I no longer drink. I don’t like shopping and I don’t have foreign holidays (although 2 weeks in the sun would cost less than going to Shetland, which is what I tend to do). Before you start to think that I sound like some type of Diogenes figure (he was the one who lived in a barrel, wasn’t he?) I do like London, I do like theatre and cinema and I do like a good brunch with friends and family. Living on a state pension, like everything else in life, is a matter of prioritising and compromising. So far, 4 years into retirement, I seem to be managing fairly happily.

First let me say that through total luck and not through any financial acumen on my part, I seem to have managed to get a fairly good state pension. I think it’s something to do with SERPS, but I’ve never queried it in case it is a mistake and they take some away. Last year I got £161.34 a week, which is £8,383.68pa. I’m self-employed so have little additional bits of money coming in, but last year, after expenses, my net earnings were £320, so not a fortune.

Avoid debt and choose Direct Debit

The main reason I can live fairly happily on the state pension is that I have no debts. As an ageing hippy, I don’t have many rules in my life, but I will never, ever, get into debt again. I’ve been there and it’s not pleasant. I had less disposable income on £33,000pa than I do now, simply because of debt. I have a credit card but I never use it unless I have the money in the bank to pay it off at the end of each month. NEVER!

I pay everything I can on direct debit. I have 2 current accounts – one for direct debits and one for living expenses. Every week I put £70 into the direct debit account. I put £30 weekly into a cash ISA. It doesn’t always stay there, but it gives me a financial cushion. The remaining money is for day-to-day living, although I try not to use it all. Because of my low income, I get Council Tax Rebate which is a huge help.

Get your priorities right

What are my priorities? Well, I’m a telly addict. There, I’ve said it. I love my telly. Also the internet and my mobile phone. These probably account for my biggest expense every month. With the TV licence and the subscriptions for Sky and my mobile, probably about £90 a month, but it’s worth it to me.

Fitness is a priority for me. I like exercise for its own sake, particularly running, but, consider how much cheaper life is if you’re fit. Take the bus pass. Free local bus travel anywhere in England. This is the one benefit I would woman the barricades to defend. I love my bus pass. However, I need to be fit enough to be able to walk to the bus/tram station to use it.

Don’t go without the things you like

I love the theatre, particularly the Globe Theatre in London. They sell ‘groundling’ (standing) tickets for £5. Believe me, you need to be fit to stand for the whole performance. I wouldn’t be able to see as many productions at the Globe as I do if I wasn’t fit enough to be a groundling.

I like the cinema and I have a Cineworld ‘Unlimited’ card which costs £16.90 a month but which allows me to see as many films as I like. After a year it also gives great discount on ‘Cineworld Live’ - live broadcasts from venues like the National Theatre, Metropolitan Opera House, Royal Ballet, the Globe – you get the idea. Fabulous value.

Save pennies and pounds where you can

Thinking about it, many of the things I enjoy are free, but need a degree of fitness. Museums, galleries, ancient monuments (English Heritage has a very reasonable annual subscription for seniors) and nature reserves. It’s amazing how far you can walk on a day out.

Although I sometimes have to make compromises, there aren’t as many as you would think. I used to go to a French conversation class at L’Alliance Française but decided that it was too expensive. Now I attend a French class through U3A which costs £1. Funnily enough, the teacher is a retired Alliance Française teacher so the standard is just as high.

Something will turn up

So far, I haven’t found it stressful living on the state pension. Quite the reverse. I find it wonderful that I get money every week, and will do so for the rest of my life. Amazing. I feel supremely lucky to be retired and fairly comfortable.

I suppose, for me, the main disadvantage of living on a state pension is not having a substantial sum of money going into my bank account at the end of every month. If I want something that needs a chunk of money, I have to save up for it. If the roof blows off my house, or all my appliances break down at once (which they always seem to do), I’ll be in trouble. However, those of you who have read my previous blogs will know that both Micawber and I are convinced that ‘something will turn up’.

Rosemary’s top 10 tips for living on the State Pension:

  1. Stay debt free.
  2. Keep fit. Walk as much as you can. You have the time now and it’s free.
  3. Learn to live on a budget – use separate bank accounts if necessary
  4. Concentrate on all the things that you can do, rather than focussing on those you can’t.
  5. Claim everything to which you are entitled. Age UK provides a great advice service for this. You may not get much, but many benefits open up other opportunities such as being able to claim a new boiler under the Warm Homes Scheme.
  6. Search the internet for vouchers and bargains
  7. Use your bus pass and get a senior railcard, if you intend to do any train journeys.
  8. Don’t forget to use the ‘senior’ option for subscriptions
  9. Check if a yearly subscription would be cost effective for something you enjoy, eg, National Trust (National Trust for Scotland is a lot cheaper) English Heritage.
  10. Think cheap and cheerful. Do you need a hotel? What about a youth hostel, or University halls of residence?

Are you living off the state pension? Do you have a story to share with us? We’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave your comments below or on our Forum.

This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.


Does anyone have any ideas for finding employment to improve my income, I have problems with arthritis and would love to keep my car. I don't think this is going to happen. I am still paying a mortgage, taken out jointly with my son. I have thought of taking in a lodger, any comments welcomed. Marie Ann
This is OK if you own your home but things are tough if you are paying rent, I could easily manage if l had no rent to pay
My flat roof above the kitchen gave up the ghost and the kitchen ceiling started to disintegrate. Water everywhere but the building insurance wouldn't cover repairs saying it was a maintenance issue. I looked into things and found I was eligible for a care and repair loan from my local council. Up to 30,000.00 no interest and payable only on moving either to a new home or a 'higher plane'. Bear that in mind if you have housing repair issues and no I'm not a council tenant.

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