I survived on a day for a year . . and was enriched by experience

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Kath Kelly IT WAS a typical Saturday night and cash-strapped teacher Kath Kelly was drinking in the pub with friends. But instead of relaxing, she was worrying about how she could afford to buy her brother a wedding present.

IT WAS a typical Saturday night and cash-strapped teacher Kath Kelly was drinking in the pub with friends. But instead of relaxing, she was worrying about how she could afford to buy her brother a wedding present.

In a fit of tipsy bravado she decided upon the ideal frugal solution. She bet her friends she could live on just 1 a day for a whole year – coming up with some ingenious ideas to save money for those hit by today's credit crunch in the process.

And so began a year in which she would forage for berries from hedgerows, scour jumble sales for winter boots and become the "queen of the buffet" as she learned to elbow her way to the front of the table.

During this time she fell in love with a man ten years her junior, made friends and found she didn't need "must have" shoes and bags to be happy.

Ms Kelly paid 3,000 in advance to her landlord for rent and utility bills before beginning her experiment in June 2006, and continued working at her job teaching English to foreign students in Bristol.

It was then up to her to stretch her budget to cover transport, food, clothes and socialising.

She said: "My mates all tried to stop me. They thought I was mad. They imagined I'd be living like a nun, never going out, or freeloading off them.

"But it wasn't like that at all. In fact, I was out all the time. I went to the public lectures at Bristol University that had a buffet afterwards, and I went to the library's 100th birthday where they had a buffet as well. I was the queen of the buffet. Every time there was a public event and a crowd was needed, I was there. I dragged my mates out to free events, too.

"I couldn't buy rounds at the pub or anything like that so I'd drag them out to art openings and book launches."

Other "highlights" included finding 117 in loose change dropped in the street – a third of her annual budget – which she didn't allow herself to spend; hitching to the Channel Tunnel and persuading a French woman to give her a lift; and then hitching to Brittany to visit her brother. Ms Kelly added: "On the way back, I travelled on the ferry with a lorry driver, and even had dinner at the drivers' canteen."

She kept up appearances by going into department stores for free makeovers, and to test-spray on her favourite Chanel No 5 perfume as she also tried to spin out her Lancme face cream.

However, Ms Kelly said her experience it gave her an insight into the struggle facing those on low incomes.

"I went to libraries and bookshops a lot and would see the same people all the time," she said. "I knew they would probably be living like that for the rest of their lives, whereas for me it was a passing fad.

"It made me think about how previously I could spend over 25 a week on coffees at work.

"So I became aware I was not taking part in this fully and sometimes I just felt like a poor relation – reduced to a child-like status because I couldn't make decisions based on money."

But the 47-year-old's life changed when she met Bruce Taylor, 38, the estate manager on the organic farm where she was volunteering. She admitted her cash-strapped status meant changes in how she got ready for their first date.

"I couldn't go and buy under-wear or get my hair done which was a first for me," she said.

The couple set up home together in March in Bruton in Somerset, and Ms Kelly has now written a book on her experiences. Having banked her salary, at the end of her frugal year she spent 1,300 on a lifetime membership of the National Trust for her brother's wedding present. "The experience has changed my philosophy on life," she said.

• How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day by Kath Kelly, Redcliffe Press, 6.99, out now.

Kath Kelly's top ten tips for frugal living

1: Collect leaflets, coupons and collect free papers for vouchers. These often include "one person eats free" vouchers for restaurant meals, preview showings of the latest releases at cinemas and entry to events and historic buildings.

2: Scour shop windows and noticeboards for anything given away or "free to collector".

3. Never ignore a market researcher, they often have freebies to give away. Completing a questionnaire could result in goods such as free shampoo or even cash.

4. Buy discount food from delis and shops at the end of the day. Look out for dented tins and "two for one" offers. Learn to "stretch" food – for example, roast a chicken one day, use spare meat for risotto and the carcase for soup. Grow some of your own food – try raising salad leaves in window boxes.

5. Leave notes instead of using a mobile phone and use the internet at the library.

6. Shop at church jumble sales. These tend to be cheaper than charity shops and have fewer customers.

7. Give people gifts such as second-hand books or home-made chocolates you know they will like, because you are relying on their goodwill.

8. Make the most of free food, including mince pies at Christmas, buffets at art and book launches, free samples at farmers' markets and deli counters.

9. Visit department beauty counters for free makeovers and to try perfumes. Get free haircuts, manicures or facials by being a trainee's model at a beauty college or salon.

10. Join your local library for books, DVDs and a range of magazines – you can order books, especially new hardbacks, for as little as 60p.