02 Aug 2022

Robbing Peter To Pay Fuel: Brits Cutting Back On Food And Entertainment To Keep Cars On The Road

  • Households cutting back as ability to shop around for cheaper fuel is limited, Nationwide poll shows
  • Despite reducing spending, many are having to use savings and credit cards to pay for fuel
  • More than eight in ten people are more worried about their finances than they were a year ago
  • Nationwide launches dedicated cost-of-living hotline to help members struggling financially

New research from Nationwide Building Society uncovers the impact of high fuel prices on consumers as more than a third (35%) are spending less on food to keep their car on the road.

Unlike switching to a cheaper food brand to save money, the ability to ‘shop around’ for cheaper fuel is limited. Instead, consumers are cutting back in other areas to continue to do essential trips like drive to work, run errands and visit the supermarket.

The research comes as Nationwide rolled out a freephone cost-of-living hotline on 1 August for those experiencing money worries, with calls answered by dedicated, trained experts based across the Society’s main branches as part of a range of measures to help those struggling at this time (see further down for more information).

Nationwide’s poll highlights how habits at the pump have changed in response to the cost-of-living crisis, with more than a third (34%) now needing to stop filling up at an exact value and 26 per cent rarely filling their tanks to the brim as they can’t afford to do so. Almost a quarter (23%) are using their savings to put fuel in their cars and 22 per cent are using credit cards.

Despite fuel prices dipping slightly in recent weeks, the poll shows the extent to which consumers are still having to cut back to ensure they can afford to get from A to B, with more than eight in ten (83%) more concerned about their finances than they were a year ago. This is forcing drivers to cut back in the following ways:

  • 46% are eating out less
  • 35% are either spending less on their food shopping or have switched supermarket to save money
  • 34% now have to stop filling up at a specific value as they know exactly what they can afford
  • 31% are cutting down on the volume and quality of food they buy from the supermarket
  • 26% now rarely fill their fuel tanks to the brim as they cannot afford it
  • 25% have cut back on gym memberships and subscription services
  • 24% are reducing spend on school trips, days out and weekends away
  • 23% are using their savings to pay for fuel
  • 22% need to use their credit card to cover the cost of fuel
  • 21% have stopped putting money aside in either a savings account or pension pot

The majority of respondents will need to continue to find ways to ensure they can pay for fuel as 60 per cent cannot afford to replace their petrol or diesel vehicle with an electric car.

With the summer holidays here, the poll found that 28 per cent have had to change their staycation plans and are now staying much closer to home, thanks to the high cost of fuel. Furthermore, and with one eye on the expectation that the cost-of-living crisis will only get worse, 18 per cent said they were going on holiday this summer, no matter what, as it could be their last one for many years.

Otto Benz, Director of Payments at Nationwide Building Society, said: “As the cost-of-living crisis continues to exacerbate pressure on households across the UK, what this poll shows are some of the measures that consumers are having to take just to keep their cars on the road.

“While you could make an active decision to purchase a cheaper pint of milk or loaf of bread in the supermarket, when it comes to fuel, options are limited, meaning cutbacks have to be made in other areas on households that are already stretched in many cases.

“With costs expected to continue rising as inflation climbs, Nationwide is supporting members who may be struggling, including launching a dedicated cost-of-living hotline this week that is supported by trained experts. We would encourage anyone who is struggling financially at this time to contact their bank or building society, who will be able to help you.”

Today’s findings follow the publication of Nationwide’s most recent spending report, which has seen the emergence of the “Great British Cutback” as consumers start to slash spending to combat the rising cost of living. Reflecting today’s poll, the spending report found that consumers were cutting back in almost all areas, with spending on fuel and electric charging the only ‘essentials’ category to see a spending increase in June.

Nationwide cost-of-living support:

At this time, Nationwide Building Society is supporting members struggling with the rising cost of living. A freephone cost-of-living hotline for those experiencing money worries was launched on 1 August. The service is supported by dedicated, trained experts based across the Society’s main branches. It is available from 9am-4.30pm weekdays and 9am-12pm Saturdays. Nationwide is aiming to answer calls to the hotline within ten minutes. Outbound calls will also be made.

From September, all frontline colleagues will receive the necessary training to provide additional cost-of-living help for members, whether in branch or on the telephone, and in October Nationwide’s cost-of-living experts will be able to offer face-to-face, telephone and video appointments. Virtual and in-branch events will be held for members from the autumn, providing practical help with managing money and avoiding financial pitfalls.

Anyone in financial hardship should contact their bank or building society for support. See more at Cost of living | Nationwide.

Notes to editors

Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st – 22nd July 2022.  The survey was carried out online by Censuswide. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.