This month’s grocery challenge: eating on a budget

Grocery challengeAre you spending too much on food? Do you set a budget? When you need to start cutting back on your living expenses your food shop can be an easy place to start. How about a grocery challenge?

I love a grocery challenge – I set myself a lower than usual budget and use every means to stick to it. Using up what I have in the cupboards, the fridge, the freezer and the garden, I am confident we can eat well and healthily for just £35 per week for the three of us. I am not including cat food, cleaning products or toiletries in this budget, although I intend to keep spending on everything else to a minimum too.

Friday was my start day as that is payday for me, and I will continue through until 23rd August. So that is 4.5 weeks of food for around £155. Can I stick with my grocery challenge? We shall see!

Although it helps that we have some produce in the garden,  I don’t want every meal to be based around courgettes. I love them but there are limits! Most people won’t have home grown produce available, but it is still possible to eat cheaply. If you have a bit of garden and spare time, I really recommend growing a few bits. It is cheap and pretty easy to do.

Essential steps on your grocery challenge

The first thing to do when you are setting yourself a grocery challenge is to audit your food stores.  We have plenty of rice, pasta, tins of tomatoes, cereal, veg (fresh and frozen), tinned tuna, etc.

The next step is to plan meals for at least a week. I find this is long enough, but I know people who plan the whole month in one go. Aim to use as many of your stores as you can. This focusses your attention on those unused and unloved ingredients that have been hanging around a while. Set yourself a challenge to find a recipe that will use a can of coconut milk or bag of walnuts, for example. I write a detailed plan for dinners but lunches and breakfasts are a little more fluid. We tend to eat porridge and raisins, or fruit and yogurt for breakfast with sandwiches, salads of soups for lunch. I also build in a few snacks. If not, I risk breaking the budget by going to the machine at work for chocolate or the expensive corner shop for crisps and wine!

Finally, write a shopping list. Think about where you need to go to get the best deals on the food on your list. I do the bulk of my shopping in Lidl or Aldi and pop to Asda or Sainsbury’s for the cat food and Lactofree milk.  The latter can be expensive, varying from £1 a litre when it is on special offer up to around £1.50, depending on where I buy it. As I want to stick to my challenge I will check online to find the cheapest price for this before heading out to buy it. I will also water it down a bit as my daughter guzzles it!

Other ways to save money

If you really want to save money, forget expensive branded items, at least for the duration of the challenge. You don’t have to buy the cheapest, but supermarket own brands are usually pretty good.

I mentioned we grow some of our own food. We also have gluts so are happy to give the excess away. If you have friends who have a veggie patch or an allotment you are likely to find they are willing to do the same. You could offer to do a bit of weeding in exchange! We don’t grow apricots but were lucky enough to be given a load the other day. I stewed half for puddings all week and put the rest in the freezer for later.

If you can easily get to a supermarket later in the day you can find some good yellow sticker bargains from time to time. Only buy what you know you can eat quickly or freeze. If you get a real bargain be prepared to change your meal plan to fit it in.

Think about doing some batch cooking. I will be making a large pot of ratatouille and another of courgette soup. The ratatouille will be a meal with some brown rice and cheese one night, and an accompaniment to meat another night. The soup will be good for lunches and I will freeze some for next week too.

We aren’t vegetarians, but will definitely be eating some meat free meals to save money.  I also bought a pack of bacon lardons in Lidl, which will be good for adding a little meaty flavour to a couple of meals.

Grocery Challenge Meal Plan

This week’s meal plan is as follows:

Friday:  Risotto made with vegetables and lardons

Saturday: courgette stuffed with turkey mince and mini roasties

Sunday: Chicken casserole, rice and vegetables

Monday: Cheese omelette with home made chips and salad

Tuesday: Ratatouille with rice and cheese

Wednesday: Fish in breadcrumbs, potatoes and vegetables

Thursday: Tuna pasta bake with vegetables

Do you want to join me on my grocery challenge? If so, what figure will you set for your weekly budget? Do you have ideas for some meals to use up the food you have in the stores?

 

Right on the money: Sensible advice to save you cash

right on the moneyI have been watching an excellent TV programme In the mornings recently called Right on the Money. It is usually on during the day when I am at work but seems to be repeated the following day at 6.30am on BBC2. I watch it whilst I am getting ready for work!

I have just discovered this but found it features really sensible advice and information for those who are looking for ways to save money.  Sometimes I find such programmes are rather patronising and aimed at people so clueless there is nothing to learn if you are already pretty careful with your finances. Right on the Money is different and interesting, with really original content.

So far this week I have discovered the following:

Property guardianship

You can save huge amounts of money on rent if you become a property guardian. This involves paying a reduced rent to live in a disused building in return for some maintenance duties. The downside is that you only get one month’s notice of your landlord wants the property back. Not a solution for families but nevertheless such a great idea!

Nocturnal shopping

There is something known as the ‘vampire economy’. There are a whole host of nocturnal Internet shoppers who relax by spending their time and cash on the sofa or in bed buying stuff. I know a lot of people shop for leisure in town or at the mall at the weekend but hadn’t appreciated this happened online so much. I tend to buy things because I need them, not for fun. I don’t have enough spare cash for that to be a hobby!

Beware contactless spending

It is very easy to spend a lot of money using contactless payments. A coffee, here, a magazine there, a music download…they can soon add up. Contactless is easy and convenient, but because it doesn’t feel as if you are spending real money it can be hard to track.

Young entrepreneurs

There are many kids out there earning excellent money running their own businesses. There is 15 year old Harvey, who started a business designing and selling tax disc reminders. He invested his profits in land to create a campsite but ended up selling it for millions to a developer! Fourteen year old Angel sells animal fashion accessories that she makes herself and owns two shops. Then there is 13 year old Henry, who writes books and designs a range of children’s products based on those. Amazing and totally inspiring! They did make me feel a bit of a failure though. Ho hum.

Right on the Money!

It really is a great programme and worth watching on catch up of you can. Even us seasoned money savers can learn something. If you can’t watch Right on the Money, check out the website for loads of hints and tips on saving your dosh!

Love Your Leftovers: chicken risotto

Love your Leftovers I thought I would start a new occasional series called Love Your Leftovers. I hate food waste, so I try to use it all up. It saves lots of money too!

I also find a love your leftovers approach makes me more creative, and try food combinations that are a bit different.

Last night I decided to use the leftover chicken from the Sunday roast in a risotto. I also had leftover cooked runner beans and courgettes from the annual glut, so obviously they had to go in too! I found a 400g box of risotto rice in Lidl the other day. I knew it would come in handy!

I started by using the carcass, along with a couple of others I had stored in the freezer, for home made stock, but you could use a couple of stock cubes.

Here is the recipe, which serves 4.

Chicken Risotto

350g risotto rice
300 fl oz chicken stock, ideally hot
Left over cooked chicken, however much you have
1 red or yellow pepper, diced
1 small courgette, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp smoked paprika
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped, or 2 tsp dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
About 10-15 black olives
Any other left over veg you may have hanging around!
Olive oil

Saute your chopped vegetables in some oil for around 5-10 minutes. Add the rice and stir for a minute or so. Add about half of the stock and stir. As it starts to be absorbed, add the remainder. Stir frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the pan. Add the paprika and season to taste. When the rice is almost soft enough to eat, add your leftover chicken, olives, parsley and any other veggie leftovers.

This is pretty much a meal in itself but is also nice with a salad or green vegetable.

Do you love your leftovers? What would you do with the excess meat from the Sunday roast?

 

 

Five frugal things: 16th July 2017

five frugal thingsAs I was on holiday last week you may be surprised to learn that I have easily achieved five frugal things.  Our week in our lovely Welsh retreat was a bargain vacation after all!!

Frugal achievement no. 1: Eating in

It would be easy to eat out a lot on holiday. We rarely do, usually allowing ourselves just the one restaurant meal. We had a delicious one when we went to Anglesey and I was more than happy to pay for the lovely food and excellent service. The rest of the time we treated ourselves to yummy meals in, buying Welsh lamb a couple of times as it really is excellent quality. Not cheap, but much more so than eating out. We had new potatoes and home grown vegetables we had taken with us alongside whatever we bought.

Frugal achievement no 2: Picnics all the way

five frugal thingsEvery day we made ourselves a flask and some sandwiches to take out with us. A couple of times we found some yellow stickered reductions and took those out with us the day after. I know people get nervous about going over best before dates, but it was only a day and we kept everything cold in the fridge and the cool bag. I think if you use your common sense and the food looks and smells fresh, it is usually perfectly edible and delicious. One day we got our picnic for less than £1!

Frugal achievement no 3: Kitting myself out for work

I find it hard to pass a charity shop and we went into lots of them in Aberystwyth. Poor Mr S was running out of patience with my by the end of the holiday! However, as well as finding some bargains to resell on eBay, I found two skirts and a top for work. The grand total? £6. You can’t do much better than that for a bargain.

Frugal achievement no 4: Finding free trips out

We did pay for some days out whilst we were away, most notably the wonderful Plas Cadnant Gardens in Anglesey. However, we also found lots of free attractions. The Museum of Modern Art in Machynlleth was very interesting, when the sun shone we went to the beach and the RSPB South Stack nature reserve also cost us nothing. A walk along the beach or in the woods is always a joy and you get both for free.

Frugal achievement no 5: Using the library

One very wet day in Wales we went and sat in the library where we took advantage of the free wi-fi, magazines and newspapers on offer. I am all for using libraries wherever and whenever possible as the more people that do, the less likely the local authority is to close them. It was really interesting to see the range and number of people coming in to borrow books and use the computers.

Now we are home I need to think about some post holiday money saving so may need to find more than five frugal things each week! We may have had a frugal week compared to other people on their holidays, but Wales is a long way from us and the petrol cost a lot, we bought a few gifts for the girls and spent more on food than we normally would. So, this week, we will mostly be eating…..courgettes!

How about you? Have you managed five frugal things?

I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. Hop over to their sites to see their five frugal things and the other bloggers taking part this week.

 

 

 

Good news and bad: SHOMO Awards and bye bye lodger

We are back in Essex after our wonderful week in Wales. I was really pleased to hear that our hosts, Tom and Liza, had received some emails from readers of this blog expressing an interest in staying there. It is the most peaceful place ever! If you are interested in an eco friendly break in a beautiful location (at a very good price), more information is available here. We hope to return next year.

We packed a lot in, whilst leaving lots of time for reading books and resting. Highlights were walking the coastal path at Aberdovey, The RSPB South Stack reserve at Holyhead, a stopover in Bridgenorth and some fantastic charity shop bargain hunting. What a lovely week we had.

Bad news: the lodger is leaving

As well as many, many courgettes, cucumbers and runner beans, we came back to some sad news. Our lodger has a new job and will be relocating. She has been a great lodger and is now good friends with my daughters, so we shall really miss her.  As they all socialise I expect we will still see her from time to time.

This is not good news for the bank balance as we rely on the income. We hope to get a replacement in as soon as possible. I will be getting the advert back up on spareroom.com this week.

Great news: I am a SHOMO awards finalist!

Whilst I was away I learned that my blog has made the shortlist for the SHOMO Awards best frugal and thrift blog. I am really pleased! The SHOMO Awards celebrate and recognise the best UK money blogs. In my category I am up against such exalted company as Frugal Queen (my heroine), my friend Faith Archer with her beautiful Much More With Less blog, Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family (fab recipes and brilliant money saving ideas), Zoe at Ecothrifty, which I love – right up my street, and the amazing Emma Drew – originally of From Aldi to Harrods fame. I love her You Tube videos.

I can’t wait to meet all of them at the awards ceremony in London at the end of September. In the meantime, there is also a People’s Choice award, where you can vote for any of the 70 blogs nominated from 1st August.  I will remind you when this opens .

All of the categories and nominees can be found here.

Staying chilled

I need to keep my post holiday sense of relaxation going. No yoga on the grass in the Welsh countryside, but I will open the window wide and get my mat out in the lounge.

Still – I have a lot to do! I need to do a little shopping for the week, lots of laundry, list some of my charity shop bargains on eBay and perhaps do a little gardening. Luckily darling daughter has left the house clean and tidy so I don’t need to worry about that.

I hope you are having a relaxing Sunday. Back soon with some post holiday money saving ideas.

 

Tales from a Welsh holiday, land of sunshine and rain

South Stack

I woke up with a start this morning, thinking the alarm was going off. When I opened my eyes I was surprised to find I was still in the caravan on my Welsh holiday and I didnt have to get up for work. Excellent!

Back to Aberdovey

The guillemots through the telescope

We shall make the most of the last day of our Welsh holiday and have a walk along the coast at Aberdovey. We have been there 4 or 5 times but never actually walked the coastal path. Generally, we head to Aberdovey when the sun is out and tend to hang around on the beach but today a mix of sunshine and showers is forecast.

Then we will drive into Machynlleth and buy something nice for dinner and food for the journey back to Essex tomorrow. I love it here and I am always sad to leave. How lucky we have been with the weather! Only one day of rain and one rather dull day. The rest of the time has been full on sunshine, although it rained a river in the night!

South Stack, Anglesey

It was a beautiful morning when we headed out to the RSBP South Stack reserve at Holyhead yesterday.  Our Airbnb hosts left our breakfast on the table with a note to help ourselves. What a strange experience that was! I am sure if I was renting a room for the night I would get up and give my guests breakfast!

We didn’t linger. The fridge was completely filthy, we couldn’t find any juice and the only milk was the bottle we had bought the night before. We couldn’t get the toilet to flush either…We made some tea and toast and were on our way by 9.30. At least the shower was hot and the bathroom was clean.

South Stack was absolutely stunning. The cacophony of noise from the birds nesting on the cliffs was so loud. It was a bird city! We spotted some very rare choughs and thousands of guillemots. We probably also saw puffins but couldn’t be sure as we had no binoculars with us. If we ever return we will take them for sure.

Didn’t we have a lovely time…

…the day we went to Bangor! Mr Shoestring was curious about the long pier from the mainland that we could see when we were at Beaumaris the previous day. It seemed to be at Bangor so next we hopped over there – well, we drove again back across the Menai Bridge.

Bangor pier

Bangor is apparently the UK’s smallest city and it certainly didn’t feel like one. It had some nice little shops and a very large cathedral. We had a quick look around, and some very good fish and chips before talking a windy walk along the pier to the tea rooms. There were fantastic views across the estuary back to Anglesey.

I even managed to pick up some more charity shop bargains. I have two carrier bags full but think Mr S may have run out of patience so no more charity shop browsing today 😀.

Our Welsh holiday has been another good one. I wish we could stay another week! My next blog post will doubtless tell a tale of too much laundry and giant courgettes!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey and the perils of Air B&B 

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey We have left our lovely caravan to spend the night in some cheap accommodation on Anglesey. It was a long drive up and we wanted to get the best of our time here so it seemed a good idea.

Beautiful Plas Cadnant

Anglesey certainly has some gems. We had a wonderful visit to Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens
followed by a trip to Beaumaris. Today we were blessed with beautiful sunny weather. What a gorgeous day! We even saw a red squirrel!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey


The gardens were gorgeous. They are in a gentle valley which creates a warmer micro climate than is usual for Wales, and the planting is stunning. The walled part of the garden is quite formal with triangular trees and deep flower beds on each side. The second half of the garden is more naturalistic, consisting of wild woods with dappled shady areas and  lots of little water falls. There were many places to sit and hear the relaxing sounds of trickling water – totally magical.

Cheap and cheerful

We found cheap accommodation on Anglesey and are staying overnight at a house on the island courtesy of Air B&B. This is the first time we have tried it and it is certainly  a very frugal sort of accommodation. Only £43 for the two of us.

However, it is a bit like a student house! The landlady is very sweet but the house smells of her two dogs and the mattress sags so badly in the middle so we have had to put some pillows down the centre so we don’t end up squashed together.

She has very kindly left us teabags and a kettle and told us to help ourselves to milk from the fridge. However, the fridge stinks and the milk was lumpy so we had to buy a bottle when we went out to dinner. Still, it is very cheap and only for one night 😀. Thank heavens!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey We had a delicious meal out as a treat. Both of us had fish. Mr S had sea bass on a seafood biriani and I had a beautifully cooked piece of plaice. Followed by the hugest puddings ever! We went to Sullivan’s restaurant and we would recommend it.  The staff were lovely and the food was simple but delicious. Massive portions too if you are feeling hungry!

Cheap accommodation on Anglesey We had a walk along the beach at Rhosneigr after dinner. The sunset was amazing. What a great day. Worth sleeping on a lumpy mattress.

Anyone else familiar with this fabulous part of Wales? Have you tried Air B&B or found cheap accommodation on Anglesey – or anywhere else for that matter?

Bargain hunters on holiday!

Bargain hunting in Wales

Huge sky at Aberdovey

We are back in our little Welsh caravan. It really feels like a home from home, but without work, noise and traffic!

 We are on a smallholding a few miles from Machynlleth. There are trees and hills all around us and the sound of a stream just a few feet away. Everything is green and lush and all is quiet, apart from the sounds of birds, ducks and sheep. It is bliss! We love it so much we have been each summer for the past five years.

Yesterday we got up to beautiful sunshine. As it was clearly a beach day, and you can’t guarantee many of those in Wales, we packed up our picnic and drove the few miles to Aberdovey. What a glorious little place, a long sandy beach with a backdrop of hills and a huge sky. Aberdovey is really just a row of colourful shops and houses on the front with a few gorgeous cottages on the hills behind. It is small but perfectly formed and in a delightful location. 

Bargain hunters on the rampage

Today we woke to heavy rain. A bit of a change but we expect this in Wales. We took ourselves off to Aberystwyth for the day, with Mr S showing great patience as I dragged him around the charity shops. Well, it would be rude not to. I can’t resist a bargain even when I’m on holiday!

The Barnado’s shop was the best. Almost everything was £1.99, and I picked up a Karen Millen dress and a Coast silk basque top. In the Salvation Army shop I discovered a really beautiful Monsoon 100% silk dress for £4. These will be cleaned and sold on eBay.

I found a nice quality black skirt for work for £3 and a smart office top for £2.50. Frustratingly, I have been looking for ages for a decent pair of leather sandals but I had no luck. I even looked in the Clarks’ sale. Wide feet witch narrow heels are not a great shape when you are searching for strappy sandals! Oh well, I will keep looking.

Simple living

We haven’t had wifi much so far, hence the lack of blog posts. One of the disadvantages of staying in the wilds – but also one of the great advantages! It means we talk and read rather than sitting in our phones or laptops. Yesterday I even managed a lovely outdoor yoga session behind the caravan. I will be so relaxed by the time we leave.

Life is so simple when you can spend your days doing yoga and scouring the charity shops. Are you a family of bargain hunters, even on holiday?

Holiday preparations: more organisation needed here!

Holiday preparations for our rural retreat

It is possible that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to holiday preparations. I tend to leave it all to the last minute. I am fine at booking and paying for it, checking passports and sorting travel insurance…it’s the packing!

This time we are going to Wales, a nice frugal holiday, so no passport necessary or currency to buy. But we are off in the morning, I have been at work today and I haven’t even started packing yet.

A haphazard approach

Holiday preparations for a week in WalesMy holiday preparations so far have involved going to the supermarket last night for food to leave for my daughter and the cats and then chucking a wash on. The lodger will, thankfully, sort herself out. At least if I am up to date with  laundry I will have clothes to pack.

There is still so much to do! Why didn’t I start sooner? Because there is always so much to do. Maybe this is why I need another holiday !

A mad rush

So tonight will be a mad rush of ironing, packing the cases, making the picnic for our journey and rushing around the garden cropping and watering!

Luckily Mr S has had the time to work in the garden this week. If he hadn’t we would have been returning to a jungle. This is the upside of him being self employed and being able to organise his own schedule.

I have also been rushing to get things done at work. I will need my holiday after all this!  It will be worth it but I know I can organise myself better. How good are you at holiday preparations?

Low cost beauty treatments: luxury living on a budget 

Who doesn’t love a bit of pampering once in a while? Having an occasional manicure, facial or massage is a huge treat, but these treatments can be expensive. However, there is one way you have almost any hair or beauty treatment you want for a fraction of the usual price.

Finding low cost beauty treatments

The trick to having low cost beauty treatments is to find a student learning how to do them. And the best way to do this is to locate your local college! Those running hair and beauty courses are often crying out for customers willing to let their pupils practice on them. To entice you in they offer treatments for just the cost of the materials.

Now is a good time to do this as students have done enough training to be reasonably proficient. They are also likely to need people to work on at the moment as the academic year is coming to an end and the students are being assessed. They will want to get a good mark! Don’t leave it too long, however, or the summer holidays will start and they will close.

The savings are huge! Yesterday I had my eyebrows waxed and tinted and also an eyelash tint for just £7.50 at my local adult learning college. There is also a further education college that has a huge hairdressing and beauty salon.

If I wanted to, I could have a luxury manicure for £10, a full body massage for £15 or a cut and blow dry for £6.50. Fancy half a head of highlights? £13.50. I can have a leg wax for £10, a bikini wax for a fiver or a full set of party lashes for £5.50. Bargain!

The pros and cons

The biggest and most obvious advantage is the low cost, of course. You also have a tutor monitoring and supervising all the way through so the students are very careful to do a good job.  The cons could include having a dodgy hair cut , but I have had enough of those paying the full price. I have used the hairdressing section of the college on several occasions and not had a bad experience yet. As for beauty treatments that could go wrong, I had the worst wonky eyebrow threading experience once with a fully qualified lady in a department store.

The other disadvantage is that treatments are offered term time only and you need to book well in advance. Lots of money savers know about them and they get booked up!

Have you used the students at a college for hair and beauty treatments? How did you find it?