Favourite recipe books

I was scouring my pile of recipe books last night for inspiration for this weeks frugal meal planning and it occurred to me how few are less than about 10 years old! I have my favourites that I refer to again and again, and now I get so much culinary inspiration on the internet I don’t really need to buy any more.

I was vegetarian for 16 years in my youth and, although I eat meat now I could happily live without it, and still eat a lot of veggie food. Generally it is healthier and much cheaper. So lots of my favourites are vegetarian plus some cookery stalwarts like Delia Smith. I want food to be easy to prepare and contain reasonably priced ingredients. I don’t have the time or money to faff about when cooking!

These are my top cookery books in no particular order:

The Cranks Cookbook
Entertaining with Cranks
Complete Cookery Course, Delia Smith (not so impressed with Frugal Food)
Healthy Cooking for Kids, Carole Handslip
Vegetarian Cooking, Carole Handslip
Vegetarian Kitchen, Sarah Brown
The Goode Kitchen, Shirley Goode
The Cancer Prevention Cookbook

These are just off the top of my head as I sit at work having my lunch. What books can you recommend? Which have you used until the pages have fallen out?

Boiled ham in parsley sauce, 62p a portion

hamFor a change, instead of roast chicken on Sunday, I bought what looked like a tiny joint of ham for £2.99 from Aldi, and boiled it up with some bouquet garni and whole black peppercorns for an hour. Amazingly, this made 5 meals; 2 for me and Mr Shoestring on Sunday, and 3 more last night for me and the girls. We had it with parsley sauce – I bought 10 for £1 from Approved Foods a while ago and used two over the two nights. It was delicious served with creamy mashed potatoes and veggies.

I have saved and frozen the ham stock – this is far too good to tip away. I still have some leeks in the garden and plan to use the last of them to make some leek and potato soup, so I will use the stock for that.

I also used some more of the apples I was given – some of them have been sitting in my fridge for almost three months but they had kept brilliantly. We had them stewed with a bit of brown sugar and mixed spice with custard. Simple, cheap but delicious and it went down a treat.

Furniture Bargains!

We are fortunate to have three charity furniture shops locally, and I have found some excellent quality bargains in them over the years. I prefer to buy good solid second-hand items than new cheap stuff that falls apart in no time.

On Saturday I drove DD1 round to the nearest as she wanted a new bed. We found a lovely double with a very clean mattress for £65. She doesn’t like the idea of a used mattress but honestly it looks perfect, so I think she will use it for the time being.

Whilst I was in there I spotted a pretty little two seater sofa. My current sofa looks ok, but is actually the least comfy chair you can imagine. As it was £60 and they said they could deliver both items for £10 I went for it! It is a yellowy cream colour and my lounge is duck egg blue but I will chuck a throw over it to make it blend in!

I will now have to look out for a similar looking three seater and get rid of the current one but that will have to wait until I can afford it.

It’s all systems go preparing for DD3’s sweet 16 party on Saturday! I have made lots of cup cakes but can’t ice them until Saturday morning. It will be a busy day 🙂image

No Time to stop and Stare…

Do you ever get those weeks when you are so busy your feet barely touch the ground? Last week was like that, and this week looks to be going the same way.

I can’t understand people who say they are bored. I am busy and productive all of the time and, in truth, that’s how I like it most of the time. It’s a good job I have Mr Shoestring to make me stop and sit down, or go out for a walk or a bike ride. He says I am a machine! He can get a lot done in a short space of time, whereas I am more a tortoise than a hare; I just keep going!

Yesterday was typical. I had to get myself and DD3 to the dentist for 8.50, then take her to school and drive to work. We were crazy busy all day, then I finished at 6 and fought my way through the traffic to get home and change, stuck some washing in the machine then went off to teach my yoga class for an hour and a half. I drove home and was back by 9.30, had my dinner, cleared up and went to bed!

Fortunately the girls had made the dinner, but their efforts didn’t extend go doing the washing up sadly.

imageThis morning I am typing this on my phone waiting for a blood test at the local hospital and hoping I won’t be late for work. I need to do a bit of shopping after work, sort tea and then tackle a big pile of ironing with my name on it.

All incredibly humdrum I know, but actually my life is never boring. A bit of boredom would be a luxury! What I would like is a bit of time sometimes to just do nothing, but at least I am gainfully employed with my family around me so I consider myself fortunate.

As I have been waiting, I have had time to have a look at some pix on my phone from our holiday in Wales last year. We had a fabulous walk or two and, as you can see from the photo, the scenery was amazing and we did have time to stop and stare!

Does anyone else suffer from a lack of time?

Being Frugal is Green!

I was about to throw away some laddered tights yesterday when I remembered reading that they are good to use as plant ties if you cut them up or to store your onion crop in. So I have kept them, just in case.

It made me think about how being frugal – buying less, consuming less, repairing, reusing things, buying second-hand – aren’t just good for your bank balance, they are good for the environment.

2647Take the garden. I don’t like to use chemicals, although I did give in to some organic slug pellets last year when my cabbages were being shredded. Usually I set slug traps using Sainsburys cheapest lager (I wouldn’t drink it, but the slugs seem to like it) and crumble egg shells or sand around the plants the beasts enjoy the most. I compost all garden waste and food waste such us peelings, teabags, and I collect bags of free manure from a house nearby, which also goes onto the compost heap. I do have to buy potting compost sometimes, but not as much as in the past.

Cardboard egg boxes make great little pots for starting seeds, and larger yogurt or cream pots are good for potting them on. A litre of water with a couple of teaspoons of liquid castile soap  in a spray bottle is good for killing bugs, costs a lot less than the scary chemicals you can buy in the garden centre and is much less harmful to the environment.

Growing your own veg means you can have delicious, fresh and organic produce for a fraction of the cost you would spend in the shops. Buying local and in season is often cheaper. The environmental cost of transporting food thousands of miles is huge.

I love to buy plants but they are so expensive! It is easy to collect and store seeds and to take cuttings from other plants.

If you are on a water meter it makes sense to have as many water butts as you can fit in your garden. The local council quite often has links to companies doing deals on these. You can also re-use the ‘grey’ water from your bath or shower to water the garden.

walk lightlyIn the house, saving energy saves money and is green. Using a lid on your cooking pots makes them boil more quickly so you can turn the gas down. Insulating your house and fitting thick curtains means you can turn down the thermostat.

Driving carefully uses less petrol. Buying second-hand clothes and furniture means items are re-used and not thrown away. Hanging your clothes on the line or an airer saves energy and the cost of running a tumble dryer.

The motto is reduce, re-use and recycle. I try to do all of these things because they save money. Living a simpler life, having less ‘stuff’, consuming less, re-using more: it helps to keep the wolves at bay and gives you a nice warm deep green feeling. 🙂

Perfect Pizza

pizza1Isn’t it great when a plan falls into place? I managed to get two nice pizza bases reduced to 69p from Sainsbury’s the other week and they have been sitting in the freezer waiting for an opportunity to use them. I have peppers and half a tin of sweetcorn to use up, plus cheese already grated from the veggie enchiladas we had last night so all good so far for pizza making. Then I realised we also had a whole packet of salsa, also from the enchiladas, that would make a perfect pizza topping. So, this morning before I was even dressed, I had thrown together two delicious looking pizzas to have with salad for our tea. Mega easy and mega cheap.

pizza2I am on a late shift today so will enjoy eating some pizza when I get home at 8.30 this evening.

Good news yesterday. I heard from the local language college that we will have our first student of the year coming in early March with more on the way. This will be a huge boon to my finances, especially after my news about getting a pay cut on Wednesday. We love the foreign students – they have so far been very sweet and interesting and a joy to have in the house. And I don’t really notice one more teenager! 🙂

 

Stretching the Budget

Bad news today: it was confirmed that my pay is being cut by about £950 a year. I suppose it could be worse – I still have a job – but I need this like a hole in the head.

The budget needs to be as elastic as possible so this week I am planning a very small shop and to be creative with what I have in the cupboard. It needs to stretch!

So, what do I have? A bit of veg : carrots, onions, peppers; a jar of Chicken Tonight, lentils, couscous, rice, 2 frozen pizza bases, tinned tomatoes, a tin of tuna and one of sardines. Lots of pasta as well and some spuds.

So…I think I will go with:

Friday : cheese and pepper pizzas and salad
Saturday : cheese and tuna bake with broccoli
Sunday : stir fried pork and peppers with noodles
Monday: chicken in slow cooker using jar of sauce
Tuesday : lentil Dahl and rice
Wednesday : Spaghetti with sardines
Thursday : spicy chicken wings and cous cous

Not exactly a carb free week but it will do 🙂

Finding Kindred Spirits – the Great on-line Frugal Community

Thanks for all your comments on my post yesterday about using the library service. That’s what I love about blogging – it’s far easier to find like minded souls on-line than it is in the flesh.

Most of my friends know I don’t have much money, but they really don’t have a clue about frugality, and the absolute necessity of this way of living for me. They don’t think twice about booking a foreign holiday or a meal in a restaurant, and buy new clothes and have their hair done whenever they feel like it. I am pretty sure they don’t lie awake at night worrying about paying the mortgage.

This is great for them, but means they don’t understand that I can’t come with them on a trip to Amsterdam at short notice, meet them for a restaurant and cinema trip, or go shopping for the day in London.

When they come to me for dinner it is more likely to be chicken casserole and apple crumble on the menu than best steak and gateau.

They don’t get why I do my shopping in Aldi rather than on-line and would probably be horrified that I buy out of date food from Approved Foods and almost all my clothes second-hand.

They are great friends though, kind and supportive in so many ways, but I do frequently feel that it would be good to spend time with people who could empathise with my current preoccupations.

This is why the sites of fellow frugal bloggers are such a great source of support and inspiration. If I feel dispirited or need ideas I will pop over to Frugal in Suffolk, Frugal Queen or Life After Money amongst countless others, including those who follow this blog, for some nuggets of wisdom and friendly chat.

So keep the comments coming and if you have site you think is worth looking at, let me know!

Books for Nothing

I have always had a library card, ever since I could read. My parents always took us when we were small, and when we were old enough we took ourselves. I read a lot when I was younger and always had several books on the go, and when I was a student the library was a valuable resource.

In those days it seemed that everyone used the library. I took my own children even before they could read. Our local library ran – and still does – story time sessions for toddlers which they loved.

Nowadays you can order books on line, or if you have no computer you can book one to use for free at the library. Most have photocopiers and fax machines that you can use for a small charge.  You can rent DVDs and audiobooks and even borrow e-books. The mobile libraries take books to more remote areas and volunteers deliver them to the house bound. You can usually go into the library and read the newspapers for free , and larger branches often run computer courses.

You might have guessed by now that I am a big fan of the library service – what’s not to love?  I am amazed by the number of people I come across who don’t use this service, and don’t even have a library card. For money savers such as myself it is invaluable. I can try out books to see if I like them before buying them for a start, their films rent by the week and are cheaper to hire than the DVD shop and I regularly order books on line that are ordered in for me and delivered to the library of my choice. What a fantastic service!

If you have no money then use your library.  Take the kids there on a rainy day and sit and read with them; use their newspapers and computers to job hunt; see if they run any courses to help you learn new skills.

In these austere times, when local authorities are looking to save money wherever they can the libraries could be an easy target, so appreciate how lucky we are to have such a great service – use it or lose it!

Monster Chocolate Birthday Cake

It’s darling daughter no 3’s 16th birthday today. How can I have 3 daughters over the age of 16? it is a cliché I know, but time goes so fast!

We had lunch with her grandparents yesterday to celebrate and today she is going to dinner and the cinema with her dad and my eldest daughter.

monster cakeWe will have lunch here together first though and a slice of the Hairy Bikers chocolate birthday cake I have made. It is an absolute monster cake! I think it will last quite a few days. It looks delicious and, apart from the cream, it was made completely from ingredients I had in the store cupboard. I doubled the ingredients below to make this size cake.

So, happy birthday to my lovely girl.  As the song goes, ‘She don’t know she’s beautiful!’ Well, she is! (Takes after her mother…)

The recipe is here is you fancy it:

For the cake

  • 250g/8½oz butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 400g/14oz caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 400g/14oz plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 85g/3oz cocoa powder
  • 220ml/8fl oz flat cola

For the topping

  • 150g/5oz strawberry jam
  • 150ml/5fl oz double cream, whipped
  • 100g/3½oz milk chocolate, broken into pieces
  • sweets to decorate – I used Minstrels

Method

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and grease/line a 25cm/10in cake tin. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is pale and light. In a separate bowl, stir the sunflower oil and vanilla extract into the beaten eggs. Gradually beat the egg mixture into the butter and sugar mixture until the mixture is well combined. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder and gradually fold in. Add the cola and stir. Pour into the tin and bake for 1hr 15 mins to 1hr 20 mins,  until the cake has risen and a skewer comes out clean. Remove the cake from the tin and cool on a rack. When cool, carefully cut in half to create two thin cakes. Spread over the jam, then the cream and sandwich the cakes together.

Next you need to melt your chocolate. I prefer to do this over a pan of simmering water, but you can do it in the microwave. Spread it over your cake, then decorate with the sweets.

I love the Hairy Bikers. Their recipes seem so reliable.

Pavlova Fruit Trifle

Necessity is the mother of invention

I thought I was being so organised this week. As I was going for dinner at a friend’s house last night and taking the pudding, I made the meringue for my pavlova on Wednesday. I did as Delia Smith told me and baked it in a low oven for an hour then left it to cool in the oven overnight. However, when I came to slide it off the greaseproof paper it fell to bits! I decided that even if I smothered it in cream and fruit it wouldn’t pass muster, so I had a little panic thinking what I could do instead.

imagePavlova fruit trifle

Being the frugal sort, I didn’t want to spend any more money, so before work – at 6.30am! – I was raking through the cupboards looking for the jelly and trifle sponges left over from Christmas. I threw these together with the fruit I had purchased for the pavlova, then rushed off to work leaving it to set in the fridge.

When I got home I whipped the cream and folded in some of the broken meringue pieces, then spread it over the jelly. So voila! Pavlova fruit trifle, a new Shoestring Cottage creation :-). It seemed to go down pretty well with my friends but they get less fussy after a few glasses of wine!

It may have been an accident, but I would make this again. It’s true what they say about necessity being the mother of invention. 🙂

Just checked my bank balance and it is still slightly hung over from Christmas, so even more extreme frugality coming up for the rest of the month…

Girls Night In

popcorn02Once a week me and DD3 and whichever other daughters are around sit down together to watch a film. We might have recorded something or we might get a film from the DVD shop. We make ourselves a huge bowl of popcorn, delicious with a bit of melted butter mixed in and some salt, and if I have any in the fridge I will treat myself to a cold glass of white wine. We might do ourselves a manicure whilst we watch. It costs hardly anything and is fun!

devil-wears-prada1It’s nice to have a bit of girlie time, as I am always so busy with work, the house and the garden. Making a regular slot to do this means we are guaranteed a bit of quality time and assuages the guilt I have about working full time and leaving DD3 particularly to sort the tea or wash up (although I think it is good for my kids to be capable and independant too).

Last night we watched the Devil Wears Prada – an oldie but goodie. Meryl Streep is brilliant in everything she does and it is really a clever and stylish film. It’s not always easy to find films we all like! We have watched some stinkers!

If anyone has any suggestions for good films that are likely to appeal to both a 50 year old and a 16 year old they would be welcome 🙂

Memories of a Lovely Summer

J and J Wales

With Mr Shoestring at Portmeirion

At this time of the year, when I arrive at work in the dark and leave work in the dark, I can understand how people feel who suffer from SAD. The lack of daylight is so unnatural! I am trying to combat this by having a walk during my lunch break – just 15 minutes or so – but even that has been tricky recently as it is hard to keep dry in driving rain when the wind keeps turning your brolly inside out!!

Nice to see you...

Nice to see you…

Seeing the awful flood damage in Aberystwyth on the news, I was thinking of our caravan holiday in the area last summer. We had the most amazing weather when we visited, including a fabulous day picnicking on Aberystwith beach and browsing the shops. We also had a trip to Portmeirion, and the photos look positively Mediterranean! It’s hard to believe that students at the university behind me had to be evacuated this week because of the high water levels, and that the promenade where we sat to eat our sandwiches has been so badly battered and damaged.

I hope the weather improves and that those who have been flooded out get the chance to clean up and move on. In the meantime, I will have to count my blessings and enjoy my memories of a beautiful and happy summer to keep me going through the winter months.

The Joy of Swishing

A few years ago I was invited to a ‘swishing’ party. I was concerned That my friend was luring me into some kind of dubious practice, but upon further investigation it seemed that swishing was an actual thing!

Basically she was hosting a clothes swapping party. We all took some decent quality items along and had a look through the rails to see if we fancied anything others had brought along. We drank lots of wine and had a good old gossip. It cost very little, we all went home with some new (to us anyway) items of clothing, and it was fun.

Now it seems swishing has gone viral. There are websites listing events, and others where you can advertise your clothes, and get credits to spend if somebody ‘buys’ them. I think it is a brilliant idea however you do it.

Here are a few good sites:

www.swishing.com: Advertises events all around the UK. Quote: “Save money, save the planet, have a party: swishing effortlessly touches all of these buttons. Swishing parties are for all those women who want to combine glamour, environmental protection and frugality.”

www.swishing.co.uk . They say: “you get virtual money credits for the items you send us, credits you can immediately use to order any item on the site – no waiting, no haggling, no missing out on those items you love … all items on Swishing.co.uk are already in stock and quality checked, just waiting to be sent to you!”

www.SwishingParties.com “aims to be the definitive guide for women looking for a swishing party in their town. Also if you are looking to promote a swishing party, you can list it on SwishingParties.com for FREE!”

I am going to give this a go and try the on-line swapping. I have a mass of stuff in the loft to Ebay so some of it will be swished instead!

Saving Money on Motoring

Five years ago, I purchased a five year old Zafira. This is a great car for a family – it is a 7 seater, but it is really easy to put the back seats down and have a big boot. This is great for transporting the family, and having a big boot space has been invaluable on many occasions. It has been brilliant for our many cheap camping holidays, as well as for collecting a freebie fridge and two bootloads of hardcore from fellow Freecyclers. However, when you are talking about saving money on motoring, is driving an old car the best course of action?

saving money on motoring

Driving our car into the ground

I have explored selling it and buying something else, but the fact is that I can only afford an old car. If I sell this one I will be lucky to make £400 on it. I know my old banger – it is useful and reliable and has so far cost very little to maintain. If I spend my £400 on someone else’s old banger I don’t really know what problems I will inherit. So I will hang on to the old girl for a bit longer, saving money on motoring costs. I plan to run her into the ground.

Minimising fuel consumption

What I try to do to mitigate some of the cost is watch my fuel consumption. The car has an on-board computer that tells me what my instant diesel consumption is. If I put my foot down hard the number of miles I get to the gallon plummets. If I am light on the accelerator I can see that I am getting more miles for my money. Simple really. I also try to change gear exactly when the car needs it rather than when the engine starts to complain. If I need to go out in the car I try to get all my errands done on the same trip.

But I think I could do more. According to the AA, you can save up to 10% on your fuel if you get your car serviced regularly to keep the engine running efficiently. I am sure this is right, but it actually costs quite a lot to get it serviced. This year there was a deal at the garage near to where I work. They do the MOT and a mini service for £75 so I went with that.

Check your tyre pressure

The AA also advises you check your car manual to make sure the tyres are at the correct pressure, as under inflated tyres use more fuel. I had two new tyres fitted recently so they were checked then, but I will make a note to do it again when I get some more diesel.

I have a friend who always keeps a barrel on the top of her landrover as it is handy storage. This is a no-no, according to the AA, as roof boxes and storage containers add wind resistance, therefore increasing fuel consumption. Ditto carrying heavy loads around in your boot. This is not a good place to store all your garden tools!

Other tips from the AA for saving money on motoring:

Cut down on the air-con as this increases fuel consumption. If it’s a hot day open the windows rather than turn on the air conditioning. Also turn off anything electrical in the car when you aren’t using it: heated windscreens, fans and headlights.

If you get stuck in a traffic jam and it looks as though it will be a while, turn off the engine. Stick to speed limits: the faster you go the more fuel you will use. You may also get a speeding ticket, which will cost you a fine and is likely to increase the cost of your insurance.

 ‘Driving at 70mph uses up to 9% more fuel than at 60mph and up to 15% more than at 50mph. Cruising at 80mph can use up to 25% more fuel than at 70mph.’ – The AA

These small things could add up to a big saving, particularly if you use your car a lot.

I always try to refuel at the supermarket as they are cheaper, in my experience. As I pass the Asda petrol station on my way to work so it makes sense.

Saving on the MOT

I found another good money saving motoring tip from moneysavingexpert.com a few years ago which I have used a couple of times. Most councils have their own MOT testing centres for council vehicles that are open to the public. They generally provide only the MOT test and do not carry out any remedial repairs. Therefore, they have no vested interest in diagnosing anything other than genuine faults.

My ex-husband got an ancient old banger through its MOT on three occasions when it would certainly have had the mechanics at any other garage sucking their teeth and rubbing their hands with glee at the faults they could find!

Saving money on motoring is just common sense really. What do you do to keep your motoring costs down?

Teach your Kids to Cook

curried chick peasCooking is a hugely useful life skill, especially if you are on a budget, health conscious, or adventurous in your eating habits…

I really can’t understand parents who cook themselves but don’t teach their children, or even worse, parents who don’t cook at all and live off ready meals. I know quite a few teens who are completely hopeless in the kitchen. DD2 went off to uni and was amazed to find one of the boys in her flat had filled the freezer with meals lovingly prepared by his Mum. Very nice of her, but wouldn’t it have been more useful to teach him a few basic culinary skills so that he could do it himself? Is she planning to bring him several months worth of meals at a time so that he never has to cook? I suspect so!!

My children were all up to chopping a few vegetables by the age of three, and we always baked cakes together. DD1 cooked her first full family roast dinner aged 10! They can all cook, and all understand what is healthy food and what is rubbish. I am not saying they don’t eat rubbish given half a chance, but generally their habits are pretty good. I always fed them decent food and didn’t allow them to become fussy eaters. I think you lead by example – if you cook good food and eat lots of fruit and veg, then your children will do as you do.

Tonight I asked DD3, who is 15, to make dinner as she is still on school holidays, and she made a really delicious Curried Vegetable and Chick Pea Stew:

1 onion, chopped
1 small courgette, chopped (I used frozen from my garden – you could use a bit of broccoli instead)
2 small carrots, sliced
chunky clove of garlic, minced
half a pint of stock
1 x 400g can of chickpeas
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
Half a teaspoon ground ginger
half a teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
half a teaspoon ground cinammon
Dash of tabasco to taste
Salt and pepper to season

Heat some oil in a large saucepan and soften the onion and garlic for a few minutes, then add all of the spices and stir for a minute or so. Add the courgette and carrot and fry for 5 minutes. Now add the chickpeas, stock and tomatoes and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer for around 15 minutes. Serve with some cous cous or rice.

Super easy, healthy and cheap!

Get your kids cooking as early as you can, and encourage them to try as many different foods as possible. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables yourself to show them how delicious they can be, and to encourage good habits from an early age. Then, when you need them to knock you up a speedy tea, they will be able to and you will reap the rewards!

Extreme Couponing?

I can’t help but think I am missing a trick with this extreme couponing lark. I regularly read articles about how people get their entire week’s shop for £3 and plan to pay off their mortgage and buy a yacht (OK, maybe not the yacht). My daughter likes to visit the on-line coupon sites and gives me lots of them, but I rarely use them unless they are for something I was planning to buy anyway. It seems pointless buying stuff just because it is cheap.

It took me a while to fathom how extreme couponing works and how you could end up paying nothing at all for some items. For those not already in the know, you need to use the on-line vouchers alongside the supermarket offers on the same product. For example, if there is a product priced at £1 on BOGOF, effectively making it 50p per item, and you print off two 50p off vouchers, you get both products for nothing. Sounds easy? Maybe not!

There are three things that put me off becoming an extreme couponer. Firstly, I don’t have time to spend hours each day researching where there are offers and finding vouchers. Secondly, I don’t want to end up eating loads of rubbish just because it is cheap – I want to feed my family cheap but nutritious meals. Finally, I don’t want to be the mad coupon lady at the till, making everybody wait whilst the cashier checks all my vouchers.

There! I seem to have talked myself out of it. I will start actively looking for coupons for products that I want to buy though to save a few pennies where I can. In case you want to give it a try, this seems like a good article that I found in the Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/consumertips/8923564/Meet-Britains-queen-of-extreme-couponing.html

Looking Back…

Well, they say don’t look back, but perhaps sometimes it is a useful exercise. The opportunity to look at the challenges you faced and how you have dealt with them,  pat yourself on the back for doing so well, or think how you can learn from your mistakes. You can remind yourself of the good times: what went well, the things that made you proud and happy. You may have to face the dark times too, but you don’t need to dwell. Just decide how you will make things better from now on.

I have always thought of myself as frugal – certainly I have never had much money to spare. However, in the past few years, since my divorce, I have struggled with my finances and found myself falling into bad habits.

At the start of 2013 I felt very depressed and anxious. I hadn’t saved a penny towards Christmas so had put all of the presents on my credit card. I was still paying off an expensive holiday from the previous year, and on top of that had to buy my car insurance with my credit card too as I hadn’t put money aside for that either and paying monthly was prohibitively expensive. I had done a bit of credit card ‘tarting’ and was on an interest free deal, but I still owed more money than I was comfortable with.

On top of that, my eldest daughter was unemployed. She had hesitated to sign on as she was sure she would find something else quickly but had only found a series of poorly paid temporary jobs which delayed her eligibilty for any benefits.  I was having to support her and had lost the housekeeping she gave me previously. My second daughter was finishing her A levels and would be moving on to university. I was happy for her because she was ready to  go and excited about moving into the big wide world and having her independance. However, I was also aware that her leaving meant a loss of income for me: child tax credits, child benefit and maintenance from her father. None of these things were extras: they were part of my essential income. I would have one less to feed but still had to run a house and pay the mortgage.

cropped-smiley-veg-small.jpgIn the Spring I hit the big 5-0. Maybe this was the turning point. I started to read some amazing and frugal blogs which gave me some inspiration and a kick up the backside. Thanks Frugal Queen, a Girl Called Jack and Mortgage Free in particular, and all the other lovely blogs I have discovered since. I went back to some of my old books like The Tightwad Gazette and the Penny Pincher’s Bible and read them again. I knew exactly what I had to do so I began to take my own advice – I reviewed all my bills and got the gas and electricity fixed at a good price, and a better deal on my car and house insurance. I reduced the Virgin package to the minimum – I would have cut it altogether but I was stuck in a contract. When that expires I will cancel it. I planned my meals and reduced my food bill, introducing my family to lots of vegetarian meals and cheap dinners like liver and bacon casserole and chick pea curry, which is now a favourite. Instead of shopping in the High Street I became a boot sale addict. I even put some money away for Christmas – not enough but it helped a bit. The ever supportive Mr Shoestring helped me dig a veggie patch and assembled a greenhouse that we found on Ebay, which enabled us to grow loads of our own food.

In the summer I took in foreign students, who were great. Interesting, lovely teenagers from Switzerland, Italy and Slovakia who are all now my Facebook friends and were a pleasure to have in the house. They also paid off my overdraft!

I tried to get a lodger and signed up with www.fivenights.com – I wanted my daughter to be able to come home from uni at weekends and this seemed the ideal solution. Unfortunately this was not a success, but nothing ventured…

I started this blog at the beginning of November as a helpful way of recording my life and keeping myself motivated. It has proved incredibly enjoyable and I have come across some lovely fellow bloggers who have encouraged me to continue.

So, a bumpy ride, with some achievements. I got through Christmas and into the New year with the smallest of overdrafts and nothing extra on the credit card. DD2 went happily off to uni and is having a great time and doing well academically. She has also got a part time job to supplement her loan. DD1 now has a great job in town that she loves. Even DD3 got a job, serving teas at an old people’s home I have no overdraft and just £600 to pay off on the credit card. I have set up a regular standing order to put aside all the money I will need for my car insurance, tax and MOT this year, plus extra for birthdays and Christmas. I have a new yoga class about to commence that will bring in a few pounds extra every week.

I still have some anxiety around money. I need to reduce my outgoings further and bring in some extra income somehow. I have to watch every penny. I have to find the money to get kitty spayed this month and host a very cheap party for my DD3’s 16th birthday, neither of which were budgeted for.

I am not there yet – I am a long way from relaxing. But I do have a new determination to do it and  I will record the journey here!