Monthly Archives: June 2014

Off on our adventures

Lake Windermere

Lake Windermere

Very excited! We are off to the Lake District in the morning, leaving DD1 and her friends to guard the fort. My lovely cousins own a mobile home there and are letting us use it for a week. It was the location of many great holidays with my parents as a teenager so I looking forward to going back with my own teens.

It has been busy as usual this week, so tonight will be a mad scramble of last minute packing. We need to be prepared for all kinds of weather so we have waterproofs and jeans alongside our shorts and suncream!

I went to Aldi last night and bought some provisions: pasta, rice, sauces and a risotto mix so that we can make quick and cheap meals in the caravan; rolls, crisps and fruit for the journey, coffee, tea, cereal and juice so we are set up on the first morning, plus lots of sweets and drinks to keep in the car. We won’t be wasting our money in any motorway service stations en route, although we will take advantage of their loos!

I’m not sure if and when I will get any wi-fi connection. There, but will post when I can.

Could you live in a caravan?

As it draws to a natural close, I have just discovered a most interesting blog. Our Life in a Caravan has documented the life of a man who decided that he was fed up with all his hard earned wages going on rent and bills so he decided to move permanently into his caravan. Not a static caravan, a proper pull it along behind your car job. Reading the comments on the blog, it appears he is not alone! Many people find life a daily challenge financially so have chosen to ditch the expensive house for life on wheels. It is saying something when you work full time to earn your cash and still can’t afford to live.

imageBecause the law doesn’t allow you to live permanently on one caravan site, this has involved him moving after a period elsewhere. He sounds entirely positive about this, saying it is like being on holiday all
the time! However now his life is changing and he has transferred back to life under bricks and tiles.

I can totally relate to his motivations for doing what he did. I too feel like I work very hard and can barely afford to pay my bills, let alone buy any luxuries. However, I would find moving around and living in such a small space a struggle. However if it came to it I would do it – I love the idea of having money left over to enjoy some of life’s more expensive pleasures and not to constantly have one eye on the overdraft!

What do you think? You can find the blog at

Proud mum at the prom

imageIt’s late and I’m too tired to blog much but I have to show you my beautiful daughter at her prom…she had her hair and makeup done for free by Mr Shoestring’s niece, who happens to be a professional make up artist who has done the makeup for some of the TOWIE girls (for those of you who aren’t in the UK this is a reality TV show, The Only Way is Essex). imageShe found herself a simple but stunning black dress on the internet and we put wedding ribbon on my sister’s BMW so she could turn up in style.

She looked amazing – a fitting end to her school life before she moves on to A levels. Have you had to do the prom thing, and did you manage it without breaking the bank?image


Warm glow of satisfaction

For the first time ever my car has got through it’s MOT with no issues!! Well apart from a new bulb. It cost £51 and I am delighted!!

This is especially important as we are driving it from Essex to the Lake District soon and I was terrified they might find something expensive and time consuming. Huge relief!!

imageI spent the entire day working in the garden yesterday trying to get as much as possible done and my greenhouse cleared of any seedlings. DD1 says she will water it whilst I am away but I know from experience she won’t do it enough. Hopefully the tomatoes are big and strong enough to cope but the baby plants will die. At least outside they might get some rain.

I am ashamed to say I got sunburnt! I have fair skin and I am usually careful but used Mr S’s factor 10 instead of my usual factor 20. Silly me! Luckily I have a tube of aloe vera which is brilliant for any kind of burn so have been applying liberally.

I picked a couple of lettuces which I have washed and bagged up for lunches all week. We also had our own early potatoes, spinach and raspberries for our tea last night – delicious.

So – warm glows all round!

What frugal things have you done this weekend?

Didn’t get the chance to blog yesterday – I was a busy bee!

I had to give the house a thorough clean as we are going to my cousin’s caravan in the Lake District next Saturday (can’t wait! Such a beautiful place) and I am working all week so it was my last chance. The day after we get back our new language student arrives, so I want the house to be in good order. Having said that DD1 will be here looking after things, and she isn’t the tidiest of people, so I may still come back to an almighty mess! Anyway, there are more things in the pile in the shed destined for the boot sale next month. That should make a few pounds hopefully, as will hosting our student.

Banana muffins ready for the freezer

Banana muffins ready for the freezer

I used up some black bananas making a huge batch of banana muffins – half for this week, half for the freezer.

I also used a sad looking onion, some celery that I had forgotten about in the fridge and sweet potato that has been in there for over a week making a vegetable curry for dinner. I dug out the frozen tomatoes and courgettes from last summer’s harvest (I need to use these up before this year’s crops are upon us!) and popped those in the pot too, then found the leftover potatoes from Friday’s meal and they went in as well. That was a frugal dinner but really tasty. 

A hotpotch of veg - left over potatoes going into the curry

A hotpotch of veg – left over potatoes going into the curry

Finally, I sat up until midnight so that I could go and collect my girls from the station to save the taxi money. They went to a big concert in London yesterday and had a brilliant time, although they were exhausted since it was such a hot day yesterday.

Today I have DD1 arriving back from Amsterdam and DD2 going off to Turkey. They can fund themselves these days, and I love to see them going off and having their adventures. I enjoy travel, and that is the thing I find most frustrating about having no spare money. When I was younger and unencumbered with responsibility, I used to disappear abroad for months at a time, doing any jobs I could before I left to get the cash, and topping up when I was away by working if I could. I hitch-hiked around Europe with my then boyfriend (I would NEVER allow my daughters to do this now), I worked in Belgium as an au pair, I spent 6 months on a kibbutz in Israel, and I travelled around New Zealand with my now sister in law, staying in youth hostels and picking strawberries and asparagus on the way. Now I generally stay closer to home, although if I had a big lottery win I would be off like a shot! In the meantime, I am more than happy to spend a week in the Lake District. It’s Mr S’s first visit and I think he will love it.

What frugal things have you been up to this weekend? And do you have dreams of travelling the globe?

Just a Little Meat

When trying to get my food bills down I have struggled in the past with a lack of cooperation from my family around our meat consumption. If it was down to me we would eat vegetarian most of the time – 1. Because it is healthier and 2. Because meat is so expensive! I was actually a vegetarian for 16 years, so I know that veggie food can be just as tasty.

fish pie 1Fortunately, the whole family really enjoy vegetables, so it is easy enough for me to do a range of meals which contain just a little meat. They are almost, but not quite, veggie! A vegetable stir fry with noodles and left-over meat from the roast is a favourite, as are pasta dishes with a lot of veg and just a bit of bacon or chorizo sausage. I can also replace half of the meat in certain dishes with TVP (textured vegetable protein), so I can make two lots of Bolognese sauce or two cottage pies with the same amount of meat I would usually use for one. So one for now, and one for the freezer. I have tried the same with lentils and other pulses but can only get away with replacing about a quarter of the meat.

imageThere are other well-known dishes like toad in the hole that use just a bit of meat and are filling and popular. I also like to use sausages to make a mock roast – I pinched this idea from Frugal Queen and it is a good one. You make a full roast with stuffing and Yorkshires, but just replace your expensive joint of pork or whatever with sausages. It all goes down with no complaints here!

So, what are your ‘just a little meat’ dishes? Do you live with militant veggies or confirmed carnivores?

Getting organised

The key to a lot of people living in a small house is organisation. I have to stand a bit of mess as I live with a very untidy family, and I don’t want to get all anal about it. I have been to friends’ houses where I was terrified about leaving a cushion out of place or creasing a hand towel. I want everybody to be relaxed but at the same time I don’t want to be falling over unnecessary mess and clutter.

imageOver the years I have found that baskets on shelves are a good cost effective means of containing and hiding any clutter. I am brutal about getting rid of things I no longer use and know I am unlikely to find a need for in the future. Mr Shoestring hates this as he is a bit of a hoarder.

I have mentioned before that my second daughter is back for the summer after her first year at university and has arrived with lots of belongings from her digs. Those items she doesn’t need to access daily have been packed off to her dad’s as he has a spare room, but there are still a lot of things!

imageA crucial part of my plan to keep my finances on track is to have foreign students to stay. We have another one coming in two weeks and hopefully a long term one arriving in September. This means that sometimes darling daughters 2 and 3 have to share a bedroom! We need to get organised so that DD2 can slip seamlessly back and forth.

So I am badgering them both to rationalise their clothes and belongings. We currently have about 8 binliners full of items we will sell at a boot sale later in the summer, but there will be more.

I spent yesterday evening sorting the room out and trying to use every available bit of space effectively, and it is coming together. We will get there!

Are you a hoarder or the house proud type? Or like me, somewhere in between?

I’m all a twitter!

imageI thought I would get with it and get a Twitter account! Until now it has all been a bit of a mystery, but I decided to give it a try. You can follow me @shoestringjane. I will attempt to put something pithy on every now and again but we shall see.

I was heartened to discover a couple of lovely people had already tweeted about my blog. I had no idea! Thanks folks.

Amsterdam flower market

Amsterdam flower market

I waved DD1 off on her trip to Amsterdam this morning. I hope she takes the opportunity to properly explore this amazing city rather than only its nightlife. I spent a wonderful week there a couple of years ago on a houseboat with Mr S and we loved it. We visited many galleries and museums, had a walk through the beautiful Jordaan area and bought some bulbs for the flower market that still pop up in the garden every year as a memento of our trip. We also took a canal boat trip and it was fab. No doubt DD1’s experience will be a lttle different and she will be a lot more bleary eyed!

Simple Pleasures


The courgettes are coming!

The courgettes are coming!

I have said this before, but it doesn’t take much to make me happy. The older I have got, the more I appreciate the simple things. I don’t want lots of stuff. I would hate a party lifestyle. What I would like is more time to spend with Mr S and the girls, to cook and garden and travel, and enough money not to worry about day to day bills.

imageI went out early to put out the washing and it was so quiet and peaceful. Everything was blooming and growing, the birds were singing, the cat was slinking around my legs and it was heavenly. Shame I had to come in and go to work!!

But it was a good start to my day and I even picked a handful of raspberries to go on my porridge.

Tea for Two

imageIt has been a really busy weekend. Firstly, I had the usual week’s cleaning and laundry to do. Secondly, DD3 is back from uni for the summer which, whilst being lovely, means she has brought all her stuff with her and the house is rammed with things! We have to rationalise in order to fit her and DD3 into the big bedroom and keep the small bedroom free for our next student, who will be here for three weeks in July. My girls have so many clothes! They don’t wear half of them – there aren’t enough days in the week – but persuading them to get rid of some is a battle. They don’t spend a great deal of money and many of their clothes are from boot sales and charity shops. They like to call them vintage! But they do have a lot. This time, however. there is an imperative to rationalise and we already have a bag of bits to sell on-line and another 5 bags for a boot sale later in the summer. There is still plenty to sort out! Finally there were some plants in the greenhouse that had to be put out. Sunflowers and alpines. Hopefully I haven’t left them too late and they will thrive in the garden.

Rowhedge regatta

Rowhedge regatta

But it’s not good to spend the entire weekend doing jobs! Last night we went to a little place called Rowhedge, which was holding its annual regatta. We had some drinks, watched some live music and saw the fireworks. It was lovely.

Cream tea for Mr S

Cream tea for Mr S

Today we took a trip in the afternoon to Dovercourt, which is by the sea near the Essex/Suffolk border. We had a walk along the coast to Harwich and had a cream tea on the pier. All this work and gallivanting has left is both shattered so the plan for tonight is a quiet night in. Anyone else had a busy weekend?