Reflections on our year at Shoestring Cottage

We did a lot of decorating…


We had a year of family  celebrations in 2016, which probably explains why my birthday fund didn’t stretch to the end of the year! I had one daughter’s 18th and another’s 21st, my parents’ diamond wedding anniversary, one nephew’s 21st and another nephew’s 30th.

This year I will have Mr S’s 50th so I need to plan better and put a bit extra away for that.

I managed to lose half a stone early in the year, which I was really happy about. However, I have since managed to put most of this back on! The perils of middle aged spread. I must try again as I hate it when my clothes feel tight.

We decorated the kitchen in February. It was a bit of a shoestring makeover but was a massive improvement. In September we did what was the dining room and is now the lodger’s sitting room in a similar style plus the downstairs loo. For such a small room this seemed to take forever and we have just completed all the finishing touches. You don’t have to spend a fortune on home improvements to make a difference.

Beautiful Devon

Looking back, we seem to have been all over the place this year. We had a great day at the Leigh Folk Festival,  a weekend in London courtesy of my parents, a week dog sitting for friends,  a week in Wales and another in Devon plus countless walks around Essex and Suffolk. My friends on Facebook think we are a couple of gadabouts. In truth we never do anything that is expensive and you don’t see any pictures from the Maldives or any fancy hotels. But we have fun!
One daughter graduated in July, one got a great new job and the other managed really good A level results. I was such a proud mummy!

I have spent a few months decluttering, but have more to do. I really do not like clutter! However, looking through my old posts I did a lot of shopping at bootsales and charity shops. I need to make sure I don’t buy anything I don’t really need or that just becomes more clutter! 

We had a lot of language students last year, which was useful extra money. However, next year I will be getting a lodger instead. I have a young lady who seems really interested, so fingers crossed. 

Globally, 2016 has been a terrible year, but it hasn’t been a bad one at Shoestring Cottage. I hope yours was good and that 2017 will be better for all of us!

No spend January 

I am avoiding the sales as there is so much I want to buy that I can’t afford. In an ideal world there would be enough left in the pot to take advantage of some bargains but there isn’t. The only exception will be Boots. I have a £25 voucher from Father Christmas so might take a peek at their reduced gift sets before the New Year. If there is nothing I fancy I will save it for toiletries and makeup as I need them. In the past I have bought Christmas cards, wrap and crackers at this time but I still have plenty to use for next year. 

To get the bank balance back in shape I am giving up spending  for a month on anything except food and essentials. No more snacking at work or sneaky coffees in town,  impulse buying books or any of the other things that can catch me out.

I would avoid town all together but have to go in on Friday to see the optician and change a jumper I bought for Mr S that doesn’t quite fit. So it will be in, parked and straight out again 😀.

The other weakness I have is for charity shops. Even if I go in with donated items I often can’t resist coming out with more stuff I probably don’t need. What are your weaknesses when it comes to spending? Anyone care to join me on my no spend month?

Not wasting food

I am so enjoying my Christmas break. We have been taking things easy for a change, seeing family and having a good rest – plus eating too much!

I have cleaned out a couple of kitchen cupboards though – that had been the extent of my efforts. I like to go through them all every now and again to remind myself of what is there and make sure we eat anything near its best before date.

We have plenty of food in the house which I do not want to waste. I bought the usual amount of fruit but because there is so much in the way of snacks and unhealthy stuff that it hasn’t been eaten. I will make a big fruit salad tomorrow and then it should go. We are all murmuring about eating too much rubbish so something healthy should go down a treat. 

We don’t have Christmas leftovers here as such as we weren’t here on Christmas Day, otherwise I would be making Christmas soup with it all!

How about you? Are you using it all up?

Spending less and saving more in 2017

We have had a lovely day and dinner at my sister’s and we are now home and chilling. It’s nice to have a bit of quiet time to relax. I have been having a think about the upcoming lean January I need to have. I am absolutely determined to save more money next year than I managed in 2016 and I will do this in the following ways:

Spending less

This is tricky as I already live a frugal lifestyle. But I am sure I can save here and there. I need to question every single purchase. Do I really need this? Can I do without it? Can I get it more cheaply?

I had two holidays in 2016, it was lovely! But it cleared out my savings. This year it is Mr S’s BIG birthday. I won’t say which, I will leave you to guess. So we will have a holiday to celebrate as that is the thing he loves to do, but just the one.

I can spend less on groceries. I already shop in the discount supermarkets (Aldi or Lidl) but I will do more yellow sticker hunting. Tell me please, what is the best time to visit the supermarkets to find the really serious discounts?

I need to cook more. Lack of time has made me start using more jars and more expensive short cuts. I need to find some energy and enthusiasm and do some batch cooking.

Getting control of the ad hoc spending

Getting control of my ad hoc spending is essential. I have noticed that I have started buying the tempting but expensive 80p chocolate bars or bags of crisps from the machine rather than keeping a few cheaper snacks in my drawer at work. Popping to Asda or somewhere for my Lacrofree milk and cat food is something I need to do, but  while I am in there picking up wine, snacks, a fancy salad for work, etc. I need to go in with my blinkers on and only buy what I intended!

I will clean my own car. It only takes half an hour but I am tempted from time to time to take it to the Polish car washers. They do a great job but at £10 when it could be free.

I rarely buy new clothes, I dye my own hair and buy only basic toiletries. So nothing to save there. I am mean with the heating and fanatical about turning off lights so no savings there either. We hardly ever go out to the pub or for a meal, so not much I can cut back on.

I will do a review of all my outgoings to check to see if I can get anything such as utilities  more cheaply or cut things out all together.

Earning more

This year, as well as spending less,  I need to bring more money in. I went for a promotion but didn’t hear before Christmas so don’t think I was successful. However, there will be other chances so I will sign up to some job alerts so I don’t miss the opportunities.

I am hoping to get a lodger. This is proving tougher than I thought but hopefully I will get some more interest in the new year. In the meantime I will keep taking the language students as I have for the past few years.

I intend to up my eBay sales . This has made me a bit extra in the past year or two – £50-£100 sometimes a month. It takes quite a bit of time but it all helps. This will go straight to savings.

What are your top tips for making more money and spending less?

Feeling grateful

I am reading this interesting book at the moment – another gem from the charity book sale at work. Interesting title! It is about a totally hopeless mother who drags her poor children from one terrible situation to another. They are dirt poor, mostly because of the woman’s ineptitude and increasing reliance on ‘the social’ to pick her up when she is down. It is told through the eyes of the oldest child. I am half way through and really hoping she won’t follow in her mother’s footsteps and go for a life of booze, fags, drugs and useless men.

It reminded me of a childhood friend I met when I was 12. I was always aware my family didn’t have much to spare and money was tight, but if I ever felt hard done by then meeting this girl stopped all that. 

Her mum had agoraphobia and couldn’t be alone either at home or on the few occasions she left the house. Dad was in prison. There were four children at home. I remember being shocked that they had a boarded up window and that my friend had terrible old clothes and seemed permanently hungry. They didn’t have hot water or heating and she had to strip wash at the kitchen sink. Either she or her brother had to bunk off school to be with  her mum as she couldn’t be alone and the two youngest children were too little.

I really tried to help by giving her clothes, inviting her to dinner and I take credit in persuading her that she needed to come to school so that she could get her O levels. The truancy officers were always on their case and her mum had been taken to court several times. I can’t remember what arrangements were made but I do know she started coming to school almost every day.

She eventually got a Saturday job and ended up running off with the manager. I think he offered her safety and security, and the chance of a comfortable life away from the grinding poverty of her early years. She also passed all her exams and the last I heard had a great job with a government department. Her mum had also got treatment for her mental health issues and got over her agoraphobia. 

It shows that poverty is all relative and, whilst we may feel cash strapped, most of us will never have to suffer such real deprivation.

I truly feel for those that do, especially at this time of sometimes ridiculous excess. It makes me grateful that I have a job, a roof over my head and money left over for a festive celebration or two. 

I have all the presents bought and wrapped, the decorations up and the cards posted. I just need to write a shopping list for the Christmas food and will hit the supermarket very early on Christmas Eve and get it done. Then I have a whole 10 days off so will make the most of it. 

How are your preparations coming along?

Increasing my waistline and a lack of time management 

Sorry I have been so quiet of late. I have been using all my spare time to prepare for a job interview. Between that, work and Christmas prep there’s been very little time for much else. The interview went ok I think. I should find out next week whether I am successful.

I am trying to catch up now. Last night I did the usual weekly shop at Lidl then went to Sainsbury’s for some Christmas bits and somebody’s leaving present at work. I didn’t get in until 8.15 then had to go out half an hour later to collect DD3 from work.

I had just enough time for a quick cuppa and a bit of cold quiche, and to feed the cats who were looking very unimpressed at having to wait so long for their dinner.

This morning I was writing Christmas cards for colleagues in my car before I got in! I haven’t had the chance to do any that should be posted and have a busy weekend  ahead so Lord knows when I will find time.

Today we have our Christmas buffet at work. I brought in some chopped veg and hummus and I’m glad I did as it was mainly pastry items like sausage rolls and lots of crisps – a veritable carb fest! I am eating out tonight as well with the management team from work. Oh well, the diet can wait until after Christmas.

Tomorrow will be my chance to check I have bought everything for Christmas and clean through the house and have a nice quiet night in. We are off to my sister’s for a gathering on Sunday as they will be away at Christmas.

Next week I need to wrap all the gifts and plan the food shop. Thank goodness I have the week off between Christmas and the New Year.

I have rarely felt so disorganised for Christmas. I generally start in September and start wrapping and writing cards as December arrives. Better organisation should be my New Year’s resolution I think! How are your plans going for the festive season?

I’ll embrace this new trend

I heard on the news the other day that there is a new trend amongst parents not to overspend when buying Christmas presents for their children. Instead they are buying four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

I hadn’t really considered it before but this is more or less what I always did for my daughters when they were growing up. I didn’t have the money to spend hundreds on each of them, but I wouldn’t even if I had been loaded.

They had a main present -something I knew they had been hankering after – some little gifts like sweets and colouring pens, maybe an item of clothing like pyjamas or a new dress, books and perhaps a coat they needed. I asked my daughter if she felt she missed out and she said she definitely didn’t.

Before I had children I spent Christmas with a couple of quite well off friends with a two year old son. This little boy had so many presents it was obscene. They lined one long wall! He got over excited and was mostly running around throwing wrapping paper about. He couldn’t be bothered to open them all let alone take any time playing with them. He also didn’t open the little gift I had bought him so I have no idea if he liked it. I expect it ended up at the charity shop with half the other stuff!

I swore that I would never do that to my own children. I wanted them    to show appreciation and gratitude, and to enjoy their gifts of course.

I am always amazed at people who get so swept up in the Christmas frenzy they buy their kids an x- box rather than paying the rent. So I will be embracing this trend and I hope it spreads!

A waste of money

I’m talking about dry clean only clothes – what a racket! I rarely buy them, but if I pick something up that says dry clean on the label I usually ignore it. Many items are fine on a wool wash in my experience. 

I washed my daughter’s pretty but highly impractical pale pink coat tonight and this has come up good as new. I wouldn’t have attempted this if it had been a wool coat though. Some pure silk garments can’t be washed either if the fabric is very delicate, but I have found most ok. The dry cleaners in my local supermarket seems to charge at least £9 a garment. I’m not paying that! 

I have seen ladies trousers that were dry clean only – this is madness. I might wash trousers after two or three wears so that would be very expensive. Having said all that, I bought a lovely dress a few years ago for a wedding and I will eventually pay for this to be professionally cleaned as I think a wash might spoil the material. It was expensive and will last me years if I am careful. I have only worn it three times as yet so I haven’t had to dry clean it so far. I have used my steam cleaner on it instead – these are great for freshening things up. 

Do you buy dry clean only clothing? 

Perfect Sunday 

I don’t normally let Christmas in this early, but I needed to go through all my decorations to take the spare ones into work and before I knew it we had put ours up!

I bought loads really cheaply at my favourite charity shop and the others I have had for years. It looks really cosy.

We had a lovely autumn walk today in the sunshine, walking five miles  from Colchester to Wivenhoe and back. If you haven’t walked the Wivenhoe trail I recommend it. When you arrive there is a great pub in the village called the Rose and Crown, by the estuary. Today we settled for a cup of tea in a little cafe before we headed back to Colchester. 

We now have roast pork in the oven which will be followed by apple and blackberry crumble made with foraged fruit for pud. Can Sundays get any better?