No spend January – how did I do?

Regular readers will be aware that, like many people in the new year, Christmas had left my bank account feeling rather depleted. I resolved to make January a no spend month, buying nothing except essentials.

During my no spend January, I paid the bills, planned our meals to use up what we already had and then kept grocery spending as low as I could. I bought petrol but tried to minimise how much I used the car and drove like a granny so I didn’t use so much fuel. We didn’t need any cleaning products and won’t do for a few months. No clothes, books or makeup were purchased. Even the cats have had to get used to a cheaper brand of food!

The odd slip up

Did I have any slips during my no spend January? Well, yes, I caved and bought hair dye as I had a grey stripe on my head, I bought popcorn and snacks for my daughters from Lidl when we went to the cinema (they treated us as they had vouchers). On Friday at work I was a bit hormonal and gave in to a bar of chocolate from the vending machine (80p! Could have got a pack of 4 for £1 elsewhere).

Other than that I have done really well – so well I am extending this into a no spend February. None of this is really a stretch for me as I am frugal nearly all the time anyway, but declaring a no spend month keeps me hyper aware of my every purchase. If I am going to create a healthy emergency fund I need to do this.

I really need a haircut at some point so that might be an allowed exception. It is also Valentine’s Day. We never go over the top with this but will have a nice meal in and I plan to make Mr S a present. (Not sure what yet but it is likely to be edible!). Because it actually IS the thought that counts.

Preparing for the wood burner

We will need every spare penny over the next couple of months as Mr S is installing a woodburner. This was my birthday present a year and a half ago but for various reasons other things have taken priority and it has been sitting in its box waiting to be fitted. He will do everything himself except line the chimney so it shouldn’t be too expensive, but we will redecorate and freshen up the whole room. He has damaged the wallpaper, adding to the damage already inflicted by the kitten! I don’t intend to use any savings for this project, it will mean being super frugal and cutting back elsewhere.

It’s been an interesting month for my blog. I made a new year resolution to write a decent post every day and the number of views I get has doubled. I am chuffed, so thanks to those of you who have read my whitterings!

How about you? Did anyone else do a no spend January or are you planning a no spend month?

Tightwad Gazette remembered

Recently reader Sam commented that my blog reminded her of the old Tightwad Gazette from the 90’s. She said it was a compliment and I definitely took it as one because I love that book. It is an absolute classic. When I first came across it about ten years ago I consumed it from cover to cover, and have read it several times since. I often take a look through if I need some frugal inspiration. The Tightwad Gazette is a worthy addition to my Frugal Bookshelf.

Frugal inspiration

It is a fantastically inspiring text totally packed with money saving ideas and great drawings throughout. The author, Amy Dacyczyn, was a graphic designer who had always wanted to live in a historic New England farmhouse and have lots of children. She didn’t want to go out to work and leave her kids with a nanny to pay for her dream and set about proving she didn’t need to.

Amy decided that by saving money on every single thing she purchased, by making things last and by only buying what she really needed, her family didn’t need two incomes. She became a ‘student of thrift’, buying clothes from yard sales, carefully costing food purchases to work out the cheapest way to eat healthily, learning to make and repair rather than buying new, and planning ahead and saving for big purchases rather than buying them on credit.

A game changer

She shared what she had learned in a newsletter, and the first edition of the Tightwad Gazette book was born. As well as her own sensible advice, it contains correspondence and moneysaving tips from the readers of the newsletters. It is aimed at an American audience and somewhat dated in places (how to make typewriter ribbons last longer by spraying them with hairspray 😄). However, it is still a fantastic course for those who want to find ideas and inspiration to help them save money. It is a real game changer and I really recommend it. Mine is well thumbed and rather dog eared now so it really was worth every penny.

I wish Amy would come out of retirement and write her own blog. We need her common sense approach to life more than ever!

I have signed up to the Amazon affiliates scheme so if you choose to click through and buy this book on my recommendation I will earn a small commission.

There is no shame in bagging a bargain!

From time to time I  see acquaintances when I am shopping in one of the discount shops I like to use. Some of them look embarrassed and make silly comments. Yesterday morning a work colleague I saw in Lidl looked sheepish and said, ‘Let’s pretend this is Waitrose.’ I said ‘No – all the clever people shop in here now!’ I could have said, ‘You’re kidding – I wouldn’t be seen dead wasting my hard earned cash with their prices!’ I will save that for next time 😀.

Why are people embarrassed about shopping smart and bagging a good deal? There is no shame in being sensible with your money, even if you are loaded.

If people compliment me on something I am wearing and it was secondhand on eBay or from a boot sale, I tell them. If I can get a really nice work outfit for £8 in decent condition instead of £40 new, why wouldn’t I?

I love getting a bargain. I got quite excited when I found big blocks of cheddar on offer in Lidl for £1.99 yesterday. I bought two as they have a use by date in May. If you are passing, pop in and grab some! 

I have a plan for my money which means squeezing every bit of value out of what I have. So I will do my shopping wherever I get get best value cheapest. 

If you are a bargain hunter, and carefully watching your bank balance (however large or small that might be), don’t be ashamed – be proud! 

Haggling down the cost of your utilities 

I was listening to Chris Evans on the radio recently and he was relating the story of a woman who spent two hours on the phone to her utility companies threatening to leave and negotiating a better price with each. She eventually saved herself £2000! That is a good use of two hours of anybody’s time 😀.

I have never actually done them all in one go but I do shop around every time something is due for renewal, such as car and house insurance, to get a good price. However, I read reviews and if people are complaining about them I look elsewhere.

One thing I don’t intend to change is my energy provider, Good Energy. I switched to them after a horrific experience with First Utility, who tried to overcharge me by thousands. Their levels of customer service when I tried to get it sorted were appalling. Never again! Good Energy charges reasonable prices, produces all its energy from renewable sources and its customer service is the best I have ever experienced. I’m going nowhere! Sometimes the cheapest sounding deal isn’t worth it. I really recommend this company and, no, they haven’t paid me to say that! 

A year ago my water company offered me a great deal on emergency plumbing insurance, £6.50 for the whole year. At that price, why not? Last week I got a renewal letter and the price was £96.48 for the year, £8.04 a month. I didn’t think I needed this, so rang to cancel. I was then offered a reduced price of £75 for the year. When I refused again this went down to £55 for the year, or £45 if I had a £50 excess. The poor salesman had his work cut out with me and finally accepted I was cancelling. It did make me think though! Never accept the first price you are given!

Have you saved money by haggling down the price of your bills? 

Just say no! Spend less, save more

Since I have been on my journey towards simplicity and frugality I have learned a lot – about myself, the people around me and society in general, especially our attitudes towards money. There is no doubt that we live in a spend now, worry later society. It is still easy to get credit, with lenders seeming to be rather casual about whether we can afford to pay our debts back or not.  So how can we spend less and save more?

spend lessA perfect lifestyle

The pressures on us all to achieve the perfect lifestyle are huge! We measure success in terms of wealth. We need to live in a nice house, drive a new car, wear designer clothes, have an expensive annual holiday. If we get married we should look at a £20k budget minimum. We might even consider a few thousand on plastic surgery to sort out our perceived imperfections.

You might achieve all of these things yet lie awake at night in a fit of anxiety worrying about how you are going to pay for it all. You only have to look at the dramas the rich and famous endure to see that all this surface stuff is no guarantee of happiness, even if you can afford it.

So, number 1 on my list of ways to spend less is – learn to say no! To yourself, your children, your partner and to friends and family.

Just say no and spend less

Your girlfriends invite you on a weekend to Amsterdam – you have a huge overdraft but could add it to the credit card…don’t do it! One of your kids wants a new tablet NOW. They can save up for it or wait until Christmas! You have to go to a smart work do or a wedding and NEED a new outfit. Do you? Is there really nothing in your wardrobe that will do? Ignore the TV ad telling you that a new sofa before Christmas is essential. You parked your bum on the old one perfectly happily all year so why take on a major expense with all those presents to buy?

When you have a supportive partner helping you control your finances you are very lucky. If you don’t then you need to sit them down, show them the current state of your bank balance and make a plan together. Getyour partner on board (and children too if they are old enough to understand) and you are in the first step to getting your relationship with money back on track. If you can’t, your relationship with each other is bound to suffer horribly.

Still having fun

Whatever you need to save money for, to pay off your debts, to retire early, to save for a house deposit or your wedding, or just to get by, saying no will be key. I don’t mean you can’t have any fun. There are so many experiences in life that cost very little or even nothing. It’s not about deprivation, it is about accepting your financial limitations and being more creative and appreciative of what you have. This is very liberating!

This is my intention. I will see friends, I will have a cheap holiday and I will buy a small number of inexpensive things when they are really needed. But gone are the days when I will max out the credit cards to book a break, feel pressured to meet friends in an expensive restaurant or be persuaded to have a store card with a high interest rate when I want to purchase clothes.

How about you? Can you say no? How do you spend less when you need to?

Too much stuff? Liberate it (and yourself)

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful – William Morris

I can in no way be described as a minimalist. Nobody with bunting hanging in the kitchen can claim this! However, I hate clutter and I’m not a fan of holding onto too much stuff or buying new things just for the sake of it. This brings me into conflict with Mr S sometimes who is a bit of a hoarder (he actually found some of his own stuff in the charity shop one day – I was not popular!).

A regular declutter is therapeutic

I am a regular declutterer. I don’t like spaces full of too much stuff so that I don’t know what I own. What’s the point of having things if they aren’t used? I would rather give them away.

So the drawers and cupboards I go to regularly are pretty ordered. However, the spaces that are out of the way are full of junk! We have three sheds in the garden that desperately need sorting out. There are items of furniture stored out there that we are unlikely to use so they need to go to the charity shop or on eBay. The DIY stuff is all over the place and needs organising.

The more things you own, the more they own you – unknown

A dark, disordered place

Another dark, disordered place is the attic. I think most of the things up there we need to keep but it could still do with a bit of rationalisation I am sure. There is far too much stuff up there.

Then there is the hall cupboard, full of tools, cleaning stuff, hoovers and sleeping bags. Every now and again the weight of the stuff inside pushes the door open!

So, there is work to be done and I intend to tackle the lot in the next few months.

A good clear out is really therapeutic I find so I am actually looking forward to it (but not the spiders…).

How about you? Are you a hoarder or a declutterer? Do you have cupboards full of unidentified stuff?

Organised? I have to be

My colleagues quite often start a sentence with  ‘You’re organised, you will know this’ or ‘Jane will find this’ if they are looking for a particular file. I am pretty organised at work. I have to be – I have a terrible memory so I need to keep lists of what I need to do and when, set reminders in my calendar and have a sensible filing system.

At home I am no different. I get really stressed if I’m not on top of the cleaning, laundry or shopping. At times I feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do, but good time management and a routine keeps me in control.  I have to have a really good clean through every week and make sure any paperwork is taken care of. I do this on a Saturday.  I do washing about three times a week. I don’t iron much because I shake clothes out before I hang them and smooth them out as much as possible.

I check my bank balance once a week so that I can keep an eye on spending, make sure all the bills are paid and that there are no odd payments in the account. I know what I pay for everything. If I didn’t how would I know if I was getting a good deal? I also check to see if there is any extra that I can put in one of the savings accounts.

I plan the menus for the week as well as the shopping list. As things get low I write them on a board in the kitchen so we don’t run out.  I frequently cook double what I need to save myself a bit of time. We either eat it the next day as well or freeze it for those days when we are too tired to cook. On Sunday I made pukka yellow curry from Save with Jamie and we ate it again last night – curry is always better as leftovers! This is a nice recipe and it really is a good book. The recipe is here.

I started cleaning a cupboard or a drawer each week as my new year resolution in 2016 and it has really paid off. I know where things are and chuck out stuff we don’t need. Having said that, the drawers in my bedroom really need sorting at the moment as a continuation of my great wardrobe challenge, making sure I wear what I own or get rid of it. That’s one for next weekend.

I never feel I have much spare time, but being organised helps a lot. If I do everything I need to on a Saturday I have the day free to relax on Sunday. We either go out for the day or spend some time in the garden, depending on what we feel like and the weather.

I have areas I can improve on but I know that little and often is the way to go. Get things done, get organised and then you save time in the long run.

Are you an organised person? What are your tips to staying in control when you are really busy?

So this is why we need an emergency fund!

Everybody needs an emergency fund. Most of us crash from month to month just hoping for the best, totally unprepared for situations such as the car breaking down, sickness leading to a loss of salary, or a big household item needing replacement. I blogged the other day about how we are focussing on increasing ours this year with some determined saving. Three things happened at the weekend that brought this need into sharp relief.

First, I noticed that the drain under the kitchen window was blocked. I poured boiling water and soda crystals down it but nothing happened. Mr S prodded and poked it for a while and it finally cleared. It appears that a piece of some kind of plastic packaging got blown under the cover. A minor issue. No plumber required thankfully.

More reasons to have an emergency fund

Later in the day the washing machine began to act strangely, making odd noises and refusing to spin. The machine was an inexpensive one we purchased five or six years ago and I feared the worst. I tried it on various different programmes but it then stopped altogether and  locked itself shut with a load of laundry stuck inside, including my daughter’s work uniform. Yikes! Mr S came to the rescue again. He managed to drain it manually and open the door so that I could retrieve the soggy clothes. We put it through a short cycle with nothing in it and it worked ok but still made a few strange noises during the spin cycle. I ran another load through and it seemed just fine. Mr S thinks the blocked drain backed up into it and temporarily messed it up. So another escape. No expensive call out or, even worse, new machine required!

Finally, we came home from seeing my parents to find the house freezing and the boiler off. This has happened several times over the past month so might be more serious. Each time we have managed to reset it, sometimes having to take some water out of the radiators to manually adjust the pressure. I will call the plumber this week to look at this. He is a friend now as we have been using him since he was newly qualified so we know he won’t rip us off. He has already adjusted it at no charge and thinks he might need to replace a sensor. Hopefully that won’t cost too much. As long as we don’t need a new boiler!

So we will work even harder on the emergency fund , just in case!

In other news…

Changing the subject, DD2 showed a bit of girl power on Saturday, attending one of the many marches across the world aimed at the awful Donald Trump, showing him that the mysoginistic, intolerant and racist undertones that seem to be part of his thinking won’t be tolerated and aren’t acceptable. I wish I had gone – I love a bit of people power!

Have a good week everyone!

The great wardrobe challenge

wardrobe challengeTake the wardrobe challenge

‘I have nothing to wear!’ We have all said it whilst standing in front of a wardrobe full of clothes. I am guilty of this. I tend to wear the same few outfits much of the time: two or three favourite skirts, jeans at the weekend and an assortment of tops.

Most of my clothes are well worn and some have definitely seen better days. Still, they are wearable. A lot were second-hand when I bought them and still going strong. But I have quite a few that just sit there, unworn yet too good to put in the charity bag. I think I will wear them at some point so I hang onto them, but I have some I swear I haven’t touched in three years.

Wear or donate

Time for the great wardrobe challenge! This week, because I am on a no spend month and will not be buying new clothes, I challenged myself to wearing at least one of my ignored garments every day. Of course, there are lots that aren’t suitable for the current cold weather but plenty that are.

I tried a cardigan on that I had actually forgotten I owned. Perfect. Wore that yesterday with my jeans. There was a grey long sleeved top. It is lovely but it is too low cut and I will never feel comfortable wearing it so that went in the charity bag. I have a nice pair of smart trousers – they are too tight round the middle and have been for about three years. It is possible that I might get into them again but I suspect they will just take up wardrobe space, so they are in a pile of things I will list on eBay.

Getting organised

I have organised my wardrobe by item type mostly. Skirts, dresses, shirts and tops, with a section for coats and another for summer wear. That’s better. Now I can see what I have!

I don’t intend to be buying anything new in the next few months apart from underwear. Last year I can think of about 5 items I purchased that weren’t second-hand!  Most of those were in the sale, I am pretty sure.

I would love to go out and spend lots of money on a whole new wardrobe of fabulous clothes,  but I am a realist. I can’t afford it and I don’t really need it!

How about you – nothing to wear? How about trying the wardrobe challenge?

Are you an extreme moneysaver?

I found an article on Twitter yesterday, which made me smile. It was called ’60+ extreme things people have done to save money’.

Some of them were a bit crazy, like  making your own reusable toilet paper, shaving your head to save money on haircuts and hair products, going through your neighbours’ rubbish for coupons and giving your child a new toilet seat for their birthday.

But others were quite sensible and I do some of them (or I know people who do them) – cutting out cable and all other forms of paid tv, cutting your own hair, limiting the amount of stuff you have, hanging blankets over doors and windows to stop drafts, going to bed early with a hot water bottle to save on heat and flushing the toilet less to save on water (the saying being ‘if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down’)!!

The link is here if you fancy reading it.

I have saved a bit of money myself today, buying my poor old cat’s prescription meds online. My old vet used to charge me £100 for 100 tablets and was sniffy and obstructive about giving me the prescription (charging £12). I changed vets and my new one is much more obliging. They charge £80 for the same tablets but gave me the prescription with no quibbling, charging me £7.50 for this. I then went online and got the tablets at £54 for 100. That’s more like it!

I make a point of saving money wherever I can. It all adds up. The site I use is www.vetuk.co.uk. They seem very efficient and I have used them a few times now.

I’m not an extreme money saver though. I like to think I am just enthusiastic!

No spend January update 

When is a need actually really a want? My no spend January has raised a couple of tricky questions around this. For example, I ‘need’ some hair dye. I am getting a badger stripe across the top of my head that I am really not happy to face. 

I know if I was on a seriously low income I wouldn’t buy hair dye. If I was living on benefits I would let my hair grow long and grey and focus on keeping a roof over my head. 

In the event I have decided it can’t wait until February. I have bought a pack from Home Bargains for £3.65 and that will do two lots of root retouch up so will last into March. My hair could do with a trim but that can definitely wait!

As I blogged yesterday the girls paid with their Christmas vouchers to take us to the cinema. To thank them we bought cheap snacks from the cinema. Again, not an actual necessity, but as the film started at 1 pm we didn’t bother with lunch so I feel justified in spending £6 on this for the five of us. 

So I suppose strictly speaking I have already failed my own challenge! But I’m not down about it. I am loving being able to say to myself and others, ‘No, I don’t need that. I am on a no spend month’. If I have the odd small failure I’m not going to be discouraged!

Are you on a no spend month? How is it going?

Ten ways I have made extra money

I always have at least one scheme on the go to make a little extra money. I like my job but it just doesn’t pay me enough! I would rather put some effort into this than waste my energy worrying about not having enough to pay the bills.

These are what I am doing now or have done in the past to make ends meet:

Taken in a lodger

Hosted foreign students from the local language school

Run yoga classes 

Bought from boot sales or charity shops and resold on eBay

Babysat

Worked behind the bar at the local pub

Sold my old books online

Attended weekend events such as shows and exhibitions for work

Sold Avon makeup door to door

Hosted Body Shop parties

The key is to commit enough time but not so much you are permanently exhausted. If you can turn a hobby into a way of making money that is ideal. I did this with my yoga classes. Bar work can be fun if it is somewhere you would go anyway. Hard work though! I hated the sales parties – I’m not a natural sales woman. If you are, I think they can be worthwhile. Avon was a hard slog round the houses with a toddler in a buggy. I think I spent more than I earned!

If you have a spare room this is the best way to make a substantial regular income. The language students were great – we met so many interesting people from all over the world. They are a tie, however, as you have to be around to feed and entertain them. 

A lodger is ideal and this is what I am focussing on, along with selling a few designer dresses on eBay. If you fancy it, there is loads of guidance on how much you can earn before paying tax on renting your spare room here if you are in the UK.

There are loads of ways to make a little extra if you are willing to have a go. What works for you?

Save money and give yourself a pay rise!

give yourself a pay riseMy daughter is struggling a bit with money at the moment. She spent too much at Christmas, like many of us. She has been talking about getting a second job to give herself a bit of extra cash. I have suggested that if she changed some of her regular spending habits she would be able to cope on her salary. Saving your pennies means you give yourself a pay rise.

She probably won’t take all of my advice, but if she just does some of this she will have more money in her purse.

Give yourself a pay rise

No1: for so many reasons as well as financial – give up smoking!! A pack of 20 cigarettes costs around £9.60!! She smokes three packs a week. Saving: £1500 pa.

No2: start taking in a packed lunch. She spends about £5 a day, five days a week. She could make her own for about a pound a day. Saving : £1200 pa.

No 3: stick to a weekly food budget. Write a shopping list and a meal plan. She currently spends about £50 a week. I think she can save at least £10 on this. Saving: £520 pa.

No4: stop buying makeup. She has so much so she needs to buy nothing until it is all used. I’m guessing she spends at least £10 a month on this but possibly a lot more! A conservative estimate of savings: £520 pa.

Girls just wanna have fun

I’m not going to suggest buying no new clothes as she doesn’t buy many and they are often second hand. I’m also not going to suggest she stops going to the pub at the weekend. She only goes once a week and she is 25! A girl needs to have some fun.

But if she did all of the above she would have an extra £3740 a year. That’s another £70 odd a week in her pocket, which is probably more than she would earn taking on a second job. That is the same as giving yourself a pay rise!

Many of us could rethink our spending habits and give ourselves a pay rise. What about you?

The power of warm curtains

Brrr, it’s cold out there! Well, it is by my standards…we only have a light snowfall and I know it’s much worse in other areas so I’m not really complaining. However it does feel much colder.

A cheap but thick pair of curtains can help keep in the heat

Last year the little room we used as a dining room (now our lodger lounge) was so cold we simply stopped going in there until the spring. For a small room there is a lot of glass: some old French doors that need replacing, a front door, a back door and a small window too. It got so cold and damp in the room there was mould around the windows and behind furniture.

Warm curtains really work

This morning it was really cosy. The curtains have made a huge difference. I bought quite cheap ones, £20 a pair, but they are a heavy cotton with thick linings. I had intended to buy some additional thermal linings but they aren’t really necessary.

The other measures we have taken to warm things up have helped too. Regular readers may remember the blood, sweat and tears that went into thermal lining the walls! We also put some insulated foil behind the radiator. But it is the curtains that make the biggest difference. I feel it if I forget to draw them each evening.

So if you can afford nothing else, a decent pair of thick, warm curtains or even a blanket up at a chilly window could make you feel much cosier and maybe even lower your heating bills.

I hope you aren’t under 3 feet of snow and keeping warm and cosy!

The working worried 

I heard on the news yesterday that 19% of British workers admit to losing sleep over money worries. I know how this feels -that gnawing anxiety that there are bills to be paid but there isn’t enough money coming in. The report said that the 18-24 year old age group were worrying the most. Having three daughters in that age category I totally understand. It’s hard to get a job that pays enough to afford a rented box to live in, let alone save any money for a contingency fund or to get a foot on the housing ladder. And the report was only talking about working people. Lord knows how anxious it makes people when they are unemployed.  It’s tough out there!

It helps me to know I can stay in control if I make a big effort and I am disciplined but sometimes it wears me down and I get anxious too. 

We are still eating mainly what we have in the larder. I wanted to use some of the paella rice so I used a recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Save With Jamie. It was supposed to be chicken and chorizo with prawns but I made it more frugal by cutting out the chicken and using pepperoni instead of chorizo as I had some leftover from the chicken tray bake I made the other day. 

Jamie’s recipe is here.

We have snow predicted for the next couple of days in the east of England. I hope it doesn’t arrive! Last time we had snow it took two hours to do the half hour journey to work. 

I hope you are keeping warm wherever you are and not losing sleep over money. 

A cheap packed lunch 

I can’t believe I am still using up various cheeses from Christmas. It is quite nice to have a bit of Brie in my sandwich at work as I wouldn’t usually buy it except as a treat. 

Every day I take a pot of home made soup, half a bake-at-home baguette filled with whatever needs using or sometimes just butter, and some fruit. The baguettes are really cheap from Aldi – they cost 45p for two and I only have half. So my lunch costs about 11p for the bread,the soup is made with mostly home grown veg so is probably only around 10p a cup and a couple of pieces of fruit – 50p? With a bit of cheese let’s say approximately 70-80p for a very nice satisfying packed lunch. Not bad I think for my low spend January! 

I have some chocolate rice cakes if I need an afternoon snack. Theses are sooooo nice! They cost 95p for four, so my treat is a little cheaper Han anything from the vending machine at 80p an item. Lower in calories too at only 93 per bar.

I could spend £3 on a sandwich from the shop, 60p for a bag of crisps, £2 for a coffee and get an 80p chocolate bar – £5-6 a day? Over £1000 a year? Nah, don’t think so …

Proud to be frugal

I don’t mind being a penny pincher. In fact I am quite proud to be someone who is taking control of my finances by all possible means. I am happily telling people I am on a no spend January. Most of them totally get it as they are all feeling the pinch after Christmas as well!

I am not mean. If I was, then I wouldn’t have spent so much in December. If I go to the pub (which I don’t very often and definitely not this month) I will happily buy my round. I like to buy presents for people as much as I like receiving them!

But you are more likely to find me buying my clothes in a charity shop  or at a boot sale  than getting them from new. I will shop around for anything I need to spend out on rather than pay full price. If I am too tired to cook I will eat egg on toast in front of the TV rather than go for a take out or ready meal. 

You won’t catch me buying a cappuccino from Costa on my way to work every day as some of my colleagues do and I always take in lunch. I don’t heat the house hot enough to walk around in a t shirt but I don’t sit and freeze either. I don’t own a tumble dryer and prefer to dry my clothes on the line.

I don’t drive a fancy car but make do with a small, very old Toyota Yaris that gets me from A to B. I am not booking a hugely expensive holiday I can’t afford in the hope I will be able to pay the balance by the time summer comes. We will have a holiday I expect but will need to save a bit first. Life is for living after all!

I try to remember to be grateful that I have everything I need even if I can’t afford everything I want. One day I hope to be able to be less frugal but until then I am quite enjoying the challenge! How about you? 

Bargain of the week

Yesterday I said I don’t rely on yellow sticker bargains. I did, of course, take a peek in the reduced sections when I was in Sainsbury’s yesterday but there was nothing I wanted and the reductions weren’t that great. I only go in there for the cat food and my Lactofree milk anyway so trudged over to the pet aisle and was amazed to find this:

That is my idea of a yellow sticker bargain, 48 sachets of cat food for 99p! I don’t know why it was reduced so drastically. The box was a bit damaged but nothing major. I was chuffed and so were the cats!

I spent £45 for the 3 of us in Aldi for the week, which wasn’t bad at all. Last night we had a delicious chicken tray bake. I already had a pack of peppers that needed using and some olives. I adapted the recipe to use what was in the larder: green olives instead of black, dried thyme instead of fresh and balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. The chorizo in Aldi was in huge packs for almost £2.50. I bought pepperoni instead at 89p and will use some of that today. I am making paella to use up some rice. I also added a 15p can of Aldi potatoes to make it more substantial and served it with canned sweet corn. It was lovely. The original recipe is here. I got it from the BBCGood Food website, which is a great resource when you need a little inspiration.

What are you cooking this weekend? Do you adapt recipes to suit what you have or what you can afford?

Soup, soup, wonderful soup!

I love soup at any time of the year, but it is particularly satisfying when it is cold and dark, you are broke and hungry and you want something comforting. I tend to go for vegetable soups so they are really healthy – you drink a couple of your five a day!

I plan to try Margaret’s yummy looking pestou soup here, which looks like a meal in itself. I very often just chuck whatever I have in the fridge into a pan with onions and stock and it always works out delicious, but I have some favourites I enjoy too.

Here are some of the recipes I like:

Carrot and coriander

Courgette and celery

Minestrone (another meal in itself)

I can recommend investing in some Sistema microwave cups if you like taking your soup to heat at work. They don’t leak and heat up really quickly, although they are prone to stain if you like tomato soup 😀. I will get some of the batch I made over Christmas out of the freezer for lunch today. 

I dredged the bottom of the freezer for last night’s dinner and found a pack of Quorn sausages that needed eating. These are not my favourite – I won’t buy them again -but they cooked up a treat in a sausage casserole. I used an onion, some garlic, a pepper, half a jar of pasta sauce, a tin of tomatoes and the end of a bottle of red wine with some herbs chucked in and it was nice with sweet potato mash. 

This morning I will top up what I have in the cupboards with a small shop at Aldi. I have my list at the ready. Have a great weekend!

How I’m keeping my food bill low

It’s so easy to overspend on food and end up wasting some. I do my best to avoid this – I don’t want to throw money in the bin! There is a lot of temptation in the supermarket when I am tired and hungry so I am planning all our meals and writing a list, which I stick to unless I see a huge bargain. I tend to shop straight after work, which isn’t the best time for a good yellow sticker bargain  so can’t rely on them, but if I do spot something I change my meal plan to accommodate it. 

I am using up what I have, which means eating up tins and packet pulses. These are a cheap form of protein and good for you too. I always have some tinned tuna and sardines in for the same reason. Some tinned veg is handy to have: tomatoes, obviously, but also potatoes, sweet corn and maybe mushrooms. 

I buy frozen quite a lot. Vegetables tend to be cheaper this way and there is no waste. Frozen meat is also cheaper. We eat a lot of chicken as that is good value I find. Generally we are eating less meat though. I dig out my old vegetarian recipe books for inspiration. I might buy and use some cheaper meat like braising steak and put it in the slow cooker.

I am no chef but I can cook, so we don’t eat ready meals. However, I don’t object to the odd short cut as I work full time so usually have a jar of casserole sauce lurking. I have got these from Approved Food in the past massively reduced so will be checking their website over the weekend. If there is anything good I will ask DD1 if she wants to share an order and split the delivery charge.

I quite often batch cook things like soup, casseroles and pasta sauces for the freezer. These are great for a quick dinner if we get home late. 

I also have eggs in for a quick omelette dinner or eggs on toast. Egg and chips is one of my favourite meals and so cheap!

So this is what I will continue to do to save money on the food bill. What about you? Are you trying to stick to a low food budget post Christmas?

Frugal steps: it’s the little things!

I think to anyone who isn’t into a frugal lifestyle some of the things we do to save money here at Shoestring Cottage must seem like a lot of effort for very little reward. But believe me, they all stack up to make a huge difference to making the books balance at the end of each month. It’s the little things!

I am having to really focus this month so that I only buy absolute  essentials. I have repaired a pair of ankle boots I wear quite a lot. Why throw out a perfectly good pair of boots or shoes because the sole or heel are coming away? It’s easy to repair them with some strong glue. 

As mentioned in previous posts, I am using up as much as I can in the larder to keep the grocery bills low. We will be eating less meat and fish than usual. I have some Quorn in the freezer and some cans of chickpeas that will make several meals. I have been making soup using home grown frozen veg and fruit purée with apples, blackberries and currants that we grew or were given. I have been baking already and will do some more for those moments when we need something sweet – I have flour, sugar,  nuts and dried fruit to use for this. 

When I do go shopping I will take a list and stick to it, unless I spy some good yellow stickered bargains, of course.

I always take a packed lunch, snacks, tea and coffee to work so I don’t need to spend money at the corner shop or in the vending machines.

I am conserving petrol by driving like a granny! Slowly and smoothly – whizzing along and screeching on the brakes at junctions used up a lot of fuel.

DD3 has her birthday next week. We will celebrate with a nice dinner and a home made cake. I am buying her a few small presents and giving her some money as she is saving for a new laptop. I would love to take her out to a posh restaurant but that would bust the budget and none of us are that bothered.

If I get any invitations out I will make my excuses this month. It’s more important to balance the books than socialise right now. 

What little things do you do to save money?

Getting organised

It’s so nice to have some spare time at home. Anyone who works full time and runs a home will know how hard it can be to keep on top of things after a busy day at work. As I am back in the office tomorrow I am glad I have got myself really organised here.

The meals are planned for the week and the shopping is done. The house is clean – I will have a run round again with the vacuum cleaner today to get things spic and span. The laundry is up to date although I do need to iron a few things ready for the office. I have been through the bank statement too and know how much we will have over once all the direct debits have gone out. It will be tight but as I am spending nothing unless it is essential we should manage.

Mr S laughs at me but I need to be organised to feel in control of my finances and my life generally. I am the same at work – I am queen of lists to make sure everything gets completed and on time.

At home being organised saves me time and money; at work it saves me time and stress! Does anyone else like a list?

Using it up! Clearing out the larder

Do you like to have a regular clear out of the larder? Using it up is the aim, not throwing anything away.

using it upToday my no spend January begins in earnest. As well as buying nothing except necessities such as food and petrol, I am aiming for a low spend month – even on groceries. To this end I will be making meals using up everything in the fridge, freezer and larder I will be buying only what I need to make meals out of what we already have.

using it upUsing it up – make a chicken stock

Yesterday I cleared out all of the frozen chicken carcasses and bones to make a good stock. I then pulled out a couple of bags of frozen courgettes and all of the slightly wonky veg lurking in the fridge to make a huge pan of soup. This will do us for lunches for the whole week and I have also put about half of it back in the freezer to eat as and when.

using it upI had two bags of apples taking up far too much space in my fridge. They have been there for months and had kept really well but I hadn’t got around to doing anything with them. So I made two big pots of stewed apple. This is also now in the freezer. I will take some to work instead of fresh fruit once we have eaten everything in the fruit bowl.

This morning I will be making banana loaf as we have 4 bananas past their best as well as plenty of bits left over from Christmas.

Bargain hunting

Yesterday I managed to get a great bargain. I have been generally ignoring the sales in preparation for my no spend January but I spotted a pair of lovely leather boots.  They were reduced from £60 to £40 , which was still too much, but my daughter had a 20% staff discount so I thought they were worth trying on.

The lady at the till then pointed out that they had a further 25% off for one day only so I couldn’t resist. When she rang them through she discovered they had been reduced even more so in the end I paid £14.50! Not bad! Good job January hadn’t started so I could justify the spend 😀.

I did actually need some more boots as I had to glue the sole back onto my other pair for the second time last week. I

How are you reducing your food waste? Are you using it up?