Free and frugal ways to spend a bank holiday

No money? Wondering what to do this fine bank holiday weekend? How about these ideas to keep you and the family entertained?

Get the April issue of Gardener’s World magazine. They have a 2 for 1 offer for over 400 gardens around the uk. Plus you have a great magazine to read when you get home😀.

Go to the park and play on the swings (preferably take a child with you, lol), or take a football or cricket bat.

Play rounders! I have excellent memories of family holidays doing this when I was young.

Go for a walk at a fast pace and you won’t need to bother with the gym. Do it with a buggy and you are resistance training!

Check your local museums and art galleries – some will be free.

Pack up a picnic and head for the hills. If we have a day out anywhere, Mr Shoestring and I always take a flask and sandwiches – whatever the weather. It saves so much money and also means no queuing in crowded cafes for over-priced food of variable quality.

Check the country parks in your area. In Essex we are blessed with some great open spaces, ideal for a family walk: www.visitparks.co.uk. It’s easy to find where yours are at your local Tourist Information Centre.

Go find a bluebell wood. This is a good time to go! You can find some listed on the Woodland Trust website here.

Check out your local wildlife trust. They have all kinds of activities going on, from a family pond dip to an twilight bat or owl walk.

Go to the garden centre. We have several locally that have so much to see for free, and the kids love their displays. However, don’t be drawn in to the café, and don’t buy anything unless you need it and it is a good price.

Visit your relatives and friends. They are an under-rated and often under-valued form of entertainment and support.

Find a boot sale and get yourself some bargains.

There are lots more family ideas at dayoutwiththekids.com as well as great offers and deals at  Moneysavingexpert.com.

We will be meandering around a garden I should think. Maybe see you there! 

The art of being gorgeous on a budget: frugal beauty

Frugal beauty: A deceptive title as I am not talking about me! I am a low maintenance kind of woman. I don’t spend lots of time and money on my appearance. With limited amounts of each there are always more pressing (bills, food, petrol) or interesting (the garden, the house, holidays) things to spend them on!


As a consequence you won’t often find me leafing through the pages of Vogue (except to have a laugh such as here) or watching You Tube videos about how to contour my face. However, I am still interested in frugal beauty – I do use some products!

When you are the mum of teenage girls, as I seem to have been forever, you can’t help but get dragged towards certain TV programmes (because they hog the remote) and  retailers, because you are buying them clothes, makeup, toiletries or presents, and end up enjoying them 😀.

Clothes and makeup

If you too have young females to buy for on occasion, or love to buy fashion for yourself, MoneySavingExpert.com has just reminded me of a brilliant one for clothes. Everything5pounds.com does exactly what it says on the tin. It sells ex high street brands (detagged) and they are all a fiver! Because I am off on holiday in a couple of weeks, I purchased four brand new items for £20 yesterday. What a treat and a rare one for me! Better still, if you go over to MSE first they have a code to use to get free postage, but only until 6pm on Tuesday.

The other two I find myself buying lots from on high days and holidays are Beauty Bay and Cosmetics Fairy, both offering bargain prices. I don’t know how my daughters need so much makeup, but apparently they do! Need to be gorgeous at all times I guess. The pic shows one of my princesses being beautiful for her Instagram feed. Go over and give her a follow and a like if you do that kind of thing: she is @makeupbyisobel1. Thanks! I am also on Instagram as @shoestringjane.

Have a great Saturday!

Anyone fancy some money back?

I was perusing Twitter in a sleepy state this morning when I came upon a great offer: £15 cash back on a £25 spend online at Asda. As I planned to pop in somewhere tomorrow to buy my Lactofree milk and cat food I thought I might as well have a look.

I signed up with a site called Top Cash Back and clicked on the link to the Asda site to get the offer. I will pop in to collect it tomorrow so I don’t have to pay the £5 delivery charge and hopefully my cash back will appear on my Top Cash Back account soon. Chuffed!

If you are interested in this, have a look. Be quick though as it only lasts until Monday. If you click through from my link I will earn a referral fee. Then if you recommend it to your friends you will also earn the fee. It’s win-win with this one!

Click here.

I plan to have a proper examination of the Top Cash Back website as it looks excellent. You can get money back on almost everything if you go through the site: fashion, beauty, furniture, holidays and hotels, eating out and utilities. I have recommended Good Energy on this blog before. I like their green credentials and very good customer service. I notice you can get £70 cash back if you sign up with them.  Broadband deals that are worth checking out are £150 cash back on Sky bundles, £250 on the same from Virgin Media and £150 on EE.

With the vacation season fast approaching, you can also get 20% cash back on airport parking, 6% on Holiday Cruises and 4% on Disney World holidays.

As this is the first time I have used the site and I don’t have my cash back yet, I am cautiously recommending it. It looks promising though! Has anyone else used it?

Managing my time

As we have Bank Holiday Monday coming up I have booked a day’s leave tomorrow. Four days off!! Sadly, the weather forecast doesn’t look that great, but I will make the best of it.

I find that my time off is currently completely filled with ‘stuff’. I need to make sure I have one day where we go out and have some fun. What’s the point of working hard all the time and not having the occasional bit of down time? I will try to get out in the garden and do some jobs if I can though as I want to keep up the momentum!

I tend to consider myself quite well organised and good at time management. However, recently I seem to have been busy all the time. Too much to do, or not organising myself well enough?

I read a post on another blog the other day about time management suggesting that I divide my day into 15 minute slots and write down everything I do during the course of several days to see where I am wasting time. I have carried out this kind of exercise in the past to see where I spend money and it was really useful. My initial thoughts on doing this to track my time were, ‘I don’t have time to do that!’ Perhaps if I just try it on the time I spend at home rather than the time I spend at work. I am thinking about it – anyone else tried this?

In any case I do have quite a lot to do so I will attempt to be as productive as possible, at the same time as allowing some relaxation time! Whatever you are doing this weekend, have a good one. If I blog quite a lot over the weekend you will know I have cracked it 😀.

 

 

Saving money in the garden

I have been a bit rubbish at writing daily blog posts over the past few weeks. I have been busy with work, boot sales, eBay and, most of all, the garden!

Wallflower cuttings

Wallflower grown from a cutting

 

It is a busy time of year in the garden. I have been weeding, chopping stuff back, sowing seeds and moving things about.

We have a large garden at the back and a biggish one at the front as well. I love that we have so much green around us, but it’s hard work! 

I don’t have lots of cash to splurge so I save money everywhere that I can. I am not an expert and I am sure there is plenty I need to learn, but this is what I have learned about saving money in the garden:

Boot sales and supermarkets are excellent places to buy cheap plants (Aldi in particular)

The reduced section in the garden centre is worth a browse for perennials. They might look a little sad but can be revived!

Most things can be grown from seed extremely cheaply. Share packets and seedlings with friends and family to save even more.

You can grow great plants from cuttings for free! Mr S pinched a bit of a multicoloured wallflower from a garden we visited. It grew spectacularly and this year he has taken cuttings from that. 

You can also divide plants such as grasses to create new plants. I have a geranium that spreads and is good for filling a gap or two so have just divided that.

Places like Home Bargains and B&M are good for cheap compost. Even better, make your own. We use a bit of both.

Pots, planters and containers can be expensive but other gardening friends often have too many. Ask! Failing that, boot sales can be a treasure trove. But you can also be creative – old tyres make good planters, for example.

Boot sales are also great for old gardening tools, as well as Freecycle if you have a group in your area.

Bird scarers can be made easily from aluminium containers on strings – they make a great clatter!

How about raised beds from old bottles? We saw this recently on an allotment and thought it was a great idea.

Several water butts around the garden will save you money if you are on a meter. You can also use ‘grey water’ from your shower or bath to water the garden. 

As well as finding ways to save money in the garden it can save you £££S. Gifts from your garden cost very little: home made jams and chutneys are often appreciated presents, or a hamper of seasonal fruit and vegetables. How about growing your own pot plants as gifts?

Finally, of course growing your own fruit and veg can save you a lot and is also free exercise.

How do you save money in the garden?

Home spa! Giving myself a treat 

I had a late night yesterday as my friends were round for dinner, followed by an early start with my daughters at a boot sale, so I am a bit knackered!

I thought I would give myself a cheap treat, so I have nicked some of my daughter’s posh products and some of my own for a lovely home spa.

I started with a deep bubble bath and washed my hair, then put on a hair mask – I used an organic avocado and honey one, which was lovely and not at all expensive.  Next I applied a snail face mask – sounds gross but was actually quite nice! I used some of the gorgeous Body Shop shea butter body scrub I had for Christmas. It leaves your skin so soft. I had a good soak then rinsed it all off and applied somebody Body Shop shea body butter. Bliss!

Then I used my Ped Egg on my feet to get rid of all the  hard skin and some nice foot lotion, did my nails and I am currently chilling with a nice glass of white wine.

You need a treat every now and then, but it doesn’t need to cost much.

I got more bargains at the boot sale to list tomorrow. It was a bit grey and I thought it might rain but it held off. The girls all bought loads of clothes but none of them spent more than a tenner. I love a boot sale! I am going to have a lie in tomorrow though!

What cheap treats do you enjoy?

Entertaining cheaply

We don’t go out much – it’s so expensive!! When we see friends we usually eat in. Tonight I have ‘the girls’ round. We do this every couple of months and take it in turns to cook.

I am trying to save as much money as I can for our holiday next month, so I won’t be going crazy with the expense. I am also at work all day so I won’t have a great deal of time!! On the menu we have butternut squash soup with crusty baguettes (made last night. The baguettes are the bake at home variety so I shall do those later); Jamie’s chicken tray bake (I make this a lot and it is reliably delicious and quick to prepare) with some sugar snap peas and broccoli; fruit salad and cream (I am still off the sugar).

I have a bottle of Prosecco in the fridge from my birthday and everyone will bring wine anyway. I also have some nibbles from Lidl to kick things off. OK, so it’s not Cordon Bleu, but it will be fun!!

I hope I’m not too bleary eyed as I have promised to drive my daughters to a boot sale on Saturday morning. I am doing well with my eBay sales, which all helps the holiday fund along.

Did anyone who is based in the UK watch ‘How to Live Mortgage Free’ on Channel 4 a couple of nights ago? I thought it was very interesting. There was a young lady who bought the shell of a boat and converted it into a house boat so that she could remain living in London – this cost her £33,000 in all, a chap who had purchased an old tin chapel with £50,000 cash from the sale of his previous home and a young family who had lived a super frugal existence for 8 years to pay their £240,000 odd mortgage off quickly, thus saving themselves around £200k in interest charges!!

I wish I had considered that paying off the mortgage early was even a thing when I was younger. I fell into the trap of thinking I had to move onwards and upwards, seeing each house as a step towards a bigger and better house and re-mortgaging many times to make home improvements. It was what everybody else was doing and it never occurred to me that there was a better way.  I will pay my current small mortgage off as soon as I can but I can’t help having a few regrets about my previous lack of financial education. Still, I am making up for it now!!

I really admired the creativity and determination of those featured and can’t wait for the next one.

 

When is cheap a waste of money?

‘You get what you pay for’, so the saying goes. But is this always true? Does spending more guarantee better quality or are you wasting your cash? Will you live to regret buying cheaply?

When it comes to new furniture, I think it is likely. Cheap flat packed stuff rarely stands much family wear and tear. However, good quality second hand items are a whole different ball game. An old but solid wooden wardrobe can be painted to fit in with your decor, chairs can be cleaned or re-covered, and a sanded pine table can be a thing of joy to last and last. 

I frequently pick up designer dresses to sell on eBay and I have been shocked at just how shoddy some of these are. When you consider that they cost hundreds of pounds new they should be top quality.  I buy basic vests and t-shirts from cheap shops and market stalls sometimes but they don’t wash well or last long. I prefer second hand decent quality finds from eBay, charity shops and boot sales. I go for Marks and Spencer, Monsoon, Phase Eight and Laura Ashley if I can find them as they are well made with good fabrics that wash well.

With food you get what you pay for up to a point. I don’t like really cheap baked beans, but I’m happy with supermarket own brands. However, the vegetables I can buy on offer in Aldi or Lidl don’t taste any different to the more expensive ones in the bigger supermarkets. My taste buds aren’t sophisticated enough to to detect the difference between decent supermarket teabags and the premium brands. 

I have written many times about the racket that is the makeup and toiletry market. With the most expensive brands I really believe you are paying for the marketing and packaging. Sprinkle a bit of pseudo-science in an advert and some people will believe anything. Really cheap shampoo is usually a mistake, but again the supermarket brands are pretty good. 

It is always worth trying cheaper when you are on a budget but you don’t have to give up on quality.  What do you think? Is expensive always better?

A thrifty bank holiday weekend

Meeting a friend at Abberton Reservoir

What a lovely long weekend! We have been non-stop busy here at Shoestring Cottage, mainly in the garden, but I have enjoyed every minute.

Our neighbour chatting over the fence said they weren’t going anywhere as everything cost so much to do. We suggested a walk along the coast, which we do regularly – we are only half an hour away. He said even that would cost £20 by the time they had stopped for coffee and cake. Not the way we do it! A flask and a home made picnic costs just a few pounds to make. You can spend a lot on a day out, but you don’t have to if you can’t afford it – there is loads of free stuff to do!

Starting to look tidier …

In fact, we didn’t choose a coastal walk but had one around the local wildlife trust reserve yesterday and a five mile one today from the house to our beautiful local cemetery and back.

I also hit the boot sale again this morning and found more fantastic bargains for resale on eBay. I am still frequently amazed at what people are selling. Today I discovered a lady selling her spendthrift daughter’s clothes. Everything was £2, even a brand new and beautiful Top Shop dress and skirt, both with tags still attached, a fabulous floral Zara summer skirt and top and a gorgeous Warehouse dress in perfect condition.  I got loads of stuff so spent a few hours washing and listing some and will finish the others after work in the week.

Who needs chocolate?

We had a family roast dinner yesterday with two of the three daughters here. As I am avoiding sugar we had a fruit salad for dessert, which we all enjoyed as much as a chocolate cake 😀.

It’s great to feel we are finally on top of the garden – or getting there anyway. It is a lot of work but so nice to get outside for some fresh air and exercise.

We are completing our long weekend with a couple of glasses of wine watching the final episode of Broadchurch – what a  series! Who needs the cinema?

My weekend cost very little; in fact the money I spent at the boot sale should be an investment and make me a bit extra. A thrifty weekend in all – how was yours?

Small victories 😀

Time to sort out the patio pots


I had a great eBay day on Thursday. I made three sales but one of them was for £120! If only I could do one of those a week I would be sorted. I hope to sell some more as it’s a double bank holiday weekend and the weather is a bit rubbish. I intend to hit the boot sale on bank holiday Monday to see what other treasures I can search out to resell. You can read about my eBay experiences here and here.

We also managed to book a holiday to celebrate Mr S’s big 5-0 this year (don’t tell him I told you!). We have been searching for a good deal for ages and we finally found one. It pays to shop around. Oddly, the all inclusive price was cheaper than the bed and breakfast option so we went for that. Majorca, here we come!

I have never done an all inclusive resort type vacation before. It will be an experience, I’m sure. Mr S loves a bit of sunshine. We used Teletext Holidays, which was weird as I didn’t know they existed. They seem to have some good offers.

Campanula for the old sink complete with sticks and logs to keep the cats off


We have been cracking on with the gardening, spending at least 3 or 4 hours out there each weekend to keep on top of it all. I have said it before – too much garden, too little time! I love it though. I get so absorbed in what I am doing that I forget about anything else. It is so good for a person’s mental and physical health.

I sowed some pumpkin seeds yesterday. The courgettes and tomatoes are coming up in the greenhouse, as well as hundreds of little seedlings in what we hope will be our new wildflower area. I sorted out some of the pots on the patio and Mr S did loads of cutting back and weeding.  We are planning to do a bit more as it’s a long weekend. 

So, small victories! What about you?