Setting goals: August update

setting goals

Do you ever feel like you are super busy all the time yet still don’t achieve what you want to? That is me to a tee! This is why I decided recently to start setting goals on a monthly basis to help direct my energies.

August’s goals were:

To develop the blog

I managed mostly to write three blog posts a week, which was my target. In addition, I spent some time talking to the lovely Sara at Debt Camel, who gave me some great advice on a redesign for the blog. I am working on this now and hope you will start to see some improvements. This is a long term aim as it is a big job!

To increase my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter following

I would like to reach 1000 followers on Twitter (@shoestringjane) and 2000 on Instagram (@shoestringcottage). I’m almost but not quite there yet! If you use either maybe you can help with this. Follow and retweet/like. Send me a comment and I will follow you back! A lot of you went and found me on Facebook as well, so many thanks if you did.

To increase the amount I sell on eBay

This has really improved and I have sold as much in the last 10 days as I did for the whole of July! This is partly I think because I am getting better at finding good stuff and I have been to several boot sales.

To get a new lodger

Yes! We have a new lodger arriving at the beginning of October. She is a masters student and plans to stay for a year. I have repainted all the woodwork in her room to brighten it up and will emulsion the walls as soon as I get time.

Continue with my grocery challenge

Regular readers will know that I have been on a grocery challenge to spend no more than £35 a week on food for three people per week. I have just about managed this, without feeling deprived in any way. Focussing on your spending in this way saves so much money! I am going to continue with the challenge in September, although I might relax it a little. This is where setting goals can be so motivating.

Setting goalsWe have a really great crop of Victoria plums on our tree for the first time. They are delicious and I have frozen a few to add to our stock of blackberries and greengages. I also tried Asda’s super cheap 22p sponge mix for the first time the other day. I cooked the plums and then poured the sponge mix on top to make a frugal pudding. it was really lovely with custard. You only need to add an egg. If I was using it to make a Victoria sponge, however, I would use two packs.

Setting goals for September

Mr S is designing a new blog logo for me and it looks great! I aim to get this onto the blog as part of a redesign this month. I just have to sort out the techie bit (I am rubbish at this!). Watch this space…

I will re-emulsion the walls in the lodger’s room.

The garden is starting to fade now that we are moving into Autumn. The plan is to tidy up and weed all of the beds and dig over the veg patch (with Mr S’s help, of course).

I will sort out a new broadband contract and possibly purchase a Freeview box, although there are other possible options I need to investigate. To this end, I sought advice on the Skint Dad Community Facebook group, which turned into a really long thread full of good ideas. It seems I am not alone in thinking that Virgin, Sky, etc. are over priced!

Are you setting goals for September? Did you achieve all that you wanted this month?

Planning for Christmas….and saving money

planning for ChristmasI can hear some virtual sharp intakes of breath at the thought of planning for Christmas when we are still in August! How dare I mention the C word when we have only just had the bank holiday!

I belong to several money saving Facebook groups. One of them is all about planning for Christmas and has been running since about April (if you are interested, search for Thrifty & Frugal Christmas). There are plenty of people who like to get organised! This group is full of ideas for cheap presents and even some freebie stocking fillers.

Take the worry out of planning for Christmas

Some of the money saving groups I read feature people who are anxious about the cost of Christmas. There was a big discussion on one thread about how to keep costs down. One young woman said she would only have a budget of £100 and she was worried about the strain of buying for her various family members. There is something terribly wrong if you are losing sleep months and months in advance of the event. Planning for Christmas should be fun, not just another thing to worry about.

It reminded me of how I felt a few years ago with three small children to buy for, loads of relatives (I am one of four children) and a very limited amount available to spend on Christmas. Even if I stuck to £10 a person, it was still more than I could afford at the time.  I suggested to my family that we stop buying for the adults and just stuck to purchases for the kids. We all have plenty of everything already and have seen enough Christmases to be past disappointment if we don’t get a huge pile of gifts. Now we do a secret Santa for the adults and buy just one present for whoever’s name we pull out of the hat costing £15 – £20. It works really well!

However, it took a few years for everyone to agree to this. It seemed we were the only ones feeling the pinch. So I had to find other ways to save money. The following is an amalgamation of my money saving ideas plus those I have gleaned from Facebook to help you with your planning for Christmas.

Be honest!

Both with yourself and your loved ones. Tell them your budget and what you will be spending on each of them. Make it clear you don’t want them to go over that budget when they purchase for you. You might even decide between you not to bother, or perhaps to spend a little extra on something else, like a nice meal out together.

I know that Ilona from Life after Money doesn’t do Christmas at all and I respect that. She says, ‘I find it very liberating that I have chosen not to join in. My brain is not cluttered with the worry of getting the right presents, buying the right food, sending cards, and generally running around like a headless chicken trying to keep up. I can sit back and relax and watch everyone else getting their knickers in a twist. You will not see a furrowed brow on my face, you will see a wide grin from cheek to cheek.’ You can read an article about Ilona and her approach to the festive season here.

I love this! If you think it is a load of nonsense and don’t intend to join in with the rampant commercialisation of the season, don’t be afraid to say so.

Start early and spread the cost.

This is the reason I am writing this post at the end of August. I know that some of you will already be on top of your Christmas planning and might even have bought gifts in the January sales. However, if you haven’t,  buying something each week will mean you notice the impact of your spending a lot less.

I usually start about now, especially with Christmas food. I already have plenty of cards, gift wrap and decorations purchased in the post Christmas sales. Now I am on the look out for everything else!

Buy second-hand

Charity shops and boot sales, Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Gumtree are all great places for this. One lady on Facebook said, ‘I help in a charity shop and we often have new items in from big stores, and many of the toys look like new’. I remember doing almost my entire Christmas present shopping at boot sales one summer. I saved an absolute fortune and I honestly don’t think anyone was any the wiser!

Get creative

If you are crafty you can make all kinds of presents. Pinterest is awash with great ideas for making gifts out of scraps and upcycling. I used to love soap making and created some really special soaps one year that rivalled the poshest in Lush but were much cheaper. You can knit or crochet, paint, or  grow plants. Just use your skills and talents!

Photos of your children are lovely gifts for grandparents in a charity shop frame (if they are old enough, get the kids to decorate it). If you are a cook you could make foodie gifts such as cakes, chutneys or biscuits. You could make them up into a hamper. Home Bargains is excellent for cheap baskets to use for these.

Hunt for bargains and freebies

Check out the sales and join Facebook groups where excellent deals are posted daily. As well as the Christmas one I already mentioned, I like Spend Less, Live Better and Free Samples Giveaways and Competitions UK. Check out stores such as Poundland, Home Bargains, B&M, etc for stocking fillers like colouring books and pens. They also do great offers on bigger toys and nice but cheap items such as candles. If you have a gardener to buy for now is a great time to find bargains in these stores.

If you have a family to buy for you could make a hamper for them to share and fill it with inexpensive bits and pieces like sweets, chocolate, small toys, etc.

Use cash back sites

If you are going to buy Christmas presents online you may as well get some cash back – it soon adds up. I use Top CashBack often but have also just signed up for QuidCo. Both offer cash back whenever you click through to make a purchase to a retailer. If you click through to Top CashBack via my link I will earn a small commission and you earn £2.50 when you spend £5.

Give time, not money

One suggestion on a Facebook group that I liked was to offer time as a gift. You could give tokens promising babysitting, gardening, car washing, ironing, cleaning, etc. This is a nice gift for teenagers to offer older relatives.

Set a limit and make it fun

If you don’t fancy Secret Santa, how about setting a limit per person and making a game of it? I read about a lady whose family agreed their gifts to each other could cost no more than £2. This meant they had to be really creative – either a home made gift, something cheap but amusing from the pound shop, or a charity shop bargain. They tended to make the gifts funny rather than serious and had a lot of laughs along the way.

Don’t feel bad about not spoiling your children

Everyone knows children whose parents almost bankrupt themselves spending thousands on gifts. Do the children appreciate lots of presents more than two or three thoughtful things that they really wanted and waited for? I remember being desperate for a Barbie and her horse when I was a kid. Because I had to wait six months for it to arrive on Christmas day I loved it even more and remember the pleasure I got opening it to this day.

Ask for contributions

Finally, if you are hosting a Christmas gathering don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to bring a contribution. A bottle of something at the very least, but preferably a dish as well. It is fun to share and this way everyone is involved.

Does planning for Christmas make you anxious? What are your top tips for effective Christmas budgeting?

 

 

 

Five Frugal Things 26th August 

I have had the busiest of weeks. Very productive, though – I have done loads! Sometimes life is like that. I am sure I have managed five frugal things and more. Here are my top frugal achievements.

1. Website of the week

Website of the weekI suppose you could argue that this wasn’t really an example of frugality, but it did showcase our thrifty lifestyle. I was in the Sun newspaper! Shoestring Cottage was Mrs Crunch’s website of the week. I was really chuffed about this. I never thought I would be featured in a national newspaper.

I was also recently featured on a lovely blog, a Beautiful Space. You can check that out here.

2. Hosted a frugal party

five frugal thingsWe had a gathering of the clans yesterday – a lovely sunny party in the garden. It was a lot of work as there were 20 of us. How do you host such a party without breaking the bank? Fortunately my family made some contributions of cakes, a sausage plait and a home made coleslaw, plus everyone brought drinks.

I went to Aldi for almost all my ingredients and used a lot of garden produce as well. A huge moussaka, courgette and tomato bake, quiches and various salads all went down well with the hungry hoards. I bought beer and prosecco from Aldi too, as the prices are so good in there.

It was a fabulous day and so nice to catch up with everybody.

3. A bit of DIY

I have been meaning to spruce up the lodger’s room before the new one arrives. The garden has taken up so much of my spare time I hadn’t had a chance. So I took the day off work on Wednesday and painted all the woodwork. I still have to emulsion the walls some time but it already looks so much brighter. A can of one coat gloss cost just £15 in Homebase and there is still loads left. You don’t have to spend much to smarten up a room.

4. Another Aldi bargain

Darling daughter and I are both lactose intolerant and usually drink Lactofree milk. This costs anywhere between £1.35 and £1.55 a litre, although I sometimes find it on offer for £1 and stock up.

I was really happy to hear that Aldi now sell a version. It is only £1.15, which is a great price. I know where I will be buying this from now on. I won’t have to go hunting for the nearest place where I don’t have to take out a mortgage to buy the stuff!

Food intolerances can be expensive. At least we don’t have to eat gluten free as on of my guests did yesterday.

5. Using up the veg

five frugal thingsWe had so much veg in the house I made a cheap and extremely easy vegetable bake. I sautéed  some courgettes and celery, then added cooked potatoes, sweet corn and carrots. Finally,  I smothered it all in a cheese sauce and topped it with tomatoes and more grated cheese. Then I baked it for about half an hour and it was delicious with some crusty bread and home grown runner beans.

I love this kind of easy, thrifty dinner, which often makes it onto my five frugal things list.  I made enough for two meals. We had it the following evening with some bakes chicken.

I also froze the excess runner beans, which are now arriving at an alarming pace! It is great to think we will still be eating our own produce as we move towards winter.

All in all, a satisfying week and it was easy to achieve my five frugal things. What have your frugal achievements been this week? Let me know in the comments.

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. You can hop on over to their blogs to get some more frugal inspiration.

Grocery challenge update: How low can you go?

grocery challengeRegular readers will be aware that we have been on a £35 per week grocery challenge. For the whole of August we have been saving money at Shoestring Cottage by keeping our food bill as low as possible.

If you need to make some quick savings – if you have an unexpected bill, for example –  try reducing your food budget. A grocery challenge is a great place to start.

How low did we go?

grocery challengeDid we stick to our reduced budget? Yes, pretty much. We have been under some weeks and over on others but so far we have spent just £150 on food for the three of us. This works out at around £37.60 a week. We still have a week to go as August is almost a five week month. We have plenty of food in the house so should be able to keep to about £25 for this week’s shop. How did we achieve this?

Meal planning

Every week I check the cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what we already have. I then make a meal plan for the week ahead. If there is something that needs using up I incorporate that into my plan.

I check to see what is available on the veggie patch and include that too.

I work full time so I don’t have time for fussy food. Dishes that are fast, tasty, cheap and nutritious are required. We are fortunate at this time of year to have a lot of fresh produce from the garden, which helps a lot as it is more or less free food!

Did we live on pasta?

grocery challengeOf course we didn’t! We ate dishes like roast chicken and ratatouille, cheesy vegetable hash, sausages and mash, spinach frittata and courgette and tomato eggy bake. We took leftovers for work lunches or home made soup. Breakfast was usually porridge and fruit. When I am stuck for inspiration, I search through my frugal recipes.

Were there any exceptions?

The challenge excluded household items like toilet roll and cleaning supplies. We also had a burger out when we went to festival and a family party that was from a separate budget. Our challenge didn’t preclude the odd bit of spending on fun.

This grocery challenge has been an interesting experience and a great discipline. I am pretty frugal most of the time anyway, but will loosen my purse strings a bit when we hit the end of the month.

Has anyone else tried a grocery challenge? How do you save money on food?

The joy and pleasure of home grown food. Do you grow your own?

home grownIf you have never tasted a home grown tomato,  warm from the greenhouse,  freshly picked runner beans, tasty courgettes or a corn on the cob that was still on the plant ten minutes ago, you have missed out.

Home grown fruit and veg really is superior in taste. Because you tend to eat it soon after it has been picked, your own produce is also likely to contain more nutrients.

Bring on the wonky home grown produce!

Sometimes home grown produce may be a little wonky or discoloured, but it makes up in flavour what it lacks in beauty.

A huge bonus is that home grown costs a fraction of its shop purchased equivalent. A single packet of courgette seeds, for example, will feed you and half your street if you sow them all in one season and will cost you just a couple of pounds. A blackcurrant bush will set you back a little more but will repay you with a fabulous fruit harvest every summer for years once established.

Home grown in a small space

I know not everyone has a garden but you can grow all kinds of crops in pots and buckets on a balcony or in a small yard. You won’t be self sufficient but you can have a taste of the fruits of your own efforts and labour.

Producing home grown fruit and vegetables does involve a faihome grownr amount of work, of course. I like to see it as keeping me fit and saving on the price of a gym membership!

In the freezer we have chopped courgettes ready to be made into soup or chucked into casseroles as we head through the winter. There are plums, greengages, blackberries, red and blackcurrants for pies, crumbles and smoothies. Chopped tomatoes will make great pasta sauce and bags full of runner beans will be a useful accompaniment for meat and fish dishes.

How to remove cigarette smoke from fabrics

I have known for some time just how useful it is to have a bag of bicarbonate of soda in the house. I have written about its fantastic cleaning power before.

This week I have discovered yet another use for bicarbonate of soda: a way to remove cigarette smoke from fabrics. I bought a very pretty dress from the boot sale last week, one of my amazing boot sale bargains. However, when I looked at it more closely I realised it stank of cigarette smoke.

You can remove cigarette smoke from fabrics!

remove cigarette smoke from fabricsFortunately the dress was washable, so I put it in the machine on a gentle hand wash. When I got it out, it smelled even worse! As if the stinky smoke and tar were so deeply ingrained into the fibres of the fabric that I was releasing them but not quite letting them go.

I had a quick look on the internet and several sites suggested adding half a cup of bicarbonate to the powder dispenser. I tried this and washed it again. It smelled better, but still not quite there.

I tried again, this time adding a cup of white wine vinegar and some lavender essential oil where I usually pour the fabric softener.

Hurrah! Third time lucky! As a non smoker, I had no idea cigarette smoke be so absorbed into a fabric. The previous owner must have been such a heavy smoker she probably didn’t even notice!

The dress came out good as new after its three washes. I thought I was going to have to give it to the charity shop.


My stock of bicarbonate of soda is almost used up now so I will get some more. I generally buy one like this from Amazon: SODIUM BICARBONATE of Soda | 1KG BAG | 100% BP/Food Grade | Bath, Baking, Cleaning. You can get even bigger bags that work out cheaper still but I don’t have the space to store it. (Disclaimer: this is my affiliate link)

White vinegar

White vinegar is another incredibly useful cleaning ingredient in its own right. I must do a post on that some time. It works well by itself or in combination with the bicarbonate of soda. As well as in combination to remove cigarette smoke from fabrics, I used them both in this home made cleaning spray.

Has anyone else tried any natural home made cleaning products? What do you recommend?

Off to London today to see the flat DD2 has moved into with her lovely boyfriend. We are driving as there are four of us and it is cheaper than by train. When I  go again in a few weeks for the SHOMO Awards I will travel by train as I will be by myself. So much more relaxing.

Incidentally there is still time to vote  for your favourite blog in the People’s Choice award. Voting closes on 31st August.

Whatever you are up to today have a great Sunday.

Jane

Courgette glut recipe: courgette and tomato eggy bake

Courgette glutIt is such a pleasure to grow and eat your own delicious fruit and veg. However, there is always too much of something and we have had a courgette glut for weeks. The freezer is packed with them in various forms. Actually, the courgettes have finally slowed but I am still dealing with the glut. Now the tomatoes are coming thick and fast. This seasonal vegetarian recipe combines the two.  It makes a nice change from courgette soup!

Courgette and tomato eggy bake

Serves 6

2oz/50g butter

1 lb/400g courgettes, thinly sliced

1 lb/400g tomatoes, thickly sliced

2 medium onions, chopped

Two medium peppers, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

Heaped teaspoon dried mixed herbs

Half a pintwhite wine or cider

1 tablespoon Marigold vegetable stock

Pinch dried chilli flakes (optional)

4 or 5 hard boiled eggs, sliced

4oz/100g grated cheddar

Salt and pepper to taste

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Heat the butter in a large frying pan or wok and sauté the onions, garlic, pepper and courgettes for 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. Add the white wine, stock powder, herbs and seasonings and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chilli flakes if liked.

courgette glutNow start to layer up. Place the courgette mixture into a large baking dish. Add the sliced tomatoes.

courgette glut
Finally, add the sliced eggs and top with the grated cheese

courgette glut
Bake for around 30 minutes. This goes really well with some crispy roasted new potatoes.

Anyone else got a glut of anything? How are you dealing with your tomato or courgette glut?

Student budgeting for university: a new student’s guide

Imagine….you are 18, you have never had to worry too much about money and suddenly you get £1000s arrive in your bank account. You are rich! No, you’re not. It is your student loan and you need to pay your rent first then make it last the whole of the academic year. You know nothing about student budgeting and it is all very scary!

Next month darling daughter number 3 will be going off to university. I really hope I have taught her enough to help her get through her new life without getting into debt (well, any more debt than has already been agreed with Student Finance England!) So, here are my top student budgeting tips:

Student budgeting tools

Firstly, you need to know how much money you have and how long you need to make it last. You need to understand what your outgoings will be and make sure you keep enough by for these. There are plenty of downloadable spread sheets and calculators on the Internet to help with this. They will tell you whether you really can afford another night out or need to tighten your belt. UCAS has a handy one to get you started here.

This will only take you ten minutes and it will be a worthwhile investment of your time.

Avoid impulse buying

Before spending your precious student loan, ask yourself: do I really need this? Or do I just want it? Can I afford it? There are a lot of spending habits you can sink into as a student that will eat into your funds. Sometimes it is the smaller spends that add up. Coffees out, drinks in the pub, taxis, makeup, sweets….and suddenly you have spent that £20. Similarly, don’t rush to join the university gym unless you know you will use it constantly. Wait to see how things pan out and if you can really afford it. If you are cycling everywhere, you are keeping fit anyway!

Learning to cook

If you have never learned to cook, this is the time to begin. When I dropped my second daughter at university, the freezer was already packed full of home made ready meals for a particular male student, provided by his mother! I could have felt bad for sending my daughter off with a bag of basics from Aldi, but I wasn’t concerned as I knew she was capable of putting together a decent,  healthy meal. I was more worried she wouldn’t be able to fit her leftovers into the freezer!

Still, it is never too late to learn to cook and there are a lot of student cookbooks on Amazon. The Student Cookbook: Great grub for the hungry and the broke has good reviews.  If you are  off to uni this year and cannot cook, you still have time to learn the basics. Ask your parents to show you how. Spaghetti Bolognese, an omelette, sausages and mash, a cheese sauce (for macaroni, a vegetable bake, etc) are all simple things to try. If you cannot cook at all, the temptation is to buy takeaways and fast food – these might seem cheap, but they are a lot more expensive than a jacket potato with beans and cheese that you can make yourself in no time.

Cooking is a skill for life and essential for effective student budgeting. Even if you are going into catered halls of residence I still recommend you learn some fundamental cooking techniques.

Kitchen essentials

There are many downloadable lists on line advising on the essential kitchen items to take to university. But are they really essential? When you are concerned about student budgeting you don’t want to waste money on pointless purchases.

You don’t need a set of saucepans – just one or two with lids will do. You only need a couple of plates, bowls, glasses and mugs and a small amount of cutlery. Your student housemates will be bringing these items too; as you get to know them you can share. As I am urging you to cook, you do need a chopping board and at least one decent sharp kitchen knife, a bread knife, a small wok or frying pan, some spatulas, a colander, a cheese grater, vegetable peeler, kitchen scissors, a tin opener and some plastic food storage containers with lids.

These are brilliant for freezing your leftovers so it is worth taking some freezer labels too so that you can identify your frozen creations. An indelible pen is handy for marking your stuff in the fridge and cupboards. And as you are a student you might need a bottle opener too :).

However, you don’t need to buy these all brand new. We have been scouring the charity shops and boot sales and have found a lot of items second-hand.

Food planning and buying

I know it sounds dull, but a bit of planning can go a long way towards effective student budgeting. Have a think about which nights you need food and then write a shopping list. Have at least a rough plan for what you will eat each day.  It could be that you have a bit of time on a Monday but will be late back on Tuesday. Your plan for the week could be to make double the quantity of a meal on Monday that you can heat up on Tuesday. If you are likely to be out several nights don’t buy too much food that will then be wasted.

Check to see which is the cheapest supermarket near your accommodation. Aldi and Lidl are great for saving money on groceries. Is there a good street market? It is worth exploring what is sold there. If you are cycling, a decent back pack or panniers are a worthwhile investment for bringing your groceries home. For walkers, how about a good, old fashioned granny trolley on wheels?

If you make friends with other students in your accommodation, maybe you could share the cooking and buy food together? Bigger packs are always cheaper.

Tracking your spending

If you don’t already have it, get online mobile banking. This way you can check often how your balance is looking and if you need to start cutting back.

Save money on text books

Text books are a major expense. However, you don’t have to buy them all new. Amazon will have many for sale used for starters. This is useful article from Save the Student gives more detailed advice about how you can save money on textbooks.

Getting a job

If you just cannot make your student loan stretch far enough you will need to bring in some extra money. Part time jobs are in high demand in student towns and it helps if you already have some retail or bar experience.  Get yourself a decent CV done and make sure you include any work experience. Ensure grammar and spelling are spot on for all your applications and the lay out is attractive. There is a lot of guidance on line about CVs and going for interviews and this will pay dividends when you are looking for a graduate job later. Keep plugging away.

Whilst you are job-hunting, you could look at making a little extra doing online surveys or mystery shopping. There are all kinds of paid opportunities once you start looking. A fantastic blog to check out to help increase your income is The Money Shed.

So, what are you waiting for? Have the most fabulous time at university, make the best of the experience and come out ready for what ever the world offers. I hope this helps you with your student budgeting so you can manage your money and avoid any more debt than is strictly necessary.
 

Boot Sale Booty – a successful Sunday

Boot sale booty

Boot sale booty

Sunday’s boot sale booty

I had a great weekend. The mad weather desisted and remembered it was summer, which helped. We spent a lovely day at Wrabfest on Saturday with two of my three daughters.  On Sunday we dragged ourselves out of bed at 5 am to help my other daughter do a bootsale. She had quite a bit to sell and I also got some great boot sale booty to resell!

I didn’t mind the early start, as once I had helped her set up I could get round quite a lot of stalls to see what was on offer. I didn’t get any boot sale booty for myself but I found a whole load of clothes to list on eBay.

One of my bargains was an absolutely gorgeous long silk Monsoon evening dress that I would have kept for myself if I ever needed a posh frock! I found lots of good high street names, brand new with tags,, some as-new Skechers trainers and a beautiful dress from Coast. Most cost me £1 or £2. The Monsoon one was £4.

I don’t know why people don’t sell such items themselves for more money on eBay, but they have the choice. I don’t feel bad for making a little profit and supplementing my bank balance this way.

I continue to find this a useful source of extra income, although July was quieter than previous months. I think that is a summer thing and hopefully it will start to pick up as we move into autumn.

Wrabfest

This little festival in Wrabness was a lot of fun. Here was some great music from talented bands – no one famous but excellent all the same. There were activities for the kids, lovely foodstalls, all kinds of retailers and a bar. This got very busy in the evening. If they run it again I hope they have a second  bar and more loos!

It is run completely by volunteers from the village and was a very impressive community event.  I think it must be lovely to live in a place where there is lots going on and a real community vibe.

SHOMOs – still after your votes

I have mentioned before that I have been nominated for the SHOMOs UK Money Bloggers Awards next month. I am really excited to go and meet lots of other bloggers. My nomination is for the frugal and thrift category. You can’t vote for me in that as it is judged, but you can vote in the People’s Choice awards. If you are interested, go to this page on the UK Money Bloggers website. I will be hugely grateful to get a few votes at least.

How was your weekend? Anybody else been hunting for some boot sale bounty?

 

Follow me on Twitter: @shoestringjane and on Instagram: @shoestringcottage. My Facebook page is www.facebook.com/shoestringjane.

One pound meals? Fast and fresh, please

Book review: One Pound Meals – Fast and Fresh, by Miguel Barclay

My daughter bought Miguel Barclay’s FAST & FRESH One Pound Meals recently and it is fab. The food really is cheap, easy and uncomplicated to prepare. Above all, it is delicious.

It is actually Miguel Barclay’s second book on this theme. I haven’t read the first (One Pound Meals: Delicious Food for Less) but I will look out for it now.

It is a great looking book. Every recipe has its own beautiful photograph that makes you really want to eat the food! It is all the proof you need that frugal food doesn’t need to be dull. I like the fact that Miguel has designed the recipes for this very specific £1 budget. It gives me confidence in his frugal credentials.

The vegetarian meals are excellent. The sweet corn, courgette and feta fritters were a winner as was the Thai sweet butternut curry. I will definitely also be cooking the sardine pasta and the garlic portobello pappardelle. Both look so easy to prepare after work. I like the sound of curried halloumi, Spanish chorizo stew and the £1 chicken wings. There aren’t many recipes I wouldn’t try, to be honest!

There are no desserts, but in reality how many of us eat a dessert every night when we are eating on a budget?

The recipes do live up to the fast and fresh claim of the title. There is nothing that looks fiddly and it uses a lot of vegetables, making the food very healthy.

Check out Miguel Barclay’s Recipes on Instagram.

Disclaimer: If you purchase this book using my link, I will receive a small commission. 

 

Five Frugal Things I have done this week 12th August

Five frugal things

It has been a bizarre kind of week weather wise here in Essex. We have had warmth, cold, sunshine but mostly a lot of rain. I have been hoping for an improvement as we are off to a little festival tomorrow.  It’s not looking too bad at the moment but I will be taking my rain mac just in case.

So what five frugal things have we achieved this week?

We have a working wood burner

We finally had our wood burner fitted! It is ready for winter. This isn’t frugal in itself, of course, as it was expensive. Mr S saved us money by doing as much work as possible himself but we had to pay to get the chimney lined. Others who have one tell me that it has saved money on their heating bills in the long run and is great for drying laundry.

I am certainly looking forward to cozying up in front of it this winter.

I got some cash back

I signed up a while ago to Top Cashback and, even though I have barely bought anything over the last few months, I have earned £50 cash back! Imagine how much you could get back if you are a big online spender?

The idea is that you go into the site and peruse the deals they have negotiated with various retailers. If you buy something, you get the published amount of money back. I have got into the habit of checking Top Cashback to see if there is a deal on before I buy anything. I renewed my breakdown cover and bought a few presents and it has definitely come up trumps.

If you use my referral code, here, I earn a commission and you get a £5 bonus once you purchase something.

Picnicking

As I mentioned, we are off to a small festival tomorrow – Wrabfest! We have never been before but it looks fun. It is a community event, organised by villagers from Wrabness. Because we are on a grocery challenge, we shall be taking along a large picnic. I have rolls, crisps, fruit, chocolate, sausage rolls and water. Hopefully we will be allowed to take a flask in too. As we are there all day, we will probably blow the budget and buy a burger or something for dinner though. You have to loosen the purse strings once in a while, and I don’t fancy lugging around too much food. Hopefully, this will be a nice day.

Surveys

I have never bothered much with online survey sites to make extra cash. They seem generally to be a lot of effort for very little reward. However, Prolific Academic was recommended to me as one that actually pays worthwhile amounts. I signed up and did a couple in my lunch hour today. I made £3.17 in about 20 minutes. Ok, it’s not going to make me rich, but if I did that every lunchtime it would be a useful amount extra at the end of the month!

You need to answer quite a lot of pre-screening questions and they keep appearing, each time you log on. The more you complete, the more surveys you are likely to be eligible for. It also pays to add your phone number to verify your account, I am told.

Lunch for pennies

As we still have a few courgettes coming through on the veg patch, I made a bucket of ratatouille on Monday. We had it for dinner with rice and I have eaten the rest for my lunches every day. It made a change from soup or a sandwich. I don’t really use a recipe. I just chop up onions, garlic, peppers and courgettes, fry them up, then add tinned tomatoes, herbs and seasonings. If I have an aubergine I might chuck that in, but I did without this time. It is certainly cheaper than going to the shop every day for a meal deal!

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. Hop over to their sites to see the frugal things they have achieved? Let me know about yours in the comments too.

Is frugality the new black?

frugalityIs frugality the new black? I asked this same question back in 2014. Back then it felt we were still in a post recession hangover. Now, in the UK anyway, I think it is more to do with post-Brexit nervousness and our government’s insistence on pushing forwards with their austerity programme. Either way, whatever the cause, frugality seems to be in!

Frugality is in

Food and energy prices go up whilst wages largely stagnate. Benefits are being squeezed for those already on the lowest incomes. Public services are facing cutbacks just as people seem increasingly to need them.

No wonder the internet is packed with money saving and frugality blogs! Whether you want information on living a thriftier, more frugal lifestyle, need advice on budgeting or debt repayment, need better value recipes or want to know where the best discounts can be found, there is a blog for you.

You Tube also features these frugal bloggers and Pinterest is positively awash with them. New books like The No Spend Year: How you can spend less and live more (Michelle McGagh) echo those published at the time of the last recession such as Judith Levine’s Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. There are TV programmes telling you how to spend less on food, how to get more for your money, how to live mortgage free and how to make something new from an item about to be sent to the rubbish dump. Buying second-hand is positively trendy (although not always super cheap if it carries a ‘vintage’ label), with a host of entrepreneurial folk making a living selling second-hand stuff on eBay and other online sites.

Taking care of the pennies

frugalityI guess I might have a different view of the situation if my colleagues were mostly investment bankers rather than local government employees. However, it appears that most people I know are watching the pennies. Those who once seemed embarrassed about shopping in the discount supermarkets now appear very happy to share how much money they saved.

Do people still feel the need to keep up with the Jones’s? I don’t see this so much. Many families are prepared to budget when they need to,  which doesn’t leave much scope for showing off. I am sure some parents continue to spoil their children by spending vast amounts on Christmas and birthdays. However, I have noticed that there are just as many keen to show their children they love them in more meaningful ways and to teach them the value of money.

It is no fun having no spare cash. It is even worse if you have debts because you don’t control your spending. There are plenty of folk out there with reasonable incomes who are in a sticky financial situation because they have been under the influence of the buy now pay later credit culture. I am happy to be part of the frugality trend if it in any way helps people to manage their money better, to appreciate the simple things in life and to save a bit of cash for a rainy day.  I hope it isn’t just a thrifty fad and that frugality really is the new black!

There are a couple of affiliate links in this post and if you purchase anything after linking through I will receive a small commission.

This week’s frugality – how are you doing?

Lost in Blog Land

I have mentioned before that I recently joined the UK Money Bloggers. The site is well worth a read as it is full of interesting articles on finance and frugality.  The members are a lovely, helpful lot with some amazing blogs. I chat regularly to the group on Facebook and they are so willing to share their experience and advice on anything blog related.

This week they have published an article of mine in the Loose Change section about my No Spend Month. Check it out if you get the chance.

Honestly, I would get lost in Blog Land if I had the time. What did we all do before the Internet? Does anybody else spend more time than they should reading lots of blogs?

 Dishwasher emergency

 Our dishwasher – a brilliant Miele one which was about 12 or 13 years old – finally bit the dust at the weekend. Mr S has pulled it out and managed to sort it on several occasions, but this time it just wouldn’t work. I bought it when there were 5 of us at Shoestring Cottage and very useful it was too. Did we need a new one? I didn’t think so. I reckoned we could go back to that quaint, old-fashioned method of a bowl of soapy water!

 However, Mr S mentioned it to his brother and sister in law, and they just happened to know of a dishwasher going for free. Last night they turned up with it and it is now in place. I just need to work out where to put the rinse aid as the light is flashing but there is no obvious place for it to go. I hope we can get it working properly. If not, we will get out the Marigolds. I’m not rushing out to get another one just yet.  There is no frugality in buying something if you don’t need it.

 Grocery challenge

Very soggy car park!

 We overspent slightly on our £35 a week grocery challenge last week. However, we managed to make this last for 10 days, so we are still on target. This week we have spent about £34. We have been having less meat and a lot of pasta and rice. However, we have been eating really healthily, with fruit, salads and yogurt on the menu as well. Anyone else still on  a grocery challenge this month? I would love to hear how you are getting on and the kind of meals you are eating.

Do you ever just get an evening where you cannot be bothered to cook? You can’t give in to a takeaway when you are on a tight budget. I feel like this tonight, having fought my way through the flooded roads of Essex and lots of traffic – with very wet feet as our car park was under 4 inches of water!  Fortunately I tend to plan an easy meal into my week, in case I am late or don’t feel great and don’t have the energy to cook after work. Tonight we are having fish in breadcrumbs, oven chips and peas. There is no shame in this and at least we aren’t going down the chippy!

I hope it is dry wherever you are and you are making some progress towards frugality!

 

 

 

 

A weekend of thrifty living and saving money

We have had a good weekend here at Shoestring Cottage. I really feel we have achieved something! We continue with our thrifty living adventures.

A new tenant

One of my aims for this month was to get a new lodger sorted. I paid a few pounds to Spare Room to have a bold advert and I’m glad I did. We have had lots more interest than last time. Yesterday I spoke to a young lady who is studying abroad but is coming to Colchester to do her masters. She seems very nice and has decided to take the room from October. This gives us time to get in once our current lodger has gone and spruce it up a bit.

Free food

thrifty livingWe have been picking blackberries. There are always tons in the car park at our local post office. No one ever seems to harvest them. We checked it was ok to have some and picked 4lbs of lovely ripe fruit.

They are already in the freezer. I will use them puréed in porridge or made into pies and crumbles over the winter.

Yellow stickers

thrifty livingDarling daughter has got lucky a few times hunting for yellow stickered food recently. She arrived just at the right time in Asda on Saturday evening and got loads of items reduced to 10p. I really must make a more concerted effort to hunt out reduced food. This will help my £35 a week grocery challenge!

Home grown

thrifty livingOn the veggie patch, the courgettes have started to slow down but are still arriving. We had our first ripe tomatoes on Saturday and there are still tons of cucumbers. These are so easy to grow if you have a greenhouse. Ours came from eBay a few years ago and cost £85 secondhand. It was a good investment.

We also have tons of runner beans, spinach and chard and some chilli peppers. I am really pleased that our apple trees look like producing their first decent crop this year too. They will go well with our foraged blackberries! We have a young plum tree too but only a couple of plums on there so far.

Seeds for free!

thrfty livinigWe did loads of much needed tidying in the garden yesterday. I am really pleased with how it is looking. It never ends though and there is still plenty to do.

I collected some seed heads from our hollyhocks and foxgloves and put them in an envelope, as instructed by Monty Don on Gardener’s World. Free seeds for next year! I love the cottage garden feel those plants give.

DIY hair cutting: the ultimate in thrifty living

thrifty livingI did some more DIY hair cutting at the weekend, just trimming the fringe and layers. I do still go to the hairdresser but a lot less frequently now that I know I can tidy it up myself between cuts.

It looks pretty ok I reckon. I do need to learn not to cut my layers quite so blunt though. Maybe I will have a look at purchasing some layering scissors with my Boots points.

I am happy with our good weekend of money saving and thrifty living. Was yours a frugal weekend?

Fabulous Frugal Friday

Welcome to Frugal Friday, where I sum up my week.

Grocery challenge

I am continuing on my £35 a week grocery challenge. Week 1 we came in under target at £27.86. This week I have gone a bit over. This is because I sent darling daughter to do the shopping! She spent £41. Never mind, we are winning overall so far. We also have two meals worth of meat to take us forward into next week so I will put off shopping again until Monday rather than tonight. A really Frugal Friday!

The Lodger hunt

I have had one potential lodger visit this week and another had a virtual tour of the house from her base in Germany. I really liked the second one. She has a couple of other places to look at closer to where she really wants to be, so not sure whether she will come to us. I have another foreign student calling tomorrow and another local lady coming on Tuesday. I have had quite a lot of interest, but students don’t realise how far we actually are from the university (5 miles) so this has put some people off. We would suit someone just working in town, ten minutes away.

Feedspot Top 100 Frugal Blogger

I was pleasantly surprised today to receive an email telling me I was no. 53 in the Feedspot list of Top 100 Frugal Blogs on the internet. I don’t even remember submitting my blog for consideration but I guess I must have! There are some brilliant blogs on the list. A lot are American, but they look very interesting. You can sign up for Feedspot here.

Frugal food

I have been cooking a lot of cheap and easy meals this week.  For example, we have had tuna pasta bake, cheesy spinach frittata, Spanish chicken in rice (using a jar I found lurking at the back of the cupboard. Lidl’s own and very tasty) and  vegetable pilaff, I have used a lot of veg from the garden, including in courgette soup, which I have had for my lunch most days at work. We have eaten very little meat, which definitely helps us stick to the budget. I do have sausages and burgers to take into next week so hope to keep below budget on the grocery challenge.

I mentioned in my August monthly goals post that I was hoping to increase my following on Twitter (@shoestringjane), Instagram (@shoestringcottage) and Facebook. Well, I have a bit this week. Thank you if you are one of those who followed me.

We have very little planned this weekend as the rest of the month will be super busy. I am hoping for a bit of nice weather for some gardening and to perhaps get to a boot sale. How are you doing this frugal Friday and how has your week been?

Love your Leftovers: spinach cheese frittata 

Love your Leftovers

This is the second in my occasional Love your Leftovers series.

You know how it is when you cook fresh spinach? You think you have enough in the pan to feed the five thousand then you cook it and it disappears to a small bowlful!

I tend to over compensate for this and cook even more than I think I need. I love spinach and I know there are plenty of ways to use it up. You’ve got to love your leftovers!

love your leftoversUsing up leftover food is also helping me to stick to my £35 a week grocery challenge for August. The spinach, as well as some leftover canned sweet corn, went into this cheesy spinach frittata for a quick and easy dinner. Obviously, you can vary the ingredients for this type of dish, depending on what you have available or what needs using.

These quantities serve 2.

4 medium eggs

A splash of milk

About a cupful of chopped, cooked spinach

A couple of rashers of bacon, chopped

2 tablespoons canned corn

About 2-3 ounces grated cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper

Oil

I tend to use my wok for this as it is a good size and is non stick. It needs to go under the grill but obviously not a plastic handled one!

Fry the bacon in a little oil until cooked, then spoon it out and set aside, leaving some oil in the pan to cook your frittata. Whisk the eggs, milk, salt and pepper together then add the bacon. Pour back into your pan and cook gently until it starts to set. You can push the egg mixture around a bit to speed this up. Don’t allow it to catch on the bottom of the pan. When it has mostly set sprinkle the corn, spinach and finally the cheese on top. Place under a medium grill for around five minutes to cook the top.

This frittata is quick, cheap and easy, and a good way to help you love your leftovers. Have you any good recipes for cooked spinach?

Monthly goals: Aims for August 2017

I have been really busy since I got back from Wales a few weeks ago. At the same time, I feel I achieved very little and mostly ran around like a headless chicken! I was reactive rather than proactive. So I am setting myself some monthly goals.  Here are my aims for August.

Develop the blog

To write 3 blog posts a week. I have struggled to do this over the last few months and I am aware that my posting can be a bit sporadic at times. I want to develop the blog a little more. One day I hope to make some money blogging! In order to do that I need to increase my page views and that will only happen if I post as often as I can. I also want to add a subscribe button so that I can notify readers of new posts. I am not very technical so I find this kind of thing a real challenge.

Increase my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter following

Personally, I am all over Facebook. I keep in touch with friends and family and belong to various groups. I do have a separate Shoestring Cottage page but haven’t paid it enough attention. I currently have a few likes but zero followers! I need to start posting more interesting stuff and hopefully I can get a little Shoestring community going. If you use Facebook you can find me here.

I would like to reach 1000 followers on Twitter (@shoestringjane) and 2000 on Instagram (@shoestringcottage). If you use either maybe you can help with this. Follow and retweet/like. Send me a comment and I will follow you back!

Increase the amount I sell on eBay

I only managed to list about 5 or 6 things during July. There is quite a lot already for sale but it seems to be moving quite slowly. I would like to source and list at least 30 extra items during August. This might be a stretch as we seem to be busy almost every weekend, so getting to boot sales and the charity shops could be tricky. I will do my best.

Get a new lodger

My lodger is leaving in three weeks. This is a shame as the extra income makes a huge difference. I have an ad on spareroom.com and have had a bit of interest, but nothing concrete yet. I will begin to approach prospective tenants and perhaps sign up with another website to increase my chances of getting someone in quickly. It did take several months last time as most people want to be near the university or prefer to share with other young folk. I hope to have something arranged by the end of August.

Continue with my grocery challenge

I am currently on a grocery challenge to spend no more than £35 a week on food for three people per week. I will keep this up until the end of August at least.

I think that will do for the month as I don’t want to set monthly goals that aren’t achievable. How about you? Do you set monthly goals and what are you aiming for?