Monthly Archives: August 2017

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.  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.

I purchased 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

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?