Prepare for a no spend January

no spend JanuaryAre you feeling the pinch after Christmas? Do you wish you could pay off debts or get your savings off the ground? If so, a no spend January could be the answer.

The new year is a great time to set yourself a no spend challenge, although you can do it any time of year. Turning over a new leaf and starting afresh; the themes for a brand new year perfectly suit a no spend month.

Why do a no spend January?

‘Really? You spend NOTHING for a whole month?’, is a common response when I tell people my plans for a no spend month.

Some can manage a no spend day, weekend or even a no spend week. But a month is a whole new ball game.

A no spend January will help  you recover from the Christmas spend-fest and save you loads of cash. However, a prolonged period of not spending will also increase your awareness of where your money goes and make you appreciate how little you can live on if you need to.

I find a no spend period truly liberating. There are no more of those internal conversations about whether you should buy that new item of clothing or have a night on the town. You know you won’t be doing either.

How to prepare for a no spend January

Tell family and friends

I always find it best to be upfront with friends and family when I do a no spend month. It is hard to keep making excuses for not meeting for coffee or going to the pub. If you tell people in advance you will get fewer invitations.

Don’t, however, let your loved ones spend all their money on you during your no spend month. Instead of letting them pay for dinner, how about cooking something together to share at home?

Stay away from the shops

It may sound obvious but looking around the shops or window shopping is a terrible idea when you are trying to save money. This includes charity shops! I can spend a small fortune in them if I am not careful.

Plan for fun

If you are usually a social butterfly, a month of no outings at all will be tough and lonely. Look for cheap or free things to do. Invite friends round with a bottle or get together and bring a dish each. Your rules for the month might allow for a weekly night out with an upper spending limit. You can be flexible and the rules are up to you.

This may be a good time to use up any vouchers you got for Christmas for the cinema. Otherwise, Netflix always has a good choice of films and dramas.

Plan what you will do with the money you save

This can be a great incentive to stick to the rules you make for your no spend January. Whether you want to pay off your credit card or put some money towards a summer holiday, a plan will keep you on track.

The Rules

These are my own personal rules for my no spend January. Yours might be different, depending on your circumstances. Here is what is allowed:

Mortgage and bills

Obviously we will take care of these, as usual. No point in saving money and having to deal with the bailiffs….

Groceries and pet supplies

I can spend money on food. However, I will eat from the fridge, freezer and cupboards first and make sure I plan our menus around what is in there before buying anything else. I always pack a work lunch anyway as this saves a ton of money.

We don’t have masses of food left over from Christmas, but some of you will. Make sure you factor this into your planning to keep your grocery spend to a minimum. Personally, I intend to make lots of soup with the stack of home grown courgettes in the freezer, to make bread pudding with the bread ends and to use up some of our frozen plums for crumbles.

It is really important to go through your larder to see what you have stashed away. I did this today and found I had two jars of coffee and a pack of teabags pushed right to the back. Both were on my shopping list, so have been able to cross them off.

You might find some of my favourite frugal recipes helpful.

I stocked up yesterday on cat food, litter and biscuits. We will obviously buy more of these if we need to as we go through our no spend January.

Petrol

I could save money by cycling to work, but I am no cyclist and it is 6 miles each way, so I think not! Petrol is therefore allowed. I will, however, walk or cycle short trips. We are trying to increase  the amount of walking we do anyway so this will be a good incentive to keep our miles up.

Alcohol and treats

I am allowing some wine and a few treats during my no spend January. However, I won’t need to buy any sweets or crisps as we still have loads left over. As I won’t be going out to the pub this month, a couple of bottles of white wine will be on my shopping list.

Birthdays

It is my daughter’s birthday this month. I have already sorted her presents. However, we will be having some kind of takeaway as a celebration on Friday, the day before she travels back to university.

Free days out

We have our RHS card so might take a trip to Hyde Hall, our nearest garden. There are free museums and galleries here. We will take lots of long walks too. We are allowing our travel costs to these places where necessary.

What isn’t allowed

Make up and toiletries. I have enough of both to get me through the month.

Cleaning supplies. Again, we have plenty. I will buy toilet paper and washing up liquid during the month, as we are likely to run out. Essential items only!

Nights out. Unless they are free! If we get an invitation out to dinner we shall accept that and return the favour next month.

Items of clothing. I don’t need anything.

Books. I am terrible for impulse purchasing books. I have quite a few to read and some on my Kindle app, so there is no excuse to buy any more. If I am short of a read I will look on the internet or visit the library.

Snacks from the machine at work. These are ridiculous. 80p for a single chocolate bar. I will keep a stash of our Christmas food in my drawer for emergencies.

Coffees out. If I am going into town or if we are out for the day I will prepare a flask. We always take a picnic on excursions anyway, which saves a lot of money.

Takeaways. Apart from my daughter’s birthday, there will be no expensive take out food. We don’t spend money on these anyway as a rule.

Will you join me on a no spend January?

I will be checking in weekly to let you know how I am getting on and whether I have succumbed to any extra spending. It will be interesting to know if you are planning a no spend January and what your rules will be! How far can you stretch your money this month?

My top money saving blog posts for 2017

top blog postsIt’s always interesting to look back and review our year here at Shoestring Cottage. I thought it would be good to identify my top money saving blog posts to see which have been the most popular.

Earlier in the year I signed up with Google Analytics. It tells me all kinds of things, such as how many people have visited each day, which country they are from, how long they stayed for, etc. I find it fascinating! It also tells me which posts were the most read, so here is the top ten.

My top money saving blog posts of 2017

A tabloid sensation

Fame at last: spreading the frugal message. This was our first taste of fame, as we became tabloid sensations for the day, appearing in the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Mirror. It was a bit of fun, although I avoided reading the Mail comments. They are always nasty!

A great debate

Lidl or Aldi: which is best? I was surprised that this was such a hit. Actually I like and use both Lidl and Aldi, but think Aldi has the edge.

Saving money on groceries

The Joys of a well stocked larder. This is fundamental in my list of money saving blog posts. If you don’t keep the basics in and know what you have in your kitchen cupboards, you will tend to buy more products you don’t need. You might not use them in time, which leads to food waste. This is a no-no in the thrifty kitchen, as I am sure you will agree.

Cleaning frenzy

Cleaning as therapy. Although not strictly a money saving post, this is a good one for the New Year. A nice clean, tidy and clutter free house does run nicely alongside a frugal approach to life. If the house looks nice you are less likely to want to spend money on redecorating or new furniture, or buy thing you already have buried in a drawer somewhere.

Making extra money

How to make money selling on eBay. One of my favourite money saving blog posts for after Christmas. You have all your new presents so might want to sell some of your old stuff to make space. Or you might want to sell the lovely, but not quite you, jumper that Auntie May gave  you. Selling on eBay is a great way to make a little extra cash at what may be a lean time of the year for some.

Planning ahead

Frugal Christmas: Budget now to save your bank balance. I wrote this one back in October. This was the money saving post that got picked up by a media company and sent to the tabloids. It’s all about planning for Christmas and it’s never to early to start….

A classic of frugality

Tightwad Gazette remembered. Ahhhh…. this absolute classic manual of thrift and frugality. Even though it is now over 25 years old I still give it a read every now and again for frugal inspiration.

Budget eating

This month’s grocery challenge – eating on a budget. We are always looking for ways to spend less and this money saving post focussed on groceries. It’s all in the planning. If you are new to money saving, you can usually get a quick win with your grocery budget.

A good declutter

New order: the great wardrobe declutter. Is there anything more therapeutic than a good declutter? I don’t like lots of stuff and don’t have masses of clothes. However, I find it incredibly cathartic to have a good clear out.

Time for a holiday?

Think you can’t afford to go on holiday? Ideas for frugal holidays. This is exactly the time of year to plan some kind of a break. You don’t need to spend a fortune to have a holiday and this post gives some ideas for inexpensive and affordable breaks.

So, this was a taste of our year in blog post form. I hope you find some of these interesting and useful. If you write a blog, what was your favourite/most popular post of the year? Leave a link in the comments so that we can all go and have a read!

Reducing waste in 2018: make do and mend

Christmas is over, the fridge is full of cold turkey  and leftover nut roast …. I am sure you are the same (well, maybe not the nut roast!). Because most of us have plans for our Christmas leftovers and don’t like wasting food, this is the ideal time to rethink our approach to reducing waste during 2018.

Reducing wasteReducing waste with small repairs

I was sent some Sugru mouldable glue recently to try. This seems like the perfect thing when you are trying a make do and mend approach. Rather than throwing broken things away, I will use this for small repairs.

Reducing wasteThe cat somehow managed to throw the laundry basket down the stairs the other day and has cracked the corner. Each time it is used the crack is getting bigger. Rather than throw it out, I have used the Sugru to patch it up.

It isn’t as good as new and doesn’t look pretty, but hopefully will last a little longer.

Reducing waste by using the turkey carcass

Reducing wasteI have already turned the turkey bones into stock. This will be used to make soup with some of the leftover turkey and veg.

Any remaining turkey will be packaged up and put in the freezer. I have also sliced up the nut roast and frozen it. The freezer is an excellent tool to reduce waste!

I have a jar of Aldi curry sauce in the cupboard. No doubt some of the turkey will end up as a quick curry for Mr S and the girls, if they are about.

We have a lot of cheese. Fortunately this lasts a long time but I have a cheese soufflé in mind for later in the week. Cheese freezes very well too, but because we all love it I think it will get used up.

I read somewhere that salad leaves are the most thrown away food item. I have done this myself at times. It is annoying, but there isn’t much you can do with salad, except eat it before it goes brown. But is this true? I reckon I could throw any leftover lettuce and cucumber in the soup and no one would be any the wiser!

Buying less

The best way of reducing waste is not to buy too much in the first place. I don’t feel we have gone overboard this Christmas. We have a lot of food in the house but there are five of us here at the moment so hopefully we can use it all up. However, my daughter turned up with a pack of continental meats – chorizo, salami, etc. yesterday. As I am no longer eating meat and no one likes this that much I am contemplating what to do with it. I think some kind of pasta dish. I can do a meatless version for me fairly easily. Any ideas anyone?

No spend month

As January will be a no spend month for me, I will naturally be buying less of everything. Those of you who spend too much and have too much stuff might like to join me. Many of us have so much of everything and could easily do a month buying nothing except essentials. It’s great for replenishing your bank account!

I am probably going to need to make an exception for DIY stuff, however, since we plan to start the renovation of the sitting room. But we will be making the best of the furniture we have rather than buying new, much as I would love a brand new shiny sofa. We did consider buying one in the sales but have decided to save up for one rather than putting it on the credit card. It doesn’t seem the best start to a new year where I want to spend less, save more and focus on reducing waste generally.

Are you looking at reducing waste in 2018? There are some great ideas over at Jen Gale’s blog My Make Do and Mend Life. She took a break from it but is back! Very happy about this. What about you? Do you enjoy a make do and mend approach?

Christmas thoughts and an over active brain

Christmas thoughtsI woke up very early today.  There seem to be lots of Christmas thoughts whizzing around my head.  Sifting through them with a cup of tea,  I am surprised at the amount going on in my head.

So this is a bit of a random post. A round up of my over active brain with all my Christmas thoughts in black and white!

Over spending at Christmas and a lack of logic

I belong to a Facebook group run by Skint Dad Ricky Willis. As you would expect, the group often has people posting about their financial woes. It is generally a supportive group with folk requesting and giving advice based on their own experiences.

A lady had totted up all she had spent on Christmas presents and was astounded to find it was £600 plus. Some people offered wise words about how to cut back next year, but many admitted they had spent much, much more. There were admissions of spending £1500 on just one child, buying two holidays for a partner for Christmas, etc.

I would imagine that if you join a group like this, you are either struggling financially or take a keen interest in money. If you have saved all year and you can afford it, obviously you can buy whatever you like with no worry or negative consequences.  But if you spend that kind of dosh and didn’t save the £3000 or whatever you have spent on purchases, no wonder you are skint the rest of the year!

For me, this sums up our crazy approach to our finances generally. I prefer to live within my means and Christmas isn’t that big a deal.

Veg price wars

It’s hard not to notice the supermarket price wars on Christmas vegetables this year. I stocked up when I did my last shop before Christmas in Aldi last night. I bought parsnips, carrots, sprouts and broccoli for only 19p each, plus Maris Piper potatoes for just 28p.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Asda have all waded in with offers on a similar range of veg. Lidl are also selling them at 19p, Asda at 20p, Sainsbury’s at 25p and Tesco at 29p.

Obviously this is great for us as consumers, but I have feelings of discomfort too. Someone is paying for all these discounts. I hope it is the supermarkets but I suspect it is their suppliers. Christmas thoughts to ponder.

On the mend

My friend with her badly broken ankle finally had her operation on it yesterday. They are hoping to release her home today, which is great! We were worried we would have to plate up her Christmas dinner and drive up to the hospital at one point.

The plan is to cook the turkey and prep all the veg here, then to drive round and finish it all at her house. She will be on the sofa with her feet up and we will all be her willing servants.

She will be out of action for a good month, all for slipping on wet grass.

Christmas thoughts for those on their own

I heard yesterday on the Jeremy Vine radio show on BBC Radio 2 about a lovely sounding family who run the Dairy Shop café in Sidmouth. They are keeping the café open on Christmas day so that those spending Christmas alone have somewhere to go to have a coffee, a mince pie or just a chat.

It was inspired by a single mum friend of theirs who said that one Christmas the only person she had spoken to all day was in the local shop. She had been grateful for that single bit of contact.

It might also be a nice place to escape if family relationships get a bit fraught over Christmas! I thought it was a lovely idea.

One piece of money advice

On another Facebook group (I don’t spend that much time on there really!), run by Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, she asked if you could offer one piece of monetary advice to someone, what would it be?

There were some very interesting and helpful answers, so I thought I would share.

This was the most common tip: to save and have an emergency fund.

To get your savings taken out of your account by standing order so you don’t have to think about it.

To pay into a pension fund as early as you can.

Not to get into debt or take out a credit card. If you want something save for it.

Don’t live beyond your means or try to keep up with the Jones’s.

Think before you spend and ask if you really need it.

To keep a spending diary to increase your awareness of where you waste money.

Put your coins in a jar – it all adds up.

Keep household accounts and log all that you spend.

Just because something is available at a discount it doesn’t mean that you need it.

Sell everything you never use.

Take out a funeral plan.

Over pay your mortgage when you can.

Watch every penny.

Mine was to stop buying stuff and consider a no spend month, as I plan to do in January! If you could give a single piece of advice around money, what would yours be?

A vegetarian Christmas dinner

Off to make my vegetarian Christmas dinner. I considered this nut roast en croute recipe, which I took to my sister’s last weekend. It was nice, but you didn’t really need the puff pastry. So, I have finally decided on an old favourite, cashew nut and mushroom roast from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Kitchen. This is delicious and also nice cold with salad. This recipe doesn’t credit Sarah Brown but it is the one.

I hope my Christmas thoughts haven’t sent you to sleep. There is so much to do but we need to remember to enjoy it all too. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope you have a warm, safe and happy time.

 

Top 16 frugal habits to beat spending fatigue

Does anyone else get spending fatigue at this time of the year? I put money aside all year for Christmas, so I am not worried about going into debt to fund the festivities, food and presents. However, I stick to my frugal habits the rest of the year and spend as little as possible. Dusting off the purse and spending lavishly doesn’t come naturally!

Forward planning

So I am already thinking ahead to 2018 and getting back to my usual careful, frugal habits and lifestyle. We will be commencing (finally) the redecoration of the lounge in the New Year, so will need to focus our spending on that.

Post Christmas sales

I may take advantage of some post-Christmas sales to purchase cards and wrapping paper for next year, and hopefully some soft furnishings for the lounge project. After that I will be starting a no spend month for the whole of January.

I did this last year and found creating a no spend rule for the month was incredibly liberating. Friends asking me to the pub? Sorry, I am on a no spend month – perfect excuse! Shoes wearing out? I have other shoes; I will just wear some of the ones I don’t like so much.

Saving money where you can

During a no spend month, we do, of course, have to pay our bills and purchase food. However, with the latter particularly, creating a no spend ethos means you automatically save money wherever you can.

I will clear out the cupboards, fridge and freezer and start to use up some of those ingredients that sit unused at the back. It makes me more creative and adventurous in my menu planning!

Top frugal habits

A no spend month will help to boost our emergency fund and go into the New Year feeling financially more healthy. It also allows me to remember some of my top frugal habits and make sure I am practising what I preach.

My top 20 frugal habits for life are:

Make a monthly budget and stick to it.

Review your bills at least quarterly and shop around.

Pack a lunch for work or school.

Menu plan.

Make a shopping list.

Buy groceries from the discount supermarkets and look out for yellow stickered bargains.

Repair and maintain items rather than rushing to replace them.

Buy second hand whenever you can.

Where you can’t buy second hand, use cash back sites such as Top Cashback. (This is my referral code. If you sign up using it I will earn a fee and you will get a £5 voucher until 27th December).  You can also try Quidco. (Again, this is my referral code and if you use it we will both earn £5).

Sell your old stuff on eBay or on Ziffit.com.

Use Approved Food every now and again to buy staples (my affiliate link). They currently have a tin of Christmas chocolates for £1!

Cook from scratch as much as possible and batch cook soups and stews.

Freeze left overs.

Grow some of your fruit and vegetables in the garden.

Avoid takeaways.

Rather than eating out, cook a nice meal for friends at home.

Pack a flask and picnic for days out.

Drink water rather than fizzy stuff, tea or coffee (particularly when out and about).

Take frugal exercise: gardening, walking and running are free.

Cut your TV package to the minimum.

I will revisit these in more detail in the New Year. In the meantime, just typing this list makes me feel better! I can’t kick my frugal habits.

This post contains some affiliate links. If you click through to make a purchase or sign up, I will earn a small fee. Thanks!

Last minute affordable gifts 

This post is sponsored by Groupon. However, all views and opinions are my own.

Are you a last minute shopper?

Ok, own up. Who is still scrabbling around for  Christmas presents?  With the season almost upon us, it’s time to get your skates on! I am pretty organised this year. However, I have quite a few friends and colleagues who are on a mission to find some last minute affordable gifts.

I just cannot leave these things right to the wire but, if you have, some of these ideas might be helpful.

I have always thought of Groupon as a good company to check out for mini breaks or days out. Of course, Groupon does offer these and you can buy a weekend in the Isle of Wight or a holiday in Iceland if you can afford it.

Gift guide

However,  it turns out they also offer a range of bargain items for even the smallest of budgets. I have been perusing the Groupon gift guide, where there are some decent discounts on offer if you are searching for last minute affordable gifts for your loved ones. I am particularly drawn to the Donald Trump loo paper. At £4.99 it is a lot more than I would usually spend on toilet paper but would give us all a giggle!

You can also buy novelty socks for a few pounds, a mermaid tail blanket for just a tenner or a makeup palette for a fiver. However, as we are just a week away from the big day, a voucher might be better at this stage.

You can get an acupuncture session for just £9 (reduced from £30) or combine acupuncture with a massage for £29, reduced from £60.

If you fancy something a bit more active, the archery experience for two has been discounted from £38 to £19. If you don’t fancy that, how about a brewery tour with lunch is £19.95, reduced from £40?

For those of you who enjoy a nice perfume, there are some Vera Wang fragrances reduced from £69.99 to £19.99. I wish I had seen this before! You will need to be quick though, as this offer ends tomorrow.

Food shopping

As I have said previously, I have been buying bits and pieces of food and drink for Christmas for ages. However, I am now making a list of food for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Our plans have changed a bit as a family member has well and truly broken her ankle (in three places!). She may have to have an operation this week but, even if she doesn’t, she won’t be able to stand up for several weeks. So we will be cooking for an extra two, one of whom has coeliac’s disease.

Aldi is great for the odd gluten free treat. I have already found some mince pies in there. I will make sure as much of our dinner as possible is gluten free anyway.  Come Saturday I will be up really early and in and out of the supermarket as quickly as possible. I don’t enjoy shopping much anyway, but when I am competing with hoards of stressed out shoppers I like it even less!!

If you prefer presents with a green twist, check out my Eco Friendly Christmas gifts post.

Whatever you buy, remember it is just one day. Stick to your budget and have fun.

 

 

 

 

 

Five frugal things to help you save at Christmas

five frugal thingsHow has your week been? Christmas preparations are well in hand here at Shoestring Cottage. I am joining in with this five frugal things round up as Christmas is the perfect time to focus your spending and save where you can.

The decorations are in place, the presents are all purchased and mostly wrapped and I have been buying a few Christmas treats for a couple of months now. I set my budget for Christmas back in October, I have been saving all year. Now I can spend and not feel worried or guilty, and without putting it all on a credit card.

1. Only buying what we need

I don’t go crazy and try to buy only what I know we will eat. This year I decided to finally stop buying things that are traditional but that no one really wants, as proposed by Faith at Much More with Less. We actually enjoy some of the foods she has decided to ditch. However, dates sit around for ages as no one really eats them much – Mr S will usually dutifully consume them at some point, but it’s not about duty, is it? We also have a ton of hazelnuts in their shells that came from a friend’s tree,  so we don’t need to buy any more. They also tend to sit around for months before they all get eaten.

Nobody eats Christmas cake so that is off the shopping list.

However, we all love Christmas pudding so that is staying firmly on the menu. I usually buy a couple reduced after Christmas because Mr S loves it with custard any time of the year.

2. Using up all the leftover veg

vegetabl soup five frugal thingsThe very cold weather always means one thing here – soup! I love it! Soup is great for using up any bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. Into mine last Sunday went potatoes (including some frozen leftover mash), carrots, celery, frozen spinach, half a can of sweetcorn, the end of a bag of frozen peas and lots of Marigold vegetable stock.

We ate it after our freezing cold snowy walk last Sunday and it was just the job for warming our cockles! It was great for work lunches all week and there are still a couple of portions in the freezer.

3. A simple vegetable bake

I posted a recipe a couple of days ago for a vegetable bake, adapted from one of Delia’s in Frugal Food. It is so simple and cheap to make. Another good one for using up vegetables as you can add more or less whatever you have in the fridge. We had it for dinner with spinach. The meat eaters had a couple of chicken drumsticks with theirs, but I enjoyed it as it was.

I love the cheesy breadcrumb topping, which is a good way to use up the ends of a loaf of bread. I made a whole lot of breadcrumbs and what I didn’t use for the bake went into the freezer.

4. Making my own Christmas gift tags

I always keep my Christmas cards from the previous year and recycle them to make Christmas gift tags. It’s such a simple thing to do, I never know why everyone doesn’t reuse them in this way. It is quite nice to reread the messages from last year from friends and family too.

5.  Savvy Savers in the Sun

I was pleased to be asked to give some top tips for money saving at Christmas to the Sun, along with some other UK Money Bloggers. My contribution was to suggest that people consider buying second hand presents, particularly for small children. They wouldn’t notice or care. Looking on Facebook Marketplace, I can see all kinds of large ride on toys, dolls houses, bikes, scooters, dressing up outfits, etc. They mostly seem in great condition, but cost a fraction of their as new price.

I did this all the time when my kids were small. I have bought second hand phones and an ipad, computer games and a console, DVDs and many books second hand as presents.

There is a little bit of embarrassment about buying second hand as a gift but I don’t understand that. As long as the item works and is in good condition, where is the issue? And if it helps you stick to your budget, even better!

An early Christmas

nut roast en croute five frugal thingsWe are having an early Christmas dinner today with my extended family. My sister is off to see my nephew in Thailand so this will be our only opportunity. I am road testing the vegetarian nut roast en croute I found on the Sainsbury’s website. If it works, that will be my veggie Christmas dinner. The recipe is here. It smells lovely so I have high hopes.

 

Vegetable bake – quick and cheap

This is a very simple vegetable bake based on Delia’s  Leek, Carrot and Potato Pie, which features in my original copy of Delia’s Frugal Food. It was perfect after a freezing day – warming and comforting. I used tinned potatoes to save time – they are 15p in Aldi and I couldn’t buy fresh for less – and also a packet of bechamel sauce that cost 10p from Approved Food. Half of the leeks were from the garden – the last of them – and the other half came from Aldi from their Super Six range and cost 59p.

Vegetable bake

200g carrots, chopped ( I don’t bother peeling them)
2 x 420g tins of potatoes
50g butter
100g mushrooms
500g leeks, washed and chopped
1 small onion
1/2 pint white sauce
150g cheddar, grated
2 tbsp breadcrumbs, made by whizzing up half a crust of bread with my hand blender
2 pinches cayenne pepper

vegetable bakeCook the carrots in boiling water until cooked but still al dente. Sweat the leeks, onion and mushrooms in some butter until soft. Season well to taste. Drain the carrots, reserving 1/4 pint of water to make up the sauce, then follow the instructions on the packet but replace half the suggested milk with this water (or make a bechamel from scratch so that it can be gluten free if necessary). Slice the potatoes. Arrange the vegetables in layers in a deep casserole dish, finishing with a layer of potatoes, seasoning as you go. Combine the breadcrumbs with the cheese and cayenne and sprinkle on the top. Bake in a medium oven (180C) for about 40 minutes until the topping is golden brown.

This vegetable bake is cheap and easy comfort food.

Loyalty cards – are they worth it?

Loyalty cardsMy purse is absolutely jam packed with cards. Credit and debit cards, membership cards to various organisations, my library card, but mostly ridiculous numbers of loyalty cards! It is just as well I don’t carry much cash, because there is very little space left for that.

As I only use about 4 of my loyalty cards, I am planning a cull. I need to decide which ones have the best benefits and which are worth keeping. Are loyalty cards worth the bother?

My most used loyalty cards

Boots Advantage card

My Boots Advantage card has to be my favourite. I like the shop and can easily pop in on my way home from work as we have a large out of town one. It seems quite generous too, giving 4 points (effectively 1p) for each £1 spent. Generally I save my points up for Christmas or the post Christmas sales.

However, I am aware that sometimes I can buy a product cheaper somewhere like Superdrug or at Sainsbury’s, which is also on my way home. I might not get the points, but saving money on my purchases comes first.

I look out for my double points vouchers and keep them in my purse. It is also worth making a note of mega points weekends. If I know one is coming up I will hang off buying regular purchases such as vitamins.

Tesco Club Card

I barely shop in Tesco’s as I prefer Aldi and Lidl. However, I keep my loyalty card because I sometimes pop into the Tesco petrol station near me. I also have my mobile phone deal with Tesco so earn points on that.

Tesco has always offered great deals when redeeming your points. They are worth a whole lot more if you spend them on a Club Card Boost deal rather than in store. We tend to mostly use ours for cinema tickets, but there are some excellent offers on restaurants, days out, etc – even on breakdown cover.

This loyalty card is worth having, but I wouldn’t shop in Tesco just for the  points as I save more money overall in the discount supermarkets.

Sainsbury’s Nectar card

I used to save up my Nectar points for my Christmas shop. Now I have my Nectar account linked to my eBay account, so I can convert my points into a voucher to spend on eBay.  This works for me, as I use eBay a lot, but, like the Tesco Clubcard, you can use your points to purchase all kinds of products and experiences. I also stop at Sainsbury’s for petrol and collect points that way.

Coop Card

We have a small Coop round the corner that is really handy when we run out of something like milk, so we use it quite a bit. However, I wouldn’t do my main shop in a Coop store. I love the ethos of the organisation, but the big supermarket near me is expensive and the fruit and vegetables aren’t great quality some of the time.

We all use the small local store often enough to receive a decent annual dividend though – usually around £20 at least. This card is worth keeping.

The thing that annoys me about the Coop is that we have two different organisations covering our town, and you can’t use one card in the other. Not very joined up!

And the rest

Also in my purse I have cards from Iceland, Superdrug, the Body Shop, Pets at Home, Holland and Barrett and the Wyevale Gardening Club. The latter is the only one I use. I am going to dispense with the others!

What’s the point?

The point of loyalty cards is, obviously, to promote your loyalty and get you to keep shopping in a particular store. But retailers don’t lose out or give you something for nothing. I am quite sure they build the cost of their loyalty cards into their general prices! This is why shops like Aldi and Lidl don’t bother with them. They focus on keeping their prices low. But if you are going to use the shops anyway, you may as well collect the points.

It has been worth collecting my points throughout the year on some of my loyalty cards, but to be honest I have earned more money using cash back sites in the past 4 months than I have the whole year on the cards! Over £100 on Top Cashback and £50 on Quidco.

I always check them to see if they have any cash back offers before buying anything online. At the moment Top Cashback has a great deal for new members. If you purchase a makeup palette from Superdrug you get a full cashback of £13, effectively getting the palette free. This could be another Christmas present off your list. (This is my tell a friend link).

What about you? I would be interested to know which are your favourite loyalty cards and how you spend your points. Do you use cashback sites or do you find it all too much trouble?

 

Budget beauty: George at Asda makeup range

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I had purchased a few items from the George at Asda make up range. It all looked very promising and great value. Although I go for a fairly subtle look, I wear make up every day and I always enjoy a bit of budget beauty!

Now Asda have very kindly sent me some more items to review. Although I have been given some of the range, these are my own honest opinions.

Cosmic blush, £5

This was one  of the first items that I tried. I am quite pale and think I suit a pink blusher. I really like this and have been using it for two months. There is loads left. It is quite subtle with a shimmery finish.  I have this one on in my photo.

Lightweight matt foundation, £4.50

I found this a bit runny, so thought it wouldn’t provide decent coverage. It is actually pretty good, but doesn’t have the staying power of some foundations I have used before. However, at £4.50 it is a bargain. I use a bit of powder on the top and it does the job.

Blush soft touch blusher stick, pretty in pink

This is a really nice colour, but there isn’t much to it. When I tried to blend it in, it pretty much disappeared. A bit of a disappointment. I know I said I like subtle colours, but I still want my blusher to show! The price of this is £3.

VA VA volumising mascara, £4

This is the best product I tried. I really liked the long thin wand – I can’t bear those big fat ones. Not blessed with the steadiest of hands, I usually end up smudging them or poking myself in the eye. This one is perfect and stays on, so I will buy another when this is finished.  I had previously purchased the Pool Party waterproof mascara at £4. This was OK, but inclined to going lumpy after a month or so of use. The volumising one is better.

Illuminate liquid concealer, £4

I have never used a liquid concealer before, and I like this. Being a pale sort of person, I do tend to get dark shadows under my eyes and found this quite effective. I doesn’t last as long as the solid version, however.

Cover up concealer stick, light, £2

This is cheap and cheerful. It is solid and needs careful blending to stop it sitting in your wrinkles, but it is perfect for the price.

Bronze pearl strobe crayon, £3 and contour crayon, £3

Contouring is an alien concept to me. I have seen all those amazing and complicated videos on Instagram, but I don’t have the time or the inclination! So I got my daughter to try these out for me. She was quite impressed and said they went on easily and blended well. The strobe crayon was used to highlight her eyes and the contour crayon to accentuate her cheekbones. She loves a bit of budget beauty too!

High shine lip gloss, sea horse, £2.50

My daughter is also wearing the high shine sea horse lip gloss in this photo. We both liked this and it was just the type of colour we wear. It was a little sticky, but felt quite moisturising too. It was surprisingly long lasting for a lip gloss.

Gel effect nail varnish, £3 (currently rolled back to £2)

I tried this in Echo. It is rather brown and not really my colour, but it went on well and evenly. I have put a layer of gold glitter on top for Christmas and it looks really nice.

Budget beautyLong lasting nail polish, £2

I was sent a very pale pink  version, milkshake. It went on nicely but needed two coats. I will save this one for summer I think.

Budget beauty bargains

Nothing in this budget beauty range seems to cost more than about a fiver. It is very good quality for the price. If you don’t want to spend a lot on your make up I would recommend a look next time you are in Asda.

You can find more of the range here. Maybe some inexpensive stocking fillers?

 

 

 

 

Five frugal things I have done this week, 8th December 2017

At this time of year, when most of us tend to be spending more than usual on Christmas presents, five frugal things feels like quite a feat! However, the potential for rampant consumerism means that it is  even more important to save money when you can.

1. Packing a great frugal lunch

five frugal things: pumpkin soupOne of my daughters is staying with us at the moment. As she has to commute to work each day she is keen to save her pennies. I always take a packed lunch to work, but get lazy and uninspired. Sometimes a sandwich is the easiest thing to throw together but not the most appealing. So we have been taking it in turns and so far she has made a delicious Greek salad, which lasted two days. I made some pumpkin soup. Today we have leftovers from a sweet potato curry. Delicious!

Because she is home I am making more effort and enjoying my lunch each day. If I was to buy a salad, some fruit and a drink out I think I would easily spend £6 or £7 each day.

2. Reflecting on my Christmas budget

I have almost finished my shopping – just a couple more gifts to find. I set a budget for presents and one for food. We don’t need decorations or a tree so there is no budget for those.

Of course, there is no point in making a budget if you don’t review it regularly and make sure you stick to it. So far we are coming in a bit under, which is good news. If I have money left over it will go straight into the savings pot for next year.

3. Cooking more vegetarian

Five frugal things: sweet potato curryI have been enjoying digging out my old vegetarian cook books, as well as finding new recipes to try online. BBC Good Food seems like a great resource. We all enjoyed the satay sweet potato curry I mentioned earlier. It was easy to make but I varied the ingredients slightly to make use of what we had in the cupboards. I added a sad looking carrot and a courgette that needed using up. Dried ginger did the job just as well as fresh. I find when I buy fresh half of it gets wasted as we don’t use enough of it.

I also rather like the look of paneer with broccoli and sesame, if I can find somewhere to get the paneer locally.

Veggie food definitely saves money, even with a few more unusual ingredients.

4. A visit to the food bank

Ok, not really one of my five frugal things, but I have to mention it! As I have written on several occasions, the UK Money Bloggers have all been taking part in a reverse advent campaign for the food banks. I ran this at work and, thanks to the generosity of my colleagues, we collected a whole carful. We visited the food bank yesterday to hand it over.

five frugal things: trip to the food bankThis was such a worthwhile exercise and we will do it again next year. I feel reassured to know that there are such great organisations around like the Trussel Trust to help look after people if they are unfortunate enough to hit hard times.

5. It’s the little things

It’s amazing how much toothpaste you can squeeze out of what appears to be an empty tube. Because I thought we had some I didn’t buy any this week and keep forgetting to pop in and get some on the way home from work.  Surprisingly we have had several days worth. I really do need to buy some now though!

five frugal things: 1001 ways to save money bookI got a great gift on the secret Santa at work, which lists a lot more than five frugal things – 1001 Ways to Save Money. They know me too well! I will read it carefully to see if there are some good frugal tips for next time.

If you need to save money at Christmas, have a look at my ideas here, here and here.

I’m linking up with Cass Emma and Becky in this week’s Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week linky. Hop on over for more money saving inspiration.

What five frugal things have you achieved this week?

Cheap and easy vegetarian

Ooh, should I call myself a ‘cheap and easy vegetarian’? Sounds dodgy!

Cheap and easy vegetarianNow that I have given up meat and gone back to being a veggie, I have been digging out some of my old vegetarian cookbook favourites. They are well thumbed as I never stopped using them. Even when I was eating meat we always had vegetarian food twice a week.

Going back to the greats

Many of my vegetarian cookbooks are practically vintage. The one that provoked the title of this post was Cheap and Easy by Rose Elliot. She was THE veggie food writer when I first gave up meat  in the late seventies. This one appeared in 1988.

I was having a browse through it last night with my vegan lodger. There are many very good recipes in there which, as the title of the book suggests, are cheap and easy vegetarian food and  quite a few vegan recipes as well.

Some old favourites

Some of the corners of the pages are turned over where years ago I marked dishes that looked particularly interesting. I am going to give some of these old recipes a try.

Glamorgan ‘sausages’, made with breadcrumbs, cheese, onions and lots of herbs appear promising and I remember eating lentils and mushrooms au gratin a lot (we called it lentil slop, but it was really delicious!). Vegetable rice with roasted nuts is a kind of veggie paella and easy nut burgers will be worth making in batches for the freezer.

Rose Elliot on the Internet

Finding this old book made me wonder what happened to Rose Elliot. I was delighted to discover that she is still going strong and has her own website.

She still sells lots of books but Cheap and Easy seems to be unavailable there, along with another  favourite, Not Just a Load of Old Lentils (which I have lost). However, she does have a promising looking collection in the Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian . If I am lucky enough to get vouchers for Christmas I am going to buy it!

In the meantime, I had a look on Amazon and found Not Just a Load of Old Lentils, so bought it for a mere £3 including postage. Bargain! If you fancy it, Cheap and Easy: Essential vegetarian collection is on there too from 1p plus postage.

I am really happy to have rediscovered this great writer. Her books will help me to be a cheap and easy vegetarian on a budget.

Does anyone else have recommendations for interesting vegetarian food writers?

This post contains my Amazon affiliate links. If you link through and purchase an item it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission.

Save money on your heating bills: Some easy ways to keep warm this winter

save money on your heating billsThe current early cold snap in the UK has been rather a shock to the system! The heating has been on a lot at Shoestring Cottage. With the prospect of larger bills looming now that winter is upon us, how can you save money on your heating bills?

Dire consequences

I am not going to go radical and tell you to turn it off all together and wear a hair shirt. We tried the no heating/lots of layers approach and it had dire consequences. We ended up with damp walls and mould growing all over the house.

Unless you are on an extremely low income (in which case, see if you qualify for extra help here), you are better to set it to come on for a period morning and evening, and then top up as you need it.

I find even if the house gets really cold my modern boiler soon gets it warm. If you can work at keeping the heat in, you won’t need to have your heating running constantly.

Insulating to save money on your heating bills

It is so important to insulate your house as much as you possibly can to keep the heat in. You don’t want to heat the house just to feel it disappearing through the roof.

We have a thick layer of insulation on our roof space. We also had the wall cavities filled. We were fortunate that at the time we were with British Gas, who were running a scheme giving both to customers for free. Some energy providers are still offering this for nothing, so check with yours. Money Saving Expert has an interesting article on this – in some cases you can also get a new boiler for free.

Thermal curtain linings

Our windows are double glazed but it is very old glazing. Replacing all of the windows with state of the art triple glazing, or even just better double glazing, is not an option. We have found that using thermal linings on our already thick curtains makes a huge difference.

A door curtain can also help to keep the draughts at bay. We have three  sets in our chilly back room – 3 external doors in one room!!

Insulated wallpaper

We also did something in the back room that has made the most amazing difference. Insulated wallpaper. It really keeps the heat in. I wasn’t sure that what is basically lining paper with polystyrene stuck to it could do the job but it does.

It is a devil to cut and almost made me cry when I papered the small downstairs loo (you can see what we did here). So awkward! Well worth it though. It has another useful advantage if your plaster isn’t great as it covers up all the lumps and bumps.

I can’t recommend this stuff enough and I am sure it will help you to save money on your heating bills.

Foiled again

save money on your heating bills photo of a wood burnerRadiator foil is inexpensive and helps push the heat back into the house rather than out through your walls. We put this in the cold back room too and will use some more in the lounge when we redecorate in the new year.

We are hugely fortunate to also have a wood burner in place this winter. It is lovely! If it is just us at home we cosy up in front of that and don’t bother to heat the rest of the house. I think this will make a difference to our heating bills, although it was expensive to buy and fit.

So, Shoestring Cottage is pretty warm and cosy. We do still have our layers and slippers to hand. I refuse to have the heating blasting out whilst everyone is walking around in shorts and T-shirts! We also have blankets and throws on all of the sofas in case anyone is feeling chilly.

What are you doing to save money on your heating bills?