Category Archives: General and rants

Managing my time

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Saving money in the garden

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

Wallflower cuttings

Wallflower grown from a cutting

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you save money in the garden?

Home spa! Giving myself a treat 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What cheap treats do you enjoy?

Entertaining cheaply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When is cheap a waste of money?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A thrifty bank holiday weekend

Meeting a friend at Abberton Reservoir


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

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

Starting to look tidier …


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

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

Who needs chocolate?


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

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

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

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

Small victories 😀

Time to sort out the patio pots


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

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

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

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


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

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

So, small victories! What about you?

Is Easter the best time to cut out sugar?

Well, why not?

I recently blogged about how I had a sugar free March. I didn’t find it difficult generally and lost a couple of pounds, even though I ate as much of everything else as I wanted. Mr S didn’t do it as strictly as me but he also felt a lot healthier.

I noticed that my IBS symptoms improved massively, which was a big surprise. There are a lot of foods that I now avoid (cabbage, onions, milk products unless they are Lactofree, cauliflower and highly spiced food are some), but I had never considered that sugar might irritate my sensitive gut.

I have allowed myself some sweet stuff again in the past couple of weeks – mainly chocolate, which I love – and have had an upset tummy most days. It’s hard to avoid the realisation that these two things are inextricably linked! 

We ate half a Lindt Easter bunny between us last night and I feel awful today, so I am going to cut sugar right out of my diet starting now. 

I now realise there is a whole area of research around sugar, candida and yeast infections which I intend to research. Perhaps that is the root cause of my IBS?

Speaking to a colleague today, he has also given up sugar and started to exercise and eat healthily as he was diagnosed with diabetes. A couple of months in, his blood sugar is normal, he no longer had diabetes and he has lost a stone! Living proof that a high sugar intake and a poor diet have massive health implications.

Sugar sneaks into many foods, even savoury. I bought some cup-a-soups on a whim recently as I had run out of home made for work and they are full of rubbish (plus they taste horrible). Sugar is the third ingredient! Whatever possessed me I don’t know but I won’t be buying them again. I will try to avoid refined sugar wherever possible. 

I have told everyone that I don’t want any more chocolate over Easter and we will have a fruit salad for dessert on Easter Sunday.

Has anyone else stopped eating sugar? How have you found it?

Using it up to save money

My food shop was minimal last week. I haven’t really spent anything on groceries apart from £8 on some yellow sticker stuff I found in my local Co-op.  We seemed to have quite a lot of food and it makes me more creative when I have to use up what we have.

We used the fish cakes for tea on Saturday with some salad. They were delicious but I wouldn’t have paid the original price.  On Sunday we had the chicken pieces, roasted up with some of the carrots and lots of fresh veg that was hanging around plus half a tin of potatoes that needed eating. We had this one tray supper with the spinach and it was lovely!

The kiwis still aren’t ripe – I just can’t think why they were reduced at all! We have apples and oranges to use up anyway as well as frozen berries.

I am saving the whole chicken as we will have a roast over the Easter weekend. I will need to get some shopping before then but I do intend to go to the supermarket on Saturday evening to see if I can get some big reductions before Easter Sunday 😀.

So I  am saving money on my food bill by finding bargains, not wasting fresh food and using up what we have in the cupboards and freezers. How about you?

My Zero Waste Kitchen – book review

I have said before in this blog how much I dislike the pervading waste culture. We are a throw away society and no longer seem to value our possessions or how much they cost in financial and environmental terms. Easy come, easy go!

This also applies to food. I remember learning about wartime rationing at school. Food was scarce but nobody starved in the UK because nothing was wasted. Now we are guided more by use by and best before dates than commonsense and a lot of perfectly edible food is thrown away with barely a thought.

I am generally careful to avoid waste like this, but I am not perfect and could definitely try harder, so I was delighted to receive a copy of My Zero Waste Kitchen from Dorling Kindersley.

It is a prettily designed, small hardback book and good value at £6.99 I think. The advice given is clear and simple, although probably aimed more for those who have just begun to think about reducing their food waste rather than the seasoned waste free cook.

I like it though – there are a lot of useful tips that I hadn’t come across before, such as the page on eggs. Did you know you could use crushed eggshells as a stain remover or as a calcium supplement? Or that you could revive stale cake by putting it overnight in an airtight container with a slice of bread?

Why not put apple cores and kiwi skins in your smoothie? I am sure they would taste just as nice and add nutrition. I was less convinced about adding banana skins, however, as I think they would be too bitter.

If you want to get maximum value from your lettuce, you can cut off the end and root it in water to start a whole new plant. I have never tried this and I am sceptical, but might give it a go.

The recipes in the book look interesting. I like how a base recipe is presented such as hummus or flapjacks alongside ideas for foods you could add to save wasting them. I will definitely be trying the Waste-not want-not savoury muffins, as they look yummy.

If you want some fresh ideas on how to begin to reduce your family’s food waste, or you want to teach your children more about the subject, then this book will be a great place to begin.

If you decide to buy this book using the link below, I will receive a small commission from Amazon.