Category Archives: Bargain hunting

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?

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?

How boot sales can help you reach your savings goals

Boot sales! You got to love them on a beautiful sunny morning. My usual one, at Ardleigh in Colchester, was absolutely packed with bargain hunters today. I queued for 45 minutes to get in. That’s a first. My daughter was selling and had arrived at 6.30,  but she queued just the same. 

Hannah and Bex as glamorous sellers


If you are on a budget, boot sales  are worth getting up early for. I know people who never go to them. Maybe they imagine them as one huge jumble sale. It’s true, they can be a bit like that but, amongst the junk, there are new and nearly new bargains to help every family stretch their money. Here’s how.

1) New parents: babies don’t care if their clothes and equipment aren’t new. They grow too quickly for their clothes to get worn out. Today I saw an almost new travel cot for £20, a baby bath for £1 and a steriliser for £3 and I wasn’t even looking at baby stuff!

2) Kids: although I would say it is generally more heavily used, it is possible to pick up some great children’s clothes and shoes for pennies. Toys, books and bikes were all available in quantity this morning. 

3) First homers: if you already have the cost of rent or a mortgage to worry about, you possibly don’t have the means to kit your abode out from new. You can get kitchen equipment, bedding, furniture, cushions, pictures, curtains and lots more. Of course, you don’t have to be a first home buyer or new tenant to benefit from the cheap purchase of other folks’ cast offs!

4) Students going to university: similarly you can easily kit out a student from a boot sale. Pots, pans, cookery books, bedding can all be had at a fraction of the price of new items.

5) DIYers: there are always plenty of decent tools on offer from some of the traders, as well as new pots of paint and items such as paintbrushes.

6) Foodies: in recent years boot sales have started to attract more traditional market stalls, selling great value fruit and veg, sweets, cakes and drinks just out of their best before dates as well as fresh meat. You can also pick up household items such as loo roll and household cleaners.

7) Gardeners: I have bought some excellent plants at boot sales over the years – much cheaper than garden centre prices. The professional sellers offer good quality products. The sales are also good for garden tools.

Boot sale haul


8) eBayers: if, like me, you try to make a little extra cash on eBay, then boot sales offer the best place for cheap stock. You will get sellers who are wildly optimistic when pricing their items but many who under charge. I watch out for those who look as if they have had a proper clear out and just want rid. I hit gold today; a lady selling brand new clothes with the tags still on. I asked how much she wanted for a new Phase Eight dress priced at £120 and she said £3!!!! When I had picked myself up off the floor I bought that along with a gorgeous Dorothy Perkins dress and two Tops for £10 – all new with their labels intact. Almost £200 worth! There are also antiques and collectibles for those who have a good eye – it is worth doing some research.

9) Fashionistas: as above. If you need clothes for home or work you can get a lot for your money. You can also find decent costume jewellery, makeup and toiletries.

10) Families searching for fun: DVDs, computer games, board games, bikes, garden swings and trampolines, I have seen them all. If you give the kids a strict budget it can be a fun morning out as well as teaching them the value of money and how to get the most from their cash. Avoid the bouncy castles if you can or they will spend their cash in five minutes flat…

10) Sellers: finally, if you need to make some money whilst clearing your junk, boot sales are perfect!

So… Easter is coming up and there will be boot sales aplenty. If you have never been this is the time to try!

Cheapskate Tuesday 

My Approved Food order arrived yesterday, just in the nick of time as I had run out of cat food. I ordered quite a lot of Felix but also some posh stuff called Encore, which apparently would have cost £8 for 10 sachets. £8!! I find that hard to believe. Anyway it is a treat for the cats and they loved it 😀. I also purchased a huge 1kg tub of Marigold bouillon for a fiver. I make a lot of soup so this will come in very handy. The smaller one in the picture also cost me a fiver from the health food shop so quite a saving.

I love a bargain! Am I very sad to get excited over this stuff?

The caravan in Wales for our summer holiday is booked so I am excited to go again and must give them a plug. If you want a cheap holiday in an amazingly peaceful, environmentally sustainable situation you can’t beat this place. They have a lovely old caravan with a compost toilet and a tiny little campsite if you are hardy enough. Check it out here. Tom and Liza are lovely hosts. Tell them I recommended them 😀.

If you are interested in buying from Approved Food and use my link, I earn a teensy but welcome commission.
https://store.approvedfood.co.uk/?afid=aab8d8

 

Cheaper groceries? I Approve!

Every now and again I have a look on Approved Food and get a few mega bargains. Last night, since I have my new bank card (the other one was used and abused by some scumbag and it was blocked), I decided to take a look and see if there was enough to tempt me to justify the £30 minimum order charge plus £5.99 delivery. As soon as I saw that there was the Felix cat food that my cats like (only £2 for 12 sachets), I knew it would be. I avoided all of the yummy looking sweets and chocolates, as I have given up sugar for the month, and focussed on purchases that would really save me money – items I either need now or soon would.

In case you haven’t come across them, Approved Food sells goods that are past their best before dates at huge discounts. The items are still perfectly good to use. The company doesn’t just sell food; as well as the groceries, they have alcohol (I took advantage and ordered some wine), pet supplies, toiletries, household goods and gifts.

You can’t do the week’s shop on there. There are some staples (I bought orange juice, teabags and Marigold vegetable stock), but no bread, milk or eggs. If you like branded goods such as washing powder and fabric softener you will really make massive savings. I bought a big tin of Vanish carpet spray (constantly clearing up cat sick in my house!) for £2 instead of £4 for example. There are often very cheap cook-in sauces as well for quick and convenient after work meals.

If you want to try Approved Food and you place an order using my link, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Try Approved Food

How to make money on eBay

I have mentioned before that I make extra money selling on eBay – mainly clothing, but anything that comes my way that might make a few pounds as well. In addition to selling our old unwanted stuff, I actively buy in order to sell on. It is quite a bit of work, but can be a nice little earner. Here is what I have learned.

People will pay a lot for secondhand designer items

Certain brand names sell well and, as long as they are in good condition, they can command a very good price. Brands such as Karen Millen, Phase Eight, MonsoonLipsy and Jane Norman all sell well.

Give a good description

You need to provide a detailed description of the item you are selling, but be honest. If there is a small stain on the hem or a pull to the fabric say so and provide photos. This will avoid battles with disgruntled customers if the item isn’t as they were expecting.

Take some good pics

A decent photo really does speak louder than a thousand words. People cannot try items on or feel the fabric so will be reassured to see several good shots from various angles. If you are going to sell clothes on a regular basis it is worth investing in a hanging dummy. I bought mine from eBay for around £8 (some examples are here. Dress them as they do in the window displays in the shops. Make dresses ‘fit’ with a few pins and add some jewellery.

Grab attention with the heading

Your title is also important. Think about what key words people might use to search for particular items. Make sure they are spelt correctly too! Include the brand, colour, style, size and if it is new, say so. I bought a Karen Millen dress from eBay for £4.50 – it didn’t sell because the photo was dreadful and the heading was ‘Lovely Dress’. Nobody was able to identify it as a gorgeous designer dress so mine was the only bid. I later sold it on for £25.

Research prices

It is worth looking at how much similar items sell for to try to establish a good price for whatever you are selling. If you’re not in a hurry you will get more for an item if you sell it at a fixed price – I tend to do this with higher end designer clothing. If you want to sell it quickly go for an auction,  I tend to choose this option for items that are worth less than a tenner. Sometimes the prices you get still take you by surprise!

Set reasonable postage prices

Don’t be greedy with postage – customers aren’t stupid and will be put off bidding if you are charging £10 P&P for an object that will only cost £3 to send. I usually weigh the item and check the Royal Mail price finder to get guidance on costs, then add a little extra for packaging. For heavier or bulky items it is worth checking out Collect Plus as it is often cheaper. I would recommend sending using recorded delivery if the item is expensive. Even if you send by standard post, always get proof of postage in case the parcel goes missing, as you can refund your customer and get a refund from the Royal Mail to keep everyone happy.

Pack well

Take a bit of time to pack items carefully. Make sure you use lots of bubble wrap and a decent box if you are posting anything breakable. When selling women’s clothing I wrap it in coloured tissue paper and pop it in a matching plastic envelope. Again, I buy these from eBay as I have found this to be the cheapest place for packaging materials.

Include a little message thanking the customer for their purchase. Ask them to leave you positive feedback if they are happy with the item or to contact you before leaving negative feedback if not so that you can try to resolve any issues. If you are selling regularly, it is worth getting business cards printed with this message. I got mine quite cheaply from VistaPrint, but there are lots of companies offering good deals on these.

The power of feedback

If a customer is not happy with the item for any reason, don’t argue. If you want to make money selling you need good feedback and it’s not worth risking that by quibbling over a return. In addition, if you buy on eBay be sure to leave reasonable feedback for the seller. I would never leave bad feedback unless the seller was obnoxious or unreasonable in some way and I hope buyers are the same (they aren’t always, but I have only had one customer leave me bad feedback – completely unfairly!).

Good timing

If you are selling by auction think about your timing and schedule your posts to end at peak periods. For example, it is better to time your auction to end on a Sunday at 8pm when people have time to browse rather than on a Monday at 10 am when they are all at work! eBay has a scheduling feature for this purpose.

Sell overseas

Don’t be afraid to sell abroad. I have seen so many adverts stating that sellers will only post within the UK. Why? If you are going to the Post Office anyway it is no more complicated to post abroad. You can use the Royal Mail Price Finder for this too!

Buying to sell on

I felt a bit like Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses when I first started doing this, but I soon got over my discomfort when I realised that eBay could seriously help my budget. It is only what antique and collectible dealers have been doing for ever – buying and selling and taking a cut where they can!

Whilst you are feeling your way selling on eBay, I recommend you don’t spend too much on buying stock. Boot sales are brilliant places to find bargain items to sell on. You often see brand new items with the tags still on for just a few pounds. I got a gorgeous new Monsoon dress in pristine condition with the tags in place for £1!! I would have happily paid five or even ten pounds for it. I later sold it on for £30.

As mentioned previously, I have purchased items cheaply on eBay itself because I knew I could present them better and sell them on for more. This can be a risk; if you are buying from sellers who aren’t savvy enough to do a good presentation they may also be vague about the condition of the item. I bought a dress for £6, another Karen Millen number, which was absolutely filthy when it arrived. Dry cleaning is expensive so I risked the fabric on a delicate wash and it came up as good as new, but it might just as easily have ended up in the charity bag.

Charity shops often know the value of high end brand names so aren’t always good places to find good stuff to sell on. Occasionally you will find some great stock though. I went into a hospice shop and they were selling all their dresses off for £4 each. I filled up three carrier bags! I know that some people feel uncomfortable making a profit from charity shops, but I don’t. I buy so much from them I think I support their causes, and sometimes they need to move their stock on to make room for the next lot.

It is also possible to get some superb bargains at the end of the sales in regular stores and sell them on at profit. Mr S’s sister does this regularly. She has a great eye for the styles that will still be in demand when they are no longer available in store, and has found that sometimes people are prepared to pay more than the original retail price.

I know others that have found objects on Freecycle and sold them on. This is where I draw the line. It goes against the whole ethos of giving something for free to stop it going to landfill in my view and means the sites can be awash with greedy dealers.

So, that is my experience of selling on eBay in a nutshell, which I hope you will find helpful. I am sure I still have much to learn, so please feel free to add your helpful hints and tips!

 

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Shopping for a hobby?

I had to pop to town to pick up my new glasses yesterday. It was really busy. Lots of people apparently shopping for fun it seemed. I do not shop as a hobby. I used to! I remember I would tell myself I was ‘just window shopping’ and before I knew it I had spent £50 on clothes I didn’t need or books I might not get round to reading or expensive glossy magazines. (These are a killer for the money saver. They give you a vision of a impossibly perfect lifestyle. Your life will be complete if you spend money on the right home decor, clothes, beauty products, right? Actually no. They are one of the first things I knocked on the head when I decided to get my financial act together).

Anyway, I digress…these days many people shop as a leisure activity. They park, they shop, they coffee, they lunch – it can be a very expensive pastime. I sometimes fancy a spree but I rarely indulge as I don’t enjoy the shopping hangover: the dent in my bank balance, the strain on the credit cards and the worry about how to pay it all back. 

My idea of shopping heaven is a £10 note and a couple of hours at a boot sale on a sunny morning. I get more of a thrill from spending a pound buying a top second-hand than I would have if I had bought it new for £20 😄. I can get a couple of books I fancy, a DVD and some CDs for the car for the price of a fancy coffee in town.

Instead of buying lots of books to clog up my house I can borrow them from the library. If there is a book I would like to keep I can get it used – the internet makes it possible to locate practically anything second-hand.

If I want furniture you won’t find me hanging round a fancy showroom; I will be in the local charity shop or looking on Gumtree. 

Shopping isn’t a hobby if you are trying to save money. How about hiking? Walking is free! If you don’t fancy that you can download exercise classes of any description online for nothing. How about yoga? All you need is a good book (from the library) on the subject and a non-slip mat. You can learn almost anything on You Tube so the possibilities for finding a new hobby (knitting, crochet, painting, woodwork?) are endless. Just don’t take up something that involves you buying lots of fancy equipment before you begin!

There is no shame in bagging a bargain!

From time to time I  see acquaintances when I am shopping in one of the discount shops I like to use. Some of them look embarrassed and make silly comments. Yesterday morning a work colleague I saw in Lidl looked sheepish and said, ‘Let’s pretend this is Waitrose.’ I said ‘No – all the clever people shop in here now!’ I could have said, ‘You’re kidding – I wouldn’t be seen dead wasting my hard earned cash with their prices!’ I will save that for next time 😀.

Why are people embarrassed about shopping smart and bagging a good deal? There is no shame in being sensible with your money, even if you are loaded.

If people compliment me on something I am wearing and it was secondhand on eBay or from a boot sale, I tell them. If I can get a really nice work outfit for £8 in decent condition instead of £40 new, why wouldn’t I?

I love getting a bargain. I got quite excited when I found big blocks of cheddar on offer in Lidl for £1.99 yesterday. I bought two as they have a use by date in May. If you are passing, pop in and grab some! 

I have a plan for my money which means squeezing every bit of value out of what I have. So I will do my shopping wherever I get get best value cheapest. 

If you are a bargain hunter, and carefully watching your bank balance (however large or small that might be), don’t be ashamed – be proud! 

Haggling down the cost of your utilities 

I was listening to Chris Evans on the radio recently and he was relating the story of a woman who spent two hours on the phone to her utility companies threatening to leave and negotiating a better price with each. She eventually saved herself £2000! That is a good use of two hours of anybody’s time 😀.

I have never actually done them all in one go but I do shop around every time something is due for renewal, such as car and house insurance, to get a good price. However, I read reviews and if people are complaining about them I look elsewhere.

One thing I don’t intend to change is my energy provider, Good Energy. I switched to them after a horrific experience with First Utility, who tried to overcharge me by thousands. Their levels of customer service when I tried to get it sorted were appalling. Never again! Good Energy charges reasonable prices, produces all its energy from renewable sources and its customer service is the best I have ever experienced. I’m going nowhere! Sometimes the cheapest sounding deal isn’t worth it. I really recommend this company and, no, they haven’t paid me to say that! 

A year ago my water company offered me a great deal on emergency plumbing insurance, £6.50 for the whole year. At that price, why not? Last week I got a renewal letter and the price was £96.48 for the year, £8.04 a month. I didn’t think I needed this, so rang to cancel. I was then offered a reduced price of £75 for the year. When I refused again this went down to £55 for the year, or £45 if I had a £50 excess. The poor salesman had his work cut out with me and finally accepted I was cancelling. It did make me think though! Never accept the first price you are given!

Have you saved money by haggling down the price of your bills? 

Bargain of the week

Yesterday I said I don’t rely on yellow sticker bargains. I did, of course, take a peek in the reduced sections when I was in Sainsbury’s yesterday but there was nothing I wanted and the reductions weren’t that great. I only go in there for the cat food and my Lactofree milk anyway so trudged over to the pet aisle and was amazed to find this:

That is my idea of a yellow sticker bargain, 48 sachets of cat food for 99p! I don’t know why it was reduced so drastically. The box was a bit damaged but nothing major. I was chuffed and so were the cats!

I spent £45 for the 3 of us in Aldi for the week, which wasn’t bad at all. Last night we had a delicious chicken tray bake. I already had a pack of peppers that needed using and some olives. I adapted the recipe to use what was in the larder: green olives instead of black, dried thyme instead of fresh and balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. The chorizo in Aldi was in huge packs for almost £2.50. I bought pepperoni instead at 89p and will use some of that today. I am making paella to use up some rice. I also added a 15p can of Aldi potatoes to make it more substantial and served it with canned sweet corn. It was lovely. The original recipe is here. I got it from the BBCGood Food website, which is a great resource when you need a little inspiration.

What are you cooking this weekend? Do you adapt recipes to suit what you have or what you can afford?