Monthly Archives: January 2015

Review of January: Did you reach your frugal goals? And a marinade for meat

I started my month with some resolutions  that I really wanted to stick to. I gave up alcohol and chocolate for the month – I lasted until 26th January!! I needed a shorter month :). I don’t intend to consume much of either in February, but I will allow both as a treat.

More important were my financial goals. I wanted to stick to a budget of £90 a week for groceries, pet food and cleaning products. I am still way over this!! I spend anything from £45 to £80 a week in Aldi, which is fine. If I could buy everything I needed in there I would be OK, but I buy my dairy products in Sainsbury’s as I need to purchase Lactofree. These aren’t cheap and I do often ending up buying items on a whim whilst I am in there. It may only work out at a few pounds more, but it all adds up. I also buy my cat food in Sainsbury’s usually, although I have made some progress persuading the cats to eat food other than the Gourmet variety in the past few weeks and they have tried both Sainsburys and Aldi’s own brands with mixed success. I spend between £20 and £40 in Sainsburys each week. 

Going through my bank statement, the other thing I have begun to make a habit of is popping to my local convenience store to top up my main shop – for teabags, juice, wine, crisps and snacks. This has got to stop!!! I need to ensure I buy enough of this kind of thing as part of my Aldi shop as it is so much cheaper. Does anyone else do this?  From now on I will be taking cash out at the start of the week for my grocery shopping and once it is gone, it is gone….!

I have stuck to my resolution of cleaning out a cupboard at week and generally decluttering. This is fantastically satisfying and therapeutic. Who knew?

I have put money into my holiday, car, birthday and contingency funds and paid a lump of my credit card. I will pay a bit more as soon as my payment for my French student arrives.

I have been doing a regular short yoga practice. I swear this keeps me really healthy and gives me a good immune system. Everyone around me at work has been falling like flies with coughs, colds and tummy bugs and so far the germs have avoided me :). We haven’t done that much walking though as the weather has been awful.

Pork in marinadeWe have eaten quite a lot of meat this week as we have our house guest. It is always a challenge to cook something interesting that doesn’t take too much time and energy when I have been at work all day. Last night we had Aldi pork chops, oven baked in a home made marinade. This is very easy to make and went down a treat with some sauteed courgettes and mushrooms. I usually put it on chicken, but its sweetness went well with the pork.

Here’s how to make it:

Half a medium red onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp clear honey
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Tabasco
Plain seasoned flour

courgettes and mushroomsFry the onion and garlic on a lowish heat for 5 minutes to soften – don’t allow it to brown. Add all of the other ingredients except the flour and stir well. Dip your meat of choice into the seasoned flour and then into the marinade. Bake for the recommended amount of time. You don’t need to cover the baking tray. I cooked my pork chops for 30 minutes in a fan oven at 190 degrees.

Did you make New Year’s resolutions and, if so, how are yours going? Are you like me in topping up your main shop and losing control of your spending?

How to stretch every penny until it screams!

I mentioned that DD1 will soon be moving out. I am worried about how she will manage financially and hope she hasn’t bitten off more than she can chew.

I also hope she heeds some of the advice I have been giving her. She doesn’t need it because the optimism of youth says ‘it will be ok’… Us older and wiser folk know that sometimes it is not ok, but if you plan and budget and live according to your means, it can be.

My top advice to her will be:

Make a monthly budget, and stick to it.
Set up direct debits for your rent and all your bills to go out the day after pay day.

Put a regular small amount aside each month for emergencies.

Never give in to expensive credit cards or pay day loans to get you through the month.

If you don’t really need something or you know you can’t really afford it, don’t buy it! Retail therapy is now a thing of the past.

If you need new clothes, try the charity shops and boot sales.

Walk as much as you can to save on bus fares.

Use up the make up and toiletries you have before you buy more. Mac lipsticks may be beautiful but at £15-20 they are a luxury. Check out cheaper options (there are many!).

Plan your meals and write your shopping list around that and what you already have in the cupboard.

Try to cook as much as you can – this is the best way to eat cheaply and healthily. But keep some frozen pizzas in for days when you just can’t be bothered so you don’t give in to the takeaway.

Take a packed lunch to work.
Buy your food at the market or in Aldi rather than expensive convenience stores.

Turn lights and appliances off!
Put some thick jumpers and socks on instead of the heating.

Wear your other more than once to save on the laundry.

Get a second job.

Get your friends to visit and bring a few beers over rather than going to the pub.

Don’t start smoking again!!

I could go on, and she will no doubt say that I do tend to! I hope she heeds my advice and enjoys her independence without the worry of debt.

What are your tips for stretching every penny?

I love leftovers!

imageI invariably take in leftovers for my lunch and I’m disappointed when we don’t have any. Last night we had roast ham (which in itself was left over from Sunday) creamy mashed potato, broccoli and cheese sauce. So that’s what I have today and it is going down a treat. I purchased a microwaveable bowl with a lid in the Sainsbury’s sale and it has proved well worth the £3.50 I paid as it is excellent for transporting and reheating my work lunches. It’s good for soups and salads too. The make is Systema and I highly recommend it.

My French student discovered the English pub last night. I only saw him fleetingly at breakfast so will have to wait until later to see if he tried a pint if bitter as we recommended! We have loaned him an old bike to get about and he is so appreciative. It saves him a 20 minute walk to college or the bus fare.

DD2 has signed a tenancy on a house with her friend and will be off in a few weeks. Only one daughter at home! Waiting for nearly empty nest syndrome to strike!

So how much does it cost to boil your kettle?

Thanks to my new plug in electricity monitor, I know that it costs me 3p to boil half a kettle. It also costs me 22p to run the dishwasher and 18p to run the washing machine. They are both energy efficient and fairly new, but this did surprise me. I thought they would be more expensive to operate.

The dehumidifier costs 10p an hour…if I run it for 4  hours a day that’s not too horrendous. only £2.80 a week. The electric plug in heater is 8p an hour, which again wouldn’t be too terrible but at this time of the year it is on for 12 hours a day so it soons adds up – that adds another almost £27 to the monthly bill. This has focussed our attention. DD1 used to leave it on all night and all day but now it is on a timer so it doesn’t matter if she forgets to turn it off.

Good Energy logo

The Worst Utility Company on the Planet, First Utility, continue to bug me even though I offically stopped being their customer on 24th November. Today they sent me a final bill charging me for the whole of December! I am no longer being polite. I emailed them to say they had already won the award for the most incompetent company ever so they could stop trying now!! I did get a swift response (which is unusual in itself) apologising and promising to send a new, revised final bill which, with any luck, will mean that they owe me money. Honestly! How do they stay in business??

My nice new shiny and helpful energy company, Good Energy, have promised to come and check the meter to make sure it isn’t faulty and have offered to help my monitor my energy usage as well.  I chose them not because they were the cheapest but because they were rated top for customer service. They also produce 100% of their electricity from renewable sources, so they are good for the environment too. So far so Good Energy :).

Does anyone else monitor their electricity use this closely? How do you keep your bills down?

Searching for treasure at the antiques centre

antiques mill 2Mr S had itchy feet this morning and needed a trip out. We decided to drive out to a small town called Halstead, which is around half an hour away. There wasn’t much open, it being Sunday, but the big old antiques mill was. We didn’t buy anything, but did enjoy having a browse. It’s a lovely old building, and full to the rafters with (probably over priced) nick nacks, collectibles and one or two actual antiques. I had hoped I might find a few bits of china for the dresser I will soon be renovating to go in the kitchen, but nothing took my fancy. I will wait for the boot sale season to begin and hopefully will find something suitable.

antiques mill

They filmed some of the old TV series Lovejoy at the mill – remember that? I have heard that it is coming back so it will be interesting to see if they use the mill again.

I am cooking a roast tonight, although the meat is boiled ham. The one from Aldi is always excellent value and goes a long way. I find it a bit salty so soak it in water for an hour or so. first. Tonight I am cooking it in a bottle of cider that has been sitting in the cupboard for about a year, some onion and bayleaves. We sill have it with roast potatoes, parsnips and frozen green beans from the garden.lovejoy

I will plate some up for our new French student. He isn’t due to arrive until 9 pm and may have eaten already, but better to be safe than sorry and I don’t want him going to bed on an empty belly.

The girls are nervous about this one arriving because he is older – the others have all been teenagers and he is 31. I can’t see this being a problem. It’s the person that counts not their age, but then I would say that! 🙂

Anyone else into antiques and collectibles?


Baking day and belly ache…

lola 3I have spent the day cleaning (my usual Saturday routine). Boring but necessary. I need order or I get ratty, especially as we have our new student arriving tomorrow and I like to make a good first impression. I have had a little ‘helper’ following me around for much of the time. What a cutie! I couldn’t be without a cat.

I have also baked a fruit cake and a ginger golden syrup cake. I haven’t made them with gluten free flour this time. I saw the GP on Thursday and he would like to do a proper test to see whether or not I have coeliac’s disease. This means I need to eat gluten again for at least a month to show a true result. I don’t actually believe I am coeliac, but I suppose it is better to know for sure. I do know that I have a belly ache! It’s not agonising, but I am pretty sure it is caused by the bread I had for lunch. C’est la vie, it has to be done.Lola cutie

We have continued to measure various electrical appliances to see how much they cost to run, sinceI bought a monitor to try to get our electic bill down. It is very interesting to see what each item consumes. We are also reading the meter every night. Apparently the average UK household uses around 10 kWh a day. We are using double that!! The main culprits are definitely the plug in electric heater (this has now been put on a timer and restricted to 6 hours a day). It is very cold in DD1’s room so we need it on at least that much to stop her turning blue! I am also only using the dehumidifier for 2-3 hours a day – I have used it all day in the past to dry washing and counter our condensation issue but we can’t afford to do that. When the woodburner is installed we hope that will resolve those issues and I can dry things off in front of it when I need to.

Fresh out of the oven: ginger syrup cake

Fresh out of the oven: ginger syrup cake

I measured the washing machine today. I’m not sure if I did it correctly, but it seemed to suggest that it cost over £2 a load! I will start using the economy cycle more on this and the dishwasher from now on. I will repeat it when I do the next wash to see what the difference is.

DD1 has been looking at flats with her friend today so it is possible she will be flying the nest fairly soon. I hope she learns to manage her money pronto as she never has enough to get to the end of the month as it is. Still, she is 22 and wants to be independent and it’s only natural. That will only leave one daughter in the house! I might have to get another cat….

Bring on the woodburner!

Thanks for all the comments yesterday. Food for thought to get my electricity bill down.

It was very very cold this morning in DD1’s room.  Luckily she was tucked up under a bunch of blankets!

I love it when Mr S goes all creative! We have bought a woodburner and he is planning the work needed to fit it. He has done a before and after mock up. Here is what the closed fireplace looks like now, with the cat watching her favourite wildlife programme:

imageAnd this is what he is planning to do, with a big wooden shelf above it to protect the TV:

imageHe will do most of the work, but we will get a expert in to sort the chimney flu and do the actual fitting.

He has been hacking lumps off our neighbour’s trees – she doesn’t mind as she is 90 and now housebound – as they take over and block all the light otherwise.  So today has been a good day for a bonfire. Shame I am stuck in the office!


Shoestring Cottage energy crisis!

imageEven though I have now changed electricity provider after the debacle and months of arguing and lack of information from First Utility, my electricity bill is still surprisingly and worryingly high. This week we decided to purchase a monitor to measure exactly how much electricity each appliance uses and to try to establish where the high usage is.

It is early days, but the chief culprit appears to be the electric heater in DD1’s room. It is a very cold room and she has it on a lot. It is hard to make the room any warmer without knocking it down and starting again! It was created from the old outside toilet and coal rooms, which are a single layer of bricks with a bit of insulation and then plasterboard on top, as far as we can see. She also has a French window, and two other doors, which are double glazed but it is old glazing and probably not as efficient as it could be.

I have purchased a timer to restrict the amount of time the heater is on and will put some extra blankets on her bed. If she is really cold it appears it is cheaper to put the central heating on and heat the whole house rather than just her room with the electric heater. Crazy.

Mr S has also bought some more LED light bulbs to replace the old spots in the kitchen and bathroom. I didn’t realise how much cheaper these are to run, but Mr S did some research and found this in the website. ‘Each halogen bulb you replace with an LED equivalent you are potentially going to save almost £175 over its lifetime’. Stunning!

The other appliance that uses quite a lot of energy is the dehumidifier. We need this in in the winter or the condensation gets out of hand and we end up with black mould up the walls – not nice or healthy. However I am restricting this to three hours a day too.

When a childminder I know who works from home and has the lights, TV and heating on all day has cheaper energy bills than me something is going horribly wrong!!

Treading the hard path to a financial education

Many thanks for all the comments yesterday. It appears I am not alone in believing all children should be taught basic life skills such as cooking and sewing, with other sensible suggestions given such as finance and budgeting. I completely agree. I wish I had had lessons on basics like bank accounts and saving, how to budget, interest rates and the like. I bought my first house in a blissful cloud of ignorance about how this all worked and was lucky it didn’t all go pear shaped!

imageLearning about personal finance is a bit dull, frankly. I only know what I know now out of necessity. I made so many mistakes on the way. Still, regrets are pointless – going forward I will make fewer financial mistakes, and I will do my best to educate my daughters so that they go out into a harsher world with a bit more savvy.

Eyes down now in preparation for my new student on Sunday. This one is a full grown adult. Normally we have teenagers. Still, at least I won’t have to worry about him coming back late from the pub! I will keep the food bill as low as I can this week because next week will inevitably be more expensive. When we have the students I tend to cook more meat, buy and make desserts, etc. I am earning money from them after all and want them to enjoy their meals. I have given the room a deep clean in preparation. I enjoy this – I see it as paid work, which is what it is. I am looking forward to his arrival.

Last night was the first night I felt really cold in bed. I ended up with a duvet, two blankets, fleece pyjamas and a cardigan! I think tonight will be the same but I refuse to have the heating on at night. It’s expensive enough the rest of the time!! Still, we have yet to have the snow that some parts of the country have had and for that I am thankful.

How’s the weather where you are?

Teach your children well

imageMany moons ago, when I was at secondary school, one of my favourite subjects was Home Economics. It seems stunningly sexist now, but then the girls did this and the boys did woodwork and metalwork. It never occurred to me at the time that there was anything wrong with this! It was just the way of the world.

Home economics consisted of needlework for half of the time and cookery for the other. I learned to make a skirt from scratch consisting of 4 gaberdine panels with a proper waistband and a zip. I enjoyed it so much that I made several more at home. I can’t remember what my other creations were, but the fact is that everyone in the class learned basic sewing skills. Even if we didn’t want to be a professional seamstress we could run up a paid of curtains, sew up a hem and do small repairs.
We made lovely meals and cakes from scratch. To this day, I remember my intense pride when the teacher showed my mince pies off as the way they should be done and awarded me 10 out of 10. It was like the Great British Bakeoff!

So I learned to cook. This held me in good stead when I left home and has done so ever since. It would have been great to learn woodwork and metalwork too!!

In these more enlightened times boys and girls theoretically get the chance to do all these things, although I think they are called Food Technology, Textiles and CDT. However from my own experience of having children, they seem to get a mere taster of each. My daughters had to do the prep for their dishes at home, which usually meant a last minute panic stricken chopping of onions and peppers with my assistance on the morning of their lesson which they would assemble in class and eat on the way home! They made small wooden boxes from pre cut wood. I don’t recall them doing any sewing apart from a few embroidered squares at primary school.

None of them seemed to take much of this in and what they learned about cooking has come from me. If they can see on a button it’s because I showed them!

It seems a shame and a missed opportunity. In my view all kids should learn to cook from scratch and make a basic garment or two. It would be great for them to learn how to use a drill and put up a shelf too!

So let’s get back to teaching these incredibly important life skills properly in the classroom and at home, especially cookery. If kids can cook they will be more interested in what goes into their food, hopefully avoid eating too many convenience foods, learn the true cost of what they eat and how to budget, and we would all be the healthier for it.

By the way, the cake was made by my ten year old neice , inspired by the Bakeoff and some books I got her for Christmas. Go girl!