Monthly Archives: January 2016

A walk around the allotments

We had our usual Sunday walk at the weekend. It was amazingly mild! We had wander around the local allotments, which looked remarkably well tended and productive even at this time of the year. 

 We particularly liked one allotment. Its tenant had made a fantastic effort to attract wildlife, with a living roof on the sheds and various big boxes. 

  A few folk were having a dig and a tidy and we received lots of cheery waves and smiles. That is the other great thing about having an allotment: most sites have a real sense of common purpose and community. Seeds and produce are shared, tips and advice given and received and friendships are forged.

I love my large garden but I also miss my allotment. There are long queues for most council sites nowadays, so others appreciate the opportunities an allotment can bring. Fresh produce, exercise and fresh air amongst friends. What a treat!

  We also went to the charity shop and bought 10 CDs for 99p each, so there has been lots of music in the house since. I haven’t got into the idea of streaming music yet. I’m an old fashioned girl!

The French student arrived and seems very nice and easy to chat to. The cats like him as well, always a good sign 😀.

A year of celebrations

This week it was my youngest daughter’s 18th birthday.  All my children are now adults! I guess that makes me officially old. 😀

Tonight, to celebrate, she is having a dozen girlfriends over for dinner. I   am head chef, of course. I am doing a  of dips and crudités, olives, feta cheese and tortilla crisps, followed by spaghetti bolognese, with a dessert of birthday cake and fruit salad. Now that they are all 18 they can wash it down with some cava!

  The birthday cake is a deep dish of delicious chocolatey-ness made by my work colleague, Claire. When you open the box you are hit by the aroma of sugar and cocoa and it is making my mouth water as I type. Claire, being a baking genius, has surrounded it with the thinnest sheets of chocolate sprayed with edible gold. My daughter’s photo has been converted to sugar icing too. It is a masterpiece!

I know I will have a house full of shrieking and squiffy teenage girls, but I would rather that than they launch themselves on a nightclub in town. 

This year will be one of celebrations for my family, so I have a feeling I will be asking Claire to make another cake or two. I have my parents’ diamond wedding, my second daughter’s 21st, my nephew’s 21st (born within two weeks of each other) and another nephew’s 30th. 

We are a large family, busy and scattered, so it’s great to have these occasions that bring us all together.

Wish me luck – I have a busy day ahead!

Cutting back painlessly 

  Still feeling the pinch after Christmas? I blogged the other day about making extra money, but my ideas may not be feasible for everyone. If you can trim all the flab off your spending and make things leaner that will have the same impact as extra income. Some people just don’t know where all the money goes!
 A tried and tested way to find out what your spending habits really are is to keep a diary. It is a bit of a fag, but it is really helpful – trust me! First find a suitable notepad – it doesn’t have to be fancy; a cheap reporter’s notebook will do. Write down every single purchase that you make during the course of your day, from 80p for a chocolate bar, £2 for a coffee, £5 for lunch, £3.50 for a magazine, £10 for drinks in the pub, £30 for petrol, £3 for sweets for the kids, etc. It all adds up.

 Make a daily total. Write some notes too that might help explain your spending, such as ‘kids on school holidays’, ‘worked late’, ‘had friends over’, ‘felt depressed’. After a few weeks of keeping your diary you will start to understand your habits and motivations for spending money.

 Now start to scrutinise your spending. What was essential, what could have been avoided, what could have been done more cheaply?

 If I take my own examples, it is clear that only the lunch and petrol were essential purchases. The others were wants rather than needs. However, we all need a little treat sometimes, so how to scale down the expense?

 Chocolate bars – multipacks are so much cheaper than buying these singly or from a vending machine. Keep some in the cupboard/your handbag for when you need a boost.

 Ditto sweets for the kids – supermarket multipacks are the best value, but keep them hidden away for an occasional treat rather than every day.

 Magazines – such an expensive habit. You can buy them really cheaply (3 for £2) on market stalls. They won’t be the current issue, but they churn out the same stuff each season anyway! My library service offers a free e-magazine service called Zinio. If you are a member of Essex libraries check it out. If not, ask your library if they offer anything similar.

 Tea/coffee – if you are going out you could take a flask. I always do this for picnics. For trips into town I take a bottle of water and wait until I get home to make my own tea or coffee. A lot of work places provide drinks but if they don’t take your own milk, teabags, coffee and mugs and you are good to go.

 Lunch is an essential, but it is clearly much cheaper to take a packed lunch from home rather than buying it out. Even a prepacked sandwich with a cake can set you back a fiver.

 Drinks in the pub? I rarely do this as it costs so much. How about getting together with friends at home with a few bottles from the supermarket?

 These are just a few examples of where you can save money on small purchases. Another advantage is that most of the above mean you will avoid going into any shops other than the supermarket for your regular grocery shop, so if you are somebody who gives into the impulse purchases you are less likely to encounter temptation (and if you choose the discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl there is even less choice and temptation on offer).

 How do you keep your spending under control?

Making extra money

This is the time of year when many people realise how much they spent over Christmas and in the sales and start to rein in their spending. If you have maxed out your credit cards or have an overdraft it can feel even more of an anticlimax than usual. The Christmas spirit has vanished in a puff of receipts!

 If you have strained your bank balace with an excess of festive cheer, how can you fill the black hole in your finances? I have done a lot of the following in the past and still do some to keep the wolf from the door. I saved money for Christmas so I no longer experience that feeling of dread when I check my bank statement, but I like to keep my finances as healthy as possible throughout the year.

 Here are some ideas:

 If you have a spare room, advertise for a lodger either on-line or locally. Request a deposit and a couple of week’s rent in advance.

If you don’t want a lodger full time, see if you have a language school nearby. We have taken in foreign students from all over the world for 2-3 weeks at a time (and even 6 months in one case), earned money and thoroughly enjoyed meeting young people from different countries. Some students wish to stay for up to a year.

www.airbnb.co.uk gives you an opportunity to rent out your spare room on a bed and breakfast basis or even your whole house. You can offer this for any amount of time, from a weekend to a fortnight.
For all of these, the Government’s Rent a Room Scheme lets you earn up to a threshold of £4,250 per year tax-free letting out furnished accommodation in your home. See Direct.Gov.UK/rent-room-in-your-home for full details.

Do you have any skills that could make you extra money? If you are a graduate, perhaps you can tutor children in your chosen subject, or offer a course at an Adult Education Centre. If you are great at hair and beauty, make a portfolio and offer your services for proms, weddings and special occasions. Are you fantastic at DIY, dressmaking or gardening? There will often be people willing to pay for these services, and many appreciative customers for a good reliable cleaner, ironer or dog walker.

Many people make a useful second income direct selling at parties. These have moved on from Tupperware; you can sell makeup, candles, kitchenware, clothes – even sex toys!

How about direct selling? I used to push my toddler round the estate in her pushchair selling Avon cosmetics. there is also a company calle Betterware which sells kitchen and home equipment door to door.

Could you rent out your driveway? If you live near to a city centre, an airport, sports stadium or train station, you might be able to make extra cash in this way. Take a look at www.justpark.com and www.parklet.co.uk to name but two.

Recycle your old mobile phone. There are a multitude of sites on the Internet that claim to pay you cash quickly whether your phone is working or not. However, you may get more for a modern phone in working order if you sell it privately.

If you are a gardener, you could sell your extra plants from your front garden.

Sell your unwanted clothes and other items on eBay, Gumtree or Depop.

If you are crafty, you can sell your creations on Etsy.

 Whatever you decide to do, try to find something that you enjoy. It can feel like a hard slog otherwise, especially if you already work full time. How do you make extra income?

Mean and Green

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I intend to eat a lot less meat this year. This makes financial sense and brings certain health benefits, but my main reason for doing it is that meat production is really bad for the environment. I found this on Wikipedia:

The 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, states that “the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.”
 
Thinking about this has made me reconsider how many other activities that save money are also greener, and vice versa. These are some that I already do:
 
Growing my own fruit and veg, mainly organically (I have given into the odd slug pellet in a rage at having my efforts decimated by the little blighters)
Making my own compost
Turning off lights and electrical appliances when not in use
Wearing an extra jumper rather than turning on the heating
Insulating my house
Driving carefully – boy/girl racers use more fuel and wear their vehicles out more quickly
Not buying bottled water – when this happens (very occasionally), we reuse the bottles for months before recycling
Not wasting food, including leftovers. Food production doesn’t just cost money – think of the transportation, packaging, water and chemicals used during production, etc.
I buy second hand – clothes, furniture, tools. Whatever I can find – this saves so much money and these items should be reused.
It is rare for me to buy new electrical appliances, but when I do I make sure they are triple A rated for energy and water use. This saves money in the long run.
Collecting water in water butts for the garden. I am not on a meter yet but as my household reduces in size I think it may save me money and make me think about the water that I do use.
Reusing envelopes and wrapping paper
Reusing old bread bags to pack my sandwiches
Using cereal boxes and scrap paper from work to write my shopping lists on
Repairing rather than replacing clothes and household items

 I am so far from perfect when it comes to living an eco-friendly lifestyle though. I would love to only buy organic but unfortunately my budget doesn’t allow for this. I do it when I can. I would also like to only buy fruit and veg in season and try to do this when I can but sometimes will go for a bargain whatever. I try to buy food with fewer food miles, but my restricted budget means that most of the time I shop in Aldi and their produce is often imported.

 This year I will be changing my car and going for a much smaller one that is more economical and greener to run as it will use a lot less fuel. In an ideal world I would walk/cycle/use public transport to get to work, but in the real one I live too far to walk and cycle and would have to get two buses, which would add hours to my working day.

 We also want to look again at whether we can get solar panels on the roof without it costing us anything. There are various schemes about that allow you to pay for the panels with the money you make from selling your excess power back to the grid but we want to research the best deal. There are some charlatans out there!!

 I expect a lot of you do all this and more. What are your green moneysaving tips?

New Year Cleaning Frenzy

New beginnings, fresh start …even if you don’t bother to make New Year’s resolutions it is hard not to be inspired by the prospect of renewal and improvement that comes with a brand new year.

As I have had a bit of time to spare over the holiday period, my fresh start is taking the form of an early spring clean. I have scrubbed the fridge and oven, have cleaned all of the windows in the house, and the fully tiled bathroom has had a rare full clean from floor to ceiling. 

It frustrates me that I never have the time to tackle these jobs on a weekly basis. By the time I am home from a hard day at work I can only manage to make and tidy up dinner and maybe get some laundry on or water the garden, then I am bushed and need to relax. Saturday is the day I clean through and do all the household tasks. I try to make Sunday a day of rest, although I invariably end up in the garden or on a good long walk with Mr S!

I want to clean all the woodwork in the house as well and have made a start. It is surprising how cleaning the skirting boards, doors and their frames can brighten the place up. 

I am back to work tomorrow though so I doubt I will do any more before next weekend. I don’t want to spend all my spare time cleaning!!

I have no idea how people manage to have the kind of house that looks like it should be in a glossy magazine. I can only assume the owners don’t need to work or socialise, but perhaps they are better organised or more energetic than me 😆.

Anyway it lifts the spirits when Shoestring Cottage looks bright, clean and tidy. It may be full of old furniture and is definitely not Ideal Homes material, but it will do for me.

I hope your New Year has got off to a good start!