Monthly Archives: January 2017

There is nothing like coming home to a hot dinner!

On Sundays we very often get out for a good walk and this week was no exception. It has been so cold, but luckily it warmed up a bit and the wind died down. Mr S woke up with a headache so we decided a bit of sea air would do him good and headed off to Brightlingsea.

 It’s a pretty little place and worth a visit if you are ever in Essex. It has a nice shallow paddling area for small children in the summer and an actual lido – very bracing!! It being the middle of winter, we resisted the urge to dive into the icy waters. Instead, we did a nice circular walk along the sea wall, up to the church and then back into the town. It wasn’t too far as Mr S was still feeling a bit fragile. I think we did about three and a half miles.

 On days like this the slow cooker comes into its own. When I got up I made a big beef and mushroom stew. I hardly ever use a recipe for this kind of meal. I browned the meat with some onions and celery, then added carrots, a tin of tomatoes, chopped mushrooms, beef stock cubes, some herbs and a little water and chucked it all in. It smelled wonderful when we got home. All I had to do was make a big pile of mash to go with it – delish, and really easy. I made enough for Monday as well, feeding me, Mr S, his mum and my no 3 daughter. I stretched the beef with a lot of vegetables, but it was excellent value anyway from Lidl.

 I really must use my slow cooker more often – they are such a worthwhile investment and cost pennies to run.

I wasn’t surprised at how many people made positive comments on the Tightwad Gazette the other day. I really envy those who subscribed to the original newsletters. I wish I had known about them in the early nineties when I had my first house and my first child! I would have avoided so many mistakes.

I am still finding interesting new blogs and websites via Twitter. One I have just discovered is Montana Money Adventures. The link will take you to an article called Do the Unnecessarily Difficult Things, which I found fascinating. I tend to do everything in moderation so this approach would be challenging, yet made a lot of sense. Have a read and see what you think!
 

No spend January – how did I do?

Regular readers will be aware that, like many people in the new year, Christmas had left my bank account feeling rather depleted. I resolved to make January a no spend month, buying nothing except essentials. I paid the bills, planned our meals to use up what we already had and then kept grocery spending as low as I could. I bought petrol but tried to minimise how much I used the car and drove like a granny so I didn’t use so much fuel. I didn’t need any cleaning products and won’t do for a few months. I bought no clothes, books or makeup. Even the cats have had to get used to a cheaper brand of food!

Did I have any slips? Well, yes, I caved and bought hair dye as I had a grey stripe on my head, I bought popcorn and snacks for my daughters from Lidl when we went to the cinema (they treated us as they had vouchers). On Friday at work I was a bit hormonal and gave in to a bar of chocolate from the vending machine (80p! Could have got a pack of 4 for £1 elsewhere). 

Other than that I have done really well – so well I am extending this into a no spend February. None of this is really a stretch for me as I am frugal nearly all the time anyway, but declaring a no spend month keeps me hyper aware of my every purchase. If I am going to create a healthy emergency fund I need to do this.

I really need a haircut at some point so that might be an allowed exception. It is also Valentine’s Day. We never go over the top with this but will have a nice meal in and I plan to make Mr S a present. (Not sure what yet but it is likely to be edible!). Because it actually IS the thought that counts.

We will need every spare penny over the next couple of months as Mr S is installing a woodburner. This was my birthday present a year and a half ago but for various reasons other things have taken priority and it has been sitting in its box waiting to be fitted. He will do everything himself except line the chimney so it shouldn’t be too expensive, but we will redecorate and freshen up the whole room. He has damaged the wallpaper, adding to the damage already inflicted by the kitten! I don’t intend to use any savings for this project, it will mean being super frugal and cutting back elsewhere.

It’s been an interesting month for my blog. I made a new year resolution to write a decent post every day and the number of views I get has doubled. I am chuffed, so thanks to those of you who have read my whitterings!

How about you? Did anyone else do a no spend month or are you planning to?

Tightwad Gazette remembered

Recently reader Sam commented that my blog reminded her of the old Tightwad Gazette from the 90’s. She said it was a compliment and I definitely took it as one because I love that book. It is an absolute classic. When I first came across it about ten years ago I consumed it from cover to cover, and have read it several times since. I often take a look through if I need some frugal inspiration.

It is a fantastically inspiring text totally packed with money saving ideas, with great drawings throughout. The author, Amy Dacyczyn, was a graphic designer who had always wanted to live in a historic New England farmhouse and have lots of children. She didn’t want to go out to work and leave her kids with a nanny to pay for her dream and set about proving she didn’t need to.

Amy decided that by saving money on every single thing she purchased, by making things last and by only buying what she really needed her family didn’t need two incomes. She became a ‘student of thrift’, buying clothes from yard sales, carefully costing food purchases to work out the cheapest way to eat healthily, learning to make and repair rather than buying new, and planning ahead and saving for big purchases rather than buying them on credit.

She shared what she had learned in a newsletter, and the first edition of the Tightwad Gazette book was born from that. As well as her own sensible advice, it contains correspondence and moneysaving tips from the readers of the newsletters. It is aimed at an American audience and somewhat dated in places (how to make typewriter ribbons last longer by spraying them with hairspray 😄) but is still a fantastic course for those who want to find ideas and inspiration to help them save money. It is a real game changer and I really recommend it. Mine is well thumbed and rather dog eared now so it really was worth every penny.

I wish Amy would come out of retirement and write her own blog. I think we need her common sense approach to life more than ever!

I have signed up to the Amazon affiliates scheme so if you choose to click through and buy this book on my recommendation I will earn a small commission.

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! 

Blog fest!

I have been spending more time than usual on Twitter and reading blogs and have come across some really interesting ones. 

I have the old favourites I always go to (Ilona at Life After Money, Sue at Frugal in Suffolk, Jenny at Can’t Swing a Cat and Jane at Frugal Queen among them), but I am also currently enjoying the following:

A Frugal Family’s Blogspot
A Californian family’s journey towards financial independence.

Slummy Single Mummy
A wise and witty blog about pretty much everything, with some interesting finance stuff.

Ecothrifty Living
A lovely green blog that’s good for your health, wallet and the environment!

Much More With Less
A move from London to Suffolk and how they managed to save £9000 in 2016.

Lotty Earns

Money blogger of the year 2016. Lots of deals and written in a warm, light hearted way.

Penny Wise, Life Rich
Lots of great, cheap recipes and good advice.

There are so many interesting blogs these days you are never short of something to read. I veer towards those dealing with frugality and personal finance, as you might expect, but if I had more time I would read all sorts! 

Have you found any gems? Please share!

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? 

Just say no!

Since I have been on my journey towards simplicity and frugality I have learned a lot – about myself, the people around me and society in general, especially our attitudes towards money. There is no doubt that we live in a spend now, worry later society. It is still easy to get credit, with lenders seeming to be rather casual about whether we can afford to pay our debts back or not. 

The pressures on us all to achieve the perfect lifestyle are huge! We measure success in terms of wealth: we need to live in a nice house, drive a new car, wear designer clothes, have an expensive annual holiday. If we get married we should look at a £20k budget minimum. We might even consider a few thousand on plastic surgery to sort out our perceived imperfections. 

You might achieve all of these things yet lie awake at night in a fit of anxiety worrying about how you are going to pay for it all. You only have to look at the dramas the rich and famous endure to see that all this surface stuff is no guarantee of happiness, even if you can afford it. 

So, number 1 on my list of ways to save money is – learn to say no! To yourself, your children, your partner and to friends and family. Your girlfriends invite you on a weekend to Amsterdam – you have a huge overdraft but could add it to the credit card…don’t do it! Your daughter wants a new tablet NOW. She can save up for it or wait until Christmas! You have to go to a smart work do or a wedding and NEED a new outfit. Do you? Is there really nothing in your wardrobe that will do? Ignore the TV ad telling you that a new sofa before Christmas is essential. You parked your bum on the old one perfectly happily all year so why take on a major expense with all those presents to buy?

If you have a supportive partner helping you control your finances you are very lucky. If you don’t then you need to sit them down, show them the current state of your bank balance and make a plan together. If you can get your partner on board (and children too if they are old enough to understand) you are in the first step to getting your relationship with money back on track. If you can’t, your relationship with each other is bound to suffer horribly. 

Whatever you need to save money for, to pay off your debts, to retire early, to save for a house deposit or your wedding, or just to get by, saying no will be key. I don’t mean you can’t have any fun. There are so many experiences in life that cost very little or even nothing. It’s not about deprivation, it is about accepting your financial limitations and being more creative and appreciative of what you have. This is very liberating!

This is my intention. I will see friends, I will have a cheap holiday and I will buy a small number of inexpensive things when they are really needed. But gone are the days when I will max out the credit cards to book a break, feel pressured to meet friends in an expensive restaurant or be persuaded to have a store card with a high interest rate when I want to purchase clothes.

How about you? Can you say no?

Too much stuff? Liberate it (and yourself)

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful – William Morris

I can in no way be described as a minimalist. Nobody with bunting hanging in the kitchen can claim this! However, I hate clutter and I’m not a fan of holding onto lots of stuff or buying new things just for the sake of it. This brings me into conflict with Mr S sometimes who is a bit of a hoarder (he actually found some of his own stuff in the charity shop one day – I was not popular!).

I am a regular declutterer. I don’t like spaces full of so much stuff I don’t know what I own. What’s the point of having things if they aren’t used? I would rather give them away. 

So the drawers and cupboards I go to regularly are pretty ordered. However, the spaces that are out of the way are full of junk! We have three sheds in the garden that desperately need sorting out. There are items of furniture stored out there that we are unlikely to use so they need to go to the charity shop or on eBay. The DIY stuff is all over the place and needs organising. 

The more things you own, the more they own you – unknown

Another dark, disordered place is the attic. I think most of the things up there we need to keep but it could still do with a bit of rationalisation I am sure. 

Then there is the hall cupboard, full of tools, cleaning stuff, hoovers and sleeping bags. Every now and again the weight of the stuff inside pushes the door open!

So, there is work to be done and I intend to tackle the lot in the next few months. 

A good clear out is really therapeutic I find so I am actually looking forward to it (but not the spiders…).

How about you? Are you a hoarder or a declutterer? Do you have cupboards full of unidentified stuff?

Organised? I have to be

My colleagues quite often start a sentence with  ‘You’re organised, you will know this’ or ‘Jane will find this’ if they are looking for a particular file. I am pretty organised at work. I have to be – I have a terrible memory so I need to keep lists of what I need to do and when, set reminders in my calendar and have a sensible filing system. 

At home I am no different. I get really stressed if I’m not on top of the cleaning, laundry or shopping. At times I feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do, but good time management and a routine keeps me in control.  I have to have a really good clean through every week and make sure any paperwork is taken care of. I do this on a Saturday.  I do washing about three times a week. I don’t iron much because I shake clothes out before I hang them and smooth them out as much as possible.

I check my bank balance once a week so that I can keep an eye on spending, make sure all the bills are paid and that there are no odd payments in the account. I know what I pay for everything. If I didn’t how would I know if I was getting a good deal? I also check to see if there is any extra that I can put in one of the savings accounts.

I plan the menus for the week as well as the shopping list. As things get low I write them on a board in the kitchen so we don’t run out.  I frequently cook double what I need to save myself a bit of time. We either eat it the next day as well or freeze it for those days when we are too tired to cook. On Sunday I made pukka yellow curry from Save with Jamie and we ate it again last night – curry is always better as leftovers! This is a nice recipe and it really is a good book. The recipe is here.

I started cleaning a cupboard or a drawer each week as my new year resolution in 2016 and it has really paid off. I know where things are and chuck out stuff we don’t need. Having said that, the drawers in my bedroom really need sorting at the moment as a continuation of my great wardrobe challenge, making sure I wear what I own or get rid of it. That’s one for next weekend. 

I never feel I have much spare time, but being organised helps a lot. If I do everything I need to on a Saturday I have the day free to relax on Sunday. We either go out for the day or spend some time in the garden, depending on what we feel like and the weather. 

I have areas I can improve on but I know that little and often is the way to go. Get things done, get organised and then you save time in the long run.

Are you an organised person? What are your tips to staying in control when you are really busy?

So this is why we need an emergency fund!

Everybody needs an emergency fund. Most of us crash from month to month just hoping for the best, totally unprepared for situations such as the car breaking down, sickness leading to a loss of salary, or a big household item needing replacement. I blogged the other day about how we are focussing on increasing ours this year with some determined saving. Three things happened at the weekend that brought this need into sharp relief. 

First, I noticed that the drain under the kitchen window was blocked. I poured boiling water and soda crystals down it but nothing happened. Mr S prodded and poked it for a while and it finally cleared. It appears that a piece of some kind of plastic packaging got blown under the cover. A minor issue. No plumber required thankfully. 

Later in the day the washing machine began to act strangely, making odd noises and refusing to spin. The machine was an inexpensive one we purchased five or six years ago and I feared the worst. I tried it on various different programmes but it then stopped altogether and  locked itself shut with a load of laundry stuck inside, including my daughter’s work uniform. Yikes! Mr S came to the rescue again. He managed to drain it manually and open the door so that I could retrieve the soggy clothes. We put it through a short cycle with nothing in it and it worked ok but still made a few strange noises during the spin cycle. I ran another load through and it seemed just fine. Mr S thinks the blocked drain backed up into it and temporarily messed it up. So another escape. No expensive call out or, even worse, new machine required!

Finally, we came home from seeing my parents to find the house freezing and the boiler off. This has happened several times over the past month so might be more serious. Each time we have managed to reset it, sometimes having to take some water out of the radiators to manually adjust the pressure. I will call the plumber this week to look at this. He is a friend now as we have been using him since he was newly qualified so we know he won’t rip us off. He has already adjusted it at no charge and thinks he might need to replace a sensor. Hopefully that won’t cost too much. As long as we don’t need a new boiler!

So we will work even harder on the contingency fund , just in case!

Changing the subject, DD2 showed a bit of girl power on Saturday, attending one of the many marches across the world aimed at the awful Donald Trump, showing him that the mysoginistic, intolerant and racist undertones that seem to be part of his thinking won’t be tolerated and aren’t acceptable. I wish I had gone – I love a bit of people power!

Have a good week everyone!