Author Archives: shoestringjane@outlook.com

How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a day: Book Review

Another one for My Frugal Bookshelf! I have just finished re-reading Kath Kelly’s wonderful book, How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day. It was just as inspiring as the first time around! She is my kind of woman.

Could you live a year on a pound a day?

The book tells the story of an English teacher living in Bristol who made the drastic decision to live on a pound a day to save money for her brother’s wedding present. Her friends thought she was crazy and that she could only achieve this if she became a vegetarian, travelled nowhere and used old rags instead of tampons! She proved them wrong.

During the course of her year living on a pound a day,  she became a yellow sticker officianado, organised  a clothes swapping party, hitchhiked and cycled everywhere and camped for free. She did a WOOFing holiday (where, incidentally, she met her future husband), discovered just how cheaply she could purchase clothes if she turned up at jumble sales just before closing and found a vast number of free events in Bristol, some rewarding her with refreshments just for turning up. She also collected over £100 in money from the pavements on her travels – what a careless bunch we are!

Super frugal

It became more than just a quest to get her brother a decent wedding present, however. She became much fitter from all of the walking and cycling she did (once she had curbed her liking for too many reduced cakes and pies!). She realised how much money she used to fritter and how much we waste as a society. Her super frugal lifestyle revealed our consumerist society to be hugely wasteful and damaging to the environment, as well as people’s bank balances. When Kath Kelly’s year came to an end she knew she couldn’t go back to her previous ways.

She has written a couple of other books since, which I intend to explore. I have just downloaded a sample to my Kindle app of Doing the Right Thing. If I enjoy this I will buy the book.

I purchased my copy of How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day for the Kindle too, although if you prefer an actual paper book you can pick them up second hand on Amazon (my link: How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day by Kath Kelly ( 2008 ) Please note  if you purchase anything through either of my links I will receive a small commission. The Kindle version is a bargain at only £2.08. 

 

Wildlife friendly gardening – keeping it untidy!

Take a walk on the wild side

Wildlife friendly gardening

Wildflower patch

We aren’t worried about a tidy garden here at Shoestring Cottage. Just as well as we don’t have enough time to spare to keep it immaculate. We are more interested in wildlife friendly gardening, with lots of grasses, nettles and wildflowers. There is a little pond that attracts loads of frogs and insects too, and always lots of birds singing and bugs buzzing around.

This year we decide to finally sow all the little packets of wildflower seeds that we seem to collect; freebies from various garden shows and magazines. We had a tiny circle of wildflowers surrounding a beautiful clematis last year. It was very pretty but I longed for a meadow with a carpet of colour.

Move over carrots

We had two vegetable patches previously but just didn’t have time to cultivate and preserve so much produce. This year we gave over the smaller patch to the wild! We sowed about 7 or 8 packets of wildflower seeds and then let nature get on with it. It hasn’t turned out like the carpet of flowers I imagined. Rather, the plants are tall! But there is a huge variety like cornflowers, poppies, foxgloves, daisies and loads I have yet to identify. It is choc a bloc full of bees and insects as well, which is fabulous.

Wildlife friendly gardening

Not too tidy

We deliberately keep some areas of grass long so that the frogs have somewhere to hide.  There is a big pile of old logs and twigs at the bottom of the garden, which the stag beetles like. They are rare generally, but we happen to live in a stag beetle hot spot so like to encourage them. I am hoping for a hedgehog some day but haven’t had one so far.

Lightly controlling some areas of the garden and keeping them a bit untidy means that wildlife friendly gardening saves us time – this is great for busy people! I will save the clipped and perfect lawn for my retirement (maybe).

Wildlife friendly gardening saves money

The great thing about wildflowers is that they tend to self seed. We have foxgloves pop up every year, although we never bought any. They arrived all by themselves! I am hoping that our beautiful wildflower patch will come back each year and won’t cost us anything. So wildflower friendly gardening saves cash too!

The garden is just starting to become productive and tonight I picked our first red and blackcurrants, as well as three courgettes. We should have broad beans in the next week as well. Food production can carry on alongside the wildlife friendly gardening.

Do you make room for the wildlife? Do you have bug hotels or a pond? What works best to attract nature into your garden?

Need to save money? How about a no spend week?

no spend week

Beautiful Wrabness

Yesterday kicked off our latest no spend week. Earlier in the year we did a couple of no spend months. We only spent money on essentials such as food and petrol (plus the usual household bills, of course).

As well as being helpful for the bank balance, not buying anything is strangely liberating. Setting myself strict limits on what I can purchase takes away any temptations! There are no internal debates on whether I can afford something, I am just not buying it because I am on a no spend period. I get on with enjoying stuff that is free and using what I already have.

Why we need a no spend week

no spend week

Life’s a beach

As we have had a lot of expense this month,  a no spend week is a good idea and will take us up to pay day without going overdrawn or dipping into the reserves. 

The rules are the same as for no spend months.  We will only spend money on essentials.  Next week we shouldn’t need to spend anything at all, not even on food. We have plenty in the cupboards that needs to be used so it will be an eat from the larder week. We have milk, bread, cat food, tea bags and petrol, as well as plenty of food in the fridge and freezer.

A day out for free to kick off no spend week

no spend week

Mr S takes a dip

Yesterday we had a free day out in the sunshine, bar the cost of the petrol. We had to drop my daughter at a friend’s in Mistley for a barbecue, so we drove across to Wrabness after for a walk on the beach and a swim. The water was so calm, clear and warm, we could have been on the Mediterranean somewhere.  The beach huts at Wrabness are rather luxurious – more like chalets than beach huts really and it looks as if people are allowed to sleep in them. I bet they cost an absolute fortune! But we took some drinks and snacks and spent no money at all. Days out don’t need to cost an arm and a leg, especially when the weather is so hot. We are very lucky to have so many beautiful coastal areas within half an hour’s drive.

 

Is anyone else on a no spend week (or month)? Do you do regular no spend days? How do you motivate yourself and what do you do to stop yourself spending?

Five Frugal Things I have Done this Week 16th June

Five frugal thingsI haven’t spent too much this week, in preparation for next week. This will be strictly NO SPEND. I intend to buy nothing except essentials. I won’t even be doing a food shop, apart from cat food, loo roll and some vegetables. It has been an expensive month overall, so I need to do at least five frugal things every week!

Frugal thing no. 1

I popped into Sainsbury’s after 9 pm one evening to check out the yellow stickers. They didn’t have much that I wanted but I did buy some reduced mince and some bread. There is no point in purchasing yellow sticker items if you then waste them! Both have been frozen. I find that my freezer is essential when it comes to money saving, not just for freezing bargains, but also leftovers, batch cooked meals, poultry carcasses for making stock, left over bread for puddings and breadcrumbs, the fruit and vegetables that we grow in the garden and home-made soup.

Frugal thing no. 2

I have listed a ton of stuff on eBay and Facebook and sold 5 items this week. A nice gent came out to take the old cross trainer that has been sitting unused in the shed for 2 years. I let him have it for free so it didn’t generate any income, but it did save me the petrol and hassle of getting it to the tip! He was very happy with it. Generally, I am finding Facebook is more useful that the local Freecycle group at getting rid of stuff lately and easier to use. Selling on eBay is becoming a regular in my five frugal things round up!

Frugal thing no. 3

We have been carefully tending our veg patch and greenhouse. It has needed watering most days as it has been so hot and dry. The watering and weeding is paying off now. We have black and redcurrants just ripening and should have courgettes and broad beans ready for next week. That will bring the shopping bill down. I love eating our own produce!

Frugal thing no. 4

When I was a polling clerk the other week I carefully kept the cardboard backing and excess paper from each book of ballot papers. This caused some amusement and bemusement amongst my colleagues, but I explained that they would come in handy for writing notes and shopping lists. They really have. This week I used a couple of them to write my meal plan, the shopping list and a to-do list for darling daughter, who has been at home a lot. I hate throwing things away when they could be useful!

Frugal thing no. 5

We needed to find a good deal on the house insurance. I did some research on the internet to find a company that would be happy to insure us for buildings and contents even though we have a lodger. A surprising number won’t consider it although I got some very high quotes from a couple of companies who were happy to. However, the best deal was with Quote Me Happy. It was quick and easy as it was all done online instantly. They allow up to 6 lodgers. I am happy with just the one! it is always worth shopping around.

I am getting a bit of frugal inspiration for my no spend week by re-reading How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day by Kath Kelly (my affiliate link). I intend to add this to my Frugal Bookshelf next week. Such a great book! I borrowed it in paperback form when I originally read it years ago, but now Amazon have it on Kindle for only £2.08. Bargain!

I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. Check out their five frugal things!

What would make you recycle more?

How much do you recycle?

Most of us recycle some of the time. Probably easy stuff like newspapers and cans. Maybe plastic bottles if your local authority collects them. There is lots more that can be recycled, of course, but many people simply don’t. Maybe they are confused about what is recyclable, can’t be bothered to wash things out or sort items into different bags or don’t really think it is important. So what would make you recycle more?

Our local council is about to bring in some quite dramatic changes to our rubbish collections, which might actually make people recycle more. At least I hope they recycle rather than deciding to tip everything by the side of the road or in a quiet beauty spot!

How to change behaviour and recycle more

Recycling has been a thing for long enough that you would have thought people’s behaviour would have changed and that they would be in the habit of recycling. However, this is clearly not the case. Some of my neighbours never seem to put out anything except black bins. A few of my work colleagues throw cans and plastic bottles in the general rubbish even though the bin is right next to a recycling container (I spend quite a lot of time fishing them out and telling people off – I am the Recycling Police! I am constantly trying to get them to recycle more). It is not surprising then that some local councils have decided to take more draconian measures to change residents’ habits.

From next week they will only collect 3 black bags of rubbish per household per fortnight. For a smallish household such as mine who recycle quite a lot already this is fine. We generally produce about that much, although I am sure we can do better. For large households I can see this is going to prove quite a challenge.

However, I’m not that sympathetic.  The fact is that all food waste can be recycled and this is a lot of what ends up in the bin (don’t get me started on how much is too much!). Raw stuff like peelings can be composted; cooked and raw can go in the food waste bin.  This includes meat, fish and bones, as well as teabags and bread. Glass bottles and jars can go in the recycling bin.  Rinsed cans, tins and metal aerosols can go in too. Don’t forget the aluminium foil. Paper and card can easily be recycled.

Perplexing plastics

Plastics seem to be the area that causes the most confusion. Because folk don’t know what is recyclable they seem to recycle hardly any of it. You can recycle bottles, yogurt and cream pots, butter, ice cream or margarine tubs and plastic trays like those meat and fruit arrive in – just rinse them first. There are other items like roll on deodorant containers that can be recycled but you might not think about it.  I met the local waste and recycling officer when I worked as a polling clerk the other week. He told me that they were now using an excellent company who could recycle almost any type of plastic, so to throw it all in and they would sort it at the other end. I am tempted to do this as we will seriously shrink the amount that goes into our black bags.

I had a quick look at the British Plastics Federation website and this is what it says:

Nearly all types of plastics can be recycled, however the extent to which they are recycled depends upon technical, economic and logistic factors. As a valuable and finite resource, the optimum recovery route for most plastic items at the ‘end-of-life’ is to be recycled, preferably back into a product that can then be recycled again and again and so on. The UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic each year of which an estimated 29% is currently being recovered or recycled.

How about a compost heap?

We compost most of the garden waste, but put weeds in for the council to collect. We struggle with bindweed and don’t want to risk any seeds or roots surviving in the compost and spreading. If you have no space for a compost heap then let the council take it away.

I think we are pretty good at recycling at Shoestring Cottage but I know we can improve. This is the kick up the backside that we need. I hope the rest of the town follows suit! Are you a rampant recycler and, if not, what would motivate you to recycle more?

Five reasons why you should teach your children to cook

Teach your children to cook and one day they will cook for you

Teach your children to cook!

Tonight my 19 year old daughter made me the most delicious dinner. I left her very vague instructions: do something with the pork and the apples in the fridge. She sautéed apple slices in a little butter then added the pork loin fillets and cooked them for 10 minutes. She popped in a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard, about half a glass of white wine and salt and pepper. That was cooked up for a further 5 minutes or so. It was absolutely yummy! So the first reason you should teach your children to cook is that one day they will cook for you!

This got me thinking. There are so many reasons to teach your children to cook. If you cannot cook yourself, then I hope this post will inspire you to learn and then pass on the legacy. There is no good excuse not to. Great cooks share their skills all over the Internet these days. Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and You Tube are awash with ideas and instructions.

Having fun and improving motor skills

My three daughters can all cook well. I started encouraging them to get involved from a very early age, getting them to chop up soft ingredients like fruit, veg and cheese with a knife (not a sharp one) from about three years old. They loved it! We baked and decorated cakes, made crumbles and biscuits, sandwiches, omelettes – anything and everything. They learned a lot about weighing ingredients, how to safely use a knife and other kitchen implements like a peeler, where ingredients were stored in the kitchen and, importantly, how to clear up!

Learning about nutrition

Another good reason for teaching your children to cook is that you can use it as an educational opportunity. As we went, I taught mine about nutrition. Which foods contained fibre, which were high in salt, sugar or fat and should be used sparingly, how items such as cheese and bread are made, and which foods contained lots of vitamins. I don’t mean I gave them a lecture; I mentioned this is passing. For example, ‘We are making our own oven chips as these are lower in fat that fried ones’. They may not all stick to it, but they know what a healthy plate of food looks like and how to have a well balanced diet.

Increasing independence

Two of my girls have already left home and the third is about to start university. I don’t have any worries about them living pale and undernourished on ready meals and takeaways. One of them frequently tags me in fabulous looking recipes she has found on Facebook and is about to try, one cooks for a couple of hours each Sunday for the week so she has a decent dinner when she gets back from work and the other…well, she is still at home and frequently cooks my tea! I have never forgotten dropping daughter number 2 at university and finding the freezer full of home made meals from one of her new room mates mothers. She clearly didn’t see the point of teaching her children to cook and was worried her son would starve to death!

Saving money

Home cooking is essential if you need to stick to a budget. Convenience foods and ready meals are so expensive. If you know how to pull together a quick casserole, pasta sauce and or roast dinner you are set for life. However, much or little money you want to spend on food, you will always be able to eat well. The more you cook, the more you can cook, so start your children early. As they grow, their skills and confidence will grow.  Look at recipes with them, write a shopping list and let them help you to do the food shop too, then they will understand how much the ingredients for their fabulous creations cost.

If you teach your children to cook, they will thank you for this amazing and useful life skill. It will help with their health, their bank balance and, very likely, their social lives!

“Cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.”
Craig Claiborne

 

 

 

Home made eco friendly cleaning spray

I dumped the Mr Sheen years ago and I have been using a mixture of vinegar and water to clean surfaces and furniture. It is very cheap and effective. I  have also on occasion used bicarbonate of soda to scrub the bathroom. However, until now I haven’t really explored any recipes for  a home made eco friendly cleaner such as this one.

home made eco friendly cleaning spray

Home made eco friendly cleaning spray

A home made eco friendly cleaning spray

I hate the idea of living in a house filled with chemicals and the damage that they do to the environment, but I can’t afford the expensive eco-friendly cleaning products you find in the supermarket or health food shop. Over the years a mixture of being very busy and laziness has meant that my cleaning cupboard has started to fill up with standard cleaners. I have bathroom cleaners, bleach, window cleaners, carpet cleaners, oven cleaners….what happened to my green credentials?! My cupboard is full of chemical cocktails in a sea of plastic bottles. Enough is enough!

As I run out of each cleaner I am going to experiment with a cheaper, greener home made alternative. The first has been a general purpose spray cleaner that I have so far used successfully in the kitchen and bathroom as well as the kitchen work surfaces.

This is extremely cheap and easy to make. I put it in an old spray bottle so less plastic waste too! I reckon it cost about 60p for a litre and I have loads of borax substitute left that should last ages.

Orange general household cleaner

An old spray bottle, washed out
2 heaped tsp borax substitute
4 or 5 drops of orange essential oil
100ml white vinegar
warm water

Use a large jug as this fizzes when you add the vinegar to the borax substitute. Start by mixing them together as much as you can. Add your orange oil and top up to the litre mark with warm water. Keep stirring until the borax substitute is dissolved, pour into your spray bottle and get cleaning!

I got my white vinegar from Asda for about 39p and the oil and borax substitute came from Summer Naturals.

Does anyone have some tried and tested eco friendly cleaning spray recipes they would like to share?

Why are you always broke? How to change your spending habits

Why are you always broke?

‘I don’t know, I hardly buy anything!’ Some people are broke because they genuinely have very little money coming in each month. Maybe they live on benefits or have to support a large family on the minimum wage. However, in my experience there are many people out there who claim they have no money and can’t save who have decent jobs and salaries. Perhaps you have the cash, but need to change your spending habits to get you on track?

I knew a woman who lived in a large house with two family cars and sent her children to private school. She told me she never had any money and they were struggling. The pleas of poverty did not ring true, even when she once had the debt collectors at her door. It doesn’t take a genius to see that her lifestyle was too extravagant for what would to many of have been a fantastic income! Her spending habits weren’t in line with the money she had coming in. She was more concerned about keeping up appearances than she was about the state of her bank balance.

Ask yourself some tough questions about your spending habits

So, before you say your money never lasts and you have no savings ask yourself these questions to identify your spending habits:

Could your accommodation be cheaper? This is likely to be your biggest monthly expense. If you have over extended yourself buying or renting it will hurt. Could you move to more modest accommodation or rent a room out?

Can you travel more cheaply? Cars are a huge expense. If you have more than one car consider whether at least one of you could take public transport instead. Could you downgrade to a motor scooter or cycle? If you need your car you can find out about cheaper motoring here.

Could you holiday more cheaply? I hesitate to say give up on holidays, although many people do enjoy the odd ‘staycation’. However, if you go skiiing every winter and to Disneyland each summer you will need a very full wallet.  Could you invest in a tent for some cheaper camping holidays instead? Some of our most enjoyable family vacations have been under canvas.

Do you have money to burn?

Do you smoke? I have little sympathy for people who literally burn money whilst putting their good health at risk. Nuff said!

Do you insist on buying everything new? From clothes to furniture, whatever you need you can almost certainly buy secondhand if you really want to save money. And reusing can help save the planet!

How much do you spend in pubs/restaurants/cinemas/theatres each month? If you are in the pub three times a week your bank balance will feel the strain.

Do you enjoy a regular takeaway? How much would you save if you knocked this habit on the head and cooked from scratch instead? Even if you don’t waste money on take outs, do you use a lot of convenience food?

A passion for fashion?

Do you love a brand name? If you can wean yourself off designer clothing (or at least buy it secondhand) you will save yourself a packet. When you are in the supermarket, try some supermarket own brands – the big names make you pay for all of their advertising and fancy packaging.

Do you have too many clothes? If you buy a new outfit every time you go out the answer will be yes. Take the wardrobe challenge and then see how else you can save money on clothes.

How much does it cost you to look that great? There are so many ways to waste money on hair care and beauty products and treatments, but if you are short of cash you probably don’t need to get hair extensions or your nails done every month and could knock the designer perfumes and makeup on the head in favour of some cheaper versions. See here how you can be beautiful on a budget.

How often do you use your expensive gym membership? If you don’t use it then cancel it ASAP! If you are a gym bunny and there every night then good for you, but could you get it cheaper elsewhere?

Do you have hundreds of TV channels you never watch? You could save a lot by switching to a cheaper package or cancelling it altogether and investing in a Freeview box.

Time to change your spending habits

They are obvious questions really but people are very good at sticking their heads in the sand. Don’t be an ostrich. If you live from pay cheque to pay cheque and have no savings but you walk around in designer gear then you know why you are always broke! Have a good look around the site to see how you can change your spending habits. Start here, which gives lots of tips on how to save money.

(First published February 2017)

Meal planning and how it saves me money

The pros of meal planning (there are no cons!)

There was a time long ago when I never considered meal planning. I would wander around the supermarket grabbing things that looked tasty and with only a vague idea of what we already had at home. This lack of meal planning lead to the following scenarios:

I came home with too much food for the week and it got thrown in the bin.

Items I already had were bought again and added to the stockpile, some of which would also end up in the bin.

Insufficient food was purchased and we ran out halfway through the week.

I forgot to buy items that we actually needed to make the meals I was vaguely planning as I went along, such as pasta or rice.

I had to return to the supermarkets mid week when I then got distracted by stuff I hadn’t actually gone in for and spent more money than I intended to!

It only takes a few minutes

Sound familiar? I am sure we have all done this from time to time. I have found that spending 10-25 minutes each week meal planning and writing a shopping list really pays off and saves me a lot of time and money.  If you need to reduce you food budget, I guarantee that you will when you start meal planning.

I go through the fridge, freezer and cupboards first to see what we already have and to ensure we have enough staples like pasta, tinned tomatoes, teabags, potatoes etc. Our meals are planned around what needs using up first. I frequently discover that I don’t need to buy as much as I thought at this point!

Where to find inspiration

I use my large shelf of cookery books for inspiration – and the Internet, of course. If you type in ‘what can I do with cabbage/bacon/ chorizo’, etc you will have a list of helpful suggestions for meals using them.

Today, I have a bag of sorry looking carrots in the fridge. The potatoes from last week are starting to sprout. I have two peppers. I also have some apples that are turning brown in places but are still usable. These will be built into my menu planner for the next couple of days so that I don’t waste them.

In the freezer I have some fish that I bought in the reduced section last week and for some reason I have masses of frozen spinach.

I also know that we are out one day and that I will be eating alone one night so I will factor that in.

This week’s menu looks like this:

Here are the recipes for Saturday’s carrot salad and Friday’s Spaghetti cheese casserole.

I have written the shopping list so that I only purchase what I need for the week. Now I’m off to Lidl!

Are you into meal planning and, if so, what are you eating this week?

 

It shouldn’t happen to a polling clerk 

Working as a polling clerk

Wow! What a fascinating election result! I am interested again.  I wonder what will happen next? But I won’t go on about politics in this blog. Might save that for Twitter 😀. Working as a polling clerk was an eye opener. I was stunned at how politically ignorant some people are. Several people looked at their ballot paper quizzically and asked why they couldn’t see Corbin, May or whoever. We had to explain that they were voting for their local MP and that if they won the seat it would be a plus score for the political party that they preferred.

Some seemed to think it was a local election, even though we only had one of those back in May.  One lady had a rant at us about everything that was wrong with the government and we had to explain that we weren’t political candidates, just clerical staff. She said ‘Well, you’re lucky I voted at all’ and flounced off, leaving is to ponder this great favour.

I was very pleased to see so many young people in, often voting for the first time. This election appears to have really caught their attention and increased their interest in politics.

I lost my voice….

I didn’t realise how much talking I would need to do. The polling station was very busy and I had to repeatedly explain the process as the voters came and went. My voice is shot to peices today! I am keeping my head down and being quiet at work today (for a change!). It was a long day, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope we don’t have another snap election any time soon. It if we do I will be happy to volunteer!

Short and sweet today as I am dog tired. I have lots to do at the weekend too  – eBay listings, cleaning, sorting a meal plan and food shopping, plus a little gardening. Whoever wins a General Election, life goes on….