No spend month update

What do you do when you are on a no spend month? Well, luckily I find it easy to amuse myself without spending any money. It has been a busy time at Shoestring Cottage anyway, so I haven’t had time to worry about things to buy. I have had one lapse though….

Budget DIY

No spend monthWe have finished stripping off the wallpaper in the living room (well, Mr S did it while I was at work). I have two days off next week and plan to rub down and wash all the woodwork, then paint it all along with the ceiling.

We have leftover paint so intend to use all of that up before we buy any more next month. We have a nest of tables and a cabinet that need painting as well.

There is plenty to do that doesn’t involve buying anything during this no spend month.

Food rotation

Food bills have been pretty low. We can see the bottom of the freezer, which is often very full. This is a good thing as it means food is getting used rather than hanging around going stale.

We have been buying food, obviously. Just trying to minimise our spending by using up what we have.

Bad hair day and a no spend month fail

I have had a lapse during my no spend regime! I really need a hair cut. Every day is a bad hair day at the moment.

Because I don’t want to spend much I have called the local hair and beauty college. I have an appointment with one of their students for next week. It will cost just £10 for a cut and blow dry.

This isn’t allowed during my no spend January but it will be after pay day so I am going with it.

Regular readers will know that I have been known to cut my own hair on occasion. However, this time it needs more specialist attention.

Dave Ramsey debt buster

I recently started reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, not because I am in debt but because I am interested in financial issues. It fascinates me how people get themselves into a financial mess, but even more so, how they get out of it.

I will do a review when I have finished it. In the meantime, I have been watching some of his videos on You Tube. They are interesting and funny! He is often brutal in making sure people are aware of their stupidity in allowing themselves to get so outrageously in debt. At the same time he is supportive and constructive when offering advice to help them out of it.

He makes no bones about the fact he is a right wing Christian. I am neither but I do agree with his basic position that people need to get out of the view that you can have everything you want, right now, whether you can afford it or not.

I find it terrifying how easily people who are already in debt can get into more debt. How youngsters fresh out of university with student loans and a low paying job can get an expensive car on finance. Just how ‘normal’ it is to have lots of credit card debt. Food for thought.

If you aren’t familiar with Dave Ramsey he is worth a look.

What’s hard about a no spend month

It can be boring. If you want to go to the cinema, you can’t. The pub? Not on a no spend month. You fancy some new clothes – this is a no-no. However, you can still watch stuff on You Tube or TV, you can catch up on all those books you have bought and never read. You can take more exercise for free. This post has plenty of ideas. You can have a wardrobe declutter and discover things to wear that you had forgotten you had.

I am forgiving myself my £10 haircut and resolve it will be my one weak moment. How about you? If you are on a no spend month how is it going?

Ten easy ways to reduce plastic waste and save money

reduce plastic wasteI have been attempting for some time to reduce plastic waste at Shoestring Cottage. It sometimes seems an uphill struggle! However, there are simple steps we can all take to reduce plastic waste in our day to day lives. Here are my ideas.

Cut the hand wash

Until about 20 years ago, I swear we all washed our hands with bars of soap. Now you have to have hand wash. Instead of arriving wrapped in a small amount of plastic or paper, it comes in a plastic bottle with a dispenser and promises to kill 99% of all germs.

I am pretty sure that the caustic soda that is the key ingredient of solid soap also does this. So I am giving up the hand wash to reduce plastic waste. Soap is also cheaper, even the posh stuff.

Dump the shower gel

The arguments for not using shower gel are the same as for cutting out hand wash. We used to use solid soap and it worked absolutely fine. I have always preferred soap. It is easier to deal with when you are in the shower. No fiddling around trying to open a bottle for a start.

Unfortunately I cannot persuade Mr S to make the switch, so it seems we will continue to have some shower gel. I don’t use it at all.

Try a shampoo bar

I have had a few solid shampoo bars from Lush and they last absolutely ages. They are very good value and work just as well. The ones sold by Lush smell divine as well. Lush claim that each bar gives you 80-100 washes, which is economical by anyone’s standards.

There are a range of solid shampoo bars on Amazon, such as this Oatmilk and Argan Oil Shampoo one. These are cheaper than the Lush ones so may be worth a try.

Lush also sell solid conditioner bars. I didn’t enjoy the one I tried as much. It didn’t seem to coat my hair.

Choose glass

reduce plastic wasteIt can be quite hard to find your favourite products in glass bottles and jars rather than plastic. However, it’s not impossible. Even the discount supermarkets offer some of my regular purchases in glass containers now. I am not saying they are cheaper, but they are generally not hugely more expensive.

reduce plastic wasteAldi sell the most delicious farmhouse yogurt in a glass pot. At 69p a pot I would say it is a premium product but so worth the money. The pot comes with a reusable lid so you could keep your buttons or paperclips in it afterwards.

I also buy their glass bottled olive oil. It is very nice quality.

Cut the cleanser

reduce plastic wasteI bought myself and my daughters these Makeup Removing Cloths for Christmas. I wasn’t sure how they could possibly work, but they do! Just soak them in warm water and wipe off your cosmetics. I tested my skin by cleaning it again with my usual cleanser and there wasn’t a trace of dirt or make up left.

I have pretty much stopped using cleanser – mine comes in a plastic container – and now just use a face cloth. This will save me money too.

Reduce your cleaning products

I have blogged before about using bicarbonate of soda to do some of your cleaning. You can also make your own cleaning spray. I buy white vinegar in glass bottles from the supermarket and large bags of bicarbonate of soda online.

I occasionally do buy slightly stronger cleaners but not as often as I have in the past. This is reducing my plastic waste and saving the pennies.

Carry a fold up bag

I have carried a reusable bag or two in my handbag for years and years. Now that there is a 5p levy on carrier bags, it seems the rest of the country is finally catching up.

The downside is that we can rarely find a plastic bag in the house if we need one! I can live with that.

Invest in a reusable water bottle

This is so obvious it is barely worth a mention. And yet it is, as the waste caused by plastic bottles is a major problem.

It’s not just water, of course, but cola and juices that are sold in plastic bottles. I would love to go back to a time when returnable glass bottles were the norm. However, they are heavy and there are consequent transport costs. It is unlikely to happen. So I carry my reusable bottle with me and I don’t buy other drinks when I am out.

If you are tempted, then buy drinks in aluminium cans or glass bottles, then take them home and put them in the recycling.

Buy a bamboo cup

My daughter bought me this bamboo cup for Christmas. I am impressed with how long it keeps drinks hot for. I intend to stick it in my bag for when I go to town. If I splash out on a coffee I shall ask them to serve it in this.

It takes some forward planning, but if you are someone who buys a lot of coffee out it is worth getting organised. I can’t say this will save you any money but it will reduce your use of plastic lined coffee cups.

The last straw to reduce plastic waste

Another Christmas present for my daughters was a set of stainless steel straws each. Plastic straws are terrible, and end up in our oceans and water systems.

They loved their steel straws and are using them almost daily. They come with a little cleaning brush too.

I was encouraged today to read this story about how Iceland Stores are reducing their plastic waste. If others follow suit this will make it much easier for us all. Good move!

In the meantime there are many small behavioural changes you can make to reduce plastic waste. What others can you suggest?

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

 

Just another savvy Sunday

Last week went past in a flash. I didn’t have time for much at all, let alone spending any money. My no spend January continues to go well! This morning I have been considering the frugal things I have done for this savvy Sunday round up. So what have we achieved this week?

Hunkering down

savvy SundayThe weather has been so grim and cold, with more freezing weather forecast. I hate it! We have been wearing lots of layers. It can feel very chilly in the mornings at home, but by the time I have rushed around like a lunatic to get to work I start to heat up. So, the layers come off!

The wood burner has come into its own this winter. It is so cosy; we absolutely love it. As the lodger has been away we haven’t been heating the house as much. Instead we have snuggled in front of the fire. I have a couple of throws on the chair too if it feels really cold.

I have been pulling the curtains as soon as I can to help keep the heat in. This really works. It should all save money on our heating bills. This savvy Sunday will be mainly spent keeping warm!

Being a model for the day (and making extra cash)

Savvy Sunday One of the more unusual ways I have found to make extra cash it to get featured in the newspapers. Journalists are frequently on the look out for interviewees for stories and will pay you if you are chosen. I saw a request on a Facebook group I belong to looking for women who have suddenly developed allergies in later life. There is apparently some evidence to suggest that the menopause may be responsible. I blame hormones for pretty much anything so I applied.

I did a half hour interview in my lunch break with a very nice journalist from the Daily Mail. Yesterday morning she sent a make up artist and a photographer round for a photoshoot. It was really quite exciting. I felt like a celebrity!

Mike the photographer was telling me about all of the famous people he had photographed. Helen Mirren, David Attenborough, FW Declerk and, the highlight of his career, me!

The fee for this will go straight into my contingency fund. If you read my post from the other day you will know that increasing this is one of our goals for 2018.

A super low grocery spend

I have spent hardly anything this week on groceries, just a small shop in Aldi last week of about £23. A replenishment of the stocks is needed, but I will wait until Monday. I want to see if there are any bargains on Approved Food first and maybe stock up on things like casserole sauces, pasta, rice, etc. They are ridiculously cheap, just because they are near or past their best before date. Everything is all still safe to eat! (This is my refer a friend code, so if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a credit to spend.)

I had a quick look earlier and they had three cans of Ambrosia custard for 99p. Mr S loves this! Be careful if you are watching your weight though as you have to wade through lots of tempting chocolate and snacks to find the basic groceries. New customers currently get free delivery on orders over £55.

Selling on eBay

I was surprised to find that have I sold quite a few of my listed items this week. I thought people would be too broke, but it seems they still have an eye for a bargain.

Although it is quite hard work to list a lot of things on eBay, it is handy extra money. If you are interested in trying to sell on eBay I have this guide. I also recently published a post on how to find bargains on eBay for those of you not on a no spend month!

As promised, this extra cash has also gone into the contingency fund.

Selling on Ziffit

Regular readers will know that I have been having a good declutter and have cleared out a load of our books and DVDs. I started to get prices for some of them on Ziffit yesterday and will make this a proper savvy Sunday by finishing them. I think I will make about £50!

It is very easy to use Ziffit, although the items do need to be in good condition. Some items were rejected, so I will donate those to the charity shop.

I am happy with the way my month is going. We are spending very little, saving on our household bills and managing to make a little extra money as well. So that is my savvy Sunday. How is yours?

 

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, it won’t cost you any extra an I will make a small commission. Thanks!

 

 

 

My goals for 2018

Goals for 2018Do you have goals for 2018? I rarely set any in stone. Usually I have a vague idea of what I want to achieve for the year and occasionally achieve some of it! But the new year is a great time for setting them and here are my goals for 2018.

Redecorate the lounge on a budget

This is one of our main goals for 2018. The sitting room has been looking tired for some time. The cats went through a phase of using the walls as massive scratching post. We kept patching up and painting over the top. Now that they have stopped this particular habit we can strip off the paper and begin again!

We have already made a start on this and will do some more on Sunday. As I have said before, I am on a no spend January so our efforts to date are all about the prep. I will keep you updated on our progress!

Increase our savings

As we don’t want to take on any debt, anything we buy this year will have to be saved for. There are so many things on our wish list. However, if the money isn’t available, we cannot have them!

We put regular amounts aside for expected expenses such as holidays, the car, birthdays, Christmas, etc. However, to give our contingency fund a boost I intend to put any extra earnings into this fund. I have a huge bag of books and DVDs after my recent declutter and plan to sell them on Ziffit. I also have some items listed on eBay, so as they sell I will transfer the money directly into the contingency fund.

Organise a budget holiday

We love going on holiday – who doesn’t? Even when finances are really tight we find ways to have a break. When you have no debt and you work hard, why not?

I pushed the boat out and bought Mr S a two night break for Christmas through buyagift.co.uk. The plan is to go to Norfolk in the Spring. We would like another week somewhere though, so need to budget for that.

Two no spend months

I find a no spend month fantastic for replenishing the bank account and refocusing my attention. When you have made a rule that you won’t buy anything except necessities you begin to notice your particular temptations and tipping points. I am on a no spend month now, as January seems the perfect month be more disciplined with your money. However, I plan to do another no spend month later in the year, probably October.

So far I have only bought the £1 magazine I was featured in and my daughter’s birthday presents (planned for).

We were given tickets to the panto this week but resisted buying refreshments. Instead we took some chocolates and snacks left over from Christmas. It was an adult version of the pantomime and very risqué, but gave us a lot of laughs!

A trip on the steam railway

This may seem like an odd goal for the year, but if you aren’t careful those things you always intend to do never happen. Mr S has had a yen to visit the Norfolk Steam Railway for years! We plan to go as part of our two night trip to the county.

Two yoga workshops

I have mentioned in the past that I am a qualified yoga teacher with the British Wheel of Yoga. To keep up my skills, learn from the best and stay inspired I try to attend regular events. This year I plan to go to at least two yoga workshops. These aren’t free, however, so I need to include them in the budget.

In an ideal world I would attend a weekly class. However, I have other priorities for my money, and can do yoga at home for free!

Clear out the attic

This is a huge job that we have been putting off forever. However, there is so much stuff in our attic we have forgotten what half of it is. We clearly do not need most of it so, as I am currently in declutter mode, a lot of it needs to go. Some will be donated to the charity shop and some will be sold to help increase the contingency fund.

I once lived in a house where we stored so much stuff in the loft that the ceiling plaster started to crack! I am keen to avoid of re-run of that particular episode.

Finish blog revamp

I changed the look of the blog several months ago now. However, one of the tasks I need to complete is to reduce the number of categories so that readers can more easily find subjects of interest to them.

This is a huge job as I have over 2000 posts! It means going through each of them to re-categorise. I have done a lot of work on this over the Christmas break but I intend to finish it as soon as possible. When I have even 10 minutes to spare I am working on this.

New front door

Our front door and frame are in very poor condition. In the winter, you can feel the draught whistling through! Even though it is a double glazed door, it is very old.

We are going to start looking on Facebook Marketplace and eBay to see if we can find a used one. This will have to wait until later in the year to be fitted though as most of our time and resources are going to go towards the lounge project.

So, those are my goals for 2018. There is nothing life changing here but it is good to focus my efforts. What are your goals for 2018? Are you clearing debts, saving for something in particular or aiming for a new career? Please share to inspire the rest of us.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, it won’t cost you anything but I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Simplify your life with a good declutter

simplify your lifeI have been doing a mega declutter of the sitting room over the weekend. We have just started a bit of DIY, so it seemed to be the perfect time to get rid of lots of accumulated stuff. It was very cathartic – I love a good declutter!! It made me think how good it is to simplify your life.

How many books can one person read?

Books – we have so many!! Even though I seem to be constantly getting rid of books, they soon find their way back onto the shelves. I have been really brutal this time. We have so many gardening books that neither of us ever read. I have cleared almost all of them.  I got rid of around half of the paperbacks as well.

I kept all of the girls’ Harry Potter books. They are too much a part of their childhood to give away. They still read them now when they come home. I also kept all of my yoga books. I am not teaching currently, but I hope to in the future. I need them for inspiration when I am planning lessons.

I have also kept some classic novels and other books I am likely to come back to. If I am honest, though, I could do without any of them; I just like having a shelf full of books in the house somewhere! I am a part time minimalist…

I read more books on Kindle these days but I still like an actual paper book. I can’t see this every changing but I think you can simplify your life with !

DVDs: a thing of the past?

One of my daughters pointed out that we had a shelf crammed with DVDs but no working DVD player. What madness! They are all in a bag for the charity shop. We watch the TV or Netflix now.

I have kept all of the CDs. We both listen to them in the car and still haven’t got into downloading music to our smart phones. That might be the next task.

Ornaments – who needs them?

I never thought I would be the kind of person who liked ornaments – how trashy! Then I developed an obsession with chickens and, before I knew where I was, I had shelves full of little china chooks. Every Christmas and birthday everyone bought me more. They had to go! I have been slimming them down for some time.

I have also found myself drawn in middle age to a shabby chic look. I am turning into a stereotype… Pretty floral plates vie with teapots, cups and jugs on the shelves of our two dressers. I have also developed a taste for bunting! In the sitting room, these have all been removed. I will keep the dresser in the kitchen but one is enough.

Instead, Mr S is going to put up a couple more shelves and make a cupboard where the dresser was. I have slimmed down the contents by half and will try very hard not to cram the new cupboard with clutter once it is built.

Simplify your life and find some empty shelf space

Also removed from the sitting room – a Wii that hasn’t been used for at least two years, a vintage sewing machine that I plan to sell, an old shredder gathering dust and a big pile of magazines.

The shelves look so empty! I still need to untangle the old DVD player and take that to the tip but other than that I think my decluttering task is complete.

Now the really hard work will start – peeling off the old paper and sanding down the woodwork. Because I am doing a no spend January we are using up the DIY supplies in the shed and won’t be buying any more until next month. This is fine by me. I am not a fan of DIY so happy to take it slowly.

Can you believe it? I have a car full of clutter which I attempted to take to the charity shop after work. They didn’t want it! They said they had too many donations at the moment. I will try somewhere else tomorrow.

It seems we all have too much stuff that we are trying to declutter. What do you do to simplify your life? Are you having a new year declutter?

 

Five frugal things to help my no spend January 

If you are joining me on my no spend January, I hope week one has gone well! We have had a lovely week, with all three daughters home a lot for various reasons.

A frugal birthday

no spend JanuaryWe were going to have a takeaway for my daughter’s birthday – an allowable pre-planned expense. In the event, we decided on steak and chips for the meat eaters and I had salmon. We had Mississippi mud pie for pudding. Everything was purchased from Aldi, along with a nice bottle of Prosecco.

At £25 for the five of us, this was a lot cheaper, and probably nicer, than a take out. I recommend Aldi’s fresh meat and fish. I have found everything to be excellent quality and great value for money.

A no spend walk for New Year’s day

no spend JanuaryWe decided to have a good walk to start the new year as we intend to go on, doing more exercise. A six mile meandering walk to town and around Colchester’s Castle Park brought a glow to our cheeks. We were surprised to find lots of shops and cafes open – they really do only close on Christmas Day now.

This is a shame. I wish we had more days when people were forced to do activities that didn’t involve buying stuff, although I suppose they would stay at home and buy on the internet instead.

We didn’t browse the sales but sat in the park with a flask of coffee and home made cake. Which brings me to my next frugal achievement…

Using up black bananas

no spend JanuaryWe usually eat loads of bananas. However, there was so much food in the house over Christmas that we had three left. They were turning rather black – perfect for a banana loaf.

Being a creature of habit, I generally use Delia Smith’s recipe. This time I decided to ring the changes and try a Nigella Lawson one from her classic How To Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking(my affiliate link). I am glad I did as it was delicious and is our new favourite (sorry, Delia!). Can’t wait for the next lot of bananas to go brown….

Making do

no spend JanuaryI need a new watchstrap. The little bit of leather that keeps it secure once on has broken off, which means my watch could come loose and fall off. Because I am on a  no spend January I can’t buy a new one, so I have secured it with an elastic band.

Not the classiest look but I doubt anyone has noticed. I don’t want to purchase a new one just now and would rather not lose my watch!

Laughing in the face of the best before date

no spend JanuaryI am sure many of you don’t bother too much about best before dates. Me neither! I frequently deliberately buy out of date food from Approved Food because  it is cheaper (my refer a friend link).

When I was clearing and sorting out the larder, I came across a pack of nutty snacks from Aldi and a couple of individual portions of long life Lactofree milk. Both were out of date but instead of throwing them in the bin I have taken them to work and started to use them. They are perfectly fine and taste exactly as they should.

I hate our culture of wasting food and chucking it out just because it has passed the advisory only best before date. I am also happy to eat items a little bit past their use by date. As long as they look, smell and taste OK I will risk eating them. Food doesn’t immediately decide to go off because of the date stamp!

No spend January progress

no spend JanuaryIf you are joining me on a no spend January, how are you doing? I have broken my rules just once this week, buying a copy of Bella magazine. However, I had a good excuse – I am in it!!

It’s tough being a media star. However, I don’t intend to break the rules again this month and look forward to having a bit more spare cash to put in the savings as a result. How about you?

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 what everyone else has been doing to keep costs down and share your five frugal things!

 

 

 

 

How to find a bargain on eBay

find a bargain on ebayI recently discovered a handy little eBay app called Bidkit It is a great tool if you want to find a bargain on eBay, especially if you buy to resell. You can search under the following headings:

Spelling mistakes

This is the most useful one, as far as I am concerned. The number of people who cannot spell! If you have a particular designer or brand that you like you will probably search using the correct spelling. With Bidkit you can find almost correct spellings.

For example, a search for ‘Karen Millen’ bought a whole load of listings spelled ‘Karen Mullen’, a ‘Kaern Millen’ and a ‘Karen Milen’. None of these had any bids on them.

Local collection only listings

This is handy for larger items that you want to purchase locally. To be honest, you can do the same thing using the advanced search facility on eBay, but it is still useful to have it on the app.

Daily deals

I probably wouldn’t use this one to find a bargain on eBay. If you have an eBay account you will receive the daily deals via email already. I am not sure how these are chosen by eBay, but I am rarely drawn to anything.

Zero bids

This is helpful if you want less competition. You could even keep an eye where there have been no bids and make a cheeky offer after the auction has ended. It is possible to sort so you can see those ending soonest as well.

Unwanted gifts

There are likely to be a lot of unwanted gifts just after Christmas. It is not the best time to sell because there will be a flood, but this makes it a great time to buy.

You can search for unwanted gifts directly on eBay, but it will only find these where ‘unwanted gift’ is in the heading. Bidkit finds this within the text too. Very useful to find a bargain on eBay.

Night-time auctions

It is always worth looking out for auctions that end at an odd time. Being able to locate items that will end in the middle of the night is very useful. I am not suggesting you sit up and put your bid on at 3 am, though. You can use Auction Sniper to get your bid in before you go to bed!

Unwanted prizes

I was surprised at how many of these there were. Why enter the competition if you don’t want the prize?

Like new

Useful if you want to find a bargain on eBay that is only lightly used.

The other categories that I doubt I would use are New Buy it Now items, Penny auctions and Expensive items. I might look at the latter if I want to see how the other half live!

If you enjoyed reading this post you might also like How to Make Money Selling on eBay and How to Present Clothes on eBay.

 

This is a sponsored post. However, all views expressed are my own honest opinions.

Cheap ways to get healthy in the New Year

The Christmas treats may be mostly eaten, but too many Proseccos and Quality Streets may have taken their toll on your waistline. Your wallet is likely to be feeling fairly flat though, even if your belly isn’t. Here are some ideas for cheap ways to get healthy this new year.

Everybody knows that exercise makes you feel loads better. We all understand the benefits of a good diet as well. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to get started. The new year is the perfect time to find your motivation!

Write down your goals

If you want to stick to your new year’s goals it can be helpful to write them down. Put them where you can see them. By the kettle or on the fridge door are good spots.

Walking

This is my favourite way to keep fit. I love to get outside in the fresh air, whatever the weather. Apart from a comfy pair of  shoes and a warm jacket, walking is free. If you choose a good route it can be interesting too.

We started the new year with a 6.5 mile hike yesterday. Our aim is to take a walk of at least 5 miles each weekend.

I wish I was close enough to the office to walk there and back each day. I aim to do a brisk mile at least three times a week over lunchtime. If you can build walking into your day it won’t even feel like exercise.

We use Map My Walk to record our mileage. It’s a great free little app if your budget isn’t up to a Fitbit or similar.

Running

I am not a runner. I have dodgy knees! Otherwise I would be very tempted by the NHS’s Couch to 5K, a nine-week running plan for beginners. There is so much great information on this site to help you get fit for the price of a decent pair of running shoes.

You Tube

Whatever form of exercise you want to try, there will be a You Tube channel with some bouncy young thing showing you the way. From yoga (my exercise of choice) to aerobics, from pilates to boxercise, it is  more than possible to do a full work out from the comfort of your own home. I found this article, which gives suggestions of some of the best You Tube workout channels.

Eat less sugar

There is much evidence to prove that high levels of sugar are bad for your health. From John Yudkin’s classic book Pure, White and Deadly: How Sugar Is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It* to a recent NHS report suggesting we should all halve our sugar intake, there is good reason to at least cut back.

Last March I went sugar free for a month. I felt very much better. The biggest surprise was the improvement in my IBS symptoms. However, I have gradually allowed my sugar consumption to rise, especially over Christmas. I don’t intend to go completely sugar free, but I am going to reduce the amount I eat dramatically.

If you want a bit more inspiration, a few years ago Zoe over at Eco Thrifty Living lost 16 lbs giving up sugar.

Eat your five a day

I know some people think it is too hard to get their five a day on a budget. I don’t believe this to be true and blogged about it here. Meat is expensive! An apple is cheaper than a chocolate bar, and frozen fruit and vegetables are excellent value.

I find it easy to get my five a day because I incorporate fruit and vegetables into my meal plans. It is easier still since I decided to become vegetarian. I always take a couple of pieces of fruit to work and often a home made vegetable soup, so that’s three portions with very little effort. I dollop a bit of stewed apple or a chopped banana on my morning porridge then have some veg or a salad with dinner.

Get more sleep

This is something I struggle with. As a long term insomniac sleep sometimes eludes me. I make the situation worse by crashing on the sofa when I am tired in the evenings. Annoyingly, I often spring into life when I go up to my bed!

My New Year’s resolution is definitely to tackle my insomnia. Sleep hygiene is key. Not eating late at night, turning off my phone and PC a good half hour before I go to bed, getting more exercise and avoiding stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine can help with good sleep.

If you sleep well, you function better in the day – it’s common sense to try to get your 7-8 hours a night.

Meditate

A regular meditation practice has many benefits. It helps with anxiety and depression, can improve sleep and gives you a more positive outlook on life. There has even been some research done suggesting it can lower blood pressure.

I have times when I practice meditation most days and then I don’t do it for weeks. I know I feel better with a 10 minute meditation at the end of my yoga practice.

A really great little free app I have found is Calm. The reason I like this so much is that a soothing voice takes you through short or longer relaxation sessions. All you have to do is find a little time and a quiet place to sit.

The app offers 7 days of calm, 7 days of sleep, 7 days of gratitude, etc. I can’t recommend this enough.

Drink more water

We are always being told to drink more water, but how many of us actually do this? If I allow myself to get dehydrated I get tired, grumpy and my head starts to throb. I keep a big glass bottle of the stuff on my desk at work and make sure I drink throughout the day.

It is claimed that drinking lots of water helps keep your skin clear, prevents constipation and makes you feel fuller – great if you are trying to lose weight. If you want a boost, drink plenty of water. It is free from the tap, although I tend to filter it.

Give up smoking

I hate to preach so I will keep this brief. Smoking is literally burning money and makes your body more susceptible to many cancers and diseases. If you want to give up, the NHS has some good advice here.

What are your cheap ways to get healthy?

So these are my cheap ways to get healthy in the new year. What are your tips for getting fit on a budget? I would love to hear them so please add a comment.

*This is my affiliate link.

 

Prepare for a no spend January

no spend JanuaryAre you feeling the pinch after Christmas? Do you wish you could pay off debts or get your savings off the ground? If so, a no spend January could be the answer.

The new year is a great time to set yourself a no spend challenge, although you can do it any time of year. Turning over a new leaf and starting afresh; the themes for a brand new year perfectly suit a no spend month.

Why do a no spend January?

‘Really? You spend NOTHING for a whole month?’, is a common response when I tell people my plans for a no spend month.

Some can manage a no spend day, weekend or even a no spend week. But a month is a whole new ball game.

A no spend January will help  you recover from the Christmas spend-fest and save you loads of cash. However, a prolonged period of not spending will also increase your awareness of where your money goes and make you appreciate how little you can live on if you need to.

I find a no spend period truly liberating. There are no more of those internal conversations about whether you should buy that new item of clothing or have a night on the town. You know you won’t be doing either.

How to prepare for a no spend January

Tell family and friends

I always find it best to be upfront with friends and family when I do a no spend month. It is hard to keep making excuses for not meeting for coffee or going to the pub. If you tell people in advance you will get fewer invitations.

Don’t, however, let your loved ones spend all their money on you during your no spend month. Instead of letting them pay for dinner, how about cooking something together to share at home?

Stay away from the shops

It may sound obvious but looking around the shops or window shopping is a terrible idea when you are trying to save money. This includes charity shops! I can spend a small fortune in them if I am not careful.

Plan for fun

If you are usually a social butterfly, a month of no outings at all will be tough and lonely. Look for cheap or free things to do. Invite friends round with a bottle or get together and bring a dish each. Your rules for the month might allow for a weekly night out with an upper spending limit. You can be flexible and the rules are up to you.

This may be a good time to use up any vouchers you got for Christmas for the cinema. Otherwise, Netflix always has a good choice of films and dramas.

Plan what you will do with the money you save

This can be a great incentive to stick to the rules you make for your no spend January. Whether you want to pay off your credit card or put some money towards a summer holiday, a plan will keep you on track.

The Rules

These are my own personal rules for my no spend January. Yours might be different, depending on your circumstances. Here is what is allowed:

Mortgage and bills

Obviously we will take care of these, as usual. No point in saving money and having to deal with the bailiffs….

Groceries and pet supplies

I can spend money on food. However, I will eat from the fridge, freezer and cupboards first and make sure I plan our menus around what is in there before buying anything else. I always pack a work lunch anyway as this saves a ton of money.

We don’t have masses of food left over from Christmas, but some of you will. Make sure you factor this into your planning to keep your grocery spend to a minimum. Personally, I intend to make lots of soup with the stack of home grown courgettes in the freezer, to make bread pudding with the bread ends and to use up some of our frozen plums for crumbles.

It is really important to go through your larder to see what you have stashed away. I did this today and found I had two jars of coffee and a pack of teabags pushed right to the back. Both were on my shopping list, so have been able to cross them off.

You might find some of my favourite frugal recipes helpful.

I stocked up yesterday on cat food, litter and biscuits. We will obviously buy more of these if we need to as we go through our no spend January.

Petrol

I could save money by cycling to work, but I am no cyclist and it is 6 miles each way, so I think not! Petrol is therefore allowed. I will, however, walk or cycle short trips. We are trying to increase  the amount of walking we do anyway so this will be a good incentive to keep our miles up.

Alcohol and treats

I am allowing some wine and a few treats during my no spend January. However, I won’t need to buy any sweets or crisps as we still have loads left over. As I won’t be going out to the pub this month, a couple of bottles of white wine will be on my shopping list.

Birthdays

It is my daughter’s birthday this month. I have already sorted her presents. However, we will be having some kind of takeaway as a celebration on Friday, the day before she travels back to university.

Free days out

We have our RHS card so might take a trip to Hyde Hall, our nearest garden. There are free museums and galleries here. We will take lots of long walks too. We are allowing our travel costs to these places where necessary.

What isn’t allowed

Make up and toiletries. I have enough of both to get me through the month.

Cleaning supplies. Again, we have plenty. I will buy toilet paper and washing up liquid during the month, as we are likely to run out. Essential items only!

Nights out. Unless they are free! If we get an invitation out to dinner we shall accept that and return the favour next month.

Items of clothing. I don’t need anything.

Books. I am terrible for impulse purchasing books. I have quite a few to read and some on my Kindle app, so there is no excuse to buy any more. If I am short of a read I will look on the internet or visit the library.

Snacks from the machine at work. These are ridiculous. 80p for a single chocolate bar. I will keep a stash of our Christmas food in my drawer for emergencies.

Coffees out. If I am going into town or if we are out for the day I will prepare a flask. We always take a picnic on excursions anyway, which saves a lot of money.

Takeaways. Apart from my daughter’s birthday, there will be no expensive take out food. We don’t spend money on these anyway as a rule.

Will you join me on a no spend January?

I will be checking in weekly to let you know how I am getting on and whether I have succumbed to any extra spending. It will be interesting to know if you are planning a no spend January and what your rules will be! How far can you stretch your money this month?

My top money saving blog posts for 2017

top blog postsIt’s always interesting to look back and review our year here at Shoestring Cottage. I thought it would be good to identify my top money saving blog posts to see which have been the most popular.

Earlier in the year I signed up with Google Analytics. It tells me all kinds of things, such as how many people have visited each day, which country they are from, how long they stayed for, etc. I find it fascinating! It also tells me which posts were the most read, so here is the top ten.

My top money saving blog posts of 2017

A tabloid sensation

Fame at last: spreading the frugal message. This was our first taste of fame, as we became tabloid sensations for the day, appearing in the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Mirror. It was a bit of fun, although I avoided reading the Mail comments. They are always nasty!

A great debate

Lidl or Aldi: which is best? I was surprised that this was such a hit. Actually I like and use both Lidl and Aldi, but think Aldi has the edge.

Saving money on groceries

The Joys of a well stocked larder. This is fundamental in my list of money saving blog posts. If you don’t keep the basics in and know what you have in your kitchen cupboards, you will tend to buy more products you don’t need. You might not use them in time, which leads to food waste. This is a no-no in the thrifty kitchen, as I am sure you will agree.

Cleaning frenzy

Cleaning as therapy. Although not strictly a money saving post, this is a good one for the New Year. A nice clean, tidy and clutter free house does run nicely alongside a frugal approach to life. If the house looks nice you are less likely to want to spend money on redecorating or new furniture, or buy thing you already have buried in a drawer somewhere.

Making extra money

How to make money selling on eBay. One of my favourite money saving blog posts for after Christmas. You have all your new presents so might want to sell some of your old stuff to make space. Or you might want to sell the lovely, but not quite you, jumper that Auntie May gave  you. Selling on eBay is a great way to make a little extra cash at what may be a lean time of the year for some.

Planning ahead

Frugal Christmas: Budget now to save your bank balance. I wrote this one back in October. This was the money saving post that got picked up by a media company and sent to the tabloids. It’s all about planning for Christmas and it’s never to early to start….

A classic of frugality

Tightwad Gazette remembered. Ahhhh…. this absolute classic manual of thrift and frugality. Even though it is now over 25 years old I still give it a read every now and again for frugal inspiration.

Budget eating

This month’s grocery challenge – eating on a budget. We are always looking for ways to spend less and this money saving post focussed on groceries. It’s all in the planning. If you are new to money saving, you can usually get a quick win with your grocery budget.

A good declutter

New order: the great wardrobe declutter. Is there anything more therapeutic than a good declutter? I don’t like lots of stuff and don’t have masses of clothes. However, I find it incredibly cathartic to have a good clear out.

Time for a holiday?

Think you can’t afford to go on holiday? Ideas for frugal holidays. This is exactly the time of year to plan some kind of a break. You don’t need to spend a fortune to have a holiday and this post gives some ideas for inexpensive and affordable breaks.

So, this was a taste of our year in blog post form. I hope you find some of these interesting and useful. If you write a blog, what was your favourite/most popular post of the year? Leave a link in the comments so that we can all go and have a read!

Reducing waste in 2018: make do and mend

Christmas is over, the fridge is full of cold turkey  and leftover nut roast …. I am sure you are the same (well, maybe not the nut roast!). Because most of us have plans for our Christmas leftovers and don’t like wasting food, this is the ideal time to rethink our approach to reducing waste during 2018.

Reducing wasteReducing waste with small repairs

I was sent some Sugru mouldable glue recently to try. This seems like the perfect thing when you are trying a make do and mend approach. Rather than throwing broken things away, I will use this for small repairs.

Reducing wasteThe cat somehow managed to throw the laundry basket down the stairs the other day and has cracked the corner. Each time it is used the crack is getting bigger. Rather than throw it out, I have used the Sugru to patch it up.

It isn’t as good as new and doesn’t look pretty, but hopefully will last a little longer.

Reducing waste by using the turkey carcass

Reducing wasteI have already turned the turkey bones into stock. This will be used to make soup with some of the leftover turkey and veg.

Any remaining turkey will be packaged up and put in the freezer. I have also sliced up the nut roast and frozen it. The freezer is an excellent tool to reduce waste!

I have a jar of Aldi curry sauce in the cupboard. No doubt some of the turkey will end up as a quick curry for Mr S and the girls, if they are about.

We have a lot of cheese. Fortunately this lasts a long time but I have a cheese soufflé in mind for later in the week. Cheese freezes very well too, but because we all love it I think it will get used up.

I read somewhere that salad leaves are the most thrown away food item. I have done this myself at times. It is annoying, but there isn’t much you can do with salad, except eat it before it goes brown. But is this true? I reckon I could throw any leftover lettuce and cucumber in the soup and no one would be any the wiser!

Buying less

The best way of reducing waste is not to buy too much in the first place. I don’t feel we have gone overboard this Christmas. We have a lot of food in the house but there are five of us here at the moment so hopefully we can use it all up. However, my daughter turned up with a pack of continental meats – chorizo, salami, etc. yesterday. As I am no longer eating meat and no one likes this that much I am contemplating what to do with it. I think some kind of pasta dish. I can do a meatless version for me fairly easily. Any ideas anyone?

No spend month

As January will be a no spend month for me, I will naturally be buying less of everything. Those of you who spend too much and have too much stuff might like to join me. Many of us have so much of everything and could easily do a month buying nothing except essentials. It’s great for replenishing your bank account!

I am probably going to need to make an exception for DIY stuff, however, since we plan to start the renovation of the sitting room. But we will be making the best of the furniture we have rather than buying new, much as I would love a brand new shiny sofa. We did consider buying one in the sales but have decided to save up for one rather than putting it on the credit card. It doesn’t seem the best start to a new year where I want to spend less, save more and focus on reducing waste generally.

Are you looking at reducing waste in 2018? There are some great ideas over at Jen Gale’s blog My Make Do and Mend Life. She took a break from it but is back! Very happy about this. What about you? Do you enjoy a make do and mend approach?

Christmas thoughts and an over active brain

Christmas thoughtsI woke up very early today.  There seem to be lots of Christmas thoughts whizzing around my head.  Sifting through them with a cup of tea,  I am surprised at the amount going on in my head.

So this is a bit of a random post. A round up of my over active brain with all my Christmas thoughts in black and white!

Over spending at Christmas and a lack of logic

I belong to a Facebook group run by Skint Dad Ricky Willis. As you would expect, the group often has people posting about their financial woes. It is generally a supportive group with folk requesting and giving advice based on their own experiences.

A lady had totted up all she had spent on Christmas presents and was astounded to find it was £600 plus. Some people offered wise words about how to cut back next year, but many admitted they had spent much, much more. There were admissions of spending £1500 on just one child, buying two holidays for a partner for Christmas, etc.

I would imagine that if you join a group like this, you are either struggling financially or take a keen interest in money. If you have saved all year and you can afford it, obviously you can buy whatever you like with no worry or negative consequences.  But if you spend that kind of dosh and didn’t save the £3000 or whatever you have spent on purchases, no wonder you are skint the rest of the year!

For me, this sums up our crazy approach to our finances generally. I prefer to live within my means and Christmas isn’t that big a deal.

Veg price wars

It’s hard not to notice the supermarket price wars on Christmas vegetables this year. I stocked up when I did my last shop before Christmas in Aldi last night. I bought parsnips, carrots, sprouts and broccoli for only 19p each, plus Maris Piper potatoes for just 28p.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Asda have all waded in with offers on a similar range of veg. Lidl are also selling them at 19p, Asda at 20p, Sainsbury’s at 25p and Tesco at 29p.

Obviously this is great for us as consumers, but I have feelings of discomfort too. Someone is paying for all these discounts. I hope it is the supermarkets but I suspect it is their suppliers. Christmas thoughts to ponder.

On the mend

My friend with her badly broken ankle finally had her operation on it yesterday. They are hoping to release her home today, which is great! We were worried we would have to plate up her Christmas dinner and drive up to the hospital at one point.

The plan is to cook the turkey and prep all the veg here, then to drive round and finish it all at her house. She will be on the sofa with her feet up and we will all be her willing servants.

She will be out of action for a good month, all for slipping on wet grass.

Christmas thoughts for those on their own

I heard yesterday on the Jeremy Vine radio show on BBC Radio 2 about a lovely sounding family who run the Dairy Shop café in Sidmouth. They are keeping the café open on Christmas day so that those spending Christmas alone have somewhere to go to have a coffee, a mince pie or just a chat.

It was inspired by a single mum friend of theirs who said that one Christmas the only person she had spoken to all day was in the local shop. She had been grateful for that single bit of contact.

It might also be a nice place to escape if family relationships get a bit fraught over Christmas! I thought it was a lovely idea.

One piece of money advice

On another Facebook group (I don’t spend that much time on there really!), run by Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, she asked if you could offer one piece of monetary advice to someone, what would it be?

There were some very interesting and helpful answers, so I thought I would share.

This was the most common tip: to save and have an emergency fund.

To get your savings taken out of your account by standing order so you don’t have to think about it.

To pay into a pension fund as early as you can.

Not to get into debt or take out a credit card. If you want something save for it.

Don’t live beyond your means or try to keep up with the Jones’s.

Think before you spend and ask if you really need it.

To keep a spending diary to increase your awareness of where you waste money.

Put your coins in a jar – it all adds up.

Keep household accounts and log all that you spend.

Just because something is available at a discount it doesn’t mean that you need it.

Sell everything you never use.

Take out a funeral plan.

Over pay your mortgage when you can.

Watch every penny.

Mine was to stop buying stuff and consider a no spend month, as I plan to do in January! If you could give a single piece of advice around money, what would yours be?

A vegetarian Christmas dinner

Off to make my vegetarian Christmas dinner. I considered this nut roast en croute recipe, which I took to my sister’s last weekend. It was nice, but you didn’t really need the puff pastry. So, I have finally decided on an old favourite, cashew nut and mushroom roast from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Kitchen. This is delicious and also nice cold with salad. This recipe doesn’t credit Sarah Brown but it is the one.

I hope my Christmas thoughts haven’t sent you to sleep. There is so much to do but we need to remember to enjoy it all too. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope you have a warm, safe and happy time.

 

Top 16 frugal habits to beat spending fatigue

Does anyone else get spending fatigue at this time of the year? I put money aside all year for Christmas, so I am not worried about going into debt to fund the festivities, food and presents. However, I stick to my frugal habits the rest of the year and spend as little as possible. Dusting off the purse and spending lavishly doesn’t come naturally!

Forward planning

So I am already thinking ahead to 2018 and getting back to my usual careful, frugal habits and lifestyle. We will be commencing (finally) the redecoration of the lounge in the New Year, so will need to focus our spending on that.

Post Christmas sales

I may take advantage of some post-Christmas sales to purchase cards and wrapping paper for next year, and hopefully some soft furnishings for the lounge project. After that I will be starting a no spend month for the whole of January.

I did this last year and found creating a no spend rule for the month was incredibly liberating. Friends asking me to the pub? Sorry, I am on a no spend month – perfect excuse! Shoes wearing out? I have other shoes; I will just wear some of the ones I don’t like so much.

Saving money where you can

During a no spend month, we do, of course, have to pay our bills and purchase food. However, with the latter particularly, creating a no spend ethos means you automatically save money wherever you can.

I will clear out the cupboards, fridge and freezer and start to use up some of those ingredients that sit unused at the back. It makes me more creative and adventurous in my menu planning!

Top frugal habits

A no spend month will help to boost our emergency fund and go into the New Year feeling financially more healthy. It also allows me to remember some of my top frugal habits and make sure I am practising what I preach.

My top 20 frugal habits for life are:

Make a monthly budget and stick to it.

Review your bills at least quarterly and shop around.

Pack a lunch for work or school.

Menu plan.

Make a shopping list.

Buy groceries from the discount supermarkets and look out for yellow stickered bargains.

Repair and maintain items rather than rushing to replace them.

Buy second hand whenever you can.

Where you can’t buy second hand, use cash back sites such as Top Cashback. (This is my referral code. If you sign up using it I will earn a fee and you will get a £5 voucher until 27th December).  You can also try Quidco. (Again, this is my referral code and if you use it we will both earn £5).

Sell your old stuff on eBay or on Ziffit.com.

Use Approved Food every now and again to buy staples (my affiliate link). They currently have a tin of Christmas chocolates for £1!

Cook from scratch as much as possible and batch cook soups and stews.

Freeze left overs.

Grow some of your fruit and vegetables in the garden.

Avoid takeaways.

Rather than eating out, cook a nice meal for friends at home.

Pack a flask and picnic for days out.

Drink water rather than fizzy stuff, tea or coffee (particularly when out and about).

Take frugal exercise: gardening, walking and running are free.

Cut your TV package to the minimum.

I will revisit these in more detail in the New Year. In the meantime, just typing this list makes me feel better! I can’t kick my frugal habits.

This post contains some affiliate links. If you click through to make a purchase or sign up, I will earn a small fee. Thanks!

Last minute affordable gifts 

This post is sponsored by Groupon. However, all views and opinions are my own.

Are you a last minute shopper?

Ok, own up. Who is still scrabbling around for  Christmas presents?  With the season almost upon us, it’s time to get your skates on! I am pretty organised this year. However, I have quite a few friends and colleagues who are on a mission to find some last minute affordable gifts.

I just cannot leave these things right to the wire but, if you have, some of these ideas might be helpful.

I have always thought of Groupon as a good company to check out for mini breaks or days out. Of course, Groupon does offer these and you can buy a weekend in the Isle of Wight or a holiday in Iceland if you can afford it.

Gift guide

However,  it turns out they also offer a range of bargain items for even the smallest of budgets. I have been perusing the Groupon gift guide, where there are some decent discounts on offer if you are searching for last minute affordable gifts for your loved ones. I am particularly drawn to the Donald Trump loo paper. At £4.99 it is a lot more than I would usually spend on toilet paper but would give us all a giggle!

You can also buy novelty socks for a few pounds, a mermaid tail blanket for just a tenner or a makeup palette for a fiver. However, as we are just a week away from the big day, a voucher might be better at this stage.

You can get an acupuncture session for just £9 (reduced from £30) or combine acupuncture with a massage for £29, reduced from £60.

If you fancy something a bit more active, the archery experience for two has been discounted from £38 to £19. If you don’t fancy that, how about a brewery tour with lunch is £19.95, reduced from £40?

For those of you who enjoy a nice perfume, there are some Vera Wang fragrances reduced from £69.99 to £19.99. I wish I had seen this before! You will need to be quick though, as this offer ends tomorrow.

Food shopping

As I have said previously, I have been buying bits and pieces of food and drink for Christmas for ages. However, I am now making a list of food for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Our plans have changed a bit as a family member has well and truly broken her ankle (in three places!). She may have to have an operation this week but, even if she doesn’t, she won’t be able to stand up for several weeks. So we will be cooking for an extra two, one of whom has coeliac’s disease.

Aldi is great for the odd gluten free treat. I have already found some mince pies in there. I will make sure as much of our dinner as possible is gluten free anyway.  Come Saturday I will be up really early and in and out of the supermarket as quickly as possible. I don’t enjoy shopping much anyway, but when I am competing with hoards of stressed out shoppers I like it even less!!

If you prefer presents with a green twist, check out my Eco Friendly Christmas gifts post.

Whatever you buy, remember it is just one day. Stick to your budget and have fun.

 

 

 

 

 

Five frugal things to help you save at Christmas

five frugal thingsHow has your week been? Christmas preparations are well in hand here at Shoestring Cottage. I am joining in with this five frugal things round up as Christmas is the perfect time to focus your spending and save where you can.

The decorations are in place, the presents are all purchased and mostly wrapped and I have been buying a few Christmas treats for a couple of months now. I set my budget for Christmas back in October, I have been saving all year. Now I can spend and not feel worried or guilty, and without putting it all on a credit card.

1. Only buying what we need

I don’t go crazy and try to buy only what I know we will eat. This year I decided to finally stop buying things that are traditional but that no one really wants, as proposed by Faith at Much More with Less. We actually enjoy some of the foods she has decided to ditch. However, dates sit around for ages as no one really eats them much – Mr S will usually dutifully consume them at some point, but it’s not about duty, is it? We also have a ton of hazelnuts in their shells that came from a friend’s tree,  so we don’t need to buy any more. They also tend to sit around for months before they all get eaten.

Nobody eats Christmas cake so that is off the shopping list.

However, we all love Christmas pudding so that is staying firmly on the menu. I usually buy a couple reduced after Christmas because Mr S loves it with custard any time of the year.

2. Using up all the leftover veg

vegetabl soup five frugal thingsThe very cold weather always means one thing here – soup! I love it! Soup is great for using up any bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. Into mine last Sunday went potatoes (including some frozen leftover mash), carrots, celery, frozen spinach, half a can of sweetcorn, the end of a bag of frozen peas and lots of Marigold vegetable stock.

We ate it after our freezing cold snowy walk last Sunday and it was just the job for warming our cockles! It was great for work lunches all week and there are still a couple of portions in the freezer.

3. A simple vegetable bake

I posted a recipe a couple of days ago for a vegetable bake, adapted from one of Delia’s in Frugal Food. It is so simple and cheap to make. Another good one for using up vegetables as you can add more or less whatever you have in the fridge. We had it for dinner with spinach. The meat eaters had a couple of chicken drumsticks with theirs, but I enjoyed it as it was.

I love the cheesy breadcrumb topping, which is a good way to use up the ends of a loaf of bread. I made a whole lot of breadcrumbs and what I didn’t use for the bake went into the freezer.

4. Making my own Christmas gift tags

I always keep my Christmas cards from the previous year and recycle them to make Christmas gift tags. It’s such a simple thing to do, I never know why everyone doesn’t reuse them in this way. It is quite nice to reread the messages from last year from friends and family too.

5.  Savvy Savers in the Sun

I was pleased to be asked to give some top tips for money saving at Christmas to the Sun, along with some other UK Money Bloggers. My contribution was to suggest that people consider buying second hand presents, particularly for small children. They wouldn’t notice or care. Looking on Facebook Marketplace, I can see all kinds of large ride on toys, dolls houses, bikes, scooters, dressing up outfits, etc. They mostly seem in great condition, but cost a fraction of their as new price.

I did this all the time when my kids were small. I have bought second hand phones and an ipad, computer games and a console, DVDs and many books second hand as presents.

There is a little bit of embarrassment about buying second hand as a gift but I don’t understand that. As long as the item works and is in good condition, where is the issue? And if it helps you stick to your budget, even better!

An early Christmas

nut roast en croute five frugal thingsWe are having an early Christmas dinner today with my extended family. My sister is off to see my nephew in Thailand so this will be our only opportunity. I am road testing the vegetarian nut roast en croute I found on the Sainsbury’s website. If it works, that will be my veggie Christmas dinner. The recipe is here. It smells lovely so I have high hopes.

 

Vegetable bake – quick and cheap

This is a very simple vegetable bake based on Delia’s  Leek, Carrot and Potato Pie, which features in my original copy of Delia’s Frugal Food. It was perfect after a freezing day – warming and comforting. I used tinned potatoes to save time – they are 15p in Aldi and I couldn’t buy fresh for less – and also a packet of bechamel sauce that cost 10p from Approved Food. Half of the leeks were from the garden – the last of them – and the other half came from Aldi from their Super Six range and cost 59p.

Vegetable bake

200g carrots, chopped ( I don’t bother peeling them)
2 x 420g tins of potatoes
50g butter
100g mushrooms
500g leeks, washed and chopped
1 small onion
1/2 pint white sauce
150g cheddar, grated
2 tbsp breadcrumbs, made by whizzing up half a crust of bread with my hand blender
2 pinches cayenne pepper

vegetable bakeCook the carrots in boiling water until cooked but still al dente. Sweat the leeks, onion and mushrooms in some butter until soft. Season well to taste. Drain the carrots, reserving 1/4 pint of water to make up the sauce, then follow the instructions on the packet but replace half the suggested milk with this water (or make a bechamel from scratch so that it can be gluten free if necessary). Slice the potatoes. Arrange the vegetables in layers in a deep casserole dish, finishing with a layer of potatoes, seasoning as you go. Combine the breadcrumbs with the cheese and cayenne and sprinkle on the top. Bake in a medium oven (180C) for about 40 minutes until the topping is golden brown.

This vegetable bake is cheap and easy comfort food.

Loyalty cards – are they worth it?

Loyalty cardsMy purse is absolutely jam packed with cards. Credit and debit cards, membership cards to various organisations, my library card, but mostly ridiculous numbers of loyalty cards! It is just as well I don’t carry much cash, because there is very little space left for that.

As I only use about 4 of my loyalty cards, I am planning a cull. I need to decide which ones have the best benefits and which are worth keeping. Are loyalty cards worth the bother?

My most used loyalty cards

Boots Advantage card

My Boots Advantage card has to be my favourite. I like the shop and can easily pop in on my way home from work as we have a large out of town one. It seems quite generous too, giving 4 points (effectively 1p) for each £1 spent. Generally I save my points up for Christmas or the post Christmas sales.

However, I am aware that sometimes I can buy a product cheaper somewhere like Superdrug or at Sainsbury’s, which is also on my way home. I might not get the points, but saving money on my purchases comes first.

I look out for my double points vouchers and keep them in my purse. It is also worth making a note of mega points weekends. If I know one is coming up I will hang off buying regular purchases such as vitamins.

Tesco Club Card

I barely shop in Tesco’s as I prefer Aldi and Lidl. However, I keep my loyalty card because I sometimes pop into the Tesco petrol station near me. I also have my mobile phone deal with Tesco so earn points on that.

Tesco has always offered great deals when redeeming your points. They are worth a whole lot more if you spend them on a Club Card Boost deal rather than in store. We tend to mostly use ours for cinema tickets, but there are some excellent offers on restaurants, days out, etc – even on breakdown cover.

This loyalty card is worth having, but I wouldn’t shop in Tesco just for the  points as I save more money overall in the discount supermarkets.

Sainsbury’s Nectar card

I used to save up my Nectar points for my Christmas shop. Now I have my Nectar account linked to my eBay account, so I can convert my points into a voucher to spend on eBay.  This works for me, as I use eBay a lot, but, like the Tesco Clubcard, you can use your points to purchase all kinds of products and experiences. I also stop at Sainsbury’s for petrol and collect points that way.

Coop Card

We have a small Coop round the corner that is really handy when we run out of something like milk, so we use it quite a bit. However, I wouldn’t do my main shop in a Coop store. I love the ethos of the organisation, but the big supermarket near me is expensive and the fruit and vegetables aren’t great quality some of the time.

We all use the small local store often enough to receive a decent annual dividend though – usually around £20 at least. This card is worth keeping.

The thing that annoys me about the Coop is that we have two different organisations covering our town, and you can’t use one card in the other. Not very joined up!

And the rest

Also in my purse I have cards from Iceland, Superdrug, the Body Shop, Pets at Home, Holland and Barrett and the Wyevale Gardening Club. The latter is the only one I use. I am going to dispense with the others!

What’s the point?

The point of loyalty cards is, obviously, to promote your loyalty and get you to keep shopping in a particular store. But retailers don’t lose out or give you something for nothing. I am quite sure they build the cost of their loyalty cards into their general prices! This is why shops like Aldi and Lidl don’t bother with them. They focus on keeping their prices low. But if you are going to use the shops anyway, you may as well collect the points.

It has been worth collecting my points throughout the year on some of my loyalty cards, but to be honest I have earned more money using cash back sites in the past 4 months than I have the whole year on the cards! Over £100 on Top Cashback and £50 on Quidco.

I always check them to see if they have any cash back offers before buying anything online. At the moment Top Cashback has a great deal for new members. If you purchase a makeup palette from Superdrug you get a full cashback of £13, effectively getting the palette free. This could be another Christmas present off your list. (This is my tell a friend link).

What about you? I would be interested to know which are your favourite loyalty cards and how you spend your points. Do you use cashback sites or do you find it all too much trouble?

 

Budget beauty: George at Asda makeup range

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I had purchased a few items from the George at Asda make up range. It all looked very promising and great value. Although I go for a fairly subtle look, I wear make up every day and I always enjoy a bit of budget beauty!

Now Asda have very kindly sent me some more items to review. Although I have been given some of the range, these are my own honest opinions.

Cosmic blush, £5

This was one  of the first items that I tried. I am quite pale and think I suit a pink blusher. I really like this and have been using it for two months. There is loads left. It is quite subtle with a shimmery finish.  I have this one on in my photo.

Lightweight matt foundation, £4.50

I found this a bit runny, so thought it wouldn’t provide decent coverage. It is actually pretty good, but doesn’t have the staying power of some foundations I have used before. However, at £4.50 it is a bargain. I use a bit of powder on the top and it does the job.

Blush soft touch blusher stick, pretty in pink

This is a really nice colour, but there isn’t much to it. When I tried to blend it in, it pretty much disappeared. A bit of a disappointment. I know I said I like subtle colours, but I still want my blusher to show! The price of this is £3.

VA VA volumising mascara, £4

This is the best product I tried. I really liked the long thin wand – I can’t bear those big fat ones. Not blessed with the steadiest of hands, I usually end up smudging them or poking myself in the eye. This one is perfect and stays on, so I will buy another when this is finished.  I had previously purchased the Pool Party waterproof mascara at £4. This was OK, but inclined to going lumpy after a month or so of use. The volumising one is better.

Illuminate liquid concealer, £4

I have never used a liquid concealer before, and I like this. Being a pale sort of person, I do tend to get dark shadows under my eyes and found this quite effective. I doesn’t last as long as the solid version, however.

Cover up concealer stick, light, £2

This is cheap and cheerful. It is solid and needs careful blending to stop it sitting in your wrinkles, but it is perfect for the price.

Bronze pearl strobe crayon, £3 and contour crayon, £3

Contouring is an alien concept to me. I have seen all those amazing and complicated videos on Instagram, but I don’t have the time or the inclination! So I got my daughter to try these out for me. She was quite impressed and said they went on easily and blended well. The strobe crayon was used to highlight her eyes and the contour crayon to accentuate her cheekbones. She loves a bit of budget beauty too!

High shine lip gloss, sea horse, £2.50

My daughter is also wearing the high shine sea horse lip gloss in this photo. We both liked this and it was just the type of colour we wear. It was a little sticky, but felt quite moisturising too. It was surprisingly long lasting for a lip gloss.

Gel effect nail varnish, £3 (currently rolled back to £2)

I tried this in Echo. It is rather brown and not really my colour, but it went on well and evenly. I have put a layer of gold glitter on top for Christmas and it looks really nice.

Budget beautyLong lasting nail polish, £2

I was sent a very pale pink  version, milkshake. It went on nicely but needed two coats. I will save this one for summer I think.

Budget beauty bargains

Nothing in this budget beauty range seems to cost more than about a fiver. It is very good quality for the price. If you don’t want to spend a lot on your make up I would recommend a look next time you are in Asda.

You can find more of the range here. Maybe some inexpensive stocking fillers?

 

 

 

 

Five frugal things I have done this week, 8th December 2017

At this time of year, when most of us tend to be spending more than usual on Christmas presents, five frugal things feels like quite a feat! However, the potential for rampant consumerism means that it is  even more important to save money when you can.

1. Packing a great frugal lunch

five frugal things: pumpkin soupOne of my daughters is staying with us at the moment. As she has to commute to work each day she is keen to save her pennies. I always take a packed lunch to work, but get lazy and uninspired. Sometimes a sandwich is the easiest thing to throw together but not the most appealing. So we have been taking it in turns and so far she has made a delicious Greek salad, which lasted two days. I made some pumpkin soup. Today we have leftovers from a sweet potato curry. Delicious!

Because she is home I am making more effort and enjoying my lunch each day. If I was to buy a salad, some fruit and a drink out I think I would easily spend £6 or £7 each day.

2. Reflecting on my Christmas budget

I have almost finished my shopping – just a couple more gifts to find. I set a budget for presents and one for food. We don’t need decorations or a tree so there is no budget for those.

Of course, there is no point in making a budget if you don’t review it regularly and make sure you stick to it. So far we are coming in a bit under, which is good news. If I have money left over it will go straight into the savings pot for next year.

3. Cooking more vegetarian

Five frugal things: sweet potato curryI have been enjoying digging out my old vegetarian cook books, as well as finding new recipes to try online. BBC Good Food seems like a great resource. We all enjoyed the satay sweet potato curry I mentioned earlier. It was easy to make but I varied the ingredients slightly to make use of what we had in the cupboards. I added a sad looking carrot and a courgette that needed using up. Dried ginger did the job just as well as fresh. I find when I buy fresh half of it gets wasted as we don’t use enough of it.

I also rather like the look of paneer with broccoli and sesame, if I can find somewhere to get the paneer locally.

Veggie food definitely saves money, even with a few more unusual ingredients.

4. A visit to the food bank

Ok, not really one of my five frugal things, but I have to mention it! As I have written on several occasions, the UK Money Bloggers have all been taking part in a reverse advent campaign for the food banks. I ran this at work and, thanks to the generosity of my colleagues, we collected a whole carful. We visited the food bank yesterday to hand it over.

five frugal things: trip to the food bankThis was such a worthwhile exercise and we will do it again next year. I feel reassured to know that there are such great organisations around like the Trussel Trust to help look after people if they are unfortunate enough to hit hard times.

5. It’s the little things

It’s amazing how much toothpaste you can squeeze out of what appears to be an empty tube. Because I thought we had some I didn’t buy any this week and keep forgetting to pop in and get some on the way home from work.  Surprisingly we have had several days worth. I really do need to buy some now though!

five frugal things: 1001 ways to save money bookI got a great gift on the secret Santa at work, which lists a lot more than five frugal things – 1001 Ways to Save Money. They know me too well! I will read it carefully to see if there are some good frugal tips for next time.

If you need to save money at Christmas, have a look at my ideas here, here and here.

I’m linking up with Cass Emma and Becky in this week’s Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week linky. Hop on over for more money saving inspiration.

What five frugal things have you achieved this week?

Cheap and easy vegetarian

Ooh, should I call myself a ‘cheap and easy vegetarian’? Sounds dodgy!

Cheap and easy vegetarianNow that I have given up meat and gone back to being a veggie, I have been digging out some of my old vegetarian cookbook favourites. They are well thumbed as I never stopped using them. Even when I was eating meat we always had vegetarian food twice a week.

Going back to the greats

Many of my vegetarian cookbooks are practically vintage. The one that provoked the title of this post was Cheap and Easy by Rose Elliot. She was THE veggie food writer when I first gave up meat  in the late seventies. This one appeared in 1988.

I was having a browse through it last night with my vegan lodger. There are many very good recipes in there which, as the title of the book suggests, are cheap and easy vegetarian food and  quite a few vegan recipes as well.

Some old favourites

Some of the corners of the pages are turned over where years ago I marked dishes that looked particularly interesting. I am going to give some of these old recipes a try.

Glamorgan ‘sausages’, made with breadcrumbs, cheese, onions and lots of herbs appear promising and I remember eating lentils and mushrooms au gratin a lot (we called it lentil slop, but it was really delicious!). Vegetable rice with roasted nuts is a kind of veggie paella and easy nut burgers will be worth making in batches for the freezer.

Rose Elliot on the Internet

Finding this old book made me wonder what happened to Rose Elliot. I was delighted to discover that she is still going strong and has her own website.

She still sells lots of books but Cheap and Easy seems to be unavailable there, along with another  favourite, Not Just a Load of Old Lentils (which I have lost). However, she does have a promising looking collection in the Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian . If I am lucky enough to get vouchers for Christmas I am going to buy it!

In the meantime, I had a look on Amazon and found Not Just a Load of Old Lentils, so bought it for a mere £3 including postage. Bargain! If you fancy it, Cheap and Easy: Essential vegetarian collection is on there too from 1p plus postage.

I am really happy to have rediscovered this great writer. Her books will help me to be a cheap and easy vegetarian on a budget.

Does anyone else have recommendations for interesting vegetarian food writers?

This post contains my Amazon affiliate links. If you link through and purchase an item it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission.

Save money on your heating bills: Some easy ways to keep warm this winter

save money on your heating billsThe current early cold snap in the UK has been rather a shock to the system! The heating has been on a lot at Shoestring Cottage. With the prospect of larger bills looming now that winter is upon us, how can you save money on your heating bills?

Dire consequences

I am not going to go radical and tell you to turn it off all together and wear a hair shirt. We tried the no heating/lots of layers approach and it had dire consequences. We ended up with damp walls and mould growing all over the house.

Unless you are on an extremely low income (in which case, see if you qualify for extra help here), you are better to set it to come on for a period morning and evening, and then top up as you need it.

I find even if the house gets really cold my modern boiler soon gets it warm. If you can work at keeping the heat in, you won’t need to have your heating running constantly.

Insulating to save money on your heating bills

It is so important to insulate your house as much as you possibly can to keep the heat in. You don’t want to heat the house just to feel it disappearing through the roof.

We have a thick layer of insulation on our roof space. We also had the wall cavities filled. We were fortunate that at the time we were with British Gas, who were running a scheme giving both to customers for free. Some energy providers are still offering this for nothing, so check with yours. Money Saving Expert has an interesting article on this – in some cases you can also get a new boiler for free.

Thermal curtain linings

Our windows are double glazed but it is very old glazing. Replacing all of the windows with state of the art triple glazing, or even just better double glazing, is not an option. We have found that using thermal linings on our already thick curtains makes a huge difference.

A door curtain can also help to keep the draughts at bay. We have three  sets in our chilly back room – 3 external doors in one room!!

Insulated wallpaper

We also did something in the back room that has made the most amazing difference. Insulated wallpaper. It really keeps the heat in. I wasn’t sure that what is basically lining paper with polystyrene stuck to it could do the job but it does.

It is a devil to cut and almost made me cry when I papered the small downstairs loo (you can see what we did here). So awkward! Well worth it though. It has another useful advantage if your plaster isn’t great as it covers up all the lumps and bumps.

I can’t recommend this stuff enough and I am sure it will help you to save money on your heating bills.

Foiled again

save money on your heating bills photo of a wood burnerRadiator foil is inexpensive and helps push the heat back into the house rather than out through your walls. We put this in the cold back room too and will use some more in the lounge when we redecorate in the new year.

We are hugely fortunate to also have a wood burner in place this winter. It is lovely! If it is just us at home we cosy up in front of that and don’t bother to heat the rest of the house. I think this will make a difference to our heating bills, although it was expensive to buy and fit.

So, Shoestring Cottage is pretty warm and cosy. We do still have our layers and slippers to hand. I refuse to have the heating blasting out whilst everyone is walking around in shorts and T-shirts! We also have blankets and throws on all of the sofas in case anyone is feeling chilly.

What are you doing to save money on your heating bills?

 

Christmas bargain hunting – now is the time!

Christmas bargain huntingHow is your Christmas bargain hunting going? I am almost there! Hardest to buy for is always Mr Shoestring. He can rarely think of any ideas to give me.

I have cracked it!

I have been looking on BuyaGift.com* and  have cracked Mr S’s present! What I bought is top secret, though, as he reads my blog 😀. Suffice to say I am very confident he will like it and it was an absolute bargain!

If you have someone really tricky to buy for, BuyaGift.com does a good range of experiences such as spa days and cream teas.

We had a spa day recently and it was blissful. We also had three cream teas in close succession, using up Mr S’s birthday vouchers. This explains why my jeans are feeling a little tight at the moment!

Aldi shopper

I have been doing a lot of Christmas bargain hunting in Aldi. They have such a great selection of food and drink for a special occasion.

I even found gluten free mince pies in there this week so snapped those up in case my coeliac friend pops on for a cup of tea. 

Aldi do a brilliant range of gift items such as slippers, books, PJs, chocolates, etc. They are so good if you have a really small budget for Christmas.

Christmas bargain hunting online

I have done a lot of shopping on Amazon.co.uk too, including some things from my eco friendly Christmas presents guide here.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy going to the town centre and physically choosing presents. There are two reasons why I don’t do this much. One is lack of time. It is easy and convenient to shop on my phone in my lunch break, for example.

The other is that I like to ask people what they want rather than waste money. They nearly always tespond with a couple of links to websites!

I will go into the town centre at the weekend as I need to do a few jobs in person. It will give me the opportunity to see the lights and do a little browsing.  I do like the idea of supporting my local shops. It’s just that life gets in the way!

How is your christmas bargain hunting going?

*This post contains my affiliate link. If you click through and make a purchase it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Get things done! Super Saturday

I had such a productive day yesterday. I had loads to do, and was determined to cross as many things off my to do list as possible. Sometimes you just need to get things done!

Getting up early to get things done

It’s easy to go for a nice lie in at the weekend. I went crazy and set my alarm for 6.45 rather than 6 am! I had a cup of tea and fed the cats, then started my day with a half hour yoga session. When I can fit it in, early morning is the best time to practice yoga. It is quiet and my mind isn’t filled up with the general busy-ness. This set me up for the day.

Shopping

Get things done. Pumpkin soupI like to get to the supermarket early if I go at the weekend, before it gets too crazy. I hit Aldi just after they opened. We didn’t need a lot. As we are eating really healthily I bought lots of fruit and salad bits, some chicken for Mr S, cheese, milk, etc. I had already been into Asda the evening before and got some yellow stickered pork chops, carrots and courgettes. I was in and out in 40 minutes – no hanging about.

eBay sales

I sold a couple of pairs of boots in the week so popped the parcels in to the post office on my way home. I had a little chat with the owners. We both go in there so often we know them well now. Mr S gives them honey from his brother’s hives and they let us forage the amazing blackberries at the back of their car park.

I had no sooner got home than I found a message from another eBay customer. If she paid for a dress she wanted today, could I post it straight away? So I packaged that up and shot back round to the post office!

It has been quite a good week. If you are interested in selling on eBay, you can read my guides here and here.

I have more items to list. It has all been washed and ironed. Yesterday I listed a few things whilst watching TV and will do more this evening.

Cleaning

Well….it can’t be avoided. Cleaning is not something I enjoy, but I do love a nice clean house!

I got into a great pattern over the summer of cleaning a room each night after work. This worked well as it meant I had more time to do other stuff at the weekend. I am still working on Emma Drew’s blogging course*, which I am thoroughly enjoying,  but need to find time to finish it.

As it is now so much darker when I get home after work, it is hard to be motivated to do any cleaning. You just want to curl up on the sofa in front of the fire. However, next week I aim to get back into my routine.

I did the whole house from top to bottom yesterday, so I have a few days’ grace.

*This is my affiliate link – if you use it and the code BLACKFRIDAY you will receive a £50 discount until 30th November.

Super soup

I am back into the soup making now the weather has turned. Yesterday I used two of our pile of home grown pumpkins to make some. Jamie Oliver’s glorious roasted pumpkin soup recipe is delicious! I made a ton and have already put it into the freezer in old butter containers.

Black Friday bargains

Get things done. My new laptopI was on the go all day and it was a very productive day. As I said before, sometimes you just need to get things done! Talking of which, I want to buy myself a really good planner for 2018 so will get onto Amazon to see what I can find as it is still the Black Friday weekend. I fancy this one – it looks so good for the price! Being organised and getting more done means I have more time to do the stuff I like.

My best Black Friday bargain was my new laptop! It is a Christmas present from Mr Shoestring but I couldn’t wait a month so he let me have it now. He got it from Argos on Friday morning. We watched it for a couple of weeks hoping it would be reduced and it was – by £160! I have never owned my own laptop before and I am really excited. We got this one from Argos, an Acer Aspire.

Today we plan to take things a little easier. A long Sunday walk followed by some of the pumpkin soup, then I am going for tea with some of my girlfriends. Whatever you are doing today have a lovely Sunday. I hope you also get things done.

 

Five frugal things: Finding ways to save and make money

Five frugal things. Ways to make and save moneyIt has been a while since I took part in this ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. However, the thrift and frugality continues! For those of you who don’t know, every now and again I team up with some other bloggers to share our five frugal achievements for the week.  I have been looking at ways to save and make money. 2.I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky .

1. Selling our old clothes

I have finally started listing two huge bags of clothes that have been sitting around for several weeks. It has gone rather quiet on the eBay sales so I haven’t felt motivated, but I need to get it all out of the way. As Christmas approaches, I am looking even more closely at ways to save and make money. I am also having a good declutter. An awful lot has been going to the charity shop, but I will sell the better items. How about you?

2. Ziffit

As well as selling my old clothes, I am having a clear out of loads of DVDs that nobody ever watches, plus some books, via Ziffit.com. We are going to redecorate the sitting room in the new year and we don’t need any excess clutter.

If you have never used Ziffit, it is really easy. You just input the barcode of the item you want to sell and Ziffit gives you a value. I am maximising this by going via Top Cashback, which is currently paying 10.5% commission*.

The downside of Ziffit is that they don’t want items that are quite common. This means that you might input a lot of bar codes but have quite a few rejected. You also need to be sure they are in great condition or they won’t pay you plus their terms and conditions say they do not need to return the rejected items.

I was frustrated at how few of my DVDs were accepted but pleasantly surprised at the price offered for some old books. £5.49 for one of them!

3. Freebies

Save and make money. Photo of a free pot of moisturiserMy latest freebie from the Savvy Circle is some Olay moisturiser.  It is actually rather nice. I usually use a mega cheap pot from Aldi. This does the job of keeping my skin moisturised perfectly well and is a steal at £1.99. However, I have to admit the Olay one smells nicer.

If you want to take part in the Savvy Circle and try new products for free you can sign up here.

4. Black Friday

I don’t often join the mad scramble for bargains on Black Friday. I am sure it is all a huge marketing ploy to make us all spend more. However, I really want a new laptop. I have an old one that used to belong to my daughter. It is frustratingly slow and unreliable.

I am on the lookout now to see if any of the models I fancy are discounted anywhere. Mr S is buying me this for Christmas, which will show those Daily Mail readers that we aren’t as mean as they think!

I am also tempted by a few items on Everything5pounds.com*. I buy most of my work clothes from them now as they are such good value. I have yet to be unhappy with anything so far. They are always cheap but for Black Friday they have a buy five tens and get the sixth free. 

Six items for £25 plus postage! You would struggle to get one thing for that in many stores. 

5. Thrift soup

Thrift soup. Ways to save and make moneyI fancied something warming for lunch rather than salads all week. I have been eating a lot of raw food in my bid to eat more fruit and vegetables and be generally healthier. So, I made a big pot of what I like to call thrift soup. It involves some good vegetable stock and whatever you have in the fridge. In my case this was celery, carrots, potatoes, frozen peas and spinach, some home grown courgettes, also from the freezer, half a can of sweet corn that needed using and some of my huge pot of Marigold stock. I fried up all the veg in some oil, added the stock to cover, plus a bit more on top, and simmered it all for about half an hour. To make it slightly creamy I added some parsley sauce that we had with dinner the night before. It was lovely and the day after it was even better. I love a bit of soup.

So these are this week’s five frugal things. What have you done to save and make money?

Ecothrifty post

I wrote a guest post for Zoe at EcoThrifty.com this week on cheap, eco friendly things to do with your children. It got mentioned on Twitter by  the Joshua Paul Show, which has 137.5k followers! We were pretty happy about that. You can read the post here.

Whatever you have been up to this week, thrifty or otherwise, I hope you have had a good one. Here’s to a frugal weekend!

*Disclaimer: These are my affiliate links. If you sign up to a deal it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission.

 

Going vegetarian: why I’m finally giving up meat

Back to weird: going vegetarian

For 16 years, from the age of 16 to 32, I was a vegetarian. That was over 20 years ago – how time flies! In those days the nearest thing to a vegetarian meal you would find in a standard pub or restaurant was a cheese omelette, or something that was accidentally vegetarian, like macaroni cheese. Going vegetarian was still considered a bit weird. I would be grilled by well meaning friends and relatives about why I was a vegetarian and forced to defend my position, when actually I just wanted to get on with my dinner! If you are vegetarian or vegan you will be familiar with the questions and comments, such as ‘So, if we all stopped eating meat, what would become of all those sheep?’

Going vegetarian: photo of me as a 16 year old

My veggie 16 year old self

Vegetarian restaurants existed because us veggies needed to eat out occasionally and have something worth dressing up for. However, you would only find them in cities. I worked in one in London for a while: Food for Health in Blackfriars. We searched for it recently and it is now some kind of office. A vegetarian friend of mine ran a veggie catering business and I often helped him out at events, including Glastonbury Festival one year. Fun times!

A change of heart

So what happened? What made me start eating meat again? Life got in the way. I got married and had three daughters. My then husband ate meat and so did the girls, so I was frequently cooking two meals. With a busy family life and a job, my priorities changed and I started eating fish, then chicken and eventually whatever everyone else was having. I also suffer from IBS and, truth be told, literally couldn’t stomach the largely pulse based meals I used to eat. But I always felt like a vegetarian who ate meat. Strange but true!

The research and benefits

Now that the girls are all off my hands and it is mostly just me and Mr Shoestring, I have decided it is the right time for going vegetarian again. I actually enjoy vegetarian food more than meat and we have always eaten it twice a week or so. It tends to be cheaper too, so useful for those of us on a budget.

Healthier

I think I will be healthier – there is quite a lot of evidence to back up the health benefits of a good vegetarian diet. For several years when I was a veggie, I took part in some research that the Oxford University was running and had to send in  blood tests every now and again for analysis. I just Googled this research and found a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that backs up claims that vegetarians live longer. At my age, that is good news!! Just wish I could persuade Mr S to join me.

Greener

Whilst I was tracking down the research results I came across an interesting article on the University of Oxford website, Veggie based diets could save 8 million lives by 2050 and cut global warming. This is appealing on so many levels. I am a bit of a greenie, as regular readers may have noticed, so if my vegetarian diet produces less CO2 that is a huge bonus. At a time when there is so much pressure on the NHS, a healthier population is also something to aim for.

Kinder

I am an animal lover too. Although animal welfare in farming is much better than it was in the eighties when I was a vegetarian, I have always had an underlying feeling of guilt about eating meat.  In the end, no matter how kind we are to the animals, they are going to die because we choose to eat them. It is a difficult moral argument. I have no intention of trying to push my feelings  onto anyone else – it is a matter of personal choice.

Doing it differently

Going vegetarian: photo of a cheesy quinoa and broccoli bakeGoing vegetarian these days is so much easier than it was when I was 16. As well as being able to find a decent meal in a restaurant, there are so many options for vegetarians and vegans these days when shopping. Even my preferred budget supermarkets have sections selling food free from meat. There are ready made pies, nut roasts and bakes in the freezer section for when you don’t have time to cook, and tins of pulses – no more soaking over night and cooking for hours.

I am not a massive fan of Quorn, but it is handy to have some of this in the freezer to bung into a quick stir fry or Bolognese after work. I had never heard of quinoa until a few years ago but now you can buy it everywhere. It is super nutritious and high in protein, so excellent for a vegetarian diet. I made this quinoa and broccoli casserole for dinner the other night. It was nice but a little on the dry side. If I make it again I will add a layer of white sauce or some tomatoes.

New inspiration

I still have a shelf full of old veggie recipe books, including my fabulous original copies of the original Cranks books, some Rose Elliot classics and the Vegetarian Kitchen by Sarah Brown. I have never stopped using these.  However, I am also enjoying some of the new writing on vegetarian food online, include some great looking recipes on the Vegetarian Society website. If you want to eat more veggie food, there are plenty of ideas in my Favourite Frugal Recipes section.

I am not ready to go vegan, even with its currently popularity. I am also still prepared to occasionally eat fish as this will make it easier if I am going to friends’ houses for dinner. But I am enjoying the challenge of finding and creating new recipes that fit my budget and IBS issues. Going vegetarian is making cooking and shopping interesting again!

Make money from your spare room – a guide

Can you make money from your spare room? A picture of a house with a pound sign next to it.How can you make money from your spare room? There are plenty of options and you don’t need a lodger all of the time. Renting out a room in your house is a great way to earn some extra income.

We have made good use of our spare room since my daughters started to leave home.  We have got to know some lovely people and our experiences have been almost 100% positive.

1. Taking in language students

It might be that you want to make money from your spare room but can’t, or don’t want to, share with someone full time. This was our position initially. One daughter was at university but came home during the holidays so needed her room back some of the time.

We have a large language college where we live. Students come to learn English and stay anything from a week to a whole year. They are often looking for host families. You provide a room, breakfast and dinner during the week with lunch as well at the weekend. This is usually a packed lunch as they often go off on organised excursions.

You also clean the room and do the student’s laundry. I never found any of this to be a problem as it was only what I was doing anyway.

Socialising

You are expected to sit together at the table for dinner to give the students the opportunity to practice their English skills. We had some hilarious conversations at times and were only saved by the use of Google Translate!

We have had students from all over the world – including Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Angola, Slovakia and Macedonia and have enjoyed learning about their lives.

As well as the college  I discovered a couple of other organisations locally that bring in school parties from Europe. They also need host families. The students are younger, of course , which feels like more of a responsibility. It generally involves driving them to their learning base for the first few days whilst they find their feet and get to grips with the bus system.

You can expect to be paid between £120-140 per week as a host family.

Pros: you get to know lots of interesting folk from around the world and forge some lasting friendships. Cons: the students tend to be under 20 and can cause some worry. We had one 17 year old who didn’t come home until midnight on her first day with us, spent much of the night throwing up and then missed college the next day! They are supposed to be in by 10.30 so this was a little awkward, but we made it clear there was to be no reoccurrence. You need to be firm from the start.

The best way to find organisations seeking host families locally is to do an internet search.

2. Airbnb

It is possible to make money from your spare room through AirBnb. We have never done this but we have used several now between us. Me and Mr S stayed in one in Wales which was basic but extremely cheap. My daughter and her friends have rented several whole houses and flats between them for weekend breaks. She and her boyfriend also stayed with a lady near their flat whilst it was having some work done. We have all found it a generally positive experience.

But what about welcoming guests in? I would be nervous about allowing complete strangers have access to my whole house, but would consider doing the odd bed and breakfast weekend. Nikki Ramskill from the Female Money Doctor did it several times and she says ‘I had no issues with anyone as I vetted them all before I agreed to let them stay. I turned down a few people because I didn’t trust them. New profiles, unverified, are ones I avoided. I tried to put in couples and women. I didn’t allow pets or children and there was a strict no smoking policy. You can set up a deposit limit which is taken in the case of a problem. The interface is really easy to use. The calendar is fully controlled by me, and I also blocked out weekends I didn’t want people staying, like Christmas and new year.’

Potential issues

Although problems are rare, Sara from Debt Camel has come across someone who let his flat out for a long weekend but  came back on Sunday evening to find the ‘guests’ were still there and had changed the locks! She recommends you check the terms of your tenancy or mortgage, your insurance policy and that you aren’t breaking any planning laws with the local council. She says you should consider that there is a risk of theft or of having your place wrecked, albeit very small, if you rent your property as a whole.

You can find information about how to become an Airbnb host here.

3. Renting longer term

Once two of my three daughters had moved out more permanently we decided to take a longer term approach and take in a lodger. We were a bit anxious. What if we didn’t get on or they tried to move the boyfriend in? What if they were really messy or noisy?

Set clear parameters

In the end we decided that we would set clear parameters for prospective lodgers and if they weren’t happy they could look elsewhere. We only accept females as we all feel most comfortable with this. It is a single room so no, they cannot bring their boyfriends home every weekend. They are welcome to have friends round and have had the odd girlfriend staying over with no issues.

They have their own cupboard in the kitchen and cook for themselves but do need to tidy up afterwards, the same as we do. They are responsible for keeping their bedroom clean but I do the rest of the house.

Our own space

We are lucky in that we have another small room downstairs that we have made into the lodger’s sitting room, so there is no fighting over the remote. Whilst I like having chats in the kitchen I don’t want to sit with them every night – I like my own space. It might be worth getting a TV set up in the lodger’s room if you feel the same.

In city areas there is also the possibility of renting your room on a Monday to Friday only basis, so you get the house to yourself at the weekend.

We found our lodgers through www.spareroom.com. I tried a couple of other sites but didn’t get much of a response.  It was worth taking a paid ad for a couple of weeks as the number of contacts I received increased dramatically.

I purchased a lodger agreement through spareroom.com for just £7.50. It is worth doing this, as a formal agreement protects you both. Because you are renting out a room in your own home it is much easier to get rid of your lodger if things don’t work out.

Get a deposit

Always ask for a damage deposit and a month’s rent in advance. It is worth getting references too, but our last two lodgers had never rented before so they weren’t available. They aren’t easy to verify either!

I personally think you need to trust your gut when interviewing prospective lodgers . Our first one is now my eldest daughter’s best friend – they hit it off from the moment they met. Our current one is absolutely lovely and starting to feel like another member of the family already!

Paying tax on your earnings

The UK goverment’s rent a room scheme means that you can earn up to £7,500 each year tax free. There is a lot of guidance on this here and here.

You will need to check with your mortgage provider that they have no objections to you renting a room. It is also very important to make sure your household insurance allows for this.

4. Supported lodgings

A slightly different way of making money via your spare room is to ask your local social services department if the run a supported lodgings scheme. This is a whole new ball game. It isn’t just a way to make money from your spare room, it is more of a career choice.

What is supported lodgings?

A supported lodgings scheme is where you provide not just a room but family support for a young person leaving care. You need to be a caring family and willing to overcome some frustrations and difficulties to help a vulnerable young person move on with their life.

By providing a safe and nurturing home, you can be instrumental in helping the young person become more confident. Some young people will have experienced a lot of trauma and upheaval. They may need help with finding better ways to manage their behaviour.

You receive full training and support to do this job. Your earnings vary depending on the needs of the young person you take in. This is the most difficult of the options to make some income from a spare room by far, but will suit some people I am sure.

Have you found ways to make money from your spare room? It could be a great asset to up your income!

Save with Jamie – review

Save with Jamie review - book cover

When I first picked up this book I was sceptical about it saving any money. It is big and glossy with a lot of nice colour photos. But Save with Jamie is a useful addition to my frugal bookshelf, with some lovely recipes. Here is my Save With Jamie review.

Can this book help you save money?

Save with Jamie review. A photo of the inside pagesWhat would Jamie Oliver know about saving money, you might ask? He has never had to live on a very tight budget. I am sure this is true, but he does know how to run a kitchen for profit so is aware of ways to reduce food waste. He is  also a creative chef, which means some of the recipes presented in this book are very different from anything else I have come across.

Puff pea and potato pie, squash houmous, aubergine daal, and savoury Japanese pancakes are on my hit list to try.  I regularly use Jamie’s saag aloo and hit and run tray baked chicken already.

Love your leftovers

Save with Jamie review. A photo of the inside pagesI like the way the book is organised, with a key recipe for, say pork, with lots of ideas about how to use the leftovers. Alternatively he will take an ingredient, such as squash or chicken stew, and give you four ways to use them.

There are pages aimed at preventing food waste spread throughout, which is great for the budget cook. What to do with stale bread, dripping and leftover wine (as if!) are useful sections.

Shop smart

There is a chapter on smart shopping, which won’t tell you anything you don’t already know if you already shop on a budget. We know we need to meal plan, shop with a list and not go to the supermarket when hungry.

However, his chapter on the freezer is good. I find the sensible use of mine to freeze leftovers, home grown fruit and veg and yellowsticker bargains does save money.

I also like the cheap and simple ideas in the bonus recipe section.

Expensive ingredients

Occasionally the ingredients pose an issue for the truly frugal cook, however. For example, lamb is too expensive for many families on a budget and beef is reserved for high days and holidays in our house.  Salmon is also not likely to be on the poor cook’s shopping list often.

Despite this though it is overall a bumper book full of delicious looking recipes. Save with Jamie: Shop Smart, Cook Clever, Waste Less would be a very nice present for a young couple moving into their first home I think. If you can get it at a decent price it is worth having.

This review contains my Amazon referral links. If you use the link and purchase anything it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Ten easy eco friendly ideas to save money

I know I harp on about this, but it’s nearly always the case. A green approach saves you money! So, as well as feeling good about yourself for keeping control of your finances, you can help save the planet. Not a bad day’s work! Here are ten easy eco friendly ideas to save money.

1. Reconsider your heating

As the weather in the UK turns chilly, think about your heating bills. If you are one of those people who leaves the heating on 24/7, stop! No one needs to be that warm. Turn your thermostat down, set the heating to come on for an hour or two morning and evening and then switch it on as you need it.

A longer term plan should be to improve the insulation in your home.  Short term you can sew thermal linings into your curtains and use draught excluders at your doors. Long term you can look into improving your loft insulation and filling your wall cavities. You can find more information on home insulation here.

2. Lunch at work

Take a sandwich or salad to work. This saves money and packaging.

3. Don’t waste food

A shocking FAO statistic is that one third of the food produced in the world is wasted. If you plan your meals, shop using a list and make creative use of your leftovers you will avoid binning food will buy less.

4. Eat less meat

Meat is really expensive compared to vegetables and pulses and there are so many veggie options these days. According to this interesting article in the Guardian, “Behind most of the joints of beef or chicken on our plates is a phenomenally wasteful, land- and energy-hungry system of farming that devastates forests, pollutes oceans, rivers, seas and air, depends on oil and coal, and is significantly responsible for climate change.”

There is a lot of research on the health benefits of a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables, so upping your intake can give you a boost physically too. You don’t have to go completely veggie. How about a Meat Free Monday?

5. Use your leg power

Walking is an eco friendly idea to save money. Picture of my walking route Walk or cycle instead of taking the car or bus on short journeys. They are free exercise! If you walk a few miles a day you could maybe jack in the gym membership or exercise classes. I am spectacularly rubbish at this, so it is something I am going to work on. Mr S loves cycling but I am not a fan and prefer to walk. I can’t walk to work as it is too far, but I can go out for a power walk at lunchtime and walk to the shops at the weekend.  We had a lovely long windy walk yesterday just for the fun of it and used Map My Walk to record the distance – 4.67 miles, which was a nice length.

6. Ditch the bath

Showering uses far less water. This will save you money on your water bill and heating, as you will have to heat less water! If you shower already, consider taking a shorter shower or even a cold one. There are apparently a lot of health benefits to taking a cold shower, but in this cold weather I don’t think I can bring myself to try this!

7. Power down

Don’t leave your appliances on standby. Switch off at the plug when they aren’t in use, including (and especially) your phone charger! This may not save thousands but every little counts.

8. Cut down the chemicals!

I hate to think of the chemical cocktail we used to breathe in and the nasty stuff I used to swill down the sink whilst I was cleaning the house. Nowadays I use mainly (although not exclusively yet) bicarbonate of soda  and white vinegar, and make this cleaning spray. This is very much cheaper than buying branded cleaning products too.

9. Turn off the lights

This is such a simple act that saves money and energy. Train the family to switch lights off behind them!

10. Buy second-hand

Be it clothes, furniture, tools or sports equipment, you can get almost anything cheaper second-hand or even free. Check out eBay, Gumtree, Shpock, Facebook Marketplace, Freegle and Freecycle, as well as your local charity shops of course. Reusing means another object doesn’t go to landfill.

These are only 10 ideas out of many eco friendly ideas to save money. Once you get started, you will feel the benefits in your wallet and the environment will reap the rewards too. Warm green glow all round!

Fame at last… spreading the frugal message

What a strange and exciting week we have had here at Shoestring Cottage, spreading the frugal message.

I was approached a couple of weeks ago by a journalist who had read my Frugal Christmas article. She asked me to provide some nice family photos  to run alongside a story about how we keep our costs down at Christmas.

The pressure to create the perfect Christmas

I was happy to oblige. I hate how the pressure to create the perfect festive season causes families to get themselves into large amounts of debt each year. It should be a lovely time spent with family and friends first and foremost.

Spreading the frugal messageIf you can afford to spend lots of money, go for it. However, it seems many folk can’t. I just wanted to point out that it was possible to do it quite cheaply. In fact, it’s possible to spend much less than we do and still have fun!

In the tabloids

Much to my surprise the article was picked up by the Daily Mail, the Sun and also the Daily Mirror! We were all stunned.

I haven’t bothered reading any of the comments. I know exactly how some people will react to me spreading the frugal message about having Christmas on a shoestring.

Colleagues have told me I was called Mama Scrooge and apparently I am clearly responsible for Brexit. LOL, anyone who knows me is well aware I was on the other side of that particular argument! Very odd logic.

Being judged

The funniest thing of all was being invited onto Judge Rinder! The logic was that I would have the chance to publicise my message if one of my daughters sued me for buying their presents too cheaply. This concept caused much hilarity before I politely declined 😀.

Anyway our time as ‘celebrities’ was great fun and interesting. I really don’t know how people cope doing it every day though!!

I know from the comments yesterday that many of you spotted our moment in the limelight! Have any of you appeared in the media?

New order: the great wardrobe declutter

Considering I don’t buy many clothes at all, I shouldn’t need an annual wardrobe declutter. However, I most certainly do!

Don’t you just hate it when you are getting dressed in a hurry and you can’t find the top you need to go with the skirt you are wearing? Or the jumper in the right colour can’t be located anywhere? A wardrobe declutter gives you the opportunity to sort your clothes out and remember what you actually own. I usually rediscover items I had got out of the habit of wearing, so a good declutter makes me feel I have more clothes in an odd sort of way.

Declutter rather than redecorate

One of my goals for November is to sort out and declutter my bedroom. We don’t have the time or money to redecorate but  would like to freshen it up and maybe move the furniture around. It is not a large bedroom – it is the middle of three. We chose it because it has a view over the back garden, which we love.

The wardrobe is really just a  hole in the wall with a curtain across it.  I have had many of my clothes for years – I try to look after them. Many were purchased second-hand in charity shops, eBay and boot sales. Some were bought in the sales. If they were new and full price they are usually from Primark or everything5pound.com! Because it isn’t a huge space it does tend to get a bit crammed. At the moment there is so much in there everything is getting creased. A wardrobe declutter is essential!

I also intend to go through all the drawers in my dressing table, the bedside tables, the linen cupboard, the boxes under the bed and our large chest of drawers (for a small room, we have a LOT of stuff in there). However, today I started with the wardrobe.

I have started pulling everything out so that I can decide what to keep, what to sell and what to give to charity. It will be put back in item type: dresses, skirts, tops, trousers, cardigans, coats, etc. I am not a fan of colour coding and, since I wear a lot of  black and grey, it would be pretty pointless anyway!

Decluttering saves you money

There are so many money-saving advantages to having a good old wardrobe declutter.

Firstly, you find clothes you had forgotten you owned, as I mentioned already.

Secondly, you can sell your unwanted items, maybe on eBay (my guide is here), Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or Depop.

Thirdly, your bedroom will look clean and tidy and is almost as good as repainting!

Finally, you can donate what you want to charity. In my case, we are having a clothes sale as part of our Children in Need fundraising, so anything I don’t want will be sold to raise money for this great cause.

I am half way through my wardrobe declutter. How about joining me? It is cheap therapy and good for the soul :).

 

Can you make a living blogging?

I have been blogging for quite a while now. My first post went live in 2013. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! That didn’t really matter as it was a great new hobby. It didn’t occur to me that it was possible to make a living blogging.

Sharing tips

I used my blog initially as a kind of online diary. Documenting events at Shoestring Cottage and sharing money saving hints and tips was a fun thing to do. It also helped me to stay on track financially.

Another huge unexpected bonus of blogging for me has been my interactions with readers. I have usually had such intelligent, supportive comments and lots of really good advice.

You can make a living blogging

Reading other people’s blogs, I have become aware that some bloggers earn money from their blogs – in some cases, a six figure income!

It is hard work and you need to be immensely well organised, but it seems that you can make a decent income.

This is hugely appealing to me. I would love to at least earn part of my income as a blogger. To this end I recently signed up for Emma Drew’s blogging course, Turn Your Dreams Into Money: How to Build a Six-figure Blog and Live the Life You Want.

If you haven’t come across Emma Drew before, you need to check her out. As well as her blog, EmmaDrew.Info, she is very active on You Tube with some excellent and informative videos. Her blogging is so successful that she now earns a six figure income and employs her husband.

I am working my way through the course at every opportunity and have already learned so much.

From creating a blog from scratch, choosing topics to blog about, earning affiliate income, using social media, to negotiating sponsored posts and advertising, this course covers everything you need to know.

Will it help me make a living blogging? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, I am finding it fascinating. I have already used some of what I have learned to improve my blog, and it has explained some concepts that were all a bit of a mystery.

Black Friday £50 discount

If you want to start a blog, or already have one and would like to monetise it, Shoestring Cottage readers can get £50 off Emma’s course until midnight on 30th November. Click through from here and use the code BLACKFRIDAY to get your discount. The course usually costs £197, so you will pay £147. (This is my affiliate code and if you purchase the course by clicking through I will earn a commission. However, my opinions are my own and genuine.)

As well as the course itself, you can join Emma’s dedicated Facebook group to give and receive ideas and support from other people taking the course.

Maybe you have a blog and you are fine with it as a hobby. But if you are interested in blogging as a genuine career choice you could do a lot worse than investing in Emma’s course. In the meantime, I will let you know how I get on as the course progresses!

A frugal lifestyle: taking care of the pennies

I am going for super frugal at the moment. As the saying goes, take care of the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. This is a good enough motto when you are going for a frugal lifestyle.

Our frugal lifestyle will ensure we have enough money to pay for Christmas. It’s not about being tight or stingy; rather it’s about saving money to spend on the things that really matter.

Couscous

This week I was determined to use some of the large pack of couscous that has been lurking at the bag of the cupboard for ages. It is so quick and easy I will definitely use it more often.

We had it instead of rice or noodles with a vegetable stir fry one night and had the leftovers for lunch the following day. I had soaked another lot, which I made into a salad with some chopped veg and raisins the day after as well. It makes a great, cheap packed lunch. A nice change from soup or sandwiches.

Food bank update

Couscous would be a good item to include in your food bank collection if you are doing one. It requires no cooking, just soaking in hot water or stock, is incredibly versatile and very filling. You can see my post about the reverse advent collection and how you can take part here. We already have lots of items in our box and many of my colleagues have chosen to take part with their own teams.

A frugal mushroom dinner

frugal lifestyleI had a craving for mushrooms the other day! Luckily I had a pack from Lidl. I made a very simple and delicious mushroom chasseur using the recipe in A Girl Called Jack*. We had this with rice. As Mr S is a meat fan I cooked a couple of chicken drumsticks to accompany it. (This is my affiliate link to Amazon and if you purchase anything by clicking on it I will earn a small commission.)

This book remains one of my favourites. I do wish Jack would get on with publishing the new one, Cooking on a Bootstrap.

Super Savvy Me

frugal lifestyleI have mentioned that I am a member of the Savvy Circle before. I tested some Pantene Micellar water a few weeks ago and today I received some Bold 2in1 washing capsules to try and to share amongst family and friends. This smells really nice and much posher than the supermarket own brand I usually use. In return I need to give feedback a few times on the Savvy Circle website – not too onerous!

Survey loot helping my frugal lifestyle

I have been doing the odd survey here and there for Prolific Academic and cashed £20 in today. Not a fortune I know, but every little helps. I do the odd survey in my lunch break and each one takes just a few minutes.

Online surveys can be a bit hit and miss I have found, but I like this company. They pre-screen you so you know that you are accepted for the surveys on offer.

I miss quite a few so they would be ideal for retired folk, part time workers, stay at home parents or students with more time to check what is on offer.

My money saving efforts and frugal lifestyle mean I feel in control of my finances. I would hate to be in debt again!

How about you? What are your top tips for a frugal lifestyle?

 

Setting goals (and slacking a bit) 

Setting goalsSo, here we are at the end of October already. Time to reflect on what we have achieved here at Shoestring Cottage. Except… I can’t review October’s goals since I forgot to set any! I can review my September targets and look at setting goals for November though 😀.

Reviewing September’s goals

In September my goal setting included uploading my new blog logo (done). Mr S designed it and I think it looks great!

I also re-painted  the lodger’s room, which looks much cleaner and brighter as a result.

The plan for the garden was to tidy up, weed all of the beds and dig over the veg patch. We did a bit but weekends have been so busy there is still much to do. I plan to spend my day off out there this week.

I had intended to end my Virgin TV and broadband package and perhaps replace with a Freeview box. In the end I decided to reduce the package as much as possible and go for a slightly slower broadband speed. This saved £38 a month and I really haven’t noticed a difference in internet speed.

Setting goals for November

So what will November bring?

Obviously, Christmas is fast approaching so I need to get the Christmas shopping under way. I have bought a couple of things and have money set aside but I need to get going properly. One of my goals for this month is to buy and wrap at least 50% of my presents. There are loads of Christmas cards in a bag on the wardrobe too. I need to sort those out and start to write some.

I intend to do some de-cluttering as well in our bedroom as a prelude to moving the furniture round. I love a good de-clutter. It is so therapeutic. Finding the time is always an issue, though, but I will get there.

As ever, I have stuff to list on eBay – a couple of bin bags full, in fact. I will try to do a few each evening.  The more I list the more I sell!

That feels like enough at the moment. What about you? Are you setting goals for November?

Super woman Saturday 

Sometimes there is too much to do. I feel like I need to be super woman to keep up!

Super womanThis week has been a busy one. As well as work, we have been dog sitting, as I mentioned in previous posts. Fortunately Mr S has done the bulk of the walking. I have also prepared and run two yoga sessions for colleagues. I loved this! It made me remember how much I love teaching.

Happily I have sold quite a bit on eBay so have been packaging that up in the evenings so that Mr S can post it for me.

Super woman cleaner

This weekend I have two houses to clean. I want to leave our friends’ house as spotless as we found it plus ours also needs doing.

I have a big bag of items to list on eBay and another big batch of soup to make for the freezer too.

There is a lot to do in the garden as well. Mr S has been cutting the lawns but we need to finish digging the veggie patch and generally tidying up.

Finally I want to spend time doing some work on the blog. I have been working really hard to improve it and make my posts as useful as possible.

Setting my priorities

I wish I could work part time to do all the things I actually enjoy doing! It can be exhausting to achieve everything. I am my own worst enemy I guess because there is so much I want to do.

In the end, I am not going to do it all this weekend so I will make a proper list and prioritise what needs doing the most. We need some fun and relaxation too!

What about you? Do you find life too busy at times. Do you need to be a super woman (or man) to get everything done?

Spend less: Avoiding unnecessary expenditure

As Christmas approaches, we are keeping the belts on a tight notch.  We want to avoid unnecessary expenses and spend less.

Spend less on entertainment

It’s lovely to meet friends and go to the pub or cinema, but even just a couple of drinks out costs a lot these days. Instead, we will invite friends round for a glass of ‘vin du supermarche’!

It is possible to get cheaper cinema subscriptions from time to time through cash back sites like  Top Cashback (who currently have £11.97 cash back for a Cineworld subscription) or Quidco, but we are already paying for Netflix, so will make the most of what’s on there and stay in.

Spend less on food

I have planned all of our meals for this week and will sit down tomorrow and do the same for next week.

Saving money on food is all about preparation in my view.  Make a meal plan based on what needs using up, write a shopping list, use a discount supermarket and don’t shop when you are hungry. 
Shoestring Cottage pumpkin harvestWe only have spinach and pumpkin left on our veggie plot but have a lot of frozen fruit and vegetables so I will be building some into the meal plan.

Spend less on toiletries

I never spend a lot on high end cosmetics and toiletries. I am not short of much as I got my recent beauty bargains. If I do run out I will go to Home Bargains. I am a fan of this shop. There is a great choice and everything is superb value for money in my view.

Spend less on hair care

I have mentioned this in previous posts, but I always touch up my own roots and sometimes even cut my own hair. I will be giving it a little trim and will save the trip to the hairdressers until next month.

Spend less on clothes

I would love to splurge on clothes, but I’m not even going to allow myself any charity shop stuff this month. I bought a couple of things from my favourite online fashion retailer Everything Five Pounds last month so I don’t need anything desperately. Maybe it is time for another wardrobe challenge? Wear it or get rid of it!

Spend less on travel

Driving is by far the cheapest way for me to get to work. Otherwise I would need to take two buses. This would also cost a lot of my precious time! However, I will try to reduce other journeys by using shops en route and walking locally.

I love autumn and really enjoy walking anyway. This week we are dog sitting for friends, so no reason not to walk.

Spend less on fitness

Relaxing in the hot tubAs well as walking, me and Mr S have been doing quite a log of yoga at home. This is free!

This is my plan to spend less for the whole of the rest of October and November.

In other news

We are enjoying our dog sitting this week. The house is beautiful, the dogs are lovely and they have a hot tub! I don’t know if I would ever be prepared to buy one, but it’s lovely for a change. It feels like we are on holiday!

The reverse advent idea I mentioned in a previous post has already begun at work. We already have a lot of contributions so I think we wil need several boxes. Other colleagues have taken up the idea, which I’m very pleased about.

I can look at how to spend less, but it is good to be reminded that other folk have things much harder and can’t spend anything at all.

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The winter blues – how to beat them and feel better

Do you suffer from the winter blues? As the days shorten and the nights draw in, I certainly do at times.

When you leave for work and it’s dark and you come home and it’s dark again, it’s easy to give into the doldrums. As the weather turns colder, you may have to brave the wind, rain, frost and ice to get anywhere.

On top of all that, the germs and viruses arrive in the form of coughs, colds and flu. It’s not surprising many people feel their hearts sinking as the winter blues start to set in.

The winter blues aren’t inevitable

So how can you beat them? As many people stay happy and healthy through the cold season the winter blues aren’t inevitable.

I have never officially been diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder). But I know I suffer from the winter blues and what helps me. The fatigue sets in first. I find myself wondering why I am so tired all the time. I get frustrated with myself for how little I am getting done. Then, if I am not careful, I start to feel low and grumpy. I have some strategies that keep the winter blues at bay.

Get outside

We are dog sitting for friends this week. We both miss having dogs and the house we are staying in is fabulous, so it feels like a holiday. Having dogs around is the best excuse to get outside to get some fresh air and daylight. This is exactly what is required to beat the winter blues. It would be so much easier to hide in the office at lunchtime than go out in the cold. But a brisk walk round the block is really helpful. Even without the dogs we try to get as much light as possible at weekends too, taking long walks and tidying up the garden.

I also  ventilate our bedroom, even as the temperature drops. Mr S hates a stuffy bedroom and having the window open a crack makes all the difference.

Exercise

Some kind of exercise is absolutely crucial if you suffer from low mood. I really doesn’t matter what you do, it really works. We like walking and yoga, and Mr S does a lot of swimming. However, if you prefer a run, a martial arts class, football or the gym, now is the time to get into a good exercise routine. If you can do your exercise outside in the daylight, even better! If you are interested in yoga, you can find properly trained teachers on the British Wheel of Yoga website.

Relax

yoga al frescoEasy to say, not so easy to achieve sometimes.  People think relaxation is simply stopping for a bit, maybe watching the TV. This can help if  you are always on the go, but if you are depressed or anxious it is better to have more of a strategy. You can slob in front of the box and still be very tense! When I am feeling low and stressed I do a short yoga practice, followed by some kind of simple breathing or meditation technique. A really simple one is as follows:

Sit quietly somewhere you are comfortable and unlikely to be disturbed. Ideally your spine should be reasonably upright. Close your eyes and watch your breathing. Just allow it to come and go without trying to control it. If you are very tense, you may notice that your exhalation is quite short. You can extend it slightly and bring your mind solely on the breath by counting slowly in for a count of four and counting slowly out for a count of 6. Try to keep your mind on the breath for a minimum of 20 breaths. When it wanders off, as it will to start with, just notice that and bring your focus back to your breath.

This is such a simple practice and takes very little time, although you can do this for several minutes.

I also use a free app called Calm. There are some lovely meditative exercises to work through.

Eat well

Eating well is important any time, but a well balanced diet is really important for good physical and mental health. Cut out as much sugar as possible and eat an absolute minimum 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Increase your intake of B vitamins by swapping from white bread and pasta to wholemeal. This doesn’t have to cost more. You can easily incorporate lots of nutrient packed food into your diet on a budget.

I also always have a high dose vitamin C tablet each day. I swear by this. When all around me are off with coughs and colds, the germs rarely hit me and I have a good immune system. I wait until they have a 3 for 2 offer on and get mine from Boots.

None of the above is anything more than common sense, but it is hard to get going when you already feel down. So start now whilst it is autumn. The clocks go back in the UK next weekend! Begin to look after your mental health before we lose the light and you can beat the winter blues.

If all else fails and you think you have full blown SAD, make sure you see your GP for help. You could also invest Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp for this. I have never tried one but my friend swears by hers. What are your tips to overcome the winter blues?

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My five frugal things this week 20th October

Welcome to this occasional round up of my frugal things for the week. It is a collaborative effort with some other bloggers and will hopefully give you a  bit of inspiration to be a bit more frugal when you need to.

Selling some old clothes on eBay

Some boots to sell on eBayMy daughter had a big clear out of stuff before she left for university and left several bags behind. I fished out some items I knew I could sell before donating the remainder to the charity shop. I have been slowly working my way through them and managed to get quite a bit listed this week. I found two pairs of ankle boots in excellent condition. One was a leather pair from Clarks and the other from New Look. They are barely worn. She clearly has more money than sense!

I managed to sell a couple of things this week too, but I have to stop myself browsing whilst I am on there and buying more clothes! I love a bargain and there are plenty to be found on eBay. You can read my post on eBay selling here.

Old fashioned frugal things: Apple picking

Home grown russet applesA few years ago the local council did a tree giveaway. We rushed to join the queue for this rare freebie and picked up a russet apple tree and some blackcurrant bushes. We have had crops of blackcurrants  two summers in a row, but this is the first time we have had a decent crop of apples. They are huge – delicious and crunchy too, with a nice sharp flavour. I have been out picking them so have saved myself money on fruit this week. Growing our own is one of our favourite frugal things to do.

Surveys

I have been exploring the money making possibilities of doing on-line surveys recently. My favourite so far is Prolific, as they only take a few minutes and pay quite well. I have managed to do three surveys for them this week, mostly in my lunch hour.  I have also signed up for Mingle, but that site is annoying me so far as you have to spend ages answering qualifying questions and then get told you aren’t right for them. This has happened three times so far – I can’t be bothered. It doesn’t happen with Prolific. They ask you enough questions when you first sign up and only offer you surveys you are pre-qualified for. My daughter has recommended One Poll as another survey company that pre-qualifies you so I have signed up with them too.

None of these will make a fortune, but for a few minutes every now and again you can make a few quid. I have £14 in my Prolific account and won’t withdraw it until January, when I am skint after Christmas!

Freebies

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had received some excellent Pantene hair care freebies from SuperSavvyMe. I got to test them and feed back and I have now been accepted for another trial. This time it is for Bold 2 in 1. A much more expensive washing liquid than I would ever buy normally, so I will be happy to give this a try. I think I am lucky to be selected for two trials. I am sure it helps that I have this blog and that I am active on Instagram and Twitter so they are likely to get a mention!

If you are into social media it is worth signing up. They give voucher codes and run competitions as well as the product testing.

I genuinely liked the Pantene products. I had Micellar shampoo with two types of conditioner. My daughter and lodger both tried them as well and were pretty positive about them.

Out with the slow cooker

Slow cooker beef casseroleI popped into Home Bargains – I love that shop – to buy my cat food as it is the cheapest place by far to get it. Whilst I was there I had a browse at the food and bought some stewing steak for £2.30.  As I suspected it wasn’t going to be the best, most tender meat I got out the slow cooker and made a delicious casserole. I can almost embrace the onset of the cooler weather when the slow cooker comes out! I love that you can chuck a load of stuff in it in the morning and it is transformed into something amazing by dinner time. It costs almost nothing to run and means you can use cheap cuts of meat to make yummy family meals. This made four generous portions.

So these are my five frugal things for the week. What are yours?

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 what they have achieved this week and share your own frugal achievements

Reverse advent campaign: support your local food bank this Christmas

Reverse advent campaign

Reverse adventBy now, those of you who celebrate Christmas are probably in full swing making plans, buying presents, thinking of recipes, etc. But what if you had no money to spare for Christmas? What if you were jobless or homeless? Can you imagine how awful it must feel to be penniless at Christmas? Maybe you have been there.

With this in mind, how about making a contribution to the food bank this year? My team at the office are planning a reverse advent system. It works like this. You usually open your advent calendar and remove a chocolate, a toy – Aldi even does one where you get a mini bottle of wine each day! With the reverse advent you take a nice big box and every day you make a contribution instead.

Along with the usual staples such as baked beans, tinned fruit and vegetables, pasta and toiletries, we will be adding a few luxuries for Christmas. Fancy biscuits, good quality coffee, a Christmas pudding and maybe some creamy custard will all be making their way into our box.

Join us!

Reverse adventHow about joining us for the Christmas reverse advent? We will start mid-November rather than on the 1st December, so that we can deliver the goodies to our local food bank in plenty of time for the festive season.

If you want to find your nearest food bank and have a look at the list of suitable items to include you can visit the Trussell Trust. All should be non-perishable with a long end date. A typical food parcel from the food bank will include:

Cereal * Soup * Pasta * Rice* Pasta sauce * Beans * Tinned meat * Tinned vegetables* Tea/coffee * Tinned fruit

You can also check with your local food bank on the website to see what they are short of currently. It is a good idea to include some items of toiletries such as soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet roll or deodorant. The food banks don’t get many feminine hygiene products like tampons donated, so maybe some of those too.

Some more information from the Trussell Trust:

Thirteen million people live below the poverty line in the UK, with individuals going hungry every day for a range of reasons, from benefit delays to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income.

The Trussell Trust’s 400-strong network of food banks provides a minimum of three days’ emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK. In 2016/17, we gave 1,182,954 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis.

Many members of the UK Money Bloggers group will be promoting this campaign. You can read the original post on this here.

I love this reverse advent idea! Do you think you will be joining in?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test your frugal habits with the thrift test

Frugal habits

Do you consider yourself savvy with your money or could you develop better frugal habits? Take the thrift test below to raise your awareness of which areas of your finances you need to improve.

  1. Do you know how much is in your bank balance right now?

    a) not a clue but I am probably overdrawn.

    b) yes, because I check every few days and budget accordingly.

    c) I have a rough idea as I take a look at my balance every now and again to see what I have left.2)

  2. Work lunches for you mean:

a) buying something on the hoof. I pop into a coffee shop or fast food outlet most days.b) a packed lunch. I always make one the evening before to save money.

c) sometimes I take a packed lunch but I don’t always have time.

3) What is your attitude to shopping for leisure:

a) I love it! Buying new things makes me feel good and I go into town or to the mall to shop most weekends.

b) I never shop for fun. I make my purchases when I am sure I need something and can afford it, and even then I shop around.

c) I know I can’t afford to go on regular sprees but like to look around the shops and make the odd impulse buy.

4) If you can’t afford something straight away do you:

a) buy it and stick it on your credit card. You can worry about how to pay it later.

b) do a lot of research online to find out the cheapest price for the item. Then either use your savings or save up. You will often try to buy second hand where possible.

c) If I really need it I buy it straight away, but have a quick look at some product reviews and prices first. I use a credit card but make sure I can pay at least the minimum repayment charges.

5) How often do you use cash back sites when you make your online purchases?

a) Never. I don’t know anything about them.

b) I always check to see if I can use sites like Top Cashback or Quidco before I make any purchase and get several hundred pounds back each year this way.

c) I have signed up but I often forget to use them.

* These are my referral links and if you sign up using them I will earn a small commission – thanks!

6) If you have to travel somewhere by train, do you:

a) buy the ticket as you get to the station.

b) purchase your ticket online several weeks in advance as you know you can save money. You consider different routes and buying two singles if that works out cheaper.

c) you know that you should buy your tickets in advance but often don’t remember until a few days before.

7) How do you keep your heating bills as low as possible?

a) I don’t really – as soon as I feel chilly the heating goes on.

b) I put on several layers and draw the curtains before I give in to turning it on and keep the thermostat as low as possible.

c) I try not to put it on too quickly but my partner or children often flick it on when my back is turned.

8) When was the last time you shopped around for a better mortgage deal, bank account or utility provider?

a) I don’t bother. They are all pretty much the same.

b) I check everything from my mortgage to my house insurance at least once a year.

c) I do it every now and again if I have time.

9) Your car is getting old and cranky. Do you:

a) Get another one on finance as soon as possible. I don’t really understand what they said about the interest rate but the car is shiny and red!

b) Look after the old girl whilst you save for another decent second hand model.

c) Get a loan from the bank to buy another car as soon as you can.

10) When you go grocery shopping, do you:

a) go in on the way home from work and buy what you fancy for the week.

b) Check what you already have in the stores, plan the meals for the week and then shop with a list.

c) I have a rough idea of what we need and usually take a list, but I don’t always stick to it and I am drawn to special offers.

The results to reveal your frugal habits

Mostly As

You don’t have to be a genius to work out that most As means your attitude to finance is so relaxed it is bordering on reckless. You rarely get a bargain and you don’t keep track of your spending. The chances are you have an overdraft and debts as a result. If you need to, you can get help and advice from the CAB, the Money Advice Service or Step Change.

Mostly Bs

You are a paragon of thrifty virtue, with fantastic frugal habits. You get the best value on everything you purchase, know how much money you have to spare to the penny and are likely to have a healthy savings account to prove it. We can all learn from you!

Mostly Cs

Let’s admit it, this is where most of us are. We love to get a bargain but don’t always do everything we could to save ourselves a buck. We can learn from the experts so that we can make the best of our money.

This is a light-hearted quiz with a serious message. Money really does make the world go around so understanding money

 

Eight of the best frugal food blogs to help you save money

best frugal food blogsI love food and experimenting with recipes and, just because I am on a budget, I don’t want to eat badly. Glossy cookbooks and food programmes are all very well, but sometimes require fancy ingredients that are expensive. This is why when I want inspiration I go to my favourite frugal food blogs. (Incidentally, some of my own frugal recipes are to be found here.)

Here are some of the best frugal food blogs, in no particular order:

Cooking on a Boot Strap

Master of the budget recipe is Jack Monroe. It started with A Girl Called Jack, but you will now find the blog at Cooking on a Bootstrap. What I like about Jack is the recipe descriptions – there is often a story behind a particular creation – and the way the cost of each recipe is so carefully calculated. The cooking here is all vegan now, but that makes it interesting and very cheap.

Frugal Queen

Jane at Frugal Queen is a legend. She is a huge inspiration to me and one of the reasons I began my blog. I enjoy her no nonsense approach to food and everything else. You won’t find any fancy recipes, just decent, cheap home cooking. As she eats gluten free, everything can be adapted for those with a sensitivity or Coeliac’s disease.

Diary of a Frugal Family

Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family is a recent find.  She emphasises the importance of meal planning, which is my mantra too for those attempting to stick to a budget. This is good, family food and includes plenty of delicious home baking.

Thrifty Lesley

Thrifty Lesley shows you how to feed yourself for £1 a day. The recipes are interesting and healthy too. Lesley uses very little meat, which is how her food is so cheap I think. This is a clever and well organised blog. She has written menu plans to help you stick to the £1 a day budget, whatever your circumstances. There is even a no power meal plan, aimed at people who have no power in their accommodation. This is serious stuff and really useful.

Reduced Grub

Kelly at Reduced Grub is well worth a visit. She has loads of recipes on her blog. They aren’t as cheap as some of the other blogs I have mentioned, but still good family food on a budget.

Utterly Scrummy Food for Families

A brand new blog to me is Utterly Scrummy Food for Families, which has an emphasis on budgeting and meal planning. Michelle presents plenty of inspiration and advice on using leftovers, reducing your food bills and producing delicious meals on a budget. I particularly fancy this potato and vegetable bake. My kind of frugal food blog!

The Skint Foodie

I love the Skint Foodie blog. It has some seriously sexy recipes for a small budget! This is extremely well written by someone who has struggled with alcohol, homelessness and unemployment. He wanted to prove that eating well wasn’t the preserve of the wealthy, that planning and imagination meant he could still eat fabulous food with very little money. It is witty, informative and eye opening.

Frugal Food

Faye’s blog, Frugal Food, does what it says on the tin. She focusses on producing frugal meals with quality ingredients. Being frugal doesn’t have to mean being cheap! Some recipes are quite adventurous, but sound delicious, such as Toro Rosso pie, made with minced beef and Hungarian sausage hot pot.

Which frugal food blogs inspire you? I hope you enjoy my suggestions and have a frugal foodie weekend.