Releasing the purse strings

After two no spend months, I finally released the purse strings a tad and bought some cushion covers. We are planning a budget lounge makeover over the coming months. I am going to buy a few small bits each month to spread the cost. We will replace some of the wallpaper, paint everything and get new curtains, throws cushions and a rug. We won’t spend more than a couple of hundred pounds. I’m going for an ethnic, Indian feel. You don’t need to shell out a fortune to brighten up your home.

Mr S has fitted the new wood burner, built a hearth and added a shelf. We now need to employ someone to line the chimney – this is the expensive bit! It may have to wait a bit. In the meantime I will continue to spend as little as possible!

I finally got around to buying some sharper hairdressing scissors at the weekend. I say ‘buy’ but they cost me nothing as I got them with my Boots points. Got to love Boots! The points on the loyalty card are really worth having and cutting my own hair continues to save me money. I will get a professional cut next time I think but won’t bother with the blow dry to save a bit of cash.

Tired this week. Thank heavens it’s almost the weekend. Until tomorrow 😀.

No spend January – how did I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So this is why we need an emergency fund!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good week everyone!

The power of curtains

Brrr, it’s cold out there! Well, it is by my standards…we only have a light snowfall and I know it’s much worse in other areas so I’m not really complaining. However it does feel much colder.

A cheap but thick pair of curtains can help keep in the heat


Last year the little room we used as a dining room (now our lodger lounge) was so cold we simply stopped going in there until the spring. For a small room there is a lot of glass: some old French doors that need replacing, a front door, a back door and a small window too. It got so cold and damp in the room there was mould around the windows and behind furniture. 

This morning it was really cosy. The curtains have made a huge difference. I bought quite cheap ones, £20 a pair, but they are a heavy cotton with thick linings. I had intended to buy some additional thermal linings but they aren’t really necessary.

The other measures we have taken to warm things up have helped too. Regular readers may remember the blood, sweat and tears that went into thermal lining the walls! We also put some insulated foil behind the radiator. But it is the curtains that make the biggest difference. I feel it if I forget to draw them each evening.

So if you can afford nothing else, a decent pair of thick curtains or even a blanket up at a chilly window could make you feel much cosier and maybe even lower your heating bills. 

I hope you aren’t under 3 feet of snow and keeping warm and cosy!

And finally …

We finally put the finishing touches on our little second sitting room at the weekend. I am really pleased with it. It is clean, bright and feels so much warmer. 

I still need to complete the downstairs loo. I am going to try to make time to do a bit on Saturday morning, continuing my little and often approach to life! 

We also spent a lot of Sunday weeding and tidying the front garden on Sunday. It was a beautiful sunny autumn day and great to get out in the fresh air. It is looking a bit smarter now but there is still so much to do. I want to make it much more low maintenance so I am planting shrubs and grasses and mulching with shredded bark to keep the weeds down. 

I will do a few hours whenever I can to get it tidy for winter. We will get there …

Blood, sweat and tears

You wouldn’t believe the amount of work that went into making this:

…look like this:

Just a plain little cream room. It looks as if we have simply applied a bit of paint when in fact we had to sort the electrics, rip off and replace the skirting boards, pull off the old paper , paint the woodwork and ceiling and, the bit that took all the time, put up the thermal lining paper. The best part was painting the walls at the end! 

I need to get the curtains and thermal linings and some suitable curtain poles. Mr S will put these up and the shelves will go back on the walls. Then we can advertise for the lodger. 

This is what the cats did to the last lot of wallpaper. If this happens again I swear I will cry! We are going to put some plastic panels on the walls to protect them, and in the meantime have piled some paint pots against the corners they like to scratch.


We still haven’t finished the toilet. We thought we would and could have done it today but we really needed a day out before going back to work tomorrow. Will report back on that! 

I hope you had a lovely bank holiday if you are in England. Back to reality and work tomorrow 😀.

Slowly but surely on our DIY journey

We are making slow but steady progress decorating the lodger’s sitting room and downstairs loo. It has been exhausting in the heat this week. 

I finally started papering the walls yesterday whilst Mr S fitted the new skirting boards. The papering is taking ages and is so hard to do! I am using a thick thermal wall covering. It is great when you have a flat wall with nothing to cut around. However, I started with the loo – a tiny room with toilet, sink and lots of pipe work. What a nightmare! You cannot cut the paper to shape in situ as you usually would. This stuff bends, creases and breaks if you attempt that. You have to measure every obstacle and cut it too shape before you stick it to the wall! No mean feat. I would have ripped my hair out if it wasn’t covered in wallpaper paste!

Add to that the feeling of working in a small oven due to the heatwave and you get the picture!

Before…

…and after!

On the plus side it really covers all the lumps and bumps and the walls in there are really terrible. The improvement is remarkable. I still have a bit to finish today then I can get on with the big room, which should be a lot easier and Mr S will be able to help me today. 

Hopefully when the winter comes we will reap the rewards of our hard work with warmer rooms and no mould. 

We were so exhausted at the end of the day that Mr S treated us both to fish and chips with a huge mug of tea. I needed it. Back to the grind now. We will get there!

 Project lodger

Well, we would choose the hottest week of the year to decide on a bit of DIY! Exhausted already but we need to get the rooms done so that we can advertise for a lodger.

So far we have removed all of the old wallpaper, repaired the walls, painted the ceilings and pulled off the rubbish old skirting boards. This prep time takes so long.

A work in progress

We met a lady in B&Q as we were buying the insulating wallpaper. She said she had tried it and it worked well, but it was easily damaged once up and you only had to lean against it to leave a mark. I am worried about this now, but more about the cats scratching it up the moment it is in place! We are going to put protective Perspex near the back door as this is where they really like to scratch. However, there will be some time when it is drying and then when it is painted where there will be no protection. I will be very annoyed with them if they wreck it immediately!

We are still eating from the fridge, freezer and larder. I have bought cat food, bread, ham, cat food and fruit this week but very little else. I am quite pleased that after a day doing DIY we haven’t given in to a ready meal or takeaway. It would’ve been so easy to do it. 

Yesterday we had Quorn bolognese (not the best – I’m not a big fan of Quorn but it needed using up) and today we had Jamie’s Hit and Run Chicken Tray Bake, which has become a favourite (recipe here). Tomorrow will be omelettes and chips with a tomato salad  as they are now coming thick and fast in the greenhouse. Thursday will probably be chickpea curry.

I will eventually go shopping but as I spent a lot of money in B&Q today I will try to put it off for as long as I possibly can!

Making do and mending: the kitchen gets a make over at last!!

  I am exhausted! We have spent the past three days painting and repairing our kitchen. In an ideal world we would replace it, and we are saving towards that. However, until we have the funds we will make do and mend. It all looks much fresher and cleaner. 
  I have been buying a few nick knacks over the past six months to create a colour scheme of green and pink and it is starting to come together. I bought a few more inexpensive bits on eBay this morning and I can’t wait to get them in place.

I couldn’t afford a blind for my huge window but I don’t really need one. I got some pretty bunting instead!
  
We had to wait until we were between language students to do it but now I hope we get offered another soon to go towards my savings.
  I am currently listening to the marvellous blogger Ilona from Life After Money on the Jeremy Vine show, hosted today by Vanessa Feltz. She is an inspiration, thrift personified. She shows that you can have a good and happy life on very little money by being resourceful and creative with the funds she has. What more could any of us need?

Baby, it’s cold outside

Those of you based in the UK know that yesterday morning it suddenly got very cold! We have had a mild Autumn so far and it is feeling like a horrible shock to me. I have barely had the heating on up to now, but last night I had it on full blast and ended up curled up in bed with my fleecy pyjamas on at 9.30! It doesn’t help that I am full of cold and feeling sorry for myself I am sure.

So, what to do? I don’t want to spend ridiculous amounts of money on heating this year. But how to make Shoestring Cottage feel warmer without a major investment?

radiator foilWe have already insulated the house by getting the loft done with super thick insulation and the wall cavities filled. However, the loft hatch is not insulated. We have some spare so the first thing will be to cut a square of insulation material and tack it on to the loft side of the hatch. That should cut out some drafts coming down from the roof space.

I also think we need to get some reflective foil on the back of some of the radiators. This is available at £7 a roll (£1.40 a metre) from B&Q. I just You Tubed how to fit it and it seemed pretty straightforward.

I bought a lined curtain for the front door a few years ago but never put it up, mainly because the special hinged curtain rails that ensure the curtain rail opens with the door are quite expensive. I think I need to revisit this idea, as we get a lot of cold air coming in through this particular door. In addition, Wickes sell brush draught excluders for doors that you fit around the frame. I will  drag Mr S along to inspect those. They only cost £11.99 for a full door’s worth.

I would love to replace all of the very ancient and fairly inadequate double glazing, but that kind of expenditure is not an option. All of the curtains in the house are lined already. I could replace with thermal linings but that is going to be expensive and time consuming. I will do this but not immediately. It will have to be done bit by bit. I don’t have a sewing maching so I will have to sew extra linings in by hand. Wickes sell secondary glazing film which has good reviews on their website. This is only £6.89 for 6 square metres which is good value I think, although it looks as if it might be tricky to fit on larger windows. If it gets really cold this winter, I have a box of bubble wrap in the shed – I will be taping that to the coldest windows to reduce the draughts!!

I also need to invest in a few more rugs. There are very few carpets in the house which is practical but means the floors are quite cold under your feet. I will keep an eye out for suitable bargains.

I found a good body warmer recently on eBay for a couple of pounds. I knew it would be handy and I was right. I am wearing it now with my fur lined slippers. I also have a vest and a jumper on. As it gets colder I will be layering up rather than immediately putting on the heating and will encourage my family to do the same. DD3 doesn’t feel the cold like me though. I will be huddling under a blanket whilst she is walking about in her T-shirt! The benefits of youth I think.

I never have the heating on at night. The cats each have a domed basket to hide in (or they sleep with me) and we all have extra blankets on the beds. I also have a blanket on the sofa to hide under whilst watching TV.

Have the temperatures fallen where you are? How do you keep your house warm and cosy?