Category Archives: Family

Student budgeting for university: a new student’s guide

Imagine….you are 18, you have never had to worry too much about money and suddenly you get £1000s arrive in your bank account. You are rich! No, you’re not. It is your student loan and you need to pay your rent first then make it last the whole of the academic year. You know nothing about student budgeting and it is all very scary!

Next month darling daughter number 3 will be going off to university. I really hope I have taught her enough to help her get through her new life without getting into debt (well, any more debt than has already been agreed with Student Finance England!) So, here are my top student budgeting tips:

Student budgeting tools

Firstly, you need to know how much money you have and how long you need to make it last. You need to understand what your outgoings will be and make sure you keep enough by for these. There are plenty of downloadable spread sheets and calculators on the Internet to help with this. They will tell you whether you really can afford another night out or need to tighten your belt. UCAS has a handy one to get you started here.

This will only take you ten minutes and it will be a worthwhile investment of your time.

Avoid impulse buying

Before spending your precious student loan, ask yourself: do I really need this? Or do I just want it? Can I afford it? There are a lot of spending habits you can sink into as a student that will eat into your funds. Sometimes it is the smaller spends that add up. Coffees out, drinks in the pub, taxis, makeup, sweets….and suddenly you have spent that £20. Similarly, don’t rush to join the university gym unless you know you will use it constantly. Wait to see how things pan out and if you can really afford it. If you are cycling everywhere, you are keeping fit anyway!

Learning to cook

If you have never learned to cook, this is the time to begin. When I dropped my second daughter at university, the freezer was already packed full of home made ready meals for a particular male student, provided by his mother! I could have felt bad for sending my daughter off with a bag of basics from Aldi, but I wasn’t concerned as I knew she was capable of putting together a decent,  healthy meal. I was more worried she wouldn’t be able to fit her leftovers into the freezer!

Still, it is never too late to learn to cook and there are a lot of student cookbooks on Amazon. The Student Cookbook: Great grub for the hungry and the broke has good reviews.  If you are  off to uni this year and cannot cook, you still have time to learn the basics. Ask your parents to show you how. Spaghetti Bolognese, an omelette, sausages and mash, a cheese sauce (for macaroni, a vegetable bake, etc) are all simple things to try. If you cannot cook at all, the temptation is to buy takeaways and fast food – these might seem cheap, but they are a lot more expensive than a jacket potato with beans and cheese that you can make yourself in no time.

Cooking is a skill for life and essential for effective student budgeting. Even if you are going into catered halls of residence I still recommend you learn some fundamental cooking techniques.

Kitchen essentials

There are many downloadable lists on line advising on the essential kitchen items to take to university. But are they really essential? When you are concerned about student budgeting you don’t want to waste money on pointless purchases.

You don’t need a set of saucepans – just one or two with lids will do. You only need a couple of plates, bowls, glasses and mugs and a small amount of cutlery. Your student housemates will be bringing these items too; as you get to know them you can share. As I am urging you to cook, you do need a chopping board and at least one decent sharp kitchen knife, a bread knife, a small wok or frying pan, some spatulas, a colander, a cheese grater, vegetable peeler, kitchen scissors, a tin opener and some plastic food storage containers with lids.

These are brilliant for freezing your leftovers so it is worth taking some freezer labels too so that you can identify your frozen creations. An indelible pen is handy for marking your stuff in the fridge and cupboards. And as you are a student you might need a bottle opener too :).

However, you don’t need to buy these all brand new. We have been scouring the charity shops and boot sales and have found a lot of items second-hand.

Food planning and buying

I know it sounds dull, but a bit of planning can go a long way towards effective student budgeting. Have a think about which nights you need food and then write a shopping list. Have at least a rough plan for what you will eat each day.  It could be that you have a bit of time on a Monday but will be late back on Tuesday. Your plan for the week could be to make double the quantity of a meal on Monday that you can heat up on Tuesday. If you are likely to be out several nights don’t buy too much food that will then be wasted.

Check to see which is the cheapest supermarket near your accommodation. Aldi and Lidl are great for saving money on groceries. Is there a good street market? It is worth exploring what is sold there. If you are cycling, a decent back pack or panniers are a worthwhile investment for bringing your groceries home. For walkers, how about a good, old fashioned granny trolley on wheels?

If you make friends with other students in your accommodation, maybe you could share the cooking and buy food together? Bigger packs are always cheaper.

Tracking your spending

If you don’t already have it, get online mobile banking. This way you can check often how your balance is looking and if you need to start cutting back.

Save money on text books

Text books are a major expense. However, you don’t have to buy them all new. Amazon will have many for sale used for starters. This is useful article from Save the Student gives more detailed advice about how you can save money on textbooks.

Getting a job

If you just cannot make your student loan stretch far enough you will need to bring in some extra money. Part time jobs are in high demand in student towns and it helps if you already have some retail or bar experience.  Get yourself a decent CV done and make sure you include any work experience. Ensure grammar and spelling are spot on for all your applications and the lay out is attractive. There is a lot of guidance on line about CVs and going for interviews and this will pay dividends when you are looking for a graduate job later. Keep plugging away.

Whilst you are job-hunting, you could look at making a little extra doing online surveys or mystery shopping. There are all kinds of paid opportunities once you start looking. A fantastic blog to check out to help increase your income is The Money Shed.

So, what are you waiting for? Have the most fabulous time at university, make the best of the experience and come out ready for what ever the world offers. I hope this helps you with your student budgeting so you can manage your money and avoid any more debt than is strictly necessary.
 

 

Five reasons why you should teach your children to cook

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

Teach your children to cook!

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

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

Having fun and improving motor skills

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

Learning about nutrition

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

Increasing independence

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

Saving money

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

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

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

 

 

 

Such a perfect day

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mummies out there! It was a gorgeous spring day here today and I was desperate to get out and do some tidying up and to plant some little shrubs we picked up in B&M last weekend. They are quite good for plants. They don’t have a huge range but what they do have is very reasonably priced. We decided on a hebe and an azalea. At £4 each they were a massive bargain.

Whilst we were out fighting with the weeds, cutting stuff back and mowing the lawn, my daughters were making a delicious roast beef lunch. We were so ready for this after a few hours in the garden. We had it with a £5 bottle of cava from Lidl and strawberries for pudding. They even cleaned it all up. Fantastic! What a lovely bunch of girls.


Mr S found a very pretty Portmerion tea set in the charity shop on Friday for £25. We looked on eBay and found the teapot alone going for £75! This lot has to be sold on as we could make a handy profit. I should start getting up early and perusing the bootsales soon to see what else I can find to sell on. This could be a useful bit of extra income. 

We went to visit Mum and dad yesterday. He is quite frail and tired still but this isn’t surprising as he has undergone a serious bit of surgery. It’s hard to keep him out of his garden on a sunny day but we need to for now. I will try to get round to help in the week.

What could be better than sunshine, fresh air, exercise, home cooked food and family? It was a perfect day to set me up for a busy week. Mother’s Day or not, I hope you had a super Sunday.

Red nose fundraising – and a bit of good news

We had a bad taste dress down at work today to raise funds for Comic Relief. It was hilarious; people turned up in some hideous outfits! We also donated raffle prizes and baked cakes. I bought some as I had no time to make any, but I didn’t eat any cake as I am still not eating sugar. 

We were pleasantly surprised yesterday when my dad was sent home from hospital. He had a good night last night but we are all keeping a close eye. I will pop round tomorrow with some groceries and to water his plants. I don’t want him straining his staples trying to do this.

So nice to see them back home together, even if they are the walking wounded!

Are any of you fundraising for Comic Relief?

The Waiting Game

Yesterday was the longest day! We were initially told dad would be going to theatre at 10. My sister went to sit with him until then and was advised to come back at three, which she duly did. He didn’t appear and the nurses seemed unable or unwilling to find anything out so she waited and waited. At 5.30 the hospital called mum at home at my dad’s request to say he was fine and in recovery, so she waited again thinking he would be back any moment. My other sister joined her after work and they waited and waited….we were all on tenterhooks wondering what on earth was going on, when he finally arrived back at his bed at 8 pm!

It seems he hadn’t had his op until the afternoon in the end,  although why no one could tell the family this is beyond me. We wouldn’t have known anything at all if dad hadn’t made the nurse ring mum. Let’s hope their medical skills are better than their communication skills anyway. 

I did an hour’s yoga and drank a large G&T as my own form of recovery. It is stressful this hospital lark and I wasn’t even there!

We are off to see him after work today so hope to see him rallying. Have a good day. 

A gem on our doorstep

I often think that people love to spend a fortune jetting all over the world yet don’t take the time to explore what there is on their doorstep. We often get out and about in the local area and I think I know it well. However, this morning I found something wonderful to see five miles down the road!

We went for a walk in the village of Copford, not far from Colchester. We wandered down to the lovely old church and discovered some very old painted frescos on the walls inside. They are fabulous! It is a lovely church with a wooden frame and some gorgeous stained glass. The roof and walls were restored in the nineties. What a great find.

Outside there was a sea of daffodils, absolutely stunning. It was a very windy day but sunny and we had walk past Copford Hall and into the woods. I recommend a visit if you are ever in the area.

We came home and went straight outside again to do a bit of pruning and tidying and to dig the second veggie patch. I worked up quite a sweat. Gardening is such good exercise and cheaper than the gym!

Keeping busy is stopping me worrying about my dad. My brother and sister took him to hospital today and they waited hours whilst they tried to find a bed for him. This makes me cross – it’s not as if they weren’t expecting him. He finally got a bed when they opened up a day centre as an extra ward. Here he is having his dinner. He won’t be able to eat after this as the op is tomorrow afternoon. 

I think the NHS is wonderful but gravely under funded at the moment. Let’s hope they do a good job and we get him home safe and sound. 

Back soon – have a great week.

Feeling grateful

I went to see my parents again today, partly to check on my mum and partly to see my dad before he goes in for his op tomorrow. My mum is doing really well with her new hip. Tough as old boots, that one. Her younger sister is staying with them to help out whilst my dad is in hospital. We could have done without both their operations coming within 10 days of each other, but what can you do? All the family is pulling together to support them, which is exactly what families should do. I am so grateful to have such lovely relatives!

My parents have always been so supportive so all of us so now it is pay back time 😀. 

I made a quick mushroom quiche and took it round for lunch, with new potatoes and salad. I don’t know why I don’t make pastry more often. It’s easy peasy really. We had some lovely strawberries from Lidl for dessert. I would have bought some of their gorgeous pastries to take but I am still off the sugar.

I have been catching up with myself all afternoon but now is time to curl up with Mr S and a glass of G&T. We are wild on a Saturday night! Whatever you are doing, have a good one!

A Simple Supper

I have been visiting my mum in hospital after work and my daughters have been great at organising dinner. Last night darling daughter no 2 made a really tasty lentil and vegetable stew with crusty baguettes. She adapted it from a Nigel Slater recipe to suit what she could find in the fridge, as follows:

2 onions
2 tbsp veg oil
2 tsp rosemary
2 bay leaves
3 medium carrots
4 parsnips
2 sticks of celery
125g mushrooms
2 small sweet potatoes
150g red lentils
2 tbsp plain flour
750ml hot veg stock
2 tbsp redcurrant jelly
Large handful of spinach
tbsp wholegrain mustard

Chop all the vegetables and fry up in some oil until the parsnips are starting to turn golden. Stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the stock to the pan with the herbs and lentils and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the spinach, mustard and redcurrant jelly and stir then leave for a further ten minutes for the spinach to cook. This would be good with rice but we enjoyed it with some ready to bake crusty baguettes from Aldi.

I was able to take my mum home today. She has a lot of cramp in her new hip joint, but other than that she is doing well. My dad sorted her tea and I left her in bed as she didn’t get much sleep in hospital so needs to catch up. One down, one to go – my dad’s op is on Sunday.

It was a glorious day today with daffodils and primroses everywhere. I love spring! Until tomorrow, bye for now.

Growing our own

Finally, spring has sprung! This afternoon we got out into the garden to get some jobs done. Mr S dug up and moved the compost heap as it had been invaded by bindweed so the compost was unusable, whilst I dug over one of the veg plots. 

We have decided to sow wild flowers on one of the plots this year. We were short of time last summer and cultivating, harvesting and preserving everything felt stressful. If I didn’t work full time I would grow a lot more but it is difficult to find the time. So this year we will stick with a few crops that we know are likely to do well: perpetual spinach, runner beans, courgettes, broad beans and chard. We shall also grow tomatoes and cucumbers in the greenhouse. Keeping it simple, but still growing some of our own food. A wildflower garden will be lovely too!

We have blackcurrants, blackberries, blueberries and a few apples as well, but they take very little work. So healthy and delicious.

I just loved getting outside. I am sure we must both be lacking vitamin D, we have been cooped up so much!

We went to see my lovely Mum in hospital this morning. Her hip replacement operation seemed to go well. She was a little uncomfortable but not in great pain. I will pop in again on my way home from work tomorrow. She has had a steady stream of family in today so she might actually enjoy some peace when we are all back at work tomorrow 😀.

Have a good week. Bye for now.

Lidl or Aldi?

I have been using Lidl for my weekly grocery shop recently, mainly because they built a brand new store five minutes from Shoestring Cottage with plenty of parking. However, I am really an Aldi girl. There are just enough differences between their products for me to prefer them.

Last night darling daughter wanted me to take her to her local Aldi so I went back 😀. Yes, you all know I am sad but savvy and this kind of thing cheers me up after a long, hard week at work!

I have particularly missed Aldi’s moisturisers. They are amazing value at under £2 a pot and really work. When you consider that some folk happily spend £40 on the same size pot, fooled by pseudo scientific claims of wrinkle reductions and firmer skin, it just proves just how gullible many of us are! All you need for good skin is to keep it clean, wear some kind of moisturiser, don’t spend too much time in the sun and don’t smoke! Seriously, I truly believe it is that simple. I have followed this advice for years and I am regularly told I don’t look my almost 54 years so it must be working 😀. Whilst I was there I went crazy and bought two. I prefer these to Lidl’s versions as I find theirs too highly perfumed. 

I have a couple of potentially stressful weeks coming up with my parents. They are both in their eighties and in great shape generally, but have operations within two weeks of each other. Today my mum is having a hip replacement. She had the other one done last year and will soon be almost entirely manmade…I am meeting her there this morning to see her in and, all being well, hope to get her back home on Tuesday. 

The week after next my dad will have a potentially more serious op to repair an aneurism. This is at a different hospital further away so will mean a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to visit and take my mum and then make sure they are ok once he is back home. 

I need to make some meals for their freezer and will start with a big vat of lentil soup tomorrow and maybe some shepherd’s pies next week. Fortunately, I have three siblings so we will be sharing the duties. 

Wish them luck and good wishes and, if I don’t manage a daily post, you will know why! Have a great weekend everyone.