Time for a spring clean? Cashing in your clutter

This is a collaborative post.

Time for a spring cleanThe days are getting longer. We have had a couple of chilly but bright and sunny days. I think the season is finally changing and it makes me feel like having a spring clean.

We have a head start on the weather; regular readers will be aware that we have been decluttering! As we were renovating the lounge, it was essential. We have cleared bags and bags of books, CDs, DVDs and general clutter. Some has gone off to the charity shop and other items have been listed on eBay and Ziffit.

Decluttering goals

One of my goals for 2018 is a bigger decluttering/spring clean project – the attic! It is chock full of ‘stuff’. This is why I keep putting it off. I intend to make a bit of money selling some of the items up there. I know there are some interesting bits and pieces. We don’t use them, so somebody else might as well.

I need to break it up a bit and clear a small section at a time, to motivate me to get going on my spring clean.

The sheds are another potential decluttering project. We have loads of bikes and bits of pieces of furniture that could be sold to add to our emergency fund. I can’t actually remember what is at the back as these items are buried. I hope there aren’t too many huge spiders!

Turn your spring clean into money

I might consider selling larger items with an auction house such as BPI Auctions. They deal with private individuals as well as company auctions. If I was in the market for a new kitchen I would definitely be looking on there. They have some amazing looking ex-display kitchens. But I am not buying, I am selling!

I am also considering a boot sale. If you are decluttering, the Easter weekend is a good time to sell. I need to see if we will have enough items to make a boot sale worthwhile then. If not, it can wait until the summer.

Save yourself a trip to the tip

I use Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace when I want to give large items away. We had a rusty and very heavy old cross trainer that would have been a pain to get down the tip. It wouldn’t even have fitted in the car. A very nice gent was extremely happy to come and take it off my hands when I put it on Facebook. It was a win-win!

Facebook Marketplace is also a good place to advertise items you want to sell. The advantage of this over eBay is that there are no fees. I discussed the eBay versus Facebook for selling here.

Anybody else up for a spring clean and declutter? You can read about my decluttering story here.

This post contains affiliate links.

Celebrating small money saving achievements – five frugal things

This post contains affiliate links.money saving achievementsI haven’t saved thousands this week, mostly because I am still spending as little as I can get away with! We have been really busy with work and DIY, so this week’s five frugal things celebrates some small money saving achievements.

Frugal Valentine’s Day

Money saving achievementsYou can’t have missed the hype about Valentine’s Day on the 14th. It must be annoying as hell if you are single. Even though it is totally commercialised, we still make a point of doing a little something each Valentine’s. It’s good to remind your significant other that you love them!

However, we weren’t about to hit the town and spend a fortune in a fancy restaurant. Instead we went to Aldi and bought a nice piece of steak for Mr S and salmon for me. We had home made sauté potatoes (done in the oven so they were lower in fat) and some crunchy veg. Aldi also came up trumps with the booze – a decent bottle of Cava for a fiver – and a delicious French apple tart.

We spent about £15 in all. That would have bought a single main course if we had eaten out.

Keeping the greys at bay

Money saving achievementsI always dye my own roots. This is one of my regular money saving achievements. Even if I went to the college and got a student to do it, I would still have to pay a lot.

We popped into town at the weekend and I was really pleased to find some hair dye drastically reduced in Boots. It was £2.50 a box! I think it is an end of line. I thought I had better buy a couple of boxes at that price and wish I had bought more.

As I only mix up half a box to do my roots, it cost me £1.25 this time. Beat that!

DIY update and bargain cushions

Money saving achievementsMr S has put our new tiles around the fireplace as we continue our budget lounge makeover. He has to grout them still, but they already look great!

We decided to stick with the art nouveau theme and managed to find some cushion covers on eBay with similar designs. I had been looking around town for some and couldn’t believe how expensive they are. £25 for a single cushion in Debenhams! It was pretty, but we need more than one and we are not about to spend hundreds of pounds on them.

The ones we have chosen work out at £4 each. They are coming from America so might take a bit longer, but there is no rush. I hope the quality is OK when they get here.

Filling our emergency fund

We are still determinedly putting every little bit of extra money earned into our emergency fund. I sold a few bits on eBay, so that money went in the pot, then a few more books on Ziffit. It is amazing how quickly it is growing in this way, little by little.

Everyone should have a decent rainy day fund. As Dave Ramsey says, it will rain!

My favourite thrifty dinner

In Aldi, tinned sardines in tomato sauce cost 36p a can. That’s a good sized portion of omega packed oily fish for an amazing price. One of my favourite easy and thrifty dinners at the moment is sardine spaghetti. It is minimal effort and maximum nutrition for a tiny price. I adapt this recipe from the BBC Good Food website. I sometimes add in olives but mostly I don’t. Capers aren’t an ingredient I have lying around, so I leave those out.

You  might not think this sounds all that delicious but, believe me, it really is! As I have been too busy to do any complicated cooking this week, this recipe was perfect for an easy tea.

So these were my teensy but worthwhile money saving achievements. What have yours been? Big or small, share your money saving achievements in the comments.

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s Five Frugal Things I’ve done this week linky. Pop on over to add your link if you are a blogger, or just to check out how other people save money.

 

Five frugal things for a budget lounge revamp

Five frugal things….

Five frugal things I have mentioned in previous blog posts that we have been carrying out a bit of budget DIY. Not surprisingly my five frugal things this week are all related to this!

I am not a fan of DIY. It’s not the process, but the time it takes. The mess and disarray start to make me twitch after a while.  But we are getting there.

Insulation

Because we live in a cold house we take every opportunity to heat it up. We have lined the exterior walls with polystyrene, then papered over the top. This is an old fashioned yet simple idea to create an extra layer of insulation. It really works!

We did the same trick with our freezing cold back room last year and the results have been amazing.

I won’t lie to you, it is a faff. It means papering the same walls twice. The polystyrene is quite delicate and easy to damage too, but ok once the wallpaper is on top.

Reflecting the heat

Another very effective way to keep your house warm is to slide some reflective foil behind the radiators. We have done this in the sitting room too.

This was tricky as we didn’t want to take the radiator off the wall but we managed it with the help of some canes from the garden. (And quite a lot of swearing on my part!) So that is the first of my five frugal things.

New to us curtains

five frugal thingsMy mum is insisting on buying us some new curtains. I would rather buy great quality second hand ones than inferior new.

There are some great pre-owned curtains on eBay, and I have purchased a beautiful pair. They are long Marks and Spencer curtains and look like excellent quality.

Adding a bit of colour

We turned to eBay again to add a little colour to our neutral colour scheme. I would love some original Art Deco tiles to put around the fireplace but they are such a price!

five frugal thingsI had a search on eBay and there was a guy selling some decent reproductions. They were much cheaper than we have seen elsewhere.

I will leave the tiling to Mr S though. He is the expert in that department.

Bargain paint

We popped in Homebase to get some cream paint. We like their own brand range. It is much cheaper than the branded stuff and the quality is very good.

However, this time we bought some Dulux. It was massively reduced so it was actually the cheapest. I think it must have been end of line. We bought two 5 litre pots for just £14 each, reduced from £26. It is called barley white, which is still cream, as I can see! Bargain!!

Frugal food

I guess this is number six in my five frugal things list, but who’s counting? I have saved us some money since we started our DIY by planning really easy dinners, like omelettes and jacket spuds.  On days we have been on the go all day I have also defrosted some of the veggie curry I batch cooked.

Usually, when we are doing DIY we cave in at the end of the day and grab fish and chips or a takeaway. Not this time!

We still have a little way to go as we only have one day a week to get on with it. However, we are winning.

So, these are this week’s five frugal things. I would love to hear about yours.

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s Five Frugal Things I’ve done this week linky. Pop on over to add your link if you are a blogger, or just to check out how other people save money.

 

Five Frugal Things I have done this week, 2nd February

Well, that’s January over. The days are already getting ever so slightly longer. Roll on Spring! So, what five frugal things have I done to see out the month?

Reached the end of my no spend January

At last!! We reached the end of our no spend January. It felt like a very long month. This one of my five frugal things lasted the whole of January, not just this past week. We spent very little money on anything except essentials.

A no spend month is hard work, especially during such dark, cold period. You have to endure a small amount of pain in order to feel the long term benefits. For us, it has meant we have put a lot more money than usual into our emergency fund. I know that many other people find January a good time to do a no spend month to help them recover from Christmas. This is a great idea. However, better still put away money towards Christmas every pay day starting now. This helps to avoid the January blues.

We intend to do another no spend month in October.

Going for the fake away

#5frugalthingsWhen you are on a no spend month you can’t just pop to the Chinese take away when you feel like it. We did fancy a Chinese, so I added some ingredients to my shopping list to make a Chinese fake away. This included Ready to Wok noodles, a ready made chow mein sauce (both from Aldi) and some beansprouts from Asda. I added chopped broccoli, celery, beans, mushrooms and carrots to the wok as well.

#5frugalthingsIf you haven’t tried the Ready to Wok noodles, give them a go. They are delicious and so much nicer that the ones you have to rehydrate. We really enjoyed our vegetable chow mein .

Mr S also likes a curry from time to time. I made this slow cooker sweet potato curry from the BBC Good Food website. I used spinach instead of cabbage as I didn’t fancy that. It was nice, but I think there were too many sweet potatoes in it. If I make it again I will substitute half of them with carrots, potatoes, etc.

#5frugalthingsI am looking out for some more vegetarian slow cooker recipes if anyone has any good suggestions.

A bargain haircut

I mentioned in a recent post that I had had a no spend month fail and booked myself in for a haircut. However, this is one of my five frugal things because it wasn’t an expensive cut and blow dry at a fancy hairdresser’s shop. Instead, I took myself along to the local college and got one of the hairdressing students to do it for me. It took ages – 2 hours! – but cost just £10. I think this is a bargain and I am perfectly happy with the cut.

She insisted on spraying it with lots of greasy spray though. Why do hairdressers always do that? I couldn’t wait to wash it off.

It is a nice place, with all the latest equipment, clean and well run. You can’t pop in for a quick hair cut as the students get their tutors to check every stage.

Cheap cinema tickets

As we have barely had a social life over the past month, we plan to go to the cinema in the next week or so. We have a rewards system through my place of work which offers huge reductions on cinema tickets. The deal was an adult ticket for £6.50 instead of £12. When I went to pay I realised I had over £7 cash back unclaimed on the site so I ended up buying two tickets for just £5.50. Result!!

Now we just have to agree on a film…

Budget DIY

#5frugalthingsWe have been slowly continuing with the revamp of our sitting room. We have been focussing on all the boring prep, but are now at the point where we can get on with the wallpapering. That is this weekend’s task.

Costs have been kept low by using what we already had in the shed. We were also fortunate to be sent some products to review, which have turned out to be really handy for a budget DIY project.

Amtech kindly sent over some paintbrushes, rollers and a tray and we have already put those to good use repainting the ceiling. The paint brushes are great. They don’t lose their bristles like others we have tried and clean up really well.

They also gifted us a cordless screwdriver set. Mr S has been particularly impressed with this. He put up a wooden baton to hang our new curtain rail on and said it was much easier to use this than get his drill out. It made less noise and mess as well.

Budget tools

Domu.co.uk sent us a handy Von Haus tool bag containing all the basic tools anyone would need to get started on a DIY project. We thought it would be a perfect present for somebody moving into their first home. It is a 92 piece tool kit  and includes 3 pairs of pliers, a hammer, a spirit level, a tape measure, various screwdrivers and lots of other useful bits and pieces. This seems like good value at £29.99. Mr S has been diving into this!

We want to get on and get this room finished but items such as a new rug, curtains and cushions will be bought bit by bit. Nothing will be purchased on credit so need to save up for it as we go.

So, these are the five frugal things we achieved this week. Have you managed five or even more? I would love to hear what you have been up to.

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s Five Frugal Things I’ve done this week linky. Pop on over to add your link if you are a blogger, or just to check out how other people save money.

Disclaimer: the DIY products mentioned were all gifted to us for review, but all views and opinions are our own.

 

Eight ways frugality will ruin your life

frugality will ruin your lifeWhat? Eight ways frugality will ruin your life? Odd title on a blog that follows a frugal living philosophy.  However, bear with me. Here are some ways that you may feel frugality will ruin you life (and how to see the benefits).

You won’t have anything to watch on TV

One of the first things many people do when they are saving money is to cut their satellite or cable TV packages. We decided not to get rid of Virgin altogether, but we have reduced our package to the minimum.

When you do this you will hear cries of ‘There’s nothing to watch on TV!’ The kids will surely think frugality will ruin your life! We often felt there was nothing worth watching before we cut our package, to be perfectly honest. There were a lot of channels, but most of them didn’t appeal. You could easily spend half an hour flicking through before giving up and going to bed.

As well as the obvious money saving ones, the advantages of cutting down to the minimum are:

You make the most of the free channels you have. We have discovered some great programmes on the BBC, for example, and can watch them through the iPlayer.

You watch less rubbish and have more free time.

You will have to menu plan and cook

Another way frugality will ruin your life is that you will have to find time to cook. When you are tired and get back late from work, it is so tempting to buy a takeout on the way home or pop into a restaurant.

When you choose a frugal lifestyle you know you have to plan. Keep on top of what food is in your house, plan your meals for the week and write a shopping list. You can even plan for those nights when you can’t be bothered to cook by freezing leftovers as ready meals and batch cooking. Then you always have something quick for when you are tired and in need of a speedy supper.

If you plan in your lunches as well you won’t have an excuse to pop out to buy lunch at work either. It can feel like an annoying job to plan in this way, but it pays dividends with a healthier bank balance.

Writing a budget is such a faff

It really is boring to write a budget and track it. However, it gets a lot more exciting when you can see that you are sticking to your budget by following a frugal lifestyle. The faff becomes worthwhile when you have money left over at the end of the month to put towards your debts or something you are saving for.

There are loads of budget planners to help you online or you could make a simple spreadsheet to show your income and outgoings, how much you are putting in savings, and so on. I like Money Saving Expert’s Budget Brain.

You will miss shopping as a hobby

If you are a serious shopper frugality will ruin your life as you know it. No more weekend trips to the shopping centre, or evenings sitting at your computer buying stuff you really don’t need. You start by looking for a skirt and the next minute your shopping basket contains some shoes, makeup, a couple of books and a coat you suddenly realise you desperately need (even though you already own four coats).

On the plus side, this will give you more time to plan your budget and cook your own healthy, tasty and frugal dinners. How about a wardrobe declutter instead? You might find items you forgot you even owned.

You could do the odd bit of retail therapy at a boot sale or in the charity shop, but you will still need to make sure these purchases fit in your budget.

Frugality will ruin your life when you have to say no to your friends, your family and yourself

You might feel terrible when you can’t buy your kids the expensive gizmo, game or toy they see. The pain of a child screaming the shop down will certainly make you feel that frugality will ruin your life. However, the pleasure your children get from saving their birthday and pocket money to buy something they really wanted and have been patiently waiting for is likely to make the pain worthwhile.

When your friends ask you to the pub or cinema and you can’t afford to go, will it feel dreadful to ask them round to yours for a meal and a few glasses of wine instead? It’s perfectly possibly to throw a frugal dinner party.

Playing the waiting game is no fun

It might feel like the end of the world that you can’t impulse buy a new kitchen and stick in on the credit card. You may be driven mad that you can’t get new boots and have to get your current ones re-heeled instead. It will feel like pure misery that you have to tip out your makeup bag and use the 10 lipsticks already in there rather than buying another one. Or will it really?

When you live a frugal lifestyle you learn to wait instead of opting for immediate gratification. A huge plus of doing this is that you often find that you don’t really want whatever it was that you considered buying. If you still do, then you save up and feel great about a purchase with no credit card hangover.

You have to buy second hand

A shiny new car is lovely, but unless you happen to have buckets of cash this is going to involve a big loan or finance deal. Plus, new cars depreciate as you drive them off the forecourt. Buy second hand and you can put your money towards paying off your debts or your mortgage instead.

The charity shops, eBay and Facebook Marketplace are awash with furniture at a fraction of their new price. I have a post on how to find a bargain on eBay here.   The same with clothes and toys. There is no shame in second hand. Call an item vintage or antique and you will pay a premium but they are actually second hand, right?

I have lost count of the number of fantastic pre-owned bargains we have found.

You have to sell your stuff

Well, you don’t have to sell things that you love and use. But how many people have cupboards and sheds full of things that are unused and gathering dust? A good declutter is good for the soul, and you may as well get some money from your old stuff if you can.

You can sell on eBay or other online sites, through your local Facebook groups, by sticking a notice in the local shop or by going to a boot sale.

Still think frugality will ruin your life?

Whether you have chosen a frugal lifestyle to pay off your debts, to get some money in your emergency fund, to put money aside for travelling or a house deposit, or just to get by and make all of your regular payments, there will be times when you feel that frugality will ruin your life.

But when you look at other people who are not living a frugal lifestyle, what you may not see is that they  may regret that they never saved for a house, or they owe a fortune to the credit card companies. Maybe everything looks rosy on the surface, but one small misfortune – an illness or a job loss – could tip them over the edge. By purposefully living a frugal existence you are building financial resilience and moving towards being debt free and happy.

Frugality will ruin your life but only for 5 minutes at a time. In the long term the benefits you gain from a frugal lifestyle will save you lots of worry and keep you secure.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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.

 

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 :).

 

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?

 

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?

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?

This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase anything after clicking on a link it won’t cost you anything but helps to keep my blog running. Thanks.

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

 

This week’s beauty bargains

I love a good deal, as you know, and this week I have been fortunate to get hold of some beauty bargains. (You might also like my posts on budget beauty  here and here.)

Freebies from the Savvy Circle

beauty bargainsA while ago I signed up with P&G’s Savvy Circle. The idea is that you can sign up for product testing of new P&G products. You receive freebies to try yourself and share with your friends. The company asks you to feed back via their blog and hopes you will spread the word on social media too.

I applied to try Pantene’s new Micellar hair care range and the products arrived yesterday. I’m always up for a freebie, but I didn’t expect such a generous package. They sent two bottles each of shampoo, conditioner and leave-in foam conditioner! Also in the parcel were some money off vouchers to pass to friends and family and some feedback forms.

I have already tried the shampoo and liquid conditioner and they seem lovely. Conditioners that leave my hair feeling greasy and heavy are a turn off but this one feels very light.  My daughter and my lodger are going to try them out too. I have signed up for two more campaigns for Bold and Olay. There is no guarantee of getting accepted for anything, so I will have to wait and see what happens.

Supermarket beauty bargains

beauty bargainsI popped into Asda after work to get a few bits and discovered a new range of makeup from George. It looks great and the prices are amazing! I needed a new mascara, rouge and concealer and bought all three. The mascara was £3 (on offer, so I bought two), the blusher – a really big pot – was £5, the small solid concealer was just £2 and the liquid concealer was £4.50. I resisted the foundation as I don’t need any, but that was on sale at an introductory price of £4.50.  I regret this now, so might pop in and buy some if I am passing. These are great prices! I haven’t tried anything properly yet so I will report back and perhaps do a review on another post. Also in the range are lipsticks, nail varnish, powder, eye pencils and shadows, etc.

I am pretty pleased with my beauty bargains. I don’t spend a fortune on cosmetics and toiletries as I can’t afford to, so freebies and low prices are the way to go.

Do you belong to any cosmetic testing organisations or any freebie sites? Has anyone else tried the George at Asda makeup range?

 

 

Eco friendly Christmas gifts

Don’t shout at me for mentioning the festive season in October – it soon creeps up! I have already started buying and have been looking at some eco friendly Christmas gifts.

Christmas has felt like a bad consumer melt down for me in the past. Too many people buying too much stuff and spending way too much money. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I enjoy all of the opportunities it offers for people to get together, the giving and receiving,  the cooking and eating  of delicious food.

However, I dislike the general excess. People spending money they can’t afford, buying mounds of food that won’t get eaten, trashy, over the top decorations and the pressure folk feel to produce the perfect experience. I am already hearing parents stressing because they cannot get this year’s most popular toy and fighting for them when they arrive in the shops. Most of all, I hate spending money on trashy presents that won’t be appreciated.

Because of this, I try to make sure the recipients of any gifts I buy really want them. If that means taking away the surprise, then so be it. I also try to buy some items that are eco friendly. Usually small things for my daughters that will replace something that causes a lot of waste. With this in mind, here are my suggestions for inexpensive eco friendly Christmas gifts. I am dreaming of a green Christmas!

I am going for a frugal Christmas, so none of the suggestions below will break the bank.

Eco friendly Christmas gifts

For their stocking fillers, I have bought my daughters some stainless steel reusable straws. Plastic straws are thrown away after one use which is incredibly wasteful. I have ordered them from Lakeland, at £5.99 for 8 straws with a cleaning brush.

I hope they don’t read this, as I have also bought them some reusable Magic Makeup Removing Cloths from Amazon. You can remove all makeup with just water. The reviews suggest they really work, so I am excited about these. I have ordered myself some too.

If you have a nature loving friend or family member, Friends of the Earth have a cute bird feeder in their shop. You can stick it to your kitchen window and watch the birds feeding as you do the washing up! Love this! At £13.99 it won’t break the bank.

I know this isn’t a glamorous gift, but I would be happy to receive these Ecoegg Re-Usable Bamboo Towels. You can wash and reuse rather than buying kitchen towels.

I have never tried these, but my lodger has one – how about a Bamboo Toothbrush? She is very happy with hers. It remains to be seen how long it will last, but you are supposed to change them every three months so it should do that.

I have various plastic lunchboxes that I take to work, but maybe a stainless steel one would be a better option. Ideally, it should be air tight so that you don’t have to use plastic wrap as well. There are lots of different options online, but some of them are horrendously expensive. One was over £80!! Not on my budget…. Many were under £10 but looked cheap with poor reviews. This one seems a decent mid priced one and has excellent reviews.

For the kids, how about some recycled colouring pencils made from rolled up newspapers? I found these on eBay. Pencils and recycled paper crafts make great eco friendly Christmas gifts.

When I was at the SHOMO Awards recently, I met Zoe from Eco Thrify Living. She had bought her own reusable coffee cup with her, which I thought was such a sensible idea. I have found a similar one from Evolution Organics that I will be putting on my Christmas wish list. I have several china ones but they aren’t really practical for carrying around with you.

Buy an experience

Regular readers will know we had a lot of experiences given to Mr Shoestring for his 50th. My favourites were the afternoon teas. Who wouldn’t enjoy a big plate of cake? Of course, there are all types of experiences you can purchase and you can find some of them at buyagift.co.uk. I think these are a good idea for people who already have too much stuff.

Buying books

I also like buying books as these will tend to be read and passed on – not just binned. Coffee table type books are pretty but I avoid them as they tend to be leafed through and forgotten. I only buy books for people I know well or where someone has requested a book they really like. If you are considering books as presents, check out the Book People first. They have collections that are so cheap and fantastic for presents. When my children were smaller, I would buy the collections of kids books and separate them up to give in a party bag rather than loads of plastic rubbish. I also buy second hand books for stocking fillers.

Gift vouchers

If you don’t know what to buy, don’t buy anything. Rather than spend on something that might not be appreciated, choose a gift voucher instead. The other advantage of gift cards is that they don’t involved loads of packaging and gift wrapping. You can buy discounted cards from Zeek, so you can save money too. If you use my promo code you will get £3 for free. I generally use my gift cards, but if you have some you know you won’t get around to spending, you can sell on Zeek too. It’s a genius idea.

Does the waste and excess at Christmas leave you cold too? Will you be exploring some eco friendly Christmas gifts instead this year?

 

Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links, but all opinions are all my own. Using an affiliate link will not affect you in any way. It will help to support the blog as I will earn a small commission if you purchase anything via an affiliate link.  Thanks!

Five Frugal Things I’ve done this Week 6th October 2017

I love these occasional five frugal things posts. When you think the week has flashed by in a blur of busy-ness, it is good to stop and reflect. So here are my five frugal things to kick off October.

frugal thingsFrugal thing 1: Using up the stores

I am eating out of the cupboards this week. For one reason or another it is just me almost every night. It can be hard to find the motivation to cook properly when I am by myself but tonight I made myself a delicious store cupboard stew.

I used chick peas and tinned tomatoes from the larder, along with a few frozen vegetables and some fresh ones that needed using up. Also chucked in were celery, carrots, mushrooms, a green pepper, some left over cooked spinach, a single new potato I found lurking and the end of a packet of mixed frozen vegetables. The addition of half a pint of stock and some smoked paprika – my favourite spice – gave it a lovely flavour. It was absolutely delicious! I had it with some brown rice for a really cheap and healthy dinner. Which leads me onto:

Frugal thing 2: Batch cooking and freezing

I love the odd home made freezer meal and frequently batch cook. It saves time and money. Tonight I deliberately made a big pot of my stew so that I could eat it tomorrow and freeze a couple of portions.

Frugal thing 3: Rented out the spare room

I welcomed my new lodger on Sunday. She seems really lovely and is settling in well. It has been nice to have a bit of company this week. The extra money is hugely helpful to my budget. I found her through Spare Room, which is a good site in my opinion.

I gave the room a refresh the other week – bit of frugal DIY. It was well worth it as it looks lovely and clean now.

Frugal thing 4: Making the most of windfall fruit

Mr S arrived home with a huge box of cooking apples a couple of weeks ago, far too many for us to use in fact. I have given a load to friends and neighbours and got back some pears in return. These are currently ripening in the fruit bowl. I didn’t have to buy any fruit this week at all.

I also peeled, chopped and froze some of the apples to mix with the home grown and foraged currants and berries already in the freezer.

frugal thingsFrugal thing 5: Completed a no spend week

I have purchased nothing this week except cat food, milk and a pack of reduced price mushrooms. I didn’t intend to do this – it just happened! We didn’t need any groceries except milk as we have been eating from the stores, but when I saw the yellow sticker on my half price mushrooms I knew I could use them in tonight’s stew. I don’t spend unless I need to. At the moment I am conscious that Christmas is on the way, and I want to save the pennies for presents.

 

I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. Pop over to their blogs to see their five frugal things. What have your money saving achievements been this week?

 

 

Cleaning as therapy

There is something deeply satisfying about cleaning and tidying. Bringing order to chaos, getting rid of dirt and clutter and regaining control gives me a new sense of calm. Maybe cleaning as therapy should be prescribed!

cleaning as therapy

Clean and tidy lodger room

Cleaning as therapy

Of course, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. It is hard work and takes time. However, I can only cope with a certain amount of disorder before I start to twitch. I’m not an OCD cleaner by any stretch of the imagination or a minimalist. I am not madly house proud, but I need to do a good weekly clean throughout to make me feel that all is right with my little world!

I spent the whole day yesterday doing a deep clean of the whole house, ready for my new lodger. First impressions are important, especially as she is arriving with her dad. I hit the cobwebs in all of the corners and cleaned all the woodwork and skirting boards with hot water and my home made cleaning spray. The windows all got a good shine and I washed all of the hard floors. The oven was scrubbed, as were the sink and fridge. I also wiped all of the cupboard fronts in the kitchen. Then the usual hoover and polish throughout, and we were ready.

Get rid of the clutter

I don’t like a lot of clutter either. I tend to keep on top of it as I go. However, there are some drawers and cupboards that need a bit of a clear out. What is the point of keeping loads of stuff you never use that just sits in your house gathering dust? If you leave it too long, you forget you have it! Now that autumn has arrived I will take advantage of having less to do in the garden and start to go through some of those dark corners. Definitely something for another day I think.

The garden does need a tidy up too to get ready for winter. The veg patch needs clearing and lots of things need cutting back. The greenhouse also needs sorting. We might get out and tackle the jungle later today, although it is looking rather grey and threatening weather wise at the moment.

I have achieved a lot this weekend anyway. Cleaning as therapy works for me. How about you?

The SHOMO Awards and a busy weekend

SHOMO Awards

Zoe, Emma and Andy at the SHOMO Awards

I have had such a busy week, my feet have hardly touched the ground! This is mainly because I was out all weekend at the SHOMO awards and spent Sunday in Brighton. Since then if I haven’t been at work I have been decorating. I haven’t had the chance to catch up with myself. I need to, as my new lodger arrives on Sunday and the house is a bit chaotic.

I’m not exactly a control freak, but I don’t respond well to chaos!. will be working flat out on Saturday to reclaim some order.

The SHOMO Awards

I attended the SHOMO Awards (UK Money Bloggers annual conference and awards ceremony) on Saturday. It was full on and extremely interesting. I had the chance to attend a couple of most informative workshops; one on Pinterest and the other on self-publishing. Pinterest fascinates me, but is also a bit of a mystery. I learned a lot from both sessions.

I met some bloggers whose sites I have followed for a while, which was lovely. It is a real community, with everyone so willing to give help and advice when you ask for it.

Shoestring Cottage was nominated for two awards: the Best Thrift and Frugal Blog and the People’s Choice award. I didn’t win either but I never really expected to. It was great just to be there. I met Zoe from Eco Thrifty, who won the Thrift and Frugal category. I love her blog and its whole ethos. She follows her eco principles and bought her own coffee mug. I wish I had thought to do that. Her blog is great, so go over and have a look if you don’t know it.

Skint Dad won the People’s Choice. I wasn’t surprised about this as he has a huge following. His blog is packed with good money saving ideas.

If you want to see all of the nominees and winners, head over to the UK Money Bloggers site. The event was brilliantly organised by Andy Webb from Be Clever with your Cash. He even managed to win a few accolades himself and very well deserved they were too.

I have picked up so many ideas for improving my blog – if I could just find the time!

An empty nest

Room with a view

Daughter number three flew the nest on Sunday and went off to Brighton university. I took her down there and helped her to settle in. She has a lovely room and the campus is very nice. It is, however, next to the football ground. They had a big match on so the traffic was terrible. Hopefully, it won’t always be that bad.

We had just picked up her key and been on campus for three minutes, when she managed to fall down some steps and damage her ankle! Not the kind of trip I envisaged.  I thought she had broken it at first, but she rallied. By the time I left it had swollen up and yesterday she sent me a photo of its vivid blue and purple hues. She hadn’t even started the student fresher’s week events and she has a sprained ankle already!

Frugal DIY: sprucing up without spending a fortune

frugal diy, budget diy, saving moneyOur new lodger arrives next weekend so we are doing a bit of frugal DIY to brighten her room.

When walls start to collect marks and the paintwork is chipped it is tempting to redecorate. This can cost so much, however – not to mention the investment of your precious time.

Frugal DIY with your paintbrush

Assuming your walls and ceilings are sound, all you really need to smarten up a room is a quick paint job. A refresh of the woodwork by itself can make a noticeable difference. Gleaming white doors and skirting boards make a room look clean and attractive.

Light coloured, plain painted walls provide a neutral backdrop. We are painting all of the walls cream apart a feature wall with patterned paper. This is there already and is good enough to stay.

frugal diy, budget diy, saving moneyYour colour scheme can be changed any time with the addition of some cheap but colourful soft furnishings. We will be popping down to B&M to look at some of these. I would make my own, but frankly have neither the time nor the talent!

If you do have wallpaper, it is a good idea to keep a roll or two safe somewhere to make repairs where necessary. There were a couple of areas where small sections of paper had started to come away. Because the damage was so minimal, we sorted these out with a glue stick.

We have found that buying really cheap paint and brushes is a false economy. You end up having to apply more coats of the stuff and picking bristles off as the brushes disintegrate!

Own brands

We like Homebase’s own range of paint and brushes. They are cheaper than branded products but just as good quality.  For the woodwork we chose their one coat brilliant white gloss and classic cream emulsion for the walls. Perfect for our frugal DIY efforts.

I won’t have time to clean the carpet and cannot afford to replace it, so a nice fluffy rug from B&M will add a touch of glamour to the floor. I think these are excellent value at £14.99.

The last major DIY we did was this transformation. It took ages! At least this is a quick fix.

Do you have any ideas for frugal DIY? Where do you find home decor bargains?

Frugal Christmas: Budget now to save your bank balance

Frugal ChristmasHave you started your Christmas shopping yet? Are you planning to splurge or are you aiming for a frugal Christmas? The festive season should be fun but can cause stress as hard pressed families struggle to afford it. Presents, food, parties, outfits, decorations: you can spend a small fortune. But is it worth the Christmas hangover and the damage to your bank balance?

Buy now, pay later

In the past I have made the classic mistake of sticking all my Christmas purchases on my credit card to worry about later. And worry I did as I struggled to pay my debt off the following year. The dark days of winter look even bleaker when you are skint. According to YouGov, British families will spend around £821 for Christmas this year, with £604 going on gifts. This is fantastic if you can afford to spend that amount. I am not suggesting you don’t spend money you have, but it is worth considering ways to save money if you need a frugal Christmas this time.

Setting a budget and making a list

You need to be realistic about this. If you have saved throughout the year, your budget might be quite generous, or you might have very little to spare. Either way, work out what you can afford. Make a list of people you want to buy gifts for and other expenses. If you cannot afford to purchase everything you want, this it the time to think about what you can cross off the list. This might mean having a few open and honest conversations with friends and family. When I did this a few years ago I talked to my extended family. I am one of four children and we all now have spouses and kids of our own, so Christmas was becoming a huge strain.

We now do a Secret Santa for the adults and any ‘kids’ who hit 18 and are in employment also join in. This cut costs hugely and was a big relief all round.

Cut out unnecessary stuff

Sometimes we need to rethink our spending habits at Christmas. We buy so much food, but how much of it gets wasted? There is only so much you can eat, even if you do like to indulge during the festive period. How many decorations do you really need and do they have to be £5 a bauble from the garden centre or department store? Places like Home Bargains, Aldi, Lidl and B&M come into their own at this time of the year, with some great bargain festive decorations. If you have kids this is the time to get creative and let them go to town making pretty sparkly things to make your home look fabulous. There are so many great ideas on Pinterest.

Although I think a real tree looks pretty, I have had my artificial one for about 8 years. It cost me about £40 from Argos, and has been worth every penny. I have decorations that have lasted me years too. I look out for these in the January sales.

Four gift rule

If you have children and are on a small budget, stick to the four gift rule.  Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. I didn’t consciously do this when my daughters were young, but looking back this was more or less how it went. I used to buy them lots of little stocking fillers too. They tell me now that they never noticed I wasn’t a big spender and didn’t feel in the least bit deprived  by a frugal Christmas. They also really appreciated their presents.

Buying little and often to spread the cost

If you want a really frugal Christmas, buying as you go throughout the year (or in my case, as soon as Autumn arrives) it is far less of a shock to your finances. I sometimes even buy in the post Christmas sales and have a big stock of cards, wrapping paper and gift sets that were purchased this way. As Christmas approaches I love the 3 for 2 gift offers from some retailers and generally hit Boots for these. I also pick up extras in Aldi or Lidl as they do fantastic Christmas gifts and food. It is quite satisfying to be cosy indoors with everything bought and wrapped when other people are running around like headless chickens trying to catch up with themselves.

If you are buying online, make sure you use a cash back site. I use Top Cashback a lot. I have earned a couple of hundred pounds over the past 6 months this way, which I will spend on presents.

If you want to be radical, then give your loved ones an IOU and wait for the sales. I wouldn’t do this with children though – most wouldn’t get this!

Buy second hand

I often buy second hand gifts and always have done. From the Nintendo 64 that my daughter still has 15 years later (and which is now a collector’s item!) to books from the charity shop, and bargain clothes from eBay – I don’t mind giving or receiving pre-owned items as long as they in good condition. This works well for small children. They neither know nor care if a favourite toy has been played with by a child before them!

If you are playing host to family and friends over Christmas, ask them to contribute by bringing food and drink. Most people will be only too happy to get involved.

Free activities

There are loads of fun, free activities to do with the family at Christmas. You don’t have to spend lots of money if you stick to traditional pastimes like carol concerts, school and community Christmas sales and bazaars, for example. Churches often run Christmas crafts workshops too. My children loved going to the Christmas Eve carol service at our local church, singing all evening and then having a Christmas ‘sleepy’ biscuit from the vicar on the way out. They also loved a tour of the local ‘Christmas houses’ – you know, the ones that are lit up so they can be see from space!

If you are worried about debt now, at Christmas or any time, there are lots of ways to get help and advice. Check out the Money Advice Service or Debt Camel  or make an appointment at the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Have you saved up, bought gifts as you went along or will you put Christmas on a credit card or overdraft? Are you dreaming of a frugal Christmas?

Aiming for frugal health and fitness

I have felt my fitness levels falling over the past few years. With a busy life and a desk bound job it is sometimes hard to find the motivation and energy for a lot of exercise. I do practise yoga but I could do with exercising a lot more.

A new leaf

So today I have turned over a new leaf and am resolved to get fit again! I don’t want to spend money on a gym membership at the moment so it will be DIY exercise and frugal health and fitness at Shoestring Cottage.

Running is no good for me (got dodgy knees) so I have decided to do workouts at home. I started with this one in Women’s Health. The press ups nearly killed me so I clearly have some work to do. I also used the weights I bought in Aldi in the new year to tone my arms.

Some yoga stretches topped it off and I felt great after. I am going to repeat this workout three or four times a week.

I went for a 20 minute brisk walk at lunchtime and will repeat this three times a week as well.

Healthy eating

In addition I am cutting the carbs and eating really healthily. Today I ate porridge with fruit for breakfast, an egg salad with vegetable soup for lunch and fish with a vegetable stir fry for dinner. I am eating whatever I like as long as it is healthy so have also snacked on nuts, yogurt and fruit. None of these foods are very expensive and easily fit into my frugal health and fitness regime.

I have found some inspiration on Instagram from @healthybyfifty (pictured). She is a 47 year old super fit wonder woman. The workouts she does would finish me off I think! Still, if she can do what she does I am sure I can go a long way to improving my fitness. Perhaps I will aim to do this in a slightly less dramatic way. One of the things I like about her is that she exercises in her back yard with minimal equipment, rather than a fancy gym. She wasn’t overweight to begin with, but you can see the cellulite has melted away and her muscle definition has improved hugely. I will probably never be so determined  to be super fit as she is, but I will keep an eye on her anyway when I need some motivation.

What do you do to stay fit and healthy? Can you get fit without spending a fortune and what are your tips for frugal health and fitness?

Great day out: View from the Shard

We had an interesting day out in London yesterday. We have been ploughing our way through Mr Shoestring’s birthday vouchers before they expire!

One of them was a Virgin Experience with a trip up the Shard, London’s tallest building, in case you didn’t know, and afternoon tea for tea at Brasserie Blanc near Tower Bridge.

Three afternoon teas in a row gave me a good comparison point, so I shall start there. They were all very good. However, I was a little disappointed with the sandwiches  at Brasserie Blanc. They looked very fancy, with the ‘filling’ presented on top rather than in the sandwich. This meant you tasted the bread and butter more than the combination of ingredients oddly. I want my sandwich fillings in my sandwiches please, Monsieur Blanc!

The fillings were themselves a little odd for my taste, although Mr S really liked them. The smoked salmon was good, as was the Parma ham. However,  slices of golden beetroot on one and cucumber and tomato on the other made me feel I had the garnish but not the ‘meat’. There was not much flavour or excitement in either.

Other than that, it was a lovely tea, with an excellent selection of sweets and cakes and a nice glass of sparkling wine.

 Crumbs of comfort

As with the other two teas, we couldn’t eat all of the cakes and took some home. Brasserie Blanc seemed to have no boxes and they gave us them in a plastic bag, which meant after the afternoon in London they looked like this…. it’s a small detail that made all the difference!

The best one by a mile was at Greyfriars in Colchester. Everything was perfect, from the food, the decor and the service. Plus we took our extra cakes home in a sensible box!

The Shard was interesting but scary. So high, I could feel it vibrating! It was busy too. We were lucky with the weather and the views of the city were excellent, but I wouldn’t rush back. I prefer to keep my feet on the ground! With hindsight I would have preferred to pre-book the Shard directly and had some street food rather than going for the afternoon tea.

One of the best parts of the day was walking from Liverpool Street to the old Spitalfields Market. This is a really interesting and diverse market, full of lovely clothes, artisan products, food, cards, books and jewellery. It would be lovely for Christmas shopping and didn’t seem overly expensive.

We also came across a street festival in Bermondsey, which was bustling with people and music. I love these kind of community events.

We walked our little feet off and were glad to get back on the train home. We booked the tickets in advance with Greater Anglia. The cheapest way was to purchase them was as a single each way rather than a return.  It was only £10 each way from Colchester to London.

If you like heights it is worth adding the Shard to your bucket list. If you go, pop into Spitalfields on the way for lunch!

Save money with a wood burner

Save money with a wood burnerThe wood burner is finally up and running! We have had it for ages and ages but Mr S fitted it over the summer, then we got someone in to line the chimney.

The benefits of a wood burner

Yesterday evening it was finally cold enough to try it out. We only had a small fire but it was lovely!  I am looking forward to cosying up near the fire as it gets colder. There are other benefits to having a wood burner, of course. Wood as a fuel is carbon neutral and if we buy it locally it will have a smaller environmental footprint than running the gas boiler. No doubt we will run the heating at times as well. I anticipate that the wood burner will warm up the house but I’m not sure it will get to some of the cold rooms at the back.

Save money with a wood burnerI have read that logs purchased locally are also likely to be much cheaper than other forms of heating fuel and that we could save money with a wood burner. We have some free logs that we have gathered from various places. Now we need to start searching for a good source of cheap wood.

Saving money with a wood burner

It will be nice to hang the laundry on the clothes horse near the wood burner. Hopefully it will dry quite quickly. I don’t have a tumble dryer so currently use the radiators and a dehumidifier to help dry the clothes in the winter. Partly because of this, partly because the house is lacking ventilation and partly because we are mean with the heating, we have suffered some mould problems in the past. To counter this, over the last few years we have run the heating more and had the dehumidifier on quite a lot, which can be quite expensive. I think the wood burner will help keep the condensation at bay.

I am hoping the wood burner will save us quite a bit of money overall but we shall see!

Mr S picked up a large plastic garden chest that should be ideal to store our logs outside. This cost him nothing as it was from a house clearance he helped with. We also found a nice wicker log basket at a country fair recently  for a fiver. The wood burner itself was expensive, of course, but hopefully it will pay for itself over time. The next step is to decorate the lounge, which we will be doing over the next few months.

Do you save money with a wood burner? What are the benefits or the drawbacks?

Your frugal habits – take the thrift test to see if you can save money

Do you need to save money? Are you sometimes out of control and unsure where your pennies keep disappearing? Whether you are saving for something in particular, trying to pay off your mortgage, achieve financial independence or need to get by on a reduced income, this test of your thriftiness could shed light on your spending habits and the frugal habits you need to develop.

1.  When you buy groceries do you:

a. Do it on the hoof and think about what you need as you browse the supermarket shelves.

b. Always plan your meals and write a shopping list before you go.

c. Have a rough shopping list but tend to impulse buy.

2.  For lunch at work and for days out, do you:

a. Worry about it when you get there. You can always get something from the shop or a fast food outlet.

b. Take a packed lunch.

c. Try to take lunch with you but don’t always have time.

3. How is your bank balance? Do you:

a. Have little idea how much money you have and always run out before pay day.

b. Always know how much is in your account and budget so that you last the month and put money into savings.

c. Generally know roughly the amount of money you have, but sometimes go overdrawn because you don’t plan for unexpected expenses.

4. When you go into town do you:

a. Shop for fun – you love spending money and it is your favourite hobby.

b. You rarely go to town unless you really need something, and usually check out the charity shops.

c.  You don’t always spend money but are sometimes tempted to buy items on impulse.

6. Your home is:

a) Very warm – you have the heating on as soon as autumn arrives.

b) On the cool side – you will put on a jumper or two before you give in and turn on the heating.

c) You try to save money and keep the heating off but the kids keep turning it on.

7. When was the last time you thought about changing your bank, getting a new mortgage deal or shopping around for your utilities?

a) Why would I?

b) I look to see if I can get a better deal at least once a year.

c) I do it every now and again, but could probably shop around a bit more.

8. Your washing machine is getting old and unreliable. Do you?

a) Go to the nearest electrical superstore and ask the salesman for advice, then purchase the same day on credit.

b) Do some research on which models are the best value, then shop around to see where you can get the best deal. You save up if you can’t afford one straight away and consider second hand.

c) Have a look at a few online reviews and try to find a good deal. Hopefully you might have enough in your savings.

9. Have you ever used a cash back site?

a) How do they work?

b) I never buy anything online without checking Top Cashback or Quidco*.

c) I do sometimes but often forget.

(*These are my referral links and I will earn a small commission on any purchases you make using them. Thanks)

10. You need to travel somewhere on the train. Do you:

a) Buy your ticket on the day at the station.

b) Check several weeks in advance and research the cheapest routes to get you to your destination.

c) Try to buy a return ticket a week or so ahead if you remember.

11. How often do you buy designer labels?

a) Often. You can’t resist a brand name.

b) If you see any at the boot sale, you snap them up and resell on eBay.

c) Occasionally, for a special occasion.

Results

I reckon you have worked out that mostly A answers mean you have failed the thrift test! You are likely to have a permanent overdraft and a lot of credit card debt.  Perhaps you lie awake at night worrying about the state of your finances. You need to develop some good frugal habits and learn to say no to yourself and others.

Mostly C answers: This is likely to be where most of us are. We are generally aware and in control of our money but have the odd lapse that could cause trouble.

Mostly Bs? Your frugal habits mean you are a paragon of virtue and on your way to being debt free and financially independent, if you’re not there already.

The thrift test is just a bit of fun. Few of us are totally out of control ALL the time or with the self discipline to never lapse. But we can all develop frugal habits to help us stay in control of our spending and save money for whatever we want.

What are your best frugal habits?

This week’s frugality

Frugality 1

frugality

First of all, I really hope you like the refreshed and revamped redesign of Shoestring Cottage. I did not employ a web designer at great expense and it was the epitome of frugality.

I ordered a logo for just £5 from FiveSquid.com and got the lettering from there. This is so ridiculously cheap for the service on offer and I recommend it. We thought it looked a bit plain so Mr S added a cottage and a flower. I should have just got him to do it on the first place as he never charges!

Frugality 2

frugalityThe garden is still providing is with lots of free food. This week the grapes have ripened to perfection. However, when our lodger moved out she left behind a juicer. We tried it on the grapes and it is brilliant, if a bit fiddly to clean. So we have delicious fresh grape juice in the fridge for nothing.

Frugality 3: Frozen produce

I have been putting all of the excess home grown produce in my big freezer, so the garden will continue to feed us throughout the autumn and winter. We have blackberries, plums, greengages, courgettes, runner beans and lots of home-made soup in there. I made two sorts at the weekend: fresh tomato and courgette. 

frugalityI had a near disaster though. A lead from the iron got stuck in the freezer door. Nobody noticed until it began to make a very loud noise. The contents hadn’t defrosted thankfully but they were getting soft around the edges. We got all of the meat out and cooked it as I didn’t want to risk any of that, but squeezed the fruit and vegetables into the little freezer. Fortunately, the big freezer isn’t broken. I turned it off and defrosted it, and it is back to full working order now. Phew!

Frugality 4: saving money on TV and broadband

One of my aims for this month is to cancel my TV contract and organise a broadband only deal. We had intended to buy a new Humax Freeview box. However, I have found two second hand! One from eBay and the other from Facebook Marketplace. I hope they work. We will have one downstairs and the other in our bedroom.

Frugality 4: Looking smart for the SHOMOs

I have mentioned a few times that Shoestring Cottage has been nominated in the thrift and frugality category at the SHOMO Awards. I will be attending this event in London at the end of the month and I am so excited to meet some fellow bloggers! But what to wear? I am not one for dressing up, but thought I should make a bit of an effort. I looked on eBay and found a beautiful Phase Eight silk skirt in excellent condition for just £15. This is a brand I really like, so I was dead chuffed. I just need to work out what to wear with it now.

 Frugality 5: Luxury champagne afternoon tea

frugalityI hesitate to put this under a frugality heading. However, it didn’t cost us anything, so maybe! Mr S was given a gift voucher for a champagne afternoon tea at a beautiful hotel and restaurant in Colchester called Greyfriars. We booked it for Sunday. It was really special, absolutely first rate, quality food, service and surroundings. What a treat! It felt particularly poignant as I actually used to teach yoga in the same building – it was once a local authority adult learning college. This is where I met Mr S – he was one of my first students! It has been completely transformed since it was a creaky and draughty government building and is now the height of luxury.  We had a lovely afternoon.