Category Archives: General and rants

Grow your own fruit and veg to save money, even when you’re feeling delicate 

So… the downside of entertaining 😊. I did two loads in the dishwasher as we went along, but we didn’t want to stay up all night washing up. So many glasses!

We had a lovely evening. Mr S enjoyed being the centre of attention and we even sang happy birthday. The cake was delicious. This is what it looks like inside. It was more sugar than I have eaten in almost three months though and gave me a headache, although that might have been all the prosecco I managed to quaff. I felt a little ‘tired’ when I got up.

It is a gorgeous day.  We had a few jobs in the garden that needed to be done as we are off on holiday in a few days. We always grow our own fruit and veg to save money – well some of it anyway. We had to get the runner beans into the vegetable patch as well as the courgettes.

We aren’t doing as much this year. I love growing our own produce and it definitely tastes better and fresher, but it involves a lot of work and we don’t have time to do it on a larger scale at the moment. So we just have the aforementioned courgettes and runners, plus broad beans, pumpkins and spinach. I have also put in a globe artichoke for the first time and we have rhubarb that is now well established.  In the greenhouse we have tomatoes, chillis and cucumbers.

We have quite a lot of fruit: red and black currants, apples, grapes and raspberries. I will freeze some of these as they are lovely on our porridge throughout the year.



I am really happy with how the garden is looking at the moment. We have been working really hard to keep on top of it and it’s paying off.  I just hope my darling daughter waters it all next week as she has promised!

A birthday celebration

Such a busy day today! We are going away for Mr S’s birthday on Tuesday, so thought we would have a few friends and family round for dinner today. He said he didn’t want a fuss, but you’re not 50 every day so I had to give him a little  bit of a treat 😀. 

I have been cooking all day – an Indian themed dinner, as it is easy to feed a crowd with curries and rice. I have made a chicken curry, lentil dahl, saag aloo and a chick pea curry, with some naans, poppadums and dips. I have three vegetarians and a coeliac amongst the guests and Indian food is frequently vegetarian and gluten free anyway, so it seemed a good choice.

A friend at work made a birthday cake, a splendid lemon and lime extravaganza with piped meringue and buttercream. I hope it tastes as good as it looks. I have also made a gluten free chocolate cake using the Betty Crocker mix I found in Aldi the other day. It looks nice so I shall be interested to see how it tastes. 

I have made enough to feed a small army so I hope they are hungry.  I will let you know how it goes!

How to get your five a day on a budget 

We eat very cheaply here at Shoestring Cottage. However, not at the expense of our health, so we always eat our five a day. In fact, we eat a lot more than five portions of fruit and vegetables. I have around eight most days because I eat a lot of fruit. This has become easier since I gave up sugar. (Well, I have had the odd lapse but I have eaten very little, but that’s a post for another day!).

Check out your local market

It isn’t difficult to eat your five a day cheaply. There are so many ways to get some extra fruit and veg into your diet without breaking the bank. In the past when I was saving money I purchased from the greengrocer’s stall at the local market. If you have a good market and the time to get there this is still brilliant value. Now that I work so much I have little time to go into town, so I tend to get my fruit and veg from the discount supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi. Their specials are excellent. I also look out for yellow sticker reductions if I can get to a store later in the day. I always freeze these or use them up straight away. 

Canned, dried and frozen count towards your five a day. This includes canned tomatoes, sweet corn and pulses. We always have these in the larder. Canned veg such as peas, mushrooms and carrots are really inexpensive and quite good in casseroles.

Pulses can replace some of the more expensive meat in dishes like bolognese – who will notice a few lentils thickening the sauce? Or you can leave the meat out all together and have a mix of beans in a chilli sauce over your rice. How about a can of chick peas in with your chicken curry?

Canned fruit can be more expensive, but fruit cocktail and peaches are reasonable and make a nice dessert with a bit of custard. If they come in syrup I tend to wash this off -too much sugar!

Dried fruits are also worth considering in small quantities . A little pack of raisins in your lunchbox can be nice if you fancy something sweet and I have them on my porridge instead of sugar.

Another small treat I enjoy that count as one of my five a day is an Aldi Foodie Market Raw fruit bar. They consist of cold pressed squished fruit and are around 90 calories a bar. I love the black currant and cherry flavours particularly. They cost £1.49 for a box of five. Much cheaper than a chocolate bar and so much healthier!

Watch out for the scammers!

Scam supermarket voucher scheme

There are so many scammers on the internet. I love a bargain or a discount code as much as the next person, but if something sounds too good to be true then it generally is.

I was alarmed  this morning to find that my elderly mum had posted this on Facebook:

I was alerted to this by Mr S as his mother was already onto him trying to get him to print it off for her! I knew straight away it must be a scam and was very quick to post a comment and then rang mum to see if she had given many of her details. That is what the scammers are after; they collect them and can use them for identity theft. Fortunately, she started to but didn’t submit as she began to have her suspicions that it wasn’t kosher. I love that she is a silver surfer but she is also a bit naive about scams such as this! I Tweeted Sainsbury’s to let them know and got this back:


Keep an eye for anything like this. The big supermarkets run a lot of promotions, but even they don’t have a budget to cover giving everyone a £75 voucher!

UK Money Bloggers

I have recently discovered a fantastic Facebook group, UK Money Bloggers, full of wonderful bloggers who write on various finance subjects. They are all so knowledgable and friendly, as well as being incredibly generous with their help and advice. I was chuffed to be featured on their website this week. Go over and have a read 😀 here.

Have a great Sunday!

£5 bargains – a review

I received my parcel from Everythingthing5pounds yesterday. It was all very nicely packaged – they use their packing as an advertising opportunity, as you can see.

I purchased 4 items. I am most happy with a black cold shoulder top. The label says Portfolio, which I think is Marks and Spencer’s.  I also bought a long cotton summer skirt, originally New Look, a floral vest top and a pretty long sleeved black top. I’m not sure where these were from originally. Annoyingly, I seem to have purchased the wrong size as the black top is an 8 and way too small. Never mind – the labels are attached so I will stick it on eBay and get my money back. 

Would I use the site again? Yes, definitely.  I won’t browse now though – I have spent enough this month and I need to focus on making money, not spending it. 

Talking of which, I bought a second hand pair of leather sandals the other day at a bargain price of £15. They were lovely quality and I was disappointed that they were too big. I listed them straight back on eBay at a cheeky £20 and they sold immediately 😀. I also sold a pair of Skechers that I bought used for the same price I paid for them. You can never tell how shoes will sell but sporty sandals are doing ok so if you are having a clear out they are the ones to list! Three things to pack and post from yesterday; as well as the shoes I sold a lovely little dress from Next. 

Let’s hope the sales continue. I will be out at the weekend looking for more bargains to sell on! 

(BTW this is not a sponsored post and all opinions are my own.)

Saving, spending and making money in April

I had quite an expensive month in April. I spent the holiday fund and a bit more on Mr S’s 50th celebration trip to Mallorca. Very excited about this but holidays don’t come cheap. I have also spent some money on clothes to take, which is unusual for me! I normally raid the boot sales but, although I have found some good things to resell, there hasn’t been much that I wanted to keep for myself.

As mentioned before, I bought some items from Everything5pounds.com –  4 at £20! These should arrive today so I will report back on those. I managed to get the postage free using Money Saving Expert’s offer code too. I have also purchased 8 items second-hand on eBay. Sadly, four of those were too big so I just re-listed them. One has sold already for a £5 profit 😀. I really must stop buying size 14 clothes as I appear to be a 12 now. I put this down to almost completely giving up sugar since the end of February. 

I discovered TopCashback and did a £25 Asda shop through them to get £15 cash back. I will be exploring that a lot more and we are looking at booking our airport parking through them. I am going to look at some of the other cash back sites too and will report back.

I have sold quite a lot on eBay this month which will positively impact the bank balance. I am going to look at sourcing stock from auctions as well in the future. 

My MOT is due this month so I have my fingers crossed that I won’t have to spend much on that.

So April was a good month! May has kicked off with a lot of wintry feeling weather but I am sustained because I know we will be off to the sun in two weeks! This is what the moneysaving is all about 😀.

Free and frugal ways to spend a bank holiday

No money? Wondering what to do this fine bank holiday weekend? How about these ideas to keep you and the family entertained?

Get the April issue of Gardener’s World magazine. They have a 2 for 1 offer for over 400 gardens around the uk. Plus you have a great magazine to read when you get home😀.

Go to the park and play on the swings (preferably take a child with you, lol), or take a football or cricket bat.

Play rounders! I have excellent memories of family holidays doing this when I was young.

Go for a walk at a fast pace and you won’t need to bother with the gym. Do it with a buggy and you are resistance training!

Check your local museums and art galleries – some will be free.

Pack up a picnic and head for the hills. If we have a day out anywhere, Mr Shoestring and I always take a flask and sandwiches – whatever the weather. It saves so much money and also means no queuing in crowded cafes for over-priced food of variable quality.

Check the country parks in your area. In Essex we are blessed with some great open spaces, ideal for a family walk: www.visitparks.co.uk. It’s easy to find where yours are at your local Tourist Information Centre.

Go find a bluebell wood. This is a good time to go! You can find some listed on the Woodland Trust website here.

Check out your local wildlife trust. They have all kinds of activities going on, from a family pond dip to an twilight bat or owl walk.

Go to the garden centre. We have several locally that have so much to see for free, and the kids love their displays. However, don’t be drawn in to the café, and don’t buy anything unless you need it and it is a good price.

Visit your relatives and friends. They are an under-rated and often under-valued form of entertainment and support.

Find a boot sale and get yourself some bargains.

There are lots more family ideas at dayoutwiththekids.com as well as great offers and deals at  Moneysavingexpert.com.

We will be meandering around a garden I should think. Maybe see you there! 

The art of being gorgeous on a budget

A deceptive title as I am not talking about me! I am a low maintenance kind of woman. I don’t spend lots of time and money on my appearance; with limited amounts of each there are always more pressing (bills, food, petrol) or interesting (the garden, the house, holidays) things to spend them on!


As a consequence you won’t often find me leafing through the pages of Vogue (except to have a laugh such as here) or watching You Tube videos about how to contour my face.

However, when you are the mum of teenage girls, as I seem to have been forever, you can’t help but get dragged towards certain TV programmes (because they hog the remote) and  retailers, because you are buying them clothes, makeup, toiletries or presents, and end up enjoying them 😀.

If you too have young females to buy for on occasion, or love to buy fashion for yourself, MoneySavingExpert.com has just reminded me of a brilliant one for clothes. Everything5pounds.com does exactly what it says on the tin. It sells ex high street brands (detagged) and they are all a fiver! Because I am off on holiday in a couple of weeks, I purchased four brand new items for £20 yesterday. What a treat and a rare one for me! Better still, if you go over to MSE first they have a code to use to get free postage, but only until 6pm on Tuesday. 

The other two I find myself buying lots from on high days and holidays are Beauty Bay and Cosmetics Fairy, both offering bargain prices. I don’t know how my daughters need so much makeup, but apparently they do! Need to be gorgeous at all times I guess. The pic shows one of my princesses being beautiful for her Instagram feed. Go over and give her a follow and a like if you do that kind of thing: she is makeupbyisobel1. Thanks!

Have a great Saturday!

Managing my time

As we have Bank Holiday Monday coming up I have booked a day’s leave tomorrow. Four days off!! Sadly, the weather forecast doesn’t look that great, but I will make the best of it.

 I find that my time off is currently completely filled with ‘stuff’. I need to make sure I have one day where we go out and have some fun. What’s the point of working hard all the time and not having the occasional bit of down time? I will try to get out in the garden and do some jobs if I can though as I want to keep up the momentum!

 I tend to consider myself quite well organised and good at time management. However, recently I seem to have been busy all the time. Too much to do, or not organising myself well enough?

 I read a post on another blog the other day about time management suggesting that I divide my day into 15 minute slots and write down everything I do during the course of several days to see where I am wasting time. I have carried out this kind of exercise in the past to see where I spend money and it was really useful. My initial thoughts on doing this to track my time were, ‘I don’t have time to do that!’ Perhaps if I just try it on the time I spend at home rather than the time I spend at work. I am thinking about it – anyone else tried this?

 In any case I do have quite a lot to do so I will attempt to be as productive as possible, at the same time as allowing some relaxation time! Whatever you are doing this weekend, have a good one. If I blog quite a lot over the weekend you will know I have cracked it 😀.

 

 

Saving money in the garden

I have been a bit rubbish at writing daily blog posts over the past few weeks. I have been busy with work, boot sales, eBay and, most of all, the garden!

Wallflower cuttings

Wallflower grown from a cutting

 

It is a busy time of year in the garden. I have been weeding, chopping stuff back, sowing seeds and moving things about.

We have a large garden at the back and a biggish one at the front as well. I love that we have so much green around us, but it’s hard work! 

I don’t have lots of cash to splurge so I save money everywhere that I can. I am not an expert and I am sure there is plenty I need to learn, but this is what I have learned about saving money in the garden:

Boot sales and supermarkets are excellent places to buy cheap plants (Aldi in particular)

The reduced section in the garden centre is worth a browse for perennials. They might look a little sad but can be revived!

Most things can be grown from seed extremely cheaply. Share packets and seedlings with friends and family to save even more.

You can grow great plants from cuttings for free! Mr S pinched a bit of a multicoloured wallflower from a garden we visited. It grew spectacularly and this year he has taken cuttings from that. 

You can also divide plants such as grasses to create new plants. I have a geranium that spreads and is good for filling a gap or two so have just divided that.

Places like Home Bargains and B&M are good for cheap compost. Even better, make your own. We use a bit of both.

Pots, planters and containers can be expensive but other gardening friends often have too many. Ask! Failing that, boot sales can be a treasure trove. But you can also be creative – old tyres make good planters, for example.

Boot sales are also great for old gardening tools, as well as Freecycle if you have a group in your area.

Bird scarers can be made easily from aluminium containers on strings – they make a great clatter!

How about raised beds from old bottles? We saw this recently on an allotment and thought it was a great idea.

Several water butts around the garden will save you money if you are on a meter. You can also use ‘grey water’ from your shower or bath to water the garden. 

As well as finding ways to save money in the garden it can save you £££S. Gifts from your garden cost very little: home made jams and chutneys are often appreciated presents, or a hamper of seasonal fruit and vegetables. How about growing your own pot plants as gifts?

Finally, of course growing your own fruit and veg can save you a lot and is also free exercise.

How do you save money in the garden?