Category Archives: General and rants

One pound meals? Fast and fresh, please

Book review: One Pound Meals – Fast and Fresh, by Miguel Barclay

My daughter bought Miguel Barclay’s FAST & FRESH One Pound Meals recently and it is fab. The food really is cheap, easy and uncomplicated to prepare. Above all, it is delicious.

It is actually Miguel Barclay’s second book on this theme. I haven’t read the first (One Pound Meals: Delicious Food for Less) but I will look out for it now.

It is a great looking book. Every recipe has its own beautiful photograph that makes you really want to eat the food! It is all the proof you need that frugal food doesn’t need to be dull. I like the fact that Miguel has designed the recipes for this very specific £1 budget. It gives me confidence in his frugal credentials.

The vegetarian meals are excellent. The sweet corn, courgette and feta fritters were a winner as was the Thai sweet butternut curry. I will definitely also be cooking the sardine pasta and the garlic portobello pappardelle. Both look so easy to prepare after work. I like the sound of curried halloumi, Spanish chorizo stew and the £1 chicken wings. There aren’t many recipes I wouldn’t try, to be honest!

There are no desserts, but in reality how many of us eat a dessert every night when we are eating on a budget?

The recipes do live up to the fast and fresh claim of the title. There is nothing that looks fiddly and it uses a lot of vegetables, making the food very healthy.

Check out Miguel Barclay’s Recipes on Instagram.

Disclaimer: If you purchase this book using my link, I will receive a small commission. 

 

Is frugality the new black?

frugalityIs frugality the new black? I asked this same question back in 2014. Back then it felt we were still in a post recession hangover. Now, in the UK anyway, I think it is more to do with post-Brexit nervousness and our government’s insistence on pushing forwards with their austerity programme. Either way, whatever the cause, frugality seems to be in!

Frugality is in

Food and energy prices go up whilst wages largely stagnate. Benefits are being squeezed for those already on the lowest incomes. Public services are facing cutbacks just as people seem increasingly to need them.

No wonder the internet is packed with money saving and frugality blogs! Whether you want information on living a thriftier, more frugal lifestyle, need advice on budgeting or debt repayment, need better value recipes or want to know where the best discounts can be found, there is a blog for you.

You Tube also features these frugal bloggers and Pinterest is positively awash with them. New books like The No Spend Year: How you can spend less and live more (Michelle McGagh) echo those published at the time of the last recession such as Judith Levine’s Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. There are TV programmes telling you how to spend less on food, how to get more for your money, how to live mortgage free and how to make something new from an item about to be sent to the rubbish dump. Buying second-hand is positively trendy (although not always super cheap if it carries a ‘vintage’ label), with a host of entrepreneurial folk making a living selling second-hand stuff on eBay and other online sites.

Taking care of the pennies

frugalityI guess I might have a different view of the situation if my colleagues were mostly investment bankers rather than local government employees. However, it appears that most people I know are watching the pennies. Those who once seemed embarrassed about shopping in the discount supermarkets now appear very happy to share how much money they saved.

Do people still feel the need to keep up with the Jones’s? I don’t see this so much. Many families are prepared to budget when they need to,  which doesn’t leave much scope for showing off. I am sure some parents continue to spoil their children by spending vast amounts on Christmas and birthdays. However, I have noticed that there are just as many keen to show their children they love them in more meaningful ways and to teach them the value of money.

It is no fun having no spare cash. It is even worse if you have debts because you don’t control your spending. There are plenty of folk out there with reasonable incomes who are in a sticky financial situation because they have been under the influence of the buy now pay later credit culture. I am happy to be part of the frugality trend if it in any way helps people to manage their money better, to appreciate the simple things in life and to save a bit of cash for a rainy day.  I hope it isn’t just a thrifty fad and that frugality really is the new black!

There are a couple of affiliate links in this post and if you purchase anything after linking through I will receive a small commission.

This week’s frugality – how are you doing?

Lost in Blog Land

I have mentioned before that I recently joined the UK Money Bloggers. The site is well worth a read as it is full of interesting articles on finance and frugality.  The members are a lovely, helpful lot with some amazing blogs. I chat regularly to the group on Facebook and they are so willing to share their experience and advice on anything blog related.

This week they have published an article of mine in the Loose Change section about my No Spend Month. Check it out if you get the chance.

Honestly, I would get lost in Blog Land if I had the time. What did we all do before the Internet? Does anybody else spend more time than they should reading lots of blogs?

 Dishwasher emergency

 Our dishwasher – a brilliant Miele one which was about 12 or 13 years old – finally bit the dust at the weekend. Mr S has pulled it out and managed to sort it on several occasions, but this time it just wouldn’t work. I bought it when there were 5 of us at Shoestring Cottage and very useful it was too. Did we need a new one? I didn’t think so. I reckoned we could go back to that quaint, old-fashioned method of a bowl of soapy water!

 However, Mr S mentioned it to his brother and sister in law, and they just happened to know of a dishwasher going for free. Last night they turned up with it and it is now in place. I just need to work out where to put the rinse aid as the light is flashing but there is no obvious place for it to go. I hope we can get it working properly. If not, we will get out the Marigolds. I’m not rushing out to get another one just yet.  There is no frugality in buying something if you don’t need it.

 Grocery challenge

Very soggy car park!

 We overspent slightly on our £35 a week grocery challenge last week. However, we managed to make this last for 10 days, so we are still on target. This week we have spent about £34. We have been having less meat and a lot of pasta and rice. However, we have been eating really healthily, with fruit, salads and yogurt on the menu as well. Anyone else still on  a grocery challenge this month? I would love to hear how you are getting on and the kind of meals you are eating.

Do you ever just get an evening where you cannot be bothered to cook? You can’t give in to a takeaway when you are on a tight budget. I feel like this tonight, having fought my way through the flooded roads of Essex and lots of traffic – with very wet feet as our car park was under 4 inches of water!  Fortunately I tend to plan an easy meal into my week, in case I am late or don’t feel great and don’t have the energy to cook after work. Tonight we are having fish in breadcrumbs, oven chips and peas. There is no shame in this and at least we aren’t going down the chippy!

I hope it is dry wherever you are and you are making some progress towards frugality!

 

 

 

 

Fabulous Frugal Friday

Welcome to Frugal Friday, where I sum up my week.

Grocery challenge

I am continuing on my £35 a week grocery challenge. Week 1 we came in under target at £27.86. This week I have gone a bit over. This is because I sent darling daughter to do the shopping! She spent £41. Never mind, we are winning overall so far. We also have two meals worth of meat to take us forward into next week so I will put off shopping again until Monday rather than tonight. A really Frugal Friday!

The Lodger hunt

I have had one potential lodger visit this week and another had a virtual tour of the house from her base in Germany. I really liked the second one. She has a couple of other places to look at closer to where she really wants to be, so not sure whether she will come to us. I have another foreign student calling tomorrow and another local lady coming on Tuesday. I have had quite a lot of interest, but students don’t realise how far we actually are from the university (5 miles) so this has put some people off. We would suit someone just working in town, ten minutes away.

Feedspot Top 100 Frugal Blogger

I was pleasantly surprised today to receive an email telling me I was no. 53 in the Feedspot list of Top 100 Frugal Blogs on the internet. I don’t even remember submitting my blog for consideration but I guess I must have! There are some brilliant blogs on the list. A lot are American, but they look very interesting. You can sign up for Feedspot here.

Frugal food

I have been cooking a lot of cheap and easy meals this week.  For example, we have had tuna pasta bake, cheesy spinach frittata, Spanish chicken in rice (using a jar I found lurking at the back of the cupboard. Lidl’s own and very tasty) and  vegetable pilaff, I have used a lot of veg from the garden, including in courgette soup, which I have had for my lunch most days at work. We have eaten very little meat, which definitely helps us stick to the budget. I do have sausages and burgers to take into next week so hope to keep below budget on the grocery challenge.

I mentioned in my August monthly goals post that I was hoping to increase my following on Twitter (@shoestringjane), Instagram (@shoestringcottage) and Facebook. Well, I have a bit this week. Thank you if you are one of those who followed me.

We have very little planned this weekend as the rest of the month will be super busy. I am hoping for a bit of nice weather for some gardening and to perhaps get to a boot sale. How are you doing this frugal Friday and how has your week been?

Monthly goals: Aims for August 2017

I have been really busy since I got back from Wales a few weeks ago. At the same time, I feel I achieved very little and mostly ran around like a headless chicken! I was reactive rather than proactive. So I am setting myself some monthly goals.  Here are my aims for August.

Develop the blog

To write 3 blog posts a week. I have struggled to do this over the last few months and I am aware that my posting can be a bit sporadic at times. I want to develop the blog a little more. One day I hope to make some money blogging! In order to do that I need to increase my page views and that will only happen if I post as often as I can. I also want to add a subscribe button so that I can notify readers of new posts. I am not very technical so I find this kind of thing a real challenge.

Increase my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter following

Personally, I am all over Facebook. I keep in touch with friends and family and belong to various groups. I do have a separate Shoestring Cottage page but haven’t paid it enough attention. I currently have a few likes but zero followers! I need to start posting more interesting stuff and hopefully I can get a little Shoestring community going. If you use Facebook you can find me here.

I would like to reach 1000 followers on Twitter (@shoestringjane) and 2000 on Instagram (@shoestringcottage). If you use either maybe you can help with this. Follow and retweet/like. Send me a comment and I will follow you back!

Increase the amount I sell on eBay

I only managed to list about 5 or 6 things during July. There is quite a lot already for sale but it seems to be moving quite slowly. I would like to source and list at least 30 extra items during August. This might be a stretch as we seem to be busy almost every weekend, so getting to boot sales and the charity shops could be tricky. I will do my best.

Get a new lodger

My lodger is leaving in three weeks. This is a shame as the extra income makes a huge difference. I have an ad on spareroom.com and have had a bit of interest, but nothing concrete yet. I will begin to approach prospective tenants and perhaps sign up with another website to increase my chances of getting someone in quickly. It did take several months last time as most people want to be near the university or prefer to share with other young folk. I hope to have something arranged by the end of August.

Continue with my grocery challenge

I am currently on a grocery challenge to spend no more than £35 a week on food for three people per week. I will keep this up until the end of August at least.

I think that will do for the month as I don’t want to set monthly goals that aren’t achievable. How about you? Do you set monthly goals and what are you aiming for?

 

 

Right on the money: Sensible advice to save you cash

right on the moneyI have been watching an excellent TV programme In the mornings recently called Right on the Money. It is usually on during the day when I am at work but seems to be repeated the following day at 6.30am on BBC2. I watch it whilst I am getting ready for work!

I have just discovered this but found it features really sensible advice and information for those who are looking for ways to save money.  Sometimes I find such programmes are rather patronising and aimed at people so clueless there is nothing to learn if you are already pretty careful with your finances. Right on the Money is different and interesting, with really original content.

So far this week I have discovered the following:

Property guardianship

You can save huge amounts of money on rent if you become a property guardian. This involves paying a reduced rent to live in a disused building in return for some maintenance duties. The downside is that you only get one month’s notice of your landlord wants the property back. Not a solution for families but nevertheless such a great idea!

Nocturnal shopping

There is something known as the ‘vampire economy’. There are a whole host of nocturnal Internet shoppers who relax by spending their time and cash on the sofa or in bed buying stuff. I know a lot of people shop for leisure in town or at the mall at the weekend but hadn’t appreciated this happened online so much. I tend to buy things because I need them, not for fun. I don’t have enough spare cash for that to be a hobby!

Beware contactless spending

It is very easy to spend a lot of money using contactless payments. A coffee, here, a magazine there, a music download…they can soon add up. Contactless is easy and convenient, but because it doesn’t feel as if you are spending real money it can be hard to track.

Young entrepreneurs

There are many kids out there earning excellent money running their own businesses. There is 15 year old Harvey, who started a business designing and selling tax disc reminders. He invested his profits in land to create a campsite but ended up selling it for millions to a developer! Fourteen year old Angel sells animal fashion accessories that she makes herself and owns two shops. Then there is 13 year old Henry, who writes books and designs a range of children’s products based on those. Amazing and totally inspiring! They did make me feel a bit of a failure though. Ho hum.

Right on the Money!

It really is a great programme and worth watching on catch up of you can. Even us seasoned money savers can learn something. If you can’t watch Right on the Money, check out the website for loads of hints and tips on saving your dosh!

Good news and bad: SHOMO Awards and bye bye lodger

We are back in Essex after our wonderful week in Wales. I was really pleased to hear that our hosts, Tom and Liza, had received some emails from readers of this blog expressing an interest in staying there. It is the most peaceful place ever! If you are interested in an eco friendly break in a beautiful location (at a very good price), more information is available here. We hope to return next year.

We packed a lot in, whilst leaving lots of time for reading books and resting. Highlights were walking the coastal path at Aberdovey, The RSPB South Stack reserve at Holyhead, a stopover in Bridgenorth and some fantastic charity shop bargain hunting. What a lovely week we had.

Bad news: the lodger is leaving

As well as many, many courgettes, cucumbers and runner beans, we came back to some sad news. Our lodger has a new job and will be relocating. She has been a great lodger and is now good friends with my daughters, so we shall really miss her.  As they all socialise I expect we will still see her from time to time.

This is not good news for the bank balance as we rely on the income. We hope to get a replacement in as soon as possible. I will be getting the advert back up on spareroom.com this week.

Great news: I am a SHOMO awards finalist!

Whilst I was away I learned that my blog has made the shortlist for the SHOMO Awards best frugal and thrift blog. I am really pleased! The SHOMO Awards celebrate and recognise the best UK money blogs. In my category I am up against such exalted company as Frugal Queen (my heroine), my friend Faith Archer with her beautiful Much More With Less blog, Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family (fab recipes and brilliant money saving ideas), Zoe at Ecothrifty, which I love – right up my street, and the amazing Emma Drew – originally of From Aldi to Harrods fame. I love her You Tube videos.

I can’t wait to meet all of them at the awards ceremony in London at the end of September. In the meantime, there is also a People’s Choice award, where you can vote for any of the 70 blogs nominated from 1st August.  I will remind you when this opens .

All of the categories and nominees can be found here.

Staying chilled

I need to keep my post holiday sense of relaxation going. No yoga on the grass in the Welsh countryside, but I will open the window wide and get my mat out in the lounge.

Still – I have a lot to do! I need to do a little shopping for the week, lots of laundry, list some of my charity shop bargains on eBay and perhaps do a little gardening. Luckily darling daughter has left the house clean and tidy so I don’t need to worry about that.

I hope you are having a relaxing Sunday. Back soon with some post holiday money saving ideas.

 

No spend week update – how was yours?

Broadstairs

On the beach at Broadstairs

No spend week hangover

We came to the end of our no spend week yesterday. I don’t find it difficult generally, especially when I am at work,  as there is little temptation. It really helps my bank balance. You don’t always spot the steady drip, drip of money out of your purse, even when you think you are being quite frugal!

Doing a no spend week or month tends to carry over. I find I get out of the habit of spending money. I do need to go and buy new smart sandals at some point. They fell apart over the weekend. I had to hold them on my foot with a hair band I found on the floor and hobble home! I have my walking sandals, which will do until I get round to it.

What the Dickens?

No spend week

Celebrating the end of no spend week!

We drove to Broadstairs on Friday night to pick up my parents and aunt. They had the most fabulous sunny week there and said they could have been abroad. We stayed in their rented house overnight and came back to Essex after lunch on Saturday.

It seems a rather nice town with a gorgeous sandy beach. They were fortunate in being there for the annual Dickens festival. They hadn’t planned this and were initially a bit confused that the local folk were wandering round in period dress!

We only had a few hours for a wander but it is a lovely bit of coast line with an interesting history (as well as the Dickens connection, it is known as Viking Bay). Broadstairs could be one to revisit I think.

Lunch ‘out’

My parents treated us to lunch to thank us for collecting them. I am obviously their frugal daughter though, as lunch out meant pie or fish and chips on a bench overlooking the sea! We retreated to the car when the weather broke and it started to rain. Typical English seaside experience.

Both my mum and dad had big operations earlier in the year, within two weeks of each other. My mum had a hip replacement and dad had a stent fitted on his aortic aneurism. It was all rather stressful and worrying at the time so it is nice to see them up and about now. Even though they don’t drive long distances as they used to, they don’t let anything get in the way of living their lives to the full.

Frugal soup

I rescued a chicken carcass with a ton of meat on it from my lodger in the week. She was going to bin it! I stripped off the chicken and froze it, then got another couple of carcasses I had saved from the freezer to make a big pot of stock. Today it will be transformed into a hearty chicken and vegetable soup. I hate waste! This will get another frugal week off to a good start.

I need to do a shopping list and meal plan for the week. I spent barely anything on food last week, less than £20. Now we have broad beans and courgettes ready in the garden so I won’t need to buy much veg.

Has anyone else been on a no spend week? How have you done?

Five reasons why you should teach your children to cook

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

Teach your children to cook!

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

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

Having fun and improving motor skills

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

Learning about nutrition

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

Increasing independence

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

Saving money

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

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

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

 

 

 

Home made eco friendly cleaning spray

I dumped the Mr Sheen years ago and I have been using a mixture of vinegar and water to clean surfaces and furniture. It is very cheap and effective. I  have also on occasion used bicarbonate of soda to scrub the bathroom. However, until now I haven’t really explored any recipes for  a home made eco friendly cleaner such as this one.

home made eco friendly cleaning spray

Home made eco friendly cleaning spray

A home made eco friendly cleaning spray

I hate the idea of living in a house filled with chemicals and the damage that they do to the environment, but I can’t afford the expensive eco-friendly cleaning products you find in the supermarket or health food shop. Over the years a mixture of being very busy and laziness has meant that my cleaning cupboard has started to fill up with standard cleaners. I have bathroom cleaners, bleach, window cleaners, carpet cleaners, oven cleaners….what happened to my green credentials?! My cupboard is full of chemical cocktails in a sea of plastic bottles. Enough is enough!

As I run out of each cleaner I am going to experiment with a cheaper, greener home made alternative. The first has been a general purpose spray cleaner that I have so far used successfully in the kitchen and bathroom as well as the kitchen work surfaces.

This is extremely cheap and easy to make. I put it in an old spray bottle so less plastic waste too! I reckon it cost about 60p for a litre and I have loads of borax substitute left that should last ages.

Orange general household cleaner

An old spray bottle, washed out
2 heaped tsp borax substitute
4 or 5 drops of orange essential oil
100ml white vinegar
warm water

Use a large jug as this fizzes when you add the vinegar to the borax substitute. Start by mixing them together as much as you can. Add your orange oil and top up to the litre mark with warm water. Keep stirring until the borax substitute is dissolved, pour into your spray bottle and get cleaning!

I got my white vinegar from Asda for about 39p and the oil and borax substitute came from Summer Naturals.

Does anyone have some tried and tested eco friendly cleaning spray recipes they would like to share?