Money saving and money making tips 

A friend and work colleague recently discovered my blog and has given me a good tip for putting money into savings. She has a banking app on her phone and can access both her current and savings account from this at any time. If she makes a purchase of a discounted item, be it on sale or yellow stickered, rather than simply congratulating herself on a wise buy she immediately transfers the amount saved into her savings account. She does this whatever the item is – food, clothes, household goods, etc. 

I think this is a great tip! Of course, it won’t work if you are only buying the item because it is on sale and wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. It is food for thought though and you could create a healthy nest egg with very little effort.

Another useful thing she does is to rent out her driveway during the week as she lives in the centre of town. Whilst she is at work her drive is earning her money, which she receives in cash, so she makes this last for all her miscellaneous expenses during the week – that loaf of bread or pint of milk that might otherwise mean a trip to the cash point. 

You need to use the resources you have and be creative to make the most of your hard earned cash,and she is certainly doing that.

Personally, we don’t live close enough to town to rent our driveway, but we do have a spare room and take in foreign language students on a short term basis. I currently have two very nice French 16 year olds!

We have decided to use the room to create a more regular income and will be decorating it in the next few weeks and advertising for a lodger. We didn’t really want to go down this road as we value our space and privacy but we have a small back room that we have used as a dining room in the past. This is now going to become the lodger’s sitting room, so no need for awkward negotiations over the tv remote 😊. I hope we can find somebody nice.

I also used to teach yoga to make a little extra but this proved a real bind after a busy working day so it is on hold for the moment. I will start a new class at some point I expect.

What do you do to help you create a nest egg?

I take Aldi when I  go on holiday

When we went to Wales recently Mr S sighed and said, ‘Don’t take too much food. They do sell it there.’ Of course they do! However the village we were going to did not have an Aldi or a Lidl, just a small, expensive Coop. They have a lovely weekly market but this tends towards luxury foods like cheeses, speciality cake and bread. 

We always take a flask!

 Because we are holidaying on a tight budget we go self catering and we hardly eat out, apart from the occasional fish and chip supper. We make dinner each night and take a flask of coffee, our water bottles and a picnic lunch each day. So I take lots of basics. Usually a meal ready for when we arrive; perhaps a curry, chilli or bolognese in a Tupperware. Some onions, tinned tomatoes, dried herbs, bread, cheese, eggs, bacon, wine, juice, milk, teabags, coffee and snacks. We then top up locally as we need it. It saves loads of money!

We have another cheap week booked in Devon in September and will do the same, although there will be less room in the car because there are four of us, so we might get settled and then go in search of a supermarket.

I feel a bit guilty not to support local businesses more when we are away, but the truth is if we didn’t self cater and buy in advance we wouldn’t be able to afford to go away at all. 

Anyone else have any holiday money saving tips?

The wonder of water and how it saves me money

I have been taking some tips from Ilona over on Life After Money and started diluting stuff to make it last. Because I am lactose intolerant I buy Lactofree milk. This can be expensive – usually around £1.35 a litre, but I have seen it for as much as £1.50! Last night it was on offer at my local Sainsbury’s for £1 so I stocked up. I will make this last by diluting it in everything except tea and coffee. I drank a perfectly nice cup of ovaltine before bed last night made with 50-50 milk and water and the same this morning on my cereal. I put a little water in the orange juice as well. Not too much – I don’t mind it weak but everyone else complains.

I would drink soya milk as it is cheaper but I can’t stand the stuff!

I stopped buying handwash a while back and we now have good, old fashioned soap in bars. However, the last  few bottles of handwash lasted quite a long time in diluted form 😀. I do the same with washing up liquid since everyone always squirts too much in anyway.

I add water to shampoo and sometimes a small amount to conditioner too. I don’t think anyone has noticed! I stopped buying shower gel and bubble bath when I switched back to soap or I would dilute those as well :-).

I encourage everyone at home to drink water instead of squash or juice anyway as it is better for you and almost free.

Talking of Ilona, I read on her blog that she will soon be on Shed of the Year on TV. I love this programme and look forward to seeing if she wins. If you haven’t seen her awesome summer house have a look here. It starts next Friday, 29th July, 8 pm on Channel 4.

I popped into the Co-op last night 15 minutes before they closed to see if there were any good reductions. There was a lot: I got yogurts, ham, some mince and diced turkey. Most of it will freeze but the yogurts and some of the ham will come in handy for the student’s lunches over the next coupe of days. I have to provide two rounds of sandwiches, fruit, crisps, a cake or yogurt and a drink each day.

He is proving no problem to feed. Tonight we had macaroni cheese, bread and leftover salad and again he ate it all with enthusiasm. He tells me that in France families still tend to sit together to eat, always have a proper meal rather than microwave rubbish and drink water rather than pop. I love this and it was how we approached meal times when the girls were younger. I think many British families have given this up in favour of the TV dinner. Shame.

However, our student even prefers water to a nice cup of tea. That’s a step too far for me 😀.

Things I wish I had been told when I was 17

The day after the referendum, when I was feeling disappointed and anxious about the future, I sent the following text to my three daughters:

I wish I had been told that whoever is in government you need to be as self sufficient as possible to protect yourselves. The way the world is moving this is really important. Look after your health as the NHS is buggered – don’t smoke, exercise, eat healthily. Get as qualified as you can to improve your job prospects. Live within your means and have savings. Buy a property when you can and aim to pay off the mortgage asap to look after yourself as you get older. I wish I had been told this…

Rather gloomy and maybe a bit dramatic but it is how I felt and what I still believe. Regrets are pointless. There are many things I could have done differently in my life  that would have put me in a much better financial position than I am in currently. On the other hand, what I have learned in recent years means I am in a far better place than I could have been!

I was interested to read Jenni Hill’s recent post about saving for a’f**k off fund’:  http://www.cantswingacat.co.uk/2016/01/25/fuck-off-fund-emergency-savings/

I sent that to my daughters as well. I save myself for regular expenses like holidays, birthdays, the MOT, etc but this  gets spent as it is needed. I also have a separate contingency fund but it’s not huge. I would struggle to save 6 months salary! My outgoings are pretty low and my income is never going to be great! However I am doing my best to increase this fund. 

I hope my daughters will start their ‘f**k off’ funds soon so that they hit their fifties owning their own houses outright with no debts and a healthy contingency. At least they won’t look back and say ‘I wish someone had told me’…

Boot sale bonanza and some charity shop bargains too

wigwam

Weed free bed and wigwam

Thanks to everyone who has clicked through to Approved Food from my link the other day – I have had nearly 100 clicks! No orders yet though.

As it was a glorious morning on Sunday I decided to go to a boot sale. I really needed some new (to me) clothes, so I went with a bit of money and an eye for a bargain.  The weather had brought out the genuine boot-salers so it wasn’t just traders – this always means there is hope of finding some good stuff and I wasn’t disappointed. I found several nice tops, a couple of cardigans, a summer skirt, a gorgeous long Monsoon dress for £2, some extremely comfortable leather sandals and a nice pair of jeans that fitted perfectly. The lady who sold me these for £2 told me she had paid £200 for them originally. “What? £200 for a pair of jeans????”, I said,  although I resisted the urge to tell her she was stark raving mad. Apparently they are a brand called Seven which is a famous designer brand. Famous designer con more like….still, I don’t mind, they are nice jeans and well worth 200 pennies 🙂 .

I spent even more time in the garden when I got back – there is so much to do at this time of year. I love pottering though. It is quite annoying how work gets in the way of my gardening, even if it is mainly weeding at the moment!

sofa

Bargain second-hand sofa

I managed to get some more bargains on the way back from work yesterday. As I was passing the hospice shop I saw what looked like a wooden garden table and chairs – so I did a swift U-turn and went in. They were a bit disappointing as two of the chairs were a bit cracked and they were asking £80 which I thought was way too much. Whilst I was there I went to look at the sofas. I have been on the look out for a decent 3-seater for ages and they had a nice comfy cream one for £75, which I decided to buy. I mentioned to the lady serving me about the table and she came out to have a look with me, then said I could have the lot for £30. I thought this was reasonable and I am sure Mr S will be able to patch them up.

Rubbed down, primed and ready for some colour...

Rubbed down, primed and ready for some colour…

I have spent lots of money this week but I have some put by, and these were things I really needed so it isn’t a problem. If I think about how much my purchases would have been new….well, I wouldn’t have been able to afford many of them at all. I love second-hand!

I have been working on the collapsed bench we found outside our neighbour’s house. It has been repaired by Mr S, and I have rubbed it down and primed it. Now I just need to decide on the colour and find paint at a decent price and it will be ready for the next lot of sunshine.

 

A frugal Indian dinner party

home made indianI mentioned previously that I was having the girls round at the weekend. I don’t do dinner parties much as it always seems to cost so much even when I try really hard to be thrifty. When you have guests you feel you need to give them a treat with three courses, plus there is wine to buy of course.

Well, this time I think I have cracked it. I made three Indian inspired dishes, one of my own recipes smoky chicken and chickpeas (not exactly Indian since the main spice is smoked paprika, but it went well with the other dishes); a tarka dhal recipe that I found on the Internet (on Jamie Oliver’s site but not one of his recipes) and one from the book I found in the charity shop the other day, Save with Jamie, for sag aloo. I can’t find that anywhere on the web so here it is:

1 onion
2 ripe tomatoes
half a bunch fresh coriander
2 heaped tbsp rogan josh curry paste
oil
1.2kg potatoes, cut into 3cm chunks
4 cloves of garlic
1 fresh red chilli
2 tsp cumin seeds
300g frozen spinach

Peel the onion and blitz with the tomatoes, coriander stalks and curry paste in a food processor until combined, then spoon into a large non-stick frying pan on a medium heat with a lug of oil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly, then add the potatoes with some salt and pepper. Pour in enough water to come half way up the potatoes, bring to the boil then simmer with a lid on for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and turn the heat up a bit for another 15-20 minutes until the potatoes start to get crispy and golden. Meanwhile make a flavoured oil called a temper. Peel the garlic and finely slice with the chilli, place in a small pan and fry with the cumin seeds and a good lug of oil and until golden, then take off the heat. When the potatoes are reading stir the spinach into the pan and cook for around 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Serve the sag aloo drizzled with the temper with the coriander leaves scattered on top.

Because I made this the evening before, I stirred the temper in rather than serving it on top. It was really nice!

sag alooThe food went down very well and I had lots of compliments. It also fed far more that the 6 of us, so we have been eating it most of the weekend. The starter was poppadums from Aldi with mango chutney and a simple raita made from yogurt mixed with chopped mint and grated cucumber. Because I was at work all day I didn’t have time to make a pudding, so the non frugal part of the meal was a lemon tart from Sainsbury’s with some ice cream.  I also bought two  bottles of wine but I didn’t really need to since everybody brought a bottle as well.

beehiveIt was a success and a very good way to feed a crowd cheaply. I think the quantity I made would have fed 10 easily.

It was glorious here on Saturday so I spent the whole day in the garden. I could happily do that every day – maybe I should retrain as a gardener? Mind you, I hate the cold, so I would end up as a fair weather gardener and starve in the winter. I rescued my currant bushes from the bindweed (this is the bane of my life), I weeded my small wild flower garden ready to add sweet peas to the wigwam when they are ready, repotted my geraniums and rescued an old bee hive Mr S had abandoned at the bottom of the garden to display them on. I was shattered!

I still managed to get up for the boot sale but that is another story and my next blog post…

Would you eat food beyond its best before date? Check out Approved Food

I haven’t ordered much from Approved Food lately. There is too much temptation in the form of chocolate, crisps and cakes and I have been watching my weight! I had a quick look yesterday and they have some great prices though so I will do an order over the weekend. I focus on store cupboard staples and timesavers such as casserole mixes and curry sauces for when I’m in a rush, pasta and rice, condiments, tinned fruit and veg, etc. Today they have on offer Heinz ketchup for 89p instead of £1.75, Hellman’s mayonnaise for 59p instead of £1.69, 20 small Lindt chocolate bunnies for £2 and 2 500g bags of fusilli for £1. So cheap!! They will all go in my basket, even the Lindt bunnies, since it would be rude not to. They even have toilet rolls and gifts on there, although why they would have a best before date is beyond me!

approved foodI have always liked the principle behind Approved Food; they sell short dated food near or beyond their best before dates but still perfectly good to eat. If they didn’t sell these products  they might end up in the bin, which in my view is a criminal waste of perfectly good food. If you click through and sign up for an account using my link I get a small commission in the way of credits to spend with the company, so if you are interested please use it and I will be very appreciative! The delivery cost for a box is £5.99 so I always get as much as possible – this still allows for massive savings on my grocery bill.

Approved Food Link

The weather has finally remembered it is spring!.It is gorgeous and sunny here. Shame I have to go to work as I would love to potter around my garden. There is still so much to do at this time of year.  I will have to make do with a walk at lunchtime.

I have friends for dinner tomorrow so I  have to do all the preparation tonight. It will be a busy night. I am making three different curries – my chicken and chickpea one here: http://www.shoestringcottage.com/?p=2960, a lentil dahl and saag aloo, so this shouldn’t break the bank. Lots of pulses and vegetables. I hope you are having some nice weather wherever you are in the world. Enjoy your day!

 

 

 

Saving pennies every day

I have started freezing my tights – as you do!! Freezing them overnight before you wear them is said to make them last longer. I really can’t say if it has worked yet. Mine tend to last quite a long time anyway as I try to be quite gentle with them and tend to wear the thick lycra kind (I stock up whenever I see a Primark as they are a good price in there – £3.90 for 3 pairs of 80 derniere). Now that the weather is getting better I have moved to thinner ones (5 pairs of ladder resist tights in Primark are even cheaper – only £3), so thought I would try the freezer trick. Nothing like a bit of lycra among the frozen peas to raise a few eyebrows 😀.

  My student is proving very easy to feed. This is good as I can’t stand fussy eaters! She even tried curry and rice last night. I wasn’t sure she would enjoy it as other French students we have had weren’t sure what curry was. I don’t think it is popular in France. She ate the lot with some poppadums but drew the line at the mango chutney. 

To my great relief she has found her way to school and back on the bus. She seems confident and independent for a 12 year old. I really don’t know how I would have coped with having to navigate the bus system in a strange town with very basic language at her age. I would have been quite terrified I am sure. I won’t have such a young student again though – it feels like much more of a responsibility than the older ones I am used to. Still, she is leaving on Saturday and is a nice kid.

 
I spent a lot more on food this week as the student was coming – more meat and treats like cakes and desserts. Not good for my diet and I have put on 2lb!! Never mind – I will go back to low calorie eating next week. The food I bought should last well into next week anyway so I will just do a small top up shop when I need to.

 
I am determined to save as much money as I can as I am saving for a new car (new to me anyway – it will of course be second-hand). Every bit of extra money I earn goes into the savings account. I may still have to borrow some but hopefully as little as possible.

 
I am growing lots of vegetables again this year and have loads of seedlings on the go. This saves me a lot of money in the summer, but it can be a lot of work growing, watering, picking and preserving. I usually feel there aren’t enough hours in the day anyway, but when everything is ready to pick it can feel a bit stressful. It is worth it though, eating some delicious home grown blackcurrants on my porridge or making courgette soup when all outside is barren and cold in the depths of winter. At the moment it is lovely to see the little plants making some progress. I need to start to pot some on at the weekend.

 How is your garden growing? And does anyone else freeze their tights?

It’s the little things …

Excuse the lack of posts this week. I have felt inexplicably exhausted and seem to have spent a lot of my evenings snoring on Mr Shoestring’s shoulder on the sofa. Oh well – I guess my body needed the rest!

I was berating myself for getting so little done. Then I decided to make a list of all this week’s frugal achievements. To my surprise I did better than I thought. This proves we need to be kinder to ourselves once in a while. Writing a list proves you have accomplished something 😀.

So…what did I achieve?

Decluttered my wardrobe

I have pulled some things out to sell on eBay and have two bin bags to take to the charity shop. What’s the point of this stuff cluttering up my cupboard if I never wear it? Now I can see what I actually have!

Sold 4 things on eBay

I finally got round to listing some items that had been sitting in a cupboard for ages. I sold four and made £25 which has gone straight in the savings account. Every little helps!

Started a spending diary
I have done this before, although not for a while. This time I am following the plan in the book I am reading, Your Money or Your Life, and recording every penny that comes in or out of my life. I think this will prove a useful exercise to see if I am really in touch with my spending habits.

Repaired the dishwasher

This wasn’t really me at all – Mr S, my very own Handy Andy, came to the rescue and managed to get it working. It keeps blocking. I suspect it is on the way out as it is 15 years old. I won’t be replacing it when it does expire finally.

Dyed my own hair

I always do this. I use half a box of hair dye on my roots once a month which costs me about £2. My hairdresser charges about £30! They have to make a living but my budget won’t run to this.

Made thrift soup
  I dug out two carcasses to make stock – one was a chicken and the other the duck from Christmas! It made lovely stock. I added some frozen leftover mashed potato, pasta and veg, then chopped up an onion and celery and threw the whole lot in the pot with some lentils. It was delicious and will be lunch for about 4 days.

Repaired a hole in my jumper

My favourite blue jumper! It took three minutes to sew up the little hole that had developed. It was secondhand when I got it but I still want my money’s worth 😃😃.

Aranged to have a water meter

I have put this off for years as with three long haired daughters who spent a lot of time in the bathroom and required many loads of laundry to be done, not to mention the poor dishwasher, I knew my bills would go up with a meter. Now, with just one daughter left at home, it was time. The water company is sending an engineer in a few weeks.

Purchased lots of reduced jewellery

My new venture is an Instagram shop. I am currently on the look out for bargain bits to sell on and found some very pretty earrings and necklaces at a discount sale price. I will start a new account for this, although my current one now has over a thousand followers – I am quite pleased about this. I know it is yet another way to waste time but I enjoy looking at people’s pictures and getting a little window on their lives. Check me out: @shoestringcottage.

Wonky box

Asda have very kindly arranged for me to receive a Wonky Box to review. It should arrive this week so watch this space! In case you are living in a cave and haven’t heard, they are selling misshapen vegetables for £3.50 a box, which they claim contain enough vegetables to feed a family of four for a week. Sound excellent all round and I am very excited about this!

I am starting this week by finally starting some seeds for the veg patch. We had planned to do this last Sunday but had a day out to Pin Mill instead. So that’s my first frugal achievement for this week 😀.

Whatever you are doing, have a good week, money savers!

My frugal journey: sources of inspiration

How did it all begin? At what point did being frugal become a lifestyle choice for me? I have been pondering and the truth is that it was foisted on me by circumstance of course. But I was brought up in a frugal household and have never liked waste, so living simply and frugally comes naturally to me. I don’t enjoy being short of money, but I do get satisfaction out of managing the money I have and using my creativity to life a life that is enjoyable. 
  The first book that gave me real inspiration was the absolute classic Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczin. It was published in the 1990s, but is totally relevant today. If you haven’t read it, it is worth buying.

There is an interesting interview with Amy here.

The second, which is aimed for a UK rather than a US market, was the Penny Pincher’s Book by John and Irma Mustoe. This is packed with useful tips and quite witty at times too. I notice it has been updated in recent years.

As I got more computer savvy and moved onto the Internet – this opened up a whole new treasure trove of inspiration and advice. Moneysavingexpert.com was the first site that I got into. It is massive! So many good articles and great advice from forum members who have experienced awful debt and have either got themselves back on track or are working their way towards that goal.

Frugal Queen was the next. That woman is great at giving you a good motivational talking to via her blog whilst getting herself out of debt and sharing her journey. 

There are so many good sites and blogs on saving money now. One of my absolute favourites is Life After Money. Ilona, who writes it, is a great character and very inspirational. She has become something of a celebrity, even appearing recently on a radio show in Australia!

I like Ricky on Skint Dad too – nice to get a male viewpoint. 

Where do you go for frugal inspiration?

Cutting back painlessly 

  Still feeling the pinch after Christmas? I blogged the other day about making extra money, but my ideas may not be feasible for everyone. If you can trim all the flab off your spending and make things leaner that will have the same impact as extra income. Some people just don’t know where all the money goes!
 A tried and tested way to find out what your spending habits really are is to keep a diary. It is a bit of a fag, but it is really helpful – trust me! First find a suitable notepad – it doesn’t have to be fancy; a cheap reporter’s notebook will do. Write down every single purchase that you make during the course of your day, from 80p for a chocolate bar, £2 for a coffee, £5 for lunch, £3.50 for a magazine, £10 for drinks in the pub, £30 for petrol, £3 for sweets for the kids, etc. It all adds up.

 Make a daily total. Write some notes too that might help explain your spending, such as ‘kids on school holidays’, ‘worked late’, ‘had friends over’, ‘felt depressed’. After a few weeks of keeping your diary you will start to understand your habits and motivations for spending money.

 Now start to scrutinise your spending. What was essential, what could have been avoided, what could have been done more cheaply?

 If I take my own examples, it is clear that only the lunch and petrol were essential purchases. The others were wants rather than needs. However, we all need a little treat sometimes, so how to scale down the expense?

 Chocolate bars – multipacks are so much cheaper than buying these singly or from a vending machine. Keep some in the cupboard/your handbag for when you need a boost.

 Ditto sweets for the kids – supermarket multipacks are the best value, but keep them hidden away for an occasional treat rather than every day.

 Magazines – such an expensive habit. You can buy them really cheaply (3 for £2) on market stalls. They won’t be the current issue, but they churn out the same stuff each season anyway! My library service offers a free e-magazine service called Zinio. If you are a member of Essex libraries check it out. If not, ask your library if they offer anything similar.

 Tea/coffee – if you are going out you could take a flask. I always do this for picnics. For trips into town I take a bottle of water and wait until I get home to make my own tea or coffee. A lot of work places provide drinks but if they don’t take your own milk, teabags, coffee and mugs and you are good to go.

 Lunch is an essential, but it is clearly much cheaper to take a packed lunch from home rather than buying it out. Even a prepacked sandwich with a cake can set you back a fiver.

 Drinks in the pub? I rarely do this as it costs so much. How about getting together with friends at home with a few bottles from the supermarket?

 These are just a few examples of where you can save money on small purchases. Another advantage is that most of the above mean you will avoid going into any shops other than the supermarket for your regular grocery shop, so if you are somebody who gives into the impulse purchases you are less likely to encounter temptation (and if you choose the discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl there is even less choice and temptation on offer).

 How do you keep your spending under control?

Jane’s War on Waste!

Has anybody seen Hugh’s War on Waste on BBC1 at all? I watched the first one on catch up over the weekend and I heartily applaud what he is doing. 

Seeing a parsnip farmer going out of business because the supermarket they supply to will only accept parsnips of equal size and shape was painful and frustrating. This means tons of perfectly good fresh produce is being thrown away because the supermarkets insist that we, as their customers, will only accept perfect looking vegetables free of blemishes. The sad thing is I think this may be true for many people. Unless we grow our own produce we have been conditioned to think that misshapen veg is odd, when actually it is quite normal.

I was not surprised to see the amount of food that some of the households featured threw away each week. In the UK this averages £15 a week! That’s almost £800 a year -a holiday perhaps or at least a small pay rise. Our grandmothers would have had a fit – in the war it actually was illegal to waste food. It was a scarce and precious resource. They used every scrap and stretched every morsel and we were all the healthier for it.
  I don’t waste as much as the average person but have been known to forget the half a pot of hummus lurking at the back of the fridge, to chuck the last bits of the salad bag because they are looking a bit the worse for wear, to let the cereal go stale and to leave dry goods such as sugar and flour too long before I use them up.

Inspired by Hugh, this weekend I made sure we started to use some bits up. I made a banana cake with some rather brown bananas and some flour near its end date (not that I take much notice of that with dry goods), I made everyone have salad in their sandwiches at lunchtime, I made soup from the leftover cooked veg that I have been collecting in the freezer, I forced the last of a bottle of red wine down Mr S’s neck (surprisingly easy that one) and I made a large batch of apple purée from the windfalls that have been hanging around for a few weeks. 

I still have the Halloween pumpkin to use in some way but there is no rush since we went out and never actually got the chance to carve it! That will probably go for soup too as I love it and it’s good for work lunches.

It makes me mad when food is wasted, but if makes me madder if the person wasting it is me!

Little vegan number: spicy chick peas with spinach 

  I love chick peas! And I love spinach. Mostly I love frugal healthy food and this fits the bill on both counts. 

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4-6 balls of frozen spinach
1 bell pepper. chopped
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 400g can chick peas, drained
half to one tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsps cumin
half pint veg stock
oil
salt and pepper

Fry up the onions, garlic and pepper  in the oil until soft, then add the spices and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the spinach and all the other ingredients and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for at least half an hour, covered. Taste and season.

A simple supper with rice or as a side dish and cheap as chips!

Courgettes with everything!

  It is that time of year. The courgettes are coming thick and fast and it can be hard to know what to with them. My favourite way to store them is in the freezer as soup. I make buckets of the stuff which makes fantastic frugal lunches. 

I also enjoy them cooked very simply with onions and garlic as a side dish or I make a poor man’s version of ratatouille with no aubergine: chopped and sautéed onions, garlic, a sweet pepper and sliced courgettes with a couple of cans of chopped tomatoes, a stock cube, chopped herbs (fresh or dried), a splash of wine if I have any sitting around and plenty of seasoning.  
 I made ratatouille last week and it was a side dish with some baked chicken and then two days worth of lunches with some rice.
  Courgettes and mushrooms gently sautéed in butter is quick and easy. Looking through my blog, this time last year I tried stuffed courgettes with feta so I shall do that again – the recipe is  here. I made some glutney chutney as well which used onions, tomatoes and courgettes, all from the garden, so some form of courgette chutney is on the cards again this year.
  I have never tried them as courgette cake but I fully intend to this year. I love carrot cake so why not? My courgette recipe book also suggests pickling in the same way as you would cucumbers. Has anyone tried this?

Do you have any gluts of your home grown fruit and veg, and how do you preserve them?

Cleaning my boots with a banana skin, and other crazy frugal notions…

I have  been trying to find some clear or taupe coloured boot polish for ages. I got a nice pair of leather boots in the sale last winter – £35 reduced from £120. They are lovely quality and very comfy, but a weird colour. As a consequence I have never polished them and they were looking a bit tatty.

Before...

Before…

Idly eating a banana it occurred to me that I had read somewhere you could use a banana skin to clean leather. Well, why not? Have you ever tried it? I’m not convinced it works! Still, they look vaguely cleaner I guess and it cost nothing…

...after???

…after??? Hmmm

Some frugal ideas are brilliant but it has to be said that others are slightly nuts. For example, I have never found screwing up the netting that oranges come in and using it as a pan scourer remotely successful. I would never consider making my own baby formula (I would leave that to Mother Nature with the professional baby milk manufacturers as a back up). I have tried squishing the ends of soap together to make a new bar, but it invariably falls apart. I wouldn’t consider giving someone a gift wrapped up in old newspaper or magazine (not that I read them these days!). These things save hardly anything and take up lots of time, and I don’t have enough of that as it is, so I think I would do better to spend my time planning frugal meals, growing some of my own food and finding ways to cut my household bills such as my energy or diesel usage.

So what is the nuttiest thing you have attempted to save money, and did it work? Please share!!

Leftovers risotto: waste not want not!

imageSometimes you need to be creative in your frugal kitchen. You can’t always slavishly follow a recipe. I frequently adapt recipes to make use of what I have, and sometimes I just make it up.

imageLast night I looked in the fridge and freezer and I had some shredded chicken from Sunday’s roast (frozen), half a punnet of mushrooms that were looking a bit sorry for themselves and half a jar of spanish chicken sauce. So what to do with all these leftovers? I decided on a sort of risotto. This is what I did:

imageFried the mushrooms in oil and a little butter with two cloves of garlic and two large shallots purchased by our French student when he made the ratatouille last week. I added a handful of frozen peas too. I cooked about 350g basmati rice and threw that on top with the half a jar of sauce, a can of tomatoes and half a glass of white wine that was lurking in the fridge. I boiled it up for a bit and added a couple of tablespoons of tomato purée, salt and pepper and a couple of shakes of smoked paprika. Finally I threw in the shredded defrosted chicken and warmed it through thoroughly. It was delicious! This fed three of us last night and we finished it for lunch today.

imageSimple, nutritious and it used up some leftovers that some folk would have ended up throwing in the bin.

imageWhat are your best leftover recipes?

Meal Planning for Budget Eating

For me, planning my week’s meals is an essential part of sticking to my food budget. I check my cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what I already have and what especially needs using up and this is my starting point. I look at the diary to see who will be home on which days, when I will be out or home late so that I know how much time I will have to prepare the meal. When I am feeling skint, I reduce the amount of meat that we eat and stick to a more basic menu. In the summer, when I have lots of produce from the veg patch, I plan our meals around what we have ready to harvest.

I don’t like waste so I frequently have lots of small bits of leftover food sitting in the freezer, so I incorporate these into my plan as well.

I only roughly plan lunches and breakfasts but make sure I have plenty of bread and cereal and don’t buy more if we have some to use up. I also make vast pots of soup!

Because I am a busy person though I do sometimes get stuck in a rut: macaroni cheese, spaghetti bolognese, chicken stew, chick pea curry….if I am not careful it can get a little dull. So tonight I have made a list of different recipes. I have been through my ancient copy of Delia Smith’s Frugal Food and A Girl Called Jack’s first book, plus the internet, and come up with the following list that I will be working through:

Macaroni au gratin
Spaghetti with meatballs
Spaghetti with tuna and olives
Cheese and mushroom quiche
Leek, carrot and potato pie
Pancakes with spinach and cheese
Lentil and vegetable curry with rice
Spanish tortilla
Potato and cheese baked eggs
mushroom and spinach pasta
Smoky red lentil burgers in pittas
Brie and bacon risotto
Sort of paella
Ratatouille and rice
Ham, mushroom and cheese crepes
Vegetable masala curry
Creamy mustard chicken
Macaroni cheese with leeks and bacon

Most of these will be acceptable to the hungry hoards and help me stick to my budget, although Mr S will moan if he doesn’t see enough meat!

Review of January: Did you reach your frugal goals? And a marinade for meat

I started my month with some resolutions  that I really wanted to stick to. I gave up alcohol and chocolate for the month – I lasted until 26th January!! I needed a shorter month :). I don’t intend to consume much of either in February, but I will allow both as a treat.

More important were my financial goals. I wanted to stick to a budget of £90 a week for groceries, pet food and cleaning products. I am still way over this!! I spend anything from £45 to £80 a week in Aldi, which is fine. If I could buy everything I needed in there I would be OK, but I buy my dairy products in Sainsbury’s as I need to purchase Lactofree. These aren’t cheap and I do often ending up buying items on a whim whilst I am in there. It may only work out at a few pounds more, but it all adds up. I also buy my cat food in Sainsbury’s usually, although I have made some progress persuading the cats to eat food other than the Gourmet variety in the past few weeks and they have tried both Sainsburys and Aldi’s own brands with mixed success. I spend between £20 and £40 in Sainsburys each week. 

Going through my bank statement, the other thing I have begun to make a habit of is popping to my local convenience store to top up my main shop – for teabags, juice, wine, crisps and snacks. This has got to stop!!! I need to ensure I buy enough of this kind of thing as part of my Aldi shop as it is so much cheaper. Does anyone else do this?  From now on I will be taking cash out at the start of the week for my grocery shopping and once it is gone, it is gone….!

I have stuck to my resolution of cleaning out a cupboard at week and generally decluttering. This is fantastically satisfying and therapeutic. Who knew?

I have put money into my holiday, car, birthday and contingency funds and paid a lump of my credit card. I will pay a bit more as soon as my payment for my French student arrives.

I have been doing a regular short yoga practice. I swear this keeps me really healthy and gives me a good immune system. Everyone around me at work has been falling like flies with coughs, colds and tummy bugs and so far the germs have avoided me :). We haven’t done that much walking though as the weather has been awful.

Pork in marinadeWe have eaten quite a lot of meat this week as we have our house guest. It is always a challenge to cook something interesting that doesn’t take too much time and energy when I have been at work all day. Last night we had Aldi pork chops, oven baked in a home made marinade. This is very easy to make and went down a treat with some sauteed courgettes and mushrooms. I usually put it on chicken, but its sweetness went well with the pork.

Here’s how to make it:

Half a medium red onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp clear honey
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Tabasco
Plain seasoned flour

courgettes and mushroomsFry the onion and garlic on a lowish heat for 5 minutes to soften – don’t allow it to brown. Add all of the other ingredients except the flour and stir well. Dip your meat of choice into the seasoned flour and then into the marinade. Bake for the recommended amount of time. You don’t need to cover the baking tray. I cooked my pork chops for 30 minutes in a fan oven at 190 degrees.

Did you make New Year’s resolutions and, if so, how are yours going? Are you like me in topping up your main shop and losing control of your spending?

I love leftovers!

imageI invariably take in leftovers for my lunch and I’m disappointed when we don’t have any. Last night we had roast ham (which in itself was left over from Sunday) creamy mashed potato, broccoli and cheese sauce. So that’s what I have today and it is going down a treat. I purchased a microwaveable bowl with a lid in the Sainsbury’s sale and it has proved well worth the £3.50 I paid as it is excellent for transporting and reheating my work lunches. It’s good for soups and salads too. The make is Systema and I highly recommend it.

My French student discovered the English pub last night. I only saw him fleetingly at breakfast so will have to wait until later to see if he tried a pint if bitter as we recommended! We have loaned him an old bike to get about and he is so appreciative. It saves him a 20 minute walk to college or the bus fare.

DD2 has signed a tenancy on a house with her friend and will be off in a few weeks. Only one daughter at home! Waiting for nearly empty nest syndrome to strike!

Soup, sunshine and a tidy cupboard (another exciting Sunday at Shoestring Cottage!)

Mr Shoestring and his twin!! Fun with the panoramics

Mr Shoestring and his twin!! Fun with the panoramics

It was a beautiful cold but sunny winter’s day here in Essex today with (so far) no sign of the snow that was predicted. We took advantage and went for a nice long walk down to the Blue Bottle earthworks in Lexden to see the ducks.

We came back to a huge bowl of ‘leftovers soup’, my favourite kind! I made stock last night with 3 chicken carcasses from the freezer. One of them had quite a lot of chicken still on it, so I picked that off to put in the soup later. All I had to do today was add some veg – I put in a bag of frozen home grown courgettes, some celery and carrots, and 3 small tubs of left over cooked veg, again from the freezer. I keep old plastic tubs in there and put in any left over veg when I have cooked a bit too much. This makes soup making so easy as there is hardly any peeling and chopping to do, and it is super thrifty. Waste not want not!! Then when it was all cooked up I seasoned it, blended it and added the shredded chicken. It was yummy.

Leftovers from the freezer

Leftovers from the freezer

Made into soup!

Made into soup!

I also tidied up the linen cupboard from hell. I put a pic on yesterday – the shame!! I threw out some single duvet sets that are no longer used and some old towels. It looks so much better – it lifts the soul!! It really doesn’t take much to make me happy 🙂

tidy cupboardI am still missing my regular glass of wine – January is feeling like a long month. However, when I have finished Dry January I will try to stick to wine at the weekends. I rarely drink much, but have a glass with dinner or watching TV on a fairly regular basis. That will save me some money too.

We have been looking at holidays today. It is very important for me to have a break somewhere nice if at all possible, and I am happy to do without other things to get one. We have been looking at a site called Sunshine.co.uk, recommended by a friend of mine, and there are some very reasonable deals to Greece. I have never been, so if we can find one at a good price we will book it. It will just be the two of us as the other girls are going away with friends and the youngest is having a trip to New York with her father, so we don’t have to go during term time and can pay low season rates.

What are your holiday plans? And have you managed some frugal food today?

Enjoying life’s little affordable luxuries

When you are on a tight budget it can feel a bit grim and relentless sometimes. When I start to find the going tough, I give myself a boost with a small treat. This could take the form of a long hot bubble bath, a glass or two of icy white wine, a bunch of Aldi’s fabulously good value flowers, a proper home pedicure, maybe even a supermarket takeaway if I can run to it.

For people who go out to eat or to the pub often or who can afford a weekly visit to the beautician these might seem silly. To me they are things that I enjoy and have the power to give me a boost.

The point is that, whatever your budget will run to, it is important to have the occasional treat, even if it’s just a bar of Cadburys!

What’s your favourite affordable luxury?

Feeling skint? Make soup!

imageWhenever I am trying to stretch my food budget, I make a huge vat of soup. I freeze some and the rest does as lunches for the week and maybe even dinner with a jacket potato or some bread and cheese.

image

It is just so easy! As long as you have a decent stock and some onions as a base you can make soup from pretty much anything. I tend to make my own stock – I save all the bones and scraps from any poultry or other meat that we eat and freeze them. If I don’t have any bones I use a decent vegetable stock such as Marigold or Knorr in powdered form. I also save any bits of leftover veg as I go along: mashed potato is particularly good as a thickener, but cooked carrots, peas, cabbage, etc can all go in the pot, as well as bits and pieces of meat if you have any. I use whatever fresh veg there is in the fridge or garden to make soup. Sometimes there is a main ingredient like pumpkin or courgette because we have a glut. Other times I use a variety of ingredients and bulk the soup out with lentils, pulses or pearl barley.

I might chop the veg small and keep it as a chunky soup. Other times I blend it smooth. I always season it well. If I decide it needs more depth of flavour I find a squirt of soy sauce does wonders.

I can’t bear tinned soup and the fresh soups from the supermarket are often disappointing. I also resent paying £2-3 for half a litre of this stuff when I can make something that tastes much better for pennies.

Soup is healthy and nutritious too. You don’t need any special equipment, although a hand blender is useful. It’s hard to go wrong with home made soup if you want to be a frugal cook and get the best nutrition for your money!

President of the Aldi fan club!

I love doing my food shop at Aldi. I can see why the discounters have got the big supermarkets running scared. I have shopped at my local one since it opened 4 years ago. To begin with it was very quiet; the car park was empty. People took a while to catch on. Then the recession hit and folk started to actively look at ways to save money. Now the car park is usually full, and I try to avoid going at the weekend as you can’t even get in unless you are there on the dot of 8 am.

I have heard all kinds of comments about Aldi that really quite annoy me. A Facebook friend suggested that only chavs and the great unwashed shopped there, but went a bit quiet when I told him that I rarely noticed this when I went in to do my weekly shop. I have since seen him in there!! A colleague’s wife said she wouldn’t be see dead in there in case people thought she was short of money. In my experience it is frequented by all sections of society and I have often seen brand new BMWs and Jaguars parked next to the old bangers like mine. Most sensible people enjoy a bargain!

For those who are on a low income, and for people who need to budget like myself, shops like Aldi, Lidl and now Kwiksave are an absolute Godsend. Yes, you have to change the way you shop and they may not sell absolutely everything you want. I have to go elsewhere for the Lactofree products I use and my gluten free flour. However, I find now that I plan my meals around what I know is likely to be in stock. I really enjoy the smallness of the stores and that I can get round and stick to my list in a very short time span without being distracted by clothes and household goods that I can’t afford and aren’t on my shopping list. I still manage to find some nice treats for us all – the chocolate and alcohol is excellent! The quality generally is brilliant; you just don’t have such a huge choice.

If you haven’t tried doing your main shop at a discount supermarket, then I urge you to do so. I estimate that I save around £30 a week by doing so. Not to be sniffed at! If you aren’t fortunate enough to have one locally then try the Value and Basics brands. If you read her blog you will see that a Girl called Jack practically lived on Sainsbury’s Basics and it doesn’t seem to have done her any harm….

 

 

Out with the old and in with the new! Shoestring Cottage resolutions for 2015

I love the new year! So much scope for new beginnings and renewed hope to make the changes in our lives that we need to, whether to improve our health, our relationships, our work situation or our finances. We can do this at any point during the year of course, but the New Year provides a point of focus and is a turning point for many people.

colchester castle I plan to carry on as I have been during 2014, but to really focus my attention on putting money away. I have some household projects that I would like to do, and I want to do more exercise and lose a bit of weight. I would love to take a holiday too – I know that some money savers would think this an unnecessary extravagance but for us it is really important. We love to travel and get away, but we do it as cheaply as possible.

 My top resolutions then:

Pay off credit card by April 2015. I don’t owe that much, but seem to have a small residue I can never quite get rid of!

Install the wood-burner. Mr S will do most of this, but we might need to get the chimney lined.

Save for a holiday.

Put away money for birthdays and Christmas.

Stick to a budget of £90 a week for food, including my Lactofree dairy products, cat food and cleaning stuff. This is going to be a challenge!!

Get quotes for some electrical work in the house and sort out a small loan through my bank. The lights in my daughter’s room and some of the power sockets in other rooms were all condemned over a year ago. I was quoted £1200 to get it sorted and just couldn’t afford to do anything about it at the time.  We have been managing with plug in lamps and lots of extension leads, but it’s not ideal. Now that I am better organised financially I will get some more quotes and bite the bullet to get this resolved this year, even if this does mean taking out a personal loan. I will do this as soon as the credit card is paid off.

Repaint the kitchen. I will also source bargain and second-hand accessories and a blind as and when I can.

Refurbish a lovely old dresser I have to go in the kitchen – this was in my parents’ house when I was a child. It is a small one and will be perfect but it needs repainting.

Do more exercise! I will stick with walking and yoga – both free.

Put money aside for the car tax and a contingency fund.

Give up alcohol and chocolate for the whole of January – my biggest challenge!!!!

To clean out one cupboard a week, starting with the kitchen cupboards. I am on a decluttering crusade!

colch castle We had a walk into town and around Colchester Castle to start off no 9, to get more exercise. It was windy and rather grey, but it blew away the cobwebs. It was nice to look round a few shops that were open without hoards of people.

 That’s it! I have publicly declared them so I now need to stick to them. What are your New Year’s resolutions?

A cheap day’s eating

I was super organised this morning and managed to organise breakfast, lunch and dinner before I left for work at 7.30 this morning. Not that it was complicated: porridge done in the microwave, the rest of the huge batch of soup I made on Sunday for lunch and chicken thighs cooked in the slow cooker in a jar of Chicken Tonight (bought at a bargain price from Approved Foods), for dinner.

imageI need to be organised today as I have to rush from work to take DD3 to her babysitting job then chauffeur DD1 and her mates to their office Christmas party.

imageThe slow cooker is great for nights like these. There is no temptation to grab a takeaway on my way home because I know all I have to do is cook some rice and veg from the freezer and dinner is ready. It is also a cheap day’s eating and helps me stick to my budget.

imageThe soup cost about £2.50 to make and has done 13 meals!

How is your budgeting going as we head towards Christmas?

Adapting recipes and using what you have

My daughter is at uni. She had a job to supplement her loan for the past year, but has found it too much so she has given it up and is attempting to survive in London on her loan. I hope she can do this, and that she has learned enough from her frugal mummy to do it. But in case she needs some tips, this post is for her :-).

The blacker the better!

The blacker the better!

I made a banana loaf this morning with some very black bananas that no one was going to eat. I used the Delia recipe as my starting point, but as I didn’t have any walnuts or oranges I substituted brazil nuts and dried cranberries. It was really delicious!

The frugal cook needs to be able to do this: either adapt recipes or make meals up to suit your ingredients. If you don’t have an expensive ingredient like sundried tomatoes try fresh or tinned with some tomato purée. If you don’t have shallots, use ordinary onions. If you don’t have dried porcini mushrooms, the usual fresh sort will work ok.

store cupboard 1Make sure you have plenty of store cupboard staples. Flour and baking powder, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, tinned or dried pulses, pasta, rice and noodles spring to mind. Casserole sauces bought cheaply from places like Approved Food and Home Bargains are good for days when you can’t be bothered or don’t have time to cook from scratch. Tinned and frozen veg is handy to have. Canned tuna or sardines can make a good quick meal.

Staples from Aldi

Staples from Aldi

Eggs and cheese are good to have in the fridge, and a pack of bacon can add flavour and interest to all manner of dinners.

What to do if you think there is no food in the house? Have a good look in the store cupboards ; I bet there is a ton of food in there. You may not be able to make a meat and two veg type of meal, but how about a lentil shepherds pie or veggie curry for a change? If you can make a tomato sauce from onions and tomatoes, you can build it into a veggie casserole with courgettes , carrots, lentils, etc and make some dumplings to go with it. Or use it to make a pasta sauce with garlic and peppers, or a bolognese with some mince meat. Add and taste as you go along. Mess about with curry powder, cumin and chilli to add a bit of spice to what you have. Eggs can make an omelette, a quiche, or you can crack them over your tomato and pepper sauce and bake them the oven. How about curried eggs? If you have flour you can make pastry. What do you have that will go in a pie?

If you have cheese, onions and potatoes you have a veggie classic: cheese and potato pie with no pastry needed. Mash the spuds and mix in sautéed onions , plenty of cheese and some seasoning. Yummy with baked beans !

Use up all the bits of veg in a stir fry with noodles or rice. Make all kinds of fillings for a jacket potato with whatever you can find.

Use recipes as inspiration and as a guide for quantities rather than feeling you need to slavishly follow them.

And if you really can’t be bothered to cook, there is nothing wrong with the odd ‘something on toast’.

Just try not to give in to too many wild nights at the uni bar with the Chinese takeaway or kebab on the way home 🙂

Quick and Dirty – dinners for the frugal woman in a hurry!

I have managed to stretch this week’s shopping to 11 days this week to make up for the expense of our day in London and lunch out.

Tonight I will do the smallest shop possible in my fave discount supermarket, Aldi, and stretch things even further. I managed to get into town on Saturday so I brought the fruit for the week and some broccoli for £4.50, so that helped.

I have some pork chops lurking in the freezer, so they will be dinner tonight, tomorrow will be veggie curry and rice, Thursday I have some taco shells to use up so will buy mince and make a chilli, Friday will be an easy end of the week tea of omelettes and chips as I have eggs. I am out all day on Saturday so will get chicken thighs and get the girls to make a casserole. I have lots of parsley sauce mixes from Approved Foods so on Sunday it will be fish, probably Aldi’s basa fillets. Monday has to be quick as I rush in then straight out to my yoga class, so we will have quiche and salad.

I am sure I would eat differently and even more cheaply if I had more time as I would do a lot more scratch cooking, but this being the real world I will cheat and use some convenience foods as and when I need to!

What are you eating this week?

Doing More with Less

Doing more with less; anyone who works for the public sector or even a struggling commercial company will probably hear this phrase often. We need to save money so will employ fewer people to do the same amount of work. To do this we will be super efficient and manage our resources better. Sometimes tough decisions will need to be made and we may not be able to offer all of the services that we used toimage.

I was thinking that I already apply some of this  philosophy to my own household. No , I’m not about to make any redundancies! However, we do need to do more with less.

Ways to do this might include:

Using one tea bag to make two mugs of tea
Driving more slowly to use less petrol
Keeping heating costs down by lowering the thermostat and wearing another layer
Drying the laundry on an airer instead of the tumble dryer
Reusing wrapping paper and envelopes
Washing and reusing tin foil
Cutting dishwasher tablets in half
Eating smaller portions (many of us eat too much!)
Not wasting food – use up your leftovers or freeze them for later
Opening a beer at home rather than going to the pub
Correctly measuring the laundry liquid/powder
Measuring rice and pasta portions so you don’t cook too much
Using up all the make up and toiletries you have already bought before buying more
Giving up shopping for fun
Cutting down on smoking or changing to roll ups
Eating less meat and more pulses
Taking showers instead of baths
Drink water instead of juice
Order books from the library or buy secondhand
Set a maximum budget for gifts
Reconsider the people you buy gifts for: do you need to buy something for all adults for Christmas and birthdays or could you focus just on children?
Growing your hair or having it cut by a junior
Buying used furniture and clothes
Packing your own lunch and flask for work or days out
Buying non perishables from Approved Food
Walking/cycling more and driving less
Shopping in Aldi/Lidl or making more use of basics ranges

There are so many ways to be more efficient and streamlined – these are things I already do off the top of my head but I am sure there are lots more. What are your top tips for doing more with less?

 

A day of small frugal steps

My daughter asked when I was planning to go shopping this week – I usually go on Friday, but this week we seem to have a lot of food and, now that I have sorted the store cupboard, we have plenty to keep us going. I only intend to buy a few bits such as milk, bread, cat food and maybe some chicken. She constantly complains that there is no food in the house. What she means is that there isn’t loads of rubbish that she can eat with no effort. I try to guide my daughters towards sensible eating, but it is a struggle sometimes! So I need to make sure there is some easy food that keeps us withing budget.

roasted tomatoesI began my day by putting 2 and a half kilograms of tomatoes on to roast with some olive oil and garlic. Whilst they were cooking I made porridge for everyone and touched up my roots – I don’t like to admit to going grey just yet. My hair costs hardly anything to do. I could spend £50 at the hairdressers having it coloured, but instead I mix up half a box of dye and brush it on myself. Yesterday in Boots they had my usual colour at 3 boxes for the price of two – so £12 for 3. These will last me at least 8 months. I intend to call the local college this week to book myself and DD3 in for a cut and blow dry each. This will cost about £8 each.

Tomato soupHair sorted and myself showered and dressed, I used the tomatoes to make a big pot of tomato and barley soup (determined to use up those store cupboard supplies!) and a smaller pot of roasted tomato sauce for the freezer. So that was lunch sorted for the next few days! As I grew the tomatoes, the cost was minimal.

I gave the house a thorough clean, including the student’s room. I don’t have one due until next month, but it will be one job less to do when she comes. This is an important source of income for me, so I have completed a form for a different agency today as well. They find placements on a slightly longer term basis. I think it is unlikely I will get any more students until the Spring with the agency I use currently.

I then made some courgette fritters for our tea, using up some from the garden – we had them with sausages, but I would be happy to have them as they are. I used some of the tomato sauce I made this morning with them.

I have spent the past hour checking my bank statement to see how the budget is going and to make sure there is nothing amiss. I have also changed energy supplier – hopefully now that First Utility have resolved our argument this will go through OK. I decided on Good Energy.  They aren’t the cheapest, but they come highest for customer satisfaction and use 100% renewable energy. After my nightmare with First Utility, getting a decent service is my top priority.

I have taken some plums out of the freezer and tomorrow I will make a plum crumble using the super cheap crumble mix I bought from Approved Foods. This should stop the troops moaning and keep them happy!! If I get time I will make a victoria sponge for the week as well.

I have also washed and hung two lots of laundry. One lot dried outside, but it clouded over and I thought it might rain, so the other is drying inside on the clothes horse. No tumble drying for me – far too expensive!!

So, a day of lots of small frugal steps. This is why I love weekends and I can potter and get a bit of control. What have you managed to do to save money today?

Need to get organised!!!

My store cupboard is in a shocking state, I am ashamed to say! I had an Approved Food order delivered at the same time as I did my weekly shop, it was a busy evening and everyimagething ended up shoved and squeezed in all over the place.

This is not a good situation for the frugal cook. You need to know what you have in your store cupboard so that you can plan your meals around what is available, use things up and make sure you don’t waste money buying things you already have.

I have a free evening tomorrow so I will stick on the Archers on Radio 4 and get it sorted!

I do know that there is lots if food in the house though, with my stores and the fresh veg in the garden, so this week’s grocery shop should be minimal.

I intend to eat very little meat and will use just enough to stop the troops moaning about rabbit food. They don’t appreciate that I am managing to keep them and my bank balance healthy, and saving the planet at the same time!

There has been a lot on the news recently about western countries eating far too much meat. From an environmental point of view, red meat is particularly bad, as it’s production creates a lot of greenhouse gases and large areas of land are given over to beef and animal feed particularly.

I will tell them this next time they complain and hope it leaks into their consciences somewhere. We can but try!!

Supermarket sweep! (Well, sort of) plus the perils of ethical clothes buying

I had a meeting in Chelmsford today, and as work paid my train fares I thought I would take advantage of being there to do a quick sweep of Primark.

I generally buy most of my clothes secondhand, but DD3 was desperate for some new things for sixth form (they are a grammar and insist on smart casual) and my office clothes are looking generally a bit tatty. I only had 20 minutes, which did focus my attention somewhat, but I managed to whizz round and get her 3 tops, 2 skirts and 2 packs of tights, as well as some work clothes for myself – 2 tops, a skirt and a cardi, all for £70! Some people would spend that much on a single outfit.

I know there are some ethical issues with Primark, but to be honest in recent years these have also been raised with many much more expensive brands too. It is hard to know where it is safe to shop!!

I cannot afford to buy only items that are marked as fair trade and organic, and since I usually buy very little and when I do it is second hand, I have to just go with it sometimes.

Niggling worries about the ethical issues aside, I am pretty happy with my purchases. They will have to last a while as that is my clothing budget spent out!

Do you have qualms about buying from large chain stores, especially the budget ones? How do you get round these whilst being frugal?

Making it up as I go along: pasta with everything

Our student declared at the last minute that he didn’t want dinner. I was grateful not to have to eat the junk food tea I had planned in order to get him to eat something (burger and chips – I will have to endure that tonight!), so I had to decide what to make at the last minute. I looked what was lying around in the fridge and  decided on pasta with a courgette and mushrooms sweated in butter, some grilled chopped bacon, half a pot of tomato pesto that DD1 had opened and a third of a pot of soft cheese. I mixed it all together and also chucked in some canned sweetcorn I found lurking asimage well.

Guess what? It was delicious and had the added advantage of using up lots of bits and pieces that needed eating. I had the last portion for my lunch today at work.

 

Soup Kitchen: soup for free!

chuck it in soupAs I type this I am enjoying a large bowl of delicious vegetable soup. As regular readers will know, I save and freeze all of the leftover bits of mashed potato, broccoli, peas, carrots, chicken carcasses, gravy, even meat (although that isn’t often left over) and when I have enough I chop up a couple of onions and maybe a head of celery, and throw it all in the pot. So, it is almost free, as I am using what most people would throw in the bin! I have never had a failure – just use a decent stock and plenty of seasoning and you can’t go wrong.

Usually I make stock first from a couple of frozen chicken carcasses, but this time I used ham stock that I saved a while ago and also a large bag of last year’s frozen courgettes. We had so many I am still using them as the next lot are arriving!

Bits and pieces of leftover veggies don't go to waste

Bits and pieces of leftover veggies don’t go to waste

I had a productive day yesterday as I had the afternoon off to wait in for Talk Talk to come and sort out my internet connection, which has been wobbly to say the least. I made the most of it and got most of the cleaning done as well as making all those phone calls to various organisations that I am usually forced to try to do in my lunch hour. Oh, to work a four day week….it is sadly not going to happen any time soon.

I am being forced to cook as plainly as possible for my fussy student. He ate a dry looking bit of turkey and some new potatoes for last night’s dinner, while the rest of us enjoyed our meat with some red wine and tomato sauce, green beans from the garden and broccoli. I know which I preferred!! He seems to exist mainly on crisps :).

Food Allergies on a Budget?

I went to my friend’s house for dinner yesterday. She is a fantastic cook and she didn’t disappoint. We had a slow cooked mutton and damson stew, with stuffed peppers and lemon roast potatoes, and it was superb. I don’t think she even follows a recipe book – she just has a flair and a feeling for what will work well.

My friend’s great cookery skills have come in handy as she was diagnosed with coeliac’s disease a couple of years ago so has had to complete change the way she cooks and eats to avoid any type of gluten.

Because she cooks from scratch most of the time anyway it has been relatively easy for her to make sure she avoids it. She also makes great gluten free cakes, although I think bread is more of a challenge.

imageBut have you seen the price of gluten free foods in the shops? I wouldn’t be able to afford those so would have to make my own baked products or just go without. I already have to buy lactose free milk – it took most of my life to discover I am lactose intolerant and it was a big relief when I finally did. However, soya ‘milk’ is revolting to me as are all the yogurts and ‘cheeses’ derived from soya. The only acceptable product I have found is Provomel chocolate desserts.

I buy Lactofree milk and yogurts now. It is just milk with the lactose removed and tastes like a slightly creamier version of normal milk. However, it is dearer – around £1.35 per litre when I pay £1 for 4 pints (2.27 litres) of the ordinary stuff in Aldi. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a cheaper alternative. I have on occasion made my own yogurt with it but prefer the bought stuff, so generally allow myself just 4 Lactofree yogurts a week – £1.48 for 4.

Fortunately I can tolerate small amounts of hard cheese and butter so can stick with Aldi for these.

Do you have any budget breaking food allergies and, if so, how do you manage? Have you found the perfect gluten free bread recipe yet? Can you stomach soya milk?

What frugal things have you done this weekend?

Didn’t get the chance to blog yesterday – I was a busy bee!

I had to give the house a thorough clean as we are going to my cousin’s caravan in the Lake District next Saturday (can’t wait! Such a beautiful place) and I am working all week so it was my last chance. The day after we get back our new language student arrives, so I want the house to be in good order. Having said that DD1 will be here looking after things, and she isn’t the tidiest of people, so I may still come back to an almighty mess! Anyway, there are more things in the pile in the shed destined for the boot sale next month. That should make a few pounds hopefully, as will hosting our student.

Banana muffins ready for the freezer

Banana muffins ready for the freezer

I used up some black bananas making a huge batch of banana muffins – half for this week, half for the freezer.

I also used a sad looking onion, some celery that I had forgotten about in the fridge and sweet potato that has been in there for over a week making a vegetable curry for dinner. I dug out the frozen tomatoes and courgettes from last summer’s harvest (I need to use these up before this year’s crops are upon us!) and popped those in the pot too, then found the leftover potatoes from Friday’s meal and they went in as well. That was a frugal dinner but really tasty. 

A hotpotch of veg - left over potatoes going into the curry

A hotpotch of veg – left over potatoes going into the curry

Finally, I sat up until midnight so that I could go and collect my girls from the station to save the taxi money. They went to a big concert in London yesterday and had a brilliant time, although they were exhausted since it was such a hot day yesterday.

Today I have DD1 arriving back from Amsterdam and DD2 going off to Turkey. They can fund themselves these days, and I love to see them going off and having their adventures. I enjoy travel, and that is the thing I find most frustrating about having no spare money. When I was younger and unencumbered with responsibility, I used to disappear abroad for months at a time, doing any jobs I could before I left to get the cash, and topping up when I was away by working if I could. I hitch-hiked around Europe with my then boyfriend (I would NEVER allow my daughters to do this now), I worked in Belgium as an au pair, I spent 6 months on a kibbutz in Israel, and I travelled around New Zealand with my now sister in law, staying in youth hostels and picking strawberries and asparagus on the way. Now I generally stay closer to home, although if I had a big lottery win I would be off like a shot! In the meantime, I am more than happy to spend a week in the Lake District. It’s Mr S’s first visit and I think he will love it.

What frugal things have you been up to this weekend? And do you have dreams of travelling the globe?

Just a Little Meat

When trying to get my food bills down I have struggled in the past with a lack of cooperation from my family around our meat consumption. If it was down to me we would eat vegetarian most of the time – 1. Because it is healthier and 2. Because meat is so expensive! I was actually a vegetarian for 16 years, so I know that veggie food can be just as tasty.

fish pie 1Fortunately, the whole family really enjoy vegetables, so it is easy enough for me to do a range of meals which contain just a little meat. They are almost, but not quite, veggie! A vegetable stir fry with noodles and left-over meat from the roast is a favourite, as are pasta dishes with a lot of veg and just a bit of bacon or chorizo sausage. I can also replace half of the meat in certain dishes with TVP (textured vegetable protein), so I can make two lots of Bolognese sauce or two cottage pies with the same amount of meat I would usually use for one. So one for now, and one for the freezer. I have tried the same with lentils and other pulses but can only get away with replacing about a quarter of the meat.

imageThere are other well-known dishes like toad in the hole that use just a bit of meat and are filling and popular. I also like to use sausages to make a mock roast – I pinched this idea from Frugal Queen and it is a good one. You make a full roast with stuffing and Yorkshires, but just replace your expensive joint of pork or whatever with sausages. It all goes down with no complaints here!

So, what are your ‘just a little meat’ dishes? Do you live with militant veggies or confirmed carnivores?

Shopping around

Lots of money saving going on at Shoestring Cottage!

So, I sorted out the energy supplier a couple of days ago and today I decided to look for a good deal on my house insurance. Honestly – never accept the quote you get from your current insurers. They appear to think that once they have pulled you in with a good deal the first year they can hike the price up by 30% and you won’t notice. Well this savvy shopper did notice!

I had a look at a couple of comparison sites and found buildings and contents with accidental damage cover for less than half what I had been quoted. (As an aside, having worked in insurance claims, I would always get accidental damage cover. It seems to be the most common type of claim yet many folk don’t bother with it.) That’s a heck of a saving!

imageI also put in a bid on a small roman blind for the downstairs hall and won it for 1p! Ok, the postage was steep at £8 but it is a nice quality John Lewis one so I decided it was worth a bid of a few pounds. I didn’t think I would get it that cheaply.

I was very happy with this. Not so happy with last night’s dinner. I picked up two herrings  reduced to half price in Asda recently and decided to eat them. I have only tasted them pickled and I had never cooked them. I was alarmed to find they weren’t boned, but got my trusty Delia book out and followed the instructions, then baked them very simply in a bit of butter and some herbs. I served them with some leeks, courgettes and mushrooms stewed in a little butter and some mini roasties. Thank goodness for the veg as the herrings were still full of bones and not the tastiest fish I have tried. Still, they were full of lots of healthy omega 3s!

 

Budget Dinners Week

Feeling the need for inspiration for budget dinners that are quick and easy to do after work, I have been scouring the internet. A site that I think is pretty impressive for this is allrecipes.co.uk.

Looking promising so far:

Crispy rosemary chicken and chips

Crispy rosemary chicken (made with chicken thighs)
Meatloaf (made with half sausage meat and half beef mince – I will use the cheapie pork sausages from Aldi and remove the skins)
Cheesy cottage pie
Slow cooker butter chicken (made with chicken thighs)
Slow cooker veggie chilli

Slow cooker veggie chilli

I don’t have time for fussy stuff and these all look delicious without being time consuming and fiddly. They are also frugal, nutritious and the sort of food my family will happily eat.

What sites can you recommend? Which recipes do you come back to time and time again?

Energy Companies – Lessons learned and GRRR!

I have mentioned this before, but I am having a dispute with First Utility at the moment. I have come to the end of a fixed two year deal with them, so I could leave. The only reason I have hung on is that I know they have input a meter reading in incorrectly, leading to them telling me I owed them a lot of money that I know I don’t. I thought it might be easier to get it resolved as an existing customer. I have taken the case to the Energy Ombudsman and it has been accepted (although I have to say they are almost as slow as First Utility in getting some action).

GrrrMy problem now is that I cannot currently access accurate information about my usage as my account shows that I have used zero electricity since they gave me a new meter 2 months ago. The data that was on there has disappeared and nothing has been entered since (???? How is that helpful for me as a customer?). Also the gas usage is wrong due to the inaccurate reading, so when I tried to look at other suppliers on one of the comparison websites I couldn’t easily work out how much my monthly bill should be. I think I am under paying First Utility as well and will end up owing them a bit of money, just not the very large figure they were attempting to get off me!

I refuse to waste any more of my life hanging on the phone to First Utility (usually around half an hour wait to get through), only for the poorly trained unfortunate at the other end to give me no resolution, just to promise to escalate after which nothing ever happens.

So I have been stuck in limbo, but I am reaching the end of my patience so may just move anyway.

However, the lessons I have learned that I will bear in mind:

1. Sometimes cheapest isn’t best. In terms of customer service, you get what you pay for with First Utility.  Diabolical and incompetent.

2. Once I decide on a likely supplier I will read the reviews on moneysavingexpert.com and elsewhere to make sure their customer service doesn’t completely stink. If I had, I wouldn’t have touched First Utility with the proverbial barge pole.

3. I will submit my readings monthly on-line and keep my own record. I will then check my account to make sure the correct figure has been recorded. (If I choose to change supplier again, I will then know exactly what I use)

4. I will check my account regularly to make sure my usage is not costing me more than the agreed direct debit amount. I stupidly assumed that if it did, First Utility would let me know. They didn’t, they never emailed my bills across and I assumed their silence meant all was well.

5. Heating and lighting the house is an expensive business these days. I have done all I can think of to reduce my energy consumption – the loft and wall cavities have been filled, I have double glazing, I have turned the thermostat down, I force the family to wear lots of layers and thick socks, we only use the lights in the rooms we are in and don’t leave things on standby…Mr S wants to get a woodburner and I think that may help. Other people I know who have them say they keep one room toastie and reduce the heating in the rest of the house to the bare minimum. I will have to see what I owe FU and then see if we can stretch to one. We think we have a working chimney but it will need to be swept and possibly lined.

In the meantime I will channel my pent up fury into the decorating!

Before I can do that today, I am off to see the bank to negotiate a new fixed term mortgage deal. Wish me luck!!

 

Don’t waste the bread ends!!

Take the leftover veggies...

Take the leftover veggies…

I had a super productive day yesterday. I cleaned the whole house, took DD3 to get her hair cut in town (we found a great little place that charges £10 for a cut and blow dry, and they were excellent), had a quick whizz around the charity shops and, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, I made chicken stock then used it to make Shoestring Cottage leftover veggie soup. This was delicious. I used some fresh veg – some sad looking celery, leeks from the garden and some carrots – but it mostly consisted of bits and pieces of mashed potato with an assortment of vegetables such as runner beans, peas, carrots and cabbage. I often cook too much, so I put the leftovers in old ice cream tubs in the freezer for this very purpose. I stuck a few lentils in too to thicken it up and it went down a treat. This should last us for lunch today and tomorrow as well.

...and make them into tasty soup!

…and make them into tasty soup!

Whilst I was on a roll I used up the ends of the bread and made some breadcrumbs in the food processor. These are great for stretching bolognese type sauces, for nut roasts and meatloaf, and for coating meat and fish. If I wanted them to be crisp I would  bake them in the oven for 10 minutes or so, but for now they are just in a big bag in the freezer. I don’t understand why anybody would buy breadcrumbs – certainly not the strange orange variety you often find in the shops. If you have a food processor they take literally seconds to make.

Stick the ends of the bread in the food processor...

Stick the ends of the bread in the food processor…

...and Bob's your uncle!

…and Bob’s your uncle!