Five frugal things I have done this week, 8th December 2017

At this time of year, when most of us tend to be spending more than usual on Christmas presents, five frugal things feels like quite a feat! However, the potential for rampant consumerism means that it is  even more important to save money when you can.

1. Packing a great frugal lunch

five frugal things: pumpkin soupOne of my daughters is staying with us at the moment. As she has to commute to work each day she is keen to save her pennies. I always take a packed lunch to work, but get lazy and uninspired. Sometimes a sandwich is the easiest thing to throw together but not the most appealing. So we have been taking it in turns and so far she has made a delicious Greek salad, which lasted two days. I made some pumpkin soup. Today we have leftovers from a sweet potato curry. Delicious!

Because she is home I am making more effort and enjoying my lunch each day. If I was to buy a salad, some fruit and a drink out I think I would easily spend £6 or £7 each day.

2. Reflecting on my Christmas budget

I have almost finished my shopping – just a couple more gifts to find. I set a budget for presents and one for food. We don’t need decorations or a tree so there is no budget for those.

Of course, there is no point in making a budget if you don’t review it regularly and make sure you stick to it. So far we are coming in a bit under, which is good news. If I have money left over it will go straight into the savings pot for next year.

3. Cooking more vegetarian

Five frugal things: sweet potato curryI have been enjoying digging out my old vegetarian cook books, as well as finding new recipes to try online. BBC Good Food seems like a great resource. We all enjoyed the satay sweet potato curry I mentioned earlier. It was easy to make but I varied the ingredients slightly to make use of what we had in the cupboards. I added a sad looking carrot and a courgette that needed using up. Dried ginger did the job just as well as fresh. I find when I buy fresh half of it gets wasted as we don’t use enough of it.

I also rather like the look of paneer with broccoli and sesame, if I can find somewhere to get the paneer locally.

Veggie food definitely saves money, even with a few more unusual ingredients.

4. A visit to the food bank

Ok, not really one of my five frugal things, but I have to mention it! As I have written on several occasions, the UK Money Bloggers have all been taking part in a reverse advent campaign for the food banks. I ran this at work and, thanks to the generosity of my colleagues, we collected a whole carful. We visited the food bank yesterday to hand it over.

five frugal things: trip to the food bankThis was such a worthwhile exercise and we will do it again next year. I feel reassured to know that there are such great organisations around like the Trussel Trust to help look after people if they are unfortunate enough to hit hard times.

5. It’s the little things

It’s amazing how much toothpaste you can squeeze out of what appears to be an empty tube. Because I thought we had some I didn’t buy any this week and keep forgetting to pop in and get some on the way home from work.  Surprisingly we have had several days worth. I really do need to buy some now though!

five frugal things: 1001 ways to save money bookI got a great gift on the secret Santa at work, which lists a lot more than five frugal things – 1001 Ways to Save Money. They know me too well! I will read it carefully to see if there are some good frugal tips for next time.

If you need to save money at Christmas, have a look at my ideas here, here and here.

I’m linking up with Cass Emma and Becky in this week’s Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week linky. Hop on over for more money saving inspiration.

What five frugal things have you achieved this week?

Make money from your spare room – a guide

Can you make money from your spare room? A picture of a house with a pound sign next to it.How can you make money from your spare room? There are plenty of options and you don’t need a lodger all of the time. Renting out a room in your house is a great way to earn some extra income.

We have made good use of our spare room since my daughters started to leave home.  We have got to know some lovely people and our experiences have been almost 100% positive.

1. Taking in language students

It might be that you want to make money from your spare room but can’t, or don’t want to, share with someone full time. This was our position initially. One daughter was at university but came home during the holidays so needed her room back some of the time.

We have a large language college where we live. Students come to learn English and stay anything from a week to a whole year. They are often looking for host families. You provide a room, breakfast and dinner during the week with lunch as well at the weekend. This is usually a packed lunch as they often go off on organised excursions.

You also clean the room and do the student’s laundry. I never found any of this to be a problem as it was only what I was doing anyway.

Socialising

You are expected to sit together at the table for dinner to give the students the opportunity to practice their English skills. We had some hilarious conversations at times and were only saved by the use of Google Translate!

We have had students from all over the world – including Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Angola, Slovakia and Macedonia and have enjoyed learning about their lives.

As well as the college  I discovered a couple of other organisations locally that bring in school parties from Europe. They also need host families. The students are younger, of course , which feels like more of a responsibility. It generally involves driving them to their learning base for the first few days whilst they find their feet and get to grips with the bus system.

You can expect to be paid between £120-140 per week as a host family.

Pros: you get to know lots of interesting folk from around the world and forge some lasting friendships. Cons: the students tend to be under 20 and can cause some worry. We had one 17 year old who didn’t come home until midnight on her first day with us, spent much of the night throwing up and then missed college the next day! They are supposed to be in by 10.30 so this was a little awkward, but we made it clear there was to be no reoccurrence. You need to be firm from the start.

The best way to find organisations seeking host families locally is to do an internet search.

2. Airbnb

It is possible to make money from your spare room through AirBnb. We have never done this but we have used several now between us. Me and Mr S stayed in one in Wales which was basic but extremely cheap. My daughter and her friends have rented several whole houses and flats between them for weekend breaks. She and her boyfriend also stayed with a lady near their flat whilst it was having some work done. We have all found it a generally positive experience.

But what about welcoming guests in? I would be nervous about allowing complete strangers have access to my whole house, but would consider doing the odd bed and breakfast weekend. Nikki Ramskill from the Female Money Doctor did it several times and she says ‘I had no issues with anyone as I vetted them all before I agreed to let them stay. I turned down a few people because I didn’t trust them. New profiles, unverified, are ones I avoided. I tried to put in couples and women. I didn’t allow pets or children and there was a strict no smoking policy. You can set up a deposit limit which is taken in the case of a problem. The interface is really easy to use. The calendar is fully controlled by me, and I also blocked out weekends I didn’t want people staying, like Christmas and new year.’

Potential issues

Although problems are rare, Sara from Debt Camel has come across someone who let his flat out for a long weekend but  came back on Sunday evening to find the ‘guests’ were still there and had changed the locks! She recommends you check the terms of your tenancy or mortgage, your insurance policy and that you aren’t breaking any planning laws with the local council. She says you should consider that there is a risk of theft or of having your place wrecked, albeit very small, if you rent your property as a whole.

You can find information about how to become an Airbnb host here.

3. Renting longer term

Once two of my three daughters had moved out more permanently we decided to take a longer term approach and take in a lodger. We were a bit anxious. What if we didn’t get on or they tried to move the boyfriend in? What if they were really messy or noisy?

Set clear parameters

In the end we decided that we would set clear parameters for prospective lodgers and if they weren’t happy they could look elsewhere. We only accept females as we all feel most comfortable with this. It is a single room so no, they cannot bring their boyfriends home every weekend. They are welcome to have friends round and have had the odd girlfriend staying over with no issues.

They have their own cupboard in the kitchen and cook for themselves but do need to tidy up afterwards, the same as we do. They are responsible for keeping their bedroom clean but I do the rest of the house.

Our own space

We are lucky in that we have another small room downstairs that we have made into the lodger’s sitting room, so there is no fighting over the remote. Whilst I like having chats in the kitchen I don’t want to sit with them every night – I like my own space. It might be worth getting a TV set up in the lodger’s room if you feel the same.

In city areas there is also the possibility of renting your room on a Monday to Friday only basis, so you get the house to yourself at the weekend.

We found our lodgers through www.spareroom.com. I tried a couple of other sites but didn’t get much of a response.  It was worth taking a paid ad for a couple of weeks as the number of contacts I received increased dramatically.

I purchased a lodger agreement through spareroom.com for just £7.50. It is worth doing this, as a formal agreement protects you both. Because you are renting out a room in your own home it is much easier to get rid of your lodger if things don’t work out.

Get a deposit

Always ask for a damage deposit and a month’s rent in advance. It is worth getting references too, but our last two lodgers had never rented before so they weren’t available. They aren’t easy to verify either!

I personally think you need to trust your gut when interviewing prospective lodgers . Our first one is now my eldest daughter’s best friend – they hit it off from the moment they met. Our current one is absolutely lovely and starting to feel like another member of the family already!

Paying tax on your earnings

The UK goverment’s rent a room scheme means that you can earn up to £7,500 each year tax free. There is a lot of guidance on this here and here.

You will need to check with your mortgage provider that they have no objections to you renting a room. It is also very important to make sure your household insurance allows for this.

4. Supported lodgings

A slightly different way of making money via your spare room is to ask your local social services department if the run a supported lodgings scheme. This is a whole new ball game. It isn’t just a way to make money from your spare room, it is more of a career choice.

What is supported lodgings?

A supported lodgings scheme is where you provide not just a room but family support for a young person leaving care. You need to be a caring family and willing to overcome some frustrations and difficulties to help a vulnerable young person move on with their life.

By providing a safe and nurturing home, you can be instrumental in helping the young person become more confident. Some young people will have experienced a lot of trauma and upheaval. They may need help with finding better ways to manage their behaviour.

You receive full training and support to do this job. Your earnings vary depending on the needs of the young person you take in. This is the most difficult of the options to make some income from a spare room by far, but will suit some people I am sure.

Have you found ways to make money from your spare room? It could be a great asset to up your income!

Can you make a living blogging?

I have been blogging for quite a while now. My first post went live in 2013. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! That didn’t really matter as it was a great new hobby. It didn’t occur to me that it was possible to make a living blogging.

Sharing tips

I used my blog initially as a kind of online diary. Documenting events at Shoestring Cottage and sharing money saving hints and tips was a fun thing to do. It also helped me to stay on track financially.

Another huge unexpected bonus of blogging for me has been my interactions with readers. I have usually had such intelligent, supportive comments and lots of really good advice.

You can make a living blogging

Reading other people’s blogs, I have become aware that some bloggers earn money from their blogs – in some cases, a six figure income!

It is hard work and you need to be immensely well organised, but it seems that you can make a decent income.

This is hugely appealing to me. I would love to at least earn part of my income as a blogger. To this end I recently signed up for Emma Drew’s blogging course, Turn Your Dreams Into Money: How to Build a Six-figure Blog and Live the Life You Want.

If you haven’t come across Emma Drew before, you need to check her out. As well as her blog, EmmaDrew.Info, she is very active on You Tube with some excellent and informative videos. Her blogging is so successful that she now earns a six figure income and employs her husband.

I am working my way through the course at every opportunity and have already learned so much.

From creating a blog from scratch, choosing topics to blog about, earning affiliate income, using social media, to negotiating sponsored posts and advertising, this course covers everything you need to know.

Will it help me make a living blogging? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, I am finding it fascinating. I have already used some of what I have learned to improve my blog, and it has explained some concepts that were all a bit of a mystery.

Black Friday £50 discount

If you want to start a blog, or already have one and would like to monetise it, Shoestring Cottage readers can get £50 off Emma’s course until midnight on 30th November. Click through from here and use the code BLACKFRIDAY to get your discount. The course usually costs £197, so you will pay £147. (This is my affiliate code and if you purchase the course by clicking through I will earn a commission. However, my opinions are my own and genuine.)

As well as the course itself, you can join Emma’s dedicated Facebook group to give and receive ideas and support from other people taking the course.

Maybe you have a blog and you are fine with it as a hobby. But if you are interested in blogging as a genuine career choice you could do a lot worse than investing in Emma’s course. In the meantime, I will let you know how I get on as the course progresses!

Spend less: Avoiding unnecessary expenditure

As Christmas approaches, we are keeping the belts on a tight notch.  We want to avoid unnecessary expenses and spend less.

Spend less on entertainment

It’s lovely to meet friends and go to the pub or cinema, but even just a couple of drinks out costs a lot these days. Instead, we will invite friends round for a glass of ‘vin du supermarche’!

It is possible to get cheaper cinema subscriptions from time to time through cash back sites like  Top Cashback (who currently have £11.97 cash back for a Cineworld subscription) or Quidco, but we are already paying for Netflix, so will make the most of what’s on there and stay in.

Spend less on food

I have planned all of our meals for this week and will sit down tomorrow and do the same for next week.

Saving money on food is all about preparation in my view.  Make a meal plan based on what needs using up, write a shopping list, use a discount supermarket and don’t shop when you are hungry. 
Shoestring Cottage pumpkin harvestWe only have spinach and pumpkin left on our veggie plot but have a lot of frozen fruit and vegetables so I will be building some into the meal plan.

Spend less on toiletries

I never spend a lot on high end cosmetics and toiletries. I am not short of much as I got my recent beauty bargains. If I do run out I will go to Home Bargains. I am a fan of this shop. There is a great choice and everything is superb value for money in my view.

Spend less on hair care

I have mentioned this in previous posts, but I always touch up my own roots and sometimes even cut my own hair. I will be giving it a little trim and will save the trip to the hairdressers until next month.

Spend less on clothes

I would love to splurge on clothes, but I’m not even going to allow myself any charity shop stuff this month. I bought a couple of things from my favourite online fashion retailer Everything Five Pounds last month so I don’t need anything desperately. Maybe it is time for another wardrobe challenge? Wear it or get rid of it!

Spend less on travel

Driving is by far the cheapest way for me to get to work. Otherwise I would need to take two buses. This would also cost a lot of my precious time! However, I will try to reduce other journeys by using shops en route and walking locally.

I love autumn and really enjoy walking anyway. This week we are dog sitting for friends, so no reason not to walk.

Spend less on fitness

Relaxing in the hot tubAs well as walking, me and Mr S have been doing quite a log of yoga at home. This is free!

This is my plan to spend less for the whole of the rest of October and November.

In other news

We are enjoying our dog sitting this week. The house is beautiful, the dogs are lovely and they have a hot tub! I don’t know if I would ever be prepared to buy one, but it’s lovely for a change. It feels like we are on holiday!

The reverse advent idea I mentioned in a previous post has already begun at work. We already have a lot of contributions so I think we wil need several boxes. Other colleagues have taken up the idea, which I’m very pleased about.

I can look at how to spend less, but it is good to be reminded that other folk have things much harder and can’t spend anything at all.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through and purchase something from my link, it won’t cost you any extra but I will earn a small commission.

Test your frugal habits with the thrift test

Frugal habits

Do you consider yourself savvy with your money or could you develop better frugal habits? Take the thrift test below to raise your awareness of which areas of your finances you need to improve.

  1. Do you know how much is in your bank balance right now?

    a) not a clue but I am probably overdrawn.

    b) yes, because I check every few days and budget accordingly.

    c) I have a rough idea as I take a look at my balance every now and again to see what I have left.2)

  2. Work lunches for you mean:

a) buying something on the hoof. I pop into a coffee shop or fast food outlet most days.b) a packed lunch. I always make one the evening before to save money.

c) sometimes I take a packed lunch but I don’t always have time.

3) What is your attitude to shopping for leisure:

a) I love it! Buying new things makes me feel good and I go into town or to the mall to shop most weekends.

b) I never shop for fun. I make my purchases when I am sure I need something and can afford it, and even then I shop around.

c) I know I can’t afford to go on regular sprees but like to look around the shops and make the odd impulse buy.

4) If you can’t afford something straight away do you:

a) buy it and stick it on your credit card. You can worry about how to pay it later.

b) do a lot of research online to find out the cheapest price for the item. Then either use your savings or save up. You will often try to buy second hand where possible.

c) If I really need it I buy it straight away, but have a quick look at some product reviews and prices first. I use a credit card but make sure I can pay at least the minimum repayment charges.

5) How often do you use cash back sites when you make your online purchases?

a) Never. I don’t know anything about them.

b) I always check to see if I can use sites like Top Cashback or Quidco before I make any purchase and get several hundred pounds back each year this way.

c) I have signed up but I often forget to use them.

* These are my referral links and if you sign up using them I will earn a small commission – thanks!

6) If you have to travel somewhere by train, do you:

a) buy the ticket as you get to the station.

b) purchase your ticket online several weeks in advance as you know you can save money. You consider different routes and buying two singles if that works out cheaper.

c) you know that you should buy your tickets in advance but often don’t remember until a few days before.

7) How do you keep your heating bills as low as possible?

a) I don’t really – as soon as I feel chilly the heating goes on.

b) I put on several layers and draw the curtains before I give in to turning it on and keep the thermostat as low as possible.

c) I try not to put it on too quickly but my partner or children often flick it on when my back is turned.

8) When was the last time you shopped around for a better mortgage deal, bank account or utility provider?

a) I don’t bother. They are all pretty much the same.

b) I check everything from my mortgage to my house insurance at least once a year.

c) I do it every now and again if I have time.

9) Your car is getting old and cranky. Do you:

a) Get another one on finance as soon as possible. I don’t really understand what they said about the interest rate but the car is shiny and red!

b) Look after the old girl whilst you save for another decent second hand model.

c) Get a loan from the bank to buy another car as soon as you can.

10) When you go grocery shopping, do you:

a) go in on the way home from work and buy what you fancy for the week.

b) Check what you already have in the stores, plan the meals for the week and then shop with a list.

c) I have a rough idea of what we need and usually take a list, but I don’t always stick to it and I am drawn to special offers.

The results to reveal your frugal habits

Mostly As

You don’t have to be a genius to work out that most As means your attitude to finance is so relaxed it is bordering on reckless. You rarely get a bargain and you don’t keep track of your spending. The chances are you have an overdraft and debts as a result. If you need to, you can get help and advice from the CAB, the Money Advice Service or Step Change.

Mostly Bs

You are a paragon of thrifty virtue, with fantastic frugal habits. You get the best value on everything you purchase, know how much money you have to spare to the penny and are likely to have a healthy savings account to prove it. We can all learn from you!

Mostly Cs

Let’s admit it, this is where most of us are. We love to get a bargain but don’t always do everything we could to save ourselves a buck. We can learn from the experts so that we can make the best of our money.

This is a light-hearted quiz with a serious message. Money really does make the world go around so understanding money

 

What do you know about the CAB? The best advice for free

Most people have heard of the Citizens Advice Bureau or CAB. Some of you may even have gone to them for help. Today I attended a session with a lady from the local CAB where she explained in depth what they do. I thought I knew what this was, but their work is much more wide ranging than I realised. All of their services are provided for free. The CAB really is an amazing and valuable organisation.

Identifying the issues of the day

CABAs well as giving advice to members of the public, the CAB identifies the big issues, researches them and campaigns where there are problems. They can see patterns emerging from their dealings with clients. This puts them in an ideal and possibly unique position to understand the struggles people face. For example, they are currently campaigning to halt the roll out of Universal Credit. They have seen first hand the difficulties these changes are causing to already disadvantaged people. They also successfully put pressure on the government to place a cap on the rate of interest charged by pay day loan companies.

A shocking 72% of the CAB’s clientele live in poverty. They may be on low incomes, be unemployed, disabled or living with a long term health condition.

The biggest subject areas the CAB deals with are, in order:

Benefits and tax credits

Debt

Housing

Employment

Financial services

Relationships

As the lady explained today, these all impact on each other and people seeking advice often present with 3 or 4 different related problems. For example, they lose their job, they have no money and get into debt, then their relationships suffer.

The power of the volunteer

The CAB staff, who are mostly volunteers, do such a great job of helping people that 90% of their clients state they are satisfied; two out of three say their problems are resolved and 4 out of 5 say their lives have been improved by the experience.

The organisation struggles to keep up with the high demand for services. They always need more funding and constantly strive to recruit new volunteers. They have around 21,500 voluntary staff – that’s 77% of the total.

Those who volunteer with the CAB get benefits too. It can help people back into paid employment, give them experience in particular areas (for example, a lot of law students help at the CAB) and allow retired people a chance to use their skills and experience and continue with a challenge when their previous working life is over.

The CAB doesn’t just see people face to face. They have an excellent website for simple advice, as well as web chat and email services.

Helping with debt and money advice

The website has an excellent budgeting tool, as well as an eligibility calculator to help you work out which benefits you might be entitled to (this is down today but you can use this one if it isn’t working). You can take the first steps to working out what help you need and might not need to see an advisor at all. However, if you do require more specialist help you can make an appointment for a face to face meeting.

According to the CAB, one in 11 people in the UK have problem debt. Of these one in four have mental health issues. There is a connection.

Whatever your personal issues, the CAB can help you to find a way to manage your debt, and find a way out of the mire. For example, they can advise how to prioritise which debts to pay first, how to deal with your creditors and how to set up a debt management plan.

They can look at your income and ensure you are claiming all of the benefits you are entitled to, helping you to claim and deal with any issues that arise along the way. If you are facing eviction or rent arrears they can help you keep a roof over your head. They can also give employment advice if you are having problems at work or job seeking.

We are so lucky to have such a service.  All given free of charge by people who don’t have to but want to help anyway.  I am very pleased to know they are there, although I hope I never need their services. I think I am already planning my perfect retirement job!

Have you had any experience with the CAB?

 

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

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

1.  When you buy groceries do you:

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

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

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

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

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

b. Take a packed lunch.

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

3. How is your bank balance? Do you:

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

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

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

4. When you go into town do you:

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

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

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

6. Your home is:

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

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

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

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

a) Why would I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Have you ever used a cash back site?

a) How do they work?

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

c) I do sometimes but often forget.

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

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

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

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

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

11. How often do you buy designer labels?

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

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

c) Occasionally, for a special occasion.

Results

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

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

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

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

What are your best frugal habits?

Five Frugal Things 26th August 

I have had the busiest of weeks. Very productive, though – I have done loads! Sometimes life is like that. I am sure I have managed five frugal things and more. Here are my top frugal achievements.

1. Website of the week

Website of the weekI suppose you could argue that this wasn’t really an example of frugality, but it did showcase our thrifty lifestyle. I was in the Sun newspaper! Shoestring Cottage was Mrs Crunch’s website of the week. I was really chuffed about this. I never thought I would be featured in a national newspaper.

I was also recently featured on a lovely blog, a Beautiful Space. You can check that out here.

2. Hosted a frugal party

five frugal thingsWe had a gathering of the clans yesterday – a lovely sunny party in the garden. It was a lot of work as there were 20 of us. How do you host such a party without breaking the bank? Fortunately my family made some contributions of cakes, a sausage plait and a home made coleslaw, plus everyone brought drinks.

I went to Aldi for almost all my ingredients and used a lot of garden produce as well. A huge moussaka, courgette and tomato bake, quiches and various salads all went down well with the hungry hoards. I bought beer and prosecco from Aldi too, as the prices are so good in there.

It was a fabulous day and so nice to catch up with everybody.

3. A bit of DIY

I have been meaning to spruce up the lodger’s room before the new one arrives. The garden has taken up so much of my spare time I hadn’t had a chance. So I took the day off work on Wednesday and painted all the woodwork. I still have to emulsion the walls some time but it already looks so much brighter. A can of one coat gloss cost just £15 in Homebase and there is still loads left. You don’t have to spend much to smarten up a room.

4. Another Aldi bargain

Darling daughter and I are both lactose intolerant and usually drink Lactofree milk. This costs anywhere between £1.35 and £1.55 a litre, although I sometimes find it on offer for £1 and stock up.

I was really happy to hear that Aldi now sell a version. It is only £1.15, which is a great price. I know where I will be buying this from now on. I won’t have to go hunting for the nearest place where I don’t have to take out a mortgage to buy the stuff!

Food intolerances can be expensive. At least we don’t have to eat gluten free as on of my guests did yesterday.

5. Using up the veg

five frugal thingsWe had so much veg in the house I made a cheap and extremely easy vegetable bake. I sautéed  some courgettes and celery, then added cooked potatoes, sweet corn and carrots. Finally,  I smothered it all in a cheese sauce and topped it with tomatoes and more grated cheese. Then I baked it for about half an hour and it was delicious with some crusty bread and home grown runner beans.

I love this kind of easy, thrifty dinner, which often makes it onto my five frugal things list.  I made enough for two meals. We had it the following evening with some bakes chicken.

I also froze the excess runner beans, which are now arriving at an alarming pace! It is great to think we will still be eating our own produce as we move towards winter.

All in all, a satisfying week and it was easy to achieve my five frugal things. What have your frugal achievements been this week? Let me know in the comments.

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. You can hop on over to their blogs to get some more frugal inspiration.

Student budgeting for university: a new student’s guide

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

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

Student budgeting tools

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

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

Avoid impulse buying

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

Learning to cook

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

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

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

Kitchen essentials

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

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

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

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

Food planning and buying

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

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

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

Tracking your spending

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

Save money on text books

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

Getting a job

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

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

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

Five Frugal Things I have done this week 12th August

Five frugal things

It has been a bizarre kind of week weather wise here in Essex. We have had warmth, cold, sunshine but mostly a lot of rain. I have been hoping for an improvement as we are off to a little festival tomorrow.  It’s not looking too bad at the moment but I will be taking my rain mac just in case.

So what five frugal things have we achieved this week?

We have a working wood burner

We finally had our wood burner fitted! It is ready for winter. This isn’t frugal in itself, of course, as it was expensive. Mr S saved us money by doing as much work as possible himself but we had to pay to get the chimney lined. Others who have one tell me that it has saved money on their heating bills in the long run and is great for drying laundry.

I am certainly looking forward to cozying up in front of it this winter.

I got some cash back

I signed up a while ago to Top Cashback and, even though I have barely bought anything over the last few months, I have earned £50 cash back! Imagine how much you could get back if you are a big online spender?

The idea is that you go into the site and peruse the deals they have negotiated with various retailers. If you buy something, you get the published amount of money back. I have got into the habit of checking Top Cashback to see if there is a deal on before I buy anything. I renewed my breakdown cover and bought a few presents and it has definitely come up trumps.

If you use my referral code, here, I earn a commission and you get a £5 bonus once you purchase something.

Picnicking

As I mentioned, we are off to a small festival tomorrow – Wrabfest! We have never been before but it looks fun. It is a community event, organised by villagers from Wrabness. Because we are on a grocery challenge, we shall be taking along a large picnic. I have rolls, crisps, fruit, chocolate, sausage rolls and water. Hopefully we will be allowed to take a flask in too. As we are there all day, we will probably blow the budget and buy a burger or something for dinner though. You have to loosen the purse strings once in a while, and I don’t fancy lugging around too much food. Hopefully, this will be a nice day.

Surveys

I have never bothered much with online survey sites to make extra cash. They seem generally to be a lot of effort for very little reward. However, Prolific Academic was recommended to me as one that actually pays worthwhile amounts. I signed up and did a couple in my lunch hour today. I made £3.17 in about 20 minutes. Ok, it’s not going to make me rich, but if I did that every lunchtime it would be a useful amount extra at the end of the month!

You need to answer quite a lot of pre-screening questions and they keep appearing, each time you log on. The more you complete, the more surveys you are likely to be eligible for. It also pays to add your phone number to verify your account, I am told.

Lunch for pennies

As we still have a few courgettes coming through on the veg patch, I made a bucket of ratatouille on Monday. We had it for dinner with rice and I have eaten the rest for my lunches every day. It made a change from soup or a sandwich. I don’t really use a recipe. I just chop up onions, garlic, peppers and courgettes, fry them up, then add tinned tomatoes, herbs and seasonings. If I have an aubergine I might chuck that in, but I did without this time. It is certainly cheaper than going to the shop every day for a meal deal!

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. Hop over to their sites to see the frugal things they have achieved? Let me know about yours in the comments too.