Category Archives: Selfsufficiency

A weekend of thrifty living and saving money

We have had a good weekend here at Shoestring Cottage. I really feel we have achieved something! We continue with our thrifty living adventures.

A new tenant

One of my aims for this month was to get a new lodger sorted. I paid a few pounds to Spare Room to have a bold advert and I’m glad I did. We have had lots more interest than last time. Yesterday I spoke to a young lady who is studying abroad but is coming to Colchester to do her masters. She seems very nice and has decided to take the room from October. This gives us time to get in once our current lodger has gone and spruce it up a bit.

Free food

thrifty livingWe have been picking blackberries. There are always tons in the car park at our local post office. No one ever seems to harvest them. We checked it was ok to have some and picked 4lbs of lovely ripe fruit.

They are already in the freezer. I will use them puréed in porridge or made into pies and crumbles over the winter.

Yellow stickers

thrifty livingDarling daughter has got lucky a few times hunting for yellow stickered food recently. She arrived just at the right time in Asda on Saturday evening and got loads of items reduced to 10p. I really must make a more concerted effort to hunt out reduced food. This will help my £35 a week grocery challenge!

Home grown

thrifty livingOn the veggie patch, the courgettes have started to slow down but are still arriving. We had our first ripe tomatoes on Saturday and there are still tons of cucumbers. These are so easy to grow if you have a greenhouse. Ours came from eBay a few years ago and cost £85 secondhand. It was a good investment.

We also have tons of runner beans, spinach and chard and some chilli peppers. I am really pleased that our apple trees look like producing their first decent crop this year too. They will go well with our foraged blackberries! We have a young plum tree too but only a couple of plums on there so far.

Seeds for free!

thrfty livinigWe did loads of much needed tidying in the garden yesterday. I am really pleased with how it is looking. It never ends though and there is still plenty to do.

I collected some seed heads from our hollyhocks and foxgloves and put them in an envelope, as instructed by Monty Don on Gardener’s World. Free seeds for next year! I love the cottage garden feel those plants give.

DIY hair cutting

thrifty livingI did some more DIY hair cutting at the weekend, just trimming the fringe and layers. I do still go to the hairdresser but a lot less frequently now that I know I can tidy it up myself between cuts.

It looks pretty ok I reckon. I do need to learn not to cut my layers quite so blunt though. Maybe I will have a look at purchasing some layering scissors with my Boots points.

I am happy with our good weekend of money saving and thrifty living. Was yours a frugal weekend?

This month’s achievements in our frugal garden: May 2017

As we head towards the end of May, it is time to look back at our  achievements in our frugal garden.

It is always hard to accomplish exactly what we want in the garden. We both love getting out in the fresh air to plant, cut back and keep it looking tidy. Time is limited because we have to do that boring going to work thing! If only we could stay home and tend our garden it would be our little piece of paradise!

We also don’t have endless cash to spend. This can be frustrating as we know what we would like but can’t always justify the expense. But it’s easy to have a frugal garden as well as a beautiful one if you are creative and put in some time.

Managing our time

This year, we decided on a little and often approach. Rather than being intimidated by the amount of work to do in the garden and waiting until we have lots of time to do it, we have been focussing on one task at a time. Weeding a single bed, cutting the hedge, sowing the vegetables, etc. We might only spend an hour or two in our garden over a weekend but it makes all the difference. Even 10 minutes in the evening helps.

Seeing the fruits of our labours (literally in the case of the redcurrants) encourages us to do a bit more. I might pot up a few plants after work, Mr S will whip round with the lawnmower, etc or attack the weeds on the patio.

Flushed with success

Yesterday it was a boiling hot day but I was determined to sort the greenhouse. It needed to have some compost dug in and the tomatoes, chillis and cucumbers planted. We were sweating like pigs by the time we had finished but it’s all done. A heatwave wasn’t perhaps the best time to choose for this task!

I managed to pot up half of my geraniums, purchased as plugs when they were on sale in Wyevales recently. Because they were cheap we ended up buying loads. These will make a lovely display. I will finish the others over the next couple of days. Little and often!

Ways to save money: growing from seeds and cuttings

To save time and money we are focussing on planting flowering shrubs in the beds. We have grown some of these from cuttings, such as beautiful wallflowers and spreading geraniums. They fill a space in no time and cost literally nothing. Others have been purchased very cheaply in places like B&M, Home Bargains, Lidl and Aldi. These stores are also good for bags of compost at very reasonable prices. We  grew sweetpeas from seed and these are beginning to grow in pots up wicker frames that I picked up for a fiver.

Look in the reduced section

We managed to find trays of violas and pansies for just a pound each recently on the reduced section at the garden centre. These are all over the place now and looking fabulous. It is often worth looking as the reductions are often substantial and you can coax plants back to their best with a little love and attention.

Growing your own food in the frugal garden

It’s a win-win. A pack of seeds costs a pound or two and you can use half and reseal the pack for the following year. You can have top quality fresh produce on your plate ten minutes after it has been picked!  We have cut down a little this year but the veg patch still has rainbow chard, broad beans, runners, courgettes, pumpkins and Jerusalem artichokes. We haven’t grown stuff that will be cheap in the shops. This, on top of the produce in the greenhouse, should save a lot of money over the summer and give us some exercise too.

What have you achieved this month in your frugal garden? Do you find it saves you money or do you spend a fortune in the garden centre?

Small victories 😀

Time to sort out the patio pots


I had a great eBay day on Thursday. I made three sales but one of them was for £120! If only I could do one of those a week I would be sorted. I hope to sell some more as it’s a double bank holiday weekend and the weather is a bit rubbish. I intend to hit the boot sale on bank holiday Monday to see what other treasures I can search out to resell. You can read about my eBay experiences here and here.

We also managed to book a holiday to celebrate Mr S’s big 5-0 this year (don’t tell him I told you!). We have been searching for a good deal for ages and we finally found one. It pays to shop around. Oddly, the all inclusive price was cheaper than the bed and breakfast option so we went for that. Majorca, here we come!

I have never done an all inclusive resort type vacation before. It will be an experience, I’m sure. Mr S loves a bit of sunshine. We used Teletext Holidays, which was weird as I didn’t know they existed. They seem to have some good offers.

Campanula for the old sink complete with sticks and logs to keep the cats off


We have been cracking on with the gardening, spending at least 3 or 4 hours out there each weekend to keep on top of it all. I have said it before – too much garden, too little time! I love it though. I get so absorbed in what I am doing that I forget about anything else. It is so good for a person’s mental and physical health.

I sowed some pumpkin seeds yesterday. The courgettes and tomatoes are coming up in the greenhouse, as well as hundreds of little seedlings in what we hope will be our new wildflower area. I sorted out some of the pots on the patio and Mr S did loads of cutting back and weeding.  We are planning to do a bit more as it’s a long weekend. 

So, small victories! What about you?

Frugal achievements 

Although March wasn’t a no spend month as January and February were, it was a low spend period. I am forever trying to make my money go further in many small ways. There is nothing life changing in this list, but every little helps! Here are some of my steps towards frugality for March:

Listed and sold several items on eBay

Took cuttings from our unusual multicoloured wallflowers – free plants!

Made a cake as a gift for my parents

Saved some old wine by freezing it in ice cube trays for cooking

Made chicken stock from old carcasses.

Reduced the amount of sachet food I give the cats and increased their dry food (cheaper and better for their teeth).

Took advantage of the Aldi super six offers to buy butternut squashes for soup at 49p each. This should cover our work lunches.

Sowed tomato seeds for the greenhouse. These were free Heinz seeds my daughter picked up! Should be interesting.

Sowed courgettes and broadbeans.

Purchased a lovely pair of curtains for our upcoming redecoration of the lounge. These were from eBay in great used condition for £20.

I think I must also have saved money over the course of the month by not eating sugar. This was much easier than I anticipated. I broke the sugar fast with a slice of lemon drizzle cake yesterday. However, I still intend to keep my consumption of refined sugar very low. I feel better for it!

It is a glorious day here and we have been using the green gym in the garden, i.e. digging and weeding! So I am saving more money and getting my exercise for free! Have a great week.

Growing our own

Finally, spring has sprung! This afternoon we got out into the garden to get some jobs done. Mr S dug up and moved the compost heap as it had been invaded by bindweed so the compost was unusable, whilst I dug over one of the veg plots. 

We have decided to sow wild flowers on one of the plots this year. We were short of time last summer and cultivating, harvesting and preserving everything felt stressful. If I didn’t work full time I would grow a lot more but it is difficult to find the time. So this year we will stick with a few crops that we know are likely to do well: perpetual spinach, runner beans, courgettes, broad beans and chard. We shall also grow tomatoes and cucumbers in the greenhouse. Keeping it simple, but still growing some of our own food. A wildflower garden will be lovely too!

We have blackcurrants, blackberries, blueberries and a few apples as well, but they take very little work. So healthy and delicious.

I just loved getting outside. I am sure we must both be lacking vitamin D, we have been cooped up so much!

We went to see my lovely Mum in hospital this morning. Her hip replacement operation seemed to go well. She was a little uncomfortable but not in great pain. I will pop in again on my way home from work tomorrow. She has had a steady stream of family in today so she might actually enjoy some peace when we are all back at work tomorrow 😀.

Have a good week. Bye for now.

How long could you live on NO money?

Here is another excellent book for my frugal bookshelf – The Moneyless Man: a year of freeconomic living by Mark Boyle.

It was written as a response to the author’s observation about how disconnected we are to what we consume. We rarely stop to think about where the products we purchase come from, who produced them, what their social and environmental cost was or how destructive some of our shopping habits are. As he says, ‘If we all had to grow our own food, we wouldn’t waste a third of it…If we had to make our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior decor’.

He decided that for one year he would not receive or spend money. He lived off grid in a caravan he got from Freecycle. He parked it on a farm in return for his labour. He built a compost toilet and grew much of his own food. He also ate waste food rescued from supermarket skips and foraged wild food. He relied on a bicycle for transport and, since he couldn’t pay anyone when it needed repair, had to do himself. He made home-brew – the point wasn’t to be austere and joyless, and fun was allowed!

Although I couldn’t see myself living in this way, reading this book made me realise how much I could do without and still live a happy and comfortable life with less damage to the environment. The story of Mark Boyle’s year without money is extraordinary and hugely inspiring.

You can, of course, order it for free from the library, but if you choose to purchase it through my link I will receive a small commission.

An evening pottering

I should be out sorting the mess that is the garden but I had a busy day learning first aid today so I’m having a constructive potter around. It gets dark early too so it would be a rush! I have packaged a couple of items I sold on eBay, sorted a mass of laundry, given the kitchen a clean, stewed a load of windfall apples to go in the freezer and I am about to do a pile of ironing. After that I will do a yoga session. Gentle but busy!

Mr S is out and DD3 is at her boyfriend’s house so it is just me and the cats. I quite like having the house to myself sometimes!

Anyone else enjoying a potter?

All is not lost!

Yesterday I blogged that there had been a few disasters with the veg growing this year. Well, I went down to water the patch this morning and things are looking up! 

The runner beans that survived the slugs have suddenly become super productive, the courgettes have all grown a lot in the last few days and I can see some baby courgettes on the way, there are masses of cucumbers and we still have lots of broadbeans coming. We have hit the time of year when I can more or less stop buying salads and veg for a while.

We even have some lovely blueberries. The first year our little bush has produced this many. So I have blueberries on my porridge today – lots of healthy antioxidants!

We said goodbye to our French student this morning. I had an early start as I had to drop him for the coach at 7 am. This is why I had time to look at the garden and blog before work! He was a pleasure to host, so polite and thoughtful. I have two more next week so I hope they are as nice!

Do you grow your own?

Blackberries and raspberries from the garden

One of our money saving schemes is to grow as much fruit and veg as we can. We are constrained by the amount of time it takes to sow and plant out, prepare the soil, feed, water, weed and ultimately harvest. We both work full time and, although we love getting outside, we don’t want to spend all our precious spare time working in the garden. I also need time to preserve some of the harvest so I freeze what I can as it is, make soup for the freezer too and some preserves when I have enough fruit.

We are lucky if course to have a big enough garden to do this. I know that some people have to wait months or years to get a council allotment.

This year has been a mixed bag. Two crops we can usually rely on have been rubbish! The courgettes have failed to thrive and the runner beans got eaten by slugs. The tomatoes looked fantastic but are showing slight signs of possible blight. The carrots either failed to become seedlings or were eaten immediately, I’m not sure. We do have a few growing in an old recycling bin though 😀. The spinach also bolted as I put it in a sunny spot then we didn’t water it enough and the raspberries were smothered in bindweed so we have just a few. 

However, we have fabulous beetroot, leeks, cucumbers, redcurrants, broad beans, some chard coming on and sprouts which have so far avoided being decimated by cabbage whites, as happened last year. The neighbour’s blackberries tip over to our side and they are already ripening. Not our best year, but not a complete failure!

I think it is just about worth the effort. Do you grow your own? Do you think it saves you money?

More dental woes, and preserving the summer glut for a frugal winter

  I can’t believe I am still suffering from dental pain! I went to the dentist and he said it was a cracked filling then booked me in for a months time! The pain went from bed to excruciating over the weekend and I had to find an emergency dentist on Sunday morning who told me I had an infection so she couldn’t do anything except give me antibiotics and to go back to my regular dentist.  I have an appointment tomorrow and just hope he can sort it. 

  However it still hurts a lot and I have had two days off work with it – very unusual for me but I can’t sleep and am a bit out of it with all the painkillers I have been taking. I can’t believe one little tooth can cause so much trouble, and I daren’t think how much it will cost if I have to have a root canal treatment. I am seriously considering dental insurance for the future. I have rarely had problems, but I’m getting older and so are my gnashers!!

  I tried to distract myself today by pickling more cucumbers, making tons of courgette soup for the freezer and making a nice vat of ratatouille for tea tonight, which is soft enough for me to eat if I mash it up a bit. I feel like a baby!! All my food is currently in purée form.

The courgettes, tomatoes, peppers and onions in the ratatouille are all from the veg patch, so I am very happy with that. It’s delicious, if I say so myself.

Thd pickled cucumber recipe is here if you fancy it. It’s really yummy, sweet and crunchy!