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

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

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

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

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

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



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

A birthday celebration

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

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

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

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

How to get your five a day on a budget 

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

Check out your local market

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Aldi

If you are a regular reader you already know that I love the discount supermarkets. They save me so much money on groceries – I found I reduced my bill by about £30 a week when I started using Aldi or Lidl rather than the larger, traditional supermarkets.  That’s a saving of over £1500 a year without even trying!

However, they are also great with their special deals on various home and lifestyle products.

Gluten free

This week Aldi has done particularly well. If you or one of your family have a problem with gluten, they have a whole shelf of interesting looking deals on gluten free food, including this Betty Crocker cake mix. I am having a dinner party on Saturday and one of our guests is a coeliac so I will make that for her dessert. They had lots of other yummy looking things too. As the cashier told me, these products move fast, so be quick if you are interested.

Baby savings

Aldi also have a fantastic range of baby and nursery stuff currently. Amazing prices! A high chair for £19.99, a changing mat for £3.99, some very cute bean bags for £16.99 and reusable nappies for £9.99.

I spent £50 on the week’s shopping for the three of us. I will add cat food and Lactofree milk to this total, but I think that’s pretty good going. I bypassed the plants and garden deals. They are so good I can’t resist them and I have spent enough on the garden this month.

What about you? Have you tried the discounters yet and which do you prefer?

Watch out for the scammers!

Scam supermarket voucher scheme

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

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

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


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

UK Money Bloggers

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

Have a great Sunday!

Think you don’t like pulses? Ten thrifty recipes that might change your mind

We all know that meat is expensive, so if you are trying to save money on your groceries it makes sense to eat less of it. There is also a substantial body of evidence showing that a well thought out vegetarian diet is healthier too.

However, I  have lost count of the number of times people have told me that they hate pulses whilst being known to happily scoff a nice pot of hummus, baked beans or a spicy lentil dahl!

Here at Shoestring Cottage we enjoy a wide variety of meals, some of which contain a little meat and some that are meat free. We often include beans and pulses in our meals. As well as being packed with protein, they are low in fat and a great source of fibre. You can buy them cheaply in cans and sachets, so don’t have to spend a lot of your precious time soaking and cooking them.

Here are some of our favourite frugal meals containing pulses (forgive my chick pea obsession):

Smoky chicken with chickpeas. This is mildly spiced and the cheaper chickpeas stretch the chicken and uses my favourite smoked paprika.

Tarka dhal, a recipe featured by Jamie Oliver. This is nice as a side dish or can be eaten with rice or bread for a simple, super frugal meal.

Chick pea curry. This is cheap, tasty and easy to make.

Red dragon pie. I have been cooking this for years from my old copy of Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Kitchen – lovely book! This recipe involves a lot of chopping but is much easier if you use canned beans, as I usually do. This link takes you to a nice little website called Sprinkles of Love, which is an online shared cook book but sadly nobody seems to be contributing any more.

Spanish chicken with butterbeans, chorizo and tomatoes. One from the lovely Delia Smith. My friend cooked this for me at a dinner party one evening and it was delicious!

Chick pea burgers. Stick them in a bun with some salad and relish.

Cheesy mushroom and lentil cottage pie. I like this with lots of veggies and gravy.

Quick beany enchiladas. One from the BBC Food website. I like to double up when making the filling and freeze if for a quick ready meal to use with rice. They use frozen peppers, although I tend to use fresh since I always have some in the fridge.

Another one from Delia, although you can find versions of this all over the Internet: Boston baked beans. As I am generally pushed for time, I always buy canned beans to use in this.  It needs long, slow cooking.

Finally, the recipe that launched Jack Monroe’s career as a cookery writer, carrot, cumin and kidney bean burger. How can you go wrong when you can make a burger for around 10p?

Give beans and  pulses a try. They can help you stick to your budget and improve your nutrition.

 

£5 bargains – a review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving, spending and making money in April

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free and frugal ways to spend a bank holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find a boot sale and get yourself some bargains.

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

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

The art of being gorgeous on a budget

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


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

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

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

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

Have a great Saturday!