Eight of the best frugal food blogs to help you save money

best frugal food blogsI love food and experimenting with recipes and, just because I am on a budget, I don’t want to eat badly. Glossy cookbooks and food programmes are all very well, but sometimes require fancy ingredients that are expensive. This is why when I want inspiration I go to my favourite frugal food blogs. (Incidentally, some of my own frugal recipes are to be found here.)

Here are some of the best frugal food blogs, in no particular order:

Cooking on a Boot Strap

Master of the budget recipe is Jack Monroe. It started with A Girl Called Jack, but you will now find the blog at Cooking on a Bootstrap. What I like about Jack is the recipe descriptions – there is often a story behind a particular creation – and the way the cost of each recipe is so carefully calculated. The cooking here is all vegan now, but that makes it interesting and very cheap.

Frugal Queen

Jane at Frugal Queen is a legend. She is a huge inspiration to me and one of the reasons I began my blog. I enjoy her no nonsense approach to food and everything else. You won’t find any fancy recipes, just decent, cheap home cooking. As she eats gluten free, everything can be adapted for those with a sensitivity or Coeliac’s disease.

Diary of a Frugal Family

Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family is a recent find.  She emphasises the importance of meal planning, which is my mantra too for those attempting to stick to a budget. This is good, family food and includes plenty of delicious home baking.

Thrifty Lesley

Thrifty Lesley shows you how to feed yourself for £1 a day. The recipes are interesting and healthy too. Lesley uses very little meat, which is how her food is so cheap I think. This is a clever and well organised blog. She has written menu plans to help you stick to the £1 a day budget, whatever your circumstances. There is even a no power meal plan, aimed at people who have no power in their accommodation. This is serious stuff and really useful.

Reduced Grub

Kelly at Reduced Grub is well worth a visit. She has loads of recipes on her blog. They aren’t as cheap as some of the other blogs I have mentioned, but still good family food on a budget.

Utterly Scrummy Food for Families

A brand new blog to me is Utterly Scrummy Food for Families, which has an emphasis on budgeting and meal planning. Michelle presents plenty of inspiration and advice on using leftovers, reducing your food bills and producing delicious meals on a budget. I particularly fancy this potato and vegetable bake. My kind of frugal food blog!

The Skint Foodie

I love the Skint Foodie blog. It has some seriously sexy recipes for a small budget! This is extremely well written by someone who has struggled with alcohol, homelessness and unemployment. He wanted to prove that eating well wasn’t the preserve of the wealthy, that planning and imagination meant he could still eat fabulous food with very little money. It is witty, informative and eye opening.

Frugal Food

Faye’s blog, Frugal Food, does what it says on the tin. She focusses on producing frugal meals with quality ingredients. Being frugal doesn’t have to mean being cheap! Some recipes are quite adventurous, but sound delicious, such as Toro Rosso pie, made with minced beef and Hungarian sausage hot pot.

Which frugal food blogs inspire you? I hope you enjoy my suggestions and have a frugal foodie weekend.

 

 

 

This week’s beauty bargains

I love a good deal, as you know, and this week I have been fortunate to get hold of some beauty bargains. (You might also like my posts on budget beauty  here and here.)

Freebies from the Savvy Circle

beauty bargainsA while ago I signed up with P&G’s Savvy Circle. The idea is that you can sign up for product testing of new P&G products. You receive freebies to try yourself and share with your friends. The company asks you to feed back via their blog and hopes you will spread the word on social media too.

I applied to try Pantene’s new Micellar hair care range and the products arrived yesterday. I’m always up for a freebie, but I didn’t expect such a generous package. They sent two bottles each of shampoo, conditioner and leave-in foam conditioner! Also in the parcel were some money off vouchers to pass to friends and family and some feedback forms.

I have already tried the shampoo and liquid conditioner and they seem lovely. Conditioners that leave my hair feeling greasy and heavy are a turn off but this one feels very light.  My daughter and my lodger are going to try them out too. I have signed up for two more campaigns for Bold and Olay. There is no guarantee of getting accepted for anything, so I will have to wait and see what happens.

Supermarket beauty bargains

beauty bargainsI popped into Asda after work to get a few bits and discovered a new range of makeup from George. It looks great and the prices are amazing! I needed a new mascara, rouge and concealer and bought all three. The mascara was £3 (on offer, so I bought two), the blusher – a really big pot – was £5, the small solid concealer was just £2 and the liquid concealer was £4.50. I resisted the foundation as I don’t need any, but that was on sale at an introductory price of £4.50.  I regret this now, so might pop in and buy some if I am passing. These are great prices! I haven’t tried anything properly yet so I will report back and perhaps do a review on another post. Also in the range are lipsticks, nail varnish, powder, eye pencils and shadows, etc.

I am pretty pleased with my beauty bargains. I don’t spend a fortune on cosmetics and toiletries as I can’t afford to, so freebies and low prices are the way to go.

Do you belong to any cosmetic testing organisations or any freebie sites? Has anyone else tried the George at Asda makeup range?

 

 

Eco friendly Christmas gifts

Don’t shout at me for mentioning the festive season in October – it soon creeps up! I have already started buying and have been looking at some eco friendly Christmas gifts.

Christmas has felt like a bad consumer melt down for me in the past. Too many people buying too much stuff and spending way too much money. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I enjoy all of the opportunities it offers for people to get together, the giving and receiving,  the cooking and eating  of delicious food.

However, I dislike the general excess. People spending money they can’t afford, buying mounds of food that won’t get eaten, trashy, over the top decorations and the pressure folk feel to produce the perfect experience. I am already hearing parents stressing because they cannot get this year’s most popular toy and fighting for them when they arrive in the shops. Most of all, I hate spending money on trashy presents that won’t be appreciated.

Because of this, I try to make sure the recipients of any gifts I buy really want them. If that means taking away the surprise, then so be it. I also try to buy some items that are eco friendly. Usually small things for my daughters that will replace something that causes a lot of waste. With this in mind, here are my suggestions for inexpensive eco friendly Christmas gifts. I am dreaming of a green Christmas!

I am going for a frugal Christmas, so none of the suggestions below will break the bank.

Eco friendly Christmas gifts

For their stocking fillers, I have bought my daughters some stainless steel reusable straws. Plastic straws are thrown away after one use which is incredibly wasteful. I have ordered them from Lakeland, at £5.99 for 8 straws with a cleaning brush.

I hope they don’t read this, as I have also bought them some reusable Magic Makeup Removing Cloths from Amazon. You can remove all makeup with just water. The reviews suggest they really work, so I am excited about these. I have ordered myself some too.

If you have a nature loving friend or family member, Friends of the Earth have a cute bird feeder in their shop. You can stick it to your kitchen window and watch the birds feeding as you do the washing up! Love this! At £13.99 it won’t break the bank.

I know this isn’t a glamorous gift, but I would be happy to receive these Ecoegg Re-Usable Bamboo Towels. You can wash and reuse rather than buying kitchen towels.

I have never tried these, but my lodger has one – how about a Bamboo Toothbrush? She is very happy with hers. It remains to be seen how long it will last, but you are supposed to change them every three months so it should do that.

I have various plastic lunchboxes that I take to work, but maybe a stainless steel one would be a better option. Ideally, it should be air tight so that you don’t have to use plastic wrap as well. There are lots of different options online, but some of them are horrendously expensive. One was over £80!! Not on my budget…. Many were under £10 but looked cheap with poor reviews. This one seems a decent mid priced one and has excellent reviews.

For the kids, how about some recycled colouring pencils made from rolled up newspapers? I found these on eBay. Pencils and recycled paper crafts make great eco friendly Christmas gifts.

When I was at the SHOMO Awards recently, I met Zoe from Eco Thrify Living. She had bought her own reusable coffee cup with her, which I thought was such a sensible idea. I have found a similar one from Evolution Organics that I will be putting on my Christmas wish list. I have several china ones but they aren’t really practical for carrying around with you.

Buy an experience

Regular readers will know we had a lot of experiences given to Mr Shoestring for his 50th. My favourites were the afternoon teas. Who wouldn’t enjoy a big plate of cake? Of course, there are all types of experiences you can purchase and you can find some of them at buyagift.co.uk. I think these are a good idea for people who already have too much stuff.

Buying books

I also like buying books as these will tend to be read and passed on – not just binned. Coffee table type books are pretty but I avoid them as they tend to be leafed through and forgotten. I only buy books for people I know well or where someone has requested a book they really like. If you are considering books as presents, check out the Book People first. They have collections that are so cheap and fantastic for presents. When my children were smaller, I would buy the collections of kids books and separate them up to give in a party bag rather than loads of plastic rubbish. I also buy second hand books for stocking fillers.

Gift vouchers

If you don’t know what to buy, don’t buy anything. Rather than spend on something that might not be appreciated, choose a gift voucher instead. The other advantage of gift cards is that they don’t involved loads of packaging and gift wrapping. You can buy discounted cards from Zeek, so you can save money too. If you use my promo code you will get £3 for free. I generally use my gift cards, but if you have some you know you won’t get around to spending, you can sell on Zeek too. It’s a genius idea.

Does the waste and excess at Christmas leave you cold too? Will you be exploring some eco friendly Christmas gifts instead this year?

 

Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links, but all opinions are all my own. Using an affiliate link will not affect you in any way. It will help to support the blog as I will earn a small commission if you purchase anything via an affiliate link.  Thanks!

Five Frugal Things I’ve done this Week 6th October 2017

I love these occasional five frugal things posts. When you think the week has flashed by in a blur of busy-ness, it is good to stop and reflect. So here are my five frugal things to kick off October.

frugal thingsFrugal thing 1: Using up the stores

I am eating out of the cupboards this week. For one reason or another it is just me almost every night. It can be hard to find the motivation to cook properly when I am by myself but tonight I made myself a delicious store cupboard stew.

I used chick peas and tinned tomatoes from the larder, along with a few frozen vegetables and some fresh ones that needed using up. Also chucked in were celery, carrots, mushrooms, a green pepper, some left over cooked spinach, a single new potato I found lurking and the end of a packet of mixed frozen vegetables. The addition of half a pint of stock and some smoked paprika – my favourite spice – gave it a lovely flavour. It was absolutely delicious! I had it with some brown rice for a really cheap and healthy dinner. Which leads me onto:

Frugal thing 2: Batch cooking and freezing

I love the odd home made freezer meal and frequently batch cook. It saves time and money. Tonight I deliberately made a big pot of my stew so that I could eat it tomorrow and freeze a couple of portions.

Frugal thing 3: Rented out the spare room

I welcomed my new lodger on Sunday. She seems really lovely and is settling in well. It has been nice to have a bit of company this week. The extra money is hugely helpful to my budget. I found her through Spare Room, which is a good site in my opinion.

I gave the room a refresh the other week – bit of frugal DIY. It was well worth it as it looks lovely and clean now.

Frugal thing 4: Making the most of windfall fruit

Mr S arrived home with a huge box of cooking apples a couple of weeks ago, far too many for us to use in fact. I have given a load to friends and neighbours and got back some pears in return. These are currently ripening in the fruit bowl. I didn’t have to buy any fruit this week at all.

I also peeled, chopped and froze some of the apples to mix with the home grown and foraged currants and berries already in the freezer.

frugal thingsFrugal thing 5: Completed a no spend week

I have purchased nothing this week except cat food, milk and a pack of reduced price mushrooms. I didn’t intend to do this – it just happened! We didn’t need any groceries except milk as we have been eating from the stores, but when I saw the yellow sticker on my half price mushrooms I knew I could use them in tonight’s stew. I don’t spend unless I need to. At the moment I am conscious that Christmas is on the way, and I want to save the pennies for presents.

 

I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. Pop over to their blogs to see their five frugal things. What have your money saving achievements been this week?

 

 

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?

 

Cleaning as therapy

There is something deeply satisfying about cleaning and tidying. Bringing order to chaos, getting rid of dirt and clutter and regaining control gives me a new sense of calm. Maybe cleaning as therapy should be prescribed!

cleaning as therapy

Clean and tidy lodger room

Cleaning as therapy

Of course, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. It is hard work and takes time. However, I can only cope with a certain amount of disorder before I start to twitch. I’m not an OCD cleaner by any stretch of the imagination or a minimalist. I am not madly house proud, but I need to do a good weekly clean throughout to make me feel that all is right with my little world!

I spent the whole day yesterday doing a deep clean of the whole house, ready for my new lodger. First impressions are important, especially as she is arriving with her dad. I hit the cobwebs in all of the corners and cleaned all the woodwork and skirting boards with hot water and my home made cleaning spray. The windows all got a good shine and I washed all of the hard floors. The oven was scrubbed, as were the sink and fridge. I also wiped all of the cupboard fronts in the kitchen. Then the usual hoover and polish throughout, and we were ready.

Get rid of the clutter

I don’t like a lot of clutter either. I tend to keep on top of it as I go. However, there are some drawers and cupboards that need a bit of a clear out. What is the point of keeping loads of stuff you never use that just sits in your house gathering dust? If you leave it too long, you forget you have it! Now that autumn has arrived I will take advantage of having less to do in the garden and start to go through some of those dark corners. Definitely something for another day I think.

The garden does need a tidy up too to get ready for winter. The veg patch needs clearing and lots of things need cutting back. The greenhouse also needs sorting. We might get out and tackle the jungle later today, although it is looking rather grey and threatening weather wise at the moment.

I have achieved a lot this weekend anyway. Cleaning as therapy works for me. How about you?

The SHOMO Awards and a busy weekend

SHOMO Awards

Zoe, Emma and Andy at the SHOMO Awards

I have had such a busy week, my feet have hardly touched the ground! This is mainly because I was out all weekend at the SHOMO awards and spent Sunday in Brighton. Since then if I haven’t been at work I have been decorating. I haven’t had the chance to catch up with myself. I need to, as my new lodger arrives on Sunday and the house is a bit chaotic.

I’m not exactly a control freak, but I don’t respond well to chaos!. will be working flat out on Saturday to reclaim some order.

The SHOMO Awards

I attended the SHOMO Awards (UK Money Bloggers annual conference and awards ceremony) on Saturday. It was full on and extremely interesting. I had the chance to attend a couple of most informative workshops; one on Pinterest and the other on self-publishing. Pinterest fascinates me, but is also a bit of a mystery. I learned a lot from both sessions.

I met some bloggers whose sites I have followed for a while, which was lovely. It is a real community, with everyone so willing to give help and advice when you ask for it.

Shoestring Cottage was nominated for two awards: the Best Thrift and Frugal Blog and the People’s Choice award. I didn’t win either but I never really expected to. It was great just to be there. I met Zoe from Eco Thrifty, who won the Thrift and Frugal category. I love her blog and its whole ethos. She follows her eco principles and bought her own coffee mug. I wish I had thought to do that. Her blog is great, so go over and have a look if you don’t know it.

Skint Dad won the People’s Choice. I wasn’t surprised about this as he has a huge following. His blog is packed with good money saving ideas.

If you want to see all of the nominees and winners, head over to the UK Money Bloggers site. The event was brilliantly organised by Andy Webb from Be Clever with your Cash. He even managed to win a few accolades himself and very well deserved they were too.

I have picked up so many ideas for improving my blog – if I could just find the time!

An empty nest

Room with a view

Daughter number three flew the nest on Sunday and went off to Brighton university. I took her down there and helped her to settle in. She has a lovely room and the campus is very nice. It is, however, next to the football ground. They had a big match on so the traffic was terrible. Hopefully, it won’t always be that bad.

We had just picked up her key and been on campus for three minutes, when she managed to fall down some steps and damage her ankle! Not the kind of trip I envisaged.  I thought she had broken it at first, but she rallied. By the time I left it had swollen up and yesterday she sent me a photo of its vivid blue and purple hues. She hadn’t even started the student fresher’s week events and she has a sprained ankle already!

Frugal DIY: sprucing up without spending a fortune

frugal diy, budget diy, saving moneyOur new lodger arrives next weekend so we are doing a bit of frugal DIY to brighten her room.

When walls start to collect marks and the paintwork is chipped it is tempting to redecorate. This can cost so much, however – not to mention the investment of your precious time.

Frugal DIY with your paintbrush

Assuming your walls and ceilings are sound, all you really need to smarten up a room is a quick paint job. A refresh of the woodwork by itself can make a noticeable difference. Gleaming white doors and skirting boards make a room look clean and attractive.

Light coloured, plain painted walls provide a neutral backdrop. We are painting all of the walls cream apart a feature wall with patterned paper. This is there already and is good enough to stay.

frugal diy, budget diy, saving moneyYour colour scheme can be changed any time with the addition of some cheap but colourful soft furnishings. We will be popping down to B&M to look at some of these. I would make my own, but frankly have neither the time nor the talent!

If you do have wallpaper, it is a good idea to keep a roll or two safe somewhere to make repairs where necessary. There were a couple of areas where small sections of paper had started to come away. Because the damage was so minimal, we sorted these out with a glue stick.

We have found that buying really cheap paint and brushes is a false economy. You end up having to apply more coats of the stuff and picking bristles off as the brushes disintegrate!

Own brands

We like Homebase’s own range of paint and brushes. They are cheaper than branded products but just as good quality.  For the woodwork we chose their one coat brilliant white gloss and classic cream emulsion for the walls. Perfect for our frugal DIY efforts.

I won’t have time to clean the carpet and cannot afford to replace it, so a nice fluffy rug from B&M will add a touch of glamour to the floor. I think these are excellent value at £14.99.

The last major DIY we did was this transformation. It took ages! At least this is a quick fix.

Do you have any ideas for frugal DIY? Where do you find home decor bargains?

Frugal Christmas: Budget now to save your bank balance

Frugal ChristmasHave you started your Christmas shopping yet? Are you planning to splurge or are you aiming for a frugal Christmas? The festive season should be fun but can cause stress as hard pressed families struggle to afford it. Presents, food, parties, outfits, decorations: you can spend a small fortune. But is it worth the Christmas hangover and the damage to your bank balance?

Buy now, pay later

In the past I have made the classic mistake of sticking all my Christmas purchases on my credit card to worry about later. And worry I did as I struggled to pay my debt off the following year. The dark days of winter look even bleaker when you are skint. According to YouGov, British families will spend around £821 for Christmas this year, with £604 going on gifts. This is fantastic if you can afford to spend that amount. I am not suggesting you don’t spend money you have, but it is worth considering ways to save money if you need a frugal Christmas this time.

Setting a budget and making a list

You need to be realistic about this. If you have saved throughout the year, your budget might be quite generous, or you might have very little to spare. Either way, work out what you can afford. Make a list of people you want to buy gifts for and other expenses. If you cannot afford to purchase everything you want, this it the time to think about what you can cross off the list. This might mean having a few open and honest conversations with friends and family. When I did this a few years ago I talked to my extended family. I am one of four children and we all now have spouses and kids of our own, so Christmas was becoming a huge strain.

We now do a Secret Santa for the adults and any ‘kids’ who hit 18 and are in employment also join in. This cut costs hugely and was a big relief all round.

Cut out unnecessary stuff

Sometimes we need to rethink our spending habits at Christmas. We buy so much food, but how much of it gets wasted? There is only so much you can eat, even if you do like to indulge during the festive period. How many decorations do you really need and do they have to be £5 a bauble from the garden centre or department store? Places like Home Bargains, Aldi, Lidl and B&M come into their own at this time of the year, with some great bargain festive decorations. If you have kids this is the time to get creative and let them go to town making pretty sparkly things to make your home look fabulous. There are so many great ideas on Pinterest.

Although I think a real tree looks pretty, I have had my artificial one for about 8 years. It cost me about £40 from Argos, and has been worth every penny. I have decorations that have lasted me years too. I look out for these in the January sales.

Four gift rule

If you have children and are on a small budget, stick to the four gift rule.  Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. I didn’t consciously do this when my daughters were young, but looking back this was more or less how it went. I used to buy them lots of little stocking fillers too. They tell me now that they never noticed I wasn’t a big spender and didn’t feel in the least bit deprived  by a frugal Christmas. They also really appreciated their presents.

Buying little and often to spread the cost

If you want a really frugal Christmas, buying as you go throughout the year (or in my case, as soon as Autumn arrives) it is far less of a shock to your finances. I sometimes even buy in the post Christmas sales and have a big stock of cards, wrapping paper and gift sets that were purchased this way. As Christmas approaches I love the 3 for 2 gift offers from some retailers and generally hit Boots for these. I also pick up extras in Aldi or Lidl as they do fantastic Christmas gifts and food. It is quite satisfying to be cosy indoors with everything bought and wrapped when other people are running around like headless chickens trying to catch up with themselves.

If you are buying online, make sure you use a cash back site. I use Top Cashback a lot. I have earned a couple of hundred pounds over the past 6 months this way, which I will spend on presents.

If you want to be radical, then give your loved ones an IOU and wait for the sales. I wouldn’t do this with children though – most wouldn’t get this!

Buy second hand

I often buy second hand gifts and always have done. From the Nintendo 64 that my daughter still has 15 years later (and which is now a collector’s item!) to books from the charity shop, and bargain clothes from eBay – I don’t mind giving or receiving pre-owned items as long as they in good condition. This works well for small children. They neither know nor care if a favourite toy has been played with by a child before them!

If you are playing host to family and friends over Christmas, ask them to contribute by bringing food and drink. Most people will be only too happy to get involved.

Free activities

There are loads of fun, free activities to do with the family at Christmas. You don’t have to spend lots of money if you stick to traditional pastimes like carol concerts, school and community Christmas sales and bazaars, for example. Churches often run Christmas crafts workshops too. My children loved going to the Christmas Eve carol service at our local church, singing all evening and then having a Christmas ‘sleepy’ biscuit from the vicar on the way out. They also loved a tour of the local ‘Christmas houses’ – you know, the ones that are lit up so they can be see from space!

If you are worried about debt now, at Christmas or any time, there are lots of ways to get help and advice. Check out the Money Advice Service or Debt Camel  or make an appointment at the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Have you saved up, bought gifts as you went along or will you put Christmas on a credit card or overdraft? Are you dreaming of a frugal Christmas?

Aiming for frugal health and fitness

I have felt my fitness levels falling over the past few years. With a busy life and a desk bound job it is sometimes hard to find the motivation and energy for a lot of exercise. I do practise yoga but I could do with exercising a lot more.

A new leaf

So today I have turned over a new leaf and am resolved to get fit again! I don’t want to spend money on a gym membership at the moment so it will be DIY exercise and frugal health and fitness at Shoestring Cottage.

Running is no good for me (got dodgy knees) so I have decided to do workouts at home. I started with this one in Women’s Health. The press ups nearly killed me so I clearly have some work to do. I also used the weights I bought in Aldi in the new year to tone my arms.

Some yoga stretches topped it off and I felt great after. I am going to repeat this workout three or four times a week.

I went for a 20 minute brisk walk at lunchtime and will repeat this three times a week as well.

Healthy eating

In addition I am cutting the carbs and eating really healthily. Today I ate porridge with fruit for breakfast, an egg salad with vegetable soup for lunch and fish with a vegetable stir fry for dinner. I am eating whatever I like as long as it is healthy so have also snacked on nuts, yogurt and fruit. None of these foods are very expensive and easily fit into my frugal health and fitness regime.

I have found some inspiration on Instagram from @healthybyfifty (pictured). She is a 47 year old super fit wonder woman. The workouts she does would finish me off I think! Still, if she can do what she does I am sure I can go a long way to improving my fitness. Perhaps I will aim to do this in a slightly less dramatic way. One of the things I like about her is that she exercises in her back yard with minimal equipment, rather than a fancy gym. She wasn’t overweight to begin with, but you can see the cellulite has melted away and her muscle definition has improved hugely. I will probably never be so determined  to be super fit as she is, but I will keep an eye on her anyway when I need some motivation.

What do you do to stay fit and healthy? Can you get fit without spending a fortune and what are your tips for frugal health and fitness?

Great day out: View from the Shard

We had an interesting day out in London yesterday. We have been ploughing our way through Mr Shoestring’s birthday vouchers before they expire!

One of them was a Virgin Experience with a trip up the Shard, London’s tallest building, in case you didn’t know, and afternoon tea for tea at Brasserie Blanc near Tower Bridge.

Three afternoon teas in a row gave me a good comparison point, so I shall start there. They were all very good. However, I was a little disappointed with the sandwiches  at Brasserie Blanc. They looked very fancy, with the ‘filling’ presented on top rather than in the sandwich. This meant you tasted the bread and butter more than the combination of ingredients oddly. I want my sandwich fillings in my sandwiches please, Monsieur Blanc!

The fillings were themselves a little odd for my taste, although Mr S really liked them. The smoked salmon was good, as was the Parma ham. However,  slices of golden beetroot on one and cucumber and tomato on the other made me feel I had the garnish but not the ‘meat’. There was not much flavour or excitement in either.

Other than that, it was a lovely tea, with an excellent selection of sweets and cakes and a nice glass of sparkling wine.

 Crumbs of comfort

As with the other two teas, we couldn’t eat all of the cakes and took some home. Brasserie Blanc seemed to have no boxes and they gave us them in a plastic bag, which meant after the afternoon in London they looked like this…. it’s a small detail that made all the difference!

The best one by a mile was at Greyfriars in Colchester. Everything was perfect, from the food, the decor and the service. Plus we took our extra cakes home in a sensible box!

The Shard was interesting but scary. So high, I could feel it vibrating! It was busy too. We were lucky with the weather and the views of the city were excellent, but I wouldn’t rush back. I prefer to keep my feet on the ground! With hindsight I would have preferred to pre-book the Shard directly and had some street food rather than going for the afternoon tea.

One of the best parts of the day was walking from Liverpool Street to the old Spitalfields Market. This is a really interesting and diverse market, full of lovely clothes, artisan products, food, cards, books and jewellery. It would be lovely for Christmas shopping and didn’t seem overly expensive.

We also came across a street festival in Bermondsey, which was bustling with people and music. I love these kind of community events.

We walked our little feet off and were glad to get back on the train home. We booked the tickets in advance with Greater Anglia. The cheapest way was to purchase them was as a single each way rather than a return.  It was only £10 each way from Colchester to London.

If you like heights it is worth adding the Shard to your bucket list. If you go, pop into Spitalfields on the way for lunch!

Save money with a wood burner

Save money with a wood burnerThe wood burner is finally up and running! We have had it for ages and ages but Mr S fitted it over the summer, then we got someone in to line the chimney.

The benefits of a wood burner

Yesterday evening it was finally cold enough to try it out. We only had a small fire but it was lovely!  I am looking forward to cosying up near the fire as it gets colder. There are other benefits to having a wood burner, of course. Wood as a fuel is carbon neutral and if we buy it locally it will have a smaller environmental footprint than running the gas boiler. No doubt we will run the heating at times as well. I anticipate that the wood burner will warm up the house but I’m not sure it will get to some of the cold rooms at the back.

Save money with a wood burnerI have read that logs purchased locally are also likely to be much cheaper than other forms of heating fuel and that we could save money with a wood burner. We have some free logs that we have gathered from various places. Now we need to start searching for a good source of cheap wood.

Saving money with a wood burner

It will be nice to hang the laundry on the clothes horse near the wood burner. Hopefully it will dry quite quickly. I don’t have a tumble dryer so currently use the radiators and a dehumidifier to help dry the clothes in the winter. Partly because of this, partly because the house is lacking ventilation and partly because we are mean with the heating, we have suffered some mould problems in the past. To counter this, over the last few years we have run the heating more and had the dehumidifier on quite a lot, which can be quite expensive. I think the wood burner will help keep the condensation at bay.

I am hoping the wood burner will save us quite a bit of money overall but we shall see!

Mr S picked up a large plastic garden chest that should be ideal to store our logs outside. This cost him nothing as it was from a house clearance he helped with. We also found a nice wicker log basket at a country fair recently  for a fiver. The wood burner itself was expensive, of course, but hopefully it will pay for itself over time. The next step is to decorate the lounge, which we will be doing over the next few months.

Do you save money with a wood burner? What are the benefits or the drawbacks?

Not another courgette recipe! Spicy courgette stew with fresh tomatoes

courgette recipeHere is another courgette recipe for the glut! We have a ton of tomatoes in the greenhouse at the moment so this gets rid of those as well. It is a kind of ratatouille invented to use what we had in the fridge.

Spicy courgette stew with fresh tomatoes

1 large onion, chopped

2 sticks of celery, sliced

1 medium aubergine, cut into cubes

About three medium courgettes, sliced

3 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed

2lb/900g fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or two 400g cans)

2-3 tsp ground cumin

A dollop of tomato purée

2 tsp Marigold vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

Put a good glug of oil into a large wok or frying pan and get it quite hot. This stops the aubergine from absorbing so much of the oil. Throw in all of your veg apart from the tomatoes and stir fry fairly gently for 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cumin and fry for two more minutes, then add the tomatoes, stock and tomato purée. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes more, stirring and adding salt and pepper to taste.

courgette recipeSo easy! We had this simple courgette recipe with some baked chicken thighs and roasted new potatoes, but it would be nice served  with rice.

The courgettes are nearly finished now and I am almost relieved! We still have a few runner beans arriving and the odd cucumber, but the tomatoes are growing at full throttle. They are so nutritious and versatile that I rarely have a problem using them. If all else fails I will make another batch of tomato soup for the freezer.

I don’t use any particular recipe for this. I usually fry up some onion, celery and garlic, add as many tomatoes as I need to use (skinned and roughly chopped) and then cover with vegetable stock. They produce a lot of juice so I don’t add too much, just enough to cover all the veg. I cook it for about 10-15 minutes, seasoning to taste, then blend it.

Do you grow your own and what are you fave seasonal recipes?

Bara Brith – cheap and delicious Welsh tea bread

Bara brithWe go to Wales most years on our frugal holidays and have a few cups of tea and bits of cake out – as you do. A favourite treat is a moist and fruity slice of bara brith, which translates as ‘speckled bread’. It was traditionally made with yeast, but it is so easy to make this yeast free version. Bara brith is really lovely buttered and served with a nice cup of tea.

You need to start the previous night, as the fruit needs soaking.

Bara Brith

2lb loaf tin, lined and greased

500g dried mixed fruit (I used Sainsbury’s Basics, only £1)

1/2 pint strong black tea

250g brown sugar

Bara brith450g self-raising flour

1 large beaten egg

2-3 tsp mixed spice

Place the fruit in a large mixing bowl and pour the tea on top. Cover and leave overnight. In the morning, preheat the oven on a low heat – about 170 C, gas mark 3. Give the fruit a stir and start to beat in the other ingredients, in no particular order. When everything is combined spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. Place in the oven for about an hour and a half. Check to see if it is cooked through with a skewer and cook for a further 10-15 minutes if necessary.

Allow to cool in the tin.

I love this! So cheap and easy. I will take it to work this week as a snack.

A relaxing weekend

Although I made the bara brith at the weekend, we didn’t eat any until today. That is because we had our second afternoon tea out in a row on Sunday. We are still using up all Mr S’s birthday treats before the vouchers expire. On Sunday we had a fabulous spa day, which included the tea. It was at Bannatyne’s Spa in Bury St Edmunds, which was really lovely. We used the pool, Jacuzzi and steam rooms, went off for our food, then topped it off with a neck, shoulder and back massage each. It was divine!

We have another day out next weekend. We are off to the Shard in London and will have afternoon tea at Brasserie Blanc. Life is so hard!! Ideally, we should have spread all these treats out a bit but c’est la vie. We need to use them or lose them.

I will be about half a stone heavier after all these treats…

 

The joys of a well stocked larder

Taking stock

Looking at our stocks of food, I won’t need to do a shop this week. I always keep basic supplies in so that I can throw a nutritious dinner together, from cans and frozen items if necessary. In addition, I stock up when I see these basics on offer. In fact, I have loads of fresh stuff too. It is almost impossible to run out of food at this time of year. We are still harvesting from the veg patch. We have a lot of courgettes, runner beans, spinach, chard, tomatoes and cucumber, with pumpkins on the way. The soft fruit is finished and has been frozen. The freezer is also packed with home made soup, frozen courgettes and runner beans, some chicken, fish and mince.

Saving money

Amongst the stocks in the cupboards I have tins of tomatoes, tuna, sweet corn, pulses and soup. I also have flour, potatoes, onions, celery, cheese and tons of milk. Lactofree milk was on offer so I stocked up. Every now and again I look on Approved Food to see if there are some good basics to buy. I like to have some casserole and Bolognese sauces in for those lazy nights when I can’t be bothered to cook. If I see those I will buy several jars, which keep us going for ages. I don’t need anything from Approved Food at the moment, although they do seem to have some amazing bargains on there. I am quite tempted to get some of the Christmas stuff and gifts.

Having a well stocked larder is all well and good, but I don’t want my food supplies sitting around for ages,. To avoid this, every now and again I plan meals around what we have and eat from the stores. I top up with items like fresh fruit, milk, bread and cheese if we need them.  This week I barely need to purchase anything at all!

Tonight I will sit down and do a meal plan, using up all of the ingredients with the shortest use by date first. This way I won’t waste anything and can stretch my provisions for as long as possible.

The benefits of the well stocked larder

Buying food on offer or in bulk from the supermarket or places like Approved Food, growing our own, doing a regular stock take and careful meal planning all help to save money. Sometimes I don’t have the time or the inclination to shop, and with a well stocked larder I don’t have to. If I feel tired or unwell I will always be able to rustle up a quick, nutritious meal and won’t be tempted by a takeaway. If you live in a remote area, having a well stocked larder means fewer long trips to the supermarket. Stocking up makes sense for anyone trying to save money, since the less you go the less you are tempted by stuff you really don’t need.

Do you keep a well stocked larder or do you buy food as you need it?

 

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?

This week’s frugality

Frugality 1

frugality

First of all, I really hope you like the refreshed and revamped redesign of Shoestring Cottage. I did not employ a web designer at great expense and it was the epitome of frugality.

I ordered a logo for just £5 from FiveSquid.com and got the lettering from there. This is so ridiculously cheap for the service on offer and I recommend it. We thought it looked a bit plain so Mr S added a cottage and a flower. I should have just got him to do it on the first place as he never charges!

Frugality 2

frugalityThe garden is still providing is with lots of free food. This week the grapes have ripened to perfection. However, when our lodger moved out she left behind a juicer. We tried it on the grapes and it is brilliant, if a bit fiddly to clean. So we have delicious fresh grape juice in the fridge for nothing.

Frugality 3: Frozen produce

I have been putting all of the excess home grown produce in my big freezer, so the garden will continue to feed us throughout the autumn and winter. We have blackberries, plums, greengages, courgettes, runner beans and lots of home-made soup in there. I made two sorts at the weekend: fresh tomato and courgette. 

frugalityI had a near disaster though. A lead from the iron got stuck in the freezer door. Nobody noticed until it began to make a very loud noise. The contents hadn’t defrosted thankfully but they were getting soft around the edges. We got all of the meat out and cooked it as I didn’t want to risk any of that, but squeezed the fruit and vegetables into the little freezer. Fortunately, the big freezer isn’t broken. I turned it off and defrosted it, and it is back to full working order now. Phew!

Frugality 4: saving money on TV and broadband

One of my aims for this month is to cancel my TV contract and organise a broadband only deal. We had intended to buy a new Humax Freeview box. However, I have found two second hand! One from eBay and the other from Facebook Marketplace. I hope they work. We will have one downstairs and the other in our bedroom.

Frugality 4: Looking smart for the SHOMOs

I have mentioned a few times that Shoestring Cottage has been nominated in the thrift and frugality category at the SHOMO Awards. I will be attending this event in London at the end of the month and I am so excited to meet some fellow bloggers! But what to wear? I am not one for dressing up, but thought I should make a bit of an effort. I looked on eBay and found a beautiful Phase Eight silk skirt in excellent condition for just £15. This is a brand I really like, so I was dead chuffed. I just need to work out what to wear with it now.

 Frugality 5: Luxury champagne afternoon tea

frugalityI hesitate to put this under a frugality heading. However, it didn’t cost us anything, so maybe! Mr S was given a gift voucher for a champagne afternoon tea at a beautiful hotel and restaurant in Colchester called Greyfriars. We booked it for Sunday. It was really special, absolutely first rate, quality food, service and surroundings. What a treat! It felt particularly poignant as I actually used to teach yoga in the same building – it was once a local authority adult learning college. This is where I met Mr S – he was one of my first students! It has been completely transformed since it was a creaky and draughty government building and is now the height of luxury.  We had a lovely afternoon.

Frugal fashion: how to find the best bargains

frugal fashion

Top from Primark, H&M skirt second-hand on Depop

I’m no fashionista; I am happiest in my jeans and wellies. However, I do have three frugal style guru daughters, who know all the tricks to finding stylish bargains. They are the mistresses of frugal fashion! I also need smart, nice quality clothes for work.

We all refuse to spend a lot of money on clothes. Once you start finding frugal fashion bargains you resent paying full price for anything.

Here are our collective thoughts on frugal fashion.

Best bargain sites

frugal fashion

Puma trainers, boot sale, £5

I just bought three tops from everything5pounds.com and I am really pleased with them. As you would imagine, they were £5 each. This company sells de-tagged goods from various high street stores. They are amazing value and I have bought several bits of clothing here since I discovered this site.

My daughters also like Look of the Day. Not as cheap as Everything5pounds but still some great bargains. They also have some cracking sales. The deal at the moment is two dresses for £20, but there are a lot of sale items at £5.

Another site they rate is I Saw it First. They also have brilliant sales on with many items for £5 and 25% off everything else currently when you use the code YAY25.

All of these sites feature quite young, figure hugging fashion. So if that’s not your cup or tea, how about the following.

Second-hand

frugal fashion

Top & skirt, both Primark, jacket, Sainsbury’s sale

The majority of my clothes are purchased second-hand. I find endless quality bargains at boot sales and rarely spend more than £1 or £2 per item. Some are actually new with tags – impulse purchases never worn by the previous owner. I have come across lovely items that were originally very expensive from brands such as Monsoon, Phase Eight and Karen Millen, as well as good high street names such as Next, Marks and Spencer and Laura Ashley.

However, as boot sales only run over the summer, charity shops are good too. You need to be prepared to spend more, obviously. I find some of them over-priced these days, though. My daughter pointed out to the staff in one of them that they were charging more for a second hand Primark top than you would currently pay brand new!

Online pre-owned frugal fashion

Most people are aware of eBay as the place to ‘bag a bargain’, but Depop is less well known. This is aimed generally at a younger market. My daughter often looks for a particular item that she has seen at full price in the shops. She says they frequently pop up within just a few months of being bought and she can get them at a fraction of the original price.

Youngest daughter loves Top Shop, but can’t afford their prices on her student income. She makes a mental note of clothes that she loves and makes a beeline for them in the sales. She often finds them at their sale prices. Patience really is a virtue!

Factory shops

Most towns have a factory shop somewhere that sell all kinds of things at great prices, including clothes and shoes. They are worth a peruse. Our local one would definitely attract an older clientele though. You can search for your nearest here.

Primark

frugal fashion

Primark boots

I have to mention it! My daughters love Primark, or Primarni as we call it.  The clothing isn’t made to last, but it is a very good place to source frugal fashion bargains. I find it great for basics such as vests and T-shirts and the cheapest place for tights. One of my daughters bought these beautiful boots there for £15. She has had so many compliments. I think they are gorgeous!

If you love a dress or pair of shoes and just cannot wait for a sale, at least use a cash back site such as TopCashback to see if the retailer is on there. One daughter asked me to get her a jacket from Nasty Gal for her birthday, and I got 8% cash back.

What is your go to place for frugal fashion? Do you buy cheaply, or would you rather spend more on quality classics that will last?

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links. Photos pinched from my daughter’s Instagram account: @makeupbyisobel.

Setting goals: August update

setting goals

Do you ever feel like you are super busy all the time yet still don’t achieve what you want to? That is me to a tee! This is why I decided recently to start setting goals on a monthly basis to help direct my energies.

August’s goals were:

To develop the blog

I managed mostly to write three blog posts a week, which was my target. In addition, I spent some time talking to the lovely Sara at Debt Camel, who gave me some great advice on a redesign for the blog. I am working on this now and hope you will start to see some improvements. This is a long term aim as it is a big job!

To increase my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter following

I would like to reach 1000 followers on Twitter (@shoestringjane) and 2000 on Instagram (@shoestringcottage). I’m almost but not quite there yet! If you use either maybe you can help with this. Follow and retweet/like. Send me a comment and I will follow you back! A lot of you went and found me on Facebook as well, so many thanks if you did.

To increase the amount I sell on eBay

This has really improved and I have sold as much in the last 10 days as I did for the whole of July! This is partly I think because I am getting better at finding good stuff and I have been to several boot sales.

To get a new lodger

Yes! We have a new lodger arriving at the beginning of October. She is a masters student and plans to stay for a year. I have repainted all the woodwork in her room to brighten it up and will emulsion the walls as soon as I get time.

Continue with my grocery challenge

Regular readers will know that I have been on a grocery challenge to spend no more than £35 a week on food for three people per week. I have just about managed this, without feeling deprived in any way. Focussing on your spending in this way saves so much money! I am going to continue with the challenge in September, although I might relax it a little. This is where setting goals can be so motivating.

Setting goalsWe have a really great crop of Victoria plums on our tree for the first time. They are delicious and I have frozen a few to add to our stock of blackberries and greengages. I also tried Asda’s super cheap 22p sponge mix for the first time the other day. I cooked the plums and then poured the sponge mix on top to make a frugal pudding. it was really lovely with custard. You only need to add an egg. If I was using it to make a Victoria sponge, however, I would use two packs.

Setting goals for September

Mr S is designing a new blog logo for me and it looks great! I aim to get this onto the blog as part of a redesign this month. I just have to sort out the techie bit (I am rubbish at this!). Watch this space…

I will re-emulsion the walls in the lodger’s room.

The garden is starting to fade now that we are moving into Autumn. The plan is to tidy up and weed all of the beds and dig over the veg patch (with Mr S’s help, of course).

I will sort out a new broadband contract and possibly purchase a Freeview box, although there are other possible options I need to investigate. To this end, I sought advice on the Skint Dad Community Facebook group, which turned into a really long thread full of good ideas. It seems I am not alone in thinking that Virgin, Sky, etc. are over priced!

Are you setting goals for September? Did you achieve all that you wanted this month?

Planning for Christmas….and saving money

planning for ChristmasI can hear some virtual sharp intakes of breath at the thought of planning for Christmas when we are still in August! How dare I mention the C word when we have only just had the bank holiday!

I belong to several money saving Facebook groups. One of them is all about planning for Christmas and has been running since about April (if you are interested, search for Thrifty & Frugal Christmas). There are plenty of people who like to get organised! This group is full of ideas for cheap presents and even some freebie stocking fillers.

Take the worry out of planning for Christmas

Some of the money saving groups I read feature people who are anxious about the cost of Christmas. There was a big discussion on one thread about how to keep costs down. One young woman said she would only have a budget of £100 and she was worried about the strain of buying for her various family members. There is something terribly wrong if you are losing sleep months and months in advance of the event. Planning for Christmas should be fun, not just another thing to worry about.

It reminded me of how I felt a few years ago with three small children to buy for, loads of relatives (I am one of four children) and a very limited amount available to spend on Christmas. Even if I stuck to £10 a person, it was still more than I could afford at the time.  I suggested to my family that we stop buying for the adults and just stuck to purchases for the kids. We all have plenty of everything already and have seen enough Christmases to be past disappointment if we don’t get a huge pile of gifts. Now we do a secret Santa for the adults and buy just one present for whoever’s name we pull out of the hat costing £15 – £20. It works really well!

However, it took a few years for everyone to agree to this. It seemed we were the only ones feeling the pinch. So I had to find other ways to save money. The following is an amalgamation of my money saving ideas plus those I have gleaned from Facebook to help you with your planning for Christmas.

Be honest!

Both with yourself and your loved ones. Tell them your budget and what you will be spending on each of them. Make it clear you don’t want them to go over that budget when they purchase for you. You might even decide between you not to bother, or perhaps to spend a little extra on something else, like a nice meal out together.

I know that Ilona from Life after Money doesn’t do Christmas at all and I respect that. She says, ‘I find it very liberating that I have chosen not to join in. My brain is not cluttered with the worry of getting the right presents, buying the right food, sending cards, and generally running around like a headless chicken trying to keep up. I can sit back and relax and watch everyone else getting their knickers in a twist. You will not see a furrowed brow on my face, you will see a wide grin from cheek to cheek.’ You can read an article about Ilona and her approach to the festive season here.

I love this! If you think it is a load of nonsense and don’t intend to join in with the rampant commercialisation of the season, don’t be afraid to say so.

Start early and spread the cost.

This is the reason I am writing this post at the end of August. I know that some of you will already be on top of your Christmas planning and might even have bought gifts in the January sales. However, if you haven’t,  buying something each week will mean you notice the impact of your spending a lot less.

I usually start about now, especially with Christmas food. I already have plenty of cards, gift wrap and decorations purchased in the post Christmas sales. Now I am on the look out for everything else!

Buy second-hand

Charity shops and boot sales, Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Gumtree are all great places for this. One lady on Facebook said, ‘I help in a charity shop and we often have new items in from big stores, and many of the toys look like new’. I remember doing almost my entire Christmas present shopping at boot sales one summer. I saved an absolute fortune and I honestly don’t think anyone was any the wiser!

Get creative

If you are crafty you can make all kinds of presents. Pinterest is awash with great ideas for making gifts out of scraps and upcycling. I used to love soap making and created some really special soaps one year that rivalled the poshest in Lush but were much cheaper. You can knit or crochet, paint, or  grow plants. Just use your skills and talents!

Photos of your children are lovely gifts for grandparents in a charity shop frame (if they are old enough, get the kids to decorate it). If you are a cook you could make foodie gifts such as cakes, chutneys or biscuits. You could make them up into a hamper. Home Bargains is excellent for cheap baskets to use for these.

Hunt for bargains and freebies

Check out the sales and join Facebook groups where excellent deals are posted daily. As well as the Christmas one I already mentioned, I like Spend Less, Live Better and Free Samples Giveaways and Competitions UK. Check out stores such as Poundland, Home Bargains, B&M, etc for stocking fillers like colouring books and pens. They also do great offers on bigger toys and nice but cheap items such as candles. If you have a gardener to buy for now is a great time to find bargains in these stores.

If you have a family to buy for you could make a hamper for them to share and fill it with inexpensive bits and pieces like sweets, chocolate, small toys, etc.

Use cash back sites

If you are going to buy Christmas presents online you may as well get some cash back – it soon adds up. I use Top CashBack often but have also just signed up for QuidCo. Both offer cash back whenever you click through to make a purchase to a retailer. If you click through to Top CashBack via my link I will earn a small commission and you earn £2.50 when you spend £5.

Give time, not money

One suggestion on a Facebook group that I liked was to offer time as a gift. You could give tokens promising babysitting, gardening, car washing, ironing, cleaning, etc. This is a nice gift for teenagers to offer older relatives.

Set a limit and make it fun

If you don’t fancy Secret Santa, how about setting a limit per person and making a game of it? I read about a lady whose family agreed their gifts to each other could cost no more than £2. This meant they had to be really creative – either a home made gift, something cheap but amusing from the pound shop, or a charity shop bargain. They tended to make the gifts funny rather than serious and had a lot of laughs along the way.

Don’t feel bad about not spoiling your children

Everyone knows children whose parents almost bankrupt themselves spending thousands on gifts. Do the children appreciate lots of presents more than two or three thoughtful things that they really wanted and waited for? I remember being desperate for a Barbie and her horse when I was a kid. Because I had to wait six months for it to arrive on Christmas day I loved it even more and remember the pleasure I got opening it to this day.

Ask for contributions

Finally, if you are hosting a Christmas gathering don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to bring a contribution. A bottle of something at the very least, but preferably a dish as well. It is fun to share and this way everyone is involved.

Does planning for Christmas make you anxious? What are your top tips for effective Christmas budgeting?

 

 

 

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.

Grocery challenge update: How low can you go?

grocery challengeRegular readers will be aware that we have been on a £35 per week grocery challenge. For the whole of August we have been saving money at Shoestring Cottage by keeping our food bill as low as possible.

If you need to make some quick savings – if you have an unexpected bill, for example –  try reducing your food budget. A grocery challenge is a great place to start.

How low did we go?

grocery challengeDid we stick to our reduced budget? Yes, pretty much. We have been under some weeks and over on others but so far we have spent just £150 on food for the three of us. This works out at around £37.60 a week. We still have a week to go as August is almost a five week month. We have plenty of food in the house so should be able to keep to about £25 for this week’s shop. How did we achieve this?

Meal planning

Every week I check the cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what we already have. I then make a meal plan for the week ahead. If there is something that needs using up I incorporate that into my plan.

I check to see what is available on the veggie patch and include that too.

I work full time so I don’t have time for fussy food. Dishes that are fast, tasty, cheap and nutritious are required. We are fortunate at this time of year to have a lot of fresh produce from the garden, which helps a lot as it is more or less free food!

Did we live on pasta?

grocery challengeOf course we didn’t! We ate dishes like roast chicken and ratatouille, cheesy vegetable hash, sausages and mash, spinach frittata and courgette and tomato eggy bake. We took leftovers for work lunches or home made soup. Breakfast was usually porridge and fruit. When I am stuck for inspiration, I search through my frugal recipes.

Were there any exceptions?

The challenge excluded household items like toilet roll and cleaning supplies. We also had a burger out when we went to festival and a family party that was from a separate budget. Our challenge didn’t preclude the odd bit of spending on fun.

This grocery challenge has been an interesting experience and a great discipline. I am pretty frugal most of the time anyway, but will loosen my purse strings a bit when we hit the end of the month.

Has anyone else tried a grocery challenge? How do you save money on food?

The joy and pleasure of home grown food. Do you grow your own?

home grownIf you have never tasted a home grown tomato,  warm from the greenhouse,  freshly picked runner beans, tasty courgettes or a corn on the cob that was still on the plant ten minutes ago, you have missed out.

Home grown fruit and veg really is superior in taste. Because you tend to eat it soon after it has been picked, your own produce is also likely to contain more nutrients.

Bring on the wonky home grown produce!

Sometimes home grown produce may be a little wonky or discoloured, but it makes up in flavour what it lacks in beauty.

A huge bonus is that home grown costs a fraction of its shop purchased equivalent. A single packet of courgette seeds, for example, will feed you and half your street if you sow them all in one season and will cost you just a couple of pounds. A blackcurrant bush will set you back a little more but will repay you with a fabulous fruit harvest every summer for years once established.

Home grown in a small space

I know not everyone has a garden but you can grow all kinds of crops in pots and buckets on a balcony or in a small yard. You won’t be self sufficient but you can have a taste of the fruits of your own efforts and labour.

Producing home grown fruit and vegetables does involve a faihome grownr amount of work, of course. I like to see it as keeping me fit and saving on the price of a gym membership!

In the freezer we have chopped courgettes ready to be made into soup or chucked into casseroles as we head through the winter. There are plums, greengages, blackberries, red and blackcurrants for pies, crumbles and smoothies. Chopped tomatoes will make great pasta sauce and bags full of runner beans will be a useful accompaniment for meat and fish dishes.

How to remove cigarette smoke from fabrics

I have known for some time just how useful it is to have a bag of bicarbonate of soda in the house. I have written about its fantastic cleaning power before.

This week I have discovered yet another use for bicarbonate of soda: a way to remove cigarette smoke from fabrics. I bought a very pretty dress from the boot sale last week, one of my amazing boot sale bargains. However, when I looked at it more closely I realised it stank of cigarette smoke.

You can remove cigarette smoke from fabrics!

remove cigarette smoke from fabricsFortunately the dress was washable, so I put it in the machine on a gentle hand wash. When I got it out, it smelled even worse! As if the stinky smoke and tar were so deeply ingrained into the fibres of the fabric that I was releasing them but not quite letting them go.

I had a quick look on the internet and several sites suggested adding half a cup of bicarbonate to the powder dispenser. I tried this and washed it again. It smelled better, but still not quite there.

I tried again, this time adding a cup of white wine vinegar and some lavender essential oil where I usually pour the fabric softener.

Hurrah! Third time lucky! As a non smoker, I had no idea cigarette smoke be so absorbed into a fabric. The previous owner must have been such a heavy smoker she probably didn’t even notice!

The dress came out good as new after its three washes. I thought I was going to have to give it to the charity shop.


My stock of bicarbonate of soda is almost used up now so I will get some more. I generally buy one like this from Amazon: SODIUM BICARBONATE of Soda | 1KG BAG | 100% BP/Food Grade | Bath, Baking, Cleaning. You can get even bigger bags that work out cheaper still but I don’t have the space to store it. (Disclaimer: this is my affiliate link)

White vinegar

White vinegar is another incredibly useful cleaning ingredient in its own right. I must do a post on that some time. It works well by itself or in combination with the bicarbonate of soda. As well as in combination to remove cigarette smoke from fabrics, I used them both in this home made cleaning spray.

Has anyone else tried any natural home made cleaning products? What do you recommend?

Off to London today to see the flat DD2 has moved into with her lovely boyfriend. We are driving as there are four of us and it is cheaper than by train. When I  go again in a few weeks for the SHOMO Awards I will travel by train as I will be by myself. So much more relaxing.

Incidentally there is still time to vote  for your favourite blog in the People’s Choice award. Voting closes on 31st August.

Whatever you are up to today have a great Sunday.

Jane

Courgette glut recipe: courgette and tomato eggy bake

Courgette glutIt is such a pleasure to grow and eat your own delicious fruit and veg. However, there is always too much of something and we have had a courgette glut for weeks. The freezer is packed with them in various forms. Actually, the courgettes have finally slowed but I am still dealing with the glut. Now the tomatoes are coming thick and fast. This seasonal vegetarian recipe combines the two.  It makes a nice change from courgette soup!

Courgette and tomato eggy bake

Serves 6

2oz/50g butter

1 lb/400g courgettes, thinly sliced

1 lb/400g tomatoes, thickly sliced

2 medium onions, chopped

Two medium peppers, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

Heaped teaspoon dried mixed herbs

Half a pintwhite wine or cider

1 tablespoon Marigold vegetable stock

Pinch dried chilli flakes (optional)

4 or 5 hard boiled eggs, sliced

4oz/100g grated cheddar

Salt and pepper to taste

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Heat the butter in a large frying pan or wok and sauté the onions, garlic, pepper and courgettes for 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. Add the white wine, stock powder, herbs and seasonings and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chilli flakes if liked.

courgette glutNow start to layer up. Place the courgette mixture into a large baking dish. Add the sliced tomatoes.

courgette glut
Finally, add the sliced eggs and top with the grated cheese

courgette glut
Bake for around 30 minutes. This goes really well with some crispy roasted new potatoes.

Anyone else got a glut of anything? How are you dealing with your tomato or courgette glut?

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.
 

Boot Sale Booty – a successful Sunday

Boot sale booty

Boot sale booty

Sunday’s boot sale booty

I had a great weekend. The mad weather desisted and remembered it was summer, which helped. We spent a lovely day at Wrabfest on Saturday with two of my three daughters.  On Sunday we dragged ourselves out of bed at 5 am to help my other daughter do a bootsale. She had quite a bit to sell and I also got some great boot sale booty to resell!

I didn’t mind the early start, as once I had helped her set up I could get round quite a lot of stalls to see what was on offer. I didn’t get any boot sale booty for myself but I found a whole load of clothes to list on eBay.

One of my bargains was an absolutely gorgeous long silk Monsoon evening dress that I would have kept for myself if I ever needed a posh frock! I found lots of good high street names, brand new with tags,, some as-new Skechers trainers and a beautiful dress from Coast. Most cost me £1 or £2. The Monsoon one was £4.

I don’t know why people don’t sell such items themselves for more money on eBay, but they have the choice. I don’t feel bad for making a little profit and supplementing my bank balance this way.

I continue to find this a useful source of extra income, although July was quieter than previous months. I think that is a summer thing and hopefully it will start to pick up as we move into autumn.

Wrabfest

This little festival in Wrabness was a lot of fun. Here was some great music from talented bands – no one famous but excellent all the same. There were activities for the kids, lovely foodstalls, all kinds of retailers and a bar. This got very busy in the evening. If they run it again I hope they have a second  bar and more loos!

It is run completely by volunteers from the village and was a very impressive community event.  I think it must be lovely to live in a place where there is lots going on and a real community vibe.

SHOMOs – still after your votes

I have mentioned before that I have been nominated for the SHOMOs UK Money Bloggers Awards next month. I am really excited to go and meet lots of other bloggers. My nomination is for the frugal and thrift category. You can’t vote for me in that as it is judged, but you can vote in the People’s Choice awards. If you are interested, go to this page on the UK Money Bloggers website. I will be hugely grateful to get a few votes at least.

How was your weekend? Anybody else been hunting for some boot sale bounty?

 

Follow me on Twitter: @shoestringjane and on Instagram: @shoestringcottage. My Facebook page is www.facebook.com/shoestringjane.

One pound meals? Fast and fresh, please

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out Miguel Barclay’s Recipes on Instagram.

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

 

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.

Is frugality the new black?

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

Frugality is in

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

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

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

Taking care of the pennies

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

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

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

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

This week’s frugality – how are you doing?

Lost in Blog Land

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

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

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

 Dishwasher emergency

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

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

 Grocery challenge

Very soggy car park!

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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: the ultimate in thrifty living

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?

Fabulous Frugal Friday

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

Grocery challenge

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

The Lodger hunt

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

Feedspot Top 100 Frugal Blogger

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

Frugal food

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

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

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

Love your Leftovers: spinach cheese frittata 

Love your Leftovers

This is the second in my occasional Love your Leftovers series.

You know how it is when you cook fresh spinach? You think you have enough in the pan to feed the five thousand then you cook it and it disappears to a small bowlful!

I tend to over compensate for this and cook even more than I think I need. I love spinach and I know there are plenty of ways to use it up. You’ve got to love your leftovers!

love your leftoversUsing up leftover food is also helping me to stick to my £35 a week grocery challenge for August. The spinach, as well as some leftover canned sweet corn, went into this cheesy spinach frittata for a quick and easy dinner. Obviously, you can vary the ingredients for this type of dish, depending on what you have available or what needs using.

These quantities serve 2.

4 medium eggs

A splash of milk

About a cupful of chopped, cooked spinach

A couple of rashers of bacon, chopped

2 tablespoons canned corn

About 2-3 ounces grated cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper

Oil

I tend to use my wok for this as it is a good size and is non stick. It needs to go under the grill but obviously not a plastic handled one!

Fry the bacon in a little oil until cooked, then spoon it out and set aside, leaving some oil in the pan to cook your frittata. Whisk the eggs, milk, salt and pepper together then add the bacon. Pour back into your pan and cook gently until it starts to set. You can push the egg mixture around a bit to speed this up. Don’t allow it to catch on the bottom of the pan. When it has mostly set sprinkle the corn, spinach and finally the cheese on top. Place under a medium grill for around five minutes to cook the top.

This frittata is quick, cheap and easy, and a good way to help you love your leftovers. Have you any good recipes for cooked spinach?

Monthly goals: Aims for August 2017

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

Develop the blog

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

Increase my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter following

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

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

Increase the amount I sell on eBay

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

Get a new lodger

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

Continue with my grocery challenge

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

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

 

 

A lovely day by the sea

I often wonder if we will end up living by the sea somewhere, we are drawn to the coast so often. Mr S absolutely loves it and will frequently  go in for a swim, no matter how cold it is!

Raising money for charity

Yesterday we took my parents to a fundraiser in their friend’s garden at Westcliff, near Southend on Sea. She was raising money for the Remus horse sanctuary.

It was a lovely event and well attended. There were charity stalls, a plant stall, crafts and a tombola, plus delicious refreshments, all at a great price. We had tea, sandwiches and cake in the garden, and were treated by my mum to pay for the petrol.

Mum and Dad knew lots of people there as they attend every year. As they were both ill earlier in the year, they no longer feel comfortable driving long distances. We didn’t mind taking them. It was the perfect excuse for a day by the sea!

Bargain hunting, for a change

I was drawn, of course, to the cat protection stall, where they were selling an enclosed litter tray for just £5. I have wanted one for the cats for ages to stop them kicking their litter all round the kitchen, so I snapped that up. Bargain!

day by the seaLeigh on Sea

We left them there chatting to everyone and took a drive down to old Leigh-on-Sea. It is such a pretty place for a stroll. We walked along the seafront to Westcliff, but then had to walk all the way back to get the car!

You have got to love a walk by the sea. There’s something about a huge sky and the sound of the sea that is so invigorating, no matter what the weather.  The clouds looked ominous at one point but the rain held off and the sun managed to break through.

A day by the sea was just what we needed to kick off a new week. The past one felt sad and stressful. I have a more positive outlook going into this one.

Did anyone else do anything fun at the weekend? Do you like a day by the sea?

Grocery challenge update: still saving money

grocery challengeLast Friday, because it was pay day for me, I kicked off a grocery challenge. A whole month of shopping on a budget of just £35 a week to feed three of us.

I was pleased that some of you here and on Instagram and Twitter decided to join in, setting your shopping budget  lower than usual to help save a few pounds.

So how is your grocery challenge going?

I have found week one to be very easy. My spending has looked like this:

Initial Lidl shop £16.35

Weekend top up £5.62

Milk top up (Lactofree), £3

Urge for chocolate and junk (will explain later) £3.89

Total: £27.86

Week one was always going to be the easiest week as we still have plenty of basics. As we use those up we are likely to spend more. We also have produce in the garden, so in that sense the summer months are the best time to do a grocery challenge.

However, If you have school age children starting a grocery challenge in the school holidays could be tricky. Mine were like maurauding plagues of hungry locusts at the best of times! At home all day in the holidays? Well…I would love to know how you manage this.

I am going to plan next week’s meals  and go to Lidl tonight for next week’s instalment of the grocery challenge

Sad times

It has been a tough week. Work has been particularly busy and stressful. On top of that, my old cat, Vera, suddenly took ill on Monday.  She stopped eating, hid under the bed and, the worst, started having violent seizures. By Thursday we knew we had to let her go. The vet did blood tests and her kidneys and various other parts of her were shutting down. We had her put to sleep and stayed with her until the end. Then we took her home and buried her under the apple tree. Sad days. RIP Vera. We miss our little companion, who was usually snuggling between Mr S and I when we settled down on the sofa.

This is why I don’t feel bad for the chocolate binge. I was comfort eating! This week I will build a few more treats in.

I hope you had a better week. If you are joining in, how is it going? It isn’t too late, if you want to take part. Let me  know in the comments what budget you are setting and how you get on.

This month’s grocery challenge: eating on a budget

Grocery challengeAre you spending too much on food? Do you set a budget? When you need to start cutting back on your living expenses your food shop can be an easy place to start. How about a grocery challenge?

I love a grocery challenge – I set myself a lower than usual budget and use every means to stick to it. Using up what I have in the cupboards, the fridge, the freezer and the garden, I am confident we can eat well and healthily for just £35 per week for the three of us. I am not including cat food, cleaning products or toiletries in this budget, although I intend to keep spending on everything else to a minimum too.

Friday was my start day as that is payday for me, and I will continue through until 23rd August. So that is 4.5 weeks of food for around £155. Can I stick with my grocery challenge? We shall see!

Although it helps that we have some produce in the garden,  I don’t want every meal to be based around courgettes. I love them but there are limits! Most people won’t have home grown produce available, but it is still possible to eat cheaply. If you have a bit of garden and spare time, I really recommend growing a few bits. It is cheap and pretty easy to do.

Essential steps on your grocery challenge

The first thing to do when you are setting yourself a grocery challenge is to audit your food stores.  We have plenty of rice, pasta, tins of tomatoes, cereal, veg (fresh and frozen), tinned tuna, etc.

The next step is to plan meals for at least a week. I find this is long enough, but I know people who plan the whole month in one go. Aim to use as many of your stores as you can. This focusses your attention on those unused and unloved ingredients that have been hanging around a while. Set yourself a challenge to find a recipe that will use a can of coconut milk or bag of walnuts, for example. I write a detailed plan for dinners but lunches and breakfasts are a little more fluid. We tend to eat porridge and raisins, or fruit and yogurt for breakfast with sandwiches, salads of soups for lunch. I also build in a few snacks. If not, I risk breaking the budget by going to the machine at work for chocolate or the expensive corner shop for crisps and wine!

Finally, write a shopping list. Think about where you need to go to get the best deals on the food on your list. I do the bulk of my shopping in Lidl or Aldi and pop to Asda or Sainsbury’s for the cat food and Lactofree milk.  The latter can be expensive, varying from £1 a litre when it is on special offer up to around £1.50, depending on where I buy it. As I want to stick to my challenge I will check online to find the cheapest price for this before heading out to buy it. I will also water it down a bit as my daughter guzzles it!

Other ways to save money

If you really want to save money, forget expensive branded items, at least for the duration of the challenge. You don’t have to buy the cheapest, but supermarket own brands are usually pretty good.

I mentioned we grow some of our own food. We also have gluts so are happy to give the excess away. If you have friends who have a veggie patch or an allotment you are likely to find they are willing to do the same. You could offer to do a bit of weeding in exchange! We don’t grow apricots but were lucky enough to be given a load the other day. I stewed half for puddings all week and put the rest in the freezer for later.

If you can easily get to a supermarket later in the day you can find some good yellow sticker bargains from time to time. Only buy what you know you can eat quickly or freeze. If you get a real bargain be prepared to change your meal plan to fit it in.

Think about doing some batch cooking. I will be making a large pot of ratatouille and another of courgette soup. The ratatouille will be a meal with some brown rice and cheese one night, and an accompaniment to meat another night. The soup will be good for lunches and I will freeze some for next week too.

We aren’t vegetarians, but will definitely be eating some meat free meals to save money.  I also bought a pack of bacon lardons in Lidl, which will be good for adding a little meaty flavour to a couple of meals.

Grocery Challenge Meal Plan

This week’s meal plan is as follows:

Friday:  Risotto made with vegetables and lardons

Saturday: courgette stuffed with turkey mince and mini roasties

Sunday: Chicken casserole, rice and vegetables

Monday: Cheese omelette with home made chips and salad

Tuesday: Ratatouille with rice and cheese

Wednesday: Fish in breadcrumbs, potatoes and vegetables

Thursday: Tuna pasta bake with vegetables

Do you want to join me on my grocery challenge? If so, what figure will you set for your weekly budget? Do you have ideas for some meals to use up the food you have in the stores?

 

Right on the money: Sensible advice to save you cash

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

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

So far this week I have discovered the following:

Property guardianship

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

Nocturnal shopping

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

Beware contactless spending

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

Young entrepreneurs

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

Right on the Money!

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

Love Your Leftovers: chicken risotto

Love your Leftovers You need to love your leftovers!

I thought I would start a new occasional series called Love Your Leftovers. I hate food waste, so I try to use it all up. It saves lots of money too!

I also find a love your leftovers approach makes me more creative, and try food combinations that are a bit different.

Last night I decided to use the leftover chicken from the Sunday roast in a risotto. We also had leftover cooked runner beans and courgettes from the annual glut, so obviously they had to go in too! I found a 400g box of risotto rice in Lidl the other day – I knew it would come in handy!

I started by using the carcass, along with a couple of others I had stored in the freezer, for home made stock, but you could use a couple of stock cubes.

Here is the recipe, which serves 4.

Chicken Risotto

350g risotto rice
300 fl oz chicken stock, ideally hot
Left over cooked chicken, however much you have
1 red or yellow pepper, diced
1 small courgette, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp smoked paprika
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped, or 2 tsp dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
About 10-15 black olives
Any other left over veg you may have hanging around!
Olive oil

Saute your chopped vegetables in some oil for around 5-10 minutes. Add the rice and stir for a minute or so. Add about half of the stock and stir. As it starts to be absorbed, add the remainder. Stir frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the pan. Add the paprika and season to taste. When the rice is almost soft enough to eat, add your leftover chicken, olives, parsley and any other veggie leftovers.

This is pretty much a meal in itself but is also nice with a salad or green vegetable.

Do you love your leftovers? What would you do with the excess meat from the Sunday roast?