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.