Christmas thoughts and an over active brain

Christmas thoughtsI woke up very early today.  There seem to be lots of Christmas thoughts whizzing around my head.  Sifting through them with a cup of tea,  I am surprised at the amount going on in my head.

So this is a bit of a random post. A round up of my over active brain with all my Christmas thoughts in black and white!

Over spending at Christmas and a lack of logic

I belong to a Facebook group run by Skint Dad Ricky Willis. As you would expect, the group often has people posting about their financial woes. It is generally a supportive group with folk requesting and giving advice based on their own experiences.

A lady had totted up all she had spent on Christmas presents and was astounded to find it was £600 plus. Some people offered wise words about how to cut back next year, but many admitted they had spent much, much more. There were admissions of spending £1500 on just one child, buying two holidays for a partner for Christmas, etc.

I would imagine that if you join a group like this, you are either struggling financially or take a keen interest in money. If you have saved all year and you can afford it, obviously you can buy whatever you like with no worry or negative consequences.  But if you spend that kind of dosh and didn’t save the £3000 or whatever you have spent on purchases, no wonder you are skint the rest of the year!

For me, this sums up our crazy approach to our finances generally. I prefer to live within my means and Christmas isn’t that big a deal.

Veg price wars

It’s hard not to notice the supermarket price wars on Christmas vegetables this year. I stocked up when I did my last shop before Christmas in Aldi last night. I bought parsnips, carrots, sprouts and broccoli for only 19p each, plus Maris Piper potatoes for just 28p.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Asda have all waded in with offers on a similar range of veg. Lidl are also selling them at 19p, Asda at 20p, Sainsbury’s at 25p and Tesco at 29p.

Obviously this is great for us as consumers, but I have feelings of discomfort too. Someone is paying for all these discounts. I hope it is the supermarkets but I suspect it is their suppliers. Christmas thoughts to ponder.

On the mend

My friend with her badly broken ankle finally had her operation on it yesterday. They are hoping to release her home today, which is great! We were worried we would have to plate up her Christmas dinner and drive up to the hospital at one point.

The plan is to cook the turkey and prep all the veg here, then to drive round and finish it all at her house. She will be on the sofa with her feet up and we will all be her willing servants.

She will be out of action for a good month, all for slipping on wet grass.

Christmas thoughts for those on their own

I heard yesterday on the Jeremy Vine radio show on BBC Radio 2 about a lovely sounding family who run the Dairy Shop café in Sidmouth. They are keeping the café open on Christmas day so that those spending Christmas alone have somewhere to go to have a coffee, a mince pie or just a chat.

It was inspired by a single mum friend of theirs who said that one Christmas the only person she had spoken to all day was in the local shop. She had been grateful for that single bit of contact.

It might also be a nice place to escape if family relationships get a bit fraught over Christmas! I thought it was a lovely idea.

One piece of money advice

On another Facebook group (I don’t spend that much time on there really!), run by Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, she asked if you could offer one piece of monetary advice to someone, what would it be?

There were some very interesting and helpful answers, so I thought I would share.

This was the most common tip: to save and have an emergency fund.

To get your savings taken out of your account by standing order so you don’t have to think about it.

To pay into a pension fund as early as you can.

Not to get into debt or take out a credit card. If you want something save for it.

Don’t live beyond your means or try to keep up with the Jones’s.

Think before you spend and ask if you really need it.

To keep a spending diary to increase your awareness of where you waste money.

Put your coins in a jar – it all adds up.

Keep household accounts and log all that you spend.

Just because something is available at a discount it doesn’t mean that you need it.

Sell everything you never use.

Take out a funeral plan.

Over pay your mortgage when you can.

Watch every penny.

Mine was to stop buying stuff and consider a no spend month, as I plan to do in January! If you could give a single piece of advice around money, what would yours be?

A vegetarian Christmas dinner

Off to make my vegetarian Christmas dinner. I considered this nut roast en croute recipe, which I took to my sister’s last weekend. It was nice, but you didn’t really need the puff pastry. So, I have finally decided on an old favourite, cashew nut and mushroom roast from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Kitchen. This is delicious and also nice cold with salad. This recipe doesn’t credit Sarah Brown but it is the one.

I hope my Christmas thoughts haven’t sent you to sleep. There is so much to do but we need to remember to enjoy it all too. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope you have a warm, safe and happy time.

 

Last minute affordable gifts 

This post is sponsored by Groupon. However, all views and opinions are my own.

Are you a last minute shopper?

Ok, own up. Who is still scrabbling around for  Christmas presents?  With the season almost upon us, it’s time to get your skates on! I am pretty organised this year. However, I have quite a few friends and colleagues who are on a mission to find some last minute affordable gifts.

I just cannot leave these things right to the wire but, if you have, some of these ideas might be helpful.

I have always thought of Groupon as a good company to check out for mini breaks or days out. Of course, Groupon does offer these and you can buy a weekend in the Isle of Wight or a holiday in Iceland if you can afford it.

Gift guide

However,  it turns out they also offer a range of bargain items for even the smallest of budgets. I have been perusing the Groupon gift guide, where there are some decent discounts on offer if you are searching for last minute affordable gifts for your loved ones. I am particularly drawn to the Donald Trump loo paper. At £4.99 it is a lot more than I would usually spend on toilet paper but would give us all a giggle!

You can also buy novelty socks for a few pounds, a mermaid tail blanket for just a tenner or a makeup palette for a fiver. However, as we are just a week away from the big day, a voucher might be better at this stage.

You can get an acupuncture session for just £9 (reduced from £30) or combine acupuncture with a massage for £29, reduced from £60.

If you fancy something a bit more active, the archery experience for two has been discounted from £38 to £19. If you don’t fancy that, how about a brewery tour with lunch is £19.95, reduced from £40?

For those of you who enjoy a nice perfume, there are some Vera Wang fragrances reduced from £69.99 to £19.99. I wish I had seen this before! You will need to be quick though, as this offer ends tomorrow.

Food shopping

As I have said previously, I have been buying bits and pieces of food and drink for Christmas for ages. However, I am now making a list of food for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Our plans have changed a bit as a family member has well and truly broken her ankle (in three places!). She may have to have an operation this week but, even if she doesn’t, she won’t be able to stand up for several weeks. So we will be cooking for an extra two, one of whom has coeliac’s disease.

Aldi is great for the odd gluten free treat. I have already found some mince pies in there. I will make sure as much of our dinner as possible is gluten free anyway.  Come Saturday I will be up really early and in and out of the supermarket as quickly as possible. I don’t enjoy shopping much anyway, but when I am competing with hoards of stressed out shoppers I like it even less!!

If you prefer presents with a green twist, check out my Eco Friendly Christmas gifts post.

Whatever you buy, remember it is just one day. Stick to your budget and have fun.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas bargain hunting – now is the time!

Christmas bargain huntingHow is your Christmas bargain hunting going? I am almost there! Hardest to buy for is always Mr Shoestring. He can rarely think of any ideas to give me.

I have cracked it!

I have been looking on BuyaGift.com* and  have cracked Mr S’s present! What I bought is top secret, though, as he reads my blog 😀. Suffice to say I am very confident he will like it and it was an absolute bargain!

If you have someone really tricky to buy for, BuyaGift.com does a good range of experiences such as spa days and cream teas.

We had a spa day recently and it was blissful. We also had three cream teas in close succession, using up Mr S’s birthday vouchers. This explains why my jeans are feeling a little tight at the moment!

Aldi shopper

I have been doing a lot of Christmas bargain hunting in Aldi. They have such a great selection of food and drink for a special occasion.

I even found gluten free mince pies in there this week so snapped those up in case my coeliac friend pops on for a cup of tea. 

Aldi do a brilliant range of gift items such as slippers, books, PJs, chocolates, etc. They are so good if you have a really small budget for Christmas.

Christmas bargain hunting online

I have done a lot of shopping on Amazon.co.uk too, including some things from my eco friendly Christmas presents guide here.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy going to the town centre and physically choosing presents. There are two reasons why I don’t do this much. One is lack of time. It is easy and convenient to shop on my phone in my lunch break, for example.

The other is that I like to ask people what they want rather than waste money. They nearly always tespond with a couple of links to websites!

I will go into the town centre at the weekend as I need to do a few jobs in person. It will give me the opportunity to see the lights and do a little browsing.  I do like the idea of supporting my local shops. It’s just that life gets in the way!

How is your christmas bargain hunting going?

*This post contains my affiliate link. If you click through and make a purchase it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Fame at last… spreading the frugal message

What a strange and exciting week we have had here at Shoestring Cottage, spreading the frugal message.

I was approached a couple of weeks ago by a journalist who had read my Frugal Christmas article. She asked me to provide some nice family photos  to run alongside a story about how we keep our costs down at Christmas.

The pressure to create the perfect Christmas

I was happy to oblige. I hate how the pressure to create the perfect festive season causes families to get themselves into large amounts of debt each year. It should be a lovely time spent with family and friends first and foremost.

Spreading the frugal messageIf you can afford to spend lots of money, go for it. However, it seems many folk can’t. I just wanted to point out that it was possible to do it quite cheaply. In fact, it’s possible to spend much less than we do and still have fun!

In the tabloids

Much to my surprise the article was picked up by the Daily Mail, the Sun and also the Daily Mirror! We were all stunned.

I haven’t bothered reading any of the comments. I know exactly how some people will react to me spreading the frugal message about having Christmas on a shoestring.

Colleagues have told me I was called Mama Scrooge and apparently I am clearly responsible for Brexit. LOL, anyone who knows me is well aware I was on the other side of that particular argument! Very odd logic.

Being judged

The funniest thing of all was being invited onto Judge Rinder! The logic was that I would have the chance to publicise my message if one of my daughters sued me for buying their presents too cheaply. This concept caused much hilarity before I politely declined 😀.

Anyway our time as ‘celebrities’ was great fun and interesting. I really don’t know how people cope doing it every day though!!

I know from the comments yesterday that many of you spotted our moment in the limelight! Have any of you appeared in the media?

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!

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?

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?

 

 

 

The week at Shoestring Cottage – catching up with myself

Well, the week has got away with me. I have no idea where it went, it was just one busy Christmas blur. And we still have almost two weeks to go!

I feel more on top of Christmas now. I have done most of my gift and food shopping, written my cards and started wrapping up the presents. I have begun having odd dreams  that suggest I still don’t quite believe I have control, however. Last night I dreamed I had somehow left the turkey out of the freezer and it was sitting in a bag under the tree, completely defrosted! We aren’t actually having turkey so I should feel reassured….

Christmas is here (and the cat doesn’t care)!

Putting up the tree

Yesterday we decided to risk putting the tree up. I didn’t think it would last two minutes with the kitten but, to my surprise, although she was fascinated, once it was up she appeared to lose interest. The two year old tortoiseshell, Lola, gave the bottom branches a chew then also decided there were better things to attack. I got up and went to check this morning and the tree has survived the night!

Our student goes back to Angola on Friday. It will be nice to have the house to ourselves again but I will most certainly miss the income. Belts will need severe tightening until I get another and there is nothing on the cards at the moment.

Thrift soup

In the spirit of frugality I already have some stock on and will make some more thrift soup later (if you are wondering what that is see here). I have given most of the last batch to Mr Shoestring’s mum as she has the flu and doesn’t feel like eating too much at the moment. I also have lots of bananas that appeared to go from green to overripe in a day. I think this happens when they are stored at too low a temperature. I am thinking of making some of Jack Monroe’s  Peanut butter and banana muffins as they look pretty wholesome and perhaps also some banana bread for the freezer.

Back problems

Speaking of Mr S, he has been struggling with severe back pain for a few months now and an MRI scan has revealed a ruptured disc and degenerative disc disease. We were both shocked by this. He is one of the fittest and most active people I know. So no lifting or strenuous activities for him at the moment.

The physio has given him some basic back bends to focus on to get the disc back in place. Forward bends and twisting movements are likely to push it further outwards where it hits the nerve and causes the pain. We will also be taking regular walks and when he is a bit better doing some gentle yoga and Pilates to strengthen his core. I had a good chat to the physio. As a yoga teacher I am interested by exercise as therapy and how the body works. I would love to have the money to train in this area.

Demi vegetarian

I found myself in complete agreement with Arnold Schwarzenegger this week – now, that’s a sentence I never thought I would type. He said that we should all eat less meat for the sake of the planet. He didn’t think many people would sign up to becoming vegetarian, but he did feel that they would support perhaps two meat free days a week.

This is a good approach for the money saver too as meat is expensive. I tend to take this approach as my family do not want to stop eating meat but aren’t averse to the occasional veggie dish and we eat a lot of ‘ just a little meat’ type recipes where the meat is  a minor ingredient and there to stop them feeling deprived and to add flavour – a bit of bacon in a pasta bake for example.

I hope you are in control of Christmas and not getting stressed. I am off to do my yoga practice now to keep the turkey nightmares at bay 🙂

Ho ho ho! Planning for Christmas

Planning for Christmas

Ok don’t pelt me with rotten eggs. I know it’s only 2nd October. However, if you don’t want to end up with a huge credit card bill Christmas should be planned for. It comes at the same time every year, so it shouldn’t really be a nasty surprise to your wallet!

I am actually behind where I was last year in my planning for Christmas. I usually buy small bargain presents and stocking fillers as I  go through the year but the few I have found have been instantly used as birthday presents by the family. I also usually have lots more in the kitty, but my car has been troublesome and expensive and eaten a chunk of my Christmas budget.

Even so, I have made a start on my shopping  and will try to get as much done as I  can way before the rush. My sister couldn’t believe it when I asked for ideas for presents for her kids in September! I have bought a couple of Mary Berry cookery books as presents from Aldi. Lovely looking recipes at a bargain price!

  Secret Santa

I stopped buying for the adults in my family a few years ago. We are a large family and it’s just too expensive. Instead we do Secret Santa and this works well. We buy for children in full time education; once they leave school or university they join in with Secret Santa. I buy for my daughters and ask for ideas. They have a £50 budget and on top of that I buy small gifts such as socks, underwear, books and toiletries.

Most of our Christmas food comes from Aldi. They do a lovely range of treats at Christmas. If we are at home what we eat will be very traditional. It’s just a fancy roast after all, so doesn’t need to cost a fortune. I have made my pudding in the past but find it more economical to buy Aldi’s luxury pud rather than fork out on lots of ingredients. Christmas cake rarely gets eaten, so I will make a fancy cake as a treat, like a gooey chocolate one.

Buying in the sales

I have wrapping paper and cards put away that I purchased last year in the sales. Always a good tip! I keep and recycle gift bags so I never need to buy those.

I use the same artificial tree I have had for  years along with ancient decorations! I don’t spend a fortune and keep the decor simple. I might cut some holly to put in a couple of big vases. I expect the kitten to destroy any display fairly quickly and I can’t see the tree lasting long…

Anyone else planning for Christmas? Is it a source of joy or anxiety? Any tips for a frugal festive season?

I’m dreaming of a frugal Christmas…

I enjoy Christmas – I am no bah humbug sort of person. I love the little treats and outings that cheer up the short, dark days, the sparkly lights, the presents and the carol services. However, I can’t stand the sheer over indulgence that this involves for some people.

I do not believe that spending hundreds or even thousands on presents, clothes and parties makes it a special time. Watching people fighting each other during the obscene Black Friday buy-athon made me feel sick. I prefer a more simple, frugal Christmas.

christmas wreathMy daughters have always had plenty of nice Christmas presents; enough to feel they have been given some things they really wanted that they will treasure and look after but not so much that they get bored opening them.  I usually buy them a main gift, then things like books, pyjamas, sweets, underwear, games and the odd CD or DVD.  This year they have a cash limit to choose some particular items for me to purchase for them, and I have bought a few little surprise bits and bobs too.

Secret Santa for a frugal Christmas

I no longer buy for all of the adult members of my family. I am one of 4 and we all have partners, so where do you stop? Instead we do a secret Santa, and just buy one nice gift for the name we pull out of a hat. We buy for anyone under 18 who is not in full time employment as well. After that they go into the Secret Santa. It takes the pressure right off!

I don’t buy gifts for friends. Again, where do you stop?

Christmas on credit

One time, shortly after I had separated from my ex-husband, I made the mistake of not being organised and saving money for Christmas. Instead I bought all my gifts on a credit card. The Classic Error.  I will never do that again, as I was still paying it off months later and then had no contingency fund to pay for some other unexpected bills and they went on the card too.

I still have a small amount on a credit card, but I also have a (admittedly small) fund for Christmas, birthdays and emergencies. As I get more organised I hope to increase the size of this fund so that I never have to resort to a credit card again. In the meantime it is a useful fall back and I am disciplined enough to only use it very occasionally as a last resort.

A fancy roast

Dinner will be nice but not lavish. In the end it is just a fancy roast, isn’t it? I would love to host some Christmas parties but really don’t have the budget for that.

I am also hoping for a green Christmas: I will be carefully folding any undamaged wrappings and collecting gift bags and boxes for reuse; the turkey carcass will be made into stock and any left over food frozen or made into soup. Anything else that can be reused or recycled, or even composted, rather than thrown in the bin will be.

I don’t have time nor talent to hand make all my gifts and decorations, although I love seeing them on Pinterest. I am fascinated to read about how other  creative types make amazing things frugal Christmas gifts and decorations for pennies.

I will get out my 10 year old tree and put up some decorations and a few lights. But I will resist putting up a ladder and smothering the outside of my house with them. I don’t need to pay to light up the whole street!!

Will you be having a frugal Christmas?

Sausage, apple and herb stuffing

Finally, I have finished work and have had a lovely morning pottering around tidying up, wrapping a few last minute presents and planning tomorrow’s dinner, including this lovely sausage, apple and herb stuffing.

I have been through the Radio Times and there is some good TV on. I rarely sit around watching the box, but will make an exception over Christmas. I also have lots that I will record, including Gregory’s Girl – I love that film! I was going to buy it for me and DD3 to watch during our weekly film night but it was almost £20 on Amazon!

Also I am a sucker for a good costume drama, so will be forcing the family to watch Downton Abbey on Christmas Day and definitely Death Comes to Pemberley on Boxing Day. I am a big Jane Austen fan, and adored the classic series of Pride and Prejudice with the delicious Colin Firth as Mr Darcy . Sorry, Mr Shoestring, but I might still have to chuck you if he ever appears out of our pond in his shirt :).

Sausage, apple and herb stuffing

I have peeled the chestnuts, iced the cake and made the stuffing this morning. I could have the stuffing as a main course actually, it smells so good. Here is the recipe:

400g herby sausage meat
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 apple, peeled and diced fairly small
About a dessertspoon of butter
75g breadcrumbs
Handful of chopped herbs (I used parsley and rosemary as I have them in the garden, but sage would be nice too)

stuffingGently fry the onion in the butter for 4 or 5 minutes, then add the apple for 2 minutes. Add the sausage meat, breadcrumbs and herbs and mix well (it’s easiest with your hands). Make into balls and bake at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes, or use to stuff your bird.

I made 6 largish stuffing balls with half of this, and will use the other half in the neck of the turkey tomorrow.

Happy Christmas

Whatever you are doing today, I hope you are having a good day and have a brilliant Christmas. I might make it on here to blog tomorrow, but I might be too stuffed to move as far as the laptop! Actually I plan a late breakfast, everyone mucking in to get the dinner ready, eating it, then having a walk to work some of it off. Then back to clear up, have a Christmas tea of salad and cold cuts with some friends and an evening of games and TV. Complete bliss!