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!

Five Frugal Things I have achieved this week, 30th June 2017

Thanks for all the comments on my last post about frugal holidays. I loved the idea of a monastic retreat, as suggested by Kirrie, and Julia’s information about university accommodation. I can see myself trying both of these.

Five frugal things

I guess it’s time for the weekly frugal round up – five frugal things. So what have my frugal achievements been?

No. 1: Getting creative with courgettes

Courgette season is well and truly upon us here at Shoestring Cottage. The veggie patch is looking very productive and healthy, even though we did scale it back this year.  So far we have eaten them fried in butter with garlic, as a ratatouille with tomatoes and peppers and spiced with some cumin. Tonight we had courgette surprise, the surprise being we had broad beans instead .

No. 2: Preserving our fruit

Another crop that is doing well is the currants: red and black. I am picking and freezing them for now and have 2lb so far. When I get to 6lb I will make a batch of currant jelly. I love this!

No 3: Eating from the larder

We ate from the larder all last week as part of my no spend week. As we still had stocks of food,  this continued over the weekend until Monday, when I finally went shopping. However, I still want to clear some foods that have been hanging around a bit. Darling daughter works at the Co-op, and frequently brings little yellow stickered treats home. She sticks them in the freezer and seems to forget about them! I have been working my way through lots of sandwich thins for lunch and little brioche buns for breakfast.

No. 4: Home made stock and soup

I made chicken stock using 3 carcasses from the freezer, then turned this into a hearty chicken and veg soup. This was prompted by my lodger, who roasted a chicken and was about to throw so much of it away because she couldn’t be bothered to pull all the little scraps of meat off. I could! It also gave me a reason to use up all the veg in the bottom of the fridge.

5.  Frugal exercise

I have been getting up half an hour earlier to make sure I have time for my morning yoga before work. This makes such a huge difference to how I feel and allows time for all the other things I have to do after work, like the garden! It costs me nothing to unroll my mat and do a few salute to the suns! Who needs an expensive gym membership?

Have you managed five frugal things this week? Maybe you have achieved even more! Please share.

I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky.

Think you can’t afford to go on holiday? Ideas for frugal holidays

Mr Shoestring and I work hard all year. We scrimp and save and live a frugal lifestyle to make sure bills are paid and no debts accrued. One thing we insist on, however, is at least one vacation a year.  We know we can go on our frugal holidays!

Building it into our budget

Building a holiday fund into our budget is important to us. We don’t run a fancy car, have lots of nights in the pub or wear designer clothing. Because of this, for the last few years we have managed two holidays every year. It depends what your priorities are and this is what we like to do.

A Welsh idyll

However, we still can’t afford a luxury 5 star hotel in the Maldives. We have our holidays but they have to be within our means. For several years we have spent a week in Wales at an organic smallholding, staying very cheaply in an old but comfy caravan. We mostly self cater (always treating ourselves to some superb Welsh lamb and other local produce) and have a great week walking, wild swimming and perusing the interesting towns and villages nearby. This costs us around £350 for the week, including accommodation, food and transport.  You can see our gorgeous Welsh home from home here.

We generally also have a holiday abroad and have found all inclusive works well.  However this is more expensive. So if the all inclusive package holiday doesn’t suit your budget, what other frugal holidays are there?

My cheapest holiday

Years ago,  I hitch hiked through France and into Spain with my then boyfriend. We stayed in the most basic campsites en route and occasionally pitched the tent in a random field. We once slept behind a pile of rocks on a motorway as we were dropped too late to find another lift. I wouldn’t recommend that! This holiday cost barely anything, but would I let my daughters do it? NO WAY! I mention it just to prove you can have some kind of break away on the tightest of budgets. Instead of hitching, I would get them to explore Interrailing. This seems still to be a great way of travelling in Europe. There is an interesting article about the pros and cons of Interrail here.

House swapping

I have done house swaps several times in France and in Spain. The big advantage is that your (usually comfortable and well-equipped) accommodation is free. In addition, someone is looking after your house as well. However, you do still need to get there. We drove to France and Spain. The latter was a long journey with relatively young children and we did need to stop over at a cheap hotel on the way, which obviously added to the cost. However, there is no reason you can’t house swap in your own country, especially if you live somewhere generally popular with tourists. I used a now defunct house swap organisation aimed at teachers, but there are many, many on the internet these days. This is a good option for families.

A disadvantage of house swapping is the amount of work that goes into getting your house ready. You need everything to be very clean and tidy, and your house needs to be in good decorative order.

Sun £9.50 holidays

Each January the Sun newspaper runs its £9.50 holiday promotion. You collect 10 tokens from the papers and can book a 3 or 4 night holiday for 4 people for (in theory anyway) £9.50. In fact. as this article from Money Saving Expert explains, they generally cost more than this, but are still very good value and worth investigating.

WOOFing

In case you think I have gone barking mad (geddit?), this means Working On Organic Farms. If you are in good physical and mental health, you can volunteer to work on farms throughout the world in exchange for your bed and board. You do need to pay a subscription to the host country’s WOOF organisation and your own travel costs. However, this can be a great cultural experience and you are likely to make many friends from around the world. Tom and Liza, who own our lovely Welsh smallholding, take in WOOFers every once in a while.

Camping

Camping as a family is probably the cheapest holiday option of all. However, it can be expensive to buy all of the gear to start with. You will need a large tent, inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags, lights, a gas cooker, and utensils like kettle, pots, pans, plates, cups, etc. as a minimum. I would also go for a fold up table, a wind break and some comfy chairs. A friend insisted on camp beds, a fridge and a loo as well! If you are going to go away regularly you will soon recoup the costs as generally campsites are so much cheaper than other forms of accommodation.

If you are camping in the UK you all need a decent set of waterproofs! You are at the mercy of the weather. We had some fabulous camping holidays when the kids were young. However, If I am being honest, we also baled out of two. One because of continuous, heavy rain and the other because the winds were so bad our tent almost got blown away!

We bought our tent in the sale at the end of the summer and managed to pick up some other bits second hand. We even managed to pick up some gear on Freecycle. Overall, camping is a great frugal holiday choice for families.

Hostels

Years ago, I belonged to the Youth Hostels Association. YHAs were always an excellent frugal option for accommodation. It was basic and you had to do some jobs to stay in them, such as clean the loos or sweep the stairs. They appear to have moved on apace and now the YHA prices are for private rooms similar to hotels, with much of their accommodation upgraded. However, they still have some more traditional dormitory hostel accommodation. Their Brighton hostel is advertising rooms from £11.85 a night.

I had a look at hostels more generally as an option for frugal holidays. Some of the foreign language students have used them to stay in places such as London and Cambridge. They are super basic but cheap. You share a room with a lot of strangers, not all the same sex. Sometimes they aren’t as clean as you might ideally like! However, if I was young and travelling on a budget I would definitely do my research and give some of them a try. You can stay in a dorm at a backpackers hostel in Birmingham, with free breakfast, from £13 a night.  More information  on frugal holidays in the UK and abroad can be found at Hostel World.

Become a house sitter

This is one I would love to try! Offer to look after someone’s house and pets for free and you can stay in their house for nothing. Trusted House Sitters can put you in touch with those who would like their pets and accommodation looked after. There are opportunities worldwide. According to the promo video, it is possible to families, couples or solo travellers to do this. You do have to pay your own travel costs, however, and obviously love animals.

So – my ideas for frugal holidays in a nutshell. What are yours? Have you ever house swapped or what is your experience of camping?

How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a day: Book Review

Another one for My Frugal Bookshelf! I have just finished re-reading Kath Kelly’s wonderful book, How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day. It was just as inspiring as the first time around! She is my kind of woman.

Could you live a year on a pound a day?

The book tells the story of an English teacher living in Bristol who made the drastic decision to live on a pound a day to save money for her brother’s wedding present. Her friends thought she was crazy and that she could only achieve this if she became a vegetarian, travelled nowhere and used old rags instead of tampons! She proved them wrong.

During the course of her year living on a pound a day,  she became a yellow sticker officianado, organised  a clothes swapping party, hitchhiked and cycled everywhere and camped for free. She did a WOOFing holiday (where, incidentally, she met her future husband), discovered just how cheaply she could purchase clothes if she turned up at jumble sales just before closing and found a vast number of free events in Bristol, some rewarding her with refreshments just for turning up. She also collected over £100 in money from the pavements on her travels – what a careless bunch we are!

Super frugal

It became more than just a quest to get her brother a decent wedding present, however. She became much fitter from all of the walking and cycling she did (once she had curbed her liking for too many reduced cakes and pies!). She realised how much money she used to fritter and how much we waste as a society. Her super frugal lifestyle revealed our consumerist society to be hugely wasteful and damaging to the environment, as well as people’s bank balances. When Kath Kelly’s year came to an end she knew she couldn’t go back to her previous ways.

She has written a couple of other books since, which I intend to explore. I have just downloaded a sample to my Kindle app of Doing the Right Thing. If I enjoy this I will buy the book.

I purchased my copy of How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day for the Kindle too, although if you prefer an actual paper book you can pick them up second hand on Amazon (my link: How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day by Kath Kelly ( 2008 ) Please note  if you purchase anything through either of my links I will receive a small commission. The Kindle version is a bargain at only £2.08. 

 

Wildlife friendly gardening – keeping it untidy!

Take a walk on the wild side

Wildlife friendly gardening

Wildflower patch

We aren’t worried about a tidy garden here at Shoestring Cottage. Just as well as we don’t have enough time to spare to keep it immaculate. We are more interested in wildlife friendly gardening, with lots of grasses, nettles and wildflowers. There is a little pond that attracts loads of frogs and insects too, and always lots of birds singing and bugs buzzing around.

This year we decide to finally sow all the little packets of wildflower seeds that we seem to collect; freebies from various garden shows and magazines. We had a tiny circle of wildflowers surrounding a beautiful clematis last year. It was very pretty but I longed for a meadow with a carpet of colour.

Move over carrots

We had two vegetable patches previously but just didn’t have time to cultivate and preserve so much produce. This year we gave over the smaller patch to the wild! We sowed about 7 or 8 packets of wildflower seeds and then let nature get on with it. It hasn’t turned out like the carpet of flowers I imagined. Rather, the plants are tall! But there is a huge variety like cornflowers, poppies, foxgloves, daisies and loads I have yet to identify. It is choc a bloc full of bees and insects as well, which is fabulous.

Wildlife friendly gardening

Not too tidy

We deliberately keep some areas of grass long so that the frogs have somewhere to hide.  There is a big pile of old logs and twigs at the bottom of the garden, which the stag beetles like. They are rare generally, but we happen to live in a stag beetle hot spot so like to encourage them. I am hoping for a hedgehog some day but haven’t had one so far.

Lightly controlling some areas of the garden and keeping them a bit untidy means that wildlife friendly gardening saves us time – this is great for busy people! I will save the clipped and perfect lawn for my retirement (maybe).

Wildlife friendly gardening saves money

The great thing about wildflowers is that they tend to self seed. We have foxgloves pop up every year, although we never bought any. They arrived all by themselves! I am hoping that our beautiful wildflower patch will come back each year and won’t cost us anything. So wildflower friendly gardening saves cash too!

The garden is just starting to become productive and tonight I picked our first red and blackcurrants, as well as three courgettes. We should have broad beans in the next week as well. Food production can carry on alongside the wildlife friendly gardening.

Do you make room for the wildlife? Do you have bug hotels or a pond? What works best to attract nature into your garden?

Five Frugal Things I have Done this Week 16th June

Five frugal thingsI haven’t spent too much this week, in preparation for next week. This will be strictly NO SPEND. I intend to buy nothing except essentials. I won’t even be doing a food shop, apart from cat food, loo roll and some vegetables. It has been an expensive month overall, so I need to do at least five frugal things every week!

Frugal thing no. 1

I popped into Sainsbury’s after 9 pm one evening to check out the yellow stickers. They didn’t have much that I wanted but I did buy some reduced mince and some bread. There is no point in purchasing yellow sticker items if you then waste them! Both have been frozen. I find that my freezer is essential when it comes to money saving, not just for freezing bargains, but also leftovers, batch cooked meals, poultry carcasses for making stock, left over bread for puddings and breadcrumbs, the fruit and vegetables that we grow in the garden and home-made soup.

Frugal thing no. 2

I have listed a ton of stuff on eBay and Facebook and sold 5 items this week. A nice gent came out to take the old cross trainer that has been sitting unused in the shed for 2 years. I let him have it for free so it didn’t generate any income, but it did save me the petrol and hassle of getting it to the tip! He was very happy with it. Generally, I am finding Facebook is more useful that the local Freecycle group at getting rid of stuff lately and easier to use. Selling on eBay is becoming a regular in my five frugal things round up!

Frugal thing no. 3

We have been carefully tending our veg patch and greenhouse. It has needed watering most days as it has been so hot and dry. The watering and weeding is paying off now. We have black and redcurrants just ripening and should have courgettes and broad beans ready for next week. That will bring the shopping bill down. I love eating our own produce!

Frugal thing no. 4

When I was a polling clerk the other week I carefully kept the cardboard backing and excess paper from each book of ballot papers. This caused some amusement and bemusement amongst my colleagues, but I explained that they would come in handy for writing notes and shopping lists. They really have. This week I used a couple of them to write my meal plan, the shopping list and a to-do list for darling daughter, who has been at home a lot. I hate throwing things away when they could be useful!

Frugal thing no. 5

We needed to find a good deal on the house insurance. I did some research on the internet to find a company that would be happy to insure us for buildings and contents even though we have a lodger. A surprising number won’t consider it although I got some very high quotes from a couple of companies who were happy to. However, the best deal was with Quote Me Happy. It was quick and easy as it was all done online instantly. They allow up to 6 lodgers. I am happy with just the one! it is always worth shopping around.

I am getting a bit of frugal inspiration for my no spend week by re-reading How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day by Kath Kelly (my affiliate link). I intend to add this to my Frugal Bookshelf next week. Such a great book! I borrowed it in paperback form when I originally read it years ago, but now Amazon have it on Kindle for only £2.08. Bargain!

I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. Check out their five frugal things!

It shouldn’t happen to a polling clerk 

Working as a polling clerk

Wow! What a fascinating election result! I am interested again.  I wonder what will happen next? But I won’t go on about politics in this blog. Might save that for Twitter 😀. Working as a polling clerk was an eye opener. I was stunned at how politically ignorant some people are. Several people looked at their ballot paper quizzically and asked why they couldn’t see Corbin, May or whoever. We had to explain that they were voting for their local MP and that if they won the seat it would be a plus score for the political party that they preferred.

Some seemed to think it was a local election, even though we only had one of those back in May.  One lady had a rant at us about everything that was wrong with the government and we had to explain that we weren’t political candidates, just clerical staff. She said ‘Well, you’re lucky I voted at all’ and flounced off, leaving is to ponder this great favour.

I was very pleased to see so many young people in, often voting for the first time. This election appears to have really caught their attention and increased their interest in politics.

I lost my voice….

I didn’t realise how much talking I would need to do. The polling station was very busy and I had to repeatedly explain the process as the voters came and went. My voice is shot to peices today! I am keeping my head down and being quiet at work today (for a change!). It was a long day, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope we don’t have another snap election any time soon. It if we do I will be happy to volunteer!

Short and sweet today as I am dog tired. I have lots to do at the weekend too  – eBay listings, cleaning, sorting a meal plan and food shopping, plus a little gardening. Whoever wins a General Election, life goes on….

Watching the wheels of democracy in action  as a polling clerk

Tomorrow I am looking forward to being a polling clerk at my local polling station for the General Election. I have never done this before. I think it will be interesting and and I am quite excited!

As you know, I rarely refuse an opportunity to make some extra cash and this will go towards our week in Wales next month. It is a looooong day though: 6 am until 10 pm, so don’t expect a blog post! When I arrive I have to help set up the room and voting booths, get the signs out, then check voters in and give them a voting slip. Enough food is required to last me the day, so I popped into Asda last night as I pass it on the way back from work and bought a large salad, chicken drumsticks, some sausage rolls, juice and fruit. I also need to provide my own mug, milk and teabags. They do this stuff on the cheap!!

It’s another side hustle but, of course, this kind of opportunity doesn’t arise too often 😀.

Politically disengaged

I try to avoid being too political on this blog. Apart from working at the polls, I am finding the process quite depressing. I feel pretty disengaged for the first time ever and  have been avoiding the news and most of the debate. I have heard it all before! Truth be told, I’m not really happy with any of the potential candidates.

I will vote though. I think we have a duty. There are many places in the world where people don’t get a say. Democracy may not be perfect but it is the best option. So, if you can vote, make sure you do!

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

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

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

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

Managing our time

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

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

Flushed with success

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

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

Ways to save money: growing from seeds and cuttings

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

Look in the reduced section

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

Growing your own food in the frugal garden

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

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