Five frugal things: 16th July 2017

five frugal thingsAs I was on holiday last week you may be surprised to learn that I have easily achieved five frugal things.  Our week in our lovely Welsh retreat was a bargain vacation after all!!

Frugal achievement no. 1: Eating in

It would be easy to eat out a lot on holiday. We rarely do, usually allowing ourselves just the one restaurant meal. We had a delicious one when we went to Anglesey and I was more than happy to pay for the lovely food and excellent service. The rest of the time we treated ourselves to yummy meals in, buying Welsh lamb a couple of times as it really is excellent quality. Not cheap, but much more so than eating out. We had new potatoes and home grown vegetables we had taken with us alongside whatever we bought.

Frugal achievement no 2: Picnics all the way

five frugal thingsEvery day we made ourselves a flask and some sandwiches to take out with us. A couple of times we found some yellow stickered reductions and took those out with us the day after. I know people get nervous about going over best before dates, but it was only a day and we kept everything cold in the fridge and the cool bag. I think if you use your common sense and the food looks and smells fresh, it is usually perfectly edible and delicious. One day we got our picnic for less than £1!

Frugal achievement no 3: Kitting myself out for work

I find it hard to pass a charity shop and we went into lots of them in Aberystwyth. Poor Mr S was running out of patience with my by the end of the holiday! However, as well as finding some bargains to resell on eBay, I found two skirts and a top for work. The grand total? £6. You can’t do much better than that for a bargain.

Frugal achievement no 4: Finding free trips out

We did pay for some days out whilst we were away, most notably the wonderful Plas Cadnant Gardens in Anglesey. However, we also found lots of free attractions. The Museum of Modern Art in Machynlleth was very interesting, when the sun shone we went to the beach and the RSPB South Stack nature reserve also cost us nothing. A walk along the beach or in the woods is always a joy and you get both for free.

Frugal achievement no 5: Using the library

One very wet day in Wales we went and sat in the library where we took advantage of the free wi-fi, magazines and newspapers on offer. I am all for using libraries wherever and whenever possible as the more people that do, the less likely the local authority is to close them. It was really interesting to see the range and number of people coming in to borrow books and use the computers.

Now we are home I need to think about some post holiday money saving so may need to find more than five frugal things each week! We may have had a frugal week compared to other people on their holidays, but Wales is a long way from us and the petrol cost a lot, we bought a few gifts for the girls and spent more on food than we normally would. So, this week, we will mostly be eating…..courgettes!

How about you? Have you managed five frugal things?

I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. Hop over to their sites to see their five frugal things and the other bloggers taking part this week.

 

 

 

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?

Why are you always broke? How to change your spending habits

Why are you always broke?

‘I don’t know, I hardly buy anything!’ Some people are broke because they genuinely have very little money coming in each month. Maybe they live on benefits or have to support a large family on the minimum wage. However, in my experience there are many people out there who claim they have no money and can’t save who have decent jobs and salaries. Perhaps you have the cash, but need to change your spending habits to get you on track?

I knew a woman who lived in a large house with two family cars and sent her children to private school. She told me she never had any money and they were struggling. The pleas of poverty did not ring true, even when she once had the debt collectors at her door. It doesn’t take a genius to see that her lifestyle was too extravagant for what would to many of have been a fantastic income! Her spending habits weren’t in line with the money she had coming in. She was more concerned about keeping up appearances than she was about the state of her bank balance.

Ask yourself some tough questions about your spending habits

So, before you say your money never lasts and you have no savings ask yourself these questions to identify your spending habits:

Could your accommodation be cheaper? This is likely to be your biggest monthly expense. If you have over extended yourself buying or renting it will hurt. Could you move to more modest accommodation or rent a room out?

Can you travel more cheaply? Cars are a huge expense. If you have more than one car consider whether at least one of you could take public transport instead. Could you downgrade to a motor scooter or cycle? If you need your car you can find out about cheaper motoring here.

Could you holiday more cheaply? I hesitate to say give up on holidays, although many people do enjoy the odd ‘staycation’. However, if you go skiiing every winter and to Disneyland each summer you will need a very full wallet.  Could you invest in a tent for some cheaper camping holidays instead? Some of our most enjoyable family vacations have been under canvas.

Do you have money to burn?

Do you smoke? I have little sympathy for people who literally burn money whilst putting their good health at risk. Nuff said!

Do you insist on buying everything new? From clothes to furniture, whatever you need you can almost certainly buy secondhand if you really want to save money. And reusing can help save the planet!

How much do you spend in pubs/restaurants/cinemas/theatres each month? If you are in the pub three times a week your bank balance will feel the strain.

Do you enjoy a regular takeaway? How much would you save if you knocked this habit on the head and cooked from scratch instead? Even if you don’t waste money on take outs, do you use a lot of convenience food?

A passion for fashion?

Do you love a brand name? If you can wean yourself off designer clothing (or at least buy it secondhand) you will save yourself a packet. When you are in the supermarket, try some supermarket own brands – the big names make you pay for all of their advertising and fancy packaging.

Do you have too many clothes? If you buy a new outfit every time you go out the answer will be yes. Take the wardrobe challenge and then see how else you can save money on clothes.

How much does it cost you to look that great? There are so many ways to waste money on hair care and beauty products and treatments, but if you are short of cash you probably don’t need to get hair extensions or your nails done every month and could knock the designer perfumes and makeup on the head in favour of some cheaper versions. See here how you can be beautiful on a budget.

How often do you use your expensive gym membership? If you don’t use it then cancel it ASAP! If you are a gym bunny and there every night then good for you, but could you get it cheaper elsewhere?

Do you have hundreds of TV channels you never watch? You could save a lot by switching to a cheaper package or cancelling it altogether and investing in a Freeview box.

Time to change your spending habits

They are obvious questions really but people are very good at sticking their heads in the sand. Don’t be an ostrich. If you live from pay cheque to pay cheque and have no savings but you walk around in designer gear then you know why you are always broke! Have a good look around the site to see how you can change your spending habits. Start here, which gives lots of tips on how to save money.

(First published February 2017)

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?

Home spa! Giving myself a treat 

I had a late night yesterday as my friends were round for dinner, followed by an early start with my daughters at a boot sale, so I am a bit knackered!

I thought I would give myself a cheap treat, so I have nicked some of my daughter’s posh products and some of my own for a lovely home spa.

I started with a deep bubble bath and washed my hair, then put on a hair mask – I used an organic avocado and honey one, which was lovely and not at all expensive.  Next I applied a snail face mask – sounds gross but was actually quite nice! I used some of the gorgeous Body Shop shea butter body scrub I had for Christmas. It leaves your skin so soft. I had a good soak then rinsed it all off and applied somebody Body Shop shea body butter. Bliss!

Then I used my Ped Egg on my feet to get rid of all the  hard skin and some nice foot lotion, did my nails and I am currently chilling with a nice glass of white wine.

You need a treat every now and then, but it doesn’t need to cost much.

I got more bargains at the boot sale to list tomorrow. It was a bit grey and I thought it might rain but it held off. The girls all bought loads of clothes but none of them spent more than a tenner. I love a boot sale! I am going to have a lie in tomorrow though!

What cheap treats do you enjoy?

When is cheap a waste of money?

‘You get what you pay for’, so the saying goes. But is this always true? Does spending more guarantee better quality or are you wasting your cash? Will you live to regret buying cheaply?

When it comes to new furniture, I think it is likely. Cheap flat packed stuff rarely stands much family wear and tear. However, good quality second hand items are a whole different ball game. An old but solid wooden wardrobe can be painted to fit in with your decor, chairs can be cleaned or re-covered, and a sanded pine table can be a thing of joy to last and last. 

I frequently pick up designer dresses to sell on eBay and I have been shocked at just how shoddy some of these are. When you consider that they cost hundreds of pounds new they should be top quality.  I buy basic vests and t-shirts from cheap shops and market stalls sometimes but they don’t wash well or last long. I prefer second hand decent quality finds from eBay, charity shops and boot sales. I go for Marks and Spencer, Monsoon, Phase Eight and Laura Ashley if I can find them as they are well made with good fabrics that wash well.

With food you get what you pay for up to a point. I don’t like really cheap baked beans, but I’m happy with supermarket own brands. However, the vegetables I can buy on offer in Aldi or Lidl don’t taste any different to the more expensive ones in the bigger supermarkets. My taste buds aren’t sophisticated enough to to detect the difference between decent supermarket teabags and the premium brands. 

I have written many times about the racket that is the makeup and toiletry market. With the most expensive brands I really believe you are paying for the marketing and packaging. Sprinkle a bit of pseudo-science in an advert and some people will believe anything. Really cheap shampoo is usually a mistake, but again the supermarket brands are pretty good. 

It is always worth trying cheaper when you are on a budget but you don’t have to give up on quality.  What do you think? Is expensive always better?

Using it up to save money

My food shop was minimal last week. I haven’t really spent anything on groceries apart from £8 on some yellow sticker stuff I found in my local Co-op.  We seemed to have quite a lot of food and it makes me more creative when I have to use up what we have.

We used the fish cakes for tea on Saturday with some salad. They were delicious but I wouldn’t have paid the original price.  On Sunday we had the chicken pieces, roasted up with some of the carrots and lots of fresh veg that was hanging around plus half a tin of potatoes that needed eating. We had this one tray supper with the spinach and it was lovely!

The kiwis still aren’t ripe – I just can’t think why they were reduced at all! We have apples and oranges to use up anyway as well as frozen berries.

I am saving the whole chicken as we will have a roast over the Easter weekend. I will need to get some shopping before then but I do intend to go to the supermarket on Saturday evening to see if I can get some big reductions before Easter Sunday 😀.

So I  am saving money on my food bill by finding bargains, not wasting fresh food and using up what we have in the cupboards and freezers. How about you?

Showing love on a budget ❤️ 

A friend told me proudly how her lovely son had taken her to London on Mother’s Day, with tea in a posh hotel, followed by some sightseeing and a meal in the evening. He is clearly a kind and generous son who loves his Mum, but it must have cost a fortune!

As I said in yesterday’s post, I had the loveliest Mother’s Day but I am sure it cost a fraction of the price of my friend’s day. It got me thinking. It is easy to have fun and show somebody that you love them without breaking the budget.  With a bit of planning and creativity you can help friends and family celebrate any event without them thinking you are a cheapskate!

Bake a cake: give a home made cake, cookies or sweets. This works for birthdays, anniversaries,  Christmas, house warmings – even weddings if you are an ace baker and offer to make the wedding cake as your present, as my friend did for me. 

Make your own gift: if you knit, sew, paint, make soap or candles or even if you grow stuff, many people appreciate a thoughtful home spun present. How about a hamper of home grown produce, a couple of pots of delicious home made jam or some potted plants grown from seeds or cuttings?

Keep a present box: It is also useful to buy gifts on offer and keep a present box so you always have a present to give. The January sales are great for this when retailers are keen to shift excess stock after Christmas.

If you are seriously skint, offer a service: gardening, babysitting, grass cutting, car cleaning. Design a voucher and put it in a card,then make sure you keep your promise! This works well if your child wants to offer a present for a relative.

Host a meal: have your loved one round for a special meal. Get out the best tablecloth and china, put flowers or candles on the table and don’t let them wash up!

Take a tour: have a look in the tourist information centre for the free attractions locally and take your loved one on a guided tour . Pack a flask and a posh picnic for a midday break: salmon and cucumber sandwiches, scones and cream, hummus and crudités, etc, and perhaps even a bottle of fizz.

Have a date night: if the celebration is for your other half, cook a meal and add a massage and/or a film.

Spend your points: I love collecting Boots Advantage Card points to spend on gifts, but you can do the same with your Sainsbury’s Nectar Card or Tesco Club Card.

There are so many ways to show you care that don’t involve spending much money and won’t break the bank. For me, the thought really does count!

Keeping up with the cost of living

I heard on the news today that the cost of living in the uk has risen by 2.3% in the past year. Food itself has gone up by 1%. This is ok if your salary keeps up with it, but I have had a paltry 1% increase this year. Heaven knows how larger families manage.

So, what can you do? How about a side hustle? There are some ideas for making extra money here.

You can save money on your grocery bill with a bit of careful planning and savvy shopping.

Then we have your energy bills. Some ideas that I have tried can be found here. You can also haggle down the cost of your utilities.

Running a car can be a huge expense but it is possible to be frugal here too. This is how I save money on motoring.

Do you spend too much on clothes? You can slash costs if you embrace the idea of buying second hand. I am a happy second-hand Rose.

Days out also don’t have to cost the earth. My tips are here.

This is just a quick compilation of ideas. I hope they help! And don’t forget to check out my frugal recipes.

Back tomorrow hopefully if I have time between work and hospital visits!