What’s your best money saving idea?

I belong to a few Facebook groups whose focus is frugality and the question that comes up time and again when people join is ‘How can I save money? Where do I start?’ It seems many people are still struggling to get from pay day to pay day and looking for money saving advice and inspiration.

My first piece of advice is to have a long, hard look at your outgoings. Go through your bank statements and see what you can cut. Have you an insurance policy on an item you no longer own? Are you paying too much for your utilities? Shop around. Can you save money on your mobile phone or your tv and internet package? You need to check if there is a penalty for early cancellation but sometimes it is worth paying, or you could stay with the same provider but downgrade your package. Do you have a gym membership you barely use?

Make a budget and stick to it. I use Budget Brain from Money Saving Expert. Check your bank balance regularly so you know how much is in the account and when you need to rein in your spending.  

It is interesting to see how much cash can drip out of your account in the form of small purchases on lunch, coffees, newspapers, etc. £10 withdrawals here and there can soon add up to hundreds of pounds. You can save a lot of money by anticipating these small expenses in advance and organising yourself. For example, take your own coffee, teabags and milk to work rather than buying it. Take your own packed lunch. 

Avoid temptation. If you know you are prone to impulse purchases, window shopping is not the pastime for you!

Food shopping is often a great place to save money. You can save loads if you stop buying branded goods and use cheaper supermarket own brands, buy your fruit and veg at a local market, minimise convenience foods, plan your menus, make a shopping list before you hit the supermarket, eat less meat…I could go on. There are so many money saving ideas.

Look at your heating and hot water costs. There are plenty of ways to insulate your home cheaply, you could turn the thermostat down a notch, get the family to wear more layers of clothing, etc. More ideas here.

What about transport? Could you car share? Leave the car at home and walk or cycle?

Do you have a garden? If so, how about growing some of your own food. Digging is as good as a gym session 😀.

What are your top money saving tips for the newbie?

The working worried 

I heard on the news yesterday that 19% of British workers admit to losing sleep over money worries. I know how this feels -that gnawing anxiety that there are bills to be paid but there isn’t enough money coming in. The report said that the 18-24 year old age group were worrying the most. Having three daughters in that age category I totally understand. It’s hard to get a job that pays enough to afford a rented box to live in, let alone save any money for a contingency fund or to get a foot on the housing ladder. And the report was only talking about working people. Lord knows how anxious it makes people when they are unemployed.  It’s tough out there!

It helps me to know I can stay in control if I make a big effort and I am disciplined but sometimes it wears me down and I get anxious too. 

We are still eating mainly what we have in the larder. I wanted to use some of the paella rice so I used a recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Save With Jamie. It was supposed to be chicken and chorizo with prawns but I made it more frugal by cutting out the chicken and using pepperoni instead of chorizo as I had some leftover from the chicken tray bake I made the other day. 

Jamie’s recipe is here.

We have snow predicted for the next couple of days in the east of England. I hope it doesn’t arrive! Last time we had snow it took two hours to do the half hour journey to work. 

I hope you are keeping warm wherever you are and not losing sleep over money. 

A cheap packed lunch 

I can’t believe I am still using up various cheeses from Christmas. It is quite nice to have a bit of Brie in my sandwich at work as I wouldn’t usually buy it except as a treat. 

Every day I take a pot of home made soup, half a bake-at-home baguette filled with whatever needs using or sometimes just butter, and some fruit. The baguettes are really cheap from Aldi – they cost 45p for two and I only have half. So my lunch costs about 11p for the bread,the soup is made with mostly home grown veg so is probably only around 10p a cup and a couple of pieces of fruit – 50p? With a bit of cheese let’s say approximately 70-80p for a very nice satisfying packed lunch. Not bad I think for my low spend January! 

I have some chocolate rice cakes if I need an afternoon snack. Theses are sooooo nice! They cost 95p for four, so my treat is a little cheaper Han anything from the vending machine at 80p an item. Lower in calories too at only 93 per bar.

I could spend £3 on a sandwich from the shop, 60p for a bag of crisps, £2 for a coffee and get an 80p chocolate bar – £5-6 a day? Over £1000 a year? Nah, don’t think so …

Soup, soup, wonderful soup!

I love soup at any time of the year, but it is particularly satisfying when it is cold and dark, you are broke and hungry and you want something comforting. I tend to go for vegetable soups so they are really healthy – you drink a couple of your five a day!

I plan to try Margaret’s yummy looking pestou soup here, which looks like a meal in itself. I very often just chuck whatever I have in the fridge into a pan with onions and stock and it always works out delicious, but I have some favourites I enjoy too.

Here are some of the recipes I like:

Carrot and coriander

Courgette and celery

Minestrone (another meal in itself)

I can recommend investing in some Sistema microwave cups if you like taking your soup to heat at work. They don’t leak and heat up really quickly, although they are prone to stain if you like tomato soup 😀. I will get some of the batch I made over Christmas out of the freezer for lunch today. 

I dredged the bottom of the freezer for last night’s dinner and found a pack of Quorn sausages that needed eating. These are not my favourite – I won’t buy them again -but they cooked up a treat in a sausage casserole. I used an onion, some garlic, a pepper, half a jar of pasta sauce, a tin of tomatoes and the end of a bottle of red wine with some herbs chucked in and it was nice with sweet potato mash. 

This morning I will top up what I have in the cupboards with a small shop at Aldi. I have my list at the ready. Have a great weekend!

Black bananas in the bin? Not with this lovely loaf and you can even make it gluten free

imageDelia’s banana loaf is my go to recipe when I have over ripe bananas to use up. I tweak it depending on what ingredients I have in the house. I have replaced the walnuts with hazel nuts or even chocolate chips before and left out the citrus fruit peel when I haven’t had any.  The original recipe is here,: http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/cuisine/european/english/banana-and-walnut-loaf.html, and my gluten free adaptation is below:

75g soft margarine or butter
110g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
The grated rind of one lemon and one orange. (I used 3 heaped tsp of mixed peel as I had this from my Christmas pudding)
60g ground almonds
170g gluten free self raising flour
2tsp gf baking powder
1/2 tsp Xanthum gum (optional)
2 tbsp milk
4 medium bananas, mashed
59g walnuts, chopped

imagePreheat oven to gas 4, 180c. Grease a standard loaf tin. Place the marg, sugar, milk and egg into a bowl.sift over the flour, baking powder and xanthum gum if using, then the almonds. Whisk this all together. Add the mashed bananas and whisk again until thoroughly combined. Stir in the citrus rinds or mixed peel and nuts and place the mixture into your loaf tin.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 55-60 minutes, turning the temperature down a bit of it gets too brown.

This is delicious warm or cold spread with butter and a nice cup of tea :-).

Finding Kindred Spirits – the Great on-line Frugal Community

Thanks for all your comments on my post yesterday about using the library service. That’s what I love about blogging – it’s far easier to find like minded souls on-line than it is in the flesh.

Most of my friends know I don’t have much money, but they really don’t have a clue about frugality, and the absolute necessity of this way of living for me. They don’t think twice about booking a foreign holiday or a meal in a restaurant, and buy new clothes and have their hair done whenever they feel like it. I am pretty sure they don’t lie awake at night worrying about paying the mortgage.

This is great for them, but means they don’t understand that I can’t come with them on a trip to Amsterdam at short notice, meet them for a restaurant and cinema trip, or go shopping for the day in London.

When they come to me for dinner it is more likely to be chicken casserole and apple crumble on the menu than best steak and gateau.

They don’t get why I do my shopping in Aldi rather than on-line and would probably be horrified that I buy out of date food from Approved Foods and almost all my clothes second-hand.

They are great friends though, kind and supportive in so many ways, but I do frequently feel that it would be good to spend time with people who could empathise with my current preoccupations.

This is why the sites of fellow frugal bloggers are such a great source of support and inspiration. If I feel dispirited or need ideas I will pop over to Frugal in Suffolk, Frugal Queen or Life After Money amongst countless others, including those who follow this blog, for some nuggets of wisdom and friendly chat.

So keep the comments coming and if you have site you think is worth looking at, let me know!

Time for an Energy Saving Audit

lights outLike everyone else, I am slightly terrified that the energy companies keep putting up their prices.

Fortunately I took advice from MoneySavingExpert.com and managed to freeze mine for a couple of years some time ago. I try to do as much as possible to keep my bills low and use as little gas and electricity as I can, but I think it is time for an audit.

I have been exploring various websites for advice and come up with the following checklist:

1) Use energy saving bulbs (I am guessing we are all doing this, since it is difficult to buy the old kind now). Check
2) Try a cooler wash when doing the laundry –  30 degrees. I tend to use 40 degrees for everything, and a quick wash when most items aren’t too grubby. Will try a 30 degree wash from now.
3) Tumble dryers? Forget them! Use airers or hang outside on a sunny day. Check.
4) Don’t run the dishwasher unless it is full. I use mine loads. I am sure there is an argument that it uses less energy to wash dishes by hand, but ours never runs unless it is full up and saves me lots of time. I can’t afford to buy another one if this one breaks down, so at that point I will revert back to handwashing. Check.
5) Go round the house and turn off everything at the plug that is left on standby. Culprits in my house are the Wii, the TV (which has no off button – go figure!!) and the DVD player. This we need to work on.
6) When you use the kettle, only boil the water you need. I do this, but need to train the troops!
7) Buy energy saving appliances. This is tricky if you have to buy second-hand, but not impossible if you do some research in advance. The last appliance I purchased was a large fridge freezer which is triple A rated for energy efficiency. This is worthwhile as it is on all the time! Check
8) Check the Internet to see if you can find a better deal on your energy provider and if you can fix your tariff. I recommend starting at MoneySavingExpert.com, which will help you avoid the pitfalls. Check
9)Train your family to turn off lights, TVs, etc behind them! Check
10) Turn off laptops and PCs when they aren’t in use. Darling daughters, read and take note!
11) Have a shower rather than a bath – it will use a lot less hot water, which means you can adjust your timer and heat the boiler for less time. We are having more showers now, but I think I could heat the boiler for less time. I will adjust!
12) You could also consider turning down the water temperature by adjusting the thermostat on your boiler. I did this by 1 degree and nobody noticed the difference. Check.
13) Turn down your general thermostat to no more that 21 degrees. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that just one degree lower could save £65 a year. Mine is at 20 degrees.
14) If you are lucky enough to have a spare room, turn off the radiator when you have no guests and close the door. No unused rooms here
15) Insulate your loft and wall cavities. I had mine done for free with British Gas. Check with your energy supplier to see what they offer. If you are in receipt of certain benefits you may be entitled to insulation and a new boiler, even if you don’t own your property. MoneySavingExpert.com has very good information on this. Check
16) Use draught excluders at the bottom of your doors and fit extra linings to your curtains. I need a thick curtain at my front door.
17) Consider fitting reflective radiator foil behind your radiators. This costs £7 for a 500mm by 5 metre roll at B&Q. I need to do this!
18) If you have your oven on, can you cook something else at the same time? How about flapjacks for the lunchboxes whilst you are doing tonight’s stew? Check

Good sites to look at for advice on this:

Energysavingtrust.org.uk, moneysavingexpert.com, BritishGas.co.uk (and your energy provider’s website)

Second Hand Rose

I found myself looking at my outfit this morning and humming this to myself….I was wearing a skirt from a boot sale (£1), a top from Ebay (£2.50), a pair of boots, again fittingly from a boot sale (£3), a cardigan from the charity shop (£2) and my daughter’s old black coat (not trendy enough for her!!). My underwear was new to me once. I draw the line at second hand knickers, but would wear a second hand bra if it was in good condition. So, for the princely sum of £8.50 I was ready for the office, and I really don’t think my colleagues would have guessed (in fact I got 4 compliments on the top!).

When you know you can buy decent quality clothes in pretty good condition for a few pounds, it becomes difficult to justify £20 or £30 on a single new item, especially when you are strapped for cash.

Dress 2

The pix don’t really do it justice…it is a fab deep blue long velvet dress with a cowl neck

DressI think it is in my genes, as my mother is Queen of the Boot Sale and, as a pensioner, rarely buys any clothing from new. It becomes an adventure to see what you can find. I regularly come across great quality brands in the styles I like for just a few pounds – Per Una, Laura Ashley and Monsoon, to name a few.

By buying second-hand clothes, not only do you kit yourself and your kids out for next to nothing, you are recycling, supporting charities, or helping other cash strapped people by buying their unwanted stuff. Everyone’s a winner.

I would rather wear rags than rack up more debt, but fortunately I don’t have to. I am committed to being as frugal as possible in order to pay off my credit card and make my mortgage payments every month, so buying lots of new clothes is out of the question.

My most recent bargain was a beautiful blue velvet cowl necked dress, originally from Dorothy Perkins. I got it in the local hospice shop, reduced from £6.75 to £3.50. I am hoping for some invitations to a few Christmas parties to give me the opportunity to wear it now – what do you think? What have been your best clothing bargains?

Personal Grooming on a Budget

I should begin by saying that I am a low maintenance kind of girl. I don’t have time to spend an hour getting ready in the morning and I don’t have the money to splash the cash on loads of expensive products. However, I do like to wear makeup every day, look after my skin, get my hair styled every now and again and keep the grey hair at bay.

I am not convinced by so-called miracle products that claim to banish wrinkles and make you 10 years younger. In my experience, at the grand old age of 50, the people who look youngest for longest are the ones with good genes, who don’t spend hours in the sun and who don’t smoke. I can tell a smoker by the wrinkles around the mouth and the leathery skin of the long term sun worshipper is a dead giveaway. I have always used a moisturiser, but I have never noticed any difference between the effectiveness of my £1.99 night cream from Aldi (brilliant stuff for my dry skin) and the £30 pot with a lot of fancy packaging and a mega advertising budget.

I also use a nice hand and body lotion from Aldi and their cotton pads are very reasonable. I buy a large bottle of cleanser from the nearby hair and beauty cash and carry every 3 months or so for £8 and we all use it so it’s worth dropping in if I’m passing. Sometimes I buy their very large hairdresser’s bottles of shampoo and conditioner for around £15, which last ages. Other times I go to my local Home Bargains and buy whichever branded shampoos are on offer, plus razors (we all use men’s disposables, but rinse and dry them after use and they last ages), soap, etc.

I colour my own hair once a month or so. This costs me about £3, as I buy a packet of dye, mix up half in my little mixer bowl that I got for the purpose and just brush it onto my roots. The other half is fine until the next month as long as you don’t mix it up. I get a cut and blow-dry every couple of months, but try to find a salon with a junior to do this. My last cut cost me £10! When I worked part time I used to use the local college, which was even cheaper. I found that because they were learning they were very careful, and the tutors checked everything to make sure I got a good cut.

I spend a lot of time in the garden so I don’t bother paying for expensive manicures or false nails – they would be destroyed! Once a week I give myself a manicure and, because I have brittle nails that break easily, treat myself to a bottle of Sally Hanson nail hardener, which works a treat.

If you can’t live without your waxing, highlights, massage, false nails and eyelashes or reflexology treatments, check out the local college – if they have a hair and beauty course they need guinea pigs and will offer treatments for a few pounds. They may take longer than usual but in my experience try very hard to do a good job and are a real bargain.

Most of all, if you really want to save money, stop buying the glamour magazines! They are hugely expensive and mostly full of glossy adverts and articles trying to convince you that you have to spend £50 on a lipstick in this season’s colour, which really isn’t very different to last season’s colour and you could probably buy a similar one in the supermarket for a fiver. Don’t believe the ad men. They want your money!!