Just another savvy Sunday

Last week went past in a flash. I didn’t have time for much at all, let alone spending any money. My no spend January continues to go well! This morning I have been considering the frugal things I have done for this savvy Sunday round up. So what have we achieved this week?

Hunkering down

savvy SundayThe weather has been so grim and cold, with more freezing weather forecast. I hate it! We have been wearing lots of layers. It can feel very chilly in the mornings at home, but by the time I have rushed around like a lunatic to get to work I start to heat up. So, the layers come off!

The wood burner has come into its own this winter. It is so cosy; we absolutely love it. As the lodger has been away we haven’t been heating the house as much. Instead we have snuggled in front of the fire. I have a couple of throws on the chair too if it feels really cold.

I have been pulling the curtains as soon as I can to help keep the heat in. This really works. It should all save money on our heating bills. This savvy Sunday will be mainly spent keeping warm!

Being a model for the day (and making extra cash)

Savvy Sunday One of the more unusual ways I have found to make extra cash it to get featured in the newspapers. Journalists are frequently on the look out for interviewees for stories and will pay you if you are chosen. I saw a request on a Facebook group I belong to looking for women who have suddenly developed allergies in later life. There is apparently some evidence to suggest that the menopause may be responsible. I blame hormones for pretty much anything so I applied.

I did a half hour interview in my lunch break with a very nice journalist from the Daily Mail. Yesterday morning she sent a make up artist and a photographer round for a photoshoot. It was really quite exciting. I felt like a celebrity!

Mike the photographer was telling me about all of the famous people he had photographed. Helen Mirren, David Attenborough, FW Declerk and, the highlight of his career, me!

The fee for this will go straight into my contingency fund. If you read my post from the other day you will know that increasing this is one of our goals for 2018.

A super low grocery spend

I have spent hardly anything this week on groceries, just a small shop in Aldi last week of about £23. A replenishment of the stocks is needed, but I will wait until Monday. I want to see if there are any bargains on Approved Food first and maybe stock up on things like casserole sauces, pasta, rice, etc. They are ridiculously cheap, just because they are near or past their best before date. Everything is all still safe to eat! (This is my refer a friend code, so if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a credit to spend.)

I had a quick look earlier and they had three cans of Ambrosia custard for 99p. Mr S loves this! Be careful if you are watching your weight though as you have to wade through lots of tempting chocolate and snacks to find the basic groceries. New customers currently get free delivery on orders over £55.

Selling on eBay

I was surprised to find that have I sold quite a few of my listed items this week. I thought people would be too broke, but it seems they still have an eye for a bargain.

Although it is quite hard work to list a lot of things on eBay, it is handy extra money. If you are interested in trying to sell on eBay I have this guide. I also recently published a post on how to find bargains on eBay for those of you not on a no spend month!

As promised, this extra cash has also gone into the contingency fund.

Selling on Ziffit

Regular readers will know that I have been having a good declutter and have cleared out a load of our books and DVDs. I started to get prices for some of them on Ziffit yesterday and will make this a proper savvy Sunday by finishing them. I think I will make about £50!

It is very easy to use Ziffit, although the items do need to be in good condition. Some items were rejected, so I will donate those to the charity shop.

I am happy with the way my month is going. We are spending very little, saving on our household bills and managing to make a little extra money as well. So that is my savvy Sunday. How is yours?

 

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Loyalty cards – are they worth it?

Loyalty cardsMy purse is absolutely jam packed with cards. Credit and debit cards, membership cards to various organisations, my library card, but mostly ridiculous numbers of loyalty cards! It is just as well I don’t carry much cash, because there is very little space left for that.

As I only use about 4 of my loyalty cards, I am planning a cull. I need to decide which ones have the best benefits and which are worth keeping. Are loyalty cards worth the bother?

My most used loyalty cards

Boots Advantage card

My Boots Advantage card has to be my favourite. I like the shop and can easily pop in on my way home from work as we have a large out of town one. It seems quite generous too, giving 4 points (effectively 1p) for each £1 spent. Generally I save my points up for Christmas or the post Christmas sales.

However, I am aware that sometimes I can buy a product cheaper somewhere like Superdrug or at Sainsbury’s, which is also on my way home. I might not get the points, but saving money on my purchases comes first.

I look out for my double points vouchers and keep them in my purse. It is also worth making a note of mega points weekends. If I know one is coming up I will hang off buying regular purchases such as vitamins.

Tesco Club Card

I barely shop in Tesco’s as I prefer Aldi and Lidl. However, I keep my loyalty card because I sometimes pop into the Tesco petrol station near me. I also have my mobile phone deal with Tesco so earn points on that.

Tesco has always offered great deals when redeeming your points. They are worth a whole lot more if you spend them on a Club Card Boost deal rather than in store. We tend to mostly use ours for cinema tickets, but there are some excellent offers on restaurants, days out, etc – even on breakdown cover.

This loyalty card is worth having, but I wouldn’t shop in Tesco just for the  points as I save more money overall in the discount supermarkets.

Sainsbury’s Nectar card

I used to save up my Nectar points for my Christmas shop. Now I have my Nectar account linked to my eBay account, so I can convert my points into a voucher to spend on eBay.  This works for me, as I use eBay a lot, but, like the Tesco Clubcard, you can use your points to purchase all kinds of products and experiences. I also stop at Sainsbury’s for petrol and collect points that way.

Coop Card

We have a small Coop round the corner that is really handy when we run out of something like milk, so we use it quite a bit. However, I wouldn’t do my main shop in a Coop store. I love the ethos of the organisation, but the big supermarket near me is expensive and the fruit and vegetables aren’t great quality some of the time.

We all use the small local store often enough to receive a decent annual dividend though – usually around £20 at least. This card is worth keeping.

The thing that annoys me about the Coop is that we have two different organisations covering our town, and you can’t use one card in the other. Not very joined up!

And the rest

Also in my purse I have cards from Iceland, Superdrug, the Body Shop, Pets at Home, Holland and Barrett and the Wyevale Gardening Club. The latter is the only one I use. I am going to dispense with the others!

What’s the point?

The point of loyalty cards is, obviously, to promote your loyalty and get you to keep shopping in a particular store. But retailers don’t lose out or give you something for nothing. I am quite sure they build the cost of their loyalty cards into their general prices! This is why shops like Aldi and Lidl don’t bother with them. They focus on keeping their prices low. But if you are going to use the shops anyway, you may as well collect the points.

It has been worth collecting my points throughout the year on some of my loyalty cards, but to be honest I have earned more money using cash back sites in the past 4 months than I have the whole year on the cards! Over £100 on Top Cashback and £50 on Quidco.

I always check them to see if they have any cash back offers before buying anything online. At the moment Top Cashback has a great deal for new members. If you purchase a makeup palette from Superdrug you get a full cashback of £13, effectively getting the palette free. This could be another Christmas present off your list. (This is my tell a friend link).

What about you? I would be interested to know which are your favourite loyalty cards and how you spend your points. Do you use cashback sites or do you find it all too much trouble?

 

Five frugal things: Finding ways to save and make money

Five frugal things. Ways to make and save moneyIt has been a while since I took part in this ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. However, the thrift and frugality continues! For those of you who don’t know, every now and again I team up with some other bloggers to share our five frugal achievements for the week.  I have been looking at ways to save and make money. 2.I’m linking up with this Cass, Emma and Becky .

1. Selling our old clothes

I have finally started listing two huge bags of clothes that have been sitting around for several weeks. It has gone rather quiet on the eBay sales so I haven’t felt motivated, but I need to get it all out of the way. As Christmas approaches, I am looking even more closely at ways to save and make money. I am also having a good declutter. An awful lot has been going to the charity shop, but I will sell the better items. How about you?

2. Ziffit

As well as selling my old clothes, I am having a clear out of loads of DVDs that nobody ever watches, plus some books, via Ziffit.com. We are going to redecorate the sitting room in the new year and we don’t need any excess clutter.

If you have never used Ziffit, it is really easy. You just input the barcode of the item you want to sell and Ziffit gives you a value. I am maximising this by going via Top Cashback, which is currently paying 10.5% commission*.

The downside of Ziffit is that they don’t want items that are quite common. This means that you might input a lot of bar codes but have quite a few rejected. You also need to be sure they are in great condition or they won’t pay you plus their terms and conditions say they do not need to return the rejected items.

I was frustrated at how few of my DVDs were accepted but pleasantly surprised at the price offered for some old books. £5.49 for one of them!

3. Freebies

Save and make money. Photo of a free pot of moisturiserMy latest freebie from the Savvy Circle is some Olay moisturiser.  It is actually rather nice. I usually use a mega cheap pot from Aldi. This does the job of keeping my skin moisturised perfectly well and is a steal at £1.99. However, I have to admit the Olay one smells nicer.

If you want to take part in the Savvy Circle and try new products for free you can sign up here.

4. Black Friday

I don’t often join the mad scramble for bargains on Black Friday. I am sure it is all a huge marketing ploy to make us all spend more. However, I really want a new laptop. I have an old one that used to belong to my daughter. It is frustratingly slow and unreliable.

I am on the lookout now to see if any of the models I fancy are discounted anywhere. Mr S is buying me this for Christmas, which will show those Daily Mail readers that we aren’t as mean as they think!

I am also tempted by a few items on Everything5pounds.com*. I buy most of my work clothes from them now as they are such good value. I have yet to be unhappy with anything so far. They are always cheap but for Black Friday they have a buy five tens and get the sixth free. 

Six items for £25 plus postage! You would struggle to get one thing for that in many stores. 

5. Thrift soup

Thrift soup. Ways to save and make moneyI fancied something warming for lunch rather than salads all week. I have been eating a lot of raw food in my bid to eat more fruit and vegetables and be generally healthier. So, I made a big pot of what I like to call thrift soup. It involves some good vegetable stock and whatever you have in the fridge. In my case this was celery, carrots, potatoes, frozen peas and spinach, some home grown courgettes, also from the freezer, half a can of sweet corn that needed using and some of my huge pot of Marigold stock. I fried up all the veg in some oil, added the stock to cover, plus a bit more on top, and simmered it all for about half an hour. To make it slightly creamy I added some parsley sauce that we had with dinner the night before. It was lovely and the day after it was even better. I love a bit of soup.

So these are this week’s five frugal things. What have you done to save and make money?

Ecothrifty post

I wrote a guest post for Zoe at EcoThrifty.com this week on cheap, eco friendly things to do with your children. It got mentioned on Twitter by  the Joshua Paul Show, which has 137.5k followers! We were pretty happy about that. You can read the post here.

Whatever you have been up to this week, thrifty or otherwise, I hope you have had a good one. Here’s to a frugal weekend!

*Disclaimer: These are my affiliate links. If you sign up to a deal it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission.

 

The joys of a well stocked larder

Taking stock

Looking at our stocks of food, I won’t need to do a shop this week. I always keep basic supplies in so that I can throw a nutritious dinner together, from cans and frozen items if necessary. In addition, I stock up when I see these basics on offer. In fact, I have loads of fresh stuff too. It is almost impossible to run out of food at this time of year. We are still harvesting from the veg patch. We have a lot of courgettes, runner beans, spinach, chard, tomatoes and cucumber, with pumpkins on the way. The soft fruit is finished and has been frozen. The freezer is also packed with home made soup, frozen courgettes and runner beans, some chicken, fish and mince.

Saving money

Amongst the stocks in the cupboards I have tins of tomatoes, tuna, sweet corn, pulses and soup. I also have flour, potatoes, onions, celery, cheese and tons of milk. Lactofree milk was on offer so I stocked up. Every now and again I look on Approved Food to see if there are some good basics to buy. I like to have some casserole and Bolognese sauces in for those lazy nights when I can’t be bothered to cook. If I see those I will buy several jars, which keep us going for ages. I don’t need anything from Approved Food at the moment, although they do seem to have some amazing bargains on there. I am quite tempted to get some of the Christmas stuff and gifts.

Having a well stocked larder is all well and good, but I don’t want my food supplies sitting around for ages,. To avoid this, every now and again I plan meals around what we have and eat from the stores. I top up with items like fresh fruit, milk, bread and cheese if we need them.  This week I barely need to purchase anything at all!

Tonight I will sit down and do a meal plan, using up all of the ingredients with the shortest use by date first. This way I won’t waste anything and can stretch my provisions for as long as possible.

The benefits of the well stocked larder

Buying food on offer or in bulk from the supermarket or places like Approved Food, growing our own, doing a regular stock take and careful meal planning all help to save money. Sometimes I don’t have the time or the inclination to shop, and with a well stocked larder I don’t have to. If I feel tired or unwell I will always be able to rustle up a quick, nutritious meal and won’t be tempted by a takeaway. If you live in a remote area, having a well stocked larder means fewer long trips to the supermarket. Stocking up makes sense for anyone trying to save money, since the less you go the less you are tempted by stuff you really don’t need.

Do you keep a well stocked larder or do you buy food as you need it?

 

This week’s frugality

Frugality 1

frugality

First of all, I really hope you like the refreshed and revamped redesign of Shoestring Cottage. I did not employ a web designer at great expense and it was the epitome of frugality.

I ordered a logo for just £5 from FiveSquid.com and got the lettering from there. This is so ridiculously cheap for the service on offer and I recommend it. We thought it looked a bit plain so Mr S added a cottage and a flower. I should have just got him to do it on the first place as he never charges!

Frugality 2

frugalityThe garden is still providing is with lots of free food. This week the grapes have ripened to perfection. However, when our lodger moved out she left behind a juicer. We tried it on the grapes and it is brilliant, if a bit fiddly to clean. So we have delicious fresh grape juice in the fridge for nothing.

Frugality 3: Frozen produce

I have been putting all of the excess home grown produce in my big freezer, so the garden will continue to feed us throughout the autumn and winter. We have blackberries, plums, greengages, courgettes, runner beans and lots of home-made soup in there. I made two sorts at the weekend: fresh tomato and courgette. 

frugalityI had a near disaster though. A lead from the iron got stuck in the freezer door. Nobody noticed until it began to make a very loud noise. The contents hadn’t defrosted thankfully but they were getting soft around the edges. We got all of the meat out and cooked it as I didn’t want to risk any of that, but squeezed the fruit and vegetables into the little freezer. Fortunately, the big freezer isn’t broken. I turned it off and defrosted it, and it is back to full working order now. Phew!

Frugality 4: saving money on TV and broadband

One of my aims for this month is to cancel my TV contract and organise a broadband only deal. We had intended to buy a new Humax Freeview box. However, I have found two second hand! One from eBay and the other from Facebook Marketplace. I hope they work. We will have one downstairs and the other in our bedroom.

Frugality 4: Looking smart for the SHOMOs

I have mentioned a few times that Shoestring Cottage has been nominated in the thrift and frugality category at the SHOMO Awards. I will be attending this event in London at the end of the month and I am so excited to meet some fellow bloggers! But what to wear? I am not one for dressing up, but thought I should make a bit of an effort. I looked on eBay and found a beautiful Phase Eight silk skirt in excellent condition for just £15. This is a brand I really like, so I was dead chuffed. I just need to work out what to wear with it now.

 Frugality 5: Luxury champagne afternoon tea

frugalityI hesitate to put this under a frugality heading. However, it didn’t cost us anything, so maybe! Mr S was given a gift voucher for a champagne afternoon tea at a beautiful hotel and restaurant in Colchester called Greyfriars. We booked it for Sunday. It was really special, absolutely first rate, quality food, service and surroundings. What a treat! It felt particularly poignant as I actually used to teach yoga in the same building – it was once a local authority adult learning college. This is where I met Mr S – he was one of my first students! It has been completely transformed since it was a creaky and draughty government building and is now the height of luxury.  We had a lovely afternoon.

Five Frugal Things 26th August 

I have had the busiest of weeks. Very productive, though – I have done loads! Sometimes life is like that. I am sure I have managed five frugal things and more. Here are my top frugal achievements.

1. Website of the week

Website of the weekI suppose you could argue that this wasn’t really an example of frugality, but it did showcase our thrifty lifestyle. I was in the Sun newspaper! Shoestring Cottage was Mrs Crunch’s website of the week. I was really chuffed about this. I never thought I would be featured in a national newspaper.

I was also recently featured on a lovely blog, a Beautiful Space. You can check that out here.

2. Hosted a frugal party

five frugal thingsWe had a gathering of the clans yesterday – a lovely sunny party in the garden. It was a lot of work as there were 20 of us. How do you host such a party without breaking the bank? Fortunately my family made some contributions of cakes, a sausage plait and a home made coleslaw, plus everyone brought drinks.

I went to Aldi for almost all my ingredients and used a lot of garden produce as well. A huge moussaka, courgette and tomato bake, quiches and various salads all went down well with the hungry hoards. I bought beer and prosecco from Aldi too, as the prices are so good in there.

It was a fabulous day and so nice to catch up with everybody.

3. A bit of DIY

I have been meaning to spruce up the lodger’s room before the new one arrives. The garden has taken up so much of my spare time I hadn’t had a chance. So I took the day off work on Wednesday and painted all the woodwork. I still have to emulsion the walls some time but it already looks so much brighter. A can of one coat gloss cost just £15 in Homebase and there is still loads left. You don’t have to spend much to smarten up a room.

4. Another Aldi bargain

Darling daughter and I are both lactose intolerant and usually drink Lactofree milk. This costs anywhere between £1.35 and £1.55 a litre, although I sometimes find it on offer for £1 and stock up.

I was really happy to hear that Aldi now sell a version. It is only £1.15, which is a great price. I know where I will be buying this from now on. I won’t have to go hunting for the nearest place where I don’t have to take out a mortgage to buy the stuff!

Food intolerances can be expensive. At least we don’t have to eat gluten free as on of my guests did yesterday.

5. Using up the veg

five frugal thingsWe had so much veg in the house I made a cheap and extremely easy vegetable bake. I sautéed  some courgettes and celery, then added cooked potatoes, sweet corn and carrots. Finally,  I smothered it all in a cheese sauce and topped it with tomatoes and more grated cheese. Then I baked it for about half an hour and it was delicious with some crusty bread and home grown runner beans.

I love this kind of easy, thrifty dinner, which often makes it onto my five frugal things list.  I made enough for two meals. We had it the following evening with some bakes chicken.

I also froze the excess runner beans, which are now arriving at an alarming pace! It is great to think we will still be eating our own produce as we move towards winter.

All in all, a satisfying week and it was easy to achieve my five frugal things. What have your frugal achievements been this week? Let me know in the comments.

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. You can hop on over to their blogs to get some more frugal inspiration.

Grocery challenge update: How low can you go?

grocery challengeRegular readers will be aware that we have been on a £35 per week grocery challenge. For the whole of August we have been saving money at Shoestring Cottage by keeping our food bill as low as possible.

If you need to make some quick savings – if you have an unexpected bill, for example –  try reducing your food budget. A grocery challenge is a great place to start.

How low did we go?

grocery challengeDid we stick to our reduced budget? Yes, pretty much. We have been under some weeks and over on others but so far we have spent just £150 on food for the three of us. This works out at around £37.60 a week. We still have a week to go as August is almost a five week month. We have plenty of food in the house so should be able to keep to about £25 for this week’s shop. How did we achieve this?

Meal planning

Every week I check the cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what we already have. I then make a meal plan for the week ahead. If there is something that needs using up I incorporate that into my plan.

I check to see what is available on the veggie patch and include that too.

I work full time so I don’t have time for fussy food. Dishes that are fast, tasty, cheap and nutritious are required. We are fortunate at this time of year to have a lot of fresh produce from the garden, which helps a lot as it is more or less free food!

Did we live on pasta?

grocery challengeOf course we didn’t! We ate dishes like roast chicken and ratatouille, cheesy vegetable hash, sausages and mash, spinach frittata and courgette and tomato eggy bake. We took leftovers for work lunches or home made soup. Breakfast was usually porridge and fruit. When I am stuck for inspiration, I search through my frugal recipes.

Were there any exceptions?

The challenge excluded household items like toilet roll and cleaning supplies. We also had a burger out when we went to festival and a family party that was from a separate budget. Our challenge didn’t preclude the odd bit of spending on fun.

This grocery challenge has been an interesting experience and a great discipline. I am pretty frugal most of the time anyway, but will loosen my purse strings a bit when we hit the end of the month.

Has anyone else tried a grocery challenge? How do you save money on food?

A weekend of thrifty living and saving money

We have had a good weekend here at Shoestring Cottage. I really feel we have achieved something! We continue with our thrifty living adventures.

A new tenant

One of my aims for this month was to get a new lodger sorted. I paid a few pounds to Spare Room to have a bold advert and I’m glad I did. We have had lots more interest than last time. Yesterday I spoke to a young lady who is studying abroad but is coming to Colchester to do her masters. She seems very nice and has decided to take the room from October. This gives us time to get in once our current lodger has gone and spruce it up a bit.

Free food

thrifty livingWe have been picking blackberries. There are always tons in the car park at our local post office. No one ever seems to harvest them. We checked it was ok to have some and picked 4lbs of lovely ripe fruit.

They are already in the freezer. I will use them puréed in porridge or made into pies and crumbles over the winter.

Yellow stickers

thrifty livingDarling daughter has got lucky a few times hunting for yellow stickered food recently. She arrived just at the right time in Asda on Saturday evening and got loads of items reduced to 10p. I really must make a more concerted effort to hunt out reduced food. This will help my £35 a week grocery challenge!

Home grown

thrifty livingOn the veggie patch, the courgettes have started to slow down but are still arriving. We had our first ripe tomatoes on Saturday and there are still tons of cucumbers. These are so easy to grow if you have a greenhouse. Ours came from eBay a few years ago and cost £85 secondhand. It was a good investment.

We also have tons of runner beans, spinach and chard and some chilli peppers. I am really pleased that our apple trees look like producing their first decent crop this year too. They will go well with our foraged blackberries! We have a young plum tree too but only a couple of plums on there so far.

Seeds for free!

thrfty livinigWe did loads of much needed tidying in the garden yesterday. I am really pleased with how it is looking. It never ends though and there is still plenty to do.

I collected some seed heads from our hollyhocks and foxgloves and put them in an envelope, as instructed by Monty Don on Gardener’s World. Free seeds for next year! I love the cottage garden feel those plants give.

DIY hair cutting: the ultimate in thrifty living

thrifty livingI did some more DIY hair cutting at the weekend, just trimming the fringe and layers. I do still go to the hairdresser but a lot less frequently now that I know I can tidy it up myself between cuts.

It looks pretty ok I reckon. I do need to learn not to cut my layers quite so blunt though. Maybe I will have a look at purchasing some layering scissors with my Boots points.

I am happy with our good weekend of money saving and thrifty living. Was yours a frugal weekend?

Fabulous Frugal Friday

Welcome to Frugal Friday, where I sum up my week.

Grocery challenge

I am continuing on my £35 a week grocery challenge. Week 1 we came in under target at £27.86. This week I have gone a bit over. This is because I sent darling daughter to do the shopping! She spent £41. Never mind, we are winning overall so far. We also have two meals worth of meat to take us forward into next week so I will put off shopping again until Monday rather than tonight. A really Frugal Friday!

The Lodger hunt

I have had one potential lodger visit this week and another had a virtual tour of the house from her base in Germany. I really liked the second one. She has a couple of other places to look at closer to where she really wants to be, so not sure whether she will come to us. I have another foreign student calling tomorrow and another local lady coming on Tuesday. I have had quite a lot of interest, but students don’t realise how far we actually are from the university (5 miles) so this has put some people off. We would suit someone just working in town, ten minutes away.

Feedspot Top 100 Frugal Blogger

I was pleasantly surprised today to receive an email telling me I was no. 53 in the Feedspot list of Top 100 Frugal Blogs on the internet. I don’t even remember submitting my blog for consideration but I guess I must have! There are some brilliant blogs on the list. A lot are American, but they look very interesting. You can sign up for Feedspot here.

Frugal food

I have been cooking a lot of cheap and easy meals this week.  For example, we have had tuna pasta bake, cheesy spinach frittata, Spanish chicken in rice (using a jar I found lurking at the back of the cupboard. Lidl’s own and very tasty) and  vegetable pilaff, I have used a lot of veg from the garden, including in courgette soup, which I have had for my lunch most days at work. We have eaten very little meat, which definitely helps us stick to the budget. I do have sausages and burgers to take into next week so hope to keep below budget on the grocery challenge.

I mentioned in my August monthly goals post that I was hoping to increase my following on Twitter (@shoestringjane), Instagram (@shoestringcottage) and Facebook. Well, I have a bit this week. Thank you if you are one of those who followed me.

We have very little planned this weekend as the rest of the month will be super busy. I am hoping for a bit of nice weather for some gardening and to perhaps get to a boot sale. How are you doing this frugal Friday and how has your week been?

Grocery challenge update: still saving money

grocery challengeLast Friday, because it was pay day for me, I kicked off a grocery challenge. A whole month of shopping on a budget of just £35 a week to feed three of us.

I was pleased that some of you here and on Instagram and Twitter decided to join in, setting your shopping budget  lower than usual to help save a few pounds.

So how is your grocery challenge going?

I have found week one to be very easy. My spending has looked like this:

Initial Lidl shop £16.35

Weekend top up £5.62

Milk top up (Lactofree), £3

Urge for chocolate and junk (will explain later) £3.89

Total: £27.86

Week one was always going to be the easiest week as we still have plenty of basics. As we use those up we are likely to spend more. We also have produce in the garden, so in that sense the summer months are the best time to do a grocery challenge.

However, If you have school age children starting a grocery challenge in the school holidays could be tricky. Mine were like maurauding plagues of hungry locusts at the best of times! At home all day in the holidays? Well…I would love to know how you manage this.

I am going to plan next week’s meals  and go to Lidl tonight for next week’s instalment of the grocery challenge

Sad times

It has been a tough week. Work has been particularly busy and stressful. On top of that, my old cat, Vera, suddenly took ill on Monday.  She stopped eating, hid under the bed and, the worst, started having violent seizures. By Thursday we knew we had to let her go. The vet did blood tests and her kidneys and various other parts of her were shutting down. We had her put to sleep and stayed with her until the end. Then we took her home and buried her under the apple tree. Sad days. RIP Vera. We miss our little companion, who was usually snuggling between Mr S and I when we settled down on the sofa.

This is why I don’t feel bad for the chocolate binge. I was comfort eating! This week I will build a few more treats in.

I hope you had a better week. If you are joining in, how is it going? It isn’t too late, if you want to take part. Let me  know in the comments what budget you are setting and how you get on.

This month’s grocery challenge: eating on a budget

Grocery challengeAre you spending too much on food? Do you set a budget? When you need to start cutting back on your living expenses your food shop can be an easy place to start. How about a grocery challenge?

I love a grocery challenge – I set myself a lower than usual budget and use every means to stick to it. Using up what I have in the cupboards, the fridge, the freezer and the garden, I am confident we can eat well and healthily for just £35 per week for the three of us. I am not including cat food, cleaning products or toiletries in this budget, although I intend to keep spending on everything else to a minimum too.

Friday was my start day as that is payday for me, and I will continue through until 23rd August. So that is 4.5 weeks of food for around £155. Can I stick with my grocery challenge? We shall see!

Although it helps that we have some produce in the garden,  I don’t want every meal to be based around courgettes. I love them but there are limits! Most people won’t have home grown produce available, but it is still possible to eat cheaply. If you have a bit of garden and spare time, I really recommend growing a few bits. It is cheap and pretty easy to do.

Essential steps on your grocery challenge

The first thing to do when you are setting yourself a grocery challenge is to audit your food stores.  We have plenty of rice, pasta, tins of tomatoes, cereal, veg (fresh and frozen), tinned tuna, etc.

The next step is to plan meals for at least a week. I find this is long enough, but I know people who plan the whole month in one go. Aim to use as many of your stores as you can. This focusses your attention on those unused and unloved ingredients that have been hanging around a while. Set yourself a challenge to find a recipe that will use a can of coconut milk or bag of walnuts, for example. I write a detailed plan for dinners but lunches and breakfasts are a little more fluid. We tend to eat porridge and raisins, or fruit and yogurt for breakfast with sandwiches, salads of soups for lunch. I also build in a few snacks. If not, I risk breaking the budget by going to the machine at work for chocolate or the expensive corner shop for crisps and wine!

Finally, write a shopping list. Think about where you need to go to get the best deals on the food on your list. I do the bulk of my shopping in Lidl or Aldi and pop to Asda or Sainsbury’s for the cat food and Lactofree milk.  The latter can be expensive, varying from £1 a litre when it is on special offer up to around £1.50, depending on where I buy it. As I want to stick to my challenge I will check online to find the cheapest price for this before heading out to buy it. I will also water it down a bit as my daughter guzzles it!

Other ways to save money

If you really want to save money, forget expensive branded items, at least for the duration of the challenge. You don’t have to buy the cheapest, but supermarket own brands are usually pretty good.

I mentioned we grow some of our own food. We also have gluts so are happy to give the excess away. If you have friends who have a veggie patch or an allotment you are likely to find they are willing to do the same. You could offer to do a bit of weeding in exchange! We don’t grow apricots but were lucky enough to be given a load the other day. I stewed half for puddings all week and put the rest in the freezer for later.

If you can easily get to a supermarket later in the day you can find some good yellow sticker bargains from time to time. Only buy what you know you can eat quickly or freeze. If you get a real bargain be prepared to change your meal plan to fit it in.

Think about doing some batch cooking. I will be making a large pot of ratatouille and another of courgette soup. The ratatouille will be a meal with some brown rice and cheese one night, and an accompaniment to meat another night. The soup will be good for lunches and I will freeze some for next week too.

We aren’t vegetarians, but will definitely be eating some meat free meals to save money.  I also bought a pack of bacon lardons in Lidl, which will be good for adding a little meaty flavour to a couple of meals.

Grocery Challenge Meal Plan

This week’s meal plan is as follows:

Friday:  Risotto made with vegetables and lardons

Saturday: courgette stuffed with turkey mince and mini roasties

Sunday: Chicken casserole, rice and vegetables

Monday: Cheese omelette with home made chips and salad

Tuesday: Ratatouille with rice and cheese

Wednesday: Fish in breadcrumbs, potatoes and vegetables

Thursday: Tuna pasta bake with vegetables

Do you want to join me on my grocery challenge? If so, what figure will you set for your weekly budget? Do you have ideas for some meals to use up the food you have in the stores?

 

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. 

No spend January 

I am avoiding the sales as there is so much I want to buy that I can’t afford. In an ideal world there would be enough left in the pot to take advantage of some bargains but there isn’t. The only exception will be Boots. I have a £25 voucher from Father Christmas so might take a peek at their reduced gift sets before the New Year. If there is nothing I fancy I will save it for toiletries and makeup as I need them. In the past I have bought Christmas cards, wrap and crackers at this time but I still have plenty to use for next year. 

To get the bank balance back in shape I am giving up spending  for a month on anything except food and essentials. No more snacking at work or sneaky coffees in town,  impulse buying books or any of the other things that can catch me out.

I would avoid town all together but have to go in on Friday to see the optician and change a jumper I bought for Mr S that doesn’t quite fit. So it will be in, parked and straight out again 😀.

The other weakness I have is for charity shops. Even if I go in with donated items I often can’t resist coming out with more stuff I probably don’t need. What are your weaknesses when it comes to spending? Anyone care to join me on my no spend month?

Unnecessary products

I just caught the very end of Supershoppers on Channel 4, where they promised to investigate cellulite vanishing tights next week. As if tights are going to get rid of your cellulite! It got me thinking about other totally pointless or at least unnecessary products. You may as well pop a fiver in the till and leave them on the counter for all the good they will do you.

Large companies employ clever  marketing teams and spend big bucks devising new products to persuade us to part with our cash. They are so good at this that soon we believe the hype and forget we ever lived  without them!

This list is just my opinion. You may well disagree or you might want to add some. 

Air freshners. They don’t and can’t create fresh air.  Open the window.

Tumble dryer sheets. Uh?

Shower gel – what’s wrong with soap?

Diet meals. Make your own low fat dinners.

Pills that claim to burn fat. Sorry. Don’t believe it!

Body firming lotions and bust lifters – unless they are made at Hogwarts 

Separate cleaners for your kitchen and bathroom. Ditto shower and oven cleaners. One multi surface cleaner will do the lot (or some bicarbonate of soda on a sponge)

Hand sanitiser (unless you are in hospital). Wash your hands with soap

Hand wash ( as above)

My daughters will disagree with this no doubt, but … skin primer? You put it on under your foundation to keep the foundation on, then put powder on top to keep the primer and foundation on ….! You will have more layers than an onion if you’re not careful.

Separate hand and foot creams

Fit Bits. If you didn’t exercise before I bet you don’t suddenly become an athlete just because you are wearing one.

Cellulite creams. They don’t work any more than the cellulite vanishing tights 

Any moisturiser that claims to lift your skin and diminish wrinkles. (Or do anything other than moisturise.)

Neck cream. It’s still skin,right? You can use whatever you put on your face!

Stretch mark creams. I tried these when I was pregnant and afterwards too and came to the conclusion that they don’t work. The only thing that reduced my stretch marks was time.

Which products do you consider a pointless waste of money?

My ten best cheap and easy dinners

cheap and easy dinnersWhy do we need cheap and easy dinners? Well, June and July have been financially taxing months, with seven family birthdays, including my daughter’s 21st, a new car that had then to be taxed and insured and our recent holiday to Wales. I had money put by for all of these things but now I have completely used up my reserve and need to start saving straight away. So I am tightening the belt!

Fortunately I have some language students booked in over the next six weeks and yesterday I sold four dresses in one day on eBay – kerching! It will all help but I need to stop any inessential spending and stretch the groceries as well. I always revert back to a few cheap and easy dinners when I am saving money.

My top ten cheap and easy dinners:

Jacket potatoes with tuna and salad or veg from the garden.

Chick pea curry and rice.

Omelettes filled with cheese and whatever is sitting in the fridge – I often have mushrooms or sweetcorn lurking that need to be used up.

Vegetable bake – again this uses up the veg in the fridge or freezer. I add cheese sauce to cooked veg, cover with cheese and breadcrumbs and stick it under the grill to brown, or I might stick some cooked sliced potatoes on top and out it in the oven.

cheap and easy dinnersLiver and bacon casserole. I enjoyed this Hairy Bikers one recently.

Sausages and mash – easy comfort food. I use Aldi sausages and serve with beans or peas.

Macaroni cheese. I will add bacon to this if I have any.

Red dragon pie from my old Vegetarian Kitchen cookbook by Sarah Brown. I found it online here. It’s not quite so quick so I would make this at the weekend rather than after work. It’s really tasty!

Smoky chicken and chick peas, recipe here.

Vegetable paella or risotto. This Slimming World one is nice.

What are your go to cheap and easy dinners?

Adapting recipes and using what you have

My daughter is at uni. She had a job to supplement her loan for the past year, but has found it too much so she has given it up and is attempting to survive in London on her loan. I hope she can do this, and that she has learned enough from her frugal mummy to do it. But in case she needs some tips, this post is for her :-). She needs to learn to eat properly and try adapting recipes to suit what she has.

adapting recipes

The blacker the better!

Being creative in adapting recipes

I made a banana loaf this morning with some very black bananas that no one was going to eat. I used the Delia recipe as my starting point, but as I didn’t have any walnuts or oranges I substituted brazil nuts and dried cranberries. It was really delicious!

The frugal cook needs to be able to do this: either adapt recipes or make meals up to suit your ingredients. If you don’t have an expensive ingredient like sundried tomatoes try fresh or tinned with some tomato purée. If you don’t have shallots, use ordinary onions. If you don’t have dried porcini mushrooms, the usual fresh sort will work ok.

store cupboard 1Store cupboard staples

Make sure you have plenty of store cupboard staples. Flour and baking powder, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, tinned or dried pulses, pasta, rice and noodles spring to mind. Casserole sauces bought cheaply from places like Approved Food and Home Bargains are good for days when you can’t be bothered or don’t have time to cook from scratch. Tinned and frozen veg is handy to have. Canned tuna or sardines can make a good quick meal.

Staples from Aldi

Staples from Aldi

Eggs and cheese are good to have in the fridge, and a pack of bacon can add flavour and interest to all manner of dinners.

Is there really NO food in the house?

What to do if you think there is no food in the house? Have a good look in the store cupboards ; I bet there is a ton of food in there. You may not be able to make a meat and two veg type of meal, but how about a lentil shepherds pie or veggie curry for a change? If you can make a tomato sauce from onions and tomatoes, you can build it into a veggie casserole with courgettes , carrots, lentils, etc and make some dumplings to go with it. Or use it to make a pasta sauce with garlic and peppers, or a bolognese with some mince meat. Add and taste as you go along. Mess about with curry powder, cumin and chilli to add a bit of spice to what you have. Eggs can make an omelette, a quiche, or you can crack them over your tomato and pepper sauce and bake them the oven. How about curried eggs? If you have flour you can make pastry. What do you have that will go in a pie?

If you have cheese, onions and potatoes you have a veggie classic: cheese and potato pie with no pastry needed. Mash the spuds and mix in sautéed onions , plenty of cheese and some seasoning. Yummy with baked beans !

Use up all the bits of veg in a stir fry with noodles or rice. Make all kinds of fillings for a jacket potato with whatever you can find.

Use recipes as inspiration and as a guide for quantities rather than feeling you need to slavishly follow them.

And if you really can’t be bothered to cook, there is nothing wrong with the odd ‘something on toast’.

Just try not to give in to too many wild nights at the uni bar with the Chinese takeaway or kebab on the way home :). Get into adapting recipes or even inventing them to use what you have.

Doing More with Less

Doing more with less; anyone who works for the public sector or even a struggling commercial company will probably hear this phrase often. We need to save money so will employ fewer people to do the same amount of work. To do this we will be super efficient and manage our resources better. Sometimes tough decisions will need to be made and we may not be able to offer all of the services that we used tomore with less.

I was thinking that I already apply some of this  philosophy to my own household. No , I’m not about to make any redundancies! However, we do need to do more with less.

How to do more with less

Using one tea bag to make two mugs of tea
Driving more slowly to use less petrol
Keeping heating costs down by lowering the thermostat and wearing another layer
Drying the laundry on an airer instead of the tumble dryer
Reusing wrapping paper and envelopes
Washing and reusing tin foil
Cutting dishwasher tablets in half
Eating smaller portions (many of us eat too much!)
Not wasting food – use up your leftovers or freeze them for later
Opening a beer at home rather than going to the pub
Correctly measuring the laundry liquid/powder
Measuring rice and pasta portions so you don’t cook too much
Using up all the make up and toiletries you have already bought before buying more
Giving up shopping for fun
Cutting down on smoking or changing to roll ups
Eating less meat and more pulses
Taking showers instead of baths
Drink water instead of juice
Order books from the library or buy secondhand
Set a maximum budget for gifts
Reconsider the people you buy gifts for: do you need to buy something for all adults for Christmas and birthdays or could you focus just on children?
Growing your hair or having it cut by a junior
Buying used furniture and clothes
Packing your own lunch and flask for work or days out
Buying non perishables from Approved Food
Walking/cycling more and driving less
Shopping in Aldi/Lidl or making more use of basics ranges

There are so many ways to be more efficient and streamlined – these are things I already do off the top of my head but I am sure there are lots more. What are your top tips for doing more with less?