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?

 

How to find the best boot sale bargains

I had a mixed experience looking for boot sale bargains yesterday. We went to two. The first was rubbish. Hardly any stalls and those that were there were mostly traders, selling old tools and out of date food.

Boot sale bargains

Boot sale bargains

 

We moved on quickly to the next, another small Saturday one. We often find boot sale bargains here and today was no exception. It is possible to buy really decent stuff at a Saturday or mid week boot sale, but Sundays or bank holidays are best. They tend to be much bigger, with more buyers and sellers.

I am trying my best to make a bit of extra money this month and my best chance is by selling on eBay. So I needed more stock. But how do you find the best boot sale bargains?

Find the real boot salers

I tend to look out for the real boot salers rather than the traders; those who have had a good clear out and just want rid. This is where you will find the best boot sale bargains! These tend to fall into two camps. The super keenies who arrive with the dealers at 6 am and those who turn up at 8 or after looking a bit confused and dishevelled.

You can tell the real boot salers straight away. They will be selling a true mix of goods rather than specialising in one thing, as the traders tend to.

Get there early

I do not join the greedy dealers who try to root through people’s bags as they are setting up. This is just rude! However, it pays to try to arrive early. You can get a good look at the early risers things and by the time you get through those the stragglers have set up too.

Identify the right kind of seller

Because my interest is mostly in ladies’ clothing I tend to watch out for younger female sellers. They often buy stuff they never wear and get bored with clothes quickly so I can get brand new or barely worn items from them. However, husband’s selling their wives things are good too. They can be clueless on price and often sell everything cheaply for the same amount, even if is is designer with the tags still on!

If I find a genuine person having a good clearout of their clothes it’s not unusual for me to spend a lot of time and money in one place.  Yesterday I spotted a lady with a stall full of great Marks and Spencer’s clothes, many still with tags. I bought 6 things for £20. The total value from the shop would have been £180 plus! I will get these listed and on eBay as soon as I can.

You will soon find the type of person to watch out for if you are interested in, say, children’s stuff or computer games.

Cheap household items

The traders stalls are worth a look for some items. You can find some well priced healthy plants, for example. Toiletries, cleaning products, bin liners, etc are also good value. Fruit and veg can also be worth a look, but with so much fresh produce in the garden now I didn’t bother.

Are you on the look out for boot sale bargains either for yourself or to resell at a profit? What are your best buys and your tips for finding them?

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.