On the Money with Fiona from Savvy in Somerset

Conversations with money bloggers

Welcome to the next in my series of interviews with well known money bloggers, On the Money. This week’s guest is Fiona from Savvy in Somerset.

What is your earliest memory of having and spending money?

I can remember being allowed to buy a toy I wanted in the sales after Christmas because I had some Christmas money to spend. I think it was one of those situations where I was quite surprised my Mum had said yes!

Have you ever felt out of control with your money?

on the money

Not out of control as such, but when I first got a full time job I spent the majority of what I earned for the first few years. Money was always tight when I was growing up so it was that feeling of ‘Wow, I can buy whatever I want now I have my own money’!

I bought some GHD’s and Converse to begin with (which seemed like proper luxuries to me at the time!) and then probably spent £30 – £50 on clothes a week for the next two or three years!

After giving my Mum rent money and going out partying two or three nights a week that was most of my wages gone. Gradually my hours increased and I decided to learn to drive, so that gave me a focus to be more sensible with my money.

What was your worst money decision?

It cost me a lot of money to learn to drive – in part because I didn’t have my own car to practice in (I didn’t see the point in buying one as none of my family drive, so no-one would be able to sit with me). By the time I had finished lessons, passed my test, bought my first car and paid for things like insurance and MOT I was completely skint. Five days after picking up my first car I was in an accident on the motorway (not my fault) and the car was a write off.

Between lessons and buying the car I’d spent almost £5k and had nothing to show for it. I couldn’t afford to just go out and buy another car, even a cheap run around. Due to various complications, it took over 18 months for me to get a settlement from the insurance company. Luckily I didn’t need the car for work.

Because I went so long after the accident without driving, it had a huge impact on my confidence. I ended up being too nervous to drive for almost four years. In the end I ended up paying out for even more driving lessons to help regain my confidence.

I think this just goes to show how much of an impact different things can have on your finances. It really made me never want to be in position where I couldn’t afford to replace something essential, like a car, again.

What was your best money decision?

on the moneySaving up a huge deposit when we bought a house. This has meant our mortgage is substantially less than most of our peers and it’s for a shorter period too.

It took five years to save up the amount we wanted, but knowing we’d able to survive on one wage if we needed to has given us a great sense of financially security. Doing this has allowed me to give up my day job to blog even though the income can be varied and in turn means we won’t have to worry about childcare when our baby arrives.

What is your best tip for saving money at home?

Make sure you check all your household bills regularly to make sure you’re  on the best tariff or deal that you possibly can be. Never let anything, such as insurance, auto-renew as they always put up the prices and it’s usually cheaper if you shop around.

What is your best tip for saving money out and about?

Eating out is a big part of our lives. I’m a total foodie and love letting someone else do the cooking! We try to budget for it and set ourselves a spending limit for each meal out.

Using something like Tastecard or a Gourmet Society card is great for this. I’m all  for two for one meals if I can get it! Also we try to eat out during the week rather than on a Friday or Saturday. Usually Indian and Chinese restaurants will have a cheap set menu on a week night.

What would be your advice to the 18 year old you regarding finance?

SAVE, SAVE, SAVE! I think it’s so hard though when you’re young – especially as it’s unlikely at that age that you’d be ready to buy a house or start thinking about a mortgage.

What was your biggest ever bargain?

My biggest bargains tend to be food related. I love buying reduced food at the end of the day and stocking up my freezer.

  • The best have included two £10 gammon joints for 49p each.
  • Packs of fresh king prawns and scallops for 5p each.
  • Sliced  topside of cooked roast beef packs for 10p each.

What was your most recent purchase?

As we have a baby on the way, we’ve been trying to get everything we need for her for as little money as possible. One weekend we attended a Mum2Mum baby event. It was brilliant – loads of bargains! We managed to get several of the ‘big’ things we still needed for very little. We found a jungle gym, brand new bouncy chair and a huge selection of vests, dresses, shoes, etc. All for just over £20.

Do you stick to a monthly budget?

The main thing we budget for is food shopping. We’ve got really good at only buying what we need, with occasional treats thrown in if we manage to grab a few a reduced bargains that lower the cost of our overall shop.

The rest of the time I would say we’re careful but don’t specifically budget as such. We’re both a bit antisocial so we are quite happy at home. I usually meet a friend for coffee and cake once a week and do a monthly quiz night and that’s about it. As mentioned above, I do like a nice meal out with my husband but we always look for offers to keep the cost down as much as possible.

Do you have any long term financial goals you would like to share?

It has always been our aim to pay of our mortgage as soon as we possibly can. However, we have made some decisions recently that mean this may take a little longer than planned. My husband has decided to go back to college to retrain. This has meant a whole new career path and needing to take a bit of a pay cut while he learns. While this will affect our finances in the short term, once he’s qualified we will be much better off financially. It’s all about the long term and what we can do now to make our lives better in the future.

It also goes back to what I mentioned before about saving a big deposit for our house. Having a small mortgage meant we could afford for him to retrain and still keep a roof over our heads without having to worry.

If you won a million on the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?

Pay off our mortgage and buy another two or three investment properties to provide rental income. Once that was sorted, then we would do some fun stuff like holidays and a new car!

You can read Fiona’s blog here.

If you would like to read more in my On the Money series, see here and here.


Teach your children to be frugal

It can be tough to teach your children to be frugal. I originally wrote this post for Lee at Homely Economics back in March.  I thought it would be a good time to revisit it.

Whatever your reasons for saving money, it can to be tricky to bring family on board, particularly kids. When you need to cut back it can be hard for them to understand the need for a more thrifty lifestyle. Maybe they have been used to always being given the toys they asked for, the clothes or the gadgets? Perhaps they have enjoyed regular takeaways and days out to theme parks? Fighting with your kids when you need to clear your debt or reduce your costs can be very wearing. So how can you teach your children to be frugal and have fun with it?

teach your children to be frugal

Be honest

If you are anxious about money, the last thing you want to do is pass your worries to your children. But you can talk to them. Explain to them what you are doing and what your end goal is. It may be that you are saving for something that will benefit them. Or that you want to clear your debts so that you can start putting money aside for a holiday.  Perhaps you want to pay off your mortgage so that you can work less and spend more time with them?

Try to put a positive slant on whatever you want to achieve. Their age will obviously impact on what you tell them and the amount of detail you go into. Just communicate and let them know you have a budget that you have to stick to.

Ensure that you lead by example. Don’t say no to a cinema trip with them and then impulse buy yourself an expensive pair of shoes.

Make sure you always build some small treats for them into your budget. So you can’t afford that cinema trip? How about making an occasion of a home movie night? Get popcorn or chocolate and snuggle up together to watch something on Netflix or a DVD. If a theme park is too expensive, your children are likely to enjoy a trip to your local park with a picnic almost as much.

Stress the benefits

Stress the benefits of a frugal lifestyle. Buying less stuff creates less packaging and is better for the environment. Cycling rather than driving gives you a chance to see nature and gets you fit. Cooking from scratch rather than buying convenience foods and takeaways is healthier. Using the library rather than buying books means you can take home a whole bag of books to read rather than just one or two.

The best way to teach your children to be frugal and budget is to give them money! Just a little though. Give them a regular allowance and  sensible opportunities to save or spend it. If there is something they really want, encourage them to save up for it. The satisfaction they get and the appreciation of the thing they have had to wait for will be much greater than if you had simply bought it at their first request.

Take your kids to charity shops and boot sales. Both are great places for them to learn about bargain hunting and how to get the most from their money. They can observe you putting your own frugality into practice as you bag a bargain or two!

Supermarket shoppers

Teach your children the value of the pound in your pocket. Take them to the supermarket and discuss the different prices of items and your reasons for making the choices you do. For example you could explain that you buy the supermarket own item rather than a brand name because there is little difference in quality or taste and the supermarket brand is cheaper. Or that if you buy tomatoes, onions and peppers you can make a mass of healthy pasta sauce for the freezer rather than purchasing the more expensive jar version.

Teach them to cook

Let them help you to plan some of your meals so that you can discuss the cost of the ingredients. Then give them cooking lessons. This is one of the best skills you can teach your family if you want them to eat healthily and learn to budget. As they get older and go to university or get their own place, the ability to whip up a cheap and nutritious dinner will mean that they will be able to avoid spending money on eating out or convenience foods. Teach your children to cook and they might even cook for you.

Earning a crust

Let them do any regular chores for nothing, like tidying up their bedrooms, but offer your children small financial rewards for doing extra jobs from time to time. They will appreciate money that they have earned even more.

As soon as my daughters were old enough I encouraged them to get jobs – babysitting and shop work mainly – and I am so glad that I did. As teenagers, they could afford to treat themselves to some of the things I couldn’t stretch to. This also helped them get their first ‘proper jobs’, as employers love to see any kind of work experience on a young person’s CV.

 Financial education will teach your children to be frugal

They don’t teach financial education in schools and I strongly believe that they should do. Older children need to understand how credit works and  what interest rates are, how it can be helpful to occasionally use a credit card but that it must be paid back. Teach them about budgeting and financial planning. Tell them what you do and about your past mistakes. Encourage them to save by opening savings accounts for them.

You can teach your children to be frugal – it’s just common sense really. If you can get them on board it will help you to stick to your budget now and help you reach your financial goals. You will also create savvy children who will follow your lead in the future!

I’m taking part in the Monday Money linky with Lynn from Mrs Mummy PennyFaith from Much More With Less and Emma from EmmaDrew.Info.

On the Money with Penny Wise Life Rich

On the Money: Conversations with money bloggers

In the latest in my On the Money series, I meet Cat Plummer from Penny Wise Life Rich. Here’s what she had to say.

on the money

What is your earliest memory of having and spending money?

I remember having birthday money when I was very little and being able to choose what I wanted to buy.  It was really exciting because I could choose whatever I wanted – but I didn’t want to spend it all. I don’t remember what I bought though. Another memory that springs to mind is having an amount to spend on penny sweets. I always made sure to choose the 1p or the two for 1p sweets rather than buying any 2p or 5p sweets. I obviously wanted to get my money’s worth then!

Have you ever felt out of control with your money?

I had a period of time when I was at university when I did feel a bit out of control with it all. It felt like no matter what I did, the debt just kept creeping up. I was doing a full-on teaching degree, so I wasn’t left with much time to work when taking into account study and teaching placements. Each year the debt just seemed to grow even though we were being so sensible. I used to spend every summer working every hour I could to cover the gap that my loans didn’t meet. I was so glad to finally graduate so that I could start earning a proper, regular salary.

What was your worst money decision?

This made me chuckle, but it was probably cashing in my pension when I was 18 or 19. I ended up with £700 but I enjoyed spending it! I think I booked a holiday with it. I do wonder what that would look like now but hey ho!

What was your best money decision?

on the moneyThe best decision we made was to clear the debts and save like crazy to buy our house. Aside from that, it was to go on a honeymoon to Mauritius. It wasn’t cheap but we saved for 18 months after our wedding and it came at a time when I was really suffering burnout in my teaching job. Without this holiday I’m not sure how I could have got through the last few months of teaching. It really did recharge my heart, mind and soul.

What is your best tip for saving money at home?

One of the main places that I saved money both times I got out of debt was with food. Taking stock of what I had in, creating meal plans, writing a shopping lists, batch cooking. If your income is pretty fixed, the grocery budget is a good place to start to shave some pennies.

What is your best tip for saving money out and about?

If I know I am going to be out and about I try and think about where I’m going to be and how that might impact on spends. I try and plan as much as I can. So, it might be searching out vouchers, or checking points cards, or even getting cashback. My bank offers cashback on certain purchases so I check to see if I am going to any of those places. I also try and allocate a budget, and if you are a bit skint, always ask yourself- do I need it?

What would be your advice to the 18 year old you regarding finance?

You really don’t need that credit card! Or the four after that. Lol!

What was your biggest ever bargain?

Probably our kitchen. We negotiated keeping the range cooker as part of our house purchase and we got the new cupboard and drawer carcasses free! We asked at new build site what they were going to do with the immaculate kitchen they had just taken out of the show home and they were just going to throw it away! So we asked if we could have it! We then bought the worktops, etc. and Mr P fitted it all.

What was your most recent purchase

My most recent purchase (as I am writing this post!) is a carpet for our spare bedroom. We are currently tackling one room at a time and the spare room is next on the list. Our next purchase after that will be double glazing for the front of the house. What we are doing now, as we don’t want to get into debt again is to save up for each purchase at a time to make sure we’ve got the money before we buy it.

Do you stick to a monthly budget?

I do, yes. It really is the only way we can stay in control! We’re not restricted though, and this is a common misconception about budgets. I prefer to call it a spending plan as we plan where we’re going to spend our money. We sit down at the end of each month just before payday and work out how much we’ve managed to save, if we’ve gone over budget and also what we’ve got coming up in the next month. This works really well for us as we’ve managed to do everything we really want to do just with some careful planning.

Do you have any long term financial goals you would like to share? 

I’d really like to pay off my mortgage early. I haven’t come up with a definitive plan in relation to that as we’ve got some other things we want to do to our house first, but definitely before we retire. I’d love to retire early too but as I’m currently 33 I think I’ve got a bit of working left to do first!

If you won a million on the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?

The very first thing I would do is pay off my mortgage, then I would pay off my Dad’s and mother-in-law’s mortgages. I’d love to go back to Mauritius again so I’d want to do that too, plus buy myself a new car!

Cat Plummer is a money blogger and money coach and writes over at www.pennywiseliferich.co.uk. She lives in sunny Sussex by the sea with her husband and crazy cocker spaniel. Cat loves to help people save money and learn more about their money stories. She believes that you can lead a penny-wise but rich life.

If you enjoyed this post, have a look at my interviews with Mean Queen and Katy Kicker.


On the Money with the Money Saving Mum

On the Money: Conversations with money bloggers

In the latest in my On the Money series I spoke to Kirsty from the Money Saving Mum.

What is your earliest memory of having and spending money?

on the moneyMy earliest memory is probably the £5 notes my great granddad used to give us whenever we saw him. That and the £1 my dad used to sneak me in a morning before school so I could have school dinners with my friends instead of the pack up my mum made me every morning!  

Have you ever felt out of control with your money?

Before having kids we had never ever had a loan. Everything was saved for and if we didn’t have the money we didn’t buy. However,  since having children we have had to extend and renovate our house, change cars and move bedrooms, all within quite a short period of time. So, yes, maybe I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the loans we now have, but only because we’ve never had them before.  I know deep down it’s totally fine. There are none that we can’t afford plus the kitchen, a chair and Christmas overspend(!) are on 0% interest. I certainly don’t feel out of control with our finances, just maybe a little anxious. 

What was your worst money decision? 

on the moneyOoooh, I’m quite frugal and thrifty with my money (hence my blog!) . Because I suffer massively with anxiety I’m constantly thinking ‘what if’, so I actually find this one quite difficult. Not the way I want to necessarily think as on one hand I’m prepared for everything but then on the other I’m never living for now. I’m having cognitive behavioural therapy as we speak to help so I do find this one really really hard to answer!

What was your best money decision?

Best money decision would have to be the purchase of our own home.  We also had the loft converted not long after we moved in to save having that cost when we had kids. We got on the ladder really quite early at just 19 and are still in that house 12 years later. I have to say for sure the house was our best money decision (oh, and the artificial grass #bestthingever!).

What is your best tip for saving money at home? 

My best tip for saving money at home has to be to batch cook, freeze meals AND meal plan! I recently published this handy blog post on freezable foods to save you time and money.

What is your best tip for saving money out and about? 

Shop around…. yes, it will take time but it is worth it. Just be conscious of the prices in every store you go into. For example, I know that the dog treats in Heron’s are cheaper than anywhere; I know that I can get 50g more cheese at Iceland than Asda for the same price; I know the big 80p bag of chocolate fingers at Heron’s taste just like the Cadbury’s ones and that Uncle Ben’s rice is cheaper in Poundstretcher than anywhere else. Just take a look around and make notes as you’re out and about.  

What would be your advice to the 18 year old you regarding finance? 

Just keep doing what you’re doing. I’ve never been one to go out week in week out drinking my money away. I’ve thought of it like that since I was probably exactly that age! So I would have to probably say don’t change!

What was your biggest ever bargain? 

Probably very recently upon a visit to a Boots store that was closing down. I picked up a couple of ingrowing toenail kits for just 10p each…. they were meant to be £15 EACH!

What was your most recent purchase? 

Our most recent purchase was our new puppy. Because he was already 12 weeks old and one of the last in the litter, the breeder just wanted rid (for the dog’s own sake, not in a horrible way!). They reduced him by a massive 70% so we took it as a sign. That and the fact it was 10 years to the day that we got our eldest dog from them. We brought little Walter home about 5 weeks ago now.

Do you stick to a monthly budget? 

We are sticking to a budget more so now that ever before, particularly with the loans we have at the minute.  Having gone through our incomings and outgoings for the first time in a long time, we’ve recently cancelled insurance policies and maintenance contracts. I spoke about this in this 5 Frugal Things link up, where I decided to cancel our British Gas homecare cover.
We have a set amount in the budget for food shopping, car insurance, tax and petrol, plus an amount that goes into the joint account for the bills each month.  A newer budget we have recently started implementing is for shopping. We are trying not to spend more than £60 a week and are managing this at the moment after boycotting Asda and, as above, buying things from certain places.

Do you have any long term financial goals you would like to share?

Yes, but without actually realising I think. We started the mortgage quite young, as I’ve already mentioned, with 40 years on the mortgage. We are still paying the exact same amount now as we were then and have managed to reduce it to just 10 or 11 years. This is because we are technically overpaying. Where we could have reduced our monthly payments every other year we haven’t, so I guess that’s a financial goal without really meaning it to be!
In the last few years I have said I would love to be mortgage free at 40 but I only have 8 years until then so I’m not sure. It’s not impossible, but it might be a stretch!

If you won a million on the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? 

Get a cleaner. Seriously! I would love a cleaner. I really feel it would help us so much but right now it’s a luxury we cannot justify.
What you want to really hear, though, is that I would also purchase a house with a big garden and a big drive way.  A driveway where I can plonk my car anywhere on the front. I currently can’t use my passenger door because we  have to squeeze two cars on our small front garden! First world problems I know, but you asked! 
Kirsty started her blog as a way to make herself accountable for the savings she had to make to her day to life after reducing her hours at work. Mum of two, wife (of one!) and the owner of three (yes, three) dogs, Kirsty is the ultimate mum-trepreneur. In addition to her part time office job and blog, the Money Saving Mum, she is chief vlogger over on her family YouTube channel and is a freelance virtual assistant (more information here). 
If you enjoyed Kirsty’s interview, you can meet some other great On the Money bloggers here and here.
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Ten top tips for hosting foreign students

Hosting foreign students in our home has kept us going during some lean times. It hasn’t just been helpful to our finances though. Hosting foreign students has proved fascinating and hugely rewarding in other ways.

We have been hosting foreign students on and  off for almost eight years. During that time we have met great people from all over the world. Japan, Slovakia, Angola, Sweden, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland and Macedonia, to name just a few. It is so interesting to have a glimpse into the lives of these young people.

They tend to be confident and sensible young people on the whole. However, you can’t take this for granted. Many are very young and inexperienced. They need a bit of guidance. If you are thinking about hosting foreign students, here are my top tips to make their visit a pleasant experience all round.

Some stay for a week or two, but you can take students for up to a year. Most of ours have been with us for short trips. The longest was here for six months.

hosting foreign students

Top tips when hosting foreign students

1. Set clear house rules

It is sensible to set clear house rules from the beginning. If your student’s grasp of the language is limited, give them a written list. They can translate it at their leisure!

Let them know whether smoking is acceptable and where they can do it. We are a non-smoking household. However, I keep a pot of sand outside the back door and allow them to smoke in the garden.

Make sure time meals are clear and ask them to ring or text to let you know if they are running late. I have found this is particularly important to set a breakfast time. Teenagers often don’t want to get up, particularly at the weekends! I learned this the hard way. We had one girl who was with us for several months. On weekends she would stay in bed all day if we let her. She once got up at 4 pm and wanted breakfast, when I was slaving over a Sunday roast!

2. Be firm on the rules around going out

The organisations responsible for hosting foreign students always have rules on how late students can stay out if they are under 18. If they are under 16 they need to have their parents’ written consent to go out unaccompanied in the evenings. If they are between 16 and 18 they usually have to be in by 10.30 in the week and 11.30 at the weekend.

Crack down immediately if your student stays out later than this. I had one 16 year old who rolled home at 3 am and a 17 year old who came in at midnight. This was on a Monday night and she proceeded to vomit in the bathroom for the next hour. We weren’t impressed and made it clear this was not acceptable. You also need to advise your host organisation if faced with this type of behaviour.

If over 18, you can still insist they are back by a certain time. Your house, your rules, and if you are lying awake worrying about them it doesn’t make for a pleasant experience. I usually say something like ‘We lock up at 11.30, so you need to be in by then’, certainly during the week.

3. Food

I have learned the hard way that it is best to be conservative in the food you offer. I plan the first few meals around pasta or a fairly plain meat dish such as chicken to see how adventurous they are. We assumed that our French students would all eat anything as they come from a country renowned for its gastronomy. However, we found this is not the case. A teenager is a teenager it seems, wherever they come from.

Saying that, you don’t want to feed them junk all week and you are expected to provide nourishing food. Once you have had a chance to speak to them about their likes and dislikes you can plan your other meals. You also need to provide a pudding. I generally go for fruit, yogurt or ice cream, with cake or crumble at the weekend when I have time to bake.

We have had several older students (some have been in their late twenties and early thirties) insist on making us a meal. We had a lovely Japanese curry created by Tae and a memorable ratatouille made by Stephan!

Part of their learning journey is to spend time conversing with the family. Meal times are the perfect opportunity for this, so make sure you all eat together.

I have made mistakes, and once inadvertently put wine in a casserole for a Muslim student! Having carefully avoided pork I completely forgot most Muslims do not drink!

Make sure you understand which meals you are expected to provide. One group I work with requires all meals, including a packed lunch each day, whilst another expects the student so purchase their own lunch at the school.

Packed lunches

If you are expected to proved a packed lunch for your student, make sure it is a decent one. Generally, we offer two filled rolls (one cheese and one ham), a piece of cake or cereal bar, some fruit, crisps and a bottle of water. I might substitute a sausage roll or pizza for the sandwiches, but check that they like these first. Even if I am not obliged to, I always see them off at the end of their stay with plenty of food and drink for their journey.

4. Provide local information

Depending on how old your student is and how much free time they have, it is sometimes worth picking up some tourist leaflets for them. Generally, though, what they need is a map of your town with important places marked on it. Include your house, the study centre and any other places they need to know about.

If they are expected to travel by bus, we research the numbers for them and help them buy their ticket on the bus on the first day. We ask the bus driver to tell them when they need to get off. You might like to do the journey with them on day one, again depending on their age. I also print out pictures of the study centre and any landmarks on the bus route so they know to ring the bell when they see them and get off.

One of the study centres we use when hosting foreign students is just a 15 minute walk from our house. If students are happy to walk we take them the evening before so that they are confident about where they need to go.

I write down our address to keep with them in case they have difficulties or get lost and make sure we exchange mobile numbers. They also get a front door key to let themselves in and out.

5. Be kind

Often, students are quite nervous when they arrive so try to help and reassure them as much as possible. Unbelievably, there was an occasion I heard about when a host’s boyfriend was so unfriendly towards a 17 year old student that she contacted the group leader and requested to be moved. We would have taken her in but didn’t have space.

Respect cultural differences. You will be advised in advance about obvious things, like religion (Muslim and Jewish students obviously don’t eat pork), but sometimes you discover as you go along. We found that our Angolan student was a deeply religious Catholic. As she was staying several months we made a point of taking her to church a couple of times so that she could get to know people. A kind lady then offered to collect her every Sunday morning and they became great friends.

Include your guests in your life and daily activities. At weekends, we sometimes drive them to the seaside, take them for meals with friends and family or go into town shopping. This is best if your student is under 18 as you cannot leave them alone in the house for extended periods.

6. Keep them safe

Remember that if they are under 18 you are ‘in loco parentis’ and responsible for their safety and well-being. Ensure you have the emergency number for the organisers with you at all times and liaise with the organisers if you have any difficulties. Some organisations insist on a DBS check, but a surprising number don’t.

You decide how much you are going to drive them around. I tend not to take or collect them from classes. It is part of their experience to get themselves about. However, one group often goes to bowling one evening and I usually offer to collect younger students so that they don’t have to find their way home at 9pm, certainly the first week.

7. Keep their comfort in mind

Remember, even though you are treating them as members of your family during their stay, your students are paying guests. They expect a clean and tidy home, a comfortable room and a proper bed with fresh bed linen. As they will be doing homework whilst they are staying, they will also need a desk, a chair and a lamp in their room.

Keep the house warm and provide extra blankets if the weather is chilly, especially for students from warmer climes. our Angolan student was frozen for the first month, even though it was July when she arrived! I had to encourage her to buy some extra jumpers and a warm coat.

Although group organisers often encourage students to join in with clearing up or laying the table as part of being ‘one of the family’, they don’t have to. They shouldn’t be expected to do any housework or child-minding.

You will be obliged to do their laundry at least once a week, to clean their room and give them clean bedding and towels.

8. Remember why they are here

Remember that first and foremost they are here to learn the language. You may think this is a great opportunity to practice your German or French, but resist the urge. They are here to immerse themselves in the English language, not help you with your learning. Speak slowly and clearly. We have resorted to Google translate from time to time but generally try to explain without.

9. Prepare in advance

Liaise with the organisers and read everything they send to you so that you are prepared for your guest. Make sure you are aware in advance of any dietary requirements and that you are happy to provide the food required. I always say that I am happy to do vegetarian or gluten free meals, but have never had to.

Don’t plan any events during your guest’s stay that they cannot attend with you if necessary. Be prepared to join in too. One of our organisations has a family barbecue, which is always fun. Another invites host families for a picnic in the park. Don’t just see hosting foreign students as a way to make extra money. It can be a fun and rewarding experience in its own right.

10. How to get started hosting foreign students

We are lucky to have an English Study Centre here. Obviously not every town will have one. Do some research on the internet to see which organisations teach English as a Foreign Language as they may require host families.

My current student came to me from LEC. They employ local organisers around the UK who recruit families. Other organisations are:

Homestay. You can sign up on the website.

EF Host Families

Host UK place international university students with host families.

Kaplan International, a huge organisation offering English courses worldwide.

There are many other organisations if you do your research. What is your experience of hosting foreign students?

For more ideas on how to earn extra money you might like my post 13 ideas for side hustles that aren’t run of the mill.

This post may contain affiliate links.


On the Money with Mean Queen

On the Money: Conversations with money bloggers

on the moneyWelcome to the second in my series of interviews with well known money bloggers, On the Money. This week’s guest is Ilona, aka Mean Queen, who blogs at Life After Money. Ilona, who is a retired lorry driver, says, ” I live with three cats, I make do and mend, being very careful with my spending, only buying what I need. I have no qualms about buying second hand from car boot sales and charity shops, and getting free stuff from skip diving. Money saved is put towards holidays, a decent car, and days out. I love life, and it needn’t cost a fortune to enjoy it.” Here she is, on the money.

What is your earliest memory of having and spending money?

On the moneyWe didn’t get pocket money when we were kids, Mum couldn’t afford it. My first wage packet at 15 was £4 and 5 shillings. I had to pay Mum board and had a bit left over which went on make up and fabric to make clothes.

Have you ever felt out of control with your money?

No, never. I have always lived within my means. Mum taught me that if I didn’t have enough money to buy something I wanted, I saved up for it.

What was your worst money decision?

Buying a catering trailer and setting up a business on an industrial estate. I hated it, it didn’t last long. I sold everything at a loss.

What was your best money decision?

Buying my first house. I didn’t think so at the time because I was skint for many years. I am now in my third house, and in a good position, having paid off my mortgage.

What is your best tip for saving money at home?

I buy second hand wherever I can, charity shops, car boot sales, skip dive for free stuff. I take my time looking for bargains, and wait until I find the right price. Food shopping: I buy at different places, reduced yellow stickers, discount stores. I spend time searching for best prices.

What is your best tip for saving money out and about?

I take food and drink with me from home if it is a day out. I look for free entertainment, and very rarely pay an entrance fee to visit somewhere. It has been know for me to walk around the outside of a historic building taking photographs, but not pay to go in.

What would be your advice to the 18 year old you regarding finance?

Don’t try to keep up with everybody else. Stay true to your individual style, dress how you like, don’t follow the crowd. Spend a bit, save a bit, and don’t borrow. If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it.

What was your biggest ever bargain?

That’s difficult. 90% of my purchases are bargains. I buy as cheaply as I can and when all the small savings are added up it means I have extra money left over in my purse. I shopped at the four big supermarkets for Rip off Britain, spending £5 in each, and coming away with £80 worth of food.

What was your most recent purchase (not including bills, groceries, etc)?

I don’t buy very much for myself. A few small items for crafting purposes maybe. A new office chair a few months ago because the one I was using was old and uncomfortable.  I reckon I deserved a new one because I spend so much time sat in it.

Do you stick to a monthly budget?

No. Because I am mindful of what I spend my money on. I am disciplined enough to not waste any. I know I can afford everything I buy.

Do you have any long term financial goals you would like to share?

I don’t make long term plans. The only goal I have is to eventually sell the house and spend the money. I have no idea when or how that will happen, but I firmly believe that I came into this world with nothing and will be happy to leave with nothing.

If you won a million on the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?

Buy a slightly newer bigger house in the area I am in now. Buy a motorhome and go travelling. Then look for good causes to give a lot away.

I hope you enjoyed reading Ilona’s thoughts on money. If you missed my first On the Money interview with Katy Kicker, you can find it here.

Joining the FIRE brigade: Financial Independence Retire Early

FIREHave you heard of FIRE? The internet, along with social media, is awash with people aiming to achieve Financial Independence and Retire Early.

FIRE away

What does this mean in practice? When you think about retiring, you perhaps see yourself in your sixties. In fact, in the UK, the reality is that many of us are looking at retiring aged 67 or 68. Some people have made little provision other than paying into the state pension and face financial struggles, even poverty. Others have planned for retirement and have a decent employers pension on top of the state pot.

Making the right money decisions

But what if you made some key decisions about money in your twenties and thirties that meant you could quit work forever in your thirties or forties? What if you could be free to choose what to do with your time?

That ship has sailed for some of us. Nevertheless I find the concept of FIRE fascinating and have begun to follow some of its ideas so that I can have a better retirement.

But how is FIRE achievable if you are on an average income? Can anyone achieve financial independence if they aren’t millionaires? You do need a decent professional income. However, many FIers have achieved their dream of FIRE on a five and not a six figure income.

Mr Money Mustache is one. He and his wife retired in their thirties to have a family. They achieved this on two very good salaries, it’s true. But instead of living lavishly they set about saving and investing a large percentage of their income so that they could retire early.

Mr and Mrs Frugal Woods are another American family living the FIRE dream.  They left their corporate jobs to run a rural homestead. Mrs Frugal Woods, aka Elisabeth Willard Thames, says that frugality enabled this to happen: “My philosophy is that frugality enables you to pursue unusual aspirations and opens up a world of options. Through frugality, my family and I have created a life that we love living every single day–not a life beholden to consumerism or the drive for material perfection or the incessant clarion call for more.” Her book, Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence through Simple Living is available from Amazon.

It isn’t just a US phenomenon, however. There are also FIRE blogs springing up in the UK. The FireStarter is 32 and working towards retirement in five years.

The key elements of FIRE

There  are several key elements to achieve if you want to achieve financial independence and retire early.

Live debt free

Getting rid of debt is crucial if you plan to move towards FI. It’s tricky to save and invest if you are paying off or still accruing debts at the same time. When you get rid of debt repayments you have more cash to invest.

Frugal living

Another fundamental is to spend less than you earn. Many FIers live very frugal lives. However, it’s not necessarily about spending nothing, but more about spending money on things that are important and meaningful to you.

Living within your means is crucial if you want to achieve financial independence. It’s not just about income. Think how many rich and famous celebrities end up with nothing because they splurged it all. To achieve FIRE you need to know where your money is going, to set a budget, to have enough left over to invest.

A healthy income

As I mentioned earlier, you need to generate a decent income in the first place. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to inherit a large pot of money or win the lottery, so this means establishing a good, well-paid career in your twenties and thirties.

Establishing a savings fund

I wrote about the importance of an emergency fund here. This is important for anyone, but if you are aiming for FIRE it is just common sense to have savings for day to day issues.


It isn’t enough to have a good savings fund, though. If you want to achieve FIRE you have to create wealth through investments.  Grown your money over time. I am not about to issue advice on investing as it is a subject I have only just started to research. However, my friend Faith over at MuchMoreWithLess is a financial journalist with a common sense approach to investing. Read her advice for the beginner investor here and here.

In order to have something to invest, of course, you need to either increase your income, cut your expenses or, ideally, do both.

Freedom and flexibility

FIREWhen you read what those who have achieved FIRE have to say, it seems it is not really about retiring early. More about having the freedom and flexibility to follow your dreams. You can work, but perhaps in a job you love rather than one that earns you the most. You can set up your own business or get away from it all on a smallholding. Or you can take time away from work to travel or pursue hobbies.

FIRE will never be possible for those who aren’t earning a living wage – it does require a decent income, even if you are prepared to make sacrifices. There is no doubt that those aiming for FIRE tend to approach it from a point of privilege. Two professionals on a double income have more chance of excess income that a single working parent in a £25,000 a year job. If you are scratching around to make a living or unemployed the concept of FIRE is like chasing rainbows.

So, that ship may have sailed for me, but I can still be intentional with my money to make the best of it. In the meantime, I am passing the ideas to my daughters. Maybe they will achieve financial independence and retire early!

I am taking part in the Monday Money linky with Lynn from Mrs Mummy PennyFaith from Much More With Less and Emma from EmmaDrew.Info

This post contains affiliate links.

Ending the high-cost credit trap

Michael Sheen – working to make credit fairer and more affordable

This is a guest post by Sara Williams, who blogs at Debt Camel about everything to do with debt and credit ratings, from bankruptcy to mortgages. If you have ever had high-cost credit, or know somebody in that situation, you will find this of great interest. Please read and share.

In March, the actor Michael Sheen launched the End High-Cost Credit Alliance (EHCA). This is a group of organisations and individuals including debt charities, academics and housing associations.  It describes its aim saying:

People need a fair, affordable credit product. Lenders need a fair, affordable credit product. The Alliance exists to bring fairness for the lenders and fairness for the people they serve.

Michael Sheen said he will be scaling back his acting to support this – but not stopping. He needs to have money coming in to be able to fund the EHCA!

What types of credit are most harmful?

high-cost creditThe same week, one of the EHCA’s members, the Royal Society for Public Health published a report called Life on Debt Row, which compared different sorts of lending according to the harm that they have on people’s mental health.

They surveyed 500 people and this is part of the league table that resulted, with the most harmful first:

Type of credit Mental well-being score
Payday loans (eg Wonga, QuickQuid) 1.88
Unauthorised overdrafts 1.89
Doorstep loans (eg Provident, Morses) 2.11
Pay weekly shops (eg BrightHouse 2.34
Bank loans 2.38
Authorised overdrafts 2.53
Credit cards 2.60
Credit union loans 3.43

I don’t think you will be surprised at those results!

You have to be desperate to take a payday loan or always be in over your overdraft limit. The high interest and charges can leave you trapped. Too often people are unable to escape from the problem by repaying the credit because all their payments are eaten up in charges and interest.

I have seen cases of people borrowing every month from the same lender for three years or more. Unable to repay the initial loan, they just carry on borrowing. Many people have been using my How to get a payday loan refund (with template letters) to get compensation of hundreds or thousands of pounds, as often the lenders have broken the regulator’s rules about irresponsible lending.

In contrast Credit Unions not only offer credit to people who may not have a good credit score, but they have much lower interest rates and longer repayment periods. They also encourage their borrowers to put some money aside in savings, so that they will have a buffer for future emergencies. So this is a much more positive experience for customers, allowing them to get back in control of their finances.

End High-cost Credit Alliance wants better alternatives

The EHCA will be campaigning for better regulation for lenders. Introducing caps on the cost of lending, stopping lenders from offering too many repeat loans and making sure lenders conduct proper affordability checks would all be on my list of things that would help!

But just as important is supporting new initiatives that will, like Credit Unions, provide better choices for people with financial problems. People without savings do need access to credit sometimes. However, it needs to be affordable and designed to benefit them, not just to make profits for the lender.

Many of the new initiatives will be small, local lenders such as ScotCash, who Michael Sheen recently visited. I hope we are going to be hearing a lot more of this positive approach in the next few years.

A debt free master plan: Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover

Total Money MakeoverOf course, I had heard of Dave Ramsey. I knew he had a series of books and a radio show to help those in debt. But I hadn’t taken the time to read or listen to anything. I finally purchased a second hand copy of his Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness from Amazon just after Christmas. Once I had started to read it, I couldn’t put it down!

A total money makeover is the answer

Now I am actually in love with Dave Ramsey. How did I avoid reading this book for so long? His approach isn’t just inspiring, it is logical and achievable. It is clearly aimed at a US audience and at points I needed to Google to work out what he was talking about (what was an IRA?). I also skipped the college funding section as it doesn’t apply to a UK readership. However, on the whole the advice in the Total Money Makeover is directly applicable to those in the UK or elsewhere.

Dave Ramsey was famously both a millionaire and a bankrupt before he hit 30. His approach was derived from a few desperate and painful financial life lessons that he learned the hard way. He rants about how debt has become a normal way to live and advises learning to be ‘weird’ – and debt free. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’s.  Learn to live within your means whilst investing your money to safeguard your future.

He uses what he says are biblical principles to get out of debt or, better still, to avoid it in the first place. The book is peppered with advice from the bible. But if you aren’t religious, don’t let this put you off. Biblical or not, it is really just a common sense approach to living that will get you out of debt and enable you to build wealth.

Save your emergency fund

The Total Money Makeover outlines what Ramsey calls ‘baby steps’ to financial peace. The first baby step, before you even think about clearing your debts, is to save £1000 as fast as you can. This is your emergency fund, to prevent you getting into more debt because your car or your washing machine breaks down.

Once you have your rainy day fund, the next step is to use the ‘debt snowball’ to clear your debts. To give you a series of psychological wins and to keep you motivated, you start with your smallest debt. You throw all your resources at this debt and when it is clear you start on your next smallest debt. The more debts you clear the more money you have to throw at each debt in turn.

You sell everything you don’t need, live frugally and work extra jobs to speed up this process.

Baby step three starts once your debt is gone. All the money you would have been using to repay your debts now goes towards finishing your emergency fund. This involves saving 3-6 months of expenses. If this is all sounding a bit like hard work, Ramsey peppers the book with inspiring stories of individuals and couples who have followed each baby step and come out the other side.

Investing for the future

Your next baby step involves investing 15% of your income towards your retirement. The Total Money Makeover gives you advice on how to do this, recommending mutual funds as a long term tool to grow your investment.

Baby step five focusses on college funding, and saving for your children’s education. We have concerns about student debt in this country, but in the US it seems even more of an issue. I decided to stop worrying about my daughters’ university loans when I read this article. So I skipped reading and jumped to baby step 6.

Who doesn’t like the idea of being mortgage free? This is next step in the Total Money Makeover. Some of the inspiring people in Ramsey’s examples have achieved this before they even hit 40. Imagine your middle years, with no debt at all, six month’s worth of expenses in the bank, investments for your retirement and you own your house outright!

Financial utopia

Baby step 7 is the zenith of this financial utopia. This is when you start to really build your wealth. You are also allowed to relax and have a little fun after your marathon effort. I can’t pretend I understood everything in this chapter and suspect some of it was lost in translation. However, the principle is clear. Why stop at being debt free? This is the point when you can use your money to make more of the stuff.

This is a great read and the Total Money Makeover is a book I wish I had discovered in my twenties or thirties. But I am still taking some of Dave Ramsey’s advice to maximise the money I have. Get your kids to read it!

It is also worth listening to Ramsey’s radio show on You Tube. Who knew finance could be so entertaining? I am addicted!

For my other reviews of inspiring books, check out My Frugal Bookshelf.

This post contains affiliate links.

I am taking part in the Monday Money linky with Lynn from Mrs Mummy PennyFaith from Much More With Less and Emma from EmmaDrew.Info

Reasons to save an emergency fund

Emergency fundWhy do you need an emergency fund?

A couple of years ago the Money Advice Service did some research that found that over 16 million people had less than £100 in savings. This means no rainy day fund: no money if your car breaks down, nothing to tide you over if you are off work with sickness; no cushion if you were to lose your job. If you have no emergency fund and the inevitable rainy day arrives, you are likely to have few options. Perhaps you will borrow on your credit card, from friends and family, or get by on your overdraft.  For some, a super high interest credit card or pay day loan may be the only solution.

An emergency fund can help you avoid the embarrassment of asking family for help and enable you to avoid getting into debt. It will provide reassurance and a sense of security that you can cope with some of the financial ups and downs of life.

How much should you save?

US finance guru Dave Ramsey recommends that your first step should be to save £1000 in your emergency fund, before putting all of your focus into paying off debt (the ‘debt snowball‘). He then recommends continuing to save hard until you have 3-6 months worth of household expenses. The Money Advice Service also says to aim for around 3 months worth of expenses.

Interestingly, Martin Lewis at Money Saving Expert says you shouldn’t save at all, not even an emergency fund, if you have expensive debts. I understand his logic, but I tend to go with Dave Ramsey’s view that you should pull together at least £1000 whilst paying the minimum on your debts.

As he says, ‘It is going to rain. You need a rainy-day fund.’ If you focus all your resources on paying back your debts without an emergency fund you are likely to be tempted to use a credit card to deal with sudden expensive problems. Then you will have more debt! If you hit any literal or figurative bumps in the road and you find you need new tyres, you can deal with the expense without owing more money to anyone.

Where to start?

The idea of saving 3 month’s worth of expenses is intimidating for many of us, particularly if you are on a low income. Where on earth do you start with your emergency fund?

If you are fortunate enough to have money left over at the end of the month you can start straight away. Set up a standing order and transfer your target amount straight into a savings account.

You don’t want to tie your emergency fund up so that you can’t access it. However, leaving it in your current account means that it is too easy to spend. An instant access savings account will be fine. (My daughter transfers it to me. She knows I will save it for her but won’t let her have it back without a good reason!)

Kick start your emergency fund

If you struggle to get to the end of the month, it may be harder to get started, but it’s not impossible. There are lots of ways to kick start your emergency fund saving, such as:

Budget! If you plan a monthly budget you will know exactly what is available to spend and how much you can save. If you’re not sure where your money goes, keep a spending diary to help you cut out those unnecessary expenses.

Plan your meals and write a shopping list to save money on your grocery bill.

Stop wasting food!

Have a clear out and sell some of your old stuff. You can make money by holding a garage sale, taking a pitch at a boot sale or by selling items at auction. You can dispose of your DVDs and books at Ziffit. CDs can go to Music Magpie. My favourite way to make money from things we no longer need is to sell on eBay.

Look at ways to earn extra income and make sure the extra all goes to your emergency fund.

See if you can haggle down the cost of your household bills. Shop around before you renew insurances, etc.

Peace of mind

An emergency fund brings peace of mind. Remember what it is for, though.  An impromptu holiday because you are a bit stressed is not an emergency situation. A washing machine that dies when you have a house full of kids is.  A broken mobile phone may need replacing with your contingency fund, but you don’t need to buy a brand new, state of the art smart one.

Birthdays and Christmas saving should be kept separate. You know they are coming round each year! Your emergency fund is for unforeseen expenses.

Do you have an emergency fund? How much do you save?

I’m taking part in the Monday Money linky with Lynn from Mrs Mummy PennyFaith from Much More With Less and Emma from EmmaDrew.Info .

Earn more money: 13 side hustle ideas that aren’t run of the mill!

earn more moneyThere are bound to be times when, for one reason or another, you need to boost your income. Perhaps you are paying off debts or saving towards a particular goal. We have had to be creative at times to earn more money and make sure we stay on track financially.

I have taught yoga, sold stuff on eBay, flogged makeup door to door and even appeared in the newspaper to earn more money. We also make good use of our spare room, taking in lodgers and language students.

Here are my ideas to boost the coffers and earn more money.

Language Students

If you have a spare room, even if this is only some of the time, have a look to see if you have a language college nearby. If you do, the chances are that they will need host families. I have worked with our local college for many years now. We take in students from all over the world, usually for a week or two at a time. However, it is possible to host for up to a year.

My advice is to set ground rules from the start. It is your house, not a hotel. With the youngsters particularly, I always make it clear what time I expect them to be home in the evening, when their meals will be ready and that they are to text me if they are going to be late.

Under the Government’s Rent a Room Scheme, you can earn up to £7500 per annum. If you cross this threshold you will need to complete a tax return.

Take in a lodger

We also take in lodgers much of the time. The advantage here is that they can sort their own meals, do their own laundry and clean their own bedrooms. It is also a more dependable form of income.

You need to be pretty easy going I think. Whilst your lodger is living with you and paying rent, it is their home too, so you can’t constantly hog the TV remote and need to be prepared to share the kitchen and bathroom.

Taking a lodger also comes under the Rent a Room scheme rules.


If you have a particular skill, you could try teaching it to others. As I mentioned, I have taught yoga on and off for many years, both for the local adult community college and in leisure centres.

You used to be able to teach pretty much anything from sewing and cookery to woodwork and photography without a qualification. However, the adult colleges are increasingly insisting on a teaching diploma. It’s worth asking what their requirements are. For very specialised leisure courses and workshops it may still be enough just to be a subject expert.

If you have a degree in something like a language, maths or English you could do home tutoring. I know some teachers who are now out of the profession but still do this. If you have a grammar school locally, there is usually good demand for 11+ coaching. Be creative. If you are a great guitarist or pianist,  you might also be able to teach one to one in your own home.

You can register with an agency such as First Tutors. If you plan to teach children you should apply for a DBS check.

I have a friend who is a native French speaker who used to earn more money running small after school clubs in French. My kids loved that! She just asked around in the playground and had a lot of interest.


I have a work colleague who hasn’t paid for a holiday in years. He usually wins at least a couple of breaks every year, as well as household goods, days out, tickets to events and all sorts of other goodies.

Competitions are his hobby. For fun, he sits for a couple of hours each evening and enters as many as take his fancy. He recommends that you set up an email account just for comping. Otherwise, you will start to get overwhelmed with junk mail.

He uses Loquax and MSE to find his competitions. You will also find more to enter and advice at Super Lucky Di.
Obviously cash prizes are the only ones that will directly give you money in the bank, but they will certainly save you some and you could sell some of your unwanted prizes.

Matched betting can earn more money

Having heard stories of people winning thousands with matched betting, I did attempt it. However, I just couldn’t get my head round it and didn’t have the patience required.

However, I have come across other bloggers who are so good at it they regularly bring in an extra couple of thousand pounds each month. If you want to try it, I recommend looking at Katy Kicker for information on how to get started.

Online Surveys

A lot is promised by survey sites but can you really earn decent money? Skint Dad reckons you can, although he admits that surveys can be time consuming. He suggests that if you sign up to multiple sites and do a few each day you could earn as much as £200 extra each month. His guide is here.

I don’t have time to do that many but I do pop onto Prolific from time to time as they seem one of the best payers. I got fed up with answering loads of questions before being screened out on some of the others.

Mystery shopping

When my kids were still at school I signed up to do some mystery shopping. I had to go to a café in a department store and order a particular meal in one case, then had to enquire about opening a new bank account for another.

What I really wanted were some fabulous three course meals with wine or a stay on a hotel, but it wasn’t to be!

Emma Drew reckons you can make some decent money and have some fun experiences as a mystery shopper. She published a blog post called Everything you need to know about mystery shopping in the UK, which also lists some of her favourite mystery shopping companies.

Rent your driveway

If you live near a town or city centre, you could find your garage or driveway is easy to rent out to commuters. I have a colleague who does just this. She uses her car to get to work so her driveway is empty all day – or rather it isn’t as a lady in an office nearby pays her to park there. She undercuts the local car park!

As with everything, there are several websites where you can list your parking space if you do an internet search, or ask businesses near to where you live to pass the message to their employees.

Selling online

Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of eBay. I buy and sell on there. You can easily make a few pounds clearing out your house or garage and selling your things on. You can also use Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace.

As well as those having a declutter, there is a growing army of entrepreneurs making a living out of reselling on eBay. They source items cheaply via auctions, boot sales, charity shops, etc and then sell them on at a profit.

I do this from time to time, focussing mainly on clothing. I have a couple of guides here and here.

Feature in the press

earn more moneyWould you believe it, the press aren’t only interested in stories from celebrities! They are frequently looking for ordinary people to write about and will often pay you as well. You could submit your story to publications like Take a Break, although they tend to focus on the tragic or the sensational.

If you prefer something more run of the mill, I recently discovered a Facebook group called Feature Me, run my Daily Mail journalists. Every day they make requests for people (mainly women) to take part in stories. They usually pay £100-200 upon publication.

I recently did this and they came to my house to give me a makeover and take photos. That was fun, although they have yet to use the piece so I am still waiting to get paid.
Go on a game show

Work as an extra

This isn’t going to make your fortune, but if you like the limelight you could meet some interesting people and see your face on TV or film. There is an interesting article here about how to get started.

Love animals?

Francesca Mason of From Pennies to Pounds makes money dog boarding at home. She gets paid to look after cute dogs whilst their owners are away. If I was at home more, I would definitely go for this (although I’m not sure the cats would approve)!

It may not work if you already have a dog, however.

There is no reason you couldn’t offer this service for other creatures too. Francesca uses an organisation called Tailster. You can sign up for pet boarding, dog or cat day care and dog walking as well.

Help at the local elections

Your local council regularly recruits polling clerks for elections. I worked as one during the general election last year to earn more money. It was hard work and a long day, but very interesting. I plan to do it again in May for the local elections. I worked a 12 hour day, so it’s not for the faint hearted.

You can progress to being a presiding officer, which pays a bit better. Rates of pay seem to vary between councils, so approach yours for more information. Now is a good time as many will have parish and council elections coming up in the summer.

Don’t forget your tax obligations

When you earn more money you are, of course, obliged to pay more tax. Keep good records and receipts and be prepared to complete a tax return. Go to Gov.UK for more information on self assessment.

What are your ideas to earn more money?

I am taking part in the Monday Money linky with Lynn from Mrs Mummy PennyFaith from Much More With Less and Emma from EmmaDrew.Info

Twenty purchases to save money

purchases to save moneyI know I tend to encourage people towards frugality and NOT buying things, but I was looking around for some new hairdressing scissors and it got me thinking about other purchases I have made that have saved me money in the long run. Here are twenty purchases to save money.

Hairdressing scissors

Mr S hasn’t let me cut his hair yet but he might, in which case I will invest in some clippers to go alongside the scissors. I always cut my own fringe, and occasionally do a whole head of DIY haircutting.

Bread maker

You can buy cheap bread, but if you like it fresh and crusty it is cheaper to make it yourself. Plus you can make dough for pizza. Ok, lots of you will say you make bread without a bread maker, but if you are super busy they save time as well as money.

A freezer

A freezer offers so many money saving possibilities. You can batch cook or just save left overs to eat instead of ready meals, you can freeze bones for making stock, you can make big batches of soup to freeze for lunches, you can buy yellow sticker reduced items and store them, you can buy gluts of fruit and veg cheaply in season and preserve it. I could go on…A freezer is one of my essential purchases to save money.

Tightwad Gazette

I know I have mentioned this book a lot of late but it is so inspiring! It is available from Amazon: The Complete Tightwad Gazette.

A slow cooker

These cost so little to run and are a good way to use cheaper cuts of meat to cook them very slowly until tender. You can make things like porridge and rice pudding in them too.

Heated airer

I got mine from Aldi but Lakeland do a better one I think. Tumble dryers are expensive to run and these are a good alternative. If you can’t afford a heated one then just an airer – try to site it near a radiator or wood burner.

Car-washing stuff

Buying a sponge and bucket and using a squirt of soap can save you £10-15 a time if you usually pay to wash your car.

A spade and some seeds 

If you have room for a veg patch and can grow your own you can save loads of money (growing your own is another good reason for having a freezer). A few good gardening tools will be great purchases to save money.

A drill and basic toolbox

Learn a few DIY skills. Being able to put a cupboard together, make repairs to furniture, reuse old materials, put up shelves or do a bit of plastering can literally save you thousands of pounds.

Some decent cookbooks

Delia’s Frugal Food, A Girl Called Jack and Save with Jamie are three of my go to books for budget recipes. If you can’t cook you will spend vast amounts on convenience food and takeaways.

Freeview box

Although you can beat the cost down, Virgin, Sky, etc. are still expensive. You can pause, rewind and record with the newer boxes too. Combine this with Netflix and you probably have all you need.

A tent

Think you can’t afford to go on holiday? Invest in a tent and some camping gear. There are some great value family breaks to be had under canvas and kids love camping. There are some other ideas for frugal holidays here.


Still a super cheap and reliable mode of transport, you can pick up a decent bike second hand on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree.

Food processor

I use mine mainly to liquidise soups and bake cakes, both of which save money. I wouldn’t be without a food processor and it is one of my must have purchases to save money.

Pet insurance

Ok, you could do without and save money, but vets costs are astronomical. If your pet needs ongoing medical care you will wish you had insurance.

Low energy light bulbs

They last a long time and cost less to run.


Radiator foil, thermal curtain linings and polystyrene backed wallpaper are all cheap and cheerful ways to warm up a cold house. You can also fill your wall cavities and look at your roof insulation.

If you insulate and keep out the draughts you can turn the heating down. You can find more information at the Energy Saving Trust.

Soup carrier/ lunchbox

A leak-proof, airtight container is essential for moneysaving work or school lunches.

Reusable carrier bags

You only save 5p a time by not buying a bag at the till but every little helps and it’s good for the environment too. I always keep a fold up one in my handbag and lots of strong reusable bags in the car boot.

Bicarbonate of soda and vinegar

If you buy these in quantity you can clean pretty much your whole house. You save money and don’t live in a smog of nasty chemicals. This post explains the amazing power of bicarbonate of soda.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, more a starting point. As ever, if you do make any purchases, shop around to get the best quality for your money and buy second hand where you can.

What would you add to my list of twenty purchases to save money?

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase something, I will make a small commission. 

Eight ways frugality will ruin your life

frugality will ruin your lifeWhat? Eight ways frugality will ruin your life? Odd title on a blog that follows a frugal living philosophy.  However, bear with me. Here are some ways that you may feel frugality will ruin you life (and how to see the benefits).

You won’t have anything to watch on TV

One of the first things many people do when they are saving money is to cut their satellite or cable TV packages. We decided not to get rid of Virgin altogether, but we have reduced our package to the minimum.

When you do this you will hear cries of ‘There’s nothing to watch on TV!’ The kids will surely think frugality will ruin your life! We often felt there was nothing worth watching before we cut our package, to be perfectly honest. There were a lot of channels, but most of them didn’t appeal. You could easily spend half an hour flicking through before giving up and going to bed.

As well as the obvious money saving ones, the advantages of cutting down to the minimum are:

You make the most of the free channels you have. We have discovered some great programmes on the BBC, for example, and can watch them through the iPlayer.

You watch less rubbish and have more free time.

You will have to menu plan and cook

Another way frugality will ruin your life is that you will have to find time to cook. When you are tired and get back late from work, it is so tempting to buy a takeout on the way home or pop into a restaurant.

When you choose a frugal lifestyle you know you have to plan. Keep on top of what food is in your house, plan your meals for the week and write a shopping list. You can even plan for those nights when you can’t be bothered to cook by freezing leftovers as ready meals and batch cooking. Then you always have something quick for when you are tired and in need of a speedy supper.

If you plan in your lunches as well you won’t have an excuse to pop out to buy lunch at work either. It can feel like an annoying job to plan in this way, but it pays dividends with a healthier bank balance.

Writing a budget is such a faff

It really is boring to write a budget and track it. However, it gets a lot more exciting when you can see that you are sticking to your budget by following a frugal lifestyle. The faff becomes worthwhile when you have money left over at the end of the month to put towards your debts or something you are saving for.

There are loads of budget planners to help you online or you could make a simple spreadsheet to show your income and outgoings, how much you are putting in savings, and so on. I like Money Saving Expert’s Budget Brain.

You will miss shopping as a hobby

If you are a serious shopper frugality will ruin your life as you know it. No more weekend trips to the shopping centre, or evenings sitting at your computer buying stuff you really don’t need. You start by looking for a skirt and the next minute your shopping basket contains some shoes, makeup, a couple of books and a coat you suddenly realise you desperately need (even though you already own four coats).

On the plus side, this will give you more time to plan your budget and cook your own healthy, tasty and frugal dinners. How about a wardrobe declutter instead? You might find items you forgot you even owned.

You could do the odd bit of retail therapy at a boot sale or in the charity shop, but you will still need to make sure these purchases fit in your budget.

Frugality will ruin your life when you have to say no to your friends, your family and yourself

You might feel terrible when you can’t buy your kids the expensive gizmo, game or toy they see. The pain of a child screaming the shop down will certainly make you feel that frugality will ruin your life. However, the pleasure your children get from saving their birthday and pocket money to buy something they really wanted and have been patiently waiting for is likely to make the pain worthwhile.

When your friends ask you to the pub or cinema and you can’t afford to go, will it feel dreadful to ask them round to yours for a meal and a few glasses of wine instead? It’s perfectly possibly to throw a frugal dinner party.

Playing the waiting game is no fun

It might feel like the end of the world that you can’t impulse buy a new kitchen and stick in on the credit card. You may be driven mad that you can’t get new boots and have to get your current ones re-heeled instead. It will feel like pure misery that you have to tip out your makeup bag and use the 10 lipsticks already in there rather than buying another one. Or will it really?

When you live a frugal lifestyle you learn to wait instead of opting for immediate gratification. A huge plus of doing this is that you often find that you don’t really want whatever it was that you considered buying. If you still do, then you save up and feel great about a purchase with no credit card hangover.

You have to buy second hand

A shiny new car is lovely, but unless you happen to have buckets of cash this is going to involve a big loan or finance deal. Plus, new cars depreciate as you drive them off the forecourt. Buy second hand and you can put your money towards paying off your debts or your mortgage instead.

The charity shops, eBay and Facebook Marketplace are awash with furniture at a fraction of their new price. I have a post on how to find a bargain on eBay here.   The same with clothes and toys. There is no shame in second hand. Call an item vintage or antique and you will pay a premium but they are actually second hand, right?

I have lost count of the number of fantastic pre-owned bargains we have found.

You have to sell your stuff

Well, you don’t have to sell things that you love and use. But how many people have cupboards and sheds full of things that are unused and gathering dust? A good declutter is good for the soul, and you may as well get some money from your old stuff if you can.

You can sell on eBay or other online sites, through your local Facebook groups, by sticking a notice in the local shop or by going to a boot sale.

Still think frugality will ruin your life?

Whether you have chosen a frugal lifestyle to pay off your debts, to get some money in your emergency fund, to put money aside for travelling or a house deposit, or just to get by and make all of your regular payments, there will be times when you feel that frugality will ruin your life.

But when you look at other people who are not living a frugal lifestyle, what you may not see is that they  may regret that they never saved for a house, or they owe a fortune to the credit card companies. Maybe everything looks rosy on the surface, but one small misfortune – an illness or a job loss – could tip them over the edge. By purposefully living a frugal existence you are building financial resilience and moving towards being debt free and happy.

Frugality will ruin your life but only for 5 minutes at a time. In the long term the benefits you gain from a frugal lifestyle will save you lots of worry and keep you secure.


How to find a bargain on eBay

find a bargain on ebayI recently discovered a handy little eBay app called Bidkit It is a great tool if you want to find a bargain on eBay, especially if you buy to resell. You can search under the following headings:

Spelling mistakes

This is the most useful one, as far as I am concerned. The number of people who cannot spell! If you have a particular designer or brand that you like you will probably search using the correct spelling. With Bidkit you can find almost correct spellings.

For example, a search for ‘Karen Millen’ bought a whole load of listings spelled ‘Karen Mullen’, a ‘Kaern Millen’ and a ‘Karen Milen’. None of these had any bids on them.

Local collection only listings

This is handy for larger items that you want to purchase locally. To be honest, you can do the same thing using the advanced search facility on eBay, but it is still useful to have it on the app.

Daily deals

I probably wouldn’t use this one to find a bargain on eBay. If you have an eBay account you will receive the daily deals via email already. I am not sure how these are chosen by eBay, but I am rarely drawn to anything.

Zero bids

This is helpful if you want less competition. You could even keep an eye where there have been no bids and make a cheeky offer after the auction has ended. It is possible to sort so you can see those ending soonest as well.

Unwanted gifts

There are likely to be a lot of unwanted gifts just after Christmas. It is not the best time to sell because there will be a flood, but this makes it a great time to buy.

You can search for unwanted gifts directly on eBay, but it will only find these where ‘unwanted gift’ is in the heading. Bidkit finds this within the text too. Very useful to find a bargain on eBay.

Night-time auctions

It is always worth looking out for auctions that end at an odd time. Being able to locate items that will end in the middle of the night is very useful. I am not suggesting you sit up and put your bid on at 3 am, though. You can use Auction Sniper to get your bid in before you go to bed!

Unwanted prizes

I was surprised at how many of these there were. Why enter the competition if you don’t want the prize?

Like new

Useful if you want to find a bargain on eBay that is only lightly used.

The other categories that I doubt I would use are New Buy it Now items, Penny auctions and Expensive items. I might look at the latter if I want to see how the other half live!

If you enjoyed reading this post you might also like How to Make Money Selling on eBay and How to Present Clothes on eBay.


This is a sponsored post. However, all views expressed are my own honest opinions.

Prepare for a no spend January

no spend JanuaryAre you feeling the pinch after Christmas? Do you wish you could pay off debts or get your savings off the ground? If so, a no spend January could be the answer.

The new year is a great time to set yourself a no spend challenge, although you can do it any time of year. Turning over a new leaf and starting afresh; the themes for a brand new year perfectly suit a no spend month.

Why do a no spend January?

‘Really? You spend NOTHING for a whole month?’, is a common response when I tell people my plans for a no spend month.

Some can manage a no spend day, weekend or even a no spend week. But a month is a whole new ball game.

A no spend January will help  you recover from the Christmas spend-fest and save you loads of cash. However, a prolonged period of not spending will also increase your awareness of where your money goes and make you appreciate how little you can live on if you need to.

I find a no spend period truly liberating. There are no more of those internal conversations about whether you should buy that new item of clothing or have a night on the town. You know you won’t be doing either.

How to prepare for a no spend January

Tell family and friends

I always find it best to be upfront with friends and family when I do a no spend month. It is hard to keep making excuses for not meeting for coffee or going to the pub. If you tell people in advance you will get fewer invitations.

Don’t, however, let your loved ones spend all their money on you during your no spend month. Instead of letting them pay for dinner, how about cooking something together to share at home?

Stay away from the shops

It may sound obvious but looking around the shops or window shopping is a terrible idea when you are trying to save money. This includes charity shops! I can spend a small fortune in them if I am not careful.

Plan for fun

If you are usually a social butterfly, a month of no outings at all will be tough and lonely. Look for cheap or free things to do. Invite friends round with a bottle or get together and bring a dish each. Your rules for the month might allow for a weekly night out with an upper spending limit. You can be flexible and the rules are up to you.

This may be a good time to use up any vouchers you got for Christmas for the cinema. Otherwise, Netflix always has a good choice of films and dramas.

Plan what you will do with the money you save

This can be a great incentive to stick to the rules you make for your no spend January. Whether you want to pay off your credit card or put some money towards a summer holiday, a plan will keep you on track.

The Rules

These are my own personal rules for my no spend January. Yours might be different, depending on your circumstances. Here is what is allowed:

Mortgage and bills

Obviously we will take care of these, as usual. No point in saving money and having to deal with the bailiffs….

Groceries and pet supplies

I can spend money on food. However, I will eat from the fridge, freezer and cupboards first and make sure I plan our menus around what is in there before buying anything else. I always pack a work lunch anyway as this saves a ton of money.

We don’t have masses of food left over from Christmas, but some of you will. Make sure you factor this into your planning to keep your grocery spend to a minimum. Personally, I intend to make lots of soup with the stack of home grown courgettes in the freezer, to make bread pudding with the bread ends and to use up some of our frozen plums for crumbles.

It is really important to go through your larder to see what you have stashed away. I did this today and found I had two jars of coffee and a pack of teabags pushed right to the back. Both were on my shopping list, so have been able to cross them off.

You might find some of my favourite frugal recipes helpful.

I stocked up yesterday on cat food, litter and biscuits. We will obviously buy more of these if we need to as we go through our no spend January.


I could save money by cycling to work, but I am no cyclist and it is 6 miles each way, so I think not! Petrol is therefore allowed. I will, however, walk or cycle short trips. We are trying to increase  the amount of walking we do anyway so this will be a good incentive to keep our miles up.

Alcohol and treats

I am allowing some wine and a few treats during my no spend January. However, I won’t need to buy any sweets or crisps as we still have loads left over. As I won’t be going out to the pub this month, a couple of bottles of white wine will be on my shopping list.


It is my daughter’s birthday this month. I have already sorted her presents. However, we will be having some kind of takeaway as a celebration on Friday, the day before she travels back to university.

Free days out

We have our RHS card so might take a trip to Hyde Hall, our nearest garden. There are free museums and galleries here. We will take lots of long walks too. We are allowing our travel costs to these places where necessary.

What isn’t allowed

Make up and toiletries. I have enough of both to get me through the month.

Cleaning supplies. Again, we have plenty. I will buy toilet paper and washing up liquid during the month, as we are likely to run out. Essential items only!

Nights out. Unless they are free! If we get an invitation out to dinner we shall accept that and return the favour next month.

Items of clothing. I don’t need anything.

Books. I am terrible for impulse purchasing books. I have quite a few to read and some on my Kindle app, so there is no excuse to buy any more. If I am short of a read I will look on the internet or visit the library.

Snacks from the machine at work. These are ridiculous. 80p for a single chocolate bar. I will keep a stash of our Christmas food in my drawer for emergencies.

Coffees out. If I am going into town or if we are out for the day I will prepare a flask. We always take a picnic on excursions anyway, which saves a lot of money.

Takeaways. Apart from my daughter’s birthday, there will be no expensive take out food. We don’t spend money on these anyway as a rule.

Will you join me on a no spend January?

I will be checking in weekly to let you know how I am getting on and whether I have succumbed to any extra spending. It will be interesting to know if you are planning a no spend January and what your rules will be! How far can you stretch your money this month?

My top money saving blog posts for 2017

top blog postsIt’s always interesting to look back and review our year here at Shoestring Cottage. I thought it would be good to identify my top money saving blog posts to see which have been the most popular.

Earlier in the year I signed up with Google Analytics. It tells me all kinds of things, such as how many people have visited each day, which country they are from, how long they stayed for, etc. I find it fascinating! It also tells me which posts were the most read, so here is the top ten.

My top money saving blog posts of 2017

A tabloid sensation

Fame at last: spreading the frugal message. This was our first taste of fame, as we became tabloid sensations for the day, appearing in the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Mirror. It was a bit of fun, although I avoided reading the Mail comments. They are always nasty!

A great debate

Lidl or Aldi: which is best? I was surprised that this was such a hit. Actually I like and use both Lidl and Aldi, but think Aldi has the edge.

Saving money on groceries

The Joys of a well stocked larder. This is fundamental in my list of money saving blog posts. If you don’t keep the basics in and know what you have in your kitchen cupboards, you will tend to buy more products you don’t need. You might not use them in time, which leads to food waste. This is a no-no in the thrifty kitchen, as I am sure you will agree.

Cleaning frenzy

Cleaning as therapy. Although not strictly a money saving post, this is a good one for the New Year. A nice clean, tidy and clutter free house does run nicely alongside a frugal approach to life. If the house looks nice you are less likely to want to spend money on redecorating or new furniture, or buy thing you already have buried in a drawer somewhere.

Making extra money

How to make money selling on eBay. One of my favourite money saving blog posts for after Christmas. You have all your new presents so might want to sell some of your old stuff to make space. Or you might want to sell the lovely, but not quite you, jumper that Auntie May gave  you. Selling on eBay is a great way to make a little extra cash at what may be a lean time of the year for some.

Planning ahead

Frugal Christmas: Budget now to save your bank balance. I wrote this one back in October. This was the money saving post that got picked up by a media company and sent to the tabloids. It’s all about planning for Christmas and it’s never to early to start….

A classic of frugality

Tightwad Gazette remembered. Ahhhh…. this absolute classic manual of thrift and frugality. Even though it is now over 25 years old I still give it a read every now and again for frugal inspiration.

Budget eating

This month’s grocery challenge – eating on a budget. We are always looking for ways to spend less and this money saving post focussed on groceries. It’s all in the planning. If you are new to money saving, you can usually get a quick win with your grocery budget.

A good declutter

New order: the great wardrobe declutter. Is there anything more therapeutic than a good declutter? I don’t like lots of stuff and don’t have masses of clothes. However, I find it incredibly cathartic to have a good clear out.

Time for a holiday?

Think you can’t afford to go on holiday? Ideas for frugal holidays. This is exactly the time of year to plan some kind of a break. You don’t need to spend a fortune to have a holiday and this post gives some ideas for inexpensive and affordable breaks.

So, this was a taste of our year in blog post form. I hope you find some of these interesting and useful. If you write a blog, what was your favourite/most popular post of the year? Leave a link in the comments so that we can all go and have a read!

Top 20 frugal habits to beat spending fatigue

Does anyone else get spending fatigue at this time of the year? I put money aside all year for Christmas, so I am not worried about going into debt to fund the festivities, food and presents. However, I stick to my frugal habits the rest of the year and spend as little as possible. Dusting off the purse and spending lavishly doesn’t come naturally!

Forward planning

So I am already thinking ahead to 2018 and getting back to my usual careful, frugal habits and lifestyle. We will be commencing (finally) the redecoration of the lounge in the New Year, so will need to focus our spending on that.

Post Christmas sales

I may take advantage of some post-Christmas sales to purchase cards and wrapping paper for next year, and hopefully some soft furnishings for the lounge project. After that I will be starting a no spend month for the whole of January.

I did this last year and found creating a no spend rule for the month was incredibly liberating. Friends asking me to the pub? Sorry, I am on a no spend month – perfect excuse! Shoes wearing out? I have other shoes; I will just wear some of the ones I don’t like so much.

Saving money where you can

During a no spend month, we do, of course, have to pay our bills and purchase food. However, with the latter particularly, creating a no spend ethos means you automatically save money wherever you can.

I will clear out the cupboards, fridge and freezer and start to use up some of those ingredients that sit unused at the back. It makes me more creative and adventurous in my menu planning!

Top frugal habits

A no spend month will help to boost our emergency fund and go into the New Year feeling financially more healthy. It also allows me to remember some of my top frugal habits and make sure I am practising what I preach.

My top 20 frugal habits for life are:

Make a monthly budget and stick to it.

Review your bills at least quarterly and shop around.

Pack a lunch for work or school.

Menu plan.

Make a shopping list.

Buy groceries from the discount supermarkets and look out for yellow stickered bargains.

Repair and maintain items rather than rushing to replace them.

Buy second hand whenever you can.

Where you can’t buy second hand, use cash back sites such as Top Cashback. (This is my referral code. If you sign up using it I will earn a fee and you will get a £5 voucher until 27th December).  You can also try Quidco. (Again, this is my referral code and if you use it we will both earn £5).

Sell your old stuff on eBay or on Ziffit.com.

Use Approved Food every now and again to buy staples (my affiliate link). They currently have a tin of Christmas chocolates for £1!

Cook from scratch as much as possible and batch cook soups and stews.

Freeze left overs.

Grow some of your fruit and vegetables in the garden.

Avoid takeaways.

Rather than eating out, cook a nice meal for friends at home.

Pack a flask and picnic for days out.

Drink water rather than fizzy stuff, tea or coffee (particularly when out and about).

Take frugal exercise: gardening, walking and running are free.

Cut your TV package to the minimum.

I will revisit these in more detail in the New Year. In the meantime, just typing this list makes me feel better! I can’t kick my frugal habits.

This post contains some affiliate links. If you click through to make a purchase or sign up, I will earn a small fee. Thanks!

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 I have done this week, 8th December 2017

At this time of year, when most of us tend to be spending more than usual on Christmas presents, five frugal things feels like quite a feat! However, the potential for rampant consumerism means that it is  even more important to save money when you can.

1. Packing a great frugal lunch

five frugal things: pumpkin soupOne of my daughters is staying with us at the moment. As she has to commute to work each day she is keen to save her pennies. I always take a packed lunch to work, but get lazy and uninspired. Sometimes a sandwich is the easiest thing to throw together but not the most appealing. So we have been taking it in turns and so far she has made a delicious Greek salad, which lasted two days. I made some pumpkin soup. Today we have leftovers from a sweet potato curry. Delicious!

Because she is home I am making more effort and enjoying my lunch each day. If I was to buy a salad, some fruit and a drink out I think I would easily spend £6 or £7 each day.

2. Reflecting on my Christmas budget

I have almost finished my shopping – just a couple more gifts to find. I set a budget for presents and one for food. We don’t need decorations or a tree so there is no budget for those.

Of course, there is no point in making a budget if you don’t review it regularly and make sure you stick to it. So far we are coming in a bit under, which is good news. If I have money left over it will go straight into the savings pot for next year.

3. Cooking more vegetarian

Five frugal things: sweet potato curryI have been enjoying digging out my old vegetarian cook books, as well as finding new recipes to try online. BBC Good Food seems like a great resource. We all enjoyed the satay sweet potato curry I mentioned earlier. It was easy to make but I varied the ingredients slightly to make use of what we had in the cupboards. I added a sad looking carrot and a courgette that needed using up. Dried ginger did the job just as well as fresh. I find when I buy fresh half of it gets wasted as we don’t use enough of it.

I also rather like the look of paneer with broccoli and sesame, if I can find somewhere to get the paneer locally.

Veggie food definitely saves money, even with a few more unusual ingredients.

4. A visit to the food bank

Ok, not really one of my five frugal things, but I have to mention it! As I have written on several occasions, the UK Money Bloggers have all been taking part in a reverse advent campaign for the food banks. I ran this at work and, thanks to the generosity of my colleagues, we collected a whole carful. We visited the food bank yesterday to hand it over.

five frugal things: trip to the food bankThis was such a worthwhile exercise and we will do it again next year. I feel reassured to know that there are such great organisations around like the Trussel Trust to help look after people if they are unfortunate enough to hit hard times.

5. It’s the little things

It’s amazing how much toothpaste you can squeeze out of what appears to be an empty tube. Because I thought we had some I didn’t buy any this week and keep forgetting to pop in and get some on the way home from work.  Surprisingly we have had several days worth. I really do need to buy some now though!

five frugal things: 1001 ways to save money bookI got a great gift on the secret Santa at work, which lists a lot more than five frugal things – 1001 Ways to Save Money. They know me too well! I will read it carefully to see if there are some good frugal tips for next time.

If you need to save money at Christmas, have a look at my ideas here, here and here.

I’m linking up with Cass Emma and Becky in this week’s Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week linky. Hop on over for more money saving inspiration.

What five frugal things have you achieved this week?

Make money from your spare room – a guide

Can you make money from your spare room? A picture of a house with a pound sign next to it.How can you make money from your spare room? There are plenty of options and you don’t need a lodger all of the time. Renting out a room in your house is a great way to earn some extra income.

We have made good use of our spare room since my daughters started to leave home.  We have got to know some lovely people and our experiences have been almost 100% positive.

1. Taking in language students

It might be that you want to make money from your spare room but can’t, or don’t want to, share with someone full time. This was our position initially. One daughter was at university but came home during the holidays so needed her room back some of the time.

We have a large language college where we live. Students come to learn English and stay anything from a week to a whole year. They are often looking for host families. You provide a room, breakfast and dinner during the week with lunch as well at the weekend. This is usually a packed lunch as they often go off on organised excursions.

You also clean the room and do the student’s laundry. I never found any of this to be a problem as it was only what I was doing anyway.


You are expected to sit together at the table for dinner to give the students the opportunity to practice their English skills. We had some hilarious conversations at times and were only saved by the use of Google Translate!

We have had students from all over the world – including Japan, France, Italy, Spain, Angola, Slovakia and Macedonia and have enjoyed learning about their lives.

As well as the college  I discovered a couple of other organisations locally that bring in school parties from Europe. They also need host families. The students are younger, of course , which feels like more of a responsibility. It generally involves driving them to their learning base for the first few days whilst they find their feet and get to grips with the bus system.

You can expect to be paid between £120-140 per week as a host family.

Pros: you get to know lots of interesting folk from around the world and forge some lasting friendships. Cons: the students tend to be under 20 and can cause some worry. We had one 17 year old who didn’t come home until midnight on her first day with us, spent much of the night throwing up and then missed college the next day! They are supposed to be in by 10.30 so this was a little awkward, but we made it clear there was to be no reoccurrence. You need to be firm from the start.

The best way to find organisations seeking host families locally is to do an internet search.

2. Airbnb

It is possible to make money from your spare room through AirBnb. We have never done this but we have used several now between us. Me and Mr S stayed in one in Wales which was basic but extremely cheap. My daughter and her friends have rented several whole houses and flats between them for weekend breaks. She and her boyfriend also stayed with a lady near their flat whilst it was having some work done. We have all found it a generally positive experience.

But what about welcoming guests in? I would be nervous about allowing complete strangers have access to my whole house, but would consider doing the odd bed and breakfast weekend. Nikki Ramskill from the Female Money Doctor did it several times and she says ‘I had no issues with anyone as I vetted them all before I agreed to let them stay. I turned down a few people because I didn’t trust them. New profiles, unverified, are ones I avoided. I tried to put in couples and women. I didn’t allow pets or children and there was a strict no smoking policy. You can set up a deposit limit which is taken in the case of a problem. The interface is really easy to use. The calendar is fully controlled by me, and I also blocked out weekends I didn’t want people staying, like Christmas and new year.’

Potential issues

Although problems are rare, Sara from Debt Camel has come across someone who let his flat out for a long weekend but  came back on Sunday evening to find the ‘guests’ were still there and had changed the locks! She recommends you check the terms of your tenancy or mortgage, your insurance policy and that you aren’t breaking any planning laws with the local council. She says you should consider that there is a risk of theft or of having your place wrecked, albeit very small, if you rent your property as a whole.

You can find information about how to become an Airbnb host here.

3. Renting longer term

Once two of my three daughters had moved out more permanently we decided to take a longer term approach and take in a lodger. We were a bit anxious. What if we didn’t get on or they tried to move the boyfriend in? What if they were really messy or noisy?

Set clear parameters

In the end we decided that we would set clear parameters for prospective lodgers and if they weren’t happy they could look elsewhere. We only accept females as we all feel most comfortable with this. It is a single room so no, they cannot bring their boyfriends home every weekend. They are welcome to have friends round and have had the odd girlfriend staying over with no issues.

They have their own cupboard in the kitchen and cook for themselves but do need to tidy up afterwards, the same as we do. They are responsible for keeping their bedroom clean but I do the rest of the house.

Our own space

We are lucky in that we have another small room downstairs that we have made into the lodger’s sitting room, so there is no fighting over the remote. Whilst I like having chats in the kitchen I don’t want to sit with them every night – I like my own space. It might be worth getting a TV set up in the lodger’s room if you feel the same.

In city areas there is also the possibility of renting your room on a Monday to Friday only basis, so you get the house to yourself at the weekend.

We found our lodgers through www.spareroom.com. I tried a couple of other sites but didn’t get much of a response.  It was worth taking a paid ad for a couple of weeks as the number of contacts I received increased dramatically.

I purchased a lodger agreement through spareroom.com for just £7.50. It is worth doing this, as a formal agreement protects you both. Because you are renting out a room in your own home it is much easier to get rid of your lodger if things don’t work out.

Get a deposit

Always ask for a damage deposit and a month’s rent in advance. It is worth getting references too, but our last two lodgers had never rented before so they weren’t available. They aren’t easy to verify either!

I personally think you need to trust your gut when interviewing prospective lodgers . Our first one is now my eldest daughter’s best friend – they hit it off from the moment they met. Our current one is absolutely lovely and starting to feel like another member of the family already!

Paying tax on your earnings

The UK goverment’s rent a room scheme means that you can earn up to £7,500 each year tax free. There is a lot of guidance on this here and here.

You will need to check with your mortgage provider that they have no objections to you renting a room. It is also very important to make sure your household insurance allows for this.

4. Supported lodgings

A slightly different way of making money via your spare room is to ask your local social services department if the run a supported lodgings scheme. This is a whole new ball game. It isn’t just a way to make money from your spare room, it is more of a career choice.

What is supported lodgings?

A supported lodgings scheme is where you provide not just a room but family support for a young person leaving care. You need to be a caring family and willing to overcome some frustrations and difficulties to help a vulnerable young person move on with their life.

By providing a safe and nurturing home, you can be instrumental in helping the young person become more confident. Some young people will have experienced a lot of trauma and upheaval. They may need help with finding better ways to manage their behaviour.

You receive full training and support to do this job. Your earnings vary depending on the needs of the young person you take in. This is the most difficult of the options to make some income from a spare room by far, but will suit some people I am sure.

Have you found ways to make money from your spare room? It could be a great asset to up your income!

Can you make a living blogging?

I have been blogging for quite a while now. My first post went live in 2013. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! That didn’t really matter as it was a great new hobby. It didn’t occur to me that it was possible to make a living blogging.

Sharing tips

I used my blog initially as a kind of online diary. Documenting events at Shoestring Cottage and sharing money saving hints and tips was a fun thing to do. It also helped me to stay on track financially.

Another huge unexpected bonus of blogging for me has been my interactions with readers. I have usually had such intelligent, supportive comments and lots of really good advice.

You can make a living blogging

Reading other people’s blogs, I have become aware that some bloggers earn money from their blogs – in some cases, a six figure income!

It is hard work and you need to be immensely well organised, but it seems that you can make a decent income.

This is hugely appealing to me. I would love to at least earn part of my income as a blogger. To this end I recently signed up for Emma Drew’s blogging course, Turn Your Dreams Into Money: How to Build a Six-figure Blog and Live the Life You Want.

If you haven’t come across Emma Drew before, you need to check her out. As well as her blog, EmmaDrew.Info, she is very active on You Tube with some excellent and informative videos. Her blogging is so successful that she now earns a six figure income and employs her husband.

I am working my way through the course at every opportunity and have already learned so much.

From creating a blog from scratch, choosing topics to blog about, earning affiliate income, using social media, to negotiating sponsored posts and advertising, this course covers everything you need to know.

Will it help me make a living blogging? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, I am finding it fascinating. I have already used some of what I have learned to improve my blog, and it has explained some concepts that were all a bit of a mystery.

Black Friday £50 discount

If you want to start a blog, or already have one and would like to monetise it, Shoestring Cottage readers can get £50 off Emma’s course until midnight on 30th November. Click through from here and use the code BLACKFRIDAY to get your discount. The course usually costs £197, so you will pay £147. (This is my affiliate code and if you purchase the course by clicking through I will earn a commission. However, my opinions are my own and genuine.)

As well as the course itself, you can join Emma’s dedicated Facebook group to give and receive ideas and support from other people taking the course.

Maybe you have a blog and you are fine with it as a hobby. But if you are interested in blogging as a genuine career choice you could do a lot worse than investing in Emma’s course. In the meantime, I will let you know how I get on as the course progresses!

Spend less: Avoiding unnecessary expenditure

As Christmas approaches, we are keeping the belts on a tight notch.  We want to avoid unnecessary expenses and spend less.

Spend less on entertainment

It’s lovely to meet friends and go to the pub or cinema, but even just a couple of drinks out costs a lot these days. Instead, we will invite friends round for a glass of ‘vin du supermarche’!

It is possible to get cheaper cinema subscriptions from time to time through cash back sites like  Top Cashback (who currently have £11.97 cash back for a Cineworld subscription) or Quidco, but we are already paying for Netflix, so will make the most of what’s on there and stay in.

Spend less on food

I have planned all of our meals for this week and will sit down tomorrow and do the same for next week.

Saving money on food is all about preparation in my view.  Make a meal plan based on what needs using up, write a shopping list, use a discount supermarket and don’t shop when you are hungry. 
Shoestring Cottage pumpkin harvestWe only have spinach and pumpkin left on our veggie plot but have a lot of frozen fruit and vegetables so I will be building some into the meal plan.

Spend less on toiletries

I never spend a lot on high end cosmetics and toiletries. I am not short of much as I got my recent beauty bargains. If I do run out I will go to Home Bargains. I am a fan of this shop. There is a great choice and everything is superb value for money in my view.

Spend less on hair care

I have mentioned this in previous posts, but I always touch up my own roots and sometimes even cut my own hair. I will be giving it a little trim and will save the trip to the hairdressers until next month.

Spend less on clothes

I would love to splurge on clothes, but I’m not even going to allow myself any charity shop stuff this month. I bought a couple of things from my favourite online fashion retailer Everything Five Pounds last month so I don’t need anything desperately. Maybe it is time for another wardrobe challenge? Wear it or get rid of it!

Spend less on travel

Driving is by far the cheapest way for me to get to work. Otherwise I would need to take two buses. This would also cost a lot of my precious time! However, I will try to reduce other journeys by using shops en route and walking locally.

I love autumn and really enjoy walking anyway. This week we are dog sitting for friends, so no reason not to walk.

Spend less on fitness

Relaxing in the hot tubAs well as walking, me and Mr S have been doing quite a log of yoga at home. This is free!

This is my plan to spend less for the whole of the rest of October and November.

In other news

We are enjoying our dog sitting this week. The house is beautiful, the dogs are lovely and they have a hot tub! I don’t know if I would ever be prepared to buy one, but it’s lovely for a change. It feels like we are on holiday!

The reverse advent idea I mentioned in a previous post has already begun at work. We already have a lot of contributions so I think we wil need several boxes. Other colleagues have taken up the idea, which I’m very pleased about.

I can look at how to spend less, but it is good to be reminded that other folk have things much harder and can’t spend anything at all.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through and purchase something from my link, it won’t cost you any extra but I will earn a small commission.

Test your frugal habits with the thrift test

Frugal habits

Do you consider yourself savvy with your money or could you develop better frugal habits? Take the thrift test below to raise your awareness of which areas of your finances you need to improve.

  1. Do you know how much is in your bank balance right now?

    a) not a clue but I am probably overdrawn.

    b) yes, because I check every few days and budget accordingly.

    c) I have a rough idea as I take a look at my balance every now and again to see what I have left.2)

  2. Work lunches for you mean:

a) buying something on the hoof. I pop into a coffee shop or fast food outlet most days.b) a packed lunch. I always make one the evening before to save money.

c) sometimes I take a packed lunch but I don’t always have time.

3) What is your attitude to shopping for leisure:

a) I love it! Buying new things makes me feel good and I go into town or to the mall to shop most weekends.

b) I never shop for fun. I make my purchases when I am sure I need something and can afford it, and even then I shop around.

c) I know I can’t afford to go on regular sprees but like to look around the shops and make the odd impulse buy.

4) If you can’t afford something straight away do you:

a) buy it and stick it on your credit card. You can worry about how to pay it later.

b) do a lot of research online to find out the cheapest price for the item. Then either use your savings or save up. You will often try to buy second hand where possible.

c) If I really need it I buy it straight away, but have a quick look at some product reviews and prices first. I use a credit card but make sure I can pay at least the minimum repayment charges.

5) How often do you use cash back sites when you make your online purchases?

a) Never. I don’t know anything about them.

b) I always check to see if I can use sites like Top Cashback or Quidco before I make any purchase and get several hundred pounds back each year this way.

c) I have signed up but I often forget to use them.

* These are my referral links and if you sign up using them I will earn a small commission – thanks!

6) If you have to travel somewhere by train, do you:

a) buy the ticket as you get to the station.

b) purchase your ticket online several weeks in advance as you know you can save money. You consider different routes and buying two singles if that works out cheaper.

c) you know that you should buy your tickets in advance but often don’t remember until a few days before.

7) How do you keep your heating bills as low as possible?

a) I don’t really – as soon as I feel chilly the heating goes on.

b) I put on several layers and draw the curtains before I give in to turning it on and keep the thermostat as low as possible.

c) I try not to put it on too quickly but my partner or children often flick it on when my back is turned.

8) When was the last time you shopped around for a better mortgage deal, bank account or utility provider?

a) I don’t bother. They are all pretty much the same.

b) I check everything from my mortgage to my house insurance at least once a year.

c) I do it every now and again if I have time.

9) Your car is getting old and cranky. Do you:

a) Get another one on finance as soon as possible. I don’t really understand what they said about the interest rate but the car is shiny and red!

b) Look after the old girl whilst you save for another decent second hand model.

c) Get a loan from the bank to buy another car as soon as you can.

10) When you go grocery shopping, do you:

a) go in on the way home from work and buy what you fancy for the week.

b) Check what you already have in the stores, plan the meals for the week and then shop with a list.

c) I have a rough idea of what we need and usually take a list, but I don’t always stick to it and I am drawn to special offers.

The results to reveal your frugal habits

Mostly As

You don’t have to be a genius to work out that most As means your attitude to finance is so relaxed it is bordering on reckless. You rarely get a bargain and you don’t keep track of your spending. The chances are you have an overdraft and debts as a result. If you need to, you can get help and advice from the CAB, the Money Advice Service or Step Change.

Mostly Bs

You are a paragon of thrifty virtue, with fantastic frugal habits. You get the best value on everything you purchase, know how much money you have to spare to the penny and are likely to have a healthy savings account to prove it. We can all learn from you!

Mostly Cs

Let’s admit it, this is where most of us are. We love to get a bargain but don’t always do everything we could to save ourselves a buck. We can learn from the experts so that we can make the best of our money.

This is a light-hearted quiz with a serious message. Money really does make the world go around so understanding money


What do you know about the CAB? The best advice for free

Most people have heard of the Citizens Advice Bureau or CAB. Some of you may even have gone to them for help. Today I attended a session with a lady from the local CAB where she explained in depth what they do. I thought I knew what this was, but their work is much more wide ranging than I realised. All of their services are provided for free. The CAB really is an amazing and valuable organisation.

Identifying the issues of the day

CABAs well as giving advice to members of the public, the CAB identifies the big issues, researches them and campaigns where there are problems. They can see patterns emerging from their dealings with clients. This puts them in an ideal and possibly unique position to understand the struggles people face. For example, they are currently campaigning to halt the roll out of Universal Credit. They have seen first hand the difficulties these changes are causing to already disadvantaged people. They also successfully put pressure on the government to place a cap on the rate of interest charged by pay day loan companies.

A shocking 72% of the CAB’s clientele live in poverty. They may be on low incomes, be unemployed, disabled or living with a long term health condition.

The biggest subject areas the CAB deals with are, in order:

Benefits and tax credits




Financial services


As the lady explained today, these all impact on each other and people seeking advice often present with 3 or 4 different related problems. For example, they lose their job, they have no money and get into debt, then their relationships suffer.

The power of the volunteer

The CAB staff, who are mostly volunteers, do such a great job of helping people that 90% of their clients state they are satisfied; two out of three say their problems are resolved and 4 out of 5 say their lives have been improved by the experience.

The organisation struggles to keep up with the high demand for services. They always need more funding and constantly strive to recruit new volunteers. They have around 21,500 voluntary staff – that’s 77% of the total.

Those who volunteer with the CAB get benefits too. It can help people back into paid employment, give them experience in particular areas (for example, a lot of law students help at the CAB) and allow retired people a chance to use their skills and experience and continue with a challenge when their previous working life is over.

The CAB doesn’t just see people face to face. They have an excellent website for simple advice, as well as web chat and email services.

Helping with debt and money advice

The website has an excellent budgeting tool, as well as an eligibility calculator to help you work out which benefits you might be entitled to (this is down today but you can use this one if it isn’t working). You can take the first steps to working out what help you need and might not need to see an advisor at all. However, if you do require more specialist help you can make an appointment for a face to face meeting.

According to the CAB, one in 11 people in the UK have problem debt. Of these one in four have mental health issues. There is a connection.

Whatever your personal issues, the CAB can help you to find a way to manage your debt, and find a way out of the mire. For example, they can advise how to prioritise which debts to pay first, how to deal with your creditors and how to set up a debt management plan.

They can look at your income and ensure you are claiming all of the benefits you are entitled to, helping you to claim and deal with any issues that arise along the way. If you are facing eviction or rent arrears they can help you keep a roof over your head. They can also give employment advice if you are having problems at work or job seeking.

We are so lucky to have such a service.  All given free of charge by people who don’t have to but want to help anyway.  I am very pleased to know they are there, although I hope I never need their services. I think I am already planning my perfect retirement job!

Have you had any experience with the CAB?


Your frugal habits – take the thrift test to see if you can save money

Do you need to save money? Are you sometimes out of control and unsure where your pennies keep disappearing? Whether you are saving for something in particular, trying to pay off your mortgage, achieve financial independence or need to get by on a reduced income, this test of your thriftiness could shed light on your spending habits and the frugal habits you need to develop.

1.  When you buy groceries do you:

a. Do it on the hoof and think about what you need as you browse the supermarket shelves.

b. Always plan your meals and write a shopping list before you go.

c. Have a rough shopping list but tend to impulse buy.

2.  For lunch at work and for days out, do you:

a. Worry about it when you get there. You can always get something from the shop or a fast food outlet.

b. Take a packed lunch.

c. Try to take lunch with you but don’t always have time.

3. How is your bank balance? Do you:

a. Have little idea how much money you have and always run out before pay day.

b. Always know how much is in your account and budget so that you last the month and put money into savings.

c. Generally know roughly the amount of money you have, but sometimes go overdrawn because you don’t plan for unexpected expenses.

4. When you go into town do you:

a. Shop for fun – you love spending money and it is your favourite hobby.

b. You rarely go to town unless you really need something, and usually check out the charity shops.

c.  You don’t always spend money but are sometimes tempted to buy items on impulse.

6. Your home is:

a) Very warm – you have the heating on as soon as autumn arrives.

b) On the cool side – you will put on a jumper or two before you give in and turn on the heating.

c) You try to save money and keep the heating off but the kids keep turning it on.

7. When was the last time you thought about changing your bank, getting a new mortgage deal or shopping around for your utilities?

a) Why would I?

b) I look to see if I can get a better deal at least once a year.

c) I do it every now and again, but could probably shop around a bit more.

8. Your washing machine is getting old and unreliable. Do you?

a) Go to the nearest electrical superstore and ask the salesman for advice, then purchase the same day on credit.

b) Do some research on which models are the best value, then shop around to see where you can get the best deal. You save up if you can’t afford one straight away and consider second hand.

c) Have a look at a few online reviews and try to find a good deal. Hopefully you might have enough in your savings.

9. Have you ever used a cash back site?

a) How do they work?

b) I never buy anything online without checking Top Cashback or Quidco*.

c) I do sometimes but often forget.

(*These are my referral links and I will earn a small commission on any purchases you make using them. Thanks)

10. You need to travel somewhere on the train. Do you:

a) Buy your ticket on the day at the station.

b) Check several weeks in advance and research the cheapest routes to get you to your destination.

c) Try to buy a return ticket a week or so ahead if you remember.

11. How often do you buy designer labels?

a) Often. You can’t resist a brand name.

b) If you see any at the boot sale, you snap them up and resell on eBay.

c) Occasionally, for a special occasion.


I reckon you have worked out that mostly A answers mean you have failed the thrift test! You are likely to have a permanent overdraft and a lot of credit card debt.  Perhaps you lie awake at night worrying about the state of your finances. You need to develop some good frugal habits and learn to say no to yourself and others.

Mostly C answers: This is likely to be where most of us are. We are generally aware and in control of our money but have the odd lapse that could cause trouble.

Mostly Bs? Your frugal habits mean you are a paragon of virtue and on your way to being debt free and financially independent, if you’re not there already.

The thrift test is just a bit of fun. Few of us are totally out of control ALL the time or with the self discipline to never lapse. But we can all develop frugal habits to help us stay in control of our spending and save money for whatever we want.

What are your best frugal habits?

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.

Student budgeting for university: a new student’s guide

Imagine….you are 18, you have never had to worry too much about money and suddenly you get £1000s arrive in your bank account. You are rich! No, you’re not. It is your student loan and you need to pay your rent first then make it last the whole of the academic year. You know nothing about student budgeting and it is all very scary!

Next month darling daughter number 3 will be going off to university. I really hope I have taught her enough to help her get through her new life without getting into debt (well, any more debt than has already been agreed with Student Finance England!) So, here are my top student budgeting tips:

Student budgeting tools

Firstly, you need to know how much money you have and how long you need to make it last. You need to understand what your outgoings will be and make sure you keep enough by for these. There are plenty of downloadable spread sheets and calculators on the Internet to help with this. They will tell you whether you really can afford another night out or need to tighten your belt. UCAS has a handy one to get you started here.

This will only take you ten minutes and it will be a worthwhile investment of your time.

Avoid impulse buying

Before spending your precious student loan, ask yourself: do I really need this? Or do I just want it? Can I afford it? There are a lot of spending habits you can sink into as a student that will eat into your funds. Sometimes it is the smaller spends that add up. Coffees out, drinks in the pub, taxis, makeup, sweets….and suddenly you have spent that £20. Similarly, don’t rush to join the university gym unless you know you will use it constantly. Wait to see how things pan out and if you can really afford it. If you are cycling everywhere, you are keeping fit anyway!

Learning to cook

If you have never learned to cook, this is the time to begin. When I dropped my second daughter at university, the freezer was already packed full of home made ready meals for a particular male student, provided by his mother! I could have felt bad for sending my daughter off with a bag of basics from Aldi, but I wasn’t concerned as I knew she was capable of putting together a decent,  healthy meal. I was more worried she wouldn’t be able to fit her leftovers into the freezer!

Still, it is never too late to learn to cook and there are a lot of student cookbooks on Amazon. The Student Cookbook: Great grub for the hungry and the broke has good reviews.  If you are  off to uni this year and cannot cook, you still have time to learn the basics. Ask your parents to show you how. Spaghetti Bolognese, an omelette, sausages and mash, a cheese sauce (for macaroni, a vegetable bake, etc) are all simple things to try. If you cannot cook at all, the temptation is to buy takeaways and fast food – these might seem cheap, but they are a lot more expensive than a jacket potato with beans and cheese that you can make yourself in no time.

Cooking is a skill for life and essential for effective student budgeting. Even if you are going into catered halls of residence I still recommend you learn some fundamental cooking techniques.

Kitchen essentials

There are many downloadable lists on line advising on the essential kitchen items to take to university. But are they really essential? When you are concerned about student budgeting you don’t want to waste money on pointless purchases.

You don’t need a set of saucepans – just one or two with lids will do. You only need a couple of plates, bowls, glasses and mugs and a small amount of cutlery. Your student housemates will be bringing these items too; as you get to know them you can share. As I am urging you to cook, you do need a chopping board and at least one decent sharp kitchen knife, a bread knife, a small wok or frying pan, some spatulas, a colander, a cheese grater, vegetable peeler, kitchen scissors, a tin opener and some plastic food storage containers with lids.

These are brilliant for freezing your leftovers so it is worth taking some freezer labels too so that you can identify your frozen creations. An indelible pen is handy for marking your stuff in the fridge and cupboards. And as you are a student you might need a bottle opener too :).

However, you don’t need to buy these all brand new. We have been scouring the charity shops and boot sales and have found a lot of items second-hand.

Food planning and buying

I know it sounds dull, but a bit of planning can go a long way towards effective student budgeting. Have a think about which nights you need food and then write a shopping list. Have at least a rough plan for what you will eat each day.  It could be that you have a bit of time on a Monday but will be late back on Tuesday. Your plan for the week could be to make double the quantity of a meal on Monday that you can heat up on Tuesday. If you are likely to be out several nights don’t buy too much food that will then be wasted.

Check to see which is the cheapest supermarket near your accommodation. Aldi and Lidl are great for saving money on groceries. Is there a good street market? It is worth exploring what is sold there. If you are cycling, a decent back pack or panniers are a worthwhile investment for bringing your groceries home. For walkers, how about a good, old fashioned granny trolley on wheels?

If you make friends with other students in your accommodation, maybe you could share the cooking and buy food together? Bigger packs are always cheaper.

Tracking your spending

If you don’t already have it, get online mobile banking. This way you can check often how your balance is looking and if you need to start cutting back.

Save money on text books

Text books are a major expense. However, you don’t have to buy them all new. Amazon will have many for sale used for starters. This is useful article from Save the Student gives more detailed advice about how you can save money on textbooks.

Getting a job

If you just cannot make your student loan stretch far enough you will need to bring in some extra money. Part time jobs are in high demand in student towns and it helps if you already have some retail or bar experience.  Get yourself a decent CV done and make sure you include any work experience. Ensure grammar and spelling are spot on for all your applications and the lay out is attractive. There is a lot of guidance on line about CVs and going for interviews and this will pay dividends when you are looking for a graduate job later. Keep plugging away.

Whilst you are job-hunting, you could look at making a little extra doing online surveys or mystery shopping. There are all kinds of paid opportunities once you start looking. A fantastic blog to check out to help increase your income is The Money Shed.

So, what are you waiting for? Have the most fabulous time at university, make the best of the experience and come out ready for what ever the world offers. I hope this helps you with your student budgeting so you can manage your money and avoid any more debt than is strictly necessary.

Five Frugal Things I have done this week 12th August

Five frugal things

It has been a bizarre kind of week weather wise here in Essex. We have had warmth, cold, sunshine but mostly a lot of rain. I have been hoping for an improvement as we are off to a little festival tomorrow.  It’s not looking too bad at the moment but I will be taking my rain mac just in case.

So what five frugal things have we achieved this week?

We have a working wood burner

We finally had our wood burner fitted! It is ready for winter. This isn’t frugal in itself, of course, as it was expensive. Mr S saved us money by doing as much work as possible himself but we had to pay to get the chimney lined. Others who have one tell me that it has saved money on their heating bills in the long run and is great for drying laundry.

I am certainly looking forward to cozying up in front of it this winter.

I got some cash back

I signed up a while ago to Top Cashback and, even though I have barely bought anything over the last few months, I have earned £50 cash back! Imagine how much you could get back if you are a big online spender?

The idea is that you go into the site and peruse the deals they have negotiated with various retailers. If you buy something, you get the published amount of money back. I have got into the habit of checking Top Cashback to see if there is a deal on before I buy anything. I renewed my breakdown cover and bought a few presents and it has definitely come up trumps.

If you use my referral code, here, I earn a commission and you get a £5 bonus once you purchase something.


As I mentioned, we are off to a small festival tomorrow – Wrabfest! We have never been before but it looks fun. It is a community event, organised by villagers from Wrabness. Because we are on a grocery challenge, we shall be taking along a large picnic. I have rolls, crisps, fruit, chocolate, sausage rolls and water. Hopefully we will be allowed to take a flask in too. As we are there all day, we will probably blow the budget and buy a burger or something for dinner though. You have to loosen the purse strings once in a while, and I don’t fancy lugging around too much food. Hopefully, this will be a nice day.


I have never bothered much with online survey sites to make extra cash. They seem generally to be a lot of effort for very little reward. However, Prolific Academic was recommended to me as one that actually pays worthwhile amounts. I signed up and did a couple in my lunch hour today. I made £3.17 in about 20 minutes. Ok, it’s not going to make me rich, but if I did that every lunchtime it would be a useful amount extra at the end of the month!

You need to answer quite a lot of pre-screening questions and they keep appearing, each time you log on. The more you complete, the more surveys you are likely to be eligible for. It also pays to add your phone number to verify your account, I am told.

Lunch for pennies

As we still have a few courgettes coming through on the veg patch, I made a bucket of ratatouille on Monday. We had it for dinner with rice and I have eaten the rest for my lunches every day. It made a change from soup or a sandwich. I don’t really use a recipe. I just chop up onions, garlic, peppers and courgettes, fry them up, then add tinned tomatoes, herbs and seasonings. If I have an aubergine I might chuck that in, but I did without this time. It is certainly cheaper than going to the shop every day for a meal deal!

I’m linking up with Cass, Emma and Becky in this week’s ‘Five Fabulously Frugal things I’ve done this week’ linky. Hop over to their sites to see the frugal things they have achieved? Let me know about yours in the comments too.

Is frugality the new black?

frugalityIs frugality the new black? I asked this same question back in 2014. Back then it felt we were still in a post recession hangover. Now, in the UK anyway, I think it is more to do with post-Brexit nervousness and our government’s insistence on pushing forwards with their austerity programme. Either way, whatever the cause, frugality seems to be in!

Frugality is in

Food and energy prices go up whilst wages largely stagnate. Benefits are being squeezed for those already on the lowest incomes. Public services are facing cutbacks just as people seem increasingly to need them.

No wonder the internet is packed with money saving and frugality blogs! Whether you want information on living a thriftier, more frugal lifestyle, need advice on budgeting or debt repayment, need better value recipes or want to know where the best discounts can be found, there is a blog for you.

You Tube also features these frugal bloggers and Pinterest is positively awash with them. New books like The No Spend Year: How you can spend less and live more (Michelle McGagh) echo those published at the time of the last recession such as Judith Levine’s Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. There are TV programmes telling you how to spend less on food, how to get more for your money, how to live mortgage free and how to make something new from an item about to be sent to the rubbish dump. Buying second-hand is positively trendy (although not always super cheap if it carries a ‘vintage’ label), with a host of entrepreneurial folk making a living selling second-hand stuff on eBay and other online sites.

Taking care of the pennies

frugalityI guess I might have a different view of the situation if my colleagues were mostly investment bankers rather than local government employees. However, it appears that most people I know are watching the pennies. Those who once seemed embarrassed about shopping in the discount supermarkets now appear very happy to share how much money they saved.

Do people still feel the need to keep up with the Jones’s? I don’t see this so much. Many families are prepared to budget when they need to,  which doesn’t leave much scope for showing off. I am sure some parents continue to spoil their children by spending vast amounts on Christmas and birthdays. However, I have noticed that there are just as many keen to show their children they love them in more meaningful ways and to teach them the value of money.

It is no fun having no spare cash. It is even worse if you have debts because you don’t control your spending. There are plenty of folk out there with reasonable incomes who are in a sticky financial situation because they have been under the influence of the buy now pay later credit culture. I am happy to be part of the frugality trend if it in any way helps people to manage their money better, to appreciate the simple things in life and to save a bit of cash for a rainy day.  I hope it isn’t just a thrifty fad and that frugality really is the new black!

There are a couple of affiliate links in this post and if you purchase anything after linking through I will receive a small commission.

Need to make extra cash? Great blogs to help you earn more money.

Money making boot camp: Emma Drew Info

I am on the lookout for more ideas to earn more money at the moment. I already sell on eBay, have a lodger and do any little bits of over time that might be available at work. This is all great and keeps the wolf from the door, but I would love a big chunk of cash as there are various things that I am slowly saving for. I want to speed things up!

With this in mind, I have signed up to Emma Drew’s money making boot camp. If you haven’t come across her blog or You Tube channel yet, Emma is a hugely successful blogger. She actually blogs full time, something I would love to do! You can sign up for the course here.

Katy Kicker

Another blog I find a good source of information and inspiration to help you earn more money is Katy Kicker.  She is a mum and full time blogger, and her blog is a lovely mix of family snippets, recipes and hard hitting articles on making money from home. She makes cash from matched betting and doing online surveys, among other ideas.

The Money Shed

Another very authoritative site, which includes a blog and forum, is The Money Shed. This site is another big fan of matched betting. There is also some good information on mystery shopping, online surveys and, something I have never some across before, web search evaluating. I really liked the article Earning Money from Home when you are Housebound, as I think a lot of people will find this so helpful.

The MIni Millionaire

Cora Harrison gave up the corporate world to blog full time at the Mini Millionaire. She writes about freelancing, eBay reselling, selling Lego (yes, really!) and blogging. She is also a competitions geek and has won thousands of pounds worth of prizes. This site is so clean, clear and well-designed.

From Pennies to Pounds

If you want to earn more money, check out Francesca Mason. Although she is a relatively new blogger, the lovely Francesca has already worked out how to make money from sponsored posts and affiliate advertising income. She is also into matched betting and makes extra cash from dog boarding and taking in lodgers.  From Pennies to Pounds is such a pretty site too!

There are so many others! I will have to come back to them. In the meantime, maybe some of the above will inspire you if you need to make a little extra. Which blogs do you recommend?


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?

No spend week update – how was yours?


On the beach at Broadstairs

No spend week hangover

We came to the end of our no spend week yesterday. I don’t find it difficult generally, especially when I am at work,  as there is little temptation. It really helps my bank balance. You don’t always spot the steady drip, drip of money out of your purse, even when you think you are being quite frugal!

Doing a no spend week or month tends to carry over. I find I get out of the habit of spending money. I do need to go and buy new smart sandals at some point. They fell apart over the weekend. I had to hold them on my foot with a hair band I found on the floor and hobble home! I have my walking sandals, which will do until I get round to it.

What the Dickens?

No spend week

Celebrating the end of no spend week!

We drove to Broadstairs on Friday night to pick up my parents and aunt. They had the most fabulous sunny week there and said they could have been abroad. We stayed in their rented house overnight and came back to Essex after lunch on Saturday.

It seems a rather nice town with a gorgeous sandy beach. They were fortunate in being there for the annual Dickens festival. They hadn’t planned this and were initially a bit confused that the local folk were wandering round in period dress!

We only had a few hours for a wander but it is a lovely bit of coast line with an interesting history (as well as the Dickens connection, it is known as Viking Bay). Broadstairs could be one to revisit I think.

Lunch ‘out’

My parents treated us to lunch to thank us for collecting them. I am obviously their frugal daughter though, as lunch out meant pie or fish and chips on a bench overlooking the sea! We retreated to the car when the weather broke and it started to rain. Typical English seaside experience.

Both my mum and dad had big operations earlier in the year, within two weeks of each other. My mum had a hip replacement and dad had a stent fitted on his aortic aneurism. It was all rather stressful and worrying at the time so it is nice to see them up and about now. Even though they don’t drive long distances as they used to, they don’t let anything get in the way of living their lives to the full.

Frugal soup

I rescued a chicken carcass with a ton of meat on it from my lodger in the week. She was going to bin it! I stripped off the chicken and froze it, then got another couple of carcasses I had saved from the freezer to make a big pot of stock. Today it will be transformed into a hearty chicken and vegetable soup. I hate waste! This will get another frugal week off to a good start.

I need to do a shopping list and meal plan for the week. I spent barely anything on food last week, less than £20. Now we have broad beans and courgettes ready in the garden so I won’t need to buy much veg.

Has anyone else been on a no spend week? How have you done?

What is Facebook Marketplace and is it the new eBay?  

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace: what do you fancy?

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of eBay for buying and selling.  It is great for making money from your old clutter, reselling  and finding bargains. But what of the new Facebook Marketplace? Could it be a serious rival for eBay?

What are the benefits?

I have only recently discovered Facebook as a way to buy and sell. At first glance it seems to have some advantages over eBay. There are no selling or PayPal fees for a start. These can make quite a dent in your profits!

So many people use Facebook now, the potential audience is huge. As awareness of Marketplace increases so do the number of potential buyers and sellers.

You can search very locally, making it a good place to sell items you would like collected. However, you can expand your search to find items from further afield.

At a glance, setting my distance as 30 miles away from my house, I can see a bed for sale, a collection of toy cars, a mirror, wardrobes, jewellery,   Handbags and clothes. It reminds me a little of Gumtree.

Better than Freecycle?

Facebook Marketplace seems a good place to get rid of stuff for free. I found my local Freecycle group such a faff and a bit over controlled. The admins were too keen to refuse your adverts and it all took quite a long time. Your inbox then got deluged with emails!

eBay is no good for finding free items because of the aforementioned fees. I have already given away a large cross trainer that none of my family and friends were interested in, saving it from landfill.

Classified ads

The classified ads section on Facebook is great. You can rent a room or mobile home out,  do a house swap or sell your flat! You can advertise for a cleaner or offer your services as one.

What are the disadvantages of Facebook Marketplace?

eBay offers its users  a huge global marketplace, with potential buyers and retailers from every part of the earth. This can’t be said for Facebook.  It is still relatively small scale and seems to be better at a local level. However, who knows how it will progress in the future?

Facebook isn’t policed in the same way as eBay. If you have a difficult transaction on eBay they will always jump in to protect you financially and get your money back. You also have the opportunity to rate poor buyers and sellers to warn against them or provide reassurance.

If you purchased something on Facebook and it stopped working a week later it’s not clear what your rights would be or how you would go about claiming your money.

Payment is mostly cash on delivery and sellers seem less inclined to mail items. Because eBay is such a huge global organisation it is the other way round. However, this does mean the price you offer is the price you pay with no over inflated postage charges.

So, is Facebook Marketplace the new eBay? Not yet, but I will certainly be using it alongside to get rid of bulky items like furniture. And I will take a browse through what is on offer from time to time.

What are your views? Have you tried Facebook Marketplace yet?

Need to save money? How about a no spend week?

no spend week

Beautiful Wrabness

Yesterday kicked off our latest no spend week. Earlier in the year we did a couple of no spend months. We only spent money on essentials such as food and petrol (plus the usual household bills, of course).

As well as being helpful for the bank balance, not buying anything is strangely liberating. Setting myself strict limits on what I can purchase takes away any temptations! There are no internal debates on whether I can afford something, I am just not buying it because I am on a no spend period. I get on with enjoying stuff that is free and using what I already have.

Why we need a no spend week

no spend week

Life’s a beach

As we have had a lot of expense this month,  a no spend week is a good idea and will take us up to pay day without going overdrawn or dipping into the reserves. 

The rules are the same as for no spend months.  We will only spend money on essentials.  Next week we shouldn’t need to spend anything at all, not even on food. We have plenty in the cupboards that needs to be used so it will be an eat from the larder week. We have milk, bread, cat food, tea bags and petrol, as well as plenty of food in the fridge and freezer.

A day out for free to kick off no spend week

no spend week

Mr S takes a dip

Yesterday we had a free day out in the sunshine, bar the cost of the petrol. We had to drop my daughter at a friend’s in Mistley for a barbecue, so we drove across to Wrabness after for a walk on the beach and a swim. The water was so calm, clear and warm, we could have been on the Mediterranean somewhere.  The beach huts at Wrabness are rather luxurious – more like chalets than beach huts really and it looks as if people are allowed to sleep in them. I bet they cost an absolute fortune! But we took some drinks and snacks and spent no money at all. Days out don’t need to cost an arm and a leg, especially when the weather is so hot. We are very lucky to have so many beautiful coastal areas within half an hour’s drive.


Is anyone else on a no spend week (or month)? Do you do regular no spend days? How do you motivate yourself and what do you do to stop yourself spending?

Five Frugal Things I have Done this Week 16th June

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

Frugal thing no. 1

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

Frugal thing no. 2

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

Frugal thing no. 3

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

Frugal thing no. 4

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

Frugal thing no. 5

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

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

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

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

Why are you always broke?

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

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

Ask yourself some tough questions to help you change your spending habits

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

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

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

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

Do you have money to burn?

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

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

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

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

A passion for fashion?

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

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

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

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

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

Time to change your spending habits

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

(First published February 2017)

It shouldn’t happen to a polling clerk 

Working as a polling clerk

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

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

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

I lost my voice….

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

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

Five Fabulously Frugal things I have done this week, 2nd June 2017

five fabulously frugal thingsAnother week gone, and a muggy one at that. It has been expensive in some ways,  I have a lot of family birthdays in May and June. So I need to at least achieve five fabulously frugal things!

Frugal thing no. 1

five fabulously frugal thingsLast night I did a small shop in Lidl. We didn’t need that much as there is a lot in the cupboards, but I did intend to splurge on some steaks and salmon as we have a family meal tonight for my daughter’s birthday.

I was pleased as I found some marinated salmon with Lidl’s orange 30% off stickers, so bought a couple of packs along with a reduced chicken, some mince and a couple of the chicken kievs. These will be an easy tea for my daughter, who works shifts. Unfortunately no reduction on the steaks, but I only needed two of those

I was surprised at the total as I| was in a discount supermarket and had done quite a small shop for the week. I checked my receipt and – get this – the cashier had charged me £26.70 for a box of six eggs! Because she was too busy chatting to her colleague rather than concentrating on the job in hand she somehow hit x30 after the price. Sigh! It’s a good job I am on the ball.

five fabulously frugal things

They cannot be serious!

Frugal thing no. 2

I remembered the amazing deodorising properties of bicarbonate of soda to combat my kitchen bins. They had become a bit ripe in the heat, especially the food waste one. It has so many uses that every home should have a big bag for frugal cleaning, personal care and getting rid of smells. I blogged about this yesterday.

Frugal thing no. 3

On Sunday I went to the boot sale. I got some great finds to resell. I am doing quite well at the moment and it is a really useful income stream for me. This prompted a blog post on How to Present clothes on eBay. So many people go to the trouble of listing items but the photos are so poor potential customers can’t really see what is on offer!

On a similar note, I met up with fellow blogger Faith Archer on Saturday in Hadleigh in Suffolk. Faith runs the More With Less blog. We had a tour of the lovely charity shops in Hadleigh and I bought a top for work and a couple more items that I will list on eBay.

Frugal thing no. 4

I mentioned my darling daughter has a birthday today. She asked for a jacket from Nasty Gal (no, I hadn’t heard of them either!) so I checked on Top Cash Back to see if they were on there and they were – with a generous 8.4% cash back on purchases. I only recently signed up with this site and have made just three purchases. I already have £34.50 on my account! This is a good habit to get into when making online purchases I think. If you join using the link above I will receive a small referral fee.

Frugal thing no. 5

Ages ago I mentioned that I had bought a copy of Gardener’s World Magazine because it had a 2 for 1 card on hundreds of open gardens around the UK. We have used it once but used it again for a return visit to the beautiful Helmingham Hall in Suffolk. As well as getting money off the entrance price, we packed a good, frugal picnic and a flask.  I have so far saved £16 by using this card; well worth the cost of the magazine!

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


How to present clothes on eBay

A picture is worth a thousand words

Often I look at items for sale on eBay and they are so poorly presented I know they are unlikely to sell – or not for a good price. They are screwed up and unironed, in poor light or out of focus. Occasionally they are upside down! So, how to present clothes on eBay to make attract the attention of customers?

There are thousands of potential customers for the items you are selling, but there is also plenty of competition from sellers. However, with a little effort and common sense it is possible to make yours stand out.

Invest in a mannequin

The first thing you should do is invest in some kind of mannequin. The one in the photos cost me just £9 from eBay and is similar to this one.

Take the photos below. Which would draw your gaze and make you believe in the trustworthiness of the seller? The first is screwed up on the floor and the lighting makes the dress look fairy princess pink rather than the salmon pink it actually is. The second is better; on a hanger against a plain background. But the third is the best shot as you can see what it might look on.

Present your clothes for eBay as if it was your shop front

How often do you see dresses in shop windows in a screwed up heap on the floor? Never! Owners of chic boutiques know that to draw in potential customers they need to present their clothes to their best advantage. Dresses will be pinned tightly to a mannequin and accessorised.

Which of these looks the best? A sideways floor shot is never a great decision. Presenting on a hanger works better, but in this instance the photo has been taken from above, making the top look shorter than it actually is.  Again, the mannequin against a plain background is the best way of presenting this item.

Don’t forget the details

Queen of the eBay photo is Mr S’s sister. She sells high end designer stuff and accessorises with beautiful scarves and jewellery to grab the customer’s attention. If you are looking for something special you are drawn to her clothes.

She is good at focussing on the detail, showing pix of fancy buttons, the back of a dress, a lacey hem, etc., so that the customer can see exactly what is on offer. I have learned from her to include as many photos as possible.

Be honest when you present clothes on eBay

Use your pictures to show any flaws such as small stains or pulls to the fabric. Believe it or not, this often doesn’t put people off buying. If they know they are getting an honest description it gives them confidence in you as a seller.

I don’t claim to be the world’s best photographer and don’t own a fancy camera. The one on my phone does the job. The camera on your phone will enable you to crop any unnecessary background, sharpen the image and rotate it so that it is the right way up.

Get out the iron!

Most households own an iron so there is really no excuse to post photos of creased clothing on eBay. If you can’t be bothered to iron, how do I know that shirt you are selling is in clean, used condition, as you claim?

I hope this post will help you to present clothes on eBay so that you can sell them quickly and for as much as possible. More advice on selling on eBay can be found here.

Please note that if you are buying items with the intention of re-selling them, you do need to register as a business seller with eBay. Buyers are also covered under the Consumer Rights Act, the same as if you were a shop. More information is available here.


Bargain-hunting and a freebie

Fresh back from my holiday, I need to be mindful of my spending. I have therefore gone straight into bargain-hunting mode.

bargain-huntingI had to go and get a few essentials because lots of things had run low whilst we were away. First stop was B&M. I pop in there occasionally to stock up on cat litter as this is the cheapest place for the wooden pellet variety that I prefer.  £5.59 for a large 30 litre bag, which is so much cheaper than elsewhere.

I have a lot of birthdays coming up so I stocked up cards. These were mostly 99p each which is pretty much the most I will ever pay, since they end up in the recycling anyway! Home Bargains is even cheaper for cards but I thought I may as well get them whilst there.


More bargain-hunting in the toiletries aisle. I bought my hair dye as I always do my own. This one was only £3.49, which was a good price. I treated myself to a moisturising foot masque for 99p because my feet feel very dry after walking around barefoot on the beach. My daughter has tried it and said it is nice. The makeup was a revelation in B&M. More bargains! I bought a bronzer to keep my holiday tan going. Only £2.99! It seems very nice and I used it today.

What a beautiful day it was yesterday. It felt even hotter than Mallorca, although I suppose I was rushing around doing laundry and shopping rather than lying on the beach sipping a gin and tonic 😀😀. No more showing my all inclusive arm band and getting everything done for me!

I managed to get three loads of washing done and dried, doing my my usual trick of giving each item a big shake before hanging them on the line and folding them up as soon as they were dry to minimise the ironing. There is enough to do without a massive ironing pile.

Free Manufacturer’s vouchers

A nice little gift arrived recently: £10 in vouchers from Purina. I wrote and told them how much my cats were enjoying Felix and they were obviously delighted to receive the compliment. I was very pleased because I had heard that companies sometimes send you vouchers if you contact them but I had never tried it. It was worth the effort! I might write to a few more. Has anyone else done this?


This meant I got the cat food for free as 48 sachets of Felix were only 9.99. I wasn’t lying – my cats really do enjoy Felix!

So a good day for bargain-hunting! I will make this month’s money last 😀. As a plus, darling daughter had watered all the plants and the garden is looking green and lush. Mr S will need to get the lawnmower out.