A Frugal Year: Shoestring Cottage review of 2018

frugal year

At this time of year, it is interesting to look back at what we did during the course of 2018. Life seems to pass by in such a whirl it can sometimes feel that all we do is work. But we have done a lot more than that this year. Here are the most notable bits from our frugal year.

The good bits

Building our emergency fund

We are always careful with money and save throughout the year. However, 2018 was the first year we created a dedicated emergency fund. This is, as you would imagine, money that won’t be used for anything except emergencies. Once we hit three months of expenses in our emergency fund, we will start to look at investing the excess. This post explains why you need an emergency fund.

Shop Smart Save Money

You may have seen this new Channel 5 series on saving money. I had a chat with one of their researchers and gave them a money saving tip, which was used on their social media channels.

Blog award nominations

frugal year

Shoestring Cottage was nominated in three categories in this year’s SHOMOs awards, which shine a light on bloggers who write in some way about money. I didn’t win, but was happy to be shortlisted in Best Frugal Food Blog, Best Money Saving Blog and the People’s Choice award.

I went to London for the day and had the opportunity to meet and learn from some of my favourite bloggers. It was a really enjoyable day and you can read about it here.

In the news

frugal year

I  appeared in the Mail,  in a piece about why women of a certain age can suddenly develop allergies. It was quite exciting, as I had a professional photographer and make up artist come to our house in advance! I also managed a small piece in Prima. Amazingly, so many people I know spotted me in this. It is obviously a very well read magazine.


a frugal year

We didn’t go anywhere exotic or expensive during 2018, but we did have some lovely holidays nonetheless. Our first was a couple of nights in Brighton, where my daughter is at university. Mr S booked this through Booking.com. for my birthday (this is my refer a friend link). It was a chilly but sunny trip. We thought Brighton an interesting city and enjoyed the Pavilion particularly.

frugal year

The grand hall at Holkham Hall

A month or so later we had a week in Norfolk, renting a cottage from a friend near Binham in the north of the county. It was lovely. We managed an outing to Holkham Hall and another to Sandringham during the course of the week, both of which were really enjoyable. Walking on Holkham beach was one of the highlights of my year. What a beautiful place.

frugal year

Powis Castle

Our second holiday was to Wales. We go most years and stay on a permaculture small holding near Machynlleth. This year we had a heat wave! We could have been in the Mediterranean somewhere. It was lovely. We made a point of visiting Powis castle for the first time, a most impressive place with stunning gardens.

frugal year

In  August we had another trip to Norfolk, with a short trip to Stalham broad at Dairy Barns. We were so impressed with this fabulous venue, booked through BuyaGift.co.uk. I used to live in Norfolk and still love it. Maybe we will head back there one day.

A bit of DIY

frugal year

2018 wasn’t all spent gadding about the UK on holiday, however. The lounge was desperate to have a refresh so we did some budget DIY back in February. We changed the wallpaper, painted all the wood work, put in a new fireplace and purchased cushions, a rug and some throws. The room was totally transformed with minimal expenditure. We are particularly happy with the tiles around the fireplace. I found these on eBay.

frugal year

We also saved up for new patio doors on our back room and a shiny new front door, which I love. They have both made the house much warmer as well as looking so much nicer!

Becoming greener

I have always had an interest in green issues and protecting our precious environment.  I have tried to make 2018 a frugal year but also a more eco-conscious year. Reducing food waste has been top of the agenda, and also cutting down on the amount of plastic that comes into the house. If you are interested in doing the same you can find my ideas to reduce plastic here.

a frugal year

I have joined the local food coop and started taking my refillable bottles to purchase washing up liquid, fabric softener and hair conditioner. Laundry is now mostly washed with an Ecoegg Laundry Egg , which seems to be working fine.  Wherever possible, I am buying things like ketchup and mayonnaise in recyclable glass containers. I even took my own container to the fishmongers and to the market. However, working full time means that this isn’t always an option.

There is more to do and in 2019 I will be redoubling my efforts. I got some great zero waste Christmas presents to get me started, including a bamboo toothbrush and some Georganics Natural Toothpaste and a stainless steel and bamboo safety razor.

The bad bits

2018 has been a strange year for me health wise. I have always been fit and healthy, but this year I have felt tired, low and achy much of the time. In July, after months of exhaustion and painful joints I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

frugal year

Acupuncture for a bad neck

To add insult to injury, I have had a trapped nerve in my neck for over four months, the most excruciatingly painful condition I have ever suffered. So far, I have tried physiotherapy, pilates, massage, all kinds of pain killers and acupuncture but nothing has worked for long. I do have an appointment with the spinal clinic in the New Year so I am hoping they will find out what is causing the nerve to be trapped and sort it out. Also I will be continuing with the acupuncture, which I have heard is great for pain relief.

I am determined to get fit for 2019!!

How has your year been? We are aiming for a green and frugal year in 2019, and will be looking to save money wherever we can.

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Happy Shoestring Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve 2018. Where has the year gone? I still have a few jobs to do today, but I am generally calm, organised and in control. It has been a Shoestring Christmas. We have spent the money we wanted to spend on food and presents but haven’t gone crazy.

No over indulgence so far…

Shoestring Christmas

Usually I buy far too many Christmas treats and we are looking at them in disgust as the New Year (and our resolutions to be fitter and healthier) approach. I have so far bought very few. We are out and about a lot over Christmas so we don’t need them anyway. I don’t want any food waste.

We do seem to have gone generally overboard on cheeses, however! I think I will be searching out some good recipes to use those up. At least they last a long time in the fridge and some can even be grated and frozen.

The last of presents have been wrapped in brown paper and raffia. This year I wanted to reduce waste and make sure all of our wrappings were recyclable, compostable or reusable. We had a lot of gift bags given to us last year, so I have reused as many as possible. This approach has proved extremely cheap: just the thing for our Shoestring Christmas.

Germ central

Shoestring Christmas

Mr S is full of cold, so I made some stock yesterday from a chicken carcass and loads of vegetable trimmings. I keep a pot in the freezer and add to it as I go along.  This made the base for a lovely vegetable soup. We will have the leftovers for lunch today. I really do not want his cold on top of my neck problem, but woke up with a sore throat today…

Tonight’s tea will be Nigel Slater’s casserole of chestnuts, parsnips and mushrooms. I make versions of this quite often, but this time I have all the ingredients so will follow it properly and have some creamy mash to go alongside, and sausages for the carnivores. We also have a chocolate cake, made by no 2 daughter, for dessert.

I haven’t bothered with a traditional Christmas cake, but might get one once they are reduced!

Last minute cooking

Although the rest of the family are eating meat at Christmas dinner, I am going for Sarah Brown’s cashew nut and mushroom roast.  It’s an old family favourite. My friend Jan found a lovely recipe for vegetarian gravy on the BBC Good Food website, so I think I will make some of that too.

I also have a quiche to put together for Christmas tea. Red pepper and sweetcorn makes a good combination I think, so I am making that.

Finding reductions

Every year I intend to hit the shops before they close for Christmas to find bargains. In reality, I am usually too busy to do so, but today I am going to have a quick whizz round Sainsbury’s and the Coop at around 5 pm to see if there is anything worth buying. I have checked the websites and they close at 6pm.

If it isn’t at a knock down price, I shan’t bother. I’m not going to be spending for the sake of it. If I can get some cheap food for the freezer it will help towards my no spend January and low spend grocery plan.

Sloe gin for a slow brain

We went to friends for a walk and drinks yesterday. Their home made slow gin was delicious and it turns out it has great pain relieving qualities. My neck didn’t bother me much at all!

However, Mr S did somewhat over indulge. He was dopey as hell last night! I will have to see if our home made grape liqueur has a similar anaesthetising effect later!

A night at the pantomime

We had a brilliant night at the panto at the Mercury Theatre in the week (oh no you didn’t, I hear you cry…). Our friends’ daughter Jade was in the chorus for the second year in a row so we wanted to go and support her. It was such good fun. We were off to the side, making our tickets cheaper, but had a good view of pretty much everything. My friend said she got tickets right at the back for one performance but still had a good view. Hers cost just £12, so I think we will explore that option next year.

If you live in Essex, I believe there are some January tickets left – I highly recommend it – so much fun!

Shoestring Christmas

Mr Shoestring’s favourite dame

Mr S would prefer to be as far away from the dame as possible as he literally ALWAYS gets picked on. This year was no exception and he ended up with the dame on his lap and his head under her voluminous skirts! He reckons he needs counselling to get over it. I absolutely love a good panto!

Whatever you are doing this festive period,  whether you are having a Shoestring Christmas or even if you have decided not to bother and to hide under the duvet until it’s all over, we wish you warmth and happiness and all the best for a happy new year. See you when it’s all over!

No Spend January: the cure for a Christmas hangover

For the past few years I have greeted the New Year with a no spend January. It is the perfect antidote to the excesses of the festive season and always on my list of resolutions. Indeed, it is often the one New Year’s resolution I manage to achieve…

The benefits of a no spend January

When your bank account is feeling empty, a no spend January gives you the opportunity to regroup, to refill the coffers and to take control of your finances. If you are in debt, a no spend January will give you extra resources to pay off some of what you owe.

Beginning the year feeling anxious and out of control can set the pattern for the months ahead, whereas a no spend month can help you break free of some of the negative behaviours that made you over spend in the first place. A period of limited spending gets you out of bad financial habits. It makes you more creative and appreciative of what you already own.

If you do have problem debts, take a look at Debt Camel or the Money Advice Service for expert help.

The rules

A no spend January means not buying anything that isn’t essential. So, you pay your rent or mortgage, your household bills, transportation costs and buy groceries. However, you ignore the sales, you don’t buy any new clothes, furniture, books, music, films, makeup or treats. You don’t go out to dinner, to the pub or to the cinema. Having said that, my daughter’s birthday is in January. This year it is her 21st, so we will go out for a meal, but this will be planned and budgeted for in advance. Her presents are already purchased!

I always find it amazingly liberating to have a no spend January, or any no spend period I happen to set myself. It is easier than telling myself I will spend as little as possible. If someone asks me to do something or go anywhere that costs money I will simply explain that I am doing a no spend January. They are usually really interested and some even join in!

Generally I find I get out of the spending habit and this spills over into February too.

No Spend January

Hints and tips to help you stop spending

If you are somebody who enjoys shopping for fun, a no spend January is the ideal time to rethink your hobbies and interests. What can you do instead by yourself, with friends and family instead of shopping?  Could you go for a nature walk or cycle, host a pot luck supper, find the films you always wanted to see on Netflix or watch your old DVDs? Do you have a shelf full of books you have never got round to reading or a half completed craft or knitting project to finish? How about starting a daily journal?

I find a no spend period is a good time to cook some thrifty recipes. Baking is something I enjoy, so rather than spending money I can devote more time to creating delicious cakes. Let’s face it, most of us have a cupboard full of flour and items like cocoa and dried fruit that probably need using up!

Shop your wardrobe. This is a great time to reorganise your wardrobe and dig out little worn clothes, rather than spending money on new items that you don’t need. You could even sell items that you know you will never wear on eBay to make a bit of extra money.

Set goals

Set yourself some savings goals to inspire you and make you more determined not to spend any money. If your money isn’t going towards paying off debt, could you put some away in an emergency fund? Would you like a family holiday? Do you need to kick off your teenager’s university fund or are you likely to need a new car in the near future?

For me, redecorating our tatty hallway is a priority so I will be saving towards that. I also need to start a car fund as my old banger isn’t going to go on forever.

Low spend grocery month

Getting into no spend mode tends to focus my mind on keeping our grocery spend as low as possible too. This is the time to do an audit of your cupboards, fridge and freezer and see what needs using up. Plan your meals to incorporate what you have. If you have sausages in the freezer but no potatoes, use your stores of pasta instead to make a sausage ragu. Think of a recipe to make to use the couscous that has been sitting there for a year. Use more pulses and beans instead of meat and eat vegetarian a couple of times a week.

I always make sure our larder is stocked with the essentials to make quick, easy and frugal meals. Having items like eggs, rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, tinned tuna and sardines, cans of chick peas and frozen vegetables helps to keep our grocery spending low as I can always throw something tasty together with those.

Who is in for a no spend January? Let me know what you think and give your advice on achieving a no spend month in the comments. You can also come and find me on Instagram where I will be posting regular tips and updates on my no spend month! I am @shoestringcottage.

Good luck everyone!

Keeping up with the frugal life on the run up to Christmas

frugal life


How is everyone doing with their Christmas preparations? The festive season can be a huge drain on your financial resources. In the past I have blindly spent whilst feeling vaguely anxious the whole time and then dreaded the new year hangover. Because I never want to get like that again, I now put money into a savings account all year. When December hits I transfer it into the main account and can buy whatever we need – within our Christmas budget of course! It might seem impossible to have a frugal life when you are on a spending frenzy but it really isn’t if you are organised.

Avoiding temptation

I saved money by taking bottled water and a flask of coffee into town when I went Christmas shopping so that I didn’t get tempted into the coffee shops (where I would probably also buy a cake!). I do this most of the time – not just at Christmas. It saves a few pounds and probably also stops me putting on pounds round the belly too!

Not buying washing powder

Several months ago I purchased an Ecoegg Laundry Egg from Amazon. You use it instead of washing powder, so it is more eco-friendly. It also saves money. At around £20 for the claimed 720 washes, that is just under 3p a wash.

frugal life

I am pretty happy with the quality of the wash. However, I do currently still use fabric softener so the laundry smells nice. I haven’t found it effective on really dirty clothes, like Mr Shoestring’s work jeans, so keep a small box of powder for those. This is a good purchase for a greener, more frugal lifes I think.


frugal life

Well, acupuncture isn’t frugal in itself. It is my latest attempt to cure the relentless pain of the trapped nerve in my neck. By booking ten sessions ahead I got each session for £23 rather than £30. I think this was a really good deal. I have only had one session so far but came out feeling a little better. I need to wait until after Christmas for the next one though.

The idea of having needles stuck in your back may not appeal to everyone, but it didn’t hurt at all and was actually quite relaxing. There is quite a bit of research on the benefits of acupuncture and in some places it is also offered on the NHS. I am hopeful it may help where everything else has so far failed!

Using up the veg

I have been doing very little cooking – I just haven’t felt up to it. As a result we had a fridge full of veg that needed using. I decided that a nice easy curry was the way to go and made enough for two days, including new potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery and peas. I used a jar of sauce that was lurking in the cupboard so it was super easy and super cheap.

Normally I would have had a nice big glass of white wine with mine. I can’t drink much at the moment though as I am on too many painkillers, so I guess I am saving money on alcohol too!

Home spa

frugal life

Secret Santa gave me a Lush bath bomb. I don’t usually use these as generally take a shower rather than a bath – quicker and cheaper. However, there is nothing like a really hot, deep bath to ease an aching neck and shoulder. I lay in it for 20 minutes, listening to an excellent programme on You Tube. When I got out I moisturised all over, plucked my eyebrows and gave myself a pedicure. It was so relaxing.

The bath bomb was crazily psychedelic though! It was the luxury Lush pud – if you look on the website you can see what happens when you put it in your bath!

A home spa is a cheap way to give yourself a little treat. When you live a frugal life you appreciate these small things.

Are you managing to achieve a few things toward a frugal life in the run up to Christmas? What small, inexpensive treats do you give yourself to keep your spirits up?

As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

This post contains some affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission.


The ten most popular posts from Shoestring Cottage 2018

most popular posts

I do enjoy having a look back over the year to see what happened – what we got up to, our small achievements, what has changed and which blog posts got the best reception. So, without further ado, here are the ten most popular posts from Shoestring Cottage 2018!

The ten most popular posts from Shoestring Cottage 2018

On the Money

I began a new series of interviews with other bloggers who write on the subject of personal finance in some way. It has turned out to be an interesting series with a lot of common themes. 80% of the bloggers featured wish that they had started saving and investing earlier. Of course, most of us are too busy being young and foolhardy in our teens and early twenties and are full of optimism that the future will somehow sort itself out.  This serie has definitely affected my views on money. I am trying to persuade my daughters to realise that sensible financial decisions made now will give them so much more freedom and flexibility later. On the Money with the wonderful Ilona from Mean Queen was my most popular post in this series. I have so much respect for this lady – she is a real inspiration to me.

A new way of cooking with an air fryer

I got a new air fryer a few months ago and was surprised at how much interest my initial post on this, Meal Planning and Using my New Air Fryer, got! I haven’t experimented with it much and mainly use it for chips and roast potatoes, although I did have a go at breaded courgettes too. My attempt at baked eggs did not go well…

Tightwad Gazette remembered

Complete Tightwad Gazette was the first book on frugality I ever read. I still refer to it regularly if I want some money saving inspiration. This review was actually written in 2017 yet remains one of my most popular posts. Even 25 years after publication people are still searching for information on this book because there is a hunger for sound advice on good, old fashioned thrift. It fits well with the current concerns of many people about the rampant over consumption of our society and the resulting environmental damage too, I believe. You can read my review here.

Prepare for a no spend January

I am about to prepare for my next no spend January. Last year’s post on this subject was extremely popular as readers struggled to make the household finances balance after the excesses of the Christmas period. I will publish a new post in the next week as no doubt many people will be looking for inspiration to save money and get back on track in 2019. A no spend January is a great way to see the new year in and start the way you mean to go on.

Eight ways frugality will ruin your life

Well, this post outlining eight ways frugality will ruin your life was a bit tongue in cheek. As a writer on thrift and frugality, I truly believe that, for most people, frugality will actually enrich and improve their lives in ways that they don’t even consider until they start. Most people just want to take control and worry less about money, but a frugal lifestyle makes you appreciate the things that really matter, like relationships, experiences and your environment. It may sound like a cliché but it’s true! Being in control of your money, spending less and buying fewer pointless items gives you more time, and no amount of dosh will buy you that.

Top 20 frugal habits to beat spending fatigue

This one came just before Christmas last year. I don’t spend much all year and soon get sick of seeing all of my hard earned cash disappearing in the run up to Christmas. This post whizzed through my top 20 ways to save money. It’s all pretty timeless and relevant.

A budget lounge revamp

most popular posts

We don’t do DIY very often. It’s so disruptive, time consuming and expensive! However, we didn’t spend a lot revamping our lounge and were hugely pleased with the result of our labours. New wallpaper, a lick of paint and some fancy fireplace tiles transformed the room.

In search of a simple life

It seems a lot of people are searching for a simpler, happier existence. In my post In Search of a Simple Life: How to live more and stress less, I explored how decluttering, saving time, buying less stuff and learning to appreciate life’s simple pleasures might lead to more contentment. I am not there yet, but I am on the journey.

Most popular veggie recipes

At the end of 2017 I decided to go back to a mostly vegetarian diet, for both health and moral reasons. I do eat a bit of fish still, but have cut out the meat completely. As part of my meal planning series, I have published two recipes from the Sarah Brown classic, the Vegetarian Kitchen, which have been amongst my most popular posts of 2018. Number one is Red Dragon pie, a really delicious and healthy alternative to shepherd’s pie. Number two is Layered Mushroom and Cashew Nut Roast – pretty much the best nut roast recipe I have ever come across.

This is a really good vegetarian cookbook and you can still pick it up second hand on Amazon if you keep your eyes open.

Reducing our plastic

Like many people, we are really concerned about reducing our waste – particularly our plastic waste – for the good of our beautiful planet. In 10 easy ways to reduce plastic waste and save money too, I aimed to show that frugality and living an eco-friendly existence go hand in hand. It’s really very easy to take a few simple steps to reduce your plastic rubbish, mostly involving avoiding it in the first place!

I hope you enjoyed revisiting the ten most popular posts from Shoestring Cottage from the last year. I have lots of exciting plans for money saving and eco-friendly posts in the New Year, so come back soon!


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Simplify your life with a good declutter

Pre-Christmas is the perfect time to get rid of lots of accumulated stuff. I find decluttering very cathartic – there is nothing like a good declutter to feel like you are back in control. How good it feels to simplify your life. Less stuff means fewer bits to clean for a start!

You too can simplify your life with a good declutter.

How many books can one person read?

good declutter

Books! In the past we had so many. Even though I seem to be constantly getting rid of books, they soon find their way back onto the shelves. I was really brutal last time I decluttered. We had so many gardening books that neither of us ever read. I cleared almost all of them.  I got rid of around half of the paperbacks as well. Some I sold and some I just gave away. You can sell books through Music Magpie or Ziffit (if you use my referral code – I0LMLPHCY – you can earn an extra £5).

I kept all of the girls’ Harry Potter books. They are too much a part of their childhood to give away. They still read them now when they come home. I also kept all of my yoga books. I am not teaching currently, but I hope to in the future. I need them for inspiration when I am planning lessons.

I also kept some classic novels and other books I am likely to come back to. If I am honest, though, I could do without any of them; I just like having a shelf full of books in the house somewhere! I am a part time minimalist…

I read more books on Kindle these days but I still like an actual paper book. I can’t see this ever changing but I think you can simplify your life with fewer books and a good declutter.

DVDs: a thing of the past?

good declutter

Earlier in the year, one of my daughters pointed out that we had a shelf crammed with DVDs but no working DVD player. What madness! They have all been donated to the charity shop or sold now. We watch the TV or Netflix instead.

I have kept a lot of the CDs but still donated about 50% to the charity shop. We both listen to CDs in the car and still haven’t got into downloading music to our smart phones.

Again, you can sell your old CDs and DVDs through Music Magpie or Ziffit (with my refer a friend code for £5 extra cash – I0LMLPHCY).

Ornaments – who needs them?

I never thought I would be the kind of person who liked ornaments – how trashy! Then I developed an obsession with chickens and, before I knew where I was, I had shelves full of little china chooks. Every Christmas and birthday everyone bought me more. They had to go! I have been slimming them down for some time.

I have also found myself drawn in middle age to a shabby chic look. I am turning into a stereotype… Pretty floral plates vie with teapots, cups and jugs on the shelves of our two dressers. I have also developed a taste for bunting.

In the sitting room, this has all been removed. I will keep the dresser in the kitchen but one is enough. As I clean the house each week I find myself examining the remaining ornaments and sometimes saying goodbye to them as I go along.

Have a good declutter and find some empty shelf space

Also removed from the sitting room – a Wii that hadn’t been used for at least two years, a vintage sewing machine that I plan to sell, an old shredder gathering dust and a big pile of magazines.

My plan is to use my week off at Christmas to sort through some of the drawers and cupboards downstairs. I do this fairly often but it’s amazing how ‘stuff’ constantly finds its way back into them.  What is the point of keeping lots of things that are never used? We may as well sell or donate them, then at least somebody else might appreciate them. I am keeping a binbag in the hall to collect all of the items I get rid of.

Anyone else finishing 2018 with a good declutter? See my guide to selling on eBay if you need to get rid of some of it.

This post contains affiliate links.

Five frugal things in the run up to Christmas

frugal things

I have been rushing around doing some last minute Christmas shopping. This year my efforts have been severely hampered by a lot of pain caused by a trapped nerve in my neck (I have mentioned it a lot I know, but it’s hard to forget!). I am normally done and wrapped up at this point. I felt a bit better and took an afternoon off to go bargain hunting, so here are this week’s five frugal things including some of the offers I found.

A bargain shoulder support

A friend at work lent me a neoprene shoulder strap and it has been a Godsend. I have no idea why, but it has really eased the pain and enabled me to actually get on, concentrate and do some work. So the first of my five frugal things is this. These supports can be quite expensive – up to £30 – but I managed to find one quite similar on eBay for just £8. It seems to work just the same. Perhaps it won’t last as long, but I am hoping this problem isn’t going to be long term. Four months is quite long enough!

40% off at the Body Shop

I had to buy a present for someone’s birthday at work as I was in charge of the collection. She loves smellies and nice body butters, so I popped into the Body Shop to look at their gifts. They currently have 40% off individual items and 25% off gift sets. To get the best value I chose individual items and the lovely lady at the till put them in a gift box for me. I got £32 worth of stuff for just over £18! This leaves some money in the collection for some nice flowers.

I took full advantage of the offer and bought some stocking fillers for my daughters and another present for a friend. Bargains!

Free parking

As I was driving into the car park, a very nice woman gave me her parking ticket. She had paid for the whole day but was leaving early, so I parked for free. I know! Naughty, but handy as every saving helps at this time of the year.

Half price aftershave

My dad wanted some aftershave, but didn’t give me any idea what brand he fancied.  I popped into Boots and found this very nice smelling Lacoste one at half price. I don’t mind spending £33 on a posh aftershave, but I wouldn’t have spent over £67!

They had the usual buy two get one free offer on gifts in Boots. I didn’t need any, but I think they are worthwhile if you have a lot of presents to buy.

Bringing out the old tree

frugal things

I know that real Christmas trees are more eco-friendly than artificial ones. However, we have had our old one for years – maybe 12 now – so we may as well keep using it now. Mr S brought it down from the attic and we pulled out decorations that we have collected over the years to decorate it. This is one of my frugal things this week – I think we have got value for money for our tree. I can’t remember how much it cost but it wasn’t much!

There are so many things to spend our money on at Christmas. We have planned for this throughout the year, so we have no stress! Well, we do, but not financial :).

How is your Christmas shopping going? Did you manage your five frugal things?

If you want some ideas for presents that save money or eco-friendly gifts, have a look at my gift guides here and here.

As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

This post contains some affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission.

Budget home remedies and medications

budget home remedies

Now that we are moving towards winter there already seem to be more bugs about. Coughs and colds and the winter vomiting virus (awful – been there, done that!) seem to be rife. This got me to thinking beyond those particular maladies to home treatments generally. Some things that might be considered old wives tales do seem actually to work very well, and you don’t need to spend much money to get them. I have asked some of my blogger friends for the best budget home remedies and over the counter medications that they recommend.

Best budget home remedies

Neti pot

Possibly the least known of my list of the bet budget home remedies and medications, I learned about this one when I was training to be a yoga teacher. For colds and sinus problems I swear by my neti pot, used with  cooled boiling water and salt. A neti pot is a small jug used to wash out your nostrils. It may sound gross, but it is easy and effective. There are some instructions on this WikiHow post.

For over 10 years I have been using a simple plastic one like this one from Amazon. If I was buying again though I would get a ceramic one like this.budget home remedies


Money savers will already know about using bicarbonate of soda as a cheap cleaning ingredient. However, did you know that its antacid problems make it a good home remedy for cystitis? Many of the over the counter cystitis remedies are based on it anyway. Note – it’s not suitable for those who need a low sodium diet because of conditions such as high blood pressure.

Food grade bicarbonate of soda can be bought online in bulk packs quite cheaply, like the one here.

Coughs and colds

Fiona Elizabeth Hawkes from savvyinsomerset.com goes for old fashioned chicken soup.  “Chicken soup is scientifically proven to make you feel better when you have a cold. I always keep home made chicken stock in the freezer so I can easily make some when I’m feeling poorly. I usually add wok ready noodles, ginger and chilli for a super quick Asian style broth.

Hannah Tasker from www.thriftyish.co.uk knows how to relieve a bunged up nose: “Eucalyptus essential oil is brilliant for relieving congestion. Just put a few drops on a handkerchief or spare piece of cloth.” 

Jo and Leisa Creed from joleisa.com swear by a recipe called Nature’s Penicillin. ” This is basically honey, onion, whole citrus fruit, cayenne pepper and garlic all blended together and kept in the fridge in a jar. Take a tablespoon of it as soon as you feel like a cold coming on.”

Cas from Diary of a Frugal Family has a couple of great tips from her blog: “I make my own homemade version of Vicks vapour rub as well as lemon, honey and chamomile ice lollies for sore throats.” These look amazing!

Helen Nuttall from Budgeting is a Challenge goes for the traditional cold remedies: “Lemons sliced and placed in boiling water. Leave them to infuse for a couple of hours. Then pour when you need, heat up and stir in a generous amount of pure natural honey. Sorts out my colds and sore throats also and very cheap. I get sore throats a lot! Also, I often have a spoonful of honey if my throat is sore. It is naturally antibacterial and lubricates your throat for a couple of hours.”

Emma from the Money Whisperer swears by Vicks rubbed on the soles of your feet for coughs. “Works a treat for my kids!”

Helen Dewdney from the Complaining Cow  is positive that whisky (and alcohol generally) is good for colds. “If you are drinking wine anyway it will also help alleviate annoyances!”

Caster oil for detoxing and digestion

I had never heard of this tip, but it seems that castor oil is great for detoxification. Emma Maslin from The Money Whisperer says: “I buy castor oil in large bottles from Amazon and cut up old towels/muslins to make castor oil packs for when we’re feeling under the weather”. If you place the packs on your belly it is said to aid digestion and caster oil can also be taken orally for constipation.


I find peppermint or ginger tea perfect to help settle indigestion. Or Goren from www.savvylondoner.co.uk swears by ginger for travel sickness too. He says, “Ginger works wonders against nausea and motion sickness. I buy sliced, sweetened pieces (preferably without sugar), or you can always slice the ginger yourself. We always make sure we have some with us when going on a long train ride, a flight, and even for indoor cycling sessions…”

Hannah Tasker from www.thriftyish.co.uk also rates ginger: “Ginger has anti- inflammatory properties, and can be added to honey and lemon to help relieve sore throats.”

Morgan Woods says, “I always keep fresh ginger in the freezer ready for a sore throat. It’ll be mixed with hot water, honey (or maple syrup) and lemon juice. This is also great for digestion issues and period pain. Super cheap to buy and keeping it in the freezer helps it last longer.”


Kaya La Roche from earningbythesea.co.uk uses raw garlic for toothache.  She says, “I’ve had the kind of toothache that had me seriously considering pulling it myself at home, it was awful. Raw garlic held in the ‘bite’ and on the gum is the best pain relief. Eat some too if  you can stomach it. I found it on Google when desperate and couldn’t believe it worked!”

Oil of cloves was recommended when I had terrible toothache, but I have to say it didn’t work for me!

Dry skin

Lesley Negus from ThriftyLesley.com goes for glycerin as one of her fave budget home remedies:  “Put equal quantities of glycerin from the chemist and water, with a little squirt of perfume if you like, in a small vapouriser. Shake it all well and you have the best moisturiser ever. Not glamorous, but very very effective and extraordinarily cheap.”

Aches and pains

budget home remedies

Hot water by itself is good for arthritic pain, achy joints and period pain, but the addition of Epsom salt makes it even more effective. Epsom salt is one of the best traditional home remedies for aches and pains, arthritic joints, rashes and bruises. For more on the benefits of Epsom salt and why it works see here.

I dissolve a cupful or two into a really hot bath for aching joints, and I am finding this great for the trapped nerve in my neck that crops up every now and again. You can get Epsom salt with all kinds of fancy fragrances added, but the plain stuff works just as well and is cheap as chips, like this one on Amazon at £4.49 for a kilogram.

A hot water bottle is also a go to remedy for aches and pains. Every home should have a couple!

Foot fungus

Mr Shoestring’s mum was told by her GP that Vicks can counter fungus on feet and nails. I couldn’t believe this could work, but she swears that it does. This is a much cheaper remedy than many of the creams and potions sold specifically for the job. It needs to be applied every day and can take some months to work, but it is much gentler than some of the over the counter remedies for nail fungus.

Over the counter remedies

From the above, it seems every home should have a pot of Vicks vapour rub, but you can buy cheaper supermarket versions.  My blogger friends agree that avoiding brand names saves money when it comes to over the counter drugs.

Michelle Rice from Utterly Scrummy Food for Families says, “Buy generic versions of painkillers, decongestant tablets, etc. Most supermarkets sell painkillers from 40p a pack. Also, don’t get sachets of Lemsip. A lemon and honey drink combined with a paracetamol or two will do the same thing.”  You can find Michelle’s honey and lemon recipe here.

Sara Williams from Debt Camel agrees: “Supermarket painkillers are identical to branded ones at two or three times as much. Ibuprofen or paracetamol is exactly the same drug whether it is packaged as tackling headaches or backaches. So don’t be fooled, go for the cheapest generic drug you can find.”  I agree, and have found that pills for period pains contain the same as those for migraines, but for some reason are cheaper!

Ruth Hinds from Ruth Makes Money has another tip: “Check the PL numbers on medicine packaging. Often you’ll find the exact same medication for a much cheaper price, packaged by a different brand. A lady in the chemist told me this years ago and I’ve found it to be true lots of times! 

Jane Wallace from Skinted Minted Mum goes for other common over the counter remedies: “My mother always made us gargle with aspirin for a sore throat. Or with TCP for general illness prevention. I think the first one used to work, the second was a bit patchy!”

What are your favourite budget home remedies? Where do you find the cheapest over the counter medications? I would love to hear so let me know in the comments below.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will earn a small commission.

What are we eating? This week’s budget meal plan

budget meal plan

At this time of year, when there is so much to spend your money on, it is particularly important to stick to the budget. Meal planning keeps me organised, stops me spending too much and prevents food from going to waste. We buy what we need and no more.  Here is this week’s budget meal plan.

This week’s budget meal plan


We have all three daughters for dinner – quite a rare occasion these days. We are having Spanish cod bake. It should be made with chorizo, but I substitute this for tinned anchovies. It is a delicious dinner from the Ocado website. They have lots of lovely recipes on there.

We will have it with chopped greens and carrots. No 1 daughter is bringing pudding.


We are out for the day and will probably have lunch out. So tea needs to be easy. We will have jacket potatoes with beans and cheese, accompanied by a green salad.


Macaroni cheese and salad. I like a lot of sauce on my mac cheese. If there is veg hanging about, such as mushrooms or sweetcorn, I will throw those in too to use them up.


I quite fancy a quick and easy mushroom stroganoff, like this one. I can’t eat soya so I will substitute this for Lactofree cream. If there is salad left we will eat that or maybe have a corn on the cob from the freezer.


budget meal plan

Pie, mash, broccoli, peas and gravy. Another quick dinner for after work as I bought these mushroom and camembert pies from Tesco Groceries the other week. They have a 3 for £4 offer on a lot of their frozen vegetarian products still, which is good value I think. I hope these are as nice as they sound!

Thursday and Friday

Red wine and mushroom risotto.  I will make enough of this to last two meals as it is going to be a busy week and it gives me a night off cooking!

As I type this, I have just realised that this week’s budget meal plan is heavy on the mushrooms! Never mind – I love mushrooms!

What are you eating this week? For inspiration on a budget meal plan see my Favourite Frugal Recipes page.

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at her blog.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

The good things in life for less #5frugalthings

We have had a thrifty week. I have actually spent very little money generally, although I have bought some things for Christmas. You don’t have to spend a fortune and can easily experience the good things in life for less money.

Christmas booze

good things in life for less

We braved Aldi last weekend to buy some of their excellent Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, which has had some excellent reviews. It was on offer for £7.99.

We bought several bottles as our contribution to our Christmas celebrations, which will be hosted by my sister. Who says you can’t have the good things in life for less?

Slow cooker stew

good things in life for less

The slow cooker has started to be used a lot more now that the weather is getting colder. In last week’s meal plan I said we were having a slow cooked vegetable stew. It was really warming and delicious. We added a bit more stock to the leftovers and ate those as soup for a couple of days too. Home made soup is superior in every way to shop bought, even the fancy stuff in cartons. Super cheap too.

good things in life for less

Bargain books

I bought a few more Christmas presents in the form of books this week. I got them from the Book People. They are good value anyway but currently have a 10% flash sale on.

Eco-friendly bin liners

Who reads newspapers these days? I used to be able to pick up the old ones from work, but it seems everyone is reading online. Except for my old dad! He ambles to the shop every morning to buy his.

So I collected a big pile of his old ones to use as food caddy liners, rather than the compostable sort I have been using. It’s only a small saving, but every little helps. Newspapers are compostable too.

I am also using them to wrap up the old cat litter, before putting it straight in the dustbin. I was using nappy liners before, but am running out of those and I am keen to avoid plastic where ever I can.

Using it up

good things in life for less

I have made the last of my expensive foundation last a few extra weeks by cutting the bottom off the plastic container and scraping it out with my finger. There was loads in there! In the past that would have gone in the bin without a thought.

So, you can experience the good things in life for less. Have you managed five frugal things?

As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

On the Money with Mum on a Budget

This week we meet Mum on a Budget, Nicola, who tells me about her money wins and mistakes, and how happiness comes from accepting who you are – not from buying stuff.

mum on a budget

Conversations with money bloggers: Mum on a Budget

What is your earliest memory of having and spending money?

I remember being allowed to go into the MetroCentre (a huge shopping mall) with my friends when I was about 13. I was given £15 pocket money (in exchange for doing chores) and I always made sure I spent every penny, even if it meant buying a few penny chews to eat on the train home! I wasn’t always as thrifty as I am now.

Have you ever felt out of control with your money?

When I first started earning a salary, I used to try and keep up socially with my colleagues who earned much more than me – going to expensive bars after work each Friday, followed by clubs with £10 entry fees. I soon realised that not only could I not afford that lifestyle, it actually wasn’t making me happy.

What was your worst money decision?

I bought a flat in 2006 – as everyone knows, the global financial crisis hit two years later. As I was moving abroad, I had no choice but to sell it in 2010 and ended up losing £25k overall. It taught me that property is not a short term investment.

What was your best money decision?

Moving to Australia for a few years after I got married. Going over there wasn’t a financial decision at all, but we were lucky enough to be working in Perth during the mining boom which meant that salaries were high. We were able to save a lot of money and put down a large deposit on a house when we returned to the UK.

What is your best tip for saving money at home?

When I need something new, I always consider whether or not I could buy it second hand on eBay or Gumtree. I just picked up a never-used steam mop on Gumtree for half the price it was selling brand new.

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

One of our biggest expenses when out and about is family lunches. We never go anywhere without a discount voucher. Most family-friendly chains these days do special offers if you’re willing to do a little bit of planning in advance. Vouchercloud is a good app for finding restaurant deals.

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

Ultimately, happiness doesn’t come from buying new clothes and make up. Work on accepting yourself as you are.

What was your biggest ever bargain?

mum on a budget

A couple of years ago we were at the rubbish tip, getting rid of some things. A car pulled up next to us and the driver got out and pulled out a Peppa Pig bike, ready to throw it into landfill. My husband stopped him – turns out there was nothing wrong with it, he was only getting rid of it because his daughter had outgrown it. We happily took it off his hands and now riding it is my daughter’s favourite thing to do. I since learned that Argos still sell it for £80. It makes me sad that some people are so wasteful.

What was your most recent purchase?

Some vests for my kids to wear under their clothes now that the weather is getting colder.

Do you stick to a monthly budget?

Yes – my husband and I use an app called Goodbudget to set our budget each month and to track our spending. I find accounting for everything we spend helps us evaluate whether or not we really need to buy something.

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

We are on track to be mortgage-free by the age of 40, so I’d love to hit that milestone. I would also love to be able to help with the financial costs of my children going to university, if they choose to go.

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

It’s very practical and boring, but I would pay off our mortgage, and the mortgages of our close families (luckily my husband and I have small families!). If there was any left over, I would love to take the kids to Disney World.

Nicola blogs at Mum on a Budget.  Having given up her job as an accountant in order to stay at home with her two young children, she loves sharing her tips on how to life well on a restricted budget. 

You can meet more money bloggers like Mum on a Budget here and here.

Eight of the best frugal food blogs to help you save money

best frugal food blogs

I love food and experimenting with recipes and, just because I am on a budget, I don’t want to eat badly. Glossy cookbooks and food programmes are all very well, but sometimes require fancy ingredients that are expensive. This is why when I want inspiration I go to my favourite frugal food blogs. (Incidentally, some of my own frugal recipes are to be found here.)

Here are some of the best frugal food blogs, in no particular order.

Best Frugal Food Blogs

Cooking on a Bootstrap

Master of the budget recipe is Jack Monroe. It started with A Girl Called Jack, but you will now find the blog at Cooking on a Bootstrap. What I like about Jack is the recipe descriptions – there is often a story behind a particular creation – and the way the cost of each recipe is so carefully calculated. The cooking here is all vegan now, but that makes it interesting and very cheap.

Reduced Grub

Kelly at Reduced Grub is well worth a visit. She has loads of recipes on her blog. They aren’t as cheap as some of the other blogs I have mentioned, but still good family food on a budget. She has recently appeared on Channel 5’s Shop Smart Save Money.

Diary of a Frugal Family

Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family is the winner of the 2018 SHOMOS award for best frugal food blog.  She emphasises the importance of meal planning, which is my mantra too for those attempting to stick to a budget. This is good, family food and includes plenty of delicious home baking.

Thrifty Lesley

Thrifty Lesley shows you how to feed yourself for £1 a day. The recipes are interesting and healthy too. Lesley uses very little meat, which is how her food is so cheap I think. This is a clever and well organised blog. She has written menu plans to help you stick to the £1 a day budget, whatever your circumstances. There is even a no power meal plan, aimed at people who have no power in their accommodation. This is serious stuff and really useful.

Utterly Scrummy Food for Families

A brand new blog to me is Utterly Scrummy Food for Families, which has an emphasis on budgeting and meal planning. Michelle presents plenty of inspiration and advice on using leftovers, reducing your food bills and producing delicious meals on a budget. I particularly fancy this potato and vegetable bake. My kind of frugal food blog!

Eat Not Spend

Jane from Eat Not Spend is the author of Home Economics: How to eat like a king on a budget. Who could resist such a promise? The blog is well organised, with shopping lists and meal plans to suit everyone. The vegan chocolate cakes looks good, which uses avocado to create a creamy topping.

Thrifty Cook

Although it doesn’t appear to have been updated for a while, Thrifty Cook is still full of useful and tasty looking budget recipes. The spinach and mushroom pancakes sound delicious! This is another one that is light on the meat, making it great if you are looking for vegetarian food.

Frugal Food

Faye’s blog, Frugal Food, does what it says on the tin. She focusses on producing frugal meals with quality ingredients. Being frugal doesn’t have to mean being cheap! Some recipes are quite adventurous, but sound delicious, such as Toro Rosso pie, made with minced beef and Hungarian sausage hot pot.

Which frugal food blogs inspire you? I hope you enjoy my suggestions..

Note: I first published my best frugal food blogs post in 2017. However, with the sad loss of Frugal Queen, I thought it was due an update. I hope you enjoy it!

Stir fried vegetables with noodles and toasted cashews

stir fried vegetables with noodles and toasted cashews

This vegan dish of stir fried vegetables with noodles and toasted cashews is simplicity itself, a budget, healthy meal that takes just 15 minutes to prepare. It is also gluten free if you make sure you use rice noodles. You can chuck pretty much any crunchy vegetables into this. I often use carrots or greens, peas and green beans too.

Stir fried vegetables with noodles and toasted cashews

Serves 2-3


2-3 tbsp sesame oil

2-3 tbsp soy sauce

One heaped tsp Marigold vegan stock

1 chopped onion

2 celery sticks, chopped into matchsticks

1 red pepper sliced

Half a head of broccoli, chopped into small florets

200g mushrooms, sliced

100 g cashew nuts, toasted for a few minutes in a dry frying pan


Heat 2 tbsp of sesame oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the onions and celery and stir fry for a couple of minutes, then throw in the rest of your vegetables. Keep stirring and tossing the veg over quite a high heat for a few more minutes, depending on how crunchy you like your vegetables.

Meanwhile, cook and drain the rice noodles. This should only take 4 minutes or so in boiling water. Add your soy sauce and stir, then add the stock dissolved in enough hot water to barely cover your veg. Stir thoroughly and taste. Add the extra spoonful of sesame oil and more soy sauce to taste. Stir in your noodles and serve immediately with your toasted cashews sprinkled on top.

This dish of stir fried vegetables with noodles and toasted cashew nuts is super healthy and easy. If you like you can add some ginger for a bit of a kick too.

For more of my frugal recipe ideas see my recipe page.


Money saving meal plan

This week’s meal plan is a bit late, as we actually started it yesterday! I can’t stress how important it is to me to plan our meals. It means we eat healthily for less, and we don’t waste food. As we approach Christmas, we can’t afford to throw our money in the bin, so a money saving meal plan is essential.

Money saving meal plan


money saving meal plan

The weather here in Essex is cold, grey and wet, as it probably is anywhere in the UK right now. So a hearty, warming vegetable casserole is a good plan. I used celery, carrots, parsnips, mushrooms, peas with a good veg stock, thickened with a little flour and flavoured with rosemary and bay leaves.

The slow cooker is out and will be quite a lot through the winter I suspect. We will eat this with creamy mashed potato.


money saving meal planningA ready made nut cutlet for me and a pork chop for Mr S with roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy. Tesco do a really nice nut cutlet I have discovered, and they are currently on offer at three packs for £4. A good price!


Work is always super busy on Monday and I am likely to be tired. I will go for a vegetable stir fry with noodles and toasted cashew nuts. It takes very little effort and is really delicious. I will post this recipe soon!


Tuna pasta casserole with salad. This is super cheap and easy budget food.


Fisherman’s pie. I will keep this simple and cheap, using frozen haddock and hard boiled eggs in a white sauce with mashed potatoes on top.

money saving meal plan


Spaghetti cheese casserole. This is the ultimate comfort food and we have it regularly.


Cheese omelettes with air fried chips and peas. I am still enjoying using my air fryer! Chips cook so quickly in it – just as quick as frozen oven chips, just healthier.

This week’s money saving meal plan uses up food we already have, which means I won’t have to do any extra shopping this week, apart from some cheese, salad and milk.  What are you planning food wise?

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at her blog.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

money saving meal plan

Five things to prepare for a frugal Christmas #fivefrugalthings

frugal christmas

December is upon us! I don’t mind admitting that, due to a long term pain in the neck (not Mr S or Brexit, but a trapped nerve) I am a little behind on my Christmas plans. It is hard to concentrate! However, I need to prepare for a frugal Christmas and stick to the budget.

We don’t all have wads of cash to throw around at this time of year. However , it is perfectly possible to have a fabulous frugal Christmas with a little forethought and planning.

This week’s Five Frugal things consists of five random thoughts towards achieving a frugal Christmas.

Visit the discount stores

Check out the Christmas aisles at Aldi and Lidl. They always have a great selection of Christmas food and gifts. Home Bargains, Poundland and B&M can also be good.

Shop around for your Christmas meat

I don’t eat meat so will be settling down to a vegetarian Christmas dinner. However, the rest of the family do. I am absolutely positive that the price of a roast goes up at this time of the year so it makes sense to buy early and get your meat in the freezer. Iceland do some good frozen meat joints.

If you are buying fresh do a price comparison online and check out your local butcher or farm shop as well.

Buy brown paper

frugal christmas

Consider buying plain brown parcel wrap instead of fancy foil covered (and unrecyclable) Christmas wrapping paper. It is much cheaper and looks very pretty with some ribbon or raffia ties. You could even keep your children entertained and get them to do some potato printed wrap!

Plan your food

I tend to harp on about meal planning, but it saves loads of money and prevents food waste. This applies just as much at Christmas. As it can be a time of over consumption and waste, perhaps even more! Plan all of your food over Christmas and only buy what you will actually eat. It is only a couple of days! Also plan what you will do with any leftovers.

I tend to buy as I go along over several weeks to spread the cost as well.

Bargain sites for a frugal Christmas

Don’t forget to check the online cashback sites before you shop online. I got 8% cash back buying my daughter’s Christmas present at ASOS by clicking through from Top Cashback, for example. I also check Quidco to see if they have a better deal.  Both of these are my tell a friend codes. If you click through and make a purchase via a the Top Cashback one you will receive a £5 Amazon gift card (you need to spend a minimum of £10). You also get £5 if you make a purchase via Quidco using my link.

I also like Bargain Crazy for its discounts on pretty much everything, but it is looking particularly good for frugal Christmas gifts at the moment.

How are you preparing for a frugal Christmas? Check out my other posts to help save money at Christmas here and here.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

Christmas gifts that save money

gifts that save money

I like to buy my friends and family presents that I think they will find really useful and that will last. Gone are the days when I was happy to buy lots of cheap, throwaway items. Now, with a view to sustainability and frugality, I am thinking why not also purchase Christmas gifts that save money for the recipient?

Here are some of my ideas for great gifts that save money.

Christmas gifts that save money

A slow cooker

Resist the lure of the takeaway after a hard day at work with a slow cooker. They cost hardly anything to run, and with a bit of organisation in the morning you can come home to a delicious, hearty casserole. We use ours loads in the winter. Slow cooking can also make a tough, cheap joint of meat taste lovely and tender. The 3.5 litre VonShef model from Domu.co.uk costs £19.99.

 A popcorn maker

gifts that save moneyAs I mentioned in my post Eighteen of the best green Christmas gift ideas,  my daughter is addicted to popcorn. She goes through packets of the microwaveable stuff. As a poor student, she could save money and a ton of packaging with this glass popcorn maker from Amazon.

Cotton face cloth

gifts that save moneyFor the eco-conscious beauty queen in your life, how about buying them a couple of organic cotton face cloths like this one from Beauty Bay? The recipient can ditch the cotton wool pads or face wipes and use this washable version to remove their makeup instead.

I own several nice, soft face cloths so no longer purchase disposables to clean my face. You could team it up with an organic cleanser like the Skin n Tonic Steam Clean cleansing balm.

Save money on coffee

gifts that save money

For the person who always turns up at the office with a take out coffee, a cafetiere along with some decent filter coffee will potentially save them hundreds of pounds each year. You can buy this attractive glass and copper one at Domu.co.uk for £9.99.

Reusable water bottle

Everyone should have a reusable water bottle. They save money and are great if you want to reduce your environmental footprint as well. Evolution Organics do a nice unbreakable Santevia stainless steel water bottle for £19.99.

For those who spend a fortune on disposable plastic bottles, this is one of the best Christmas gifts that save money.

A sense of history

A subscription to an organisation such as English Heritage makes a lovely present for those who like to get out and about. A membership will give free entry to over 400 historic places throughout the UK. It saves a lot of money on individual entrance fees.

Cinema ticket

Who doesn’t love going to the cinema? However, tickets to see the latest blockbuster can be expensive. You can treat someone to a Cineworld gift voucher. If you buy through Top Cash back using my referral code you will also earn yourself a £5 Amazon voucher.

Battery charger

If you know of a household with a lot of gadgets, how about a Duracell 45 Minute Charger with some rechargeable batteries? These are a win-win for the recipient’s wallet and the environment.

Wine saver

I love a glass of fizz or wine but won’t drink the whole bottle! A wine saver like this one from Domu will keep the contents of the bottle fresh and fizzy and prevent expensive waste.

Wind up torch

gifts that save moneyAnother way to avoid costly battery replacements is to buy items that are rechargeable. A solar powered wind up torch  such as this one is eco-friendly as well as money saving.

A financial education

<a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0375752250/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=0375752250&linkCode=as2&tag=shoecottfrugl-21&linkId=0553d2c7647d3df5010a2b043a421f0c"><img border="0" src="//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?_encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=GB&ASIN=0375752250&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format=_SL250_&tag=shoecottfrugl-21" ></a><img src="//ir-uk.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=shoecottfrugl-21&l=am2&o=2&a=0375752250" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />Yes! You can buy a financial education – in the form of a book. A couple of my absolute favourites to help learn about saving money are the Tightwad gazette and How I lived a year on just a pound a day by Kath Kelly. Check out my frugal books page for other ideas.

A dehydrator

gifts that save moneyGrowing your own food is an amazing money saving hobby. An unusual gift for the avid veg grower or allotment holder is a food dehydrator. This presents another way to preserve your harvest when you have a glut and prevents food going to waste.

Reusable steel razor

Christmas gifts that save moneyOn my Christmas wish list – for both its money saving potential and to cut back on plastic waste – is a stainless steel safety razor. I am fed up of spending so much on plastic razors that last just a few shaves. This one should last forever if I look after it.

What other ideas do you have for Christmas gifts that save money?

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Eight ways to reduce your junk mail

reduce your junk mail

I don’t know about you, but I am taking charge of the amount of junk that comes through my letterbox. 95% goes straight into the recycling. What a waste of resources! I figure if I can stop it arriving in the first place – simply refuse it – I can make a difference to the number of trees that need to be cut down in order to produce it. Do you want to reduce your junk mail?

I have enough jobs to do around the home. Sorting the junk mail from the post I actually need to read is an annoyance I can do without. Collecting big piles of paper to go out to the recycling bins is another. Lugging the large bags of paper to the kerbside collection? You get the picture.

Top ways to reduce your junk mail

Communicate with retailers

A lot of the mail that I receive is from companies where I have been a customer but inadvertently forgotten to tick the box asking them not to mail me.  Some I have been receiving for years, but never open and stick them straight in the recycling box (conveniently by the front door). If I really want news on special offers from a certain business, there is nothing to stop me receiving them by email (although these can also be a time consuming annoyance, see below).

Rather than sticking them straight into the recycling, I build up a little pile and then go online to let the companies know I no longer wish to receive their mailings. There is usually an email address on the envelope somewhere telling you how to do this to reduce your junk mail. After all, it saves them money too.

Send it back

When I receive unsolicited mailings that don’t give unsubscribe information, I simply return to sender with a note on the back requesting that they remove my details from their mailing list. They don’t always pay attention to my instructions, but it is worth a go. If they want to waste their time and money continually sending me bits of paper than I am just going to return, that is up to them.

Refuse it

We have a beautiful shiny new front door. I don’t want to mess it up with a no junk mail sticker, but I don’t want the postie or leaflet droppers chucking constant unaddressed adverts through our door. I have therefore ordered this metal sign from Amazon, which I think looks slightly classier:reduce your junk mailIf I catch someone ignoring it, I will be chasing them up the road and giving them the leaflet back. It shouldn’t be this hard to reduce your junk mail, but sadly it sometimes is!

Talk to the Royal Mail

You can also reduce your junk mail by opting out of the Royal Mail’s door to door service. They get paid to throw menus, flyers, etc through your door, but you don’t have to accept it. Email [email protected] or write to them at:

Door to Door Opt Outs
Royal Mail Customer Services
PO Box 740

Mailing preference service

The Mailing Preference Service (MPS) is a free service funded by the direct mail industry to enable consumers to have their names and home addresses in the UK removed from lists used by the industry. It is actively supported by the Royal Mail and all directly involved trade associations and fully supported by The Information Commissioners Office (ICO).

You can sign up to the service to reduce your junk mail and any other person who lives, or has lived, at your property. It is well worth doing and only takes a minute or so. Visit the MPS here.

Go paper free

It has taken me a long time to understand the benefits of going paper free. I am the kind of person who keeps boxes of files regarding my bank statements and house hold bills under the bed, gathering dust and rarely serving any useful purpose.

Each time I receive a bill or statement through the post, I am now taking a few minutes to go onto the company’s website and change my  communication settings. I can easily store anything important digitally!

Remove your name from the open electoral roll

Did you know that anyone can buy a copy of the electoral register with your details on it? No, neither did I! But it is possible to remove your details from the open register. Obviously, you will still be on the main register, which is used for elections. To find out how to remove yourself from the open register, visit gov.uk here.

Check the small print

Check the small print on any forms you complete to make sure you are opting out of any future marketing communications. These are easy to miss, so you need to be vigilant.

Of course, digital mail can be just as time consuming and annoying, but at least it doesn’t create paper waste. I am on a mission to unsubscribe from as many email lists as  I can as well.

Does junk mail annoy you? What do you do to reduce your junk mail? I am on a mission! You can read my tips to reduce your plastic waste here.

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Super healthy meal plan!

Why a super healthy meal plan?  Well, last week we had no meal plan. We were both ill with a nasty winter vomiting thing and didn’t feel much like food. As soon as I started to feel more human I made vegetable stock and a big pot of veggie soup from that. I wanted maximum nutrition but could only eat something very light.

This week I want to be super healthy so that we can ward off any of the flu bugs that seem to be rife! Got to love winter!healthy meal plan

Our kitchen spoons are mostly plastic and seem to have all started breaking. I have invested in this set of stainless steel ones, since I am trying to avoid plastic wherever possible. It’s a shame the plastic ones can’t be recycled. Hopefully the stainless steel ones will last forever.

This week’s super healthy meal plan


Out for dinner at a friends so I don’t have much control over this. I will offer a fruit salad for dessert.


We have some haddock and salmon in the freezer so will make a parsley sauce and have broccoli, carrots and mashed potatoes with it.

I also plan a banana loaf with three bananas that are past their best. Don’t want to waste them.


Salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, grated carrot and avocado. We seem to have a lot of pre-prepared vegetarian items like rissoles and burgers in the freezer. I had a tidy up and found some lurking at the back. They will go with the salad, maybe with some boiled potatoes.


Tuna with penne and olives. There should be leftover salad to go with this. We eat this a lot as it is quick, healthy, cheap and easy to make.


Vegetable casserole made in the slow cooker with carrots, onions, celery, peas, parsnips and mushrooms. Everything in the fridge, basically. Mr S can have the same thing with a couple of chicken thighs in his. We will have this with rice.


healthy meal plan

Vegetable Lincolnshire sausages with mash, gravy and kale.


Our usual easy end of week dinner. Cheese omelette with a baked sweet potato and whatever vegetables are left in the fridge.

I am buying black grapes and oranges this week. We have loads of apples donated by a neighbour, so we can snack on fruit. Plain Greek yogurt with honey is another nice dessert option. I buy the lactose free version from Asda when I am passing. The packs of mixed nuts from Lidl are also good for healthy snacking.

That doesn’t mean I won’t eat chocolate or drink wine! But as I have had neither for a week, I won’t go crazy. Silver lining – I managed to lose 4 lb!

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at her blog.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

SHOMOS round up – money blogger awards

What a week! I had an eventful time at the SHOMOS in London, with a few bumps in the road. That’s life I guess. It would be dull if things always ran to plan.

The SHOMOS – what’s it all about?


I travelled up to London on Saturday for the SHOMOS, the annual conference and awards of the UK Money Bloggers group, sponsored by Yolt.

What a great day – I absolutely loved it! We had brilliant talks from Cora Harrison (the Mini Millionaire), Laura Light (Savings for Savvy Mums) and Jordon Cox,  aka the Coupon Kid, on various aspects of blogging and life generally.

Jordon gave a very moving account of his recent, very severe illness and how, despite being hospitalised for months on end, he managed to write and publish his first book, Secrets to Saving: The Ultimate UK Couponing Guide. He really is a remarkable young man. I reviewed Jordon’s book here.

There were also a couple of panel discussions on dealing with debt and tips to future proof your finances, which were incredibly helpful and informative.

The SHOMOS event is pulled together by Andy Webb from becleverwithyourcash.com , now the money expert on Channel five’s Shop Smart Save Money. He does an amazing job every year and is an all round lovely man.

How did we do at the SHOMOS?


Shoestring Cottage was nominated in three categories, Best Frugal Food Blog, Best Money Saving Blog and the People’s Choice Award. Sadly, I didn’t come home with any awards this time. However, I was really delighted to discover that it was quite a big deal to be in the final shortlist of six for the People’s Choice award. The original list consisted of 83! More than happy with this. This is all down to my lovely readers, who took the time to vote for me. Thank you so much if you did!

I was delighted that my friend Emma from the Money Whisperer did extremely well, scooping two awards. When I met her for the first time last year she had only been blogging for a few months. Nikki from the Female Money Doctor also did well. Please check them both out as their blogs are well worth a read and their awards were well deserved. There are so many others I could mention. You can find the full list of winners here.


Then it all went to pot….

Having had the best day, I started to feel a bit queasy on the way home. Tube – bus replacement service – train, enough to make anyone feel a bit putrid. However, it turned into the winter vomiting virus and by the time I got back it was in full swing. Not good! However, at least I lost a few pounds! So, if I have been a little quiet on the blogging front this week, you will understand why. I managed to infect a few of my fellow bloggers and poor Mr Shoestring too.

The slightly traumatic journey home aside, the SHOMOS is a brilliant event. If you are a blogger who writes about finance in some way, or if you know someone who does, point them at the website. There is also a very supportive Facebook group you can request to join.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

On the Money with Sue Foster

In my latest On the Money guest spot I welcome Sue Foster, who blogs about practically everything! Her blog is great for money saving and making money too. See the link at the end.

One common theme I have seen throughout my On the Money series, is that everyone, being older and wiser, says that they wish they had saved more when they were young. Sue is no different. How do we get this message to our young people?

on the money

On the Money: Conversations with money bloggers

What is your earliest memory of having and spending money?

I remember my first pay packet. I was so excited. I went out and treated myself to some clothes.

Have you ever felt out of control with your money?

Yes, through my divorce when my husband stopped paying into the house and left me and my
daughter short of money.

What was your worst money decision?

Nothing specific comes to mind. There are probably plenty of things I have wasted money on and
not really needed.

What was your best money decision?

Buying a run-down flat and doing it up as best I could with the little money I had. It had its problems
but was worth it in the end as I made a good profit and it got me on the housing ladder.

What is your best tip for saving money at home?

Always at the start of each month take off your outgoings, allow for shopping and a bit of spending
money, then put the rest away in the savings.

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

on the money

Shop around and find the best price. Don’t buy the first thing you see. Also, never go supermarket
shopping on an empty stomach!

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

To save more, but at that age you spend your money on going out and buying clothes and don’t
think of the future too much.

What was your biggest ever bargain?

An old Ford Escort Estate car I bought for £400. It served me well for a few years then I traded it in
for £1000! (This is also my approach to cars!)

What was your most recent purchase?

School clothes for the kids.

Do you stick to a monthly budget?

Yes, I’m very good at sticking to a budget. I have a book where I write down all my outgoings at the
start of each month, so I know exactly what I have to spend.

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

I’d like to eventually run my blog full time and work from home, then relocate.

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

Put my house up for sale and move, plus buy a newer car.

Sue Foster is an online retailer and blogger. She blogs about making money online, saving money,
running a business, WordPress and various lifestyle information, which includes topics such as health
and fitness, beauty and pets. You can read Sue’s blog here.

I am happy to have had a lot of frugal and personal finance bloggers take part in On the Money to date. You can read some of the others here.

Eighteen of the best green Christmas gift ideas

green christmas

Are you dreaming of a green Christmas? I am! I am hoping to give and receive a lot more ethically sourced and environmentally friendly presents this year. Some will even save the recipient money, so even better.

I am at a stage of my life when I don’t want endless ‘stuff’, especially when it arrives in copious amounts of plastic packaging. Thoughtful gifts with natural ingredients and easily recyclable packaging are my aim for a green Christmas this year. Here are a few ideas.

Plastic free tea

green Christmas

For the eco-conscious tea lover, how about a selection of fine tea in plastic free teabags? We Are Tea ethically source their whole leaf tea and are the first premium tea company to remove paper tags from their entire range. Every tea bag is made from corn starch and sealed with ultrasound, making them 100% biodegradable. This year will see them go completely plastic-free across the whole of their packaging and supply chain.

The range of teas includes Moroccan Mint, Oolong, Super Berry, Soothe, Earl Grey and Jasmine Silver Needle. They very kindly gifted me some to try and they are definitely a cut above in terms of flavour.

I am a bit of a tea addict – I just love the stuff. Recently I have become more adventurous in the types of tea I drink so I think these would make a lovely present. However, I was disappointed that these plastic free teabags arrived in a cardboard box but the inner packaging was a plastic bag! This seemed totally unnecessary to me but, as their aim is to be completely plastic free this year hopefully the plastic bags will soon disappear.

green Christmas

If your tea lover prefers to avoid tea bags altogether, you could give them this cute little glass teapot or perhaps a single cup tea infuser? Ounona do one with a very fine strainer and a drip tray, making it easy to use and mess free.

Glass popcorn maker

My daughter gets through bags and bags of microwaveable popcorn. She is totally addicted! I plan to buy her this glass popcorn maker from Amazon, which will be healthier, cheaper and cut out all the packaging she currently has to dispose of. I have seen others that have no plastic, but I think it needs some protection. It won’t be too sustainable if she immediately breaks it and has to throw it out!

green Christmas

Cycling: green and budget friendly

Cycling is obviously a fantastic, eco-friendly means of transport, and healthy too. The cyclist in your life will appreciate some accessories to keep them on the road. For the serious long distance cyclist I like the sound of 100% Natural Cyclist Butt Balm from Ultra Bee. It’s not clear what the packaging is on this. I doubt it’s glass so hopefully the plastic is recyclable at least. It is however made with natural, soothing ingredients such as honey, propolis and calendula.green christmas

Maybe a snazzy metal bicycle bell? I like this jungle one for £10 from Pretty Useful Tools. I would also really love an old fashioned wicker basket for my bike, like this Home-ever traditional handmade one for £18.99, which I think is a good size and a nice shape. In my ideal world, I would cycle to market and bring home my fruit and veg in this!

Socks with purpose

green christmas gifts

Socks may seem a dull gift for Christmas, but we all wear them! I am always happy to receive a cosy pair. Imagine if your Christmas socks could help save a critically endangered species? Critically Endangered Socks produce
soft and luxurious socks made from a blend of sustainably sourced, Oeko-Tex certified bamboo and cotton.
Each pair is named after and draws inspiration from one of five critically endangered animals, with 20% of sales going towards a different hand-picked animal charity. at £12 a pair, these aren’t budget socks, but they are great quality.

I was given a couple of pairs to try and they are very comfortable and durable.

Ecofriendly teeth cleaning

Did you know that every plastic toothbrush you have ever had has yet to decompose? It makes sense to change to a compostable bamboo toothbrush. I like these ones from Trilink, as the bristles are also biodegradeable – a lot of bamboo toothbrushes still have plastic bristles. One of these would be good in everyone’s Christmas stocking.

You could add some chemical free toothpaste in a glass jar as a nice gift too. This spearmint one from Georganics looks interesting. I confess I have yet to try it but it is on my wish list from my Secret Santa. The reviewers on Amazon either love it or hate it!

Luxury toiletries for a green Christmas

As well over-packaged goods, I have started to avoid skin care products and toiletries with chemical ingredients. Natural, effective products can easily be found as cheaply as the better known brands. They can be even cheaper since they don’t have to pay for the massive marketing budgets of the well known skincare brands.

I wrote a whole post on this recently, Eco-friendly Beauty on a Budget. For a green Christmas, though, I am happy to push the boat out a bit. Yes, you could pop down to Boots or your supermarket and buy one of the usual Christmas gift packs, or you could take a greener and more adventurous approach with some beautiful products that aren’t laden with chemicals.

How about this gorgeous organic hemp shea butter cream from Hemp Help? The outer packaging is made from bamboo. The inner pot is light weight plastic but, as the company explained to me, they worked out that a glass container would mean the weight of the product would multiply the carbon footprint by three. I would prefer to avoid plastic but guess a bit of balance is required.green ChristmasThere is a good article here from Treehugger listing the top 20 ingredients to avoid when buying cosmetics.

Get rid of disposables

When I take my reusable bamboo mug out and about with me people always seem interested in getting one. If you know somebody who likes a takeout coffee or who travels to events where disposable cups are the norm, this would make a great green Christmas gift.

green Christmas

A bamboo or stainless steel lunchbox is also a good present. Taking your lunch to work or out and about saves money too! I found a beautiful bamboo one in TK Max recently for only £5.99, which I thought was a bargain.

green Christmas

I was also gifted this stainless steel stackable one from a lovely online shop called &keep.  This one is priced at £19.96 and would be ideal for a child’s lunchbox. I like that it has a separate small box as I usually take a snack of dried fruit or nuts to work, but I found the bottom layer too shallow for anything except some grapes. If I was making a purchase I would go for the deeper one priced at £19.99 here. They are a lot more expensive than your standard plastic lunchbox, but will last forever. It is an item that somebody might not pay for if they had to make the purchase themselves but would really appreciate it as a present.

green Christmas

Something else that I was gifted from &keep was a pack of three beeswax wraps. I have wanted to try these as an alternative to cling film for ages and haven’t been disappointed so far. They mould round a dish of food to keep it nice and fresh, are washable and last around a year. If you know someone desperate to cut their waste they would love these! At £14.99, these are something of an investment though. As Mr S’s brother is a beekeeper, I have a potentially endless supply of beeswax so at some point I plan to make some of these myself. I have already found a few tutorials on You Tube.

green Christmas

TK Max had a very good range of glass and silicone water bottles too. I prefer drinking my water out of glass and use one every day at work. This one was just £7.99.


I guess e-books are the more eco-friendly option, but I still prefer real, paper books! They can be read and passed on. In whichever format you decide, books still make lovely gifts. I am currently reading and enjoying Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Bea Johnson, which is full of fantastic information on cutting out the waste and living a greener lifestyle.

I often buy second hand books to add as stocking fillers for my daughters. They have never complained! You can get so many in charity shops or purchased from your local library sale.

Charity gifts

For the person who has everything, you could gift a charity in their name. Oxfam Unwrapped has loads of ideas for gifts that do good to deprived communities, such as a Poverty Busting Pig for £23 or Education for a Child for £19. You could even give some of these as stocking fillers. How about a Fantastic Farm Kit for a fiver?

House plants

We have recently started introducing more house plants into Shoestring Cottage. They are known to help reduce indoor pollutants, as well as looking pretty and retro. They also make lovely gifts! This article explains more about why you should have more houseplants.

It’s a Green Christmas wrap

green ChristmasOnce you have made all your green Christmas purchases, of course, you don’t want to ruin all your good work when wrapping them. Avoid clear plastic or foil covered wrapping paper as neither are recyclable. Instead, go for good, old fashioned (and cheap) brown paper with colourful natural raffia ties. Be careful when purchasing raffia, though, as much of it is actually rayon. I would go for something like this one in a nice festive green.

I hope you like my ideas for green Christmas ideas and would love to hear about your own.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Off to London: Five frugal things

Blogger awards

Finally the SHOMOS have arrived and I am writing this on the train to London. I am so excited to meet lots of blogger friends!

In case you don’t know, the SHOMOS are the annual awards of the UK Money Bloggers. This group are very supportive and friendly. I have learned so much since I joined them.

Shoestring Cottage is up for Best Money Saving Blog, Best Frugal Food Blog and I made it through to the last six for the People’s Choice Award. I have to thank you for the latter as this is decided on votes from readers.

A frugal trip

One of my frugal things was booking my train ticket a few weeks ago, which made it much cheaper.

Another is to bring my water bottle and some snacks.

I also have my bamboo coffee cup with me. It won’t save any money but will avoid any disposable cups.


five frugal things

I have mentioned my efforts to reduce waste at Shoestring Cottage and to live a more sustainable life before. To this end we are switching from teabags, which contain plastic, back to loose tea. It tastes so much better! How did we all fall for the whole teabag thing?

I found loose PG Tips in a cardboard box with no plastic, which was great. Cheaper too.

As I drink decaf much of the time, a reader on Instagram recommended the Brew Tea Company. I ordered decaf black tea as well as some ginger and lemon.

This wasn’t as cheap as the PG Tips but seems a quality product. I will let you know how I get on but it does taste lovely!


five frugal things

How is it that I have three grown up girls who feel I should still buy them advent calendars? I relented this year because there were some Cadbury’s ones for £1.99 each.

Last time! If they ever produce grandkids I will get them reusable cloth ones.

Grape liqueur

five frugal things

We finally bottled up the grape liqueur that has been brewing nicely for a couple of months.

It smells of strong vodka, so I wasn’t hopeful. However, it tastes really nice! It didn’t cost much to make and used up some of our grape harvest.


I love hand crafted presents. You get a unique product without all the usual packaging and support local makers.

five frugal things

A colleague’s husband makes all kinds of things as his side hustle. I brought a lovely bright knitted bag for Christmas for a little girl I know. I think she will love it and it was only £8. I think this was a bargain.

Anyway, I will let you know how I get on at the SHOMOS. Have a great weekend!

What frugal things have you achieved? Have you had an eco-friendly week too? As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

It’s good to talk: #talkmoney week

This post has been written in association with the Money Advice Service.

Why are some folk so embarrassed to talk about money? I’m not saying we should all discuss our money woes, savings or pensions endlessly. However, there seem to be few social situations where it is OK to share your views on money and learn from each other. Talk Money Week aims to change all this!

Talk Money Week, 12th-18th November

Talk Money Week is a new public awareness week from the Money Advice Service aiming to change our general reticence around discussing money. It is being held from 12th-18th November and will include events  across the UK designed to help people have more open conversations about their finances.

Money was never really discussed much when I was growing up. I knew we didn’t have much, but we always got by. School provided no financial education either. I could have done with talking and learning about money in my teens. If I had I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes later in life! In my eyes, Talk Money Week is a great initiative and I am happy to support it.

My money story

talk money weekI was hopeless with money until I got divorced after my first marriage and suddenly felt responsible for my own finances for the first time. It wasn’t that I was a spendthrift, as I am naturally frugal, but I never had any kind of financial education and I just wasn’t interested. At various times in my life I have been in debt. It never occurred to me to put any money away for a rainy day or to save for purchases. If I needed a new TV, car or sofa I didn’t hesitate to take out a loan or put it on my credit card. Talk of savings, investments or interest rates would cause me to instantly zone out.
Looking back, I was lucky to have worked in local government and enrolled in a decent pension scheme. I was never unemployed or reliant on benefits. My physical and mental health was good. Now that I am much more aware of personal finance issues, I realise it would have taken only a small change in my circumstances for me to have suddenly been in big trouble financially.

Missed opportunities

Almost every money blogger that I interview in my On the Money series says that they would tell their 18 year old selves to put money into savings and investments. When I think of the money I wasted before I had children on takeaways, nights out, clothes and general tut that I didn’t need I regret that it never occurred to me to put any of my salary aside.
Now we save a small amount every month into a contingency fund (see my post on why you should have an emergency fund here), some goes into a pot for Christmas, birthdays and holidays, and we often have a fund for a particular goal or project alongside that. Our back patio doors and our front door have just been replaced. We didn’t take out a loan for this, we saved up!

Living within our means

talk money week

We don’t waste money buying things we don’t need and anything we do purchase is more often than not second hand. As the person in charge of food, I always plan our meals and shop using a list. It is very rare that food is wasted at Shoestring Cottage. Mr Shoestring is super handy and great at repairing stuff and DIY. All this means that we no longer have any debt and we can afford the days out and holidays that we really enjoy!

But there is more to learn. Mr S has always been more savvy than me and started investing from an early age. This is something I want to do more of. I also talk to my daughters about personal finance so that they can avoid some of the mistakes I made and will be encouraging them to check out Talk Money Week. This is exactly what the Money Advisory Service aims to promote: for Brits to sit down with their friends, loved ones and family to speak about their personal finances – from saving to using credit cards, from pocket money to pensions.
Talk Money Week is designed to increase financial well being among Britons by encouraging them to discuss personal finance issues including savings, debt, using credit, financial education and retirement. If you would like to find out more, please visit the Money Advice Service here. Remember – it’s good to talk!

Support a food bank with the reverse advent campaign! #foodbankadvent

reverse advent

Regular readers may remember that last year myself and many other bloggers from the UK Money Bloggers group threw our support behind a reverse advent Christmas campaign for the Trussell Trust. In case you don’t know, the Trussell Trust runs most of the food banks in the UK.

We are doing the same thing this year, organising food bank collections in our homes and workplaces, as well as spreading the word to urge as many people as possible to take part.

What is the reverse advent campaign?

You all know how advent calendars work. Each day leading up to Christmas you open a window and take out a little chocolate or gift. With the reverse advent idea, instead of taking something out you put an item in a box.

However, don’t wait until the 1st December to start as the food banks need our reverse advent contributions before Christmas, to give them time to distribute food to those in desperate need. Kids love doing this and it gives them a different view of Christmas. It makes adults and children alike appreciate the happy Christmas they are likely to experience if they realise that others will be lucky to get a hot meal, let alone any presents.

Why take part?

I find it depressing that in a wealthy and developed country like the UK we even need food banks. However, they do provide a lifeline and are so worth supporting.

Winter is a difficult period for families living in poverty. Not only do fuel bills rise but children are home for the school holidays and therefore not receiving a free school meal.

They are needed more than ever now as the roll out of Universal Credit has caused delays to benefit payments. The Trussell Trust says that the main reasons for referral between April – Sept 2018 were benefit payments not covering the cost of essentials (31%), benefit delays (22%) and benefit changes (17%).

Just imagine being so cash strapped you have to feed yourself or your family from a food bank. Now imagine that is also Christmas and the shops are all sparkly and full of people spending their cash like crazy. You can see the great service that food banks provide in such circumstances.

If you cannot organise a whole box of food, don’t worry. Most supermarkets have collection points for food bank contributions so you can tuck a couple of things in there. Everything helps.

What should you give?

Myself and my colleagues at work already have our collection boxes in place and they are filling up. Around the middle of December we will squeeze all of the donations into my car to be driven to the local food bank.

We have been checking the website of our local food bank to see what they are short of currently. You can type in your postcode to find yours here.

To give you an idea of the types of items they particularly welcome, ours is currently asking for the following:

Long life milk

Long life juice


Carrier bags


Tinned fruit


Tinned potatoes

Tinned puddings

Tins or packets of custard


Peanut butter



Shower gel

Small jars of coffee

Small washing powder or liquid

Multipacks of sweets or snacks

So what are you waiting for? Get organising your reverse advent food bank collections at your home, workplace, school or club. I would love to know what you are doing or planning to help this amazing cause.

Some more information from the Trussell Trust

Thirteen million people live below the poverty line in the UK, with individuals going hungry every day for a range of reasons, from benefit delays to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income.

The Trussell Trust’s 400-strong network of food banks provides a minimum of three days’ emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK. In the last year their network gave 1,332,952 emergency food supplies to people in crisis. You can read more about the amazing work done by the Trussel Trust here.

The importance of meal planning

I am finally coming out the other side of having a ridiculously painful trapped nerve in my neck. After 8 weeks, I can keep it under control and have been back at work full time. Meal planning is even more important when you are unwell. I have organised meals that don’t take long to prepare with easy ingredients. I will carry on in this way until I am completely better.

Meal planning is something I do because it saves us time and money. I don’t know about you, but as we approach Christmas there seems to be little of either. Meal planning may very well help save your sanity too!

meal planningSaturday

Basa fillets with crispy potatoes, vegetables and parsley sauce. I would love to say I am making the sauce from scratch, but I’m going for speed and convenience on this one with a 30p sauce mix.

I have to get the cat to the vets and clean the house today so need to save time where I can.


We have guests for lunch today. They are pescatarians like myself, but I am planning on a proper veggie dinner. We are having red dragon pie with vegetables and onion gravy. For pudding we will have fruit crumble and custard. I love this recipe from Jack Monroe, but will add some apples since we have some needing using.


Something from the freezer as it’s just me. If there happens to be leftovers from Sunday that will be good….


We have lots of stuff in the freezer. My daughter purchased quite a few packs of vegetarian sausages, fritters, etc but never got round to eating them so left them with me. I will give them a go! Mr S will have pork chops and we will both have mashed potatoes and broccoli.


Tuna pasta bake.  Something warm and comforting. I think I will go for this recipe, or might just make it up as I go along.


Leftover tuna pasta bake.


I bought some lovely sweet potatoes the other day so we will have one baked with an omelette and maybe salad if we have some kicking around.

meal planning

Lunches at this time of year are generally home made soups, salads or sandwiches. We still have plenty of the curried pumpkin I made last weekend in the freezer. If I have time I will make a fruit cake. This recipe is an all in one super easy one.

So that’s our meal planning done for the week. What will you be eating?

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at her blog.



An eco-friendly week #5frugalthings

I am continuing to live a little greener with less waste. I find this saves money too. This has been quite an eco-friendly week.

Pumpkin muffins


As promised in last week’s Five Frugal Things post, I used the flesh from our Halloween pumpkin rather than throwing it away. First came a batch of muffins. I used this recipe from Aldi. It made so many! They must have been using giant muffin cases as they said it would make 12. It made 30 fairy cake sized ones. Some we have eaten and some are in the freezer. They are lovely and moist.

Pumpkin soup


Secondly, I used my home made vegetable stock to prepare some yummy curried pumpkin soup.  Again, we have eaten some and frozen some.

It makes me mad that people just throw away their pumpkins once Halloween is over. Why waste good food?

A more eco-friendly cuppa

I wandered into TK Maxx the other day. I rarely go in there – too much temptation! However, I was after a couple of Christmas presents, which they had. I was impressed that, amongst the general tat, there was  a nice selection of items to help those, like me, who are trying to cut back on single use plastics.


They had a lovely selection of glass water bottles, protected with silicone. Water tastes so much nicer out of glass, I think. I purchased a single cup tea diffuser with some black tea. Teabags aren’t made entirely of paper, as you might assume, but also contain a form of plastic. This means that they aren’t fully biodegradable. The tea and diffuser cost just £4.99.

I also splashed out on a bamboo lunch box for £8. It is a good size and, again, no plastic.

Trip to the food coop


As I mentioned in last week’s low waste meal plan, I had my first visit to a food coop I recently joined. I need to get my head around it as I have missed their monthly order, but they keep a stock of some basics anyway. I purchased refills of hair conditioner and fabric softener, some organic sultanas, plain flour and some nuts.  Only the nuts came in single use plastic.


I also bought, for just 87p, these scouring pads made from recycled plastic.

It is much cheaper to buy a lot of these things through a coop. I like that they sell a lot of organic items much more cheaply than I can find elsewhere. We don’t buy organic all the time as we can’t afford it, so any way to save money in order to achieve more organic is good news.

Shoestring Cottage in the news

I am working with the Money Advice Service on a new campaign called Talk Money Week. There will be a blog post next week when it starts. In the meantime, I was asked by a Daily Mirror journalist to be interviewed for a piece she was writing for the campaign. You can read it here. Luckily no embarrassing photos this time!

What frugal things have you achieved? Have you had an eco-friendly week too? As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

On the Money with Corinna from Inspiring Life Design

This week’s On the Money guest is Corinna from the blog Inspiring Life Design (link below).

On the Money: Conversations with money bloggers

What is your earliest memory of having and spending money?

From as far back as I can remember, I recall my grandmother giving me 30p every week which I had
to put into my silver piggy bank. I wasn’t allowed to spend this, though (Mum monitored that!). My
first memory of having money that I could spend was when I reached about 10 years old. I would
get £1 pocket money a week and I was allowed to go to the shop over the road to buy crisps or

on the money

Have you ever felt out of control with your money?

Yes. In my mid-twenties I got into credit card debt. I wasn’t particularly spendy, it’s just that I lived a
little beyond my means month after month (mostly spent on entertainment, buying clothes or
home-ware items). Before I knew it I’d racked up several thousand pounds of debt that I didn’t know
how to pay off. Being in a situation where I had debt and didn’t know how to get rid of it raised a
lot of different emotions for me. I felt depressed, helpless and vulnerable.

Luckily I received help from my parents in the form of an interest free loan (which I then paid back over time). I
managed to take control of my spending by cutting up those credit cards and paying back as much as
I could every month.

What was your worst money decision?

I held onto my first property, a lovely flat located in a marina in Southampton for too long after I
moved out. After I moved to my house in Coventry I didn’t want to sell the flat because it had so
much sentimental value to me, so I went through a period of leaving it empty as my “2nd home”, or
rented out to tenants at various times. It took me 8 years to finally put that flat on the market and
sell it. During those 8 years I ploughed a lot of money into the flat for council tax, services and
maintenance. From an investing point of view this was a terrible idea, but at the time it was the right
thing for me. I’m glad that I finally let it go, because this removed a huge financial stress in the end.

What was your best money decision?

That would have to be my decision to start investing in a pension from a relatively young age. I
started when I was about 24 as I got my first graduate job. This has meant that I’ve now got a
reasonable size pension to build upon toward my financial independence goal. More recently my
decision to start investing in low cost index funds, filling up my ISA allowance each year, has
continued to grow my investments. I would say that I’m about 30% of the way toward financial
independence from my investments alone.

What is your best tip for saving money at home?

I hate paying to use a gym. So instead I work-out at home for little to no cost at all. I do a
combination of running on my aerobic rebounder, yoga and workouts available from free YouTube
videos. I’ve saved myself a fortune in expensive gym memberships, and I’ve also saved myself a lot
of time.

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

I take my water bottle with me everywhere and so rarely need to buy a drink when I’m out. If I’m in
the mood for a hot drink I’ll also take a tea or coffee with me in my Contigo flask (it’s a great watertight
insulated drinking flask). Same goes for snacks, I often pop a breakfast bar in my bag to snack
on, in case I’m peckish.

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

To learn about basic investing and to start investing in low cost index funds as early as I could. If only
I’d started investing at 18 I might already be financially independent now!

What was your biggest ever bargain?

on the money

I can’t think of a big bargain. However, years ago I popped into a supermarket to grab a loaf of bread.
When I got there, I found the loaves of bread I liked reduced to 20p each so I picked up 4 of them
(because at the time I froze my bread). Since I didn’t need anything else I headed straight to the
check-out. Something must have gone wrong with the till because when the cashier rang the
reduced bread through it totalled a negative amount, and she actually tried to give me money for
taking the bread (I think it was about 50p)! She said she needed to give me the money to make her
till balance. I told her that I didn’t feel right being paid to take the bread, so I politely declined the
money, suggested she gave it to charity, and walked out of the store with my 4 loaves of bread for

What was your most recent purchase?

A light ring so that I can make my YouTube videos pretty!

Do you stick to a monthly budget?

I plan my finances out monthly to make sure that I have enough money set aside to cover big bills
that crop up annually. Every month I budget an amount of spending money which I roughly stick to.
Some months I go a bit over, some I’m under, it all pretty much works out.

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

Yes! My goal is to be financially independent (so that I could retire if I wanted to) within the next 7
years. I plan to achieve this through a combination of my pension and ISA investments, building
these up so that they are 25 times bigger than my annual expenses. When I hit this target I should be
able to live off my investments using the 4% safe withdrawal rule.

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

Gather my closest family to tell them. I’ve always imagined that I would drive straight to a
supermarket or wine store and buy the biggest bottle of champagne I can find, then tell my family
while celebrating. I’d probably be a bit boring with the winnings though. I’d share with my nearest
and dearest, then use the rest to fund an immediate early retirement!

A bit about Corinna: I live in the Midlands (UK) with my boyfriend and our three cats, and I have a goal to
become financially independent within the next 7 years. I have a blog, inspiringlifedesign.com,
where I talk all about my money making side hustles. I’m passionate about helping others realise
that financial freedom is possible for everyone. In sharing my side hustle adventures, I want to help
as many people as I can to make money from their own income hustles, so that they can become
financially independent too.

Corinna can also be found on You Tube. Many thanks for your contribution, Corinna!

If you enjoyed this interview, check out my other On the Money posts here and here.

Mega thrifty home made vegetable stock

home made vegetable stock

Home made vegetable stock

A good stock is the basis of so many great recipes. But did you know you can make the best and thriftiest home made vegetable stock from the bits of your veg you would usually throw away?

Home made vegetable stock is so easy and means that you can use all the trimmings and peelings from your veg that might go in the compost, food waste bin or even in your trash. It is a way to take every last bit of goodness from your food, as many of the vitamins are directly under the skin.

I don’t always peel my veg but when I do, rather than put the peelings and trimmings in the compost bin as I used to do I put them in an old ice cream container in the freezer. Once I have a couple of containers full, it is time to make the stock. Really anything will do, but I don’t use the peel from onions as they are bitter.

home made vegetable stock


All you need to do is place your vegetable peelings into a large saucepan with a large onion chopped in half. a stick of celery sliced in two, 10 or so black peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves. Just cover with water and bring to the boil. Add a teaspoon or two of salt.  Cover and simmer for two hours.

When your home made vegetable stock is cool, strain it and discard the vegetable matter in your food waste bin or wormery, if you are lucky enough to have one.

I use it to make soup usually and have a batch ready for some pumpkin soup once now that we have finished with our Halloween lantern. It has a great flavour already so will add to the soup. Do you make home made vegetable stock from your trimmings?

For more of my frugal food ideas, see my Favourite Frugal Recipes page.

This week’s meal plan: low waste shopping

low waste shopping

I am going to try to do our grocery shop a little differently this weekend. I may have to hit the supermarket at some point, but I intend to get into town today and buy as much as possible from the food coop that I recently joined as well as a fabulous greengrocer and international store I have just discovered. My aim is to buy food with as little packaging as possible so I am going for low waste shopping. It still needs to be low cost though, so I am not going to bust the budget!

It will be interesting to discover how I get on with this. However, I don’t always have time to travel into town. Nipping into Aldi on the way home saves a lot of time.

This week’s meal plan is therefore subject to change, depending on what I pick up. To be honest, it is always subject to change, depending on my mood, the time available, etc. However, sticking to a general meal plan always saves both time and money.

The plan is to use up as much of the Halloween pumpkin as possible in soup this weekend, but if I have time I might make some pumpkin muffins too.

This week’s low waste shopping meal plan

low waste shoppingSaturday

Some kind of fish with mini roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Maybe smoked haddock. I will see what looks good!


Pork chops or vegetable rissoles with creamed mixed root vegetables. We have parsnips, sweet potato, carrots and swede.


Pumpkin soup with a jacket potato and grated cheese.

low waste shopping


Prawns with vermicelli – love the look of this! Simple and tasty food.


Creamy egg curry with rice and poppadoms.


Risotto from the freezer with vegetables.


Stir fry vegetables with noodles and toasted cashews.

Sadly, we no longer have a fishmonger in town so my fish will come from the supermarket. However, we still have one butcher and a couple of greengrocers, some bakeries and a couple of health food shops so I will attempt to get the other ingredients we need from them.  We also have a small market but it sells very little food – just fruit and vegetables. Low waste shopping may not be as easy as it once was, but I am going to give it a try.

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at her blog. For more of my tips on meal planning, try this post.



Old fashioned thrift: this week’s five frugal things

old fashioned thrift

My inexpertly carved pumpkin lantern!

I love writing my weekly five frugal things post. It makes me appreciate the small things we do each week to stay on track and in control of our finances. This week we are going for good, old fashioned thrift.

This week I have been working part time hours. I love it! When I have time I do so many more of the little creative cooking activities that I enjoy. I haven’t been able to achieve as much as normal as I am struggling still with fibromyalgia and a trapped nerve in my neck. Not being hunched over a desk constantly has definitely improved the situation though, so hopefully I am on the mend.

Soup, soup, glorious soup

I love soup and will happily eat it on the warmest summer’s day. It is so comforting and nourishing. Now that the weather has turned chillier I am enjoying it even more. We are going for good, old fashioned thrift this week and our five frugal things are almost all soup themed!

Making stock

old fashioned thrift

I usually make stock with poultry carcasses. However, as I have now given up meat we don’t have as many bones kicking around. Incidentally, I do still keep and make them. I will eat something made with animal stock rather than waste it.

old fashioned thrift

This time, however, I decided to make vegetable stock. I have been reducing our food waste as much as possible and keeping all of our vegetable trimmings and peelings in old ice cream tubs in the freezer. Once I had two full ones I made my stock. It is super easy, but I plan to write a post on how to do it in the next week or so. Old fashioned thrift means wasting nothing!

Making croutons

old fashioned thrift

We don’t eat that much bread, and usually leave it in the freezer taking it out a slice at a time. But we found ourselves with a load left over from when we hosted our French student so I made some croutons. You can read how I did it here.

Butternut squash soup

old fashioned thrift

A neighbour of Mr Shoestring’s mum often sells surplus home grown veg at their front gate. This week they had butternut squashes and pumpkins. We bought a huge pumpkin for £2 and two butternut squashes for 50p each.

The pumpkin firstly became a lantern for the local kids. We always take part – I like seeing the little kids dressed in their funny costumes. This is now waiting to become soup, of course. I am not letting it go to waste.

old fashioned thrift

In the meantime, I made some delicious butternut squash soup. The two squashes made 12 portions. Again, I will post the recipe for this soon.

Halloween costume

We always dress up for Halloween at work. We need to keep our evil spirits up! I didn’t have lots of time to make a crazy costume or the money for anything expensive. I opted for a T shirt from Lidl for £2.50 and a witch hat from the charity shop for 50p. old fashioned thrift

This picture shows what a lovely bunch of crazies I work with.

Zero waste lunch box

old fashioned thrift

OK, this isn’t exactly old fashioned thrift. However, I was recently gifted this brilliant stainless steel lunchbox by &Keep, a brilliant zero waste online shop. Taking my own packed lunch to work every day saves me a ton of money and I can see myself using this one for years to come.

I would love to move towards a completely plastic-free life. This is a great little two tier lunch box with a separate small container, which I take my snack of nuts in.

I love going back to the days where old fashioned thrift was seen as an admirable and virtuous thing. It saves money and is good for the planet.

What have your frugal achievements been this week? As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

Home made croutons: stop wasting bread

Stop wasting bread – make croutons!

stop wasting bread

I recently read that 32% of bread is thrown away in the UK. This is a staggering waste of this food staple. It is so cheap that we don’t value it, so it is easy to eat half a loaf and then chuck the rest if it is a bit stale or mouldy. I am always looking for ways reduce food waste – and save money – and there are endless recipes to stop wasting bread. Be it bread pudding, breadcrumbs, bread and butter pudding, apple Charlotte or gazpacho, there is much you can do rather than chuck those unused loaves in your bin.

stop wasting bread

My latest favourite way to stop wasting bread is to make croutons, especially now that soup season is upon us. They are so easy and quick. If you have never made croutons, give this a try and I swear you will never buy them again.

The quantities below are a bit loose, as it depends how much bread you have to use up.

Garlic and oregano croutons


stop wasting bread

About a third of a loaf of stale bread. If it is mouldy at the crusts, be sure to remove these.

Garlic oil

Dried oregano



Preheat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade or equivalent. Chop your bread into cubes. How big or small is up to you, but I like them around 1 to 1.5 inches square  so that they are crispy throughout. Place them in a bowl and drizzle on your oil, until they are fairly evenly coated but not soaked. Add a teaspoon or two of oregano plus a teaspoon or so of salt and toss to mix. Grease a baking tray and spread them over in a single layer.

Place the tray in the oven for 5 minutes. After this take them out and toss them, then give them a further 5 minutes to crisp up. Et voila! Crispy and delicious croutons in about 15 minutes. They are delicious with soup, on salads or even just as a snack.

Once cool they can be stored in an airtight jar and will last a week or so. You can vary the seasonings depending on what you have. If you have no garlic oil, crush a clove finely and mix with the oil before pouring over.

What do you do to stop wasting bread?

For more food ideas, see my frugal recipes page here.

5 Easy Ways to Save Money During a Long Distance Move

This is a collaborative post.

Moving from one home to the next is always a stressful experience. This is especially
true if you have to deal with a long-distance or cross-country move. One concern that
many people have with long-distance moves is that they will end up incurring a lot of
costs that are tough to overcome. While there will pretty much always be costs
associated with moving long distances, there are several ways in which you can save
money from your total costs.

Have a Plan

When it comes to moving from one home to the next, the best thing you need to do is
have a plan and a budget. Many people end up spending more money than they need
to because they are not prepared for the little, unexpected costs that pop up and pile up.
As you are getting closer to your move, you should spend time properly considering
all of your needs, including supplies (boxes, tape, padding, bungee cords, etc.), a proper
sized truck, labour help, and time needed to pack and move and unpack. This will help you
to better budget and shop around with accuracy.

Get Rid of Clutter

If you are moving into a new home, you should take it as a great opportunity to get rid of
furniture, clothes, and other personal items that you do not need anymore. You could
get rid of these items by either selling them online or through a garage sale or by getting
a tax deduction through a charitable donation. This will help you to raise extra cash for
your move while also getting rid of unnecessary clutter, which can help free up space
and reduce your moving costs.

Hire a Moving Company

While most people often think that hiring a moving company will be expensive, it
actually can save you a lot of money compared to DIY. Between all of the money you’ll
need to spend on supplies, renting a truck, and finding people to help you move, plus
any damages that occur, the true cost of moving can be quite pricey if you do it on your
own. However, when you hire a long distance moving company you will be able to
receive all of the services that you need in one consolidated package, which could help
to save you a lot of money.

Book in Advance

If you are looking to save money on moving, another thing that you could do would be to
book your mover in advance (remember, preparation is key). Moving companies tend to
fill up their schedules in the weeks leading up to the move. Because of this, if you wait
to book your move, the moving companies will either not be able to provide you with service or will have to charge you a higher rate. If you book in advance you will be more likely to save money off of the total costs.

Consider Deductions

Finally, when it comes to your moving costs, you should also consider whether or not
you can deduct the costs. If you are moving for professional reasons, you are often able
to deduct all costs associated with your move from your state, federal, and local taxes.

This could end up helping you to save hundreds or thousands of dollars off of your total
tax bill at the end of the year.

Is it too late to save for Christmas?

save money for Christmas

Christmas comes round at the same time every year, yet still takes some of us by surprise! We are now heading towards November, so is it too late to save for Christmas?

A financial headache

I have done Christmas on the credit cards before. The financial headache going into the new year wasn’t fun. The baubles and glitter have all gone, it’s cold and dark and you are scrabbling around to save money to pay for the festive excesses – and paying interest on it too! As I said, not fun!

I realised I had to save for Christmas, so since then I have always put away a small amount each month.

As I wrote back in August, it is always best to start early when it comes to Christmas. But if you haven’t, is it now too late to save for Christmas? If you make a massive effort you could still put some money away.

How to save for Christmas

Set a budget

Actually set two budgets. One for day to day living and the other for Christmas itself.

How little can you live on? Go through all expenses and cut out anything that’s not strictly essential (see below for ideas). You will be surprised at how little you can live on when your goal is to save for Christmas.

What do you actually need to buy for Christmas? Make a list of everyone you want to buy for and set a strict amount for everyone. If you spend £500 on each of your family but don’t have the money, have a rethink. It’s one day! Don’t put yourself into debt.

What will you eat? Set a shopping budget. Don’t plan to buy more than you can eat. Use last year’s decorations, send out e-cards rather than hundreds of Christmas cards, etc.

Pare down to the essentials

You can free up money to save for Christmas by reducing all inessential spending. It’s only for a few weeks and your goal is to have a worry free and debt free Christmas.

Here are a few ideas:

Cut unused gym memberships.

If you go out to dinner once or twice a week, cut it out and eat at home instead.

Give up on trips to the pub and buy some supermarket beer.

Knock takeaways on the head.

Reduce your TV package to the channels you actually watch.

Stop buying newspapers and magazines and read online instead.

Give up the take out tea or coffee and take a flask out with you.

Stop shopping for fun!

Have a no spend month

You might even decide to cut out spending money altogether. We often choose October or November as a no spend month. This means buying nothing at all apart from food and spending only on your bills. I find a no spend period, whether it is a whole month or just a week, really liberating. There is no debating whether you should buy or can afford something. You just don’t do it!

Having said that, I would allow Christmas spending during November as it can help to buy as you go along – using the budget you made, of course.

Find free stuff to do

Check out free things to do in your area and you may be surprised at how little you need to spend on entertainment.

Eat from the larder

Pull out every item in your food cupboards, fridge and freezer and plan meals around those. This can dramatically reduce your grocery spend and prevent food waste.

Plan every meal and shop with a list

Leading on from the above, plan your whole week’s meals. Then make a shopping list of only what you need and stick to it. I have a post on the benefits of meal planning here. If you can, leave the family at home so they don’t beg for extras and don’t go shopping hungry.

Sell your old stuff

This is a great time for a declutter. You might even be able to sell some of your old things on eBay or Facebook to put towards your Christmas fund.

A declutter can be massively liberating too, and will make space for new things that arrive at Christmas.

Go extreme

You could check out some of my more extreme ideas to save money for Christmas here. These will help you stretch your budget as much as possible.

What do you do to save money for Christmas? Are you ready? I haven’t bought as much as I usually have at this point, but most importantly I do have the money saved that I need to spend for Christmas. Hopefully these tips will help you and stop you getting into debt.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through to make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!


A no shopping week: this week’s meal plan

I am not planning a shop at all this week, as we still have quite a lot of food in the house. Our meal plan will be based on what we can find in the fridge, freezer and cupboards. It is a no shopping week!

I am still recovering from my trapped nerve, although it does feel a little better. Even so, I am keeping it super easy.

no shopping week

A meal plan for no shopping week


Cheese omelettes, jacket potatoes and salad. We need something really easy as we were up at 4 in the morning taking our student for her bus. 4 am on a Saturday!!!! How did I get talked into that?


We will have a roast today. Mr S has chicken thighs and I have nut cutlets in the freezer. Will have roast potatoes, lots of veg and Yorkshires.


All being well with my neck pain, I hope to be back at work. I expect to be tired and I am not planning on any major cooking. Mr S won’t be here, so I will make do with bread and soup.


Penne with tuna and black olives. This is a healthy store cupboard favourite that is quick to make too.


Prawn risotto, as I have both prawns and peppers in the freezer, with salad.


Fish and chips – nothing home made here. Both from the freezer. We will have peas with this and some salad if there is any left. I have a massage booked for my neck and shoulder so I need something quick anyway.


Slow cooker vegetable casserole. I will chop it all up before work and chuck it in the slow cooker. I love coming home to something warming from the slow cooker.

Not the most inspiring of menus, I realise, but I am not pushing myself until I am completely better! I will embrace my no shopping week as it saves time and money.

One more thing before you go…

One more plea to vote for Shoestring Cottage in the SHOMOS Peoples Vote, if you haven’t already. You need to do it before the 31st October. Here is the link.

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at her blog. For more of my tips on meal planning, try this post.

A pain in the neck: Five frugal things

Well, this never happens. I have been signed off from work for the past ten days with this pesky trapped nerve. This has made me frugal whether I wanted to be or not, as I haven’t been in the mood to go anywhere or do anything! Five frugal things has been a piece of cake.  I am glad I chose an easy week of meals for my French student, so cooking has been uncomplicated and easy.

Hosting foreign language students

My student is the first of my five frugal things! If you have a spare bedroom (even if only some of the time, like me), hosting foreign language students is an interesting way to make a little extra money. You are helping a young person get to know another language and culture, and have the satisfaction of watching their confidence grow in a very short period. You make friends from other countries and learn about their culture too. And at the end of their stay you get paid! It is a win-win. I have a whole post on hosting foreign language students here.

Making my own raised work station

five frugal things

I have Access to Work coming to see me when I get back to the office to talk about adjustments to my work station. In the meantime, I have made my own at home! Even browsing the internet or writing a blog post has felt uncomfortable this week, but with this little arrangement I can type standing up. It makes a huge difference, as sitting down for long periods seems to be what traps the nerve in my neck.

It is honestly the most painful thing I have experienced after childbirth, although that mercifully didn’t go on for 6 weeks, as this has.

Finding an internet physiotherapist

I have an appointment booked for physiotherapy in two weeks through the NHS. In the meantime, I have been scouring the internet for advice and came across a great You Tube video with some very helpful exercises from Bob and Brad. I with I had found it earlier as after just two days, the pain has begun to ease a little. I am paying to have regular massage but can’t afford to pay for private physiotherapy too, so You Tube, along with the NHS, have come up trumps!

We may moan about the NHS but we are so lucky to have it and should never take it for granted.

New front door

five frugal things

OK, so a brand new door may seem an one to add to this week’s five frugal things. However, the old one was terrible. Not only did it look tatty, it let in the draughts so badly that the hall was one of the coldest rooms in the house.

We recently saved up for the back door and found the tradesman so good and reasonably priced we thought we would get the front door done too. Mr S had some investments mature and thought this would be a good use of his money. It will save cash on fuel bills for sure!

We are super pleased with it. Have a look at the before and after pictures.

five frugal things

eBay listings

As I have had this enforced period of rest, I have finally got round to washing, ironing, repairing and listing almost all of the items I had stored up to sell on eBay. Hopefully this will bring in a little extra money before Christmas.

It does take time to source, prepare, photograph and list things to sell online, but I think it is worthwhile. I have a guide to selling on eBay here and another about how to present clothes here.

Shoestring Cottage needs YOU

five frugal things

Another quick reminder as we are almost out of time. If you get the chance before 31st October, please vote for Shoestring Cottage in the People’s Choice award for the SHOMOS money bloggers award. I would be massively grateful. I am up against bloggers with huge followings so it would be nice to do well. The link is here. Thanks so much to those of you who have already given me their vote!

Have you managed five frugal things this week? Even if you have only managed one or two, please share in the comments below.

I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

Ten easy ways to cut your plastic waste today

cut your plastic waste

I would love to think that I could go zero waste. In reality, as I have said before, it is really difficult to achieve. However, there are some easy swaps to help cut your plastic waste that don’t cost a lot of money. Some of them might even save you some cash. So, embrace your inner tree hugger and consider swapping some of your single use items for the following. Here are ten easy ways you can cut your plastic waste today.

Water bottle

Plastic bottles are everywhere and hard to avoid completely. However, there is one single use bottle that is easy to replace if you want to cut your plastic waste – your water bottle. We live in a country where the water from the tap is perfectly safe to drink and closely monitored. It makes no sense whatsoever to buy water when you are out and about when you can get it free (well, almost) at home.

According to this article in the Guardian last summer, “A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change.” Do you want to be part of that, or part of the solution?

cut your plastic waste

Investing in a reusable water bottle (and remembering to always take it out with you) will help you to do your bit. Buy them for your kids to take to school as well. If you like a juice, invest in two – one for water only so that it doesn’t get tainted and the other for anything fruity like a juice or a smoothie.

I prefer the metal lined and insulated kind such as this SHO one, as they don’t taint the taste of your water and help to keep it cool.

Reusable carrier bags

I was really happy when the UK Government introduced a charge on reusable plastic bags and it has dramatically reduced the number people use. However, I still see people in the supermarket or other retail outlets buying them. I always carry a little fold up bag that I got in the Coop. In fact, I have two as they fold up really small in my handbag. We have 4 or 5 large and strong reusable supermarket ones that live in the car boot, so we always have bags when we go food shopping.

Produce bags

On my wish list for Christmas are reusable organic cotton produce bags, which I can use at the market, supermarket and the food coop without worrying about taking home a load of plastic that will mostly go straight in the bin. This pack contains three large, four medium and three small bags. Using these consistently will really help to cut your plastic waste.

Coffee cups

I have been using my bamboo and stainless steel travel mug when I am likely to buy tea or coffee out since my daughter bought it for me last Christmas. I am really happy with it! If we are out for the day we always take a flask of coffee anyway, as this saves money as well as on single use items.

The problem is that disposable coffee cups look like paper.  However, they are lined with a layer of plastic to make them water proof. Products made of mixed materials are notoriously hard to recycle and most people bin them anyway. According to recent stats published in the Independent:

  • UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year
  • Less than 1 per cent of coffee cups are recycled
  • Half a million cups are littered every day
  • Packaging producers only pay for 10 per cent of the cost of packaging disposal and recycling

Cut your plastic waste by keeping a reusable coffee cup in your bag or even in your car.


I don’t use straws often at home, although I have a metal one sitting in my reusable glass water bottle on my desk at work. However, my daughters are often in bars where they are given plastic straws in their drinks without even being asked if they want one.

cut your plastic waste

I bought each of them a pack of steel reusable straws for Christmas last year for them to keep in their handbags. Sadly, they don’t like them much – they get very cold if there is ice in the drink, bash against the glass and they are rigid with no flexibility. I am wondering if a better compromise might be these reusable silicone straws ? Perhaps one for this year’s stockings!


I have a whole cupboard full of things that could be used as a lunchbox. They are all plastic, some are old ice cream tubs that I continue to use for food storage rather than putting them in the recycling. As I take my lunch to work every day to keep costs down, they all get a lot of use. You can cut your plastic waste by reusing as many plastic food containers as possible.

If I was buying one for the first time, however, I would invest in stainless steel lunchbox , which should last pretty much forever!

Cut your plastic waste when cleaning your teeth

cut your plastic waste

If you have never thought about what happens when you throw away your old plastic toothbrushes, read this article from the Huffington post. Every toothbrush you ever used has yet to break down. Bamboo toothbrushes such as this pack of four from Greener Pockets offer an eco-friendly, compostable alternative. Another one for my Christmas wish list.

Plastic free dish washing

If you want to cut your plastic waste, then how about buying a plastic-free wooden brush set? They look much nicer than the plastic variety and will last a lot longer. With a wooden scrubbing brush you can dump the plastic when you wash up all together.

Cut your plastic waste washing your hair

I have ranted on about how much I like shampoo bars so many times! I have had excellent ones from Lush so can highly recommend them. However, I also had one recently that someone gave me that was very harsh and drying. I recommend reading the reviews before you purchase.

As well cutting your plastic packaging waste, you may find that using shampoo bars makes your hair feel a lot less heavy and greasy. Some shampoos seem to be full of something that coats your hair. It may appear softer and shinier initially but I am sure this stuff builds up and can’t be good for you.

Go back to soap

I am old and crusty enough to remember a time when hand wash and shower gel didn’t exist! In fact, I have never truly embraced either of them and much prefer good, old fashioned soap. I buy pretty little dishes and lovely smelling soaps and have them next to each sink.

You can convert your soap into a body scrub or soap on a rope using these natural linen soap bagsPop the soap in and hang by the shower.

What do you recommend to cut your plastic waste?

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Feeding a teenager: this week’s meal plan

We have a French language student arriving later today for the week. I have been doing this long enough to know that feeding a teenager is not the same as providing food for anyone else. Sure, some of them are pretty adventurous and will eat all of the meals we usually eat. More often than not, however, they are fussy!

Feeding a teenager could mean eating just brown food for the week. I am not prepared to go that far, but I will adapt some meals to include common foods beloved by teenagers the world over. As long as there isn’t lots of waste, I don’t mind this.

If she was  MY teenager, I would make her eat all the weird stuff. However, as she is a guest, we will eat quite conservatively for a week.

We will provide all meals each day. Breakfast will be cereals, toast or baguettes, jam, marmalade, etc. Lunch is two rolls with ham or cheese, some crisps, fruit, cake and water (they will get theirs in a reusable bottle as I refuse to buy it in disposable plastic). Then each evening we will eat our main meal together.

feeding a teenager

A meal plan for feeding a teenager


Pizza and salad. The coach is arriving quite late and I don’t think they will want a heavy meal before bed. Fruit or yogurt for pudding.


The students are off on a coach tour to Harry Potter World today. I plan to make a beef and mushroom casserole for them and Mr S. I will make a veggie stew for me and put any spare in the freezer. Chocolate cake for pudding.


Macaroni au gratin from Delia’s Frugal Food. This contains bacon, so I will make a smaller separate one without bacon for me. Fruit, yogurt or cake for pudding.


Burgers, buns and air fried chips, probably with some salad too. I will have a veggie burger. Fruit, yogurt or cake for pudding.


Creamy mustard chicken from A Girl Called Jack. I will make one without the chicken for me and serve both with rice and vegetables. Fruit, yogurt or ice cream for pudding.


Chicken or Quorn kievs with vegetables and jacket potatoes. Fruit, yogurt or ice cream for pudding.


Cheese omelettes, home made chips and corn on the cob. Fruit, yogurt or ice cream for pudding.

We only have dessert once or twice a week usually, but I am obliged to offer a pud to my guest. Does anyone else host language students and what do you feed them? Do you have any tips for feeding a teenager?

This week I am linking up with Katy Kicker. If you want more ideas on meal planning and saving money, take a look at her blog. For more of my tips on meal planning, try this post.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. Thanks!


Saving money where I can: five frugal things I have done this week

Well, it’s been a funny week. I am still struggling with a stabbing pain in my neck and shoulder, which I had assumed was fibromyalgia. I finally went to the GP yesterday and it turns out it is a trapped nerve! That is exactly what it feels like as the pain moves around. It has made me feel quite sick at points and totally sorry for myself.  The doctor has signed me off for a week to get me away from being static at my desk. I hope it helps as I have been suffering for four weeks now and I have had enough! I am still saving money where I can. Frugality can’t stop because of a pain in the neck…

Saving money on pain relief

I have been throwing back the ibuprofen and paracetamol, using ibuprofen gel and also heat pads. If you buy branded pain relief products, they cost an absolute fortune. If you look closely at the ingredients they are pretty much the same as the cheap generic brands you can find in the chemist of supermarket.

I am not into paying for fancy TV adverts and other marketing. If I can get the same product for 45p as I can for £3, it is a no-brainer. Saving money on drugs is easy if you stick to own brands.

I have been using various self heating stick on pads as well, most of which we had from when Mr S had back problems. When I came to buy some more I couldn’t believe the price of them! The best are Deep Heat, but they are about £2 each! You can get cheaper ones in Poundland, but you have to put them on your clothes and the heated beads inside tend to fall to the bottom after a couple of hours. I am also trying to stop buying single use products.

The solution appears to be a reusable microwaveable heat pad. There are loads on Amazon, but I have gone for this one because its shape means it goes over my neck and my shoulders. The reviews are good as well, and it should work out much cheaper than disposable heat pads. I think it will also make me look rather regal. Perhaps I should get a tiara to go with it?

Shameless canvassing for votes

Saving money

I am off to the SHOMOS, a bloggers event, next month. The schedule has just been announced so I can work out my timings and pre-book my train ticket. Much cheaper! I saved around £8 by pre-booking and it would have been even cheaper if I had specified particular trains. However, I want a bit more flexibility on the day.

Talking of the SHOMOS, I have been selected for two categories: the Best Frugal Food Blog and Best Money Saving blog. However, all blogs go into the Peoples’ Choice Award and this is where you can help by voting for me!

Please click here to vote for me. I really appreciate all your votes. Having come in the final three up against some huge blogs with a much bigger readership last year, it would be great to do the same again.

Making my own natural, plastic free toiletries

I think I mentioned in last week’s Five Frugal Things that I had ordered a book called Natural Beauty: 35 step-by-step projects for homemade beauty, featuring recipes to make your own beauty products.  Well, it arrived! It is a gorgeous looking book and brand new. I wasn’t expecting that for £1.25. In fact, I was incredibly lucky to find it at that price as it’s usually £9.99.

There are so many things I want to make. The ingredients aren’t particularly cheap, but if I make a few things using similar items it will spread the cost. I think it will work out cheaper than buying similar quality natural products, as well as save on all the packaging. A body butter is probably a good place to start as I have dry skin so always moisturise all over. Maybe I can start during this enforced period of rest! If anyone has ideas of where to buy reasonably priced cocoa butter, shea butter and the like I would be very interested to know. Thanks! Saving money as well as cutting back on chemicals and plastic are all important to me.


saving money

I have been charity shopping again! You can’t keep me out of them at the moment. I found a nice little pine bedside table for – get this – £5.75! My daughter took the desk from her room when she went back to university. She has moved into a shared house now and there wasn’t one. This left a gaping hole where the desk had been and this little set of drawers fills it perfectly. What a great bargain! I love saving money buying second hand.

I will give it the once over with some linseed oil to brighten it up.

saving money

I also found a gorgeous pair of leather boots for just a fiver. I wish they fitted me as I love them. However, they are too small so I will list them on eBay. I hope to get at least £20 back on my investment – now is the time for people to buy their winter boots, after all.

Extreme money saving

Did you see my post 25 extreme ways to save money in the week? I really enjoyed writing it as it reminded me of all the things we should be doing to keep our costs down and renewed my determination to do so. In truth, I don’t do all of these  ideas for saving money – I wouldn’t eat road kill, for example – but most I am happy to do.

Anyway, how has your week been and how have you been saving money?

I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase,it won’t cost you anything but I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Your Money Sorted! On the Money with Eileen Adamson

Every fortnight or so I run another in my On the Money series, talking to money bloggers about their mistakes, wins and advice they would give us to help manage our money. This time I speak to Eileen Adamson from Your Money Sorted.

on the moneyConversations with money bloggers

What is your earliest memory of having and spending money?

I remember taking my bank book to school and paying money into my TSB account.  I loved seeing the figures grow each week.  My first memory of spending money is probably when I got my Saturday job. I felt that I could buy things for myself that I had previously not been allowed to have.  Pringle jumpers were all the rage, but I had to have M&S ones, because my mum refused to spend the money on a Pringle!  Being able to buy my own felt good!

Have you ever felt out of control with your money?

Yes, just after I graduated with a massive overdraft and a student loan.  I remember getting paid each month, taking me back into the black, and then straight back into overdraft again as soon as the rent was paid.  I hated this, and vowed that once my overdraft was paid off, I would never have another one.  And I never have!

After our twins were born, I felt out of control of my money for a good 10-12 years.  I am a planner, who is much happier when I know that I am financially secure.  We had planned to have 2 children, and a fairly comfortable lifestyle, but a surprise set of twins changed all that.  A new car, an extension, and 3 lots of uni fees to save for, suddenly changed our lives.  Financially it made a huge difference to us, and I let that really get me down for years.  It wasn’t until I started working on my mindset, that I realised that actually I was the problem, not the money!

What was your worst money decision?

Not considering the impact that part-time working would have on my teaching pension.  I had always planned to retire at 55, but discovered a few years ago that my pension will not support that.  I have now taken steps to remedy this, but I kick myself at the missed opportunities.

What was your best money decision?

Buying a book by Denise Duffield Thomas for a tenner – it has completely changed my outlook on money, and subsequently my life!

What is your best tip for saving money at home?

Be very clear about what is important to you and your family.  Don’t get caught up in a competition with the Jones’s – they are probably up to their ears in debt anyway!

on the money

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

Simple – always shop with a list.

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

Start investing in the stock market now. Little and often for the rest of your life will help you to become financially secure, and therefore free to do what you want.

What was your biggest ever bargain?

Getting gifted a £10k car has to be the biggest bargain ever!  A family member no longer needed their car, and gave it to us.  I know – I still can’t quite believe it either!

What was your most recent purchase?

A new screen protector for my phone.

Do you stick to a monthly budget?

Kind of.  We don’t spend more than we earn, prioritise saving and things that are important to us, so we are happy with the way we spend.  However, I don’t actually budget – I use mindful spending, and think carefully about my purchases, so I don’t need to set myself rigid budgets.

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

I plan to retire from teaching at 55, and head off travelling round Europe in a camper van with my hubby.  I plan to still be running Your Money Sorted, but that can be done from anywhere in the world, so it’s all good.

We should have the mortgage paid off in 3 years, but I have always had a wee hankering to buy and run a holiday cottage, so we might be looking at doing that instead of paying off the mortgage.

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

Buy a holiday cottage!

Eileen blogs at  Your Money Sorted  and is a financial coach working online with UK based women, helping them to develop a better relationship with money, and become happier, healthier and wealthier. By gaining an understanding of how their personality affects the decisions they make, Eileen can help them to implement changes which will allow them to feel calm, positive and confident that they are in control and making good financial decisions. You can find her here:





Many thanks to Eileen for a most enlightening interview. To read more of my On the Money series see here and here.