Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Joining the Nielsen Shopping Panel

This arrived last Tuesday, all the way from Belgium where the Nielsen organisation is based. It is a hand-held scanning unit to scan all your shopping. Every week the base unit then downloads all the information to Nielsen who anonymise it and use it to advise retailers on shopping trends. I thought that some more frugal shoppers should be represented on the panel and Nielsen agreed with me !!

You are rewarded for uploading your data with points which can then be exchanged for gifts from the reward catalogue. You get 600 points for joining and then 90 points a week for sending in data. If you haven't bought anything that week you get 75 points. Every 4 and 12 weeks there are bonus points to be won if you have faithfully uploaded your data.

I applied to join before I knew what the rewards are but I requested a gift catalogue last week and it has just arrived. It contains a vast assortment of eclectic merchandise most of which would just add to our clutter ! It is a bit like the old Green Shield stamps catalogue, if anyone can remember those. However, I did find 1 thing we would like and that is a pair of cinema tickets which cost 2138 points. With the starting bonus and the monthly ones I think it will take about 4 months to earn a pair of tickets. This is not a great reward but since we don't buy that much new I don't think that it will be too much work to get free cinema tickets 2-3 times a year ! We'll see !

Nielsen also offer a free prize draw once a month to which you have automatic entry and you can order gifts starting at 1007 points, these were CDs and artificial plants ! They also have an annual prize draw for a car ! I thought that it was worth a go now that I have a bit more time on my hands but if you were busy or did a lot of shopping I'm not sure the rewards be worth it for all that scanning !

Monday, 22 May 2017

Mishap with the Car

We have a Passat estate which runs on diesel and which we try not to use much. It is very economical on long runs, like going abroad on holiday or going to Scotland, but not so much on short trips. So normally we put £10-20 of fuel in it and then run it until the fuel gauge says EMPTY.

Well, on Saturday, the fuel gauge had been saying EMPTY for a few days and I offered to go to the garage and put £10 worth of fuel in it. Having very carefully researched which was the cheapest garage I drove with a light touch on the accelerator  just in case I might run out of fuel on the way there. I had to wait whilst I was there and by the time I got to the pump was in a bit of a dream. I unhooked the unleaded pump and commenced filling the car. Now, if I had tried to put the wrong fuel in a car which took unleaded petrol using the wrong fuel pump would have meant that the nozzle did not fit in the tank. What I did not know was that this is not the case with diesel cars !

By the time I realised what I had done there was already 1.16 litres of unleaded petrol in the car. Now I was faced with a dilemma. Call someone to get the fuel emptied out of the tank or do something else. I knew that I would have to turn the engine on to move the car out of the way of the forecourt whilst I waited for someone to come. Turning on the engine would mean disaster as there was so little fuel in the car the unleaded petrol would immediately enter the system and ruin the engine creating a massive repair bill. So I decided to risk doing something else. I filled the car up with as much as diesel as I could squeeze in hoping to dilute the effect of the unleaded petrol.

It worked ! I put in just over 65 litres of diesel , diluting the unleaded fuel down to a ratio of about 1:65. I drove the car home with no ill effects. Apparently, most diesel cars can tolerate about 5% petrol in the engine and as long as we keep topping up with diesel to further dilute the petrol the car should be alright ! 

Emptying the fuel out would have cost around £100 and I don't know how I would have moved the car to wait. So I think this was a definite frugal win, even though the fuel budget for the month is now well overdrawn as I had to put £70 worth of diesel in the car ! I am just so glad that the car seems alright !

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Making a Will

I have had a number of wills over the years and last made one in 2008 when we moved back from the USA. Now we just have one child living at home and one of our children lives abroad so it seemed to time to update things, especially the guardianship for the one child under 18. Now that MasterShoestring's siblings are both old enough to look after him it seemed sensible to name one of them as a guardian rather than another relative or friend.

The last will I made cost over £900 and previous to that it was over £300. Since I only wanted to change the guardianship and otherwise leave things to MrShoestring it seemed silly to pay the £170 I was quoted by a local solicitor. A few years ago we downloaded a form for free to do MrShoestring's will so firstly I looked for that possibility. However, although I could find a few free forms they were mostly linked to pay services which you could cancel later on. I wasn't happy about paying anything to these services as I might forget to cancel.  Instead, I bought a pair of forms, a guide to writing a straight forward will and a special envelope to keep the completed form in all for £5.49. This means that if your requests are straightforward you could get a pair of wills for £5.49 !

I wrote the entirely straightforward will using the guide and got it witnessed at my course, this was the quickest way to find a couple of unrelated witnesses. This was a cheap solution to our need to update the guardianship arrangements for MasterShoestring, however, I cannot emphasis enough that if your situation is less than straight forward or you want to do more than leaving everything to your spouse then you should get legal advice on your will.

There is often free will writing month in this country, usually November, when you can have a will made by a solicitor in exchange for a donation to charity. Several charities will also help you write a will for free if you intend to leave them a legacy. So do look into these options if you need some more legal input.

All this thinking about wills got me thinking about natural funerals as well ! So I've left some instructions alongside the will, as I don't expect the cost of burial will be any cheaper when I go. Now, I know that some people will think that this is rather a morbid subject for the blog, but I know from dealing with my mother's passing and the funeral arrangements that one of the kindness things you can do for those left behind is to make your wishes clear. Not having to make lots of choices whilst dealing with grief is a great relief !

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Review of 'Good and Cheap' by Leanne Brown

This is the new cookbook I ordered from the USA using Swagbucks, so effectively it was free, very appropriate for a book that is firmly aimed at those with challenged budgets.

The author started with recipes on her blog which had been formulated as part of a research project for her Masters degree in Nutrition. The aim was to show how people who were on welfare food payments in the USA could manage to make their budget of $4 a day stretch to provide 3 meals a day.

The book is divided into sections and includes advice as well as recipes. It starts with tips for eating and shopping well and includes a guide to seasonal produce and what to have in the way of basic kitchen equipment. The emphasis throughout is on eating well and not feeling deprived. So there are tips on getting the most flavour for the least amount of money and building a pantry. 

The book then provides recipes for Breakfast, Dinner, Light Meals, Soups, Salads and how to make at home big batches of things you might otherwise buy such as hummus and tomato sauce.

I really like the book, it has a cheery style throughout and the recipes are photographed beautifully. The book has glossy paper which will wipe clean if you spill something whilst cooking and there were lots of recipes that I went to try out. Each recipe is costed per serving and in total which is very useful and the only thing a British audience might struggle with is the names of some things, such as eggplant for aubergine. There are even instructions on how to make your own fresh pasta !

I would recommend this book, especially if you want to try something new besides the old favourites !

Friday, 19 May 2017

Frugal Friday

So we have had a quiet week cutting costs. MrShoestring went and collected some more pallets to restore our collection after using so many to build the blueberry planter. There were lots that he had to leave behind as they were too big to fit in the car. I think the building project is coming to an end so it won't be long before that particular pallet supply dries up !

The garden is growing at a great rate now and we had the first radishes and mizuna to add to salads this week. I also made fudge, yoghurt and pumpkin loaf, from the last of the pumpkin puree frozen at Halloween. Homemade granola, pancakes and meatloaf were also on the menu. A new free cookbook arrived from USA and I'm looking forward to trying out some new recipes next week.

The power lead on our digital radio had frayed and kept cutting out so we fixed that with no cost and also downloaded free anti-virus software to protect the computers after the latest ransom ware attack. We booked a free health check for MrShoestring and I updated my will with a cheap form, it cost £5.49 rather than the £170 - 200 quoted by the solicitor. We just need to update the guardians for MasterShoestring so it didn't seem worth paying that amount of money for something so straightforward.

I also got lucky on the Royal Mail Survey prize draw and won £10 ! I thought that it was a joke at first and did not really believe it until the voucher arrived ! So I was very pleased. I also downloaded some free Kindle books and joined the Nielesen shopping panel. The shopping panel scans all your shopping and then rewards you with points which you can exchange for gifts. I think that they might not believe that we buy so little !!

We enjoyed all the good weather for free and the free water from the heavy rain this week, that should help with the garden !

I hope that you had a great week too !

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Shopping at Aldi

So, I used to enjoy shopping at Aldi and knew that it was saving us money. Now, I have to be much more careful about what I buy there and doing the big shop there last month was not worth the 20 mile round trip.

In common with many other stores, Aldi have been gradually raising their prices and now that some of the bigger stores are also offering discounted weekly deals on fruit and vegetables I have to calculate whether it is worth going there or not.

They are still cheaper for some things, such as :- meat, cheese, ham, organic milk, flour and toilet rolls. However, the basic ranges in other supermarkets now match their prices e.g.) on butter and they are more expensive on some items e.g.) Tesco basic mayonnaise is only 40p.

All of this means that I have to check prices very carefully before thinking that a big shop in Aldi is worth the petrol money. I think that it would be different if the discounted stores such as Aldi and Lidl were closer to me but all the cheaper stores are a good distance away and that means petrol money ! Doing a big shop might be worth it sometimes e.g.) to stock upon toilet rolls but not dropping in for bits and pieces or taking advantage of the weekly deals !

I only realised this last month when I was trying to cut down the grocery spend for this one and checked every price I could on my I still check the market occasionally as people keep telling me that markets are cheaper than supermarkets, not in this affluent part of the world !

I guess the message is grow your own as much as possible and keep checking those prices !!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Living on a Shoestring - decreasing your spending

So now you have your budget it is important to look at every category and see where you can save money ! The biggest spends for us are on housing, food and petrol and we have worked hard on getting the food and petrol spending down. The housing costs could go lower as the house is now a bit too big for us. However, MasterShoestring will finish school in 3 years time and then we plan to downsize drastically. We are thinking of buying something really small to live in (check out Tiny Houses !) and then perhaps having something a bit bigger that we can rent out for holiday lets and have family to stay in. Until then we concentrate on making sure that the big house does not cost too much to run, so we do all our own repairs and maintenance and don't heat some of the house in the winter.

With food I'm always looking for new cheap recipes and just got a new book from USA about living on $4 a day, so I'm looking forward to reading that and posting a review. Petrol is the same, we use to check the price of fuel so we are always filling up at the cheapest rate. We are also careful about our driving style and walk or bike for short journeys.

The next categories we always check are the utility bills. There are lots of price comparison websites around so no need to pay more than you should. Next month, once the contract is up we are switching the broadband and telephone service to Plusnet because they offered a better deal and I'll be switching the gas and electricity at the end of June as well. First Utility, our current supplier wanted to put up the bill by around 25%. Instead I found a variable rate deal from ToTo which looks like it will cut the monthly bill by £22.

We shop around for everything and have discovered that in very few cases is the cheap product no good. For instance, I always buy cheap glasses from Tesco and so far they have lasted for years ! I shop around for travel and car insurance and also wait for anything that can wait e.g.) replacing appliances until I see a good deal. We also always look to see if we can get something for free first, for example we have a free piano from Freecycle and friends have given us countless 'hand-me-downs' for the children over the years. After 'free' we shop at jumble sales, then charity shops then reasonably priced high street stores or the internet. Nearly all our chemist items now come from the internet as that is the way I get the cheapest prices.

If we want something that is not really a need but more a want then we might ask for it for a birthday, save up for it or use extra income to pay for it e.g.) Swagbucks for books. 

Using all these strategies I am hopeful that we will spend less this year than we did last and that is with an extra person in the house !

Keep on frugaling, it really does pay off !