Sunday, 31 January 2016

Pause for Reflection

I've been reading Matthew Chapter 8 this week and it is full of instances of healing, some greatly longed for, some almost incidental but many of them based in faith. It made me think about light and spreading it in the world and how so many of the early saints were concerned with healing and spreading light just as described in Matthew.

One of those early saints was Saint Bride or Bridget of Ireland whose feast day falls on Candlemas, 2nd February which will be celebrated this week. Candlemas was traditionally the day when all the candles which would be used in church over the next year would be brought in and blessed. It was also the day when farmers would often light candles buried in the earth on their fields 'earth-candles' to remind them that light and warmth were returning to the earth after the winter solstice and soon it would be time to plant.

St Bride is the patron saint of the printed word and the big church in London, dedicated to journalism, is called St Bride's. Now so much of the printed word appears on the internet perhaps she should become the patron saint of blogging. I hope that all printed words will follow that example of healing and light brought by St Bride all those years ago.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Pet Sitting

Here a couple of cute guinea pigs, Ginger and Fluffy, who came home with us last weekend for a spot of pet sitting whilst they waited to be re-homed. If your family does not have pets or is wondering which one might be  a good fit then helping with re-homing can be the ideal way to find out.

The Shoestring family does not have pets just now as we are away from home for a long time during the day and that does not seem fair on a companion animal. However, we are fond of animals and doing a bit of pet sitting during the weekends or holidays is the ideal way to give Master Shoestring some insight into pet care. If we were to ever get a pet, it would definitely be from a re-homing charity. There are lots of pets looking for a new home and the charity will ensure that your new pet is a good fit for you. The animals will have been well-looked after and checked over by a vet and available for the cost of a donation to the charity or even free. This seems like a frugal win-win ! We enjoyed our time with Ginger and Fluffy and are looking forward to our next guests !

Friday, 29 January 2016

Saving Money by Buying in Bulk

We buy as many groceries as we can in bulk but always look at the unit price to check that this is a cost saving. For instance the corn oil can above was 10 pounds for 15 litres of oil, a considerable saving on the cost of buying 10 separate litre bottles of oil. However, you do have to have somewhere to store all your bulk purchases and I have found that with the more popular items you may also have to hide your stockpile as otherwise the family will eat it all in half the time. This is very true of chocolate, where I am usually behind Master Shoestring's ability to work out where I have hidden the stuff !

We have found that there are great deals to be had on bulk items in supermarkets now as they start to get larger and give discount warehouses such as Costco a run for their money. We did take out a Costco membership a few years ago and I'm still using the bulk herbs and vanilla essence which I got there but for us an annual membership did not make sense as it is a long way away and their prices on meat and vegetables and fruit were the same as we could find locally.

We also have quite a few ethnic grocers nearby so that also helps with bulk buying at low cost. Knowing exactly when a good deal is an unbeatable one relies on knowing the regular unit price of things you buy on a regular basis. For that you need to keep some sort of price record, I used to keep a book with all the standard prices in it but now I can use my supermarket online to keep up to date with pricing across all our local stores and only need to track prices from elsewhere, such as the local grocers. This is well worth doing as it also let's you take advantage of good online deals or tells you when you shouldn't !

There is another disadvantage to stockpiling in addition to eating through it too fast and that is eating though it too slowly, 2 years ago I had to throw out a lot of parsnips when I bought 2o pounds and we didn't eat through them fast enough and they went mouldy, I was cross with myself as had I realise earlier I could have frozen them ! So stockpile with care and keep a record of where everything is !

Do you stockpile groceries ?

Thursday, 28 January 2016

How to feed your family for £5 a day

I have had a copy of this little cookbook since we were first married and all the measurements were still in imperial. It was updated and re-issued in 2012 and it is amazing to think that these budgeted recipes still enable you to do just what it says, feed a family of 2 adults and 2 children for 5 pounds a day.

As a new Mum and Wife one of the things I found helpful about the book is that it starts from the basics, what to have in your store cupboard and how to store it. How to make a shopping list and cost it, what to give people for breakfast instead of expensive cereal and milk. How to ensure everyone gets a balanced diet, where to shop to get the best deals. It was and still is much more that just a collection of thrifty recipes.

There are also sections about what is in season when and so should be cheaper in the shops and a set of weekly meal plans that stretch over 4 weeks so you can see exactly what you should be buying and how to use up something that is left over from a previous week. The author even has a section on planning for leftovers.

None of the recipes are complicated and they all work. The book is cheap to buy and although it does not contain any pictures to show the finished dishes the instructions are so clear that you have the feeling that the author has cooked each dish over and over again for her family so you have the confidence that your attempt will turn out just as it is supposed to.

I have given this book to students and young people setting out in life together and for anyone who does not need pictures I would thoroughly recommend it as a first cookbook.

Do you have a cookbook you recommend for beginners ?

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Hanging Laundry

This might seem a strange thing to have a  post on but having watched our three children hanging up their wash, to begin with I think a little instruction can help things along.

Firstly, for indoor drying, get a rack that is big enough to take at least a third of a full wash and find a place to put it that has good ventilation, otherwise you will end up with a condensation problem. We use the sitting room as that is where the stove is and it has a vent in the wall to ventilate the room because of the stove, so damp air is removed from the room.

Then hang large items, such as trousers, from the hem to the neck, first, followed by smaller items, such as socks towards the centre and bottom of the rack. Smooth all the items out so they are hanging flat, not in bunches. This will help them dry quicker and also release creases so you do not have to do so much ironing ! I'm not keen on ironing. Shirts, jumpers and T shirts can be hung on hangers and hung high up in the room to utilise the warm air that rises. We have a door frame that is ideal for this purpose.

If you hang the laundry in the morning, it should be dry 24 hours later, but we do find that it takes longer if you hang more than 1 load indoors.

Outdoor drying is similar but uses lines and pegs to hold the clothing on to the lines. 

Do you line dry your clothes ?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Making Tortillas

We make all our own tortillas and much prefer them to shop-bought. For a long time I bought packets for ShoestringUSA and Miss Shoestring as they did not have medically necessary diets but then they started to complain that the homemade ones were better and why couldn't they have them too ! So know everyone eats homemade !

To make 4 you need 175g wholemeal flour, 2 tablespoons oil, 100ml water and some flour for rolling out.

Mix all the ingredients to a soft dough and divide into 4 pieces, roll out on a floured board.

Coat a heavy bottomed frying pan with oil and once it is hot fry the tortillas, you do not need to keep on adding oil as they will cook just fine in the hot pan and even get those nice authentic brown spots.

Ignore the odd shapes and enjoy with your favourite fillings !

Monday, 25 January 2016

Your Money or Your Life

At the start of our frugal journey I got a copy of this book out of the library and was not very impressed by it. It felt very American and fairly technical when what I wanted was information on how to cut the grocery bill and cook cheap meals ! For those things, the earlier two books in this series were much better, also The Tightwad Gazette which was mentioned in Comments last week.

However, over the last couple of years, when we have attempted to  get really serious about saving so we can spend our lives as we wish, I got the book out of the library again and this time decided to buy a copy and put it on the shelf for reference.

This book is all about the motivation to be frugal and thrifty and the key point is that when you spend money you are trading life energy for the item you are buying. So, for instance, if you buy a piece of clothing which costs the equivalent of 2 hours wages, are you really willing to trade 2 hours of your life for that piece of clothing or would you rather have the 2 hours ? I suppose because I am getting older and the realisation that they are only a fixed number of hours left might have made more receptive to the message than I was a few years ago !

The idea of thinking about how many hours of your life would you trade for a piece of material has really helped me to curb impulse spending. Miss Shoestring and I were in a big bookshop yesterday looking for a birthday present for Mr Shoestring, I had just a few pounds in my purse, Miss Shoestring was flexing her debit card  ! I knew that I was not supposed to buying anything as the next job was to tally up this month's spending so far on our spreadsheet. Then I saw the clearance section, everything 50p !

I wandered over, there were several nice books in the section, at least 3 that I could imagine myself buying, I started to read a few pages ! It would only cost a few pounds, I had enough cash ! Then I worked out that on my low wage it was several minutes of time, I had plenty of books from the library, I could even order these books from the library, I didn't need to buy the books, I would rather have the time ! I carried on looking but  I purchased nothing ! I would like my money and my life !

What do you do about impulse spending ?

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Pause for Reflection

Abbi at Proverbs 31 Living has an interesting challenge going and that is to read the bible in a year and blog about some reflective questions she is going to ask herself about her reading. That got me thinking about the practice of spiritual reading or divinio lectio which monks use as part of their daily round of prayer. This practice of reading and reflecting might be something that all of us could find helpful, have you got a book that means a lot to you, where you find wisdom ? Could you take some time every day or week to read a little bit and them reflect upon it and ask questions about what it means to you in everyday life ?

As part of Abbi's challenge I re-read Matthew Chapter 1, a bit of text that I have always found rather boring I confess ! However, this week it got me thinking, all that long line of people who are listed as ancestors, men and women whom we know little about, what were they like ? Yet, each one of them contributed something precious to the future.

We all have people who have been part of our lives in the past, we talked about grandparents last week. But what about that special teacher who recognised you ? The chap who helped you at the petrol station ? Your Mum who worked long hours to provide for you? Each one contributed to your life and are people towards whom you can feel gratitude. All those people who made you who you are today, let's give thanks for them !

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Fun in the Snow

We didn't have to go anywhere this week to have fun as last Saturday night it started to snow. We went out in the dark to have a look as there has been no snow here for several years. Even Miss Shoestring joined us in her sweat pants !

By the following morning the snow had settled and Master Shoestring was out throwing snowballs, begging us to join him.

Later in the day a snow man complete with legs was built.

A full day of fun and it didn't cost us a penny and we didn't have to leave the back garden. Lovely !

Do you enjoy playing in the snow ?

Friday, 22 January 2016

Cooking Dried Beans

First soak your lentils or beans overnight. Here is a bag of lentils which I started off one evening last week.

Then boil then for 10 minutes to remove toxins. Now cook until soft in the pressure cooker or just on the hob. For lentils on the hob this takes around 30 minutes, for beans around 1 hour. It is much quicker in the pressure cooker and timings should be given in your instruction manual. 

I got 5 bags of lentils weighing 400g each, the same as a tin, for a total cost of 36p including fuel. The dried lentils were reduced to 22p so that helped to make the saving very good indeed ! A tin of lentils can be quite expensive so this is well worth doing.  Do you use dried beans ?

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Pressure Cooking Properly Explained

For a long time I resisted buying a pressure cooker, I thought that they were dangerous, that I would not be able to work out how to use it and that it did not really save that much time or fuel. I also thought that it would be too big and bulky to store in a cupboard.

However, I have great admiration for Elaine over at Mortgage Free in Three and she kept on posting recipes to use in the pressure cooker and raving about how much it was saving her and how delicious the meals were and how quick it was that when I saw stainless steel one on special offer I succumbed and bought one ! It arrived the next day and all my feelings of fear and inadequacy rushed back. Oh dear, now I was going to have to use it !

So I borrowed a beginner's guide from the library. It was full of dinner party recipes from the 1970s and I couldn't understand any of them. I needed the idiot's guide, the 101 of pressure cooking. In a fit of inspiration I looked up the author of the slow cooking book I liked so much, hooray, she had also written a guide to pressure cooking. I ordered it at once. No time to wait for a second-hand copy, how could I justify buying the expensive cooker if I did not use it to cook something with !

The calvary of pressure cooking arrived a few days later and I have not become used to the magic that is pressure cooking yet. As a physics graduate I do understand how it works but as an everyday cook I still find it just a bit miraculous, you put all the ingredients for soup in and soup appears after 10 minutes, my kind of gadget ! The book was just what I needed and we have used every soup recipe in it multiple times. I cannot recommend it highly enough for the pressure cooking novice !

My challenge for you today :- Have you used a pressure cooker, do you have a favourite recipe ?

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Handy Peg Bag

This is the peg bag I made from a little shirt of Master Shoestring's which he had out-grown. You can find similar shirts in charity shops or at a jumble sale. We hang clothes out to dry as often as we can so a bag you can hook to the washing line comes in very handy. In the photograph you can see all the pegs bulging out at the bottom.

All you have to do to make one is hook a coat hanger into the sleeves and then sew up the sleeves and the bottom of the shirt ! You can also do the sewing first and then go and look for a coat hanger which fits. A wooden or plastic one works better than a wire one as they tend to bend and deform over time.

This peg bag has served us well for around 10 years and although it is starting to look a bit faded seems string enough to go on for ten more. It can be washed in the washing machine and does not fray and although it does not look as fancy as some of the ones in the shops it cost almost nothing to make and has been very long lasting so I am well pleased with this little item.

It also gives me a bit of a smile when I use it as I imagine the difference between Master Shoestring when he fitted the shirt and Master Shoestring now who definitely would not wear orange !

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Pizza !

This is Master Shoestring's pizza with tomato sauce and ham.

The next one is Mr Shoestring's pizza with goat's cheese and the final one is a traditional pizza margherita with tomato sauce and cow's milk cheese.

I made all of these pizzas for the cost of just over a pound and a time commitment of around 20 minutes not including baking time.

The big advantage for us is that all dietary needs can be catered for and it is a frugal treat, ideal for all those teenage boys who come over !

I use the same bread recipe that I posted the other day and the same tomato sauce recipe. I split the bread recipe in 3 and roll it out into pizza pans rather than knocking it down and putting it in a bread tin. The tomato sauce is made and blended and then 3 tablespoons are placed on each base, the rest is kept for another day. Sprinkle all all your favourite toppings and pop in the oven for 20 minutes at 200C. Much nicer than shop bought, nearly as quick and better for you, also bigger helpings ! One of Master Shoestring's friends had a to take a 'doggy' bag home with him !

My challenge for today :- Have you made homemade pizza ?

Monday, 18 January 2016

Miserly Moms

This is another book which I found really helpful when we first started trying how to work out how to live on what we actually brought in rather than what we thought we had ! Jonni McCoy lives in the USA and there are quite a few things that are different about shopping over here, for example our newspapers do not contain flyers for local supermarkets advertising their weekly specials and we do not get coupon inserts with our local papers either. That said I still find Jonni's advice useful and keep the above edition of the book on my bookshelf.

The book does have a more up to date edition and Jonni also runs a website of the same name which I'm sure that someone starting out on thrifty living would find useful. I think there are no plans to continue to publish the book in paperback format so if you want one after this review it might be worth getting it soon.

Jonni concentrates on one possible motivation for being frugal and that is to allow a parent to stay home with young children.  This motivation not to have two earners outside the home could equally apply to someone needing to look after an elderly parent or someone looking to change careers. Jonni offers eleven guidelines for becoming more frugal and then devotes a chapter to each one. For instance Guideline 1 is that Frugality does not mean Depriving Yourself.

We still follow Guideline 10 about having soup and bread one night for supper and also other guidelines about buying in bulk and keeping track of food prices. These are both topics I plan to talk about later on. In addition to the main chapters on the guidelines, Jonni also has chapters on all sorts of other things you might want to make savings on, such as birthdays and other special occasions; clothing; adding to the family and lots of recipes.

One of the most useful chapters Jonni includes is the one where she works out exactly how much going to work is costing you if you have to pay for transport, clothing, childcare, gifts for people who are leaving and all the additional hidden costs that working brings with it. My real wage as opposed to the one I thought I was earning was a bit of a shock when I used Jonni's chapter to work it out and helped to inspire us to think about early retirement since we might very well be better off once we reach financial independence !

This book has been to the USA and back so I have had it for quote a few years and always find something useful in it when I re-read it, so think about having a look ! Wouldn't it be great if there was a lending library that specialised in the topic of thrifty living ?

My challenge to you today is :- Have another look at your favourite thrifty book or blog, is there more information there that you could be using ?

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Pause for Reflection

It was ShoestringUSA's birthday on Friday, he is celebrating by climbing Mount Washington, just to check that he still can now that he has said goodbye to his twenties !

Reflecting back on him being born in a little hospital in Edinburgh with a great view of Arthur's Seat it is good to reflect on how much has changed but also how much that is good has endured over that time.

The hospital is gone and so are many like it, small community based facilities that now cost too much to run and cannot guarantee the same standard of care as the bigger hospitals. But no matter what the size of the institution it is the people who work in it that matter and the same kindness and ability to be there for you are shown by the health service staff as was the case thirty years ago.

Thirty years ago we got a lift home from the hospital with a borrowed car seat for the baby. Lots of people used public transport in the city and that is still true today, even the tram system which got off to such a rocky start is now considered part of the Edinburgh landscape.

I was still at university when ShoestringUSA was born and he was born in a hospital named after one of the first female doctors in Scotland. Opportunities for women are still being made around the globe and I hope that over the next thirty years the issue of gender will become one that becomes less important as full equality for all is achieved.

When ShoestringUSA was born all his grandparents were still alive, now two of them have gone and the two that are left are likely to live in to their nineties and beyond. It is great that he still has two here to rely on and two gone before to set him a good example of loving hard work. The grandparent/grandchild bond remains a special one and I know that it is cherished on both sides. Today I saw some wonderful pictures from a pre-school that had been established inside a home for frail seniors and I hope that more such innovative projects will be established over the next thirty years so that mixing between all ages continues to happen to everyone's benefit.

Most of all I hope that the limitless potential that a new life represents continues to be just as special to today's new parents as I was to Mr Shoestring and 1 thirty years ago.

Enjoy your day and hug your loved ones !

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Thrifty Fun

All of the Shoestring family have a library card which over the years has been in constant use and then sometimes less so.

When Master Shoestring was small we lived in a rural area in the USA and going to the library was a big treat, an excellent outing for a bad weather day. The library there had toys, music and films as well as books all of which you could borrow for free. They also had magazines and free museum passes, these were so popular that you had to reserve them weeks in advance. There was also no limit to the number of items you could take out but you did have to pay fines for late return.

The library where we are now has books and films and magazines. You have to pay to borrow the films and can only have films and magazines for a week. Returning on time when you are working can be a bit of a problem when  the library only opens for a limited number of hours so we have started going less frequently. However, it is a great resource for the holidays as then it is no problem to nip in and borrow a book to look at even if you are going to return it the next day. Since we are all quick readers that is great. The library also has a service where you can order the latest bestseller for 60p and have it delivered to the library for you to collect. For very popular books there may be a long waiting list but this is much cheaper than buying the latest hardback and then discovering that you don't enjoy it as much as the previous book by that author.

The library also offers paid for internet access and photocopying which can be very handy when the technology at home breaks down. They also do story time sessions for under 5s and summer reading activities for under 11s. So all in all the Shoestring family are big fans of the library for some frugal and thrifty fun !

My challenge today :- Have you joined the library ?

Friday, 15 January 2016

Saving Money on Electricity and Gas

There are lots of different ways of saving money on basic utilities, one of the most important is to be able to have some choice about how you pay. If you have a good credit score and are not using a meter then you will be able to get a lower price. It seems very unfair that the unit cost for people paying on a meter in this country is more expensive than for people paying on direct debit, but that is a rant for another day.

The first thing to do is identify which tariff you are on, which you can find out from your bill and then call your existing company and see if you are on the cheapest tariff they can offer you. Often the company's very cheapest rate is reserved for people who are switching to them so if you have been with the company for a while the chances are you are paying too much,

Next look at your annual usage, which the company should tell you about once a year. Armed with that figure go to a comparison website (moneysaving expert has great list) and plug in your figures. The website will quickly tell you whether or not switching supplier can save you money.

People are often put off changing because they think it will be complicated and difficult or because they don't have regular access to the internet. We change every year and it is very simple, the gas and electricity continue to come into your home, only you pay less and the heading on the bill changes ! The complicated and difficult thing can be getting your old company to return any money they owe !

Spark were our energy suppliers until this September but when we switches they owed us over 300 pounds as they had been taking too much from the direct debit, it took 2 months to get the money back because of the way their billing cycle works. So if you are going to switch regularly you must read your meters regularly and keep an eye on how much you are using. It is worth it as by switching in September our monthly direct debit went from 134 pounds a month to 83, a saving of over 50 pounds a month !

My challenge to you today :- Can you change gas and electricity suppliers to save money ?

Thursday, 14 January 2016

A Thrifty Cookbook

One of the cookbooks I return to again and again is " Slow Cooking Properly Explained". It is only a small paperback and initially when it arrived I was a little unsure about it as it does not have photographs of the finished dish.

This is a picture of the copy I have but it has been updated several times since then and the front cover is a bit larger with a more modern picture now. The reason it is one of my favourites is that there isn't a recipe in it which hasn't worked exactly as it has been written down and for me that is quite unusual. Normally I find the temperatures aren't quite right or I needed a bit more instruction in certain places, but not with this little book. You have the feeling that the author has made every recipe in the book and tweaked it until she is sure that it will work in your slow cooker as well.

We have 3 slow cookers, 1 is a standard modern one bought cheaply in Tesco and the other 2 are both second hand, 1 was only 50p from a jumble sale as it had the cable missing. A spare kettle flex soon fixed that and there we had an enormous slow cooker which is ideal for doing baked potatoes in.

My favourite recipes in the book are the vegetarian ones as it is hard to find decent recipes for vegetarian food which don't cook down to a tasteless mush whilst the cooker is on. The one for curried vegetables is regularly used when I'm going to be late at work and the other favourite is the one for golden sponge pudding which is often used for Sunday lunch.

The great thing about slow cookers is that they can be left safely all day cooking a meal whilst you are out and about doing something else. Three nights a week I'm back from work after 6pm and that is when the slow cooker really comes into its own as if I prep something in the morning I know that there will be a hot meal waiting for us as soon as we come in the door tired and hungry so there will be no talk of being ready meals or thinking about take-aways or picking something up from the shop on the way home.

I think slow cookers are great as long as you know how to sue one properly and that is exactly what this little book can teach you.

Today's challenge :- Have you ever used a slow cooker ?

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Home haircuts

This is Mr Shoestring's new haircut. He saved himself nearly 13 pounds by asking Mrs Shoestring to do it for him. He does sometimes go to the barber to get a proper haircut but often doesn't think about it until it is too late to go that day. Also, as you will have noticed he has less hair than some customers and feels that he should be offered a discount for being less work, but has yet to be offered one !

So quite a few years ago now, when we lived in the USA we bought a home haircutting kit with a set of clippers, combs and sharp hairdressing scissors. Videos on YouTube showed Mrs Shoestring what to do and now a little trim takes around 15 minutes plus the time to brush up the hair ! Mrs Shoestring likes the saving, Mr Shoestring likes having a tidy up when he feels like it ! However, to maintain the proper shape he still goes twice a year for that proper haircut referred to above. It might not matter so much if he didn't have quite curly hair which eventually needs bit of a prune rather than just a trim.

Mrs Shoestring has started to use a haircutting device which holds the hair in place at the proper angle so you can cut your fringe straight. She has also bought the one which lets you cut layers into the rest of your hair but still lacks the courage to try it ! Mrs Shoestring hates the hairdressers and goes as little as possible. She has tried all sorts of variations over the years from always going to the same stylist every 6 weeks and tipping well to booking at the local college and taking whatever hairstyle she has been offered, But alas, the perfect hairstyle for thick, long, going grey hair around a very large face eludes her ! The little device for cutting layers has been out of the packet and videos and photographs of what to do have been perused at length but yesterday only the fringe was cut and an internal promise made to maybe visit the hairdresser once this year !

My challenge to you today :- Do you cut hair at home ?

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Homemade tomato sauce

This is my favourite quick recipe for making tomato sauce for putting on pasta and pizza, it can also be used for making spaghetti bolognaise or soup.

1 can tomatoes (450g)
1tsp tomato paste
1 onion
1 garlic clove
sprinkle of mixed herbs
oil to fry

Chop the onion and crush the garlic. Add to small pan with a sprinkle of herbs and a couple of tablespoons of oil, fry the mixture together. As soon as the onions are starting to brown add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer for 15 minutes and then blend in a blender or with a stick blender if you like a smooth sauce , otherwise use as is as a base for pizza, or add to boiled pasta for a very quick meal which is much healthier than using a jar of sauce.

Here is mine cooking for making pizza for hungry teenage boys last Saturday.You can add salt and pepper to taste but we do that at the table since some people can't eat salt and others don't like pepper !

My challenge to you is :- Have you made tomato sauce ?

I think my challenge to me might be do you know how to switch off the date caption on your camera ?

Monday, 11 January 2016

Thrifty Ways for Modern Days

This is the book which helped to start it all at Mrs Shoestring Towers. It is a collection of hints and tips gathered from the forum community at Old-Style Money-Saving on the British website, Moneysaving expert. The website has now been bought and the original owner, Martin Lewis has retired to foster financial education amongst the nation's young. But one of the best things about the website is still the Old-Style, thrifty forum which posts daily real-life updates from people living on very low incomes.

The book starts out with an explanation as to why Matin Lewis himself is not an old-styler but just a money saver ! Then it explains what the old-fashioned virtues of thrift and frugality are really like !
It also has a really comprehensive budget sheet which includes columns for all those seasonal expenses which it is often difficult to remember. Up until this month I used a paper and pencil budget very similar to the one in the book, we just have slightly different categories. Over the holidays I have set up the paper and pencil one as an Excel spreadsheet, complete with cells to calculate % savings and spends. Doing this by hand nearly drove me mad this year and although I knew it would be a lot of work at the outset finally doing it has been a relief and it is a joy to watch the spreadsheet do all the calculating !

Other sections from the book I really like are the Old-Style recipe book at the back and the section on Homemade Gifts and Presents which includes excellent suggestions for children's parties. I have rarely seen this book in charity shops or jumble sales indicating that it is 'keeper' for other members of the money-saving community as well as me !

My challenge to you today is :- Have you got a favourite money-saving book ?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Pause for Reflection

So once a week we pause for reflection and feel that it is a good thing just to slow down and notice all the blessings in our life. Sundays are usual very busy as we get ready to go back to work but we also try to take Master Shoestring to service, catch up with friends and family and generally be a little less busy, at least for a few hours, then we usually are.

Here is a lovely picture of snowdrops which I took earlier on this week. They are usually poking through at this time of year round here but it is a bit early for them to be flowering, so I popped the date on the picture and maybe I'll go back to the same spot next year and see whether this was a one off event or the start of something new.

The start of something new is often a theme that we contemplate at the beginning of the new calendar year. But it is possible to make a new start at any time and no matter how many times you fail you can always start again. What do you need to make a new start with today ?

Saturday, 9 January 2016

A Trip Out

One of our New Year's Resolutions this year was that Mr Shoestring and I would go out for a date alone ( those with children will know how much organisation this takes !) once a month. So last Saturday, when there was a break in the rain we went out to this place.

This is St Botolph's Church in Swyncombe in Oxfordshire, one of the oldest churches in England, built in the 11th Century. It was good fun getting there, trying to navigate through narrow Oxford lanes with signposts still painted in black on white metal pointing in directions that did not appear to correspond with the directions of any of the roads at the junctions. We drove through Christmas Common, which was very apt for the season and Maiden's Bottom and one or two two other quaintly named hamlets. Finally there was a tiny sign on a farmer's fence and we swung down a muddy track to find this little church, only a stone's throw away from the ancient English track The Ridgeway and dedicated to the patron saint of wanderers. A chapter about The Ridgeway and its significance in ancient times had intrigued us a few days before and that was why we wanted to go.

In its day, a thousand and more years ago The Ridgeway was like a motorway , providing a safer passage through the whole of Southern England and explains why the church founders wanted it built where it is, in what seems to us a relatively obscure spot. When it was built it would have been like a 'drive-in chapel'. The simple design is from Saxon times and goes back to the beginnings of Christianity in England.

After all the rain we've had it was lovely to see a bit of sun but a bit strange to be taking photographs of these close to the church noticeboard which advertised snowdrop teas.

Not all old churches in England are open to visitors any more for fear of theft but we were very glad to find this one was, with a sign on the door asking you to pray for all the people who work and worship there now and have done for  a thousand years. Inside it was quite awe-inspiring to think that you were standing where people had gathered to worship around a thousand years. Just inside the door there was a stone font dating back to Norman times, it was so heavy the builders must have installed it and that is where it has always been !

This is one of the windows showing the coats of arms of all the many families who have owned the land round about since the church was founded. Something very unusual was that it included the arms of the Saxon family who were there before the Normans and most churches are not old enough to do this.

We found out a lot that we had not known before, took a lot of photographs, walked a bit and enjoyed each other's company and the weather so it was a very successful date all for the cost of a voluntary donation which was another win-win! We look forward to next month's date.

My challenge to you today is :- Have you ever visited an interesting historic site which did not have a set entrance fee ?

Friday, 8 January 2016

Car Breakdown Cover

I am not sure that it is a very 'shoestring' topic to be talking about your car but we need one to get to work.  It is old, reliable and small and when we lived closer to work we did use bicycles but now there is no public transport to where we work so we need the car. The need to get to work is one of the main reasons why we have breakdown cover. Only the cheapest sort that fixes emergencies by the road but an extra expense nevertheless. Having paid over 150 pounds one year to get the car towed to a garage we look upon it as slightly money saving and the peace of mind is worth having too !

So having used Moneysavingexpert to check the cheapest offer and worked out that it would cost 42 pounds for both of us I called the Royal Automobile Cover to tell them that we would not be auto-renewing with them since that would be 20 pounds more expensive ! After a very long wait Ross in the Renewals Department was very helpful and requested permission to match the cheapest quote I had. The RAC matched the quote and I was able to renew with them. A win for them as they did not lose a customer and a win for the Shoestrings as the cover with RAC includes fixing at the roadside instead of paying and then claiming back as it does with the cheap company I had identified.

Many thanks to Ross for being so helpful !

My challenge to you today is :- Have you ever beaten a renewal quotation by talking to your existing provider ?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Vegan Cake Making

Last night in response to there  being only 1 tiny piece of Christmas cake left I made 2 quick ones, one for Master Shoestring and one for Mr Shoestring, Mr Shoestring can't have sugar, Master Shoestring can and prefers sugar to cake sweetened with carob syrup, which is what I use for Mr Shoestring's treats.

I made a vegan citrus drizzle cake for Master Shoestring who can't eat eggs or dairy and a Date and Ginger one for Mr Shoestring.

The vegan sponge cake recipe is easy and can easily be adapted for many different flavours, so yesterday I made an orange flavoured cake by including some grated rind from tangerines and sprinkling tangerine juice and sugar on top.

The basic recipe is :- 2 cups self raising flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of oil, flavouring of choice, 1 cup of water.

Mix well together and place in a greased 9 in pan and bake at 180C for 40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Then sprinkle juice and sugar on top as a glaze.

Master Shoestring ate 2 pieces before bedtime ! Cakes like this don't keep well but there is no problem with that in this house !

The Date and Ginger recipe is from Rose Elliot's Vegan Feasts cookbook but I adapt the recipe to replace the sugar with carob syrup, the replacement is half the amount of syrup in place of the whole amount of sugar. I just weigh out the syrup straight into the mixing bowl with the bowl on a kitchen scale. Since you are replacing sugar with something more liquid you also have to adjust the liquid you add to the final mixture. I also use sodium free baking powder which I order specially from some lovely people in the USA.

Apart from the 'they get stale' quickly we find that vegan cakes are just as nice as other ones and are much cheaper to bake.

So my challenge for today is :- Have you baked a vegan cake ?

Wednesday, 6 January 2016


Very excited about a Wowcher voucher which has allowed me to buy 20 pounds of food at Approved Foods for 5 pounds. It may still be available so it is worth checking. WOWCHER is free to join and although I am not normally interested in what they have on offer Approved Foods is an on-line grocery retailer which I often use in the holidays, the delivery is by courier so if it's not the holidays I'm not in to receive it and I don't want to have to trek to the depot to collect the parcel.

But in the holidays that is a different matter. I was able to get Lindt 70% Chocolate which is one of the few dairy-free, soya-free options that there are in chocolate, rice milk for less than half the normal cost, very cheap salt, which is great for tackling the weeds on our driveway, gluten-free cake ( for emergencies when all the cake in the house has been eaten !) and very cheap tinned tomatoes at less than 1/3 of the cost normally and they were a much more expensive brand than I usually buy.

The great thing about this deal was that I was able to stock up at a price that will easily allow me to stay in budget this month, especially on things like the chocolate and rice milk which I often have to pay full retail price for. So a  great shoestring deal !

My challenge for today is :- Have you have shopped on-line for groceries and paid much less than you would have in the local shops ?

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Making Yoghurt

I worked out yesterday that the cost of making a loaf like I described yesterday is 65p including the cost of electricity to run the bread maker and bake the loaf. So it is not really cheap when you include the cost of baking in the oven but is much cheaper than I would have to pay for 800g of no-salt, no-soya bread at an artisanal bakery or Waitrose ! So well with it for us, if you're someone who can pick up a yellow-stickered loaf for 10p and pop it into the freezer then it probably isn't worth it, but the smell is priceless !

Now for today's topic, making yoghurt. There are lots of tutorials on the internet about how to do this but some of them are rather complicated, some require the use of a yoghurt maker and almost none of them tell you that it can be a bit tricky !

This is my secret weapon for yoghurt making, a wide-mouthed vacuum flask. I have 3 like this and 2 larger ones. 


Heat the pint of milk to almost boiling, you can't walk away at this point, it will boil much quicker than you think ! Then leave it to cool to blood heat, tested with your pinkie finger. Now add a cup of live yoghurt, such as Yeo Valley, you can't use ready flavoured and sweetened ones. Stir well and pour quickly into the flask. Leave for 12 hours or more.

If the yoghurt has set, well done, flavour as you like or hang up in a cheese cloth to make some spreadable cheese.

If not then you can leave it for up to a day in a warm place and the bacteria will continue to work to set your yoghurt.

Problems I have had include letting the milk boil over, gosh it covers a large area; letting the milk get too cold; not using live yoghurt; leaving it too long so it gets too sour; not leaving it long enough so it is not set. But now thanks to the vacuum flasks I've got it just right and it's really good for settling dodgy tummies after antibiotics or a stomach upset.

My challenge to you :- Have you made yoghurt ?

Monday, 4 January 2016


As I'm writing this I'm smelling the delicious smell of a fresh loaf just out of the oven. We make all our own bread now and as well as saving money it helps Mr Shoestring and Master Shoestring to know that the loaf is salt-free and soya-free which is not something you can say about shop-bought bread.

We use a Panasonic bread maker which is 7 years old now and always use the same recipe:-

Breadmaker loaf

275g white bread flour
275g wholemeal flour
25g oil
300ml rice milk (I add this for calcium for Master Shoestring but water would be fine)
50ml warm water+2tsps sugar+1tsp dried yeast

Start by adding the sugar and yeast to the warm water and wait for it to froth up. Then add all the other ingredients to the bread maker bowl and start the machine. It will bake nicely on the Wholemeal setting but I don't bother with that. I just use the 45 minute pizza setting for mixing and kneading and then turn the dough out into a greased loaf pan to rise. I put the dough to rise in the airing cupboard but anywhere warm will do. Then it's baked at 200C for 40 minutes. Perfect every time !

Costs are kept down by buying the rice milk and oil on special offer, I usually stock up when rice milk is a pound a litre and look for special offers on the oil so that is down to 3 pounds for 5 litres or lower.
White bread flour is cheapest at Aldi and for the wholemeal it seems to be fine to use cheap chapatti flour at around 5kg for 3 pounds, which is even cheaper than wholemeal flour in Aldi. However, I have sometimes got the price lower by buying a sack of wheat and grinding it using a manual grinder which sits on our kitchen worktop.

No breadmaker, no problem, this recipe works fine in a bowl as well !

My challenge to you today :- Have you ever made a loaf of bread ?

Sunday, 3 January 2016

In The Beginning

A long time ago and far, far away there was a family where the Mum worked full time and believed that buying instant ready meals and ordering clothes from Boden was the only way to manage a busy lifestyle. This was the same lassie who ten years previously had been volunteering for no wages and making her allowance of twenty pounds a month last until she got the next instalment.

All that changed when Master Shoestring arrived and an article about Thrift caught our Mum's eye in her glossy magazine. There was time to read said glossy magazine because this was the first child where Mum had actually taken maternity leave ! Hmm she wondered is it possible to not to run a credit card bill ?

Now said baby is 13 years old, picture is us on holiday in Ireland Summer 2015 and I have learned that you do not need to run a credit card bill to lead a comfy life.

Last year we saved 54% of our income whilst giving 5% to charity. This year I've started a blog to record our progress towards saving 60% or more as we strive to retire before the compulsory age of 67. We are trying to do this on the average income for this country as both Mr Shoestring and I continue to work for alternative educational initiatives which do not pay the same as a State sponsored organisation would.

Join us for the journey towards saving, giving, loving and living.

My challenge for you today is :- Can you tell where every pound goes ?