Thursday, 31 March 2016

Aldi v Tesco

Over the past few years Aldi and Lidl have become very popular but as we live in a very affluent area the nearest store is quite far away, whereas I can walk to Waitrose and cycle to Tesco. When I'm in the area I will go in and sometimes make a special trip to do a monthly stock up but it isn't my weekly store of choice. I actually prefer stocking up monthly and then just doing a small top-up shop once a week as this saves time. But I have noticed by the end of the month we are out of lots of things, for instance we have only a tiny amount of milk left and no tomatoes, but I've promised myself to do without until April arrives. There is a small amount of money available in the shopping budget but we had a huge car repair bill this month so I want to save, a few mugs of black tea won't harm me !

Since I was on holiday I was wondering if it was worth the trouble to drive specially to Aldi to do this month's shopping ? I made a list and then went on mysupermarket website to compare prices between Aldi and Tesco and also to see if for some of the more speciality items, for example goat's milk cheese for Mr Shoestring, are cheaper elsewhere, perhaps Waitrose ?

To my surprise Aldi are not the cheapest for everything, Tesco beat them for washing up liquid, flour (if you use chapatti flour) and apples. Tesco could also match Aldi prices on toilet rolls, tinned tomatoes and chocolate. It costs around a pound in petrol  to drive to Aldi so that meant the total cost of a nominal basket of shopping would be 15 pounds whereas at Tesco the same basket would cost 16 pounds and 32 pence. The question was now, is my time worth 1.32 pounds ?

Tesco stocks things that I cannot buy at Aldi like organic butter and cheese so I was going to shop there anyway for some things. However, the difference between prices is actually greater than it looks as I will buy 16 litres of milk to last a month and the price differential on that would be 35p a litre making a total saving of 5 pounds and 60p if I buy them all from Aldi. Similarly with crispbread where the difference in price is 30p a packet and I will buy 12 packets giving a saving of 3 pounds and 60p if I buy them from Aldi.

So what shall I do ? I shall go to both stores and cherry pick the best prices in each ! This month it isn't worth going to any other stores as Tesco have also given me a 10% off coupon as long as I spend 40 pounds. If I am careful I should be able to get a month's shopping for around 85 pounds, half spent in Aldi and half spent in Tesco. Aldi v Tesco, no match for Mrs Shoestring squeezing the pennies !

What do you do to lower your grocery bill ?

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Cheap paint v Branded paint

When we first started out married life it was in a rented flat where the windows leaked every time it rained. We were not allowed to decorate there which was just as well as it would have needed replacing very often because of the water damage !

A year later we had scraped together enough for a deposit on a tiny flat in town where there was no window in the kitchen. We papered everywhere in wood chip and then painted over it using the cheapest white emulsion we could find tinted with water colour paint. We thought that it was lovely and indeed it was compared to the heavy brown gloss paint which had decorated the flat throughout prior to our ownership.

Ten years later we had a whole house and that was when we learned that it was false economy to buy cheap paint. You had to put on lots of extra coats which we did not have time for and when you scrubbed at it because the children had made a mess it came off on the sponge. So now we buy paint where professional decorators do, at the professionals outlet on the industrial estate. 

It isn't very far away so if you run out you can always get more and they mix the colour to order so always have just what you need. Prices are quoted without VAT so you do have to do a bit of arithmetic and they only take cash, but that is fine by us. They also sell really top quality brushes etc. which you know will last a lifetime if you look after them.

So Master Shoestring and Mr Shoestring went off there and came home with exactly the correct amount of paint to wipe out Miss Shoestring's Laura Ashley style of decor in the larger bedroom so that it can become a teen den ! Master Shoestring has even offered to help with the painting !!

Do you decorate with paint or paper ?

Tuesday, 29 March 2016


Just finished a comprehensive stocktake and I am ashamed to say that I have far too many cloves, too much bulgur wheat and brown rice and several orphaned packets of butter which have been in the freezer far too long !

Often I just go and look in the big freezer and forget about the little ones above the fridge and the small one in the utility room, now I have looked I shall fill honour bound to use up 1 slice of pizza and some very old spinach ! Not to mention 8 bags of blackcurrants and 2 yellow-stickered packets of sausages. Those things are not so bad as it is relatively simple to know what to do with them but what about 2 opened packets of rice flour and some black olives which I know nobody likes.

As well as having enough bulgur wheat for a small army I also bought some nutritional yeast on-line about a year ago not realising that I was getting 6 canisters rather than 1, I'm not sure that the others like it and it really is enough to constitute a lifetime's supply if I just use it 1 teaspoon at a time to flavour white sauces, if you have any ideas I would be grateful !

Still the good news is that the stockpile of chickpea flour is starting to grow smaller ! I have also found a recipe for homemade curry powder which should make a dent in the small hill of spices I have acquired !

Homemade Curry Powder

4 1⁄2teaspoons ground coriander
2teaspoons turmeric
1 1⁄2teaspoons cumin seeds
1⁄2teaspoon black peppercorns
1⁄2teaspoon chilli flakes
1⁄2teaspoon mustard seeds
1⁄2inch cinnamon stick
1⁄4teaspoon cloves
1⁄4teaspoon ginger

Grind together using a mortar and pestle or in a food processor. The spices use their strength if you don't use this quickly so I make a small quantity like this and then keep it in a small air-tight tub.

Do you have too much of anything you need to use up ?

Monday, 28 March 2016

An Outing

Traditionally Easter Monday is the day of outings and for us here of Mum's holiday, where people have to fend for themselves for meals as I get a well-earned rest !

Today, dodging the showers we went up to see the Amersham crosses. They have been erected in a field above the town where they are visible to all who enter. We have noticed them since they were erected last year but had never been up to see them. Each cross represents so many thousands who died in the First World War and there are personal notes attached to each one which describes a personal memory.

It is really moving to look across at so many crosses and realise that so many lives were lost and how it was hoped that this would be the war to end all wars. Let us hope that one day that wish will be fulfilled.

A good run back down the hill was needed and then a cup of tea as of course it started raining again on the way down !

What did you do to celebrate the Bank Holiday ?

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter Sunday

I just love this picture of the resurrected Christ by Ninetta Sombart an artist from Switzerland. She has painted lots of pictures from the life of Christ and they are well worth having a look at. They are all in a modern yet timeless style and I just love the warmth and peace in this image, I hope you will too !
Happy Easter !

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Easter Egg Hunts

Over the years I think we have held just about every conceivable type of Easter egg hunt. The tradition is always to have 1 big chocolate egg on Easter Sunday morning and then in the afternoon go on an Easter egg hunt for smaller ones.

When ShoestringUSA was small this hunt was for real hardboiled eggs which had been coloured and we would take them to a nearby hill and roll them down once they had been found. The winner's egg was the one which stayed whole !

Later on we would take the children on a very long walk to try and find the Easter hare and amazingly the Easter hare would have dropped clues in the form of small chocolate eggs along the path. Mr Shoestring was very good at filling his pockets and then letting a few fall close to where the children were walking. Alas, we never did catch up with the hare in person.

Once we had a garden big enough and the two oldest were really too old for a hunt they took turns hiding the eggs around the garden whilst Master Shoestring had a nap. Bad weather might mean hiding them around the house and by now the chocolate eggs had been replaced with plastic ones which could be filled with homemade Easter treats as it was almost impossible to find small eggs which Master Shoestring could eat.

We also did the tradition of Resurrection eggs where you hide different objects to remind you of the Easter story, but they are all too old for that now. A newer tradition is putting up art cards showing Old Master paintings of the Easter story around the kitchen table so as we sit down to eat over the period Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday we are reminded of whereabouts in the story we have got to. Today, on Easter Saturday the paintings all show Christ as the helper of the dead.

What are you planning for tomorrow ?

Friday, 25 March 2016

Hot Cross Buns

The tradition in our house is to work in the garden on Good Friday morning leaving these buns to rise. Then at 3pm we out the crosses on and bake in the oven ready for teatime. Here's the recipe:-

1lb plain flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
scant 1/2 pint rice milk
2 tsp dried yeast
4 tsps sugar
2oz sugar
2-4oz vegan margarine
6oz currants or sultanas
(some people add eggs and candied peel so those are optional here 1oz candies peel, 2 beaten eggs)

First start the yeast in some warm water to which you have added the 4 tsps sugar, this will help it grow faster. Whilst you are waiting for the yeast mix the dry ingredients together. Then mix in all the wet ingredients including the yeast mixture once you have seen that it is bubbling away. Knead the door for a few minutes and then out in a warm place, covered, to wait for it to rise. Knock it down and shape in to 12 buns which can be allowed to rise again. Make some crosses for your buns by mixing a few tablespoons of flour with water until you have a stiff paste, spoon the paste into an icing set or a plastic bag where you have snipped off the corner and pipe the crosses on top. This method works better for us as it helps the crosses stick without using egg to glaze.

Place buns in a hot oven 200C for 15-20 minutes and put a tray of water in the bottom to create a steamy atmosphere for the buns to bake in.

Enjoy ! What are your Good Friday traditions ?

Thursday, 24 March 2016

What to do in a Bank Holiday weekend

Traditionally Easter weekend is the start of the DIY season round here and this year we are going to be joining in ! Often there are special offers on paint and wall paper, not to mention things for the garden and we have several decorating and changing round room tasks to do as well as celebrating Easter. 

Master and Miss Shoestring are swapping bedrooms as hers is slightly larger but now she only comes home at weekends and he needs somewhere larger to do his homework. This will mean re-deorating at least one of the rooms as Master Shoestring is not keen on flowery wallpaper !

The other really big change will be turn ShoestringUSA's bedroom back into a general family room as he is not coming home anytime soon and we are all fed-up using one of the larger rooms in the house just for furniture storage. No re-decorating required for that room but quite a bit of furniture shifting into the garage which will become the new furniture store !

There is also a lot of cleaning to do. One disadvantage of being on holiday is that you get to see just how many cobwebs there are above your curtains ! Good job that today in known in parts of Europe as 'Clean Thursday' when everyone cleans to get ready for Good Friday. We will do all our jobs and then sit down to a special supper of soup, bread and grapes and grape juice and then go for a walk outside . A community we used to live in always made this supper a silent one but our children could not manage that so we evolved this new tradition.

What do you do on Clean Thursday ?

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Crispie Cake Nests

These little nests are another Easter favourite in our house and are so easy to make that the children could do them on their own by the time they were 10. The only problem was that they disappeared very quickly !

1 tbsp sugar
1tbsp cocoa
4 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp margarine
150g crispy rice cereal

Melt the first 4 ingredients in a pan over a low heat. Once all is melted together stir in all the cereal quickly. Divide into 12 bun cases and use a spoon to make little dips in each one. Put in the fridge to set. Decorate with sugar eggs !

Hide if you don't want them eaten before Easter Sunday !

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Easter Baskets

In the supermarket the other day I saw that they were selling felt Easter baskets for children and rather expensive they were too ! We use baskets that I found at a jumble sale and cost pennies each, we save them and re-use them every year. A paper basket like the one above is a good cheap alternative.

All you need to do is decide how large you want your basket to be at the bottom and then draw a square that size onto a piece of stiffish paper. Add another square the same size to each of the original square sides to form a cross. Then finally fill in the missing sides around the squares to form 4 more squares. Now your original square is surrounded by 3 more on each side. Cut up the sides of the 4 squares in the middle of each side and bend up the sides around the original square to form the sides of the basket. Now stick, sellotape or use a paper fastener to keep the sides fastened together. Fill your basket with straw or tissue paper ready for egg hunting !

For people who prefer seeing what to do there is a good tutorial about this over on

What do you do for Easter baskets ?

Monday, 21 March 2016

Easter Biscuits

The start of Holy Week and our thoughts are turning to getting ready for the celebrations next Sunday. Some of our favourite treats are Easter biscuits which make a nice change from chocolate ! Here is our recipe which is vegan-friendly !

8oz plain flour
4oz vegan margarine
4oz sugar
Handful of currants
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Enough rice milk to bind

Rub the margarine in to the flour to make breadcrumbs. Add all the rest of the ingredients. Mix to form a firm dough which can be rolled out on a floured board. Roll out thinly and cut out 5 inch rounds with a fluted cutter. Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake at 200C for 10 minutes or less. They should be pale brown when ready. Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely before sprinkling with caster sugar.

Master Shoestring likes a bit of icing on the side with these ! But I think the icing would be better drizzled over the top !

Do you have a recipe for Easter biscuits ?

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Pause in Lent

Watching a Mary Berry cookery programme on television in-between trying to hang the washing to dry on Friday night I realised that Lent is nearly over and I haven't really given a thought to Easter. Today is Palm Sunday and it really is time to start !

Usually I am on holiday over the Holy Week but this year because Easter is so early I shall be working up until Maundy Thursday and that does feel a little strange. It is at times like these that I do fall back on little family things that we have done to make this week special with the children. Today my youngest said that he was too old to make the usual bread cockerel but that he wouldn't mind eating one at lunch, so I guess we have come full circle back to 30 years ago when I first made one for the baby ShoestringUSA.

What is a bread cockerel ? It is a tradition in some parts of the world to decorate a cross on Palm Sunday with sweets and streamers and top it with a sweet bread cockerel. The children carry the crosses in procession singing Easter songs and then eat the cockerel at the top (or share with their family if it is a big one !) Gradually over Holy Week the streamers and sweets are removed and by Good Friday all that is left is the wooden cross which has been planted in a bowl of seeds which have just started to sprout into green. By Easter Sunday the seeds have made a nice grassy bed for  a few chocolate eggs !

The cockerel also reminds us of Peter's anguish as he realises that he has denied knowing his friend 3 times in one night just as his friend told him he would. But his friend still laid sown his life for him.

Do you have any special traditions for Holy Week ?

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Free Conference

I'm at a free conference today paid for by my employer. I'm always a bit torn about whether training is worth giving up my free time for as although my employer pays the conference fee I do not get paid for my time.

Over the years I have worked out ways to make it more worthwhile going to these things. I cannot take advantage of the free catering so whereas some people really enjoy a free lunch mine comes with me !

One of the tricks I have learned is that vendors are often setting up stalls if you arrive early and will have samples or cheap editions to get rid of so I have taken advantage of that. Sometimes I've also had a free overnight stay so I go early and enjoy looking around the town, especially new charity shops !

The other thing I do is I decide which of the break out sessions I will go to and stick to it. When I first started going to these things I often stayed to hear boring or irrelevant sessions as I thought I had to do the whole day as my employer was paying, I realised that I only needed the bits that were relevant to me and by leaving early I could prepare presentations etc on what I had learned in the time saved, much more effective for my organisation and me.

How do you make the most of conferences ?

Friday, 18 March 2016


It has been a lovely week of sunny weather here and although the temperature has not been that high all that sunshine has got me thinking about getting the bicycle out of the garage and checking it over ready for more frequent use.

I did not learn to ride a bike until I was 19 years old and went away from home the first time. I still remember how difficult it was to get the hang of it at such an advanced age ! I had some good friends who would come with me down to the disused railway line and give me a push, the only way I could stop was to crash into the pillars holding up the next bridge over the old line about 1/2 mile down the path ! But I did learn and this came in very handy when I went to university and could not afford the bus. I cycled everywhere in all weathers and can still remember the frustration of coming out of a late library session to discover that my wheels had been stolen. After that, I brought the wheels into the library with me.

After ShoestringUSA was born we still rode bikes everywhere and he rode in a little bike seat at the back. In those days no-one wore a helmet but now the traffic is busier and I do. The helmet buying was a little embarrassing as I have always had problems to get one to fit so last year for my birthday Mr Shoestring treated me to one from a specialist bike shop. I tried on all the ladies' helmets, all too small, I tried on all the men's helmets, all too small, by now the entire shop was watching, finally the assistant called out " Tony, have we still got that XXXXL in stock ?" "Yes !" came the reply and that was the one we bought !

Now suitably equipped with helmet and lock as well as basket and mud guards I can nip into town for shopping, library books etc. just as quickly as driving when the weather is good and I get a bit of exercise too. The savings on petrol soon add up too.

Do you cycle anywhere ?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Cheaper Easter Eggs

These little plastic moulds have been invaluable over the years in saving money on Easter eggs and also in making sure that Master Shoestring can have a chocolate egg just like everyone else. There are vegan eggs with no soya which you can buy in the shops now. But years ago this was not the case and Master Shoestring often longed for a real chocolate egg. Up until he was 5 years old I was unable to find a chocolate he could eat so we used a metal tin egg and filled it with sweets.

When Master Shoestring was at Kindergarten one of the Mums there pointed out that Lindt dark chocolate did not contain anything which was unsuitable for him and so he had his first taste of chocolate ! A special moment ! I realised that I could melt this chocolate and form it into large eggs and small ones so I bought the moulds you see above and some which you can use to make small eggs.

You do have to melt the chocolate carefully and then apply it all over the mould using a pastry brush. Then you leave it to set in the fridge and repeat the process about 4 times to make sure that you get a thick enough shell. When it is time to turn out the 1/2 egg you have made do this very carefully on a flat surface and loosen the shell by pulling at the corners of the mould. The other thing we have found helps with release is to polish the mould really well with a dry cloth before you start applying the chocolate.

We ice names on the homemade eggs and tie them together with ribbon, Then they are propped up on special Easter mugs that have been sourced cheaply at pound stores or jumble sales.

Little eggs are easier as you just fill the mould up with chocolate. This year I also have rabbit moulds to try out. I hope that these will turn out just as well. The only disadvantage we have found over the years is that dark chocolate is quite high in caffeine so we have to ration how much Master Shoestring eats as otherwise he does find going to sleep on the evening of Easter Sunday quite hard !

Making eggs yourself definitely saves money if you look at how much you are paying per 100g of chocolate and it also saves on packaging waste !

What do you do about eggs for Easter ?

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Private Lives v Frugal Lives

So how did we enjoy our long anticipated night at the theatre ? Not so much I'm afraid, we only stayed for the first half and then enjoyed a wander around the canals near the theatre and a trip to a late night supermarket to pick up low salt margarine for Master Shoestring's cookery lessons !

The play is about people that I simply could not relate too and in deciding whether we should stay for the second half Mr Shoestring worked out what would happen and we decided that since we already knew how it would end we would rather go home and spend time with our nice family who would never behave like the people in the play !

The main characters in the play are all idle rich, they abandon their newly-wed spouses to run off together, having previously been married and do not pay the bill ! Poor money management as well as poor morality. Then they run off to a flat in Paris which one of them owns ! Not very realistic ! This is then followed by several scenes of domestic violence and misogyny ! Not my sort of thing at all and although Coward manages to make some of this mildly amusing it was quite an effort to summon up a laugh.

I think I prefer Frugal Lives to Private Lives and shall make sure that I read a review of the play before I book our next trip to the theatre ! Still, the canals were nice, so was the theatre, especially the bar stools which we had hilarious fun with as we tried to work out how you sat in them ! Best of all Mr Shoestring and I went out alone as Miss Shoestring did the babysitting !

What is your favourite play ?

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Vegan Chocolate Cake

Master Shoestring had his cookery lesson yesterday and it was a recipe challenge day. The ingredients he had to use were flour, eggs, sugar and strawberries (good job supermarkets stock unseasonable produce from around the world !). Since Master Shoestring cannot eat eggs we just ignored that part of the challenge and he made a vegan chocolate cake decorated with strawberries and chocolate icing.

Vegan Chocolate Cake

2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 oil e.g.) sunflower
1/2 cup cocoa + 1 tablespoon cocoa
1 cup water
1 cup icing sugar
8oz strawberries
1/2 cup vegan margarine

Mix all the ingredients together and split between 2 7 inch tins, bake at 180C for 20 minutes or until cooked right through.
In the meantime make the chocolate icing by creaming together 1 tablespoon of cocoa, 1 cup of icing sugar and 1/2 cup of vegan margarine, add a few drops of water if needed to make the icing smooth.
Spread 1/2 the icing and chopped strawberries on top of one of the cakes and sandwich together. Spread the rest of the icing and chopped strawberries on top of the cake. Enjoy !

Do you have a favourite vegan cake recipe ?

Monday, 14 March 2016

Jumble Sale Haul

A big 'hello' to a new follower, thanks so much for stopping by !

Last Saturday there was another Women's Institute Jumble Sale in a little village 20 minutes away. I always go towards the end of the time as I am not that keen on the massive crowds that these events attract at the start and also there is always a chance of some bargains towards the end. Bargains like the book above which I got for 20p along with 2CDs, one of world music and another of songs from 'The Sound Of Music', always good to sing along to as you get on with daily jobs !

Another bargain was a lemon juice squeezer, 2 huge Christmas themed gift boxes and a red Christmas cloth all for 50p. In a previous blog I have explained about buying pillow cases in Ikea with the aim of making Christmas gifts but if I keep getting bargains like these ones, the pillow cases can be saved for next year !

Last set of bargains were in the clothing section where I was just looking casually in case they had some bits and pieces for Master Shoestring's school uniform. No luck with the uniform but I did get brand new Marks and Spencer's pyjamas for Mr Shoestring, a Boden and a Spirit of the Andes top for me and a rather good quality set of waterproof trousers for Master Shoestring which will be very handy if he decides to try the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. All of that cost 2 pounds, making it 40p an item.

The drive there and back was also lovely, Spring sunshine, daffodils and crocuses out everywhere, beautiful hills and woods as the route lies through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a lovely old windmill just as you come into the village. A great afternoon out !

How did you spend Saturday ?

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Pause in Lent

You are joined together with peace through the Spirit, so make every effort to continue together in this way. Ephesians 4:3

I have been thinking about this verse quite a lot this week and also thinking how hard it has been to put into practice over the centuries. I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that for Lent maybe I should fast from criticism and to some extent this has been possible to do, but what about when your neighbour needs some help to get back into the fold ? Is pointing out a fault alright when you still have so many of your own ? One way forward is recommended in the Bible when it suggests that if your neighbour will not listen to your own quiet voice that then 2-3 people should approach next and attempt to maintain the fellowship.

A recent situation has made all of the above very real to me and helped me to realise that even if we do not agree it is still possible to be kind and helpful. What a difference over the years such an attitude would have made in the history of religion ? 

Saturday, 12 March 2016

A Trip to the Theatre

Just to show that life is not all working and eating stockpiled food we are going to the theatre tonight to see Noel Coward's' Private Lives'. This is a birthday present for Mr Shoestring, a bit delayed because we waited for a decent show to come to the local theatre. We sometimes go into London but the local theatre now often gets pre-West End transfer shows and this is one of them. I hope it is good ! We are not paying the cost ourselves, Mr Shoestring's Mum bought the tickets and we shall be taking our own snacks so should be a very enjoyable evening.

The decision on whether to splash out on a programme and where to park the car for free will be made later !

Enjoy your Saturday !

Friday, 11 March 2016

Cheap Holidays

Spring is here, although it has been rather cold the last few weeks, and that means lots of people are starting to talk about Summer holidays. It is really important to work out your budget and stick to it. Better to have a few nice days at home than a whole lot of credit card bills to pay off long after the sun tan has faded.

In some ways we are lucky as Mr Shoestring and I are not keen on the traditional package holiday to a beach so that means we can enjoy a holiday that others might not consider anything very special. The cheapest holiday is just to book a few days off and stay at home. Take a bus and a picnic somewhere you haven't been before, have an indoor picnic, swap bedrooms, explore sights in your own locality, just don't do any jobs and you will have a fine time !

The next cheapest option is a house swap or staying with family and friends. This is slightly more expensive as you have to travel and you might have to buy a few meals out or a joint experience to thank your hosts. House swapping costs can include joining a swapping website and deep cleaning your house. The last time we did a house swap the people brought their pets and left fleas behind !

Next cheapest option is camping and we have done this a lot. It can be a lot of fun for children and if you get good weather, for adults too. But don't be deceived into thinking this will be a restful holiday, finding all your camping stuff, assembling the camp, cooking and taking the camp back down again are quite hard work. As is checking all the stuff over when you get back !

Next cheapest option is finding a cheap self-catering property in commuting distance of where you want to go. If you don't stay in the heart of the tourist spots this can be very reasonably priced. It is also flexible as websites such as airbnb have made a few nights away very competitive.

Next cheapest option is youth hostels. When we were first married we were very enthusiastic hostellers but now the price has gone up a lot and frankly some of the hostels are not very nice and with a family you will pay more than the cost of a cheap hotel for 1 night's stay. Travel lodge and Premier Inn offer better value for money now if you don't mind picnic meals !

After all these options it starts getting expensive, unless you enter competitions and win a free stay !

What do you do for a holiday ?

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Saving on Wrapping Paper

My Dad was over from New York for a couple of days at the start of the week and being thrifty, although now very well-off, he stayed with us (no hotel room required) ! We didn't see much of him as he left early and came back late to do business in London but I was able to give him his birthday present to take back with him and save money on international postage.

The present was frugally wrapped in a free tourist map which shows the area he lives in. It was much more personal than buying wrapping paper and cost nothing other than remembering to save it the last time we were over.

I never buy wrapping paper unless it is very cheap at a jumble sale. Alternatives include maps as detailed above, tissue paper which comes as packaging in other things, ironing paper from gifts you have been given, free paper which comes as part of charity appeals and printing fancy papers free from the internet. You can also use cloth and tie it in fancy ways as they do in Japan.

I also always save pretty packaging. For instance, 5 Christmases ago when my Mum was still alive she gave everyone's gifts in huge gift bags. They have been re-used every Christmas since and now I think it is becoming a bit of a tradition and is a nice way to still think of my Mum at the festive season.

What do you do about wrapping paper ?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Saving on Children's Clothes

When ShoestringUSA was small it was easy to get clothes from charity shops for him. Before he was born I bought everything he needed from the 50p baskets in those shops. These baskets always contained like new clothes for babies that had been outgrown before they were worn. We also asked for some special things as gifts and I made a lot, including his Christening gown and a sleeping bag as he was always kicking off the covers.

When Miss Shoestring came along a few years later the special pieces had been packed away and were brought out for re-use and we got a lot of hand-me-downs as by now we knew lots of other families with children. We discovered that as girls get older they are often more fussy about wearing second-hand clothing than boys and so I developed a strategy. The 'Tightwad Gazette' describes something similar. When new clothes were required the first shop was in the clothes cupboard where all the hand-me-downs and jumble sale finds were stored. Next stop was jumble sales and charity shops, next stop was sales online and in-store and then she had to pay something towards it herself. At 16 she got a monthly allowance, equivalent to what I spent, so it was very small ! The only exceptions to this were school shoes which we bought new.

Master Shoestring has worn nothing but hand-me-downs and birthday gifts since he was born but as he is about to change schools I might have to buy some new school uniform. However, there is a charity shop in the village where the school is so I shall definitely be checking that out before I buy a blazer and often the PTA in the school runs a second-hand uniform sale at some point in the year. Supermarkets also offer excellent value at the start of the new school year.

What do you do to save money on children's clothes ?

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Woolton Pie

This week in cookery lessons Master Shoestring had to prepare a dish containing potatoes, carrots, parsley and courgette. He was not allowed to repeat any of the ideas in the lessons so far and so came up with the plan to cook a Woolton Pie. The recipe for this pie comes from World War 11 and was designed to be hefty fare for days when there was not much of the ration left. Here's the recipe.

Woolton Pie

1lb of mixed vegetable to include potatoes if you are not planning to use potato pastry
A handful of oats
A little vegetable extract
An onion

Dice and cook the vegetables in salted water. When done, strain and keep 3/4 pint of the vegetable water. Add a little vegetable extract and a handful (1oz) of oats to the water and cook until thickened. Arrange the vegetables in a pie dish and pour thickened sauce over them. Dice the onion and scatter over the cooked vegetables. Top with potato pastry or mashed potatoes. Serve with gravy and young spring vegetables.

Master Shoestring substituted red lentils for the oats as he is allergic to them and used the parsley, courgette and carrots as part of the 1lb of vegetables. He topped his pie with mashed potato but if you fancy Potato Pastry here is the recipe.

Potato Pastry

8 tablespoons flour, 4 tablespoons mashed potato, 2oz any fat

Blend the flour and potato together, soften the fat slightly and blend with the flour and potato mixture. You usually do not have to add water. Roll out thinly on a floured board and use to top your pie !

Have you any old recipes you have tried ?

Monday, 7 March 2016

A Day in the Life of a Frugalista

Trying to live on less to save for the future and give more often is not about what you do to save money on big purchases but how you squeeze the pennies everyday.

We bought a bed similar to this one when we came back from USA, we expected it to last many years as we paid extra to buy from a reputable company. The middle of the bed collapsed one day when it was three years old. Instead of buying a new one Mr Shoestring installed several hefty support posts underneath the centre, not just one ! The bed was better than new as now it was unlikely to collapse again. In case you are wondering I weigh around 9st or 128lbs, so the collapse cannot be blamed on me !

So we wake up in our repaired bed under bedlinen bought for free from the IKEA christmas tree offer. Get washed in hot water heated by our solar panels and eat breakfast from food purchased on sale and stockpiled. We drive to work in cars that are eight years old and share the journey when we can. Everyone takes a packed lunch and drinks also prepared from stockpiled food.

At night we return to eat a frugal meal from the crockpot or pressure cooker and Master Shoestring returns from a frugal sports activity arranged through his school so the cost is negligible. Most week nights we are too busy with homework or preparation for the next day to need entertainment. At the weekends we enjoy the wonderful offerings from the BBC and all for less than 13 pounds a month. For many years we did not even have a television and so avoided this cost also, but now Master Shoestring is older he likes the sport and I'm very partial to " Call the Midwife".

Then we go back to bed in our frugally mended bed !

What sort of frugal things do you do everyday ?

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Pause in Lent

I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness this week. You might have noticed that there were quite a few typos in the blog posts this week, so I guess I have needed a lot of forgiveness from all of you whilst you have been reading !

I think that forgiveness is one of those things that always seems an excellent idea in theory until you are faced with a situation where you will have to forgive and then it becomes rather more of a challenge. Some things are easier than others, your child draws on the wall, you forgive. Your spouse bumps the car, you forgive. Your workmate messes up a deal you have been working on for a long time, harder to forgive ? Someone you trusted betrays your trust, getting harder to forgive ? What about if they killed your only son ?

What a miracle that all of us are truly forgiven by God regardless of what we have done as long as we are sorry, what a chance to start again, what an opportunity to show mercy to others !

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Mother's Day Trip

Tomorrow Master Shoestring is playing in a table tennis tournament 8.40am-6pm so we decided to have Mother's Day today instead. For readers from abroad Mother's Day in the UK is celebrated as the middle Sunday of Lent when traditionally serving girls would return home with a cake which showcased their newly learned domestic skills, it is called Mothering Sunday.

Tomorrow pubs, restaurants and popular site-seeing destinations will be crammed with families taking their Mums out for a treat so I'm hoping that by going a day early we might miss the rush. We are going up there in the picture, to the Sky Garden. It is right in the centre of London, in the City where Miss Shoestring works and has a fabulous view over the skyline. I hope that we get good weather as there is a terrace where you can go outside and see further views. I'm also looking forward to seeing all the plants.

However, you are not allowed to consume any food or drink not purchased at the garden so we'll be taking a frugal picnic to consume on a park bench after our trip au the 30+ storeys !

What do you do for Mothering Sunday, at church tomorrow all the Mums will get a little bunch of flowers which is very sweet ?

Friday, 4 March 2016

Free Training

Last year's budget showed that Mr Shoestring and I spent a lot of money on paying for professional training which would help us in our work. We know that money is very tight in the sector where we work so we would not ask the organisation to pay unless we really had to but that leak really had to stop in our budget if we were serious about early retirement.

So I started to look around for free resources. This is the best one I have found, there are others and Moneysaving Expert has a great list but I have found that FutureLearn offers all its courses at university level and also offers certificates to prove that you have completed the training so I was delighted by that.

Some of the courses are better than others, but if you don't want to continue you just stop. Best of all all the courses are delivered on-line so there are no additional costs for food and travel and you can do them at your own pace in your own time.

I have found it really worthwhile to hear about all the other people on the courses, many of them from all over the world and the tutors and the supervision offers are first-rate. I have recommended lots of the courses to other people at work and once I was lucky enough that a few colleagues enrolled on the same course and then we could compare notes.

Since using FutureLearn I have not paid for professional training and hope that this will continue to be the case over the rest of the year.

Do you pay for training ?

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Jumble Sale Haul 4

I promise that this is the last post about the jumble sale haul but since I got all the items for 7 pounds and 80 pence including the sale entrance costs I thought that it was worthwhile showing just what high quality the items were.

The book above is in brand new condition and was part of the book haul I posted about on Monday. This has gone into the gift cupboard to be kept for Mr Shoestring's birthday next year. That might seem planning a little too far head but I say if you see it, if it is at a tremendous discount, you know that they will like it and you have room to store it where they won't find it, snap it up ! So this book is now if in the gift cupboard aka my wardrobe !

Along with it have gone 2 like-new Tattersall shirts. Thes super-finr quality brushed cotton shirts are far too expensive for us to purchase even on sale. The last one Mr Shoestring had was purchased in the USA and has recently fallen apart after being mended 7 times. So when I saw this

and then spotted a second one I snatched them up and added them to the bag for a pound.

Some people might say isn't that a bit mean to give your husband something second-hand and something you have paid so little for but Mr Shoestring and I share that same ideals about why we live frugally and he would laugh at people who think that they have to pay more in order to prove their love for a partner !  I look forward to seeing his admiring looks next year when he unwraps his parcels !

Do you think that you have to spend a certain amount on loved ones at special times ?

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Jumble Sale Haul 3

In addition to books and clothes purchased at the jumble sales I also got a few miscellaneous items. We are going to be travelling to see ShoestringUSA in the summer and I do like to have a little snooze on the aeroplane. However, I often end up with a stiff neck so when I saw that the bric-a-brac stall had a neck pillow I went straight to ask the price. 

The stall holder wanted a pound for the bag but I noticed that the item was brand new and also contained a toiletry bag and a hanging organiser as well as 3 lovely floral birthday cards, so that made it worthwhile. I handed over the pound and went away delighted with a neck pillow for me, a toiletry bag for Miss Shoestring, a hanging organiser for the gift cupboard and 3 birthday cards for the gift cupboard too.

At jumble sales it certainly pays to look at everything. I did not set out to purchase any of those items but when I saw a good deal I was able to take advantage of it.

Have you ever made a cheap impulse purchase because you know that a the deal will not be repeated ?

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Jumble Sale Haul 2

The second really good buy at the jumble sales were clothes. I arrived at the Women's Institute sale after they had already been going for half an hour and as the weather was very cold the number of shoppers was beginning to dwindle. I looked at a few items and then they announced 'fill a bag for a pound' ! This is very exciting for every jumble sale afiiciando as it means you can purchase a bag for 1 pound and then fill it with as many items as you can squeeze in. The only thing you are not sure about is what the size of the bag is going to buy ! This time I was very lucky as they handed over a dustbin bag to fill !

After an initial look I wasn't sure that there would be enough I wanted to fill a bag as I had said at the start of the year that we didn't need anymore clothes and I would only buy what we needed. However, as I was looking the lady from the linen stall ran over with 60 linen napkins and popped them in me bag, I had been looking at napkins earlier and that generous gesture made me realise that if I looked carefully I might find things to put away for later even if we didn't need then now.

I ended up with 13 items for Mr Shoestring including shirts and trousers from well-known brand names and 14 items for me, including the lovely Spring house from Marks and Spencer shown above. There were also a few fun items for Master Shoestring including a Dr Seuss onesie ! All told, not including the napkins I got 30 items of brand-name clothing for a pound. That makes an average cost of just over 3p each ! I can't dressmaker items that cheaply !

I know that some people only like to wear brand new clothing but my answer to that is if you sleep in hotel sheets you have no need to be squeamish about clothes as after a wash they are just the same as those hotel sheets !

Have you had hand-me-downs for your family or used a jumble sale for clothes ?