Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Off to Oxford

Off to take our own advice and be a tourist somewhere nearby. Oxford is about 1 hour's drive away and we've got a young American friend staying so we're off to show him and Master Shoestring around USAShoestring's alma mater.

It is a lovely town with a great bookshop and can be a frugal trip if you use the Park and Ride service and get the bus into town. The university is also cheap to attend if you get in as they offer generous grants to young people whose families are not well off.

Have a great day !

Monday, 30 May 2016

Approved Foods ?

I have sung the praises of Approved Food the bulk retailer which sells surplus food stock for manufacturers on here before but after today I'm not sure that they are offering such good value for money anymore.

I logged on to the website because there was a coupon for half price delivery and there were a few things we were running out of like fruit tea bags and baked beans. However, once I had loaded up the basket the postage was still enough to take the unit costs of the items out of the 'bargain' category and into the  ' more expensive than the supermarket ' one. This was true for the baked beans, for the organic tomatoes and the whole meal flour. Removing these heavy items from the basket meant that the spend went down so I no longer qualified for the discounted shipping so then the cost of the remaining items such as yeast and teabags increased enough that they were more expensive than the supermarket. So I left the basket and did not buy !

It was a good lesson in checking the real cost of everything rather than being seduced by the idea of a bargain. This is the third or fourth time this has happened so I think that is the end of my relationship with Approved Foods, good while it lasted but they are too expensive now and sell too much junk food from other countries which we can't use, so it's back to bargain food shopping on the high street rather than the internet !

Have you noticed food prices increasing where you are ?

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Happy Birthday to me !

A birthday today ! I love having been born at this time of year, all of them are lovely of course, but the late splendour of Spring is certainly something special. Mock orange, lilacs, apple blossom all in bloom and we had the first strawberries from the poly tunnel yesterday. So a good time for feasting and rejoicing and plenty of free and low-cost options to do it !

We have a friend from USA arriving this afternoon so that will be a special treat. All the lovely presents from family are things that I wanted and requested so that is good and they will all be put to use. I'm going to a free concert this afternoon and the meal tonight will be our normal Sunday roast but with a bit of extra cream on the dessert as I can't eat cake but I do like cream !

I was born the same day as Charles the Second and he is known as the Merry Monarch so I intend to live up to my birthday 'twin' today and make merry !

What do you do for your birthday ?

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Half Term Ideas 6

The final idea in this half term series is to find out what special events are on over the school holidays and go to a few of them. Usually they cost a few pounds to participate but as a final activity to add to all the free ones over the week that might be alright !

Round here we are very lucky that the town council puts on free concerts in the parks so as long as the weather is fine you can hear some very fine music and when the children are bored they can run off to play on the play equipment ! It is always fin to get something for nothing but we also all pay the community charge in one form or another so make the most of your contribution and find out what is going on in your area. The town or local council are usually the best places to try first and some of them even issue free magazines telling you what is going on for families over the summer.

What's your favourite free or low-cost event in your area ?

Friday, 27 May 2016

Half Term Ideas 5

The idea for Day 5 is also an old favourite, have a board game day ! This one does not involve pyjamas or popcorn as at least in the shoestring family someone is going to get chased around the garden for cheating at some point ! 

This is a great way of learning to play new games when you have plenty of time to master the rules and also to find out whether or not you still like your favourites or is it time to pass them on to someone else.

We have found that this idea works well with also playing some games outside like French cricket, rounders or doing a bit of chase.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Half Term Ideas 4

Here is another idea for when the weather is not so good, a pyjama and movie day. Everyone stays in their pyjamas, cuddles up and watches either favourite movies or new ones bought cheaply at jumble sales or rented frugally from the library.

This is one of Master Shoestring's favourite days and the Back to the Future Trilogy has yet to grow old for him !!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Half Term Ideas 3

We have been debating about whether or not to renew our National Trust membership this year as it is really expensive for a family now, close to a hundred pounds. Pictures like the one above from the county's country parks which are free to enter have made us decide not to renew this year anyway !

Which brings me to the third idea for half term, a mystery outing. Plan a trip to  somewhere you rarely go or have never been and then pack a picnic and set off. The crucial thing is not to tell the rest of your party where they are going so they can have all the fun of trying to work it out whilst you are on the way there. You can give a few clues and make sure that it is not too far away as I found little ones get restless if the trip takes much more than 30 - 45 minutes.

With older ones, when you arrive you can let them do there own thing and meet up at an agreed time, this works great if they bring along a friend. Over the years we have gone to all sorts of places, with pick your own farms being particularly popular, you get to eat fruit and bring some home, win-win in the Shoestring family !

Where is your favourite place for an outing ?

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Half Term Ideas 2

Day 2 of the half term ideas and this one is ideal if the weather is not so good or Master Shoestring has a friend over, have a bake-off or a cook-off. In true British Bake Off style parents are the judges after having given the instructions about what to make. Then sit back and wait for mess to appear !

We have had some hilarious results with Master Shoestring's friends over the years and the great win is that either you get a meal out of it or the friends get to take a batch of cakes home which is always very popular. For younger children this idea might include a stop at the library to borrow some really easy cook books and a stop at the shops to get all the ingredients. Older teenagers very much enjoy a cook-out or a barbecue which they can organise and then eat !

Monday, 23 May 2016

Half Term Ideas 1

Next week is the half term holiday in England and Wales. Scottish schools finish earlier and return earlier so no holidays for them yet ! But in case you are wondering what to do for free or nearly free next week, as you are saving up to go away in the Summer I'm going to run a series all week on ideas to do in half term. I found it really useful to have a plan for each day so that at least for a few hours we got out of the house or did something different !

First idea is be a tourist in your own-neck-of-the-woods. Have a look around your own town or village or one nearby. The picture above is from a free fairground organ museum which is within walking distance of our house and we have never been, so that is definitely going on the list. It would also be fun to ride on a bus or train and go somewhere you have never been before, perhaps to the terminus and back ! Many towns and villages have tourist trails and the map is free to download. Have a look at your neighbourhood with fresh eyes and see what is going on !

Sunday, 22 May 2016

A Frugal Week

Last week was a typical frugal week with a couple of no spend days and very little spent on food as we are coming to the end of the month and are using up what is left in the fridge, freezer and cupboards. Here’s a summary of what was spent :-

Monday - £5 top up for Master Shoestring’s electronic lunch money, with what he had left that was enough for the week.

Tuesday – No spend day

Wednesday - £10 oyster card top-up to get to an open evening but there’s still money left on the card

Thursday – No spend day

Friday - £3 on food, won’t need anything else this coming week

Saturday - £1 at the jumble sale, entrance fee and a new clock, £7 for husband to attend a local cultural event which we like to support.

Today – No spend day

Making a grand total of £26 pounds for the week. At last it looks as if we are on target to save more than 50% this month. Fingers crossed that we make it !

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Frogmore Paper Mill

Lovely visit here today, The Frogmore Paper Mill. Now it's run by a local volunteer trust but it was the first automated mill in the country. The nice thing about it being run by volunteers is that they are really passionate about what they do, they were full of extra information and went the extra mile to ensure that the visit was interesting for all. I thoroughly recommend a visit and a nice walk by the canal afterwards too !

Friday, 20 May 2016

What to do with old oranges

Over the past few weeks I've brought home quite a few oranges from work as nobody wanted them. Master Shoestring is the only one who eats them as other people are not allowed so they do tend to build up and get a bit old, then Master Shoestring won't eat them. I don't like to waste food, even if it was free so I grated the rind and froze it for cakes and squeezes out the juice and froze that for making ice lollies in the Summer ! No waste and I don't have anymore oranges looking sad on the counter !

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Open Evenings

One of the things I have been exploring recently is all the different organisations in the area to see which ones I might like to join once we have retired early ! Nearly all of them offer a free Open Evening with refreshments and a talk and it is a good chance to meet new people and find out about something new. This is the one I went to last night, somewhere I wouldn't normally think of going ! I met a lot of nice people, the talk was interesting and I got a free drink. An interesting night out for just the cost of transport.

Do your local organisations hold Open Days ?

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Muntjac Deer

This little chap has been coming to visit us in the garden. Last night it was making a terrific noise, barking and barking just outside Master Shoestring's window, so loudly that he could not get to sleep ! We think that there is a fox den in a corner of the front garden and speculated that perhaps the deer had lost a family member to the fox !

In the end Mr Shoestring had to go out and chase it off as it was making such a racket ! Who needs wildlife programmes, we've got live action happening in the front garden !

Tuesday, 17 May 2016


Just finished this little book on the nature and necessity of forgiveness. Although I was interested personally it also got me thinking that we also have to forgive ourselves for all the little and big mistakes we make including those with money ! It is toe-curling to think of all the money I wasted when I was younger !

I'm old enough to have got a grant to go to university and I remember that I spend almost the entire amount the first term on ski equipment and cassette tapes ! I had to live on diet milkshakes for the final 6 weeks and although I lost weight I really don't ever want to have to worry about money for food ever again ! I still don't like milkshakes.

The book closes with a very striking story from the first world war, I won't say what it is in case you want to read the book but it does make the case that without forgiveness we are destined to repeat the mistakes from the past. I don't want to do that and I don't suppose you do either so go ahead, forgive yourself and others !

Monday, 16 May 2016


I have spent just about 1 hour on the telephone to TalkTalk to try and sort out the internet problem we have. The first 25 minutes were to a call centre outwith the UK and they were no help at all. The poor chap just kept insisting that I did have an internet connection even when I did not ! The spotty internet service and no connection at all for parts of the day has been going on for over a week. In the end I asked for the number to cancel !

The cancellation people are based in this country and were able to re-set the router so that we have some connection then everything works much faster but the intermittent nature of the service is still there, so writing blogposts maybe a bit hit and miss until the problem is resolved ! We took out a contract with TalkTalk a while ago and it still has until 17th August to run, to buy ourselves our would cost over 47 pounds plus the cost of posting their equipment back to them. It would appear that they are trying to force us to pay to upgrade to fibre broadband ! I really don't want to have to pay them to go elsewhere but we do really need a decent internet connection as all of Master Shoestring's homework is now set online !

Watch this space !

Saturday, 14 May 2016

A Scavenger Hunt

One of the things we enjoy doing for fun with a big group of family or friends is going on a timed scavenger hunt. Depending on where we are the list might include spotting famous landmarks and taking a photograph of them or finding actual items and bringing them back to base ! We always make the hunt a timed one as otherwise the more competitive members of the family stay out for hours and the others get tired of waiting.

We have lists of sights for the local town and seasonal lists for the woods around the house. It is good fun to pair up an adult and a child and can work for all ages so we definitely recommend it !

Have you ever had a scavenger hunt ?

Friday, 13 May 2016

Thrifty Pizza

After our shocking adventure with takeaway pizza last week we tried making homemade pizza for Master Shoestring’s friends and doing a cost comparison.
The takeaway last weekend was £49 for 4 large pizzas. The cost for 4 similar size pizzas this weekend was 15p for flour, 1p for yeast , 1p for sugar, 34p for tinned tomatoes, garlic, onions and herbs free from the garden, cheese etc for toppings was £1 and electricity for cooking 40p making a grand total of  £1.91, say £2 to allow for the cost of doing the washing up instead of just recycling pizza boxes.

I asked Mr Shoestring to take a guess at how much each pizza was and even he over-estimated at just under £1 when in fact it was closer to 50p. Now of course, takeaway staff need to earn a living wage and there are premises to upkeep as well but given the cost saving and how much teenagers enjoy making their own pizzas I think we can safely say that the Shoestring family will never be visiting a takeaway pizza place again !!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Thrifty Giving

I have been looking at the very large amount we give to charity each month and deciding how to cut it down in monetary terms given that we hope to reach early retirement later on this year.  The first thing I did was use the website connected to the book “ The life you can save” to calculate what the new total should be. I was a bit shocked to see that we have been giving way over the suggested amount !

Then I started to work out how we could still contribute the same value but without using actual funds ! The first thing to think about was Giftaid, this is a government scheme which you can sign up for when you make a charitable pledge and guarantees that the charity will be given the tax you have paid on any contribution made, this works on giving goods as well as actual cash and increases the value of the donation by 25% if you are a basic rate tax payer. After we stop paying tax we won’t be able to use it but it is handy now.

I changed our donation amounts to take into account Giftaid and also started to use it on items donated to charity shops. The other thing I did was calculate the value in time of a monetary donation and sign up for some volunteer hours. The next thing was to find out which survey websites allow you to use your earnings to help charities and sign up for those. By the time I had finished we were still giving roughly similar amounts to the same organisations just in a different way, a definite Win-Win.

How do you give to charity ?