Saturday, 30 July 2016


Having a satellite navigation system has saved us quite a bit of money and inconvenience whilst we have been here.

Miss Shoestring bought it whilst she was over here in the Spring and gave it to me for my birthday.This was a useful present and saved us the 15 dollars a day  the hire company would have charged.

The first thing it helped us with was finding a grocery store off the interstate to buy a picnic. Then it was really helpful at finding a gas station in the middle of nowhere when the car was close to empty, in fact it has done this twice.

The last thing it is really good at it is giving directions to the places we want to go, it has a feature about Places of Interest and you can just enter the name of  the place, for  instance Mount Washington and it calculates the fastest route.

Knowing the fastest route has saved us quite a bit of gas and we have only filled up once since we arriveD. I like reading g maps and wasn't sure if a satellite navigation system was worth it but I think that I am a convert now.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Grocery spending

After last week,s spending on groceries of 148 dollars I was pleased to only spend 106 this week. We saved by going to 3 stores instead of 2 and I think the only way to get spending lower than that would. E to garden, buy in bulk and keep a price book, none of those things are very beactical on holiday ! I am glad that I cut down on groceries a bit before we left but I still think the FOOD part of the budget for July and August will be quite high. We have. Even trying g to work out why prices 're so high but I not really clear, I wonder if people are paid more ?

Thursday, 28 July 2016


Parking is good value f o r money over here. Most places we have been parking is free and where we have had to pay this has cost 25c an hour or less. Contrast this with the cost of parking in the UK watewhere parkinglmost never free,you get fined or clamped if you stay too lo g in thse shopping centre and I usually pay 60p to 1 pounds d an hour !

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Cinema Tickets

So we went to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster and were astounded at how little the tickets cost. We went to the film, all 3 of us for les than the cost of 1ticket in the UK. It was a beautiful cinemas well and we did not buy any snacks. So a frugal trip as the last time we went to the cinema was 8years  ago!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

We had a lovely day yesterday at Echo Lakke Beach, only 10 dollars for all of us, all day and it included parking, lifeguards at the beach h toilets with. Hanging cubicles. A beautiful spot and great value. State parks are something we shall definitely use whilst we are here !

Monday, 25 July 2016

Dollar Tree

We needed a thin screwdriver today to finish installing a window blind and USAShoestring did not have one thin enough, so off we went to buy one. We did not want to pay too much as it would probably never be used again. So after trying various places we tried Dollar Tree. We had noticed that some of the dollar stores no longer priced things at a dollar but that is not true at Dollar Tree. We got 2 screwdrivers the correct size and also noticed that they had some good packages of beans and rice all priced at a dollar so we will be going back there for a spot of grocery shopping later !

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Wow! Prices have risen !


Apologies for no pictures for the next couple of weeks but I am writing on Mr Shoestring's mobile device whilst we visit USAShoestring.

One of the first things we noticed as we landed in Toronto was how much the pound has fallen against other currencies, this makes things 20 percent more expensive anyway, so the hotel room on the first night was a real treat that we will not repeat on this trip. However it offered a free dinner and breakfast service where we could eat some of the food, so that saved quite a bit. Next dat buying food for a picnic lunch made me gasp. We left the highway and went to a value supermarket and still spent nearly 40 Canadian dollars, a small pierce of cheese was 8 dollars, gasp !

Buying food for a week here in USA has cost over 140 dollars, which is awful, so I'm going to be working hard to bring that down.

Good news is that petrol is very cheap, we filled up once on our trip from Toronto and  it only cost 40 Canadian dollars !

Talk to you some more tomorrow about what we find that is good value !

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Local Attractions 7

This is the High Street in Great Missenden which is famous for the pricey Roald Dahl museum. As locals we can go in for free one day a year and it is not worth paying for. The 2 items which are really interesting, his writing chair and room take about 2 minutes to see and if I had to pay I would be really disappointed as entry is not cheap !

Instead look up the 2 town trails, one is in town and takes you to sites which feature in Dahl's books, e.g.) the petrol pumps in Danny the Champion of the World. The other takes you for a  good tramp around the countryside to see other places featured in the books.

There are also free tennis coats and a skateboarding pipe here as well as a good play park and a football field. There is good train access and you can park for free for the first hour or so !

Friday, 22 July 2016

Denham and Thorney Country Parks

These 2 little country parks are quite close to Uxbridge and have good play parks for 12s and under. They also have toilets and a tea room and good walks beside the Grand Union Canal and the River Colne. You can pay 1 pound and get an orienteering map or a net to pond dip too. It can be a bit muddy so wear wells after it has been raining !

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Local Attractions 5

This is Langley Park, also quite close to Slough and a country park. The parking costs 2.50 all the time and there is a tea room and toilets. The setting is spectacular and there are plenty of places to picnic as well as trails to follow. Again this is for dry days, although we have wrapped up on wet ones and had the place to ourselves ! There is also a very good playground for younger children.

Local Attractions 4

This is the lake at Black Park just north of Slough. This country park has miles of trails to follow which you can negotiate with a buggy or pram or children on bikes and scooters and there are toilets ! Great when the weather is dry but maybe not so sunny. A real alternative to pricy National Trust entry. Not so good is the 2.50 parking fee during the week which rises to 3.50. You have to pay it otherwise you get a ticket, this has happened to us so be warned !

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Local Attractions 3

The Buckinghamshire County Museum is in the town of Aylesbury and has good access by train and bus. Parking is a bit more problematic but there are plenty of multi-storey car parks in the town and there is free parking at Aldi for 2 hours.

This museum has a great courtyard and is experimenting with Summer Sunday opening. The Roald Dahl gallery is a good alternative to the pricey museum in Great Missenden and there is a free exhibition on Islamic Art at present which is really good. Plenty of room for picnics so you can avoid the newly opened tea room if you want a no spend day !

Monday, 18 July 2016

Local Attractions 2

Another lovely local town, Chesham. It has a waterside trail, great charity shops, a huge park with birds and splendid play park, great library with full activity programme during the holidays and easy access by train. Highlight is the hidden old town which lies behind the modern day ring road. Great for a picnic on a warm day and has a soft play centre for wet ones, but that costs the price of a cup of coffee !

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Local Attractions for free

So, I'm starting my series about places to go for free, especially for those on holiday ! It will start with Week 1 based on local attractions i.e.) within a few miles.
Week 2 based on attractions within an hour's travel distance.
Week 3 Free things to do in London
Week 4 Free attractions near USAShoestring which we plan to visit on holiday

Lovely old town centre nearby called Amersham ! Great town trail, easy access by rail, super play parks, giant football field and lots of cafes and restaurants if you don't want to picnic. 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' filmed some inside scenes here and you can visit all the pubs along the High Street to try and guess which one. Special highlight, walking up the hill to the Matyrs Memorial

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Local Paper

I do not buy the local paper but a local supermarket gives it away for free on Fridays so if I'm passing I get a copy. I also use their website as it lists local jumble sales !

This week I was searching through for free events for the Summer holidays. They were featuring a whole supplement on ideas for keeping children busy, but every idea required an entrance fee and these were not listed in the supplement. I thought that this was a bit sneaky as some families will turn up to these venues and in order not to disappoint the family will end up paying an entrance fee they have not budgeted for !

There were no jumble sales this week, the season is really over until September when people are back from holiday, but there was free jazz fest listed, so that has been added to the diary.

I think that next week I might start a series on local things to do for free. Even if you are not local it might give others some ideas to look around their local area ! Last year we spent quite a bit on holiday in Ireland for things to do when the weather was bad so the series will also be a little reminder to me that this is not going to happen this year !

Friday, 15 July 2016

Nice surprise in the post !

I got a lovely surprise in the post today, a £5 voucher ! This arrived as a result of the Correctly Delivered post survey I did a couple of weeks ago. When I was signed out of the postal survey after 6 months the company asked if I wanted to take part in the other one. They said that there was a reward but I did not know what it was, I thought that it would be stamps !

For 2 weeks I clicked how many letters etc. were delivered to the house and whether any had been mis-addressed. It was so easy that on some days I forgot to do it and had to catch up. I was very surprised to get 5 pounds for so little work. Now I have £7 in these vouchers as the postal survey gave me 2 earlier in the year for posting a parcel.

I have signed up again for another 2 weeks in August, so with a bit of luck that will be another £5 and that will be nearly enough to purchase a book I need for a course I'm starting in the Autumn. A great wee freebie !

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Blackcurrant Jam

So I made some lovely blackcurrant jam with the four and a half pounds that I picked from the garden. Blackcurrants are fiddly to pick but jam for the cost of the sugar and heat is well worth it ! In total I got seven and a half pounds of jam and half a jar for trying out !

This was too large a quantity for a small pan so the jam pan was brought out of the cupboard. It is important to make this jam slowly as once you add the sugar the skins on the blackcurrants will not soften any further.

1 pound of blackcurrants
1 pint of water
1 1/4 pounds of sugar

Soften the blackcurrants in the water until all the juice is out and the skins are floating on the top. I do this by leaving the pan on a low heat and going away to do something else.
Stir in the sugar, you don't need pectin as the blackcurrants contain plenty already. Again leave the pan on a low heat and gradually turn it up so that the sugar dissolves slowly and does not burn on the bottom of the pan. In the meantime you can sterilise your jars and lids and put a saucer in the fridge for the setting test.

Finally bring the pan to a rolling boil and leave it there for 5-10 minutes then test for the setting point by putting a teaspoon of jam on the cold saucer. If the skin on the jam wrinkles when you push it with your finger then setting point has been reached.

Bottle the  jam and leave to cool down before labelling ! Enjoy !

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Mending the Slow Cooker

One of the slow cookers has a single knob on the lid like the one above and last week the knob sheared off. Mr Shoestring tried to mend it with some superglue, but this Sunday whilst using the cooker for a steamed date pudding the knob came off again. I think that the heat somehow melted the superglue !

I really didn't want to get rid of the slow cooker, as although it is 8 years old, it still works fine. But with no knob lifting the hot lid was dangerous. Mr Shoestring to the rescue, he fashioned a new lid from the remains of the old one and some plastic tap washers and fastened it on with some screws from his ' IT-WILL-COME-IN-HANDY-ONE-DAY' box. This is a box I frequently think is full of rubbish, but clearly I was wrong !

Now the slow cooker is fine, the repair cost nothing and never again will I eye that handy box of bits and pieces with an view to recycling !

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

How to save money in and out of London

Mr Shoestring and I are going to be working in London for a bit in the Autumn and I have been trying to work out ways to cut down how long the commute takes and save some money as well.

We did it this morning and walked to the station from our house which is exactly 1 mile and takes about 20minutes, cost nothing.

Then we got a tube train to Kings Cross and then on to the closest station to work and that took 1 hour, then we walked the last bit which took 15 minutes. Cost £7 and time taken was 1 hour 35 minutes.

On the way back it cost a bit less £5.70 as it wasn't peak time and took a bit longer, 1 hour and 55 minutes as we had to wait for the train. So it was cheap but very time-consuming, nearly 4 hours.

When we do it regularly we will be travelling at peak times so the return cost will be £14 for the main train plus a bus or taxi at each end as the nights draw in and rainy days get even more frequent.

So I started to investigate car parking. Almost impossible to find, but then I discovered that the local authority rents out spaces it does not use at the very reasonable rent of just over £5 a week. Having a parking space would mean that I could drive door to door in 1 hour and 5 minutes . The round trip would need 1 gallon of fuel, cost around £5 so less time and cheaper ! I'm going to try it out on Thursday when I have to be in work for 0730 and see if it works ! My brother does something similar and I didn't believe him when he said that driving in London was quicker and cheaper.

I do have asthma and did worry about bringing another car into the capital but the car has almost 0 emissions, too low to pay the congestion charge so I think it will be alright ! I'll let you know !

Monday, 11 July 2016

Mango Sorbet

You might remember from the start of the month I said that I was going to make mango sorbet rather than buy it. I used to do this quite regularly as Mr Shoestring is not supposed to eat sugar, now with new medication he does not have to be so strict so a weekly treat of Aldi sorbet at 1.89 for 900ml seemed fine. However, this month we are cutting back so I used a tin of coconut milk, reduced to 40p and a large tin of mango puree from Asda months ago, price 1.20 to mix up a simple no- sugar sorbet.

Usually I use the ice cream maker but it has a bowl that needs to go in the freezer 24 hours before you use it and I forgot so I just stirred it a few times with a fork once it had started to freeze in the freezer. I got 1300ml for 1 pound and 60p so that was a bargain and it was money I had already spent in the stockpile so it was a real win, especially as it is all still sitting in the freezer !

Normally we eat sorbet as a treat on Saturdays, but yesterday we ate strawberries from the garden, they were free, my favourite price !

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Free Biscuits !

Lovely treat yesterday ! I went into the supermarket and noticed that a few people in front of me getting a shopping trolley and with it a free packet of Bahlsen biscuits and a voucher to buy another packet. When I didn't get a packet I was bold enough to approach the promotions chap and ask him for one !

This was too good an opportunity to miss. Back in the 80s when Mr Shoestring ran a speciality store the arrival of the Bahlsen rep was a big event. The store was the only one in Scotland which stocked their biscuits at the time, as there was a large German population living in the neighbourhood and they missed these biscuits ! We learned to love them too ! Now they are too expensive to buy and the only time we have them is when we visit someone.

So coming home with a multi-pack of Bahlsen's new Pick me Up ! biscuit was greeted with joy by the family ! Well at least Miss and Mr Shoestring the rest of us can't eat them ! Oh good they said all the more for us ! But they are quite filling so there are still 3 left in the cupboard as I write ! Very exciting to get such a nice treat for free !

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Holidays !

My holiday from work has started ! Lots of time to catch up on all those jobs in the house and garden which I never get round to at any other time ! Lots of strawberries and blackcurrants need picking and the whole garden needs a good weeding, it's like a jungle out there ! Here's hoping for some good weather ! I also have  a plan for a bit of a re-vamp to include more flowers, we'll see after I have finished all the weeding !

Friday, 8 July 2016

Menu planning with a holiday in mind

We are off to see USAShoestring on 19th July and will stay until 9th August. With this in mind I needed to change the way I planned the menu.  I was keen to leave some money in the shopping purse as the pound has fallen against the dollar and things will not appear so cheap when we get over there. With school lunches up until we go to pay for as well , the grocery budget is going to be a bit tight and I can't plan on eating as many leftovers either.

So I inventoried what we already had in stock and then decided that we could afford to spend around 30 pounds a week which included all meals and snacks. Whole roast chicken came off the menu and on went meat loaf made with yellow-stickered pork mince which was reduced to 1.24 pounds for 500g, this is half the price of chicken. I also bought more lentils and split peas and added some extra chopped tomatoes which were 5 tins for  a pound, a really good price. I was going to make bean burgers with kidney beans but when I found chickpeas at 5 tins for a pound these were cheaper than value kidney beans at 30p a tin. Dried beans would have been even cheaper but I couldn't find them this month.

Chocolate and sorbet came off the menu and I'll make some crispie cakes using cocoa we already have and sorbet from some tinned mango puree and coconut milk we already have on hand. Starting a few weeks holiday from work will also mean that I can make more time consuming dishes from scratch and that will help the budget as well.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Keeping carrots

So I decided that the great price on carrots of 45p a kilogram was a price worth stocking up on. What to do with 10kg of carrots though ?

Freezing is the obvious answer but carrots do not do so well in long-term freezer storage unless they are blanched. This means putting them in boiling water for 3 minutes and then cooling quickly. Then you have to wait for them to dry and lay out of trays to freeze all the carrot discs separately else you get a big lump of carrots in your freezer bags.

This is quite a lot of work but with it if the price is this cheap as a kilogram of cheap frozen carrots is around 90-100p. It's up to you to decide if all that work in the kitchen is how you want to spend your afternoon as it also means chopping all the carrots and peeling them ( I don't bother with peeling as a lot of the goodness disappears with the peel, you can make good vegetable stock with the peelings though !)

So now we are all stocked with carrots for the winter !

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Shopping around for a Boiler Service

This year I cancelled our contract for boiler maintenance as it was going to cost over 300 pounds a year. The central heating boiler is a condensing one but it is now 8 years old and all the companies wanted nearly 1/3 of the cost of a new one just to have an annual boiler service and the insurance if it breaks down. With no small children in the house I decided that we would self-insure and save the money towards a new boiler.

That meant finding a different company to do the annual safety check. An internet search identified what I thought was a bargain, 50 pounds, but it turned out that the company was in Northern Ireland so could not come to us ! Next stop all the national companies where we were quoted between 79 and 90 pounds.

These prices seemed a bit steep so today I called round local heating firms, also rather expensive, between and 82 and 94 pounds. I told them that British Gas could do it for 79.80 so I would not be booking with them. Half an hour later I got a call from one of the firms who said that they would have an engineer in the area today and could do it for 69 pounds. A bargain says I and duly book the appointment.

Now the nice chap who came did do a proper job in about 15 minutes which was rather quick but then added VAT to the bill so it was over 82 pounds ! I'm sticking with British Gas next time and saving 4 pounds !!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Chopping up a storm

When I went shopping last weekend I had a clear list and a limited amount to spend. One of the ways I saved was by buying the fresh vegetables on offer and then chopping them up to put in the freezer.

I bought 1 month's worth for each, celery at 29p a bunch and peppers at 79p for 500g. The celery worked fine, wash and chop and then put straight into freezer bags. This is good for 2 months in stir fries and casseroles. I am torn between the idea of making a large saving and just going to buy a year's supply at that price since it is so cheap and knowing how much work blanching that amount of celery would be. The thing is that beyond 2 months celery does not keep so well in the freezer and needs to be 'blanched' or boiled for a few minutes and then reapply cooled. This is not so much work for 1 head of celery but for 12? I am still thinking about it.

Similarly with peppers. The price for the ready frozen ones used to be 1 pounds a kilo, now it is still 1 pounds but you only get half the amount at 500g ! So when I spotted fresh peppers at 79p for 500g I thought that I would chop them myself. This did not work out so well. For a start the big was not 500g when I got home only 487g, then once I had chopped them up the amount of pepper I was left with was also rather less. Perhaps I will carry on buying the ready frozen variety !

The last offer was 45p a kg for carrots. This is less than half price compared to the bargain frozen and fresh vegetable. I have bought 1 packet to use this week and I'm going to think about whether to go back for more as carrots need blanching as well !

Monday, 4 July 2016

The June Reckoning

We had quite a few expenses in June, especially replacing the satellite dish to get Freesat, but that should save money in the long run. We also gave more to charity than usual with a donation for the confirmation and some donations to the school where I am going to be a trustee. 

It was also interesting to see that petrol costs have been consistently over 200 pounds a month since we started having to take Master Shoestring to his new school. We are currently researching bus options but none of them seem to go or leave at times that match the school day. Food was also slightly higher as we are paying for school lunches as well.

 Good news was on book spending which has been cut significantly, even with paying for out of county library services. telephone and internet cost was also up a bit as we had to pay off TalkTalk and pay to join BT, this should even itself out over the course of the year.

So even with a bit of extra spending we managed to save 53% of our income, which is not too shabby ! This month I am aiming on keeping the grocery budget extra low so that we will have a bit extra to spend on holiday as we may not be able to bulk buy etc. whilst away.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Trip to Whipsnade

This week we enjoyed a lovely trip to Whipsnade Zoo for free. Tesco Clubcard points can be exchanged for vouchers, 2.50 of vouchers gives you 10.00 worth of zoo entry vouchers and given that the family ticket costs 70 pounds this was a big saving. The other way to save is to go in the off season which starts at the end of October. The opening hours are the same but the zoo is a lot quieter.

We thought that free was an excellent price and especially enjoyed all the extras. The zoo is on a spectacular site on the edge of the Chiltern escarpment which means that the views are great and there is a fantastic outdoor playground, with equipment large enough for older children. There is also an indoor playground and a miniature steam railway.

We really enjoyed the consistent conservation message that came across throughout the day, they were even handing out sustainable fish leaflets during the penguin talk so we could all go home and shop responsibly. There was a great sea lion show, a wonderful bird show and other events throughout the day and we thought that it was a great day out. Not for 70 pounds, that would have been too much but for free it was amazing !!

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Not giving for leaving gifts !

Once in a while I will give to a collection at work, especially if a colleague is going to be left out of pocket but not otherwise. There are over 80 members of staff at work, nearly all of them better off than me and I think that my money is better off going to buy something useful like a solar cooker or a hot meal for a primary school child rather than plant or a trinket for someone who already has lots of stuff. I do always write a message in the card. This year one of the people who is leaving has been there for a considerable length of time and is downsizing, he has asked not to be given any more stuff, I thought that was very good when I first heard it but then the message explained that he wanted to buy a piece of land in Scotland so we were going to be making contributions towards that ! Buying land as a leaving gift is definitely out of my league, so he'll be getting my signature on a card like usual !!

Friday, 1 July 2016

A useful birthday present

So Master Shoestring has asked for one of these for his birthday plus a choice of something he sees when we are in the USA this Summer. A very sensible choice, only hope it will be large enough to carry home whatever he chooses as the second half of his pressie !