Wednesday, 30 November 2016

St Andrew's Day

Today is St Andrew's Day and as Scots, with nearly all our extended family still there, it is a chance to talk about the country and eat delicious food !

St. Andrew was a brave guy and Scots people are famous for their tough, shrewd character and for being careful with the pennies !

If you ever get the chance to go to the town of St Andrews on the East coast of Scotland it is well worth giving the golf course a miss and exploring the old town and church there. Monuments to a time when the Celtic Church was flourishing ! 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

IKEA Christmas tree deal

We were in two minds about whether to drive to IKEA for this year's pay £25 for a tree and get a £20 voucher for the store. However, having researched the prices of other real trees we have decided that it is worth it. We need a few, new pillows and other people are charging over £25 for smaller trees so Mr Shoestring is going to use his free day to go and get one today.

We put up the tree on Christmas Eve so he will make a cut in the trunk and store it outside in a bucket of water until we need it. If we leave it any longer to get one then they will all be gone. A bit of effort means that we get a Christmas tree for £5 and then can take our time choosing some pillows in the New Year.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Money Saving Show

If you can access televisions shows from the United Kingdom then I can recommend the Money Saving Show by Martin Lewis on ITV tonight at 8pm. Last week's show was all about saving money on your energy bills and this week's will be all about getting a better rate on your savings.

Although Martin also has a great website, moneysaving seeing him help people live save hundreds of pounds was very motivating and he also shared some tips which were brand new. I am especially looking forward to tonight's show on saving as we have a substantial sum of money languishing in an ISA which paying under 1% interest ! So I'd like to move it somewhere more profitable !

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Pause in Advent

Here is a poem we often say at Advent time, it reminds us to be a light unto the world.

The gift of the light
I thankfully hold
And pass to my neighbour
Its shining gold
That everyone may
Feel its glow,
Receiving and giving
May love and grow.

When all our bothers
Have lit their light
No more shall continue
The darkness of night;
But joyful all men
The message shall hear;
" The Christ draws near!"

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Advent Spiral

This weekend is the time of advent spirals round here. A spiral of greenery is laid out on the floor and a big candle is left burning in the middle. One by one children enter to light their little candle, held in an apple, from the large one. Then they place their lit candle somewhere on the spiral. Afterwards adults can light a candle too if they wish. The lighting of the candles is accompanied by music and singing and gradually the whole room fills with light. We look forward to the coming of the Light which overcometh the darkness !

Friday, 25 November 2016

Frugal Things this week

This week I saved money by :-

coming home early from a meeting so I did not have to pay peak charges.
planning my holiday food shopping so that I can use an £8 off a £40 spend at the supermarket.
collecting some more free pallets for wood to burn.
moving our savings to an account where they can earn interest.
packing my own meals and drinks when I had to stay late at work one night.
changing the station where we got off one night to go to another event thus saving two trips.
researching petrol costs.
calculating our spend to the end of the month and then transferring the leftover money into savings so it can not be touched.
not buying any Black Friday deals !

Thursday, 24 November 2016


Unlike our North Atlantic cousins October/November in Europe are not seasons of thanksgiving but that seems a pity. So today let's see how many things we can be thankful for . Here's a list of ten to get you started:-

1) I have food in the fridge.
2) I have clothes to wear.
3) I have a place to call home.
4) My home is safe.
5) I have money in the bank.
6) I have money and resources to share.
7) I have more health than illness.
8) Modern medicine has cured me of illnesses which would previously have meant I died.
9) My family all have good health care.
10) The Earth is a beautiful place to live.

I've only just got started, I'll keep counting on the way to work !

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Why you don't need a smartphone

I was a bit shocked at my course this week to hear that we all needed to give the organiser our mobile telephone number so we could use apps to talk to one another about the course. I do not have a smartphone and have no intention of getting one. In addition, my work at present is very strict about any online presence of their staff. I explained that I would not be participating and felt very off doing so.

Later I just felt cross that the expectation in colleges today is that everyone will own an expensive, unnecessary bit of technology. So I put together a list as to why a smartphone is a definite want rather than need.

1) They are expensive and a pay as you go cheap model will fulfil any communication needs very well.
2) They encourage inattention to your surroundings and the number of people who have been injured on the roads and pavements is increasing because of their use.
3) People use them in their motor cars and this is downright dangerous.
4) The blue light they emit stops you going to sleep.
5) The expensive ones are targets for thieves.
6) They encourage bullying at school.

I can see that they are useful for some people e.g.) students who change living place often and last week when we were stranded on a broken down train several people used their smartphone to look up alternative routes. But the norm, something you must have like food and shelter, I don't think so !

Monday, 21 November 2016

Supermarket Reductions

We enjoyed a few unexpected treats today thanks to some excellent supermarket reductions. First were two big boxes of cut up exotic fruit for 25p each. A real treat with lunch at this time of year !

Second treat was the lovely soup, made with the 13p packet of soup vegetables.

Third treat was the delicious salad sandwiches to go with the soup made with a 13p packet of baby salad leaves.

Altogether a great find at a time of year when fruit and salad can be rather expensive !

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Planning holiday menus

At the end of this week I shall probably be doing my grocery shopping for December, so this week we had a chat with the family about what we would like to have to eat over the holidays. We already have a turkey, bought half price last Easter ! We already have potatoes, bought from the farmer at less than 30p a kilo ! We already have brussels sprouts, bought reduced in Waitrose a few weeks ago and the pudding and cake are already made.

The other things we decided on are pizza and ice cream for Christmas Eve, roast parsnips and carrots for Christmas dinner plus sausages wrapped in bacon. I shall use bacon pieces and ordinary sausages cut into pieces rather than paying extra for small ones. I shall also get some cream and coconut cream to go with the pudding. Boxing Day we shall have leftovers as everyone said that this is their favourite part of Christmas food. So I shall have to make sure that I cook enough on Christmas Day. They also want turkey sandwiches and Christmas cake for Christmas Day tea. After that we shall return to the normal menu plan. We shall have sparkling apple juice to drink, made with sparkling water and homemade apple juice which I have in the freezer.

Planning ahead like this means that I do not buy too much food which then goes to waste.

We also planned our Christmas baking and I explained to Miss Shoestring that she cannot have a whole Stollen to herself !!

A Thought-provoking Film

We saw this film last night, thanks to our lovely Lovefilm gift from Miss Shoestring last year ! I found it very thought provoking given all the talk there is in the news about building walls. It showed that even if people do build walls and collectively refuse to acknowledge the humanity of others there is still something that individuals can do. One man, whom I had never heard of was determined to go beyond what he was asked to do and rescue others as well. All whilst abiding by the rule of law.

I was very taken by the central character and was intrigued to read that he went on to negotiate the release of people interned after the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Asked to work on behalf of just over 1000 people he eventually negotiated the release of over 9000. I found that so encouraging ! Most people would never have heard the name of that compassionate lawyer before the film was made but he made a difference. Let's resolve to do that too. Whether it's a donation to the local food bank or a smile for a hard working retail worker when the shop is heaving with bargain hunters. Make a difference this week !

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Frugal Luxuries I am enjoying this weekend

The biggest frugal luxury this weekend is sleeping late rather than getting up at 0545 to catch the train into the city. I look just like Charlie Brown as I realise that lovely fact. A few extra hours in my own bed beats a fancy weekend trip away hands down !

Next frugal luxury is having USAShoestring home for a bit. We can talk to him anytime and hear in detail all about his life. Miss Shoestring is also home this weekend so for the first time in a year the whole family is together and that is a luxury you cannot buy.

Next frugal luxury is having a bit more time as I do not have to write an assignment for the course this week ! There is a big assignment coming up but the due date is much later on so I do not have to do extra work this weekend.

Another frugal luxury is that Mr Shoestring has done all the housework already so I do not have to spend Saturday morning cleaning, a lovely gift !

Final frugal luxury, we have everything we need to have a lovely weekend right here at home, so I am going to enjoy it ! I hope that you have a great weekend too !

Friday, 18 November 2016

Frugal Things we did this week

Now that the weather is getting colder and the petrol prices have started to rise we have been careful to batch errands. So I went to the library, shopping and to collect Miss Shoestring from the station all at once rather than three separate trips.

We only topped up our travel cards and Master Shoestring's lunch card once they had run down to £1 left on them.

We ate leftovers for several meals and put cake that was getting a bit stale into the freezer for use in trifle over the holidays.

We trash picked wood and stored it in the garage to help it dry out.

We used electric space heaters in rooms during the day rather than turning on the central heating to heat the whole house.

We wore thermal underwear so that once the house had reached 18C we could turn off the central heating and be comfortable as the temperature gradually went down again.

We arranged to collect USAShoestring from the kerb at the airport so we did not have to pay for parking.

We used the timer for the heating and hot water so they stayed on for a maximum of 6 hours in the day.

I only bought what I needed when I went shopping, spending £8.66 this week rather than looking out for bargains.

We gave Master Shoestring an alarm clock I had got for free at a jumble sale rather than going to buy a new one. I keep a small stock of little items like that that I have picked up for very little so that when we do need something like a new alarm clock I have one on hand.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Hospitality for Guests

USAShoestring arrives today to wait for the renewal of his visa. He is not sure how long it might take but it could be several weeks so we have been busy making his room comfortable for him. We have been using it as a games room so it needed turning back into a guest room.

The first thing was making up the bed with linens which we just keep for guests. This makes sure that they do not get too much wear so they look nice when the guest arrives. Similarly with towels. We always put out a flannel, a hand towel and two bath towels so there are plenty of showering and also make sure that the bathroom has clean towels and has been cleaned before a guest arrives. In extreme cases, the children are told not to use the bathroom to make sure it stays clean !

Then we make sure that there is a good reading light for night time and plenty of storage space for clothes and a suitcase. Then we check that the internet connection is working in that room and that there is information on how to access it. If it is someone who might want to work whilst they are with is we also make sure that there is a desk or table in the room that they can work at.

Final checks are that the curtains draw properly and keep out the light and that the heating is on and working. On arrival guests are also shown where to find spare blankets and pillows and how to make a hot drink.

All of this should ensure that they have a comfy stay with you !

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Planting Garlic

This week we are planting garlic, before the soil becomes too cold or wet. Inspired by the Grow Your Own magazine from the library Mr Shoestring is after some new varieties to try, perhaps some elephant garlic as he would like some big cloves for roasting. Since we still have some garden vouchers from a gift this experiment will not cost us anything extra. Normally we just save the cloves from one harvest to plant to get the next.

Garlic is easy to plant and grow and the birds and other creatures leave it alone as they do not like the strong taste and smell making it a reliable crop. You need well-manured soil and a reasonable dry day, then just separate the cloves in the bulb and plant away, not too close. Cover them over and they will start to sprout. A bit of weeding in between and then harvest next year once the necks start to turn brown. It is very important to dry them off properly before storage as otherwise they will go mouldy.

Well worth it if you like garlic to add flavour to things as growing your own is much cheaper than buying in the shops.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Going to the Library

I was sorely tempted to go off to another jumble sale this week to find more books to read on the commute. However, the weather was wet and cold, the sale was quite some way away and the entrance fee was a pound as it was in a very affluent area. I have been to this sale before and often found that they charge quite a bit more than others, so in the end I stayed home. That meant a trip to the library once the weather had improved a bit.

Sometimes I am looking for books to make me think on the journey but this week I was looking for enjoyable, light reads to recover from assignment writing for my course. I was delighted to find the new book above. I really enjoy Karen Kingsbury and although I have not read the first one in the series I'm sure that this will be a good read.

I also got the November edition of Grow your Own magazine, which would have cost £4.99 new and the November edition of Country Living so I was well pleased with a lovely haul of reading material for free ! Sometimes NOT going to the jumbles sale is the best choice !

Monday, 14 November 2016

Trash Picked Wood

We did really well with finding firewood this weekend as the builders are still working on the house which is being renovated. It is very kind of them to put out all the spare wood rather than throwing it into the skip.

However, we had to work a bit harder this week as there was also lots of scrap wood which was not suitable for burning. Anything with varnish on or which has been treated in any way should not go into the wood stove but rather on to a bonfire. This is because it can create fumes and residue in your chimney which can lead to a chimney fire.

So I spent quite a bit of time in the rain picking through the pile. I only took the untreated wood which did not have any nails in it, as Mr Shoestring has already pulled out a lot of nails. They are sitting in a little pile by the wood burner !

Later on, Mr Shoestring went back for the big pallet which the pile had been sitting on and now the garage contains a sizeable pile of wood for him to cut up in the dry. I do recommend gloves for this sort of thing as I did not have them on Saturday and got cold, muddy hands !

Sunday, 13 November 2016

St. Martin's Lantern Walk

Last Friday was the St. Martin's Lantern Walk at the school where I am working this term. It is a popular festival in continental Europe but little known in the English speaking world. The saint's day is 11th November so is often overshadowed by Armistice and Veterans' Day. Martin was a Roman soldier to begin with, before sharing his cloak with a beggar one stormy November day and realising that he was called to a Christian way of life. Martin's commanding officer accused him of cowardice when he asked to leave the army and made him face the enemy alone and naked. Martin was not afraid and when everyone saw his courage they left him alone. He made his way to France to become a monk and eventually Bishop of Tours.

Martin always reminds me that it takes courage to live your convictions when the way of the world is so different. Martin shows us how to shine a light into a dark world, just as the children shine a light with their lanterns in to the dark, November evening. The message of the festival is one of hope and sharing what we have, so that all are better off. I think that this is a good message to remember. Just like Martin we always have something we can share, even if it is just a smile !

Saturday, 12 November 2016

A Penny Pinching Book Review

The lady who wrote this book has a website as well, donna but I first started reading her when we lived in the USA and she was experiencing very tough times. The advice was always very sensible and do-able but also really clear. I think the new website is not quite so hard- core frugal, for instance it gives away gift cards now, which would not have been possible a few years ago I don't think. However, the advice in this book is based on her tough times and I think it has made a good addition to my bookshelf.

The book opens with a suggestion that you make a plan to see how little money you can live on over a month in an emergency and see whether you have enough savings to cover that. We have done this in the past but it was a good reminder to try it again. The each chapter takes one area and talks about how you could get spending down to the bare minimum in that area. For instance for Housing, could you find a job that provides it ?

I liked this book as it reminded me just how little we could live on if we had to and was also a good reminder to start rebuilding those savings after we have helped the children out a lot this year !

Friday, 11 November 2016

Frugal Things we have done this week

The most frugal thing we did this week was cancelling the visit from the telephone engineer. We had no telephone or internet from Tuesday until Thursday and then it all just started working again on Thursday night. The telephone engineer was due on Friday afternoon at a cost of £129.99, so cancelling him was a very time consuming business but well worth it !

With no internet there was no browsing for anything going on so I 'm sure that contributed to a very low grocery spend this week of £2.62 just for tomatoes and bananas.

We also fetched some pallets for firewood; scored some great jumble sale bargains; baked pumpkin bread out of the Halloween pumpkin; made our own chocolate ice cream; baked a blackberry and apple pie out of foraged fruit and added an extra cheap book to an Amazon order to make sure that we did not have to pay postage !

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Treating a Cold the Frugal Way

This is what Master Shoestring was looking like over the past weekend. He had a cold and this is very rare for him. He was feeling very miserable. So the first thing we did was make sure that there were plenty of cloth hankies about. These are much less scratchy on your nose and are much less expensive per use than tissues.

The second thing we did was light the wood burner so there was somewhere nice and warm to hang out whilst he was feeling low.

The third thing we did was make plenty of hot drinks for him, to cut the mucus and help with a scratchy throat.

The fourth thing we did was check his temperature as cold remedies from the chemist often contain paracetemol to help with aches and pains and fever, but you don't really need this unless you want to lower a fever. He is a teenager now so can tale adult paracetemol. When the children were younger we always had the junior syrup in the house as earaches in the middle of the night are quite common in youngsters with a cold.

The fifth we did was give him a hand with all his weekend obligations so that he could spend time on recovering !

Doing all of these things did not cost a penny and helped him feel much better !

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Cutting up pallets for firewood

One of the things we have been doing quite a lot lately is cutting up pallets for firewood. Our normal wood supplier did not come after we put in an order so the wood store had a few gaps and we had been talking about what the best way to fill them would be.

Just down the road a house is being completely re-furbished and they had put out some pallets with a sign 'Free Firewood' a few weeks ago. We got some then and also went back the following week when they had out some odds and ends of new timber which they did not need.

This weekend there were four more pallets left out. These have filled in the gaps in the wood shed very nicely and all for free !

Mr Shoestring says that if you are going to use pallets you will need a hammer to lever the nails out and a good saw. He has just bought a new one so no problems there. However, he said that if you are going to cut wood regularly the saw will get blunt quickly and you will get very tired sawing with a blunt saw. So make sure that your saw is in goof order before you start !

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Jumble Sale Haul for Master Shoestring

The jumble sale on Saturday was at a secondary school so I went in hope that I might find some school uniform which was not too worn ! Sure enough, the ladies at the sale were prepared and had sorted out the uniform items and were charging slightly more for them, that the other jumble sale clothes.
I did not mind because all the I got 4 items for £2, which was 50p an item.

The first thing I spotted was a pair of black school trousers. Boys trousers in teenage sizes are very hard to find, as they are either worn out or a funny shape. These were fine and the right size for next year, which will be the last year that Master Shoestring has to wear uniform so those were grabbed !

The next things to be grabbed were 3 long-sleeved school shirts, which were also in the correct size for next year. I just had to check that they were shirts and not blouses !

The trousers would have cost £6.50 new from the cheapest supplier and were from Marks and Spencer, so more expensive than I usually buy. The shirts would have been £3.25 new so instead of spending £16.25 I got the lot for £2 and know that the money will be going to after school clubs at the school. So although the price was higher than usual at a jumble sale I still think that I got a bargain !

Monday, 7 November 2016

Jumble Sale Haul for me

I did well at the jumble sale on Saturday, only buying what we needed and getting really nice things. I bought two Marks and Spencer nighties, rather like the one above for £1 each. As they were very nearly new I thought that this was a good price.

I also got 3 pairs of brand new Marks and Spencer knickers for 95p !

Finally, a new CD for 50p. It turned that I didn't like it enough to keep so that will be going in the charity box !

Did you find anything nice last week ?

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Roasting a Pumpkin

One of the things I look forward to doing after Halloween is roasting the leftover pumpkin. It is so simple to do and makes the most of something which otherwise would have been wasted. All you have to do is cut up the remaining pumpkin into pieces and then place in a hot oven for 20 minutes. It is done when you can see the flesh beginning to char, it is soft and has small beads of moisture on it.

Leave it to cool down a bit, but not tho far and then scrape the cooked flesh into a bowl. You can mash it up with a fork and then freeze in cup portions ready for pumpkin loaf, muffins and pies !

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Frugal Bonfire Night

The most frugal way to celebrate Bonfire Night is to stay home and watch everyone else's fireworks out of the window and we have done this when the children were very small. They were allowed to stay up in pyjamas and sit around the fire waiting for the bangs ! They would have been woken up anyway.

Next most frugal thing is to have a party at home with a bonfire and sparklers and put the emphasis on lots of homemade food and fun in the dark. This worked well when the children were primary school age.

Final option is to buy a family ticket to an organised display or arrange one in your backyard with a strict budget limit.

The last few years we have done a home display but Master Shoestring wants bigger explosions this year so we'll be spending the same amount on tickets for an organised display if the weather is good. Otherwise, we will be back to peeking out of the window as we live on top of a hill and get quite a good view of the fireworks in the valley below !

Friday, 4 November 2016

Frugal Things this Week

This week we searched for car insurance online and discovered after all that effort that renewing with our current insurer is the cheapest option. Miss Shoestring was a bit disappointed as she had hoped to be added to the insurance this year but with such a big rise in costs we have said that the cheapest thing she can do is buy an old car and begin to make her own no claims discount.

The other frugal thing we did was shop around for a car repair. Initially another garage quoted a cheaper price and a guarantee but when we went back to book the job the price had risen !

This week we also made Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat and put them away for later.

I also decreased the grocery bill by looking for yellow-stickered meat items and changing the meal plan to accommodate them. We have so much in the freezer now I 'll probably be able to use some of it in December.

It has also been quite mild here so we moved the central heating off the timer and only switch it on manually when the indoor temperature is at 16C, which has hardly happened this week at all.

Thursday, 3 November 2016


This week I was tempted by the Lidl Delicious selection of fudge to add to a Christmas present, so I bought some at £1.79. When we looked inside the packet the contents were less than half the size of the box and not nicely packaged, just loose in a plastic bag with writing all over it. It definitely would not make a nice present ! Mr and Miss Shoestring confirmed that it tasted alright and promptly ate it all up but I realised that for a present I would have to head over to the Carnation milk website and use their recipe to make some of my own.

There are various fudge recipes online but I have found that the Carnation milk one is very reliable and makes loads, it also has only 4 ingredients. So I had another lesson reinforced, homemade is always better !

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Christmas Cake

I was really pleased with the way the Christmas cakes turned out this year. I split the mixture into 2 smaller tins and baked it for an hour less and they turned out great ! This is the recipe.

12oz plain flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1 1/2 oz oil
8oz soft brown sugar
8oz sultanas
6oz currants
5oz raisins
1oz candied peel
2oz cherries
finely grated rind of a lemon
1/2 pint rice milk
1 tbsp baking powder

Mix all the ingredients together and split between 2 greased 8 inch tins. Bake for 1 hour at 180C then lower the oven to 160C for a further half an hour, Check to see if the cakes are cooked and then cool until completely cold. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


I do not always make my own mincemeat, it depend on whether I can find a bargain after Christmas to store away for the following season. The last 2 years I was lucky and bought it for 10p a jar at Approved Foods and Sainsburys. This year I could not find any or thought the reduction was poor so I sued my Marguerite Pattern recipe to create some of my own. Not sure how it will turn out as the mixture seemed very dry when I put it in the jar. I'll let you know in a few weeks time how it has turned out.

Making your own is definitely cheaper as the price of ready made has risen to over £1 a jar !