Monday, 29 February 2016

Jumble Sale Haul 1

Jumble sale season has started ! Hoorah as this is definitely one of my favourite weekend activities, setting out with a budget and discovering what I can ! Round here there are no jumble sales in the run up to Christmas as people are spending elsewhere and afterwards when people have no money left there is no point trying to raise money. However, Spring is round the corner and the Brownies and the Women's Institute held a sale this week.

For readers from abroad a jumble sale is a huge sale of unwanted second-hand goods donated by volunteers to raise money for a good cause. You are charged a small entrance fee to the sale, 50p for both of these and then you pay under a pound for each item and usually much less. Stalls usually include Ladies, Mens and Children's clothes, books and CDs, bric- a-brac and shoes and luggage. Both the sales had lots of items on each stall, the Brownies were cheaper and the Women's Institute had better quality items !

I had said that I was going to cut down on spending on books but I saw 7 books including the one above which were brand new and got the lot for 2 pounds making an average of 29p a book, this is cheaper even than ordering a book from the library so I got them. Most were for Master Shoestring including the one above and  a book on winning at chess and 2 thrillers. I also got a huge hardback brand new for Mr Shoestring's birthday which I'll tell you about later in the week !

Where do you buy books ?

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Pause for Lent

I have been reading in Mark again and have reached Chapter 9, Mark is quite a short gospel and I think next week I shall reach the story of Easter week, appropriate as March begins and we creep closer to that outburst of joy that is Easter. The flowers have been having their own joyous display already here even though it hasn't got above 5C all week. It really makes a difference to your mood when there is a bit of blossom out and there are lighter evenings and mornings.

The verses which made me the most thoughtful in the chapter were the ones about who is the greatest ? The disciples would not tell Jesus about what they had been talking about on the road at first, most likely because they were a bit ashamed, they had been working out who was the greatest ! Jesus points out that not even he is the greatest as he only points to the one who sent him ! Then the verse talks about welcoming little children, I guess we are all still little children in the eyes of God, still arguing over who is the greatest ! Perhaps as we approach Easter we can have a look around and see which 'child' we could welcome ?

Saturday, 27 February 2016

A Thrifty Visit

Miss Shoestring is on her way to the USA to visit ShoestringUSA. That does not sound very thrifty you might think but she got a flight for less than the price of a package tour as February is not a popular month. She also has no accommodation costs as she will be staying with ShoestringUSA and he lives in a small town so no shopping opportunities ! Instead there will be lots of weather and nature, very relaxing after lots of working in the City.

The extra thrifty thing Miss Shoestring is doing is that she is going to take a few presents for later on in the year in her hand luggage and that will save the cost of postage. She is using public transport to get to the airport and bringing her own food, so a thrifty offshoot from the Shoestring family and she has already promised to do no souvenir shopping, just bring home some pictures !

Do you do thrifty travel ?

Friday, 26 February 2016

Repairing a Tyre

The roads around here often have sharp flints on them and over the years Mr Shoestring and I have come to realise that there is no point putting expensive tyres on the car as they will need replaced due to punctures at least annually.

The little car I use to get to work has had a slow puncture since Christmas and we have just been pumping it up every few days when it looks low. However, I went to a visit friend about 50 miles away and used a very busy motorway to get there and did worry about what the tyre might be doing at 70mph. When I got back we decided that the tyre had to be replaced at a cost of around 75 pounds, ouch !

Off went Mr Shoestring to our usual tyre place, very local, cheaper than most. He was busy and short-handed and said that he wouldn't be able to do the replacement until the following week. So Mr Shoestring decided to try elsewhere at a smaller place he had seen advertised. The people there offered to fix the tyre, for a third of the cost of replacing it. Of course Mr Shoestring said'Yes!'

I was delighted when he returned with a fixed tyre and a bill considerable smaller than we were anticipating ! All because he decided to try somewhere new, just goes to show that even if you think your usual place is the cheapest supplier it is still worth asking around.

Do you have favourite repair places you can recommend ?

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Sowing your own seeds

So this is an exciting time of year for gardeners, even aspiring ones like us are thinking about starting some seeds and anticipating a bumper crop. We always get something but it is usually the perennial crops like apples and rhubarb that do best, the vegetables all get eaten by the wildlife, especially slugs !

However, Mr Shoestring built a substantial polytunnel last year and it has survived the winter winds so we are hoping that a few plants in there might prosper this year. To that end we have now planted the seeds of tomatoes, strawberries, cucumber, aubergine, basil, thyme. leek and cauliflower. A couple of weeks should tell us if this gardening year is off to a flying start !

Do you grow from seed ? What helps with germination ?

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Bulk Buying for the Garden

The soil in our garden is almost pure sand, a fact we discovered when the septic tank had to be replaced a couple of years ago. There are just a couple of inches of top soil on top and under the sand is a layer of clay which makes the ground very hard to dig. So in order to grow anything at all we have to add compost or manure every year.

We have been buying the local garden centre's special offer but then Mr Shoestring has to lug it all home and since the garden is very large we also need a lot so the price mounts up. When I saw bulk deliveries of compost advertised online I thought this would be great, delivered to your door for free as well. Alas, it is the same price as the special offers at the garden centre, around 8p a litre but it will save Mr Shoestring's back. However, he did point out that those 900l will be dumped at the front and someone will have to use a wheelbarrow to ferry it about the garden, I wonder if he meant me !

In case you are wondering we do have 2 compost bins as well which we have been using a lot too but mostly we don't see any compost as the local wildlife eats what we put in the bins, including several rats, so we stopped composting this winter and are wondering how to rat-proof the bins.

Do you compost ? How do you keep the local wildlife away, especially rats ?

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

A New Take on Calzones

Master Shoestring had a cookery lesson yesterday and the task was to produce a meal for a friend taking into account any special dietary needs. Well Master Shoestring knows all about those so he paired up with a friend from India or eats vegan food. His friend requested nothing with an Indian flavour as he eats enough of that at home and so they decided on Italian. Master Shoestring was keen to make calzones, a set of pizza pasty but what to put in it since his friend doesn't eat cheese ?

Master Shoestring decided on a delicately spiced mixture of potatoes and chickpeas and tried out the recipe on the family on Saturday who pronounced it tasty ! To save time in the lesson Master Shoestring used tinned potatoes and a ready mixed dough but otherwise the recipe was as given below. I hope that his friend enjoyed it !

Vegan Calzones

Make 275g white bread dough as you usually would, whilst it is rising fry 250g potatoes and 1 tin of chickpeas together with a little coriander and cumin. Cut the dough into 4 and roll each piece out into a circle. Split the filling into 4 and place on each of the rolled out dough pieces. Fold over the pieces to make semi-circles as shown above. Crimp with fingers and brush with vegan milk to glaze. PLace on a greased baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 200C. Enjoy ! This makes a good lunchbox or picnic food too and you can add onions and tomatoes if you want.

Monday, 22 February 2016


We really love to read in this house and ever since I was little and my Mum would buy Woman and Woman's Own every week I really enjoy reading magazines. For a while I would buy at least one a week and in addition several monthly glossy publications. A few years ago I realised that I was spending as much as a book on each monthly copy and over that on weeklies so I just stopped, saved up the money and bought books instead ! This led to last year's book spending being into the hundreds of pounds, a discretionary expense we could easily cut.

So now I get one free glossy a month as a perk from our bank account, so that is free as we pay in enough to get the account free just now. We use Tesco vouchers to pay for Mr Shoestring's National Geographic, which we all enjoy and also get The Economist courtesy of ShoestringUSA, that's a lot of reading. However, once I have read the monthly glossy, which doesn't take long at all I look around for something else, sometimes this can be the free magazine from the supermarket and sometimes I try a free magazine from the library. The library also offers e-magazines but they take so long to load on our internet connection that I usually give up.

This week was a holiday and I was looking for a magazine or two, I even stepped into the newsagent ! Freecycle to the rescue, a wonderful lady advertised that she had a few to offer, I volunteered to help her declutter. I was so surprised when I arrived to collect them to discover a couple of years worth of several major titles. What luck ! They are now carefully organised on shelves in month order and I have promised myself not to read ahead, there should be no more magazine temptation this year as there are even Christmas and Easter special magazines in with the others. I shall just have to watch that those home decor magazines don't make me start thinking about re-decorating !

What do you do about reading magazines ?

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Pause for Lent

Yesterday I made up a photo book of many of our pictures from last Summer. It already seems quite a long time ago, looking at Master Shoestring still with his braces on and Miss Shoestring graduating it seems a very long time ago and yet as I grow older time also seems to go faster.

It reminded me of the importance of gratitude, to be thankful for what we have got, in our case to be happy about the normal, everyday things which we can all do. At the time of the Summer pictures Mr Shoestring was still having regular, sudden attacks of vestibular migraine and we thought that he had a serious, debilitating illness. Now thanks to new medication he hasn't had an attack since the Summer, is thinking about a new life and what he is going to do now he feels so much better !

This time last year we were praying for a miracle, that he would be well and we got one, it's important not to take everyday life for granted and remember to be thankful for it and all the daily miracles it contains !

Saturday, 20 February 2016


I was delighted to receive this lovely Cath Kidston tea cosy from Freegle the other day. My favourite decaffeinated tea is from Betty's in York and now I have a tea cosy as posh as the tea ! Freegle is the equivalent of Freecycle in our area and over the years we have had quite a few things from there, including the piano and piano bench, which were an absolute bargain !

I think the idea of a webpage where you could advertise unwanted items for free and have them collected by others who wanted them was originally thought of in the USA, what a wonderful idea ! Now I am looking forward to giving back just as soon as ShoestringUSA tells us we can clear out his room !

A recent idea here that I have also been enquiring into is the Buy Nothing groups. These work on Facebook similar to Freecycle but include smaller items like the milk which will go off before you get back from holiday. I was interested in starting a Buy Nothing group round here so contacted them to find out how to do it. I got a reply last week but it came with 2 pages of Dos and Don'ts about being the moderator so I've decided that I'm not up to the job and hope that someone else will start one soon !

Do you have Freecycle or Buy Nothing is your area ?

Friday, 19 February 2016


I have been in 2 minds about Ebay since the Summer when I tried to sell a few items that were left over from us changing the sitting room decor. We had some solid brass candle sconces which I thought that no-one in the charity shop would want but might be of some use to someone renovating an old place. So they were photographed and duly listed at a very low price, they sold very quickly and I thought that 5 pounds was a good price to get for old junk ! Then the post office said how much the postage would be ! All the profit gone ! Then a PayPal look-alike scam tried to get hold of the money ! I decided that Ebay was not worth the hassle.

However, yesterday, cleaning out a drawer in the study I found a brand new HP364 cartridge from a printer we no longer have, I was very tempted to put it in the bag for Oxfam which was ready to go by the front door. Then I got to thinking how much that cartridge had been new, over 20 pounds and how much we were trying to save. So I put it on Ebay for 8 pounds in the hope that someone would get a bargain and they did ! Just off to post it now. I'm glad that I gave Ebay a second go.

Do you use Ebay for buying or selling ?

Thursday, 18 February 2016


I was delighted to receive an email from TopCashback today to say that I had 24 pounds and 15 pence waiting to be paid into my bank account. Since I just had a discount load of wood delivered the money was very welcome as it should cover about a quarter of the cost !

TopCashback are a website that you can join in the UK, other countries may have similar schemes but if you click through to other merchants or services via them you can earn discounts and money off. This little bonus was because we had taken out a new energy contract via a comparison website back in August. I had forgotten about the generous discount but now it was a lovely surprise. I shall have to remember to try out some more of their offers, especially the free ones where you earn money but don't have to spend any.

I do have a reminder pinned up near the computer to help me use the site more but sadly I often order without checking whether I could get a discount. For instance this week I ordered 900 litres of manure online and did not check if a discount was offered, this little windfall has reminded me that I should try harder !

Do you have any discount schemes you would recommend ?

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Gathering up the Scraps

A day of gathering up some little bits and pieces from around the place and putting them to good use. It started with a tub full of pumpkin puree defrosted from the freezer which had been made with this year's Halloweend pumpkin. Master Shoestring loves pumpkin loaf so while he was at table tennis one was made and cut into three pieces, one he can eat now, one in another tim for later and a bit in the freezer to make sure it lasts more than 1 day !

Then I made a poppy seed cake with no sugar for Mr Shoestring, he's been rather missing treats over the last week or two as he tries to shift the few pounds put on over Christmas. This was a low fat cake and used up the end of a bag of poppy seeds, so another scrap put to good use.

My favourite re-use today was cutting up a silk cushion cover, originally John Lewis but I paid 10p in a jumble sale. It looked very nice on the sofa for a few months until Master Shoestring's robust use of it for pillow fights with Mr Shoestring and his sibling led to a few holes ! I wanted to reclaim the zip, which took all of 2 minutes thanks to a seam ripper but then I looked at all that silk, a lovely blue and wondered what I could use the undamaged bits for. A sudden inspiration for hankies struck ! Now Mr Shoestring has 5 new silk hankies and I even a few scraps left !

Do you re-purpose worn-out items ? Abbi over at Proverbs 31 has some lovely pictures of rag rugs , really inspirational !

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Spending the IKEA christmas tree voucher

IKEA is quite far away from us in London but we did make the trip very early one Saturday in December to buy a Christmas tree. The area around us is fairly affluent and it is common to see Christmas trees priced at 40 pounds plus. I really love a real tree in the house, lit with real candles, which we buy online. I've never had a fire as we are always really careful ! But the trip to IKEA was to get one of their no-needle drop trees. With the tree comes a 20 pound voucher which you can spend later in the year effectively making the tree a 5 pound bargain !

So we went to spend the voucher today and got 2 yo-yos, 2 colouring pencil sets and 2 teddies for the shoebox appeal next Christmas. As well as that we also got 4 red pillowcases for making Christmas gifts, I wanted red fabric but there was no assistant to price it so the pillowcases were a good substitute ! Also a set of 6 rainbow plastic mugs to replace all those glasses which have broken on the stone kitchen floor, these ones should bounce !

The only annoyance was that we were also hoping to get some of their cheap LED bulbs but every single one was a screw fitting rather than a bayonet one ! I guess it is those sort of things, as well as some of the food which helps you remember this is not a UK firm !

Anyway, I rather like this promotion and hope that they run it again next year !

Monday, 15 February 2016

Savill Garden

Lovely outing for St. Valentine's Day yesterday to Savill Garden near Egham in Surrey. The real gift was that lovely Mr Shoestring gave up an afternoon of rugby watching to come with me ! Also lovely were the beautiful camellias all over the garden which we saw on a sunny winter's afternoon. Golly my nose was cold by the time we were finished ! I think the temperature was around 4C at 3pm !

Camellias are not something we grow in the garden at present but I think we might get some. They were like a cross between roses and rhododendrons and came in all sorts of colours and some were as big as trees, very impressive.

We also saw lots of tiny daffodils, some giant snowdrops from the Carpathians and hundreds of crocuses. The temperate house had more camellias and geraniums being trained up the walls, which I have never seen before.

Lots of ideas from this garden which was founded in the 1930s by Sir Savill. We did have to pay 2 pounds for parking, but after that entry was free, which we thought was a bargain. Normally the entrance fee is 9.75 pounds per adult !

We did notice that quite a few cars were parked in the lay-by just down the lane so they didn't even have to pay for parking ! There are also some great walks to see an obelisk and a picturesque bridge from here but it was too cold to do any of those yesterday. We'll just have to go back !

Did you have a frugal celebration yesterday ?

Sunday, 14 February 2016

A Pause for Lent

Angela over at Tracing Rainbows has been running this series for a few years now and I thought that this year I should join in and contribute rather than just taking. Ann Voskamp over at A Holy Experience is contributing a lovely gift this year to everyone's Lenten journey with a set of printable reminder cards, 1 for each day. Each card has a lovely reproduction of a painting, a scripture reference and then a mini Thought to Ponder. I really liked them, she calls them 'post-its for the soul' ! Do check them out and her wonderful collection of uplifting pictures and thoughts for the weekend.

This week the thought came strongly to me that I should 'fast' from criticism ! Anyone who knows me and my sharp eye and  tongue will think this might be a task too far but I am going to try ! My husband laughed and I do have a 'judging personality so perhaps it will be a 'work in progress' over the next few weeks rather than a 'race run'. Have you got a trait that needs a little work ?

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Board Games

Board games are something we reserve for playing when we have a lot of time and can leave the game out to come back to on subsequent evenings. But with half term starting today a board game post seemed timely !

We keep 2 shelves in the sitting room stocked with games, some of them are new but most have been acquired for pennies at jumble sales. Board games can be very expensive to buy new and buying cheaply gives you the chance to try out the game without investing too much. If you like it, when your jumble sale version falls apart you can ask for a newer one as a present !

Monopoly is a great favourite in this household but the level of competition and bad feeling it can generate has led me to banning it sometimes and requesting that something gentler, like Ticket to Ride is played !

Board games work for all ages and are great for power cuts too so that are definitely something you should have in your frugal entertainment cupboard !

Which is your favourite game ?

Friday, 12 February 2016

Packing a lunch

Over the years I have packed a lot of lunches and I have found that lunch bags with a shape similar to the one above are the most useful and adaptable. Other shapes are often too small and not as adaptable when you want to send a food flask with leftovers along. We got ours from John Lewis and they have been going strong for the past 3 years. These bags are washable and can even be put in the washing machine for a jolly good clean.

The next essentials to have are lots of little leak proof plastic boxes with clip lids. These make sure that nothing you send can leak into the lunch bag and are reusable so you don't waste money on foil and plastic. They also mean that you can make your own single serving version of things people like to eat, rather than playing inflated prices for a manufacturer's version.

Finally, a food flask with a wide mouth, around the 1/2 litre, will fit into the lunch bag and keep the leftovers you send piping hot and so avoiding food poisoning ! The food flasks vary in efficiency and I would thoroughly recommend looking for reviews before purchasing them. We have some Thermos ones which are alright for keeping your morning cup of tea hot but by lunch time the food is cold. Whereas the Stanley ones are amazing and will keep your food hot for up to 12 hours, really good if you are travelling !

Do you have favourite equipment for packing lunches ?

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Wholefoods Allergy Cookbook

I use this recipe book almost every week and found it to be very useful at the start of our cooking for allergy journey. The author writes from her own experience and also explains how difficult it can be for the whole family when popular dishes are declared 'out-of-bounds' ! It was a desire to help a family member that created the recipes in the first place and that real-life experience comes through in the book.

I have several recipes in this book marked for weekly use including the felafels (although my newly discovered one for using Gram flour might take precedence now ! ) and hummus. In fact all the recipes in the Vegetable Entree section are good and we have made them multiple times. It is a book from the USA which can mean a bit of translation here and there but the trusty internet is always there to tell you what cilantro etc is !

One of the other things I really like about the book is that there is a whole section on breakfasts, including lots of pancake recipes which don't use eggs, just the thing for Pancake Day week !

Do you have a favourite 'allergen-free' recipe ?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

How to make your own cards

Over the years we have saved a fortune by making our own cards for all sorts of events. We save all the cards we get to help with card making but also take photographs throughout the year to print out and use.

The wild rose picture above is one I have just used to make a card for my sister's 50th birthday. I buy card and envelopes on sale in either the post Christmas or Summer sales. Pound shops can also be a good source of card and envelopes. I aim that the card and envelope cost no more than 5p so with the cost of printing the photograph the whole card should cost 10p or less. This is a big saving on the 2 or 3 pounds which a fancy card can cost. I also enjoy making them so it is a frugal hobby !

The pictures or photographs are stuck on the card and then outlined with a coloured marker, I often use gold or silver to make them really stand out. Then I write the greeting inside the card using the same marker, so the inside and the outside of the card have a link.

Many people have said that they especially like the cards with flower photographs and they have also admired the ones we can make more personal with photographs of family or places with special memories. I think that personalising something for the one you are sending it to is the best bit of making a card, but I also like the saving !

Do you make cards ?

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Refried Beans

When Mr Shoestring first came home with his no salt diet we had almost nothing in the house he could eat ! Refried beans to out on a tortilla and eat with homemade salsa was one of the first things I made which he could have and was tasty enough to go on the menu as a regular Saturday night treat ! Here's the recipe ! You can use your own beans or a tin of canned ones in no salt water. He does not mind what sort of beans they are so I have used all sorts in this recipe, from kidney beans to green lentils but I think kidney beans are his favourite.

Refried beans

1 onion
1 pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1tsp cumin 
1 400g can of beans
Pepper and garlic to taste
Oil for frying

Chop the onion and the peppers (I often use ready chopped frozen ones if they are cheaper than fresh).
Put in frying pan with oil and spices. Fry until caramelised. Add the tin of beans including water and pepper and garlic to taste. Fry for 10-20 minutes on a low heat, mashing the beans with a fork occasionally. Use when tortillas and salsa are ready !

Monday, 8 February 2016

Grow your Food for Free, well almost

This book is another of those which does exactly what it says on the cover ! It starts with how to find land to grow stuff on, even if you don't have a garden. It has suggestions about community gardens, garden sharing, allotments and even tips for tenants who are not allowed to change their gardens ! 

The next section is all about how to put hard landscaping in place which will support your food growing plans. For example, do you want a pond as it will attract predators which will eat pests ? Do you want a fence, if so make it south-facing so you can plant climbers . This is the section I wish I had paid more attention to when we were planning our garden as now it is well-established and it is much harder to realise that your greenhouse is in the wrong place once the garden has been going for a good while !

All the other sections of the book are divided into seasons so you can get busy with something no matter what time of year it is. Lots of items in the book are illustrated with hand-drawn pictures or photographs and I find this very helpful as then I can work out exactly what I should be doing , for example when I ma layering plants to get new ones. The instructions on how to make paper seed pots which can be planted out directly into the soil are especially useful, as are the ones on how to make a wicking bed so you don't need to worry about watering when you are away.

Every single thing in the book has been tried out by Dave Hamilton or his brother and that really comes across in the way they write. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who does not want to give the garden centre a lot of their cash !

A quick tip for UK residents is that Park Promotions have pepper seeds on sale for 1p and 2p and lots of other seeds in the Spring sale for 25-50p, a big saving on buying seeds somewhere else !

Do you do-it-yourself in your garden ?

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Pause for Reflection

This week I was reading Matthew Chapter 15 and there are a few verses in there which really made me think. They are the ones when a woman who would not have been considered Jewish asks for healing for her daughter and is initially denied but she does not give up and asks just for a little help (the crumbs from the master's table) and then is richly rewarded with the healing of her daughter.

I was really struck by the fact that so often we are only willing to help people like ourselves. We don't mind helping out a friend as they will often help us in return, but someone we do not know or perhaps are not very keen on ? Well, those people we often try to avoid and certainly would not go out of our way to help. But perhaps we should ? Perhaps helping 'the hard to help' is exactly what is meant by loving our neighbour rather than ourselves.

Lent starts this week after all the fun of Chinese New Year on Monday and Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day on Tuesday. As a family we often try and cut down on our spending to give more generously during this time or try to work on a personal bad habit. I often try to take up something extra, such as reading a chapter of a spiritual book (I often re-read the Purpose Driven Life as it has very convenient chapters for Lent !) or practising something I know I need to work on. But perhaps this year we will all work on recognising those around us who need our help but whom we would never normally recognise. Who is standing outside the church waiting for an invitation to go on in ?  Which Mum at the bus stop could do with some help to get her buggy on the bus ? Which homeless person might appreciate a meal ? I'm going to watch out for them, will you too ?

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Weekend Table Tennis Fun

Master Shoestring plays table tennis at home but also at a club on Wednesday evenings and some weekends. There are also classes in some of the school holidays. This weekend there is a tournament in a town close by, about half an hour away, which he will be going to. The tournament lasts all day from 9am to 4pm and he has to take food with him as the venue has no cafe (very frugal!). The nice thing is that there is no charge for spectating so we can go along and watch for a bit at the start or all day or just for a bit at the end.

Some of the juniors are really good and it is nice to think that we might be watching some Olympic champions in the making. With tickets for professional sporting events in the tens if not hundreds of pounds we get a lot of weekend fun out of supporting Master Shoestring and his friends in amateur sporting matches.

Do you have free to attend sporting matches near you ?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Getting a water meter

Our water meter is buried down a pipe just to the left of the front door. When the meter reader comes once a year to look at it we always have terrible trouble finding the little manhole which covers it as the grass grows right over the top. However, the trouble of looking for it once a year is more than worth it because of all the money it saves.

With the water meter we only pay for the water we actually use, it also counts all the water we waste by not fixing a dripping tap in the bathroom ! Knowing that we will actually be charged extra for that water dripping away makes a fine incentive to go and fix the tap ! The house has its own septic tank so we do not pay the part of the water charge dealing with disposal either so that also saves quite a bit of money.

Our water bill is just over 200 pounds a year which is around half what it would be if we were still on water rates. There is no open market in water supply yet, unlike electricity and gas, but all the big suppliers will fit a meter on request but once you have one you cannot ask for it to be removed. The big suppliers have calculators for water use which should help you work out whether it would be a saving for you. As a small family now, it is definitely worth it for us !

Do you have a water meter ? How is water charged for at your house ?

Thursday, 4 February 2016

How to grow your own basil

This is our little basil plant flourishing in the Dining Room during the Winter. It is directly off the Kitchen so very handy for a quick pick whilst cooking. Growing your own herbs is much cheaper than buying and ensures that you always have a fresh supply.

Basil can be difficult to germinate in the UK as it likes nice, warm temperatures, such as those found during Italian Summers, rather than English ones. However, I found that this can be mimicked by placing a plastic bag secured by an elastic band over the pot whilst it germinates. It also helps to put the pot by a radiator ! Once fooled into starting to grow the plant is easy to look after with watering and a quick feed once in a while.

Just behind the basil you might also be able to see the coriander which I keep for salsa making, too much salt in shop-bought versions ! Coriander also likes nice warm conditions but we have grown this outside with great success and packed away a lot in the freezer, the little plant at the back is just for the occasional fresh bit.

Do you grow herbs ? Which ones are most successful ?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Felafel from gram flour

We quite like a few felafel on a Friday night as it makes a quick and easy supper whilst we start on the clean up for the weekend after work. The usual recipe calls for with opening tins of chickpeas or soaking and cooking them for later. This can add to the clean up time and I was wondering if there was a quicker method whilst at the same time thinking about the 6kg of chickpea or gram flour I have in the pantry. I had ordered the flour for making pancakes without eggs but they were a disaster, stuck to the pan on every single occasion and I had to soak 4 frying pane and scrub them by the time that experiment was over ! So the search for a felafel recipe from chickpea flour began and the one below works, I've just cooked a batch !!

Felafel from Chickpea/Gram Flour

1 cup chickpea flour
1/3 cup fresh chopped parsley or a bit less dried
1/4 tsp raising agent e.g.) bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsps of lemon juice ( we use apple as Mr Shoestring can't have citrus)
1/3 cup water to mix

Mix all the ingredients together and place tablespoons in an oiled pan to fry on both sides for 4-5 minutes. Frying makes the kitchen smoky, so today I baked them in an oiled pan in the oven, 10 minutes on each side and they have turned out great. So glad that I can began to run down that stockpile of gram flour !

What's your favourite recipe for a hard to shift ingredient ?

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Living More with Less

This book was written by Doris Janzen Longacre who is better known for her More with Less cookbook. I used to have a copy of the cookbook but in the end gave it to someone whose family did not have as many complicated diets as we had as the recipes were heavily dairy orientated and that did not work so well for us. But this book, the one she struggled to finish before she died, is full of ideas for living on less and giving more which I find very inspiring.

Part one of the book contains five short chapters about why it is important to live on less so others can have more. That idea that in the Western world we have diseases from the excess we live on whereas in other parts of the world people have diseases from the lack of the essentials is very convicting. Similar ideas have appeared in other books since 1980 when this one appeared but no there book seems to go into so much detail or give so many examples of how life will be improved by giving to others.

Part two of the book then goes into details about using less in every area of life from Transport to Celebrations and contains ten chapters each of which give lots of ideas from real people about how they 'live more with less'. With Lent starting next week I particularly enjoyed the reminder that you could keep one meal a week as your 'poverty meal' and save the difference to give to a charity which makes a lasting difference in the lives of the poor. We have done this in the past and got involved with an organisation called 'Mary's Meals' which allows primary school children in the developing world to have a nutritious meal at school cooked by people who otherwise would not have a job, win-win for all involved as the children learn better by being better fed. I also really liked the sec ion on making tin can toys and games to play whilst on a long journey.

The book is just full of real-life ideas, all sent in by people who give you just a glimpse into their everyday lives and that I really enjoy as well. I love dipping into this book and am so full of gratitude to everyone who contributed and Doris who collected it all, may her legacy live on !

What is your favourite tip for living more with less ?

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Reckoning

Total Spending 2016 JANUARY
FOOD 70.72
PETROL 121.34
TV 0
CAR INS +tax 0
LIFE INS 31.43
GIFTS 8.08
BOOKS 5.94
The above is an extract from our budgeting spreadsheet and shows the total spend in some categories for January. Once I had set up the spreadsheet it is easy to keep track of the numbers in a notebook and then update them once a week. Until this year I did this all on paper using a big notebook and pencil but realised that if I spent the time setting up the spreadsheet then  eventually using the computer would be quicker and more accurate ! So it has proved, I have all our spending for January in one place and was able to calculate that we saved 64% of our income. This is very high and more than we are aiming for, but I don't think we will be able to do this every month. January is very light on annual expenses such as insurance and car tax and the only really big spends were on paying for extra curricular activities for Master Shoestring. Now these have been paid right up to Easter so they won't appear again for a few months.

Food was also a very low spending category as I did a big shop costing 90 pounds right at the end of December when I had time and so we lived off what we had in stock. Now the stock is gone and I will have to go shopping today to replace all sorts of basics like cheese and eggs of which we now have none ! The savings listed there are the ones which we do automatically for a pension and then everything else this month went into topping up the emergency fund which we had used to help ShoestringUSA earlier in 2015.

I was particularly pleased that the spending on books and entertainment was so low as this was an area I promised I would cut down on and so far it looks like that resolution is working.

How was your January spending ?