Saturday, 22 July 2017

Vegan Chocolate Banana Cake

This is a lovely cake for the weekend and was certainly polished off quick in this household !

10oz self-raising flour
2oz cocoa powder
8oz sugar
1 cup oil
1/2 pint water
1 mashed banana

Mix all the ingredients together and place in a greased 9 in square or round tin. It makes quite a lot of mixture so you might want to use 2 tins depending on how deep they are. (If you do make 2 then you can sandwich them with buttercream icing afterwards which is good for a special occasion.)

Bake for 40 minutes at Gas Mark 5 or 180C. Leave to cool in the tin and enjoy !

Friday, 21 July 2017

Frugal Friday

Schools in England break up for the big Summer holidays today so I was keen this week to try to save a bit extra, so we can go on a few outings as well as our holiday at the end of August. The savings started off slowly but got better as the week wore on.

The garden has been very productive and I have been freezing courgettes every other day inspite of the rain. We also picked and froze blackberries, raspberries, chard and beetroot. There was also a good crop of volunteer garlic which I picked before the heavy rain, just in time as it turned out !

We made tortillas, chicken stock, pancakes and a delicious chocolate banana cake to a new recipe, MasterShoestring wasn't very well this week so I was looking for a way to cheer him up. I also used the slow cooker for several meals and all the hot water was heated by the solar panels. I also dried 2 loads of laundry, including bedlinen outside on the line.

MasterShoestring used free stamps from the Royal Mail Survey to post his birthday 'thank you' letters and we used email for the international responses so there was no cost involved. The cards were ones I got free some time ago. I also used a book token and free shopping vouchers from the Royal Mail survey to order 3 course books which I need for next year, along with some points from a Waterstones loyalty card. I got the books brand new for nothing, cheaper than ordering from the library !

We applied for a Halifax Clarity credit card and were accepted, this was recommended by the Moneysaving expert website as being the cheapest way to get euros for our trip abroad at the end of August. By ordering now we made sure that we had it in plenty of time and there was even £20 cash back. We shall only use it abroad and pay off the full amount after the holiday, so we should actually gain £20 !

I paid the television license in full so that it does not cost extra and ensures us the best seats in the house for the Six Nations rugby next year. We were offered some tickets recently but all the family said that they prefer to watch it for 'free' at home ! Knowing that we are going to be away at the end of August I also checked which annual bills will fall due whilst we are away and made a note to pay them before we go. They include the car tax and insurance and the house insurance, so pretty important not to have them lapse whilst we are away !

We also booked free eye tests for everyone and replaced a lost Oyster card for MasterShoestring. The Oyster card still had £12.45 credit on it, so well worth doing before we set off on Summer holiday adventures !

I hope that you had a good week too !

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Everyday Adventures - third week

So, I have been continuing with a third week of adventures and yesterday went to see Hodgemoor Woods which were used to house Polish refugees between 1945 and 1962. The whole area is owned by the Forestry Commission now and it is hard to see any sign of the people who once lived there. I did find the old generator house and the foundations of a few old buildings as I wandered about.

However, my tiny everyday adventure, which I thought would only take about half an hour turned into rather a bigger adventure when I got a bit lost ! Looking for the remains of the camp took me quite a way off the footpaths and in the end I walked across the entire woods, much further than I intended and ended up at a neighbouring village !

I had to retrace my steps and walk all the way back again and eventually ask for directions from a friendly, local dog walker. I had left my bag in the car. In the bag were my mobile phone, my emergency medical equipment and my glasses. So I could not call for help, read a map or help myself if I suddenly became unwell ! I had only intended to go for a quick walk and I ended up walking around 6 miles. I learned a lesson and will try not to set out so unprepared the next time.

It made me realise that dealing with 'living on a shoestring' can sometimes be a bit like my walk - if you are not prepared, unexpected things can happen and you are not equipped to deal with them. I like to think that I am financially well-prepared, so perhaps I should make sure that I am similarly prepared for 'everyday adventures' in future !

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Living on a Shoestring - books to help you on your way

Over the years I have read lots of books about living cheaply, more sustainably and getting better value for money. For a time, at the start, lots of the books were from the USA and did not always cover the things we needed in Europe, but were still very handy. At the beginning, I found Mary Hunt's books about debt-free living very useful. However, then Martin Lewis, the financial journalist started the Moneysaving expert website and a compendium of tips from there became my new 'best friend'. It was called

I still re-read this little gem and always come up with something new to try, recently it was a better window cleaning recipe.

Real hardcore tips about moneysaving living are contained in this book

This is a huge compendium of the 'Tightwad Gazette' newsletter which Amy used to publish. Although some of the ideas are a bit out of date now that technology has moved on, it is still very inspiring and a lovely read when you are feeling that your motivation for 'shoestring' living is fading. It has pictures as well !

My final pick is less of a 'how to' book and more of a 'why'.

I read this one at the start of our frugal journey and actually got rid of my first copy as it did not contain enough moneysaving tips to make it worth keeping I thought. However, now we are further in to our money saving journey this is the one that keeps us going and helps us to decide how we want to spend our 'life energy', so we have got a second copy.

I have a whole shelf of books which I have found useful so do say which your favourites are !

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Freezing Beetroot

It has been really busy in the kitchen and garden this week as the weather is good and forecast to change towards the end of the week. Yesterday I pulled up all the beetroot of a decent size, boiled and froze it for later on in the year. It was our best crop ever and still small ones left in to grow.

Here's what I do. Pull up the beetroot and snip the leaves and roots off with kitchen scissors. The leaves can be eaten but I put them in the compost this time as we have plenty of leafy greeds growing in the garden just now. Then I washed each beetroot and placed them in a large pan of cold water and brought it to the boil. The beetroots were not too large so after half an hour of boiling they were cooked, I tested by poking a knife through each one.

Then I poured away the boiling water and replaced it with cold until the beets were cool enough to handle. The I slipped off the skin using rubber gloves so my hands did not get stained with red beetroot juice. The smaller beets were bagged up just as they were and the larger ones were cut up into slices. Then into the freezer ! We like beetroot without vinegar and these will go well with a nice hotpot later in the year !

Monday, 17 July 2017

Blackberries are Coming !

Yesterday afternoon we picked a whole bowl of juicy blackberries. This is very early for them to be ready, but I think all the hot weather has helped. Do watch out for them around where you are, as they appear to be turning black around 2 weeks earlier than normal and it is a shame to miss them. The early ones tend to have more flavour and be sweeter, so well worth putting in the freezer for later or pies and crumbles now.

Our favourite way to use them is paired with apple in a crumble or pie so the ones we picked will be going in the freezer. I have already been saving tubs from other things to ensure that we have enough. I just measure out half a pound, pop them in a container and then stick in the freezer after they have been washed. They cost a fortune in the shops and I usually get enough to last us right through the winter and into the spring. I don't bother adding sugar when freezing and they seem to do fine.

Blackberries cost a lot in the shops as they are difficult to transport, so picking your own is the way to go ! I think the apple harvest is looking good as well, so fingers crossed for plenty of apple and blackberry crumble this winter !

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Making your own diluting juice

I have this stove top juicer and do find it very useful in years when we produce a lot of fruit. You put all  fruit into the top basket and some water in the bottom. Then leave it on the stove to come to a gentle boil. As the water boils the steam rises and forces the juice out of the fruit in to the central compartment. The juice can then be tapped off using the hose and clamp at the bottom of the middle section.

You do have to be careful when you are running off the juices as it can be very hot. Once it has cooled a little you can measure how many pints you have collected.

Boil up 1 pint of juice to alb of sugar and you have a fruit syrup which you can bottle and keep in the same way as jam. Made with blackcurrants it's just like Ribena, but at much less cost and very tasty for winter time hot drinks !

Does anyone else make juice ?

Saturday, 15 July 2017

A Day Out

Another trustees' meeting today, but this time in London, so I'm planning to make the most of my lunch hour by spending it in Regent's Park.

I have taken along my own food and drink which as well as saving money also guarantees the maximum amount of time in the park.

It is always lovely at any time of year but in the Summer with the Boating Pond, footpath to Primrose Hill, impromptu cricket games and views of magnificent Regency mansions it can't be beaten and all for free !

Enjoy a lovely day !

Friday, 14 July 2017

Frugal Friday

A quiet week round here as MasterShoestring has been on work experience so no need to go to school everyday. I made sure to drive as little as possible by combining trips such as my volunteering with paying something into the bank.

An unexpected contribution to frugal living came about as a result of our application for tax credits, MrShoestring and I were granted an NHS exemption certificate for glasses, dentist and prescriptions. I already had one for prescriptions but not having to pay for the dentist or glasses will be a big help.

I downloaded a few Kindle books as finally I am running out of spare ones from the jumble sale. There hasn't been a jumble sale round here for ages and I suppose they won't start back up again until the Autumn. In the meanwhile, I researched all the books I shall need for my course in September and ordered the ones that I could from the library.

I bought a couple of punnets of discount fruit just to make a change from what we have in the garden, it was 49p for a punnet of plums and the same price for one of peaches, which was a good price, especially as the plums had 8 in a pack.

The real savings have been in all we have had from the garden: courgettes, garlic, lettuce, cucumber, raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, blackberries and blueberries, when we can beat the birds to them ! We made plenty of food from scratch, such as bread, soup, tortillas, refried beans, cake, flapjack and fudge. The latter was for an end of term gift for one of MrShoestring's classes and was nicer and cheaper than buying something from the shop.

We also enjoyed the lovely weather ! I hope that your Summer is going well too !

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Everyday Adventures - second week !

So, I'm into my second week of everyday adventures which cost nothing and I have had some fun and some near misses. The overgrown filed above would be one of the near misses ! I climbed over the gate and into the field on the day when the suggestion was 'Wild'. I knew the field had been left to go wild for a few years now and that one of the chaps who lives nearby has a secret camera in the centre of it to capture all the wildlife which lives there now, so I thought that I might see some wildlife. No such luck, I got some nettle stings before realising that I was not dressed for hacking my way through the undergrowth as even the path we had used on a previous visit in the Autumn was now heavily overgrown. I guess it really does show the power of nature at this time of year !

However, I have enjoyed playing the piano and violin this week, finding a new route for a walk, reading a new book, finding small everyday pleasures, such as enjoying a warm evening in the garden and meeting some new colleagues on the course I shall be joining at the end of September. All little things to change up the days !

Living on a Shoestring - Gifts

One of the ways we live on a shoestring is to make sure that the gift cupboard is well-stocked. We also keep a good collection of cards on hand, so that we can respond appropriately to expected and unexpected occasions with a card. Some of the cards I make, specially Christmas ones and some I buy. The cards are often found at jumbles sales, still in the plastic sleeve or can be picked up cheaply at places like pound shops or the Card Factory. I have a target price of 10p a card including the envelope. This sometimes means that it is cheaper to buy rather than make, depending on how much card making supplies cost.

I plan a year in advance for birthdays and Christmas and other holidays, making a list of all the people we give to and a note of any special events coming up, such as weddings. For big events that gives me plenty of time to plan a big homemade gift, like a quilt or sampler or if they are the sort of people that want a gift registry I can stockpile coupons, pick something in my price range or arrange to get the same item elsewhere using vouchers or coupons.

I also keep the gift cupboard stocked with some generic gifts for unexpected gift giving. Gifts include, scented candles, books, CDs and foodie gifts like cordials and jams. Every so often I have to take stock to make sure that I'm not hoarding too much and make sure that I'm actually gifting things ! We have a rule that no gift can cost more than £5 and it's a game to try and get the nicest gift for that price. We do spend slightly more on absolute immediate family but now that the children are older this is more likely to be a contribution to an experience and a small gift to open on the day.

Using this system has saved me so much stress over the past few years and I love not having to go out shopping knowing I have to find something that day ! All told we spend a lot less than we used to and I think are still giving nice gifts. A few times I have been hurt by people's reaction to handmade gifts that I spent a lot of time and thought on so do make sure that those go to people who appreciate them !

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Having a Cheap Barbecue

We have this version of a portable barbecue which we got for £5 at a garage sale a few years ago. Homebase have cheap barbecues for under £10 and now is the time of year to pick up a bargain as stockists try to clear stock for the incoming Autumn ranges. Before we got it we managed quite well with a few bricks and the metal shelf from the oven balanced on top, this is still MasterShoestring's favourite method of cooking sausages when friends come over !

It was such a lovely evening on Sunday that Master and MissShoestring decided that they would like to treat us to a barbecue, this is something we don't often have as I find the costs soon mount up so it's something we tend to save for a special occasion. However, on this occasion they managed quite cheaply, so I thought that I would show you how !

First, they used charcoal which we had stockpiled from last year's clearance. So instead of £5.50 a bag it was £2.50 and they used half a bag. They used free newspapers to get it going so no cost there. They used rosemary from the garden as skewers and used vegetables from the garden to make kebabs at zero cost. The salad was from the garden too. Homemade rolls and ketchup and onions we already had so again no cost . They did buy a packet of sausages and a tub of potato salad and one of coleslaw. We could also have made these things but they wanted the convenience as they thought they would be very busy looking after the barbecue.

All told they spent £1.25 on charcoal, £1.50 on sausages, 35p on the potato salad and 25p on the coleslaw making a total, including the charcoal of £3.35. It was a feast for under a fiver ! So I think we might barbecue again and watch out for some more charcoal for next year !

Monday, 10 July 2017

Net Protection for Blueberries

Earlier on in the year we used this little arrangement of metal hoops and a net to protect some strawberries from the birds. Now we are beginning to notice that the birds are pinching the first blueberries. With the gooseberries, raspberries and blackcurrants just about all picked the blueberries are eagerly awaited and we did not want to share any more with the birds !

So yesterday MrShoestring fetched the hoops, which originally came from an old play tent of MasterShoestring's and re-bent them into shape so they fitted into the pallet box he had made for the blueberries earlier this year. They fitted fine and it was quick work to fit the net over them. Now the birds can't get at them and we can wait for them to ripen in peace !

A great example of recycling and how nothing is wasted in the garden !

Sunday, 9 July 2017


This French vegetable stew is  our favourite way to use up courgettes, we had it last night with some spiral pasta and I put the rest away in the freezer to have a homemade ready meal available when we come back from holiday and don't want to cook ! Traditionally the recipe also has aubergines in but we never bother with those as we would have to buy them and that bumps up the cost of the dish !

3 tbsp oil
300g onions
4 garlic cloves crushed
4 sliced courgettes
4 sliced peppers
6 large tomatoes
3tbsp tomato puree
bundle of assorted herbs
salt and pepper to taste

Heat up the oil in a large pan and fry the onions and garlic until soft. Add all the other ingredients, stir, out the lid on the pan and leave to simmer for 30-45 minutes until all the vegetables are soft . Remove the bundle of herbs and serve.

This tastes even better the following day and can be served cold too !

Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Wildflower Bed

One of our gardening goals this year was to dig up a bed at the front which was covered in a plant we did not like, which never flowered and looked ugly and replace it with a patch of wildflowers. Well, many days in January MrShoestring toiled to pull out the old plants, then he raked it over and planted all our packets of free wildflower seeds and a large box of seed which he got for £3.99 !

Now it looks like this, a real pleasure and with luck all the flowers will drop seed and it will come back again next year. MrShoestring keeps going out to admire it and I have taken several photographs for using on cards, it is lovely !

If you want to have your own patch of wildflowers all you have to do is rake over a scrubby piece of land, sprinkle the seed and keep watering. We have another patch round the back which isn't blooming yet but we hope it will before the end of the summer. Wildflowers are a lot cheaper than other flowers and look so pretty, so a great frugal choice if you are just starting out with gardening.

Enjoy your weekend !

Friday, 7 July 2017

Frugal Friday

Once again, it's time for the frugal round up and welcome to the couple of new followers who have joined us this week ! A big thank you too to all the people who commented on the gooseberry jam post.

Well, this week'e frugal goings-on have mainly concentrated on the garden as we have had a lot of produce appear, this is great as my shopping list has been very small ! We had the first marrow, which was used in a pot of vegetable soup; some courgettes, delicious fried with garlic; loads of blackcurrants, raspberries and gooseberries- some for jam making and others frozen for the winter months; new potatoes which were delicious in a salad and our first cucumber which together with the second crop of lettuce kept us in salad all week. This has been our most successful garden yet and I even pulled up some onions which have been added to the store. The menu plan has changed quite a bit to make the most of the bounty !

I did some mending and we got the split in the car bumper mended at home, which saved quite a bit. I also found 6 bottles of grape juice for 25p each and these have been put away for the winter holidays. I checked the present cupboard and discovered that I have quite a few things for next year as well as being almost complete for this one. I just need to make a couple of food gifts for my Dad and then we are done. So no need to go sales shopping at all ! I sorted out all the second-hand school uniform so that I know exactly what is needed for next year and won't be tempted to buy more by the special offers.

We made yoghurt, tortillas, bread, breadcrumbs, cake, cheesecake, jam, cream cheese and soup this week and re-used foil to keep our homemade pancakes warm. I finally got a refund for some pension contributions which were too small to produce a pension and had the confirmation that we will qualify for tax credits, starting this month. So a thoroughly good week, I hope you had one too !

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Everyday Adventures

Tammy over at Rowdy Kittens has a suggestion list of 31 tiny adventures to take in the month of July and since I got her journal as a birthday gift I thought that I would join in and keep a record of what I did in the journal. All my adventures so far have cost nothing and although I have taken a picture for each one, as she suggests, I have also gone a bit further to help them seem more like adventures !

The first thing I did was vary my morning routine and have my tea out of a cup rather than a mug, I also experimented with different breakfasts, very handy if you have just been making jam and have lots of half filled jars of jam to finish up.

Gathering all the tools for these little adventures, such as my pocket camera and the journal made me realise that I should do some more de-cluttering, so that has become an everyday adventure in itself and so far I have taken two bags of books to the charity shop.

Unplugging from the computer is easy at this time of year as there is so much to do in the garden, but this little prompt did make me go and pick the gooseberries, a job I had been putting off for several days as I hate the thorns. I was well rewarded with nearly 5lbs of fruit and a lessening of that guilty feeling that I was allowing things to go to waste !

Looking around for vibrant colours was easy and we have really been enjoying our two new wildflower areas with their bright poppies and cornflowers. Then today's suggestion is to play something, so I am going to make further progress with my new year's resolution to practise the piano and violin regularly. I really enjoy playing, but so often put music making to the bottom of the list, so I'm looking forward to getting some favourite music out later in the day !

All of these tiny adventures are helping me to realise that I already have so much and that is priceless !

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Living on a Shoestring - Holidays

We have had lots of experience over the years of holidaying on a shoestring, preferably for nothing. When we were first married we used to volunteer at the community where we had met and counted on those few weeks away to pay off the overdraft in savings on gas and electricity. We did have to do some work but in exchange stayed in a lovely place with lovely people and the only cost was the train fare to get there. You can do something similar now by joining the WWOOF network, willing workers on organic farms.

The other alternatives which cost almost nothing are staying with friends and family and having a stay cation. Over the years we have found that staying with friends and family works well for a couple of nights but any longer and you are in danger of out-staying your welcome. Staycations are good if you really treat them like a holiday and do not use the time to do jobs around the house. Exploring your area and visiting all the attractions nearby can be great fun and you get to sleep in your own bed at night. If you want to make it really exciting you can even camp out in the garden or the sitting room for one night !

Something similar to a stay cation is to do a house swap and we have done several of these over the years with mixed results. They have always been in beautiful parts of the world but sometimes we did come home with fleas and on one memorable occasion our house got infested because the swappers had brought along their dog !

Camping and youth hostels were very popular with us when the children were smaller but the prices have crept up and now I'm not so sure if that is all that cheap if you have a reasonable sized family, for instance a family room in a youth hostel can now cost over £70 which is more expensive than a Premier Inn. You can go free wild camping in Scotland and on Dartmoor but with a family the lack of facilities for more than a few days can be a bit restricting.

Our new favourite way to travel is to use AirBnB, we have always been lucky so far and can often get a flat for around £30 a night which for 3 of us is a very good price and cheaper than many campsites. A full kitchen makes self-catering easy and you do not have to set up the camp when you arrive !

If you can travel out of season you can also find a bargain, for instance I saw 7 nights with Eurocamp in France in the first week of September for £210. There are holidays for frugal budgets out there, so start saving for next year !

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Gooseberry Jam

It is all go around here with so many things ripening up in the garden ! I have been ignoring the gooseberries as they are so hard to pick without getting pricked by the thorns ! However, at the weekend I noticed that some of them were now past their best, going all squashy on the bush and that seemed so wasteful so yesterday we got out there and picked and picked. Yes, we did get scratched pretty badly at times but came away with albs of fruit which I think is a record for our gooseberry bushes. Then I spent all evening making jam. so the recipe below is for a large quantity of fruit. You can easily adapt it for just a pound of fruit by dividing all the quantities by 4. The jam will set really easily as gooseberries contain lots of pectin and don't worry if it goes pink when you cook it as that is normal for some varieties of gooseberry !

4lbs gooseberries
4lbs sugar
2 pints water
8 -10 one pound jars with lids

Top and tail the fruit and place in a very large pan with the water. Heat very slowly so that the skins on the berries soften. Add the sugar and again heat very slowly to allow all the sugar to dissolve. Bring to a rolling boil and boil until mixture reaches setting point at 220F or after 5 -10 minutes boiling time trty the 'wrinkle' test with a saucer you placed in the freezer.

I made 10lbs of jam with a bowl and half a jar left over to have on this morning's toast. It was delicious, worth all those scratches and at a cost of just over 30p a jar including sugar and fuel, a bargain !

Monday, 3 July 2017

Another Car Repair !

The bumper and mud guard on the car were damaged on Friday and we were determined not to take it to the dealer to get it repaired ! Our local, friendly garage does not do bodywork repairs and the plastic bumper had a split in it. We knew from previous experience that the dealer would want to replace the whole bumper at a cost of several hundred pounds and since the split was quite small MrShoestring thought that he would have a go himself ! If it did not work we could still go to the dealer and get a new bumper !

Well he set to work with flexible gorilla glue, some clamps and fir tree fixings, pushed out the dent and filled the split with glue. Some patience, sandpaper and spray paint, left over from fixing the wing mirror earlier in the year and it was done ! Total cost of just over £25 ! Much cheaper than a new bumper, still safe and it looks OK ! The car is over 8 years old now so I guess it's alright to have  few bumps and scrapes on it !

Doing the repair so easily made us realise that if the car is mechanically sound there is no reason to change it in. So fingers crossed that this one keeps going until electric self-drive vehicles are the norm !

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Planning for the Holidays

Now is the time to finish planning for the holidays ! Not the Summer ones but the ones in the Winter ! This might seem like a strange thing to say but now is the time to look at the calendar for birthdays and festivities in the second half of the year and make sure that you are prepared.

The sales are on, pick-your-own farms are open and car boot sales abound ! Now is the time to look in your gift cupboard and see where the gaps are. Are you adding a few jars of jam and pickles to it ? Did you find an unopened gift set or a cashmere sweater at 70% off ? Do you need to check how much you have in a special spending account for holiday events or travel ?

Yesterday I picked up 6 bottle of top quality grape juice reduced from £2.50 a bottle to 25p, since we don't drink alcohol that's the Christmas tipple taken care of. If you like homemade wine now is the time to gather some fruit or late elderflowers to make a delicious glass or two to toast the New Year ! Similarly, lots of Summer items such as shorts and swimsuits are in the sales, if you have children buy the next size up for next year. The only thing I don't recommend buying in the seasonal sales is children's clothing which fits now, by the end of the Summer they will have outgrown it so save your money !

Now, I'm off to check on the Christmas puddings !

Saturday, 1 July 2017

June Reckoning

So there were a few big spends this month, like boots for MasterShoestring and a new strimmer for the garden but otherwise we did pretty well as the Summer does mean more coming in from the garden and a smaller spend on electricity and gas.

All told we spent £1052 and some spare change which meant that I could put over £447 in savings, this is very good for us and amounts to 30% of our income. I also had my most profitable month with the small business I run, which is good as it should take care of next year's fees for my course.

The other piece of good news was that it looks like we will qualify for tax credits, that would make over £200 a month difference. So far, no confirmation of that but I'm hopeful ! Also, MissShoestring starts her new well-paid job next month so that should make a difference too as she will be out of the house every day for lunch !

It is great to be half way through the year and still on track for living on a shoestring this year and even being able to save !

Friday, 30 June 2017

Frugal Friday

A busy week here with a couple of days away for training so heavy reliance on the slow cooker and packed meals ! The end of the month is so close now, where did it go ? Here's a list of the thrifty things we did this week.

I got some reduced potatoes, 2.5 kg for 62p, we haven't used them yet as we dug up some from the garden but they will come in handy next week. We also picked blackcurrants, courgettes, lettuce and onions from the garden and a few raspberries and strawberries, I love this time of year !

We made tortillas, salsa, yoghurt, jam, quiche, potato salad, soup and spaghetti bolognaise and planted some more lettuce to keep the supply going. I needed some more felt tip pens and found some around the house rather than going to buy them. We also downloaded some more free books and ordered a new strimmer for 1/3 off because the box was damaged !

The garage came and repaired the car for free, which was amazing and I used a training day to enjoy a mini day out in the lovely Chiltern countryside. We ate pancakes every day for breakfast and re-used the same foil to keep them warm !

I'll do the reckoning up for June spending today and post the results tomorrow but so far it looks like a pretty frugal month ! How has your week been ?

Thursday, 29 June 2017

A Very Helpful Garage

It is always a good idea to find a helpful, cheap garage to do the work on a car which you cannot do yourself. A few years ago we started using a local independent garage who were cheaper than the main dealer and always very good about letting you find parts yourself etc. We have used them for a few years now and have always been very happy with them.

However, on Monday they went above and beyond to help me out with the car and did not charge me anything for the fix ! They are in the Good Garage scheme so I have left some very positive feedback by way of a 'Thank You ".

I was driving on the school run about 10 miles from home when 3 engine warning lights came on and I got MasterShoestring to read the manual whilst I continued on the way to school. It said to get the car checked straight away. I drove home, as I did not want to be stuck waiting for the breakdown truck, then called the garage.

They said that they had no spaces that day but they could send a technician up after lunch to have a look at it. When the technician arrived he used his computer to discover a faulty sensor on the camshaft. He fixed the wiring and the fault was gone. He charged nothing for this service or for his time and the car was fixed in time for collecting MasterShoestring. I was so grateful !

Needless to say we shall keep on using our great garage, Oakleigh in Chesham !

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Living on a Shoestring - shoestring tools

It might seem funny to talk about 'shoestring tools' but there are various things which will make 'living on a shoestring' easier.

The first tool is a kitchen big enough to cook in, when we are travelling I always try and stay somewhere where we can cook as it just saves so much money. The second tool I think is essential is a means to get around, whether you live close enough to walk to everything you need or use a bicycle, scooter or motorcycle being able to get to jumbles sales, charity shops and to collect items from Freecycle will save you a lot of money. The third tool which won't cost much but will help a lot is a library card. Membership of the library will give you access to books, lots of reference materials, the internet and maybe CDs and DVDs to watch. Some libraries in the USA even loan out membership cards to local museums and art galleries and we took advantage of this when we lived there. The final tool in this basic armoury is an attitude of contentment, look around you and think of all you have rather than envying others or wishing your situation were different.

On the next rung up for tools would come some more items you might like to acquire such as indoor drying racks for clothes drying in the Winter and a slow cooker for easy meals on busy days. Some basic tools for gardening such as a trowel and spade would also come in handy if you want to grow a few herbs and vegetables. In this category wold come a good, frugal cookbook and possibly some other books about budgeting and frugal living. I keep mine to give me inspiration and encouragement when mine is flagging. I also think a washing machine saves a lot of money at the laundrette !

In the third tier of items to acquire are things which will allow you to do jobs which otherwise you would have to pay for, such as chimney cleaning rods or car repair equipment. Barber's clippers have saved us a lot of money in haircuts over the years as have various items from jumble sales such as a pressure cooker and a bread maker. I also like to have a printer at home as it saves me dashing out to print things and then buying other stuff on the way.

I'm sure that there are lots of other things which I have forgotten so please add to the list in comments, what do you find most useful on your 'shoestring' journey ?

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

New Potatoes

Mmm ! Don't they look delicious ! We have been digging up the early potatoes and enjoying then at nearly every meal ! We didn't plant any potatoes this year as we had decided just to get a big bag from the farmer, but it turned out that we had lots of volunteer plants so we just let them grow !

We've had about 3kg so far and have just been washing then and boiling them or roasting them. Either way they taste very good ! These really are free potatoes as we didn't even have to buy seed potatoes to get them !

Monday, 26 June 2017

Blackcurrant Jam

The blackcurrants are ready and we are spending quite a bit of time picking them before the birds get to them !

One of our favourite ways to use them is in jam. This is very easy because blackcurrants are high in pectin so you don't need to add it and can just use ordinary sugar in the jam. The only thing you have to be careful about is not over-boiling it. I had to throw out 2 jars last year because the jam was so sold I couldn't get it out of the jar !

You need:-

1lb blackcurrants
1/2 pint water
1 1/4 lb sugar

Place the blackcurrants and water in a large pan and heat slowly until the skins on the berries are soft. Only then add all the sugar and stir gently until all the sugar is dissolved. Then boil until setting point is reached. Put a saucer in the freezer and you can test for the setting point by dripping a tiny bit of the boiling jam on the frozen saucer and if it makes a wrinkle when you push the dab of jam then it's ready. This usually happens after 5-10 minutes of boiling. Or you can use a thermometer and wait for it to reach  220F !

Enjoy your jam !

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Frugal Luxuries

The venue yesterday had a sweeping stair case with a thick, red pile carpet all the way along it and walking up and down it made me feel like a film star even though I was dressed in trousers and a blouse rather than ball gown ! The experience made me realise just how many luxuries the frugal lifestyle affords so I thought that I would put together a list of my top ten !

Number 1 - a shower as long as I like with hot water heated by solar power !

Number 2 - a slice from a fresh baked loaf slathered in butter.

Number 3 - coming home from a long day to find someone else has made supper.

Number 4 - getting a phone call from friends or family and being able to chat for as long as we like.

Number 5 - getting an unexpected letter or card in the post.

Number 6 - fresh flowers from the garden.

Number 7 - fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden

Number 8 - a weekend lie-in.

Number 9 - an hour to read a book without thinking about the 'to-do' list.

Number 10 - enjoying a sunny day.

What would be in your top ten ?

Saturday, 24 June 2017

A Trip Out

I'm off to this rather splendid building today to do some training for children and young people. There is a free lunch, which unfortunately I can't eat, but I shall enjoy a picnic in the 12 acres of National Trust grounds !

The site once housed the workhouse for the surrounding area and specialised in inmates who had escaped from other settings as it is far away from everywhere. I hope that we are treated with rather more hospitality !

I always enjoy a trip out and since this is to a rather lovely place and includes free training, I'm looking forward to a free day out !

Friday, 23 June 2017

Frugal Friday

A round up of frugal living this week in spite of the scorching weather !

The most frugal thing I did was claim tax credits, I wasn't sure if we could do it for this year but the helpful pack and telephone line said we could and sorted it out very quickly so I am looking forward to getting the money !

I bought a new cookbook using Swagbucks, so effectively the book was free and we ate a lot of leftovers and very basic cold meals as it was too hot to cook. We cooled down the house naturally by opening doors and windows night and morning and closing the curtains during the day and I also used the sun to dry my hair rather than using the hairdryer !

We needed a red shirt for MrShoestring for a Midsummer celebration but found an old rugby shirt that would do, so did not need to go hunting round the charity shops. We also needed a new computer mouse but found one in the workshop which could be used so no extra shopping this week !

I downloaded a few free Kindle books for reading over the Summer and got a free magazine through the Royal Mail survey. I packed my supper to bring with me one night rather than eating out and filled up at the cheapest petrol station when we were passing rather than the closest !

I hope that you had a good, frugal week too !

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Packing your Supper

I am going to be very busy today, so busy that I won't make it home to eat any supper before heading off for my course. I pondered various frugal options like eating beforehand or buying some food on the way. Then I realised that there is no need for packed meals to be confined to lunchtime, I can take one for supper too.

Since the weather is so hot I will have to be careful that everything is kept cool whilst I am whizzing about but the nice thing about using the car is that having a cool box along is no problem.

If I was travelling by public transport I would just change what I was taking so that would be no problem. A tasty packed tea that I can eat on the way is just what I need on this busy day and no more expensive than eating out at home. I'm so glad that I thought of this in time I was already being tempted by the idea of cooled water from the college vending machines !

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Living on a Shoestring - The Emergency Fund

You might be shocked to hear but a long time ago I thought my credit card was my emergency fund ! Then one day there was an emergency and there was not enough credit left on the card to pay for it ! Oh dear ! We had to get a loan and I had to learn to save !

The recommended amount in an emergency fund differs according to who you speak to, with most suggesting 3-6 months worth of living expenses. This took us a long time to save up and we only have 3 months worth saved not 6. Since we have had 2 earners in the family this seemed enough as it was very unlikely that for instance both of us would be without income for longer than 3 months at the same time. But we started with just £100 emergency money. That was enough to visit a sick relative or buy a second hand washing machine !

After that we saved £500, enough for a  ticket to Australia or USA where we have close family. After that our target was £1000 and then one month's living expenses. Now we keep £5000 in an instant access account which pays interest but is not easy to get to on a day to day basis. That money is for real emergencies, not new boots, haircuts or medical expenses we can budget for.

Now that we have the account fully funded we have never used it, but we did use those smaller amounts on the way to having it ! We think that it is important to know that you have a cash flow problem covered so that you can take your time thinking through the best way to tackle an emergency.

What do you do ?

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Keeping Cool when it's Hot

We have been blessed with some gorgeous June weather but I am glad that our time in the USA also taught us how to stay comfortable in such high temperatures.

The first thing to do is open up the house night and morning to let the cool in, we also keep all the doors open during the day to let any breezes circulate. All the curtains on the sunny side of the house are closed to stop the sun heating up the house and jugs of cool water are kept in the fridge. Cold water is much more thirst quenching than fizzy drinks. A jug of iced tea or coffee is good too.

At night we open all the curtains to let the heat out but close the windows before we put the lights on to stop bugs flying in. Getting wet with a hose or puddling pool is good for little ones but remember no more than half an hour in the sun without sunscreen.

We do without sunscreen by wearing hats and long sleeves and trousers in light fabrics if we have to be out and about. However, we try not to be out between 11am and 4pm but do our jobs early in the morning or later in the evening as the nights are so light. A wet flannel on the back of the neck cools you down quickly if you need it. A siesta can be nice during those times, especially as it may be hard to sleep at night.

Roll down car windows if it's safe and use a windscreen shield to stop the car getting too hot too. Also please remember about pets, neighbours of ours put out a bowl of water during hot weather to help all those furry dogs out for a walk !

Most of all enjoy the lovely weather by getting out in it for at least half an hour a day to top of those Vitamin D levels for free !

Monday, 19 June 2017

Getting a Discount

After MasterShoestring came back from his Duke of Edinburgh practice expedition the other weekend he needed a day off school because he had so many blisters and his feet had swollen so badly. He had used an old pair of my walking boots in spite of us telling him that he would be more comfortable if he got a new pair of his own. I guess the frugal apple does not fall far from the tree ! 

Anyway, this weekend he agreed to come to the local outdoor shop and try on a few pairs. He put on a thin and thick pair of socks before we went so he would get the right size boot and have an accurate idea of how each pair fitted. When we arrived we said that we were looking for a pair of 'Duke of Edinburgh' boots as their website said that they have a special brand in stock and keep more sizes in for this type of boot. It tuned out that they only had 3 pairs left in MasterShoestring's size so we asked to try them all and I was preparing for having to fork out rather more money when none of the special Duke of Edinburgh cheaper boots fitted ! 

The first pair were clearly too tight, the second pair MasterShoestring thought would do, I said try on the last pair just to be sure and that was the pair that fitted the best. It turned out these were the cheapest boots, were leather so will last longer and came with a discount when I asked was there anything off that ? The boots were the cheapest in the shop but I still asked for a discount because the website had advertised a discount for participants in the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. So we ended up with 10% off and they were the best fitting boots !

On the way out MasterShoestring remarked that this was the first time he had experienced that " the cheapest were the best". I hope he remembers that lesson and that it is always worth asking for a discount !

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Review of "The Savvy Shopper's Cookbook"

When I was in Waterstones a few weeks ago the manager mentioned this book when she saw I was buying the other budget cookbook but she could only describe it as she had forgotten the name. About a week later another blogger had it on her list of library books and I wondered if they were the same book ? Now I had a name and could search for it, the library round here or county wide did not have a copy but the copy on Amazon seemed reasonable so I started saving Swagbucks to get an Amazon voucher.

The Swagbucks voucher came through, the price of the book dropped on Amazon and I had a few days to run on my free trail membership of Amazon Prime, so no postage to pay ! This is how I got the book for free ! The book starts with lots of information on how to shop at discount supermarkets, what you should keep in your pantry and a one week meal plan. Now, this book is about saving money by cooking meals with ingredients that can all be sourced from the discounters. It does not include prices with the recipes and so there are some fairly expensive recipes included e.g.) " The Best Steak Dinner Ever".

There are also cheap ones such as "Moroccan Chickpea Curry", there is even a useful make your own curry powder recipe at the start which is less complicated than the one I use. Most of the recipes are aimed at producing quick, cheap midweek type meals and snacks so there are no breakfast recipes and only a few dessert and baking ones. There is no information on making your own baked goods such as wraps or pita breads, the author presumes that you buy those !

The author used to live close to where we do and in such an expensive area following these recipes and using a discount supermarket would save you money but I don't think that it is for hardcore frugalistas, we wouldn't buy jars of red pesto, we'd make it ! That said there are some interesting ideas in the book, like with our current glut I shall definitely be trying the roaster lettuce recipe !

All in all I'm glad that I got a copy but I don't think I would have paid £14.99 for it, which is it's full retail price !

Anybody got any other frugal cookbooks they love ?

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Tax Credits

When the children were smaller we applied and received some tax credit money which came in very handy. For the past few years we haven't bothered applying as the amount owing was something like £30 a year and it did not seem worth it, especially as you have to pay the money back if the calculations were wrong. The amount you receive is based on your previous year's earnings so when I got this year's letter I thought that it wasn't worth applying as our income last year was still too much to qualify.

However, I read the letter again and it said to contact the authorities if your income had changed for the year 2017-18. Well, our income has gone down a lot so I thought that it was worth making a telephone call and ask for an estimate based on what I think we will get this year. The person on the other end of the line was very helpful and at the moment we will be entitled to the maximum amount for MasterShoestring. This will change if our earnings go up but otherwise we can expect over £200 every 4 weeks !

I was so glad that I had bothered to call and ask rather than just assuming we would have to wait until next year. It is worth periodically re-examine to see if you are claiming all your tax allowances as you never know you might be entitled to more !

Friday, 16 June 2017

Frugal Friday

The end of another frugal week ! This week we did a lot of cooking from scratch and I spotted a new book about cooking and shopping from Aldi, so I've put it on the wish list. Unfortunately, it's not available at the library so I can't have a look at it first. I did reserve a book on learning Italian, which only cost 30p reservation fee, so that was good, especially when I discovered that I prefer Duolingo !

This week I also got a boiler service for £60, with a year's breakdown cover included and Plusnet replaced our main telephone soccer after the internet wasn't working properly, I'm waiting to see if they are going to charge us for it as the internet service is still intermittent !

We picked lots from the garden, including organic strawberries which had to be netted to stop the birds eating them all ! We also made wholemeal and french bread, tortillas, slow cooker chicken and stock, soup, stuffing, breadcrumbs, yoghurt, a coffee cake, a steamed pudding and popcorn. I downloaded some free Kindle books for the holidays and got a free local paper.

I used Experian to check my credit score for free and was delighted to find that it is excellent 982 out of a possible 999, should mean switching credit cards is very easy if I see a better deal. MrShoestring picked up some extra work at school for which he will be paid next month so that will be handy for the holidays !

I hope that you have a had a good frugal week too !