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 !

Thursday, 15 June 2017

What we have done about Rising Food Prices

The news this week has been all about how prices are rising and wages are not keeping pace. Since we try to live on a fixed income we have certainly noticed rising food prices since the start of the year and have done various things to accommodate them. However, this is the first month when I thought that if I don't make some bigger changes we are going to go over-budget.

The first thing we do is we never buy fish. Just as well as the price has risen by over 10%, that and some other things like most meat are just out of reach of the budget. I have also changed the menu this month, researching what provides the best value for money. A long time ago, when we were first married we switched to only eating vegan as it was much cheaper. We can't do that now because of food allergies but we still only eat meat twice a week and that is mainly because MasterShoestring loves it and he can't eat lots of other things.

I have stopped buying special dairy free milk and just make sure MasterShoestring gets enough calcioun from other things e.g.) baked beans. The special milk was £1.50 a litre, a tim of baked beans can be had for 28p, so a big difference there. We have also switched to the basics brand for most things or make it ourselves e.g.) ice cream and lollies.

I have also been watching out for specials as Tesco and some other places now have weekly offers same as Aldi and Lidl. The cheap supermarkets are over 10 miles away from us so it isn't worth making a 20 mile round trip every week but I do look at what is on offer closer to home and got a pineapple for 49p at Tesco this week.

We are growing a bigger garden this year and so far that is paying off and has provided us with salad every day since the start of May. The strawberries are coming now and the blackcurrants are turning black. Looks like the apple harvest will be good this year too. We are also drinking more tea and less coffee and I'm making bread with ordinary flour rather than bread flour. I checked and the percentage protein difference is only a couple of percent and so far no-one has noticed any difference in the loaves. I think the loaf is very slightly denser but if you give it two provings it seems to be fine.

When school breaks up I'll have MasterShoestring's lunch money to use to stock up on basics for the future as I think that food prices will continue to rise. What are they doing near you ?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Living on a Shoestring - Irregular Bills

So, we've got all the grocery bills under control and all the regular bills are at the cheapest price but so often what undoes a budget are the irregular expenses which we forget to budget for. These are expenses that only come round once a year or that we have failed to predict. Expenses like big festivities such as a wedding or a car service or even buying gifts for a regular event like the holidays.

We need to ensure that our budget takes these events into account or else in the month they occur we are going to find ourselves coming up short. The thing to do is to look back at all the unexpected spending last year and tot it up. Looking at bank and credit card statements can be helpful for this. You don't even need to work out categories if you don't want to, just look at which months you were overspent in and jot down how much. Once you have a total, add a certain percentage for price increases this year, say 3% and then this gives you the total you should have in your 'Unexpected Expenses' column in your budget. If you divide the total by 12 that will tell you how much you need to be saving into this account each month.

The 'Unexpected Expenses' account is not for Emergencies, that is a separate account and if you don't keep then separate you will have nothing left for a real crisis ! Forgetting that the car is die a service this month is not a real emergency but being left at the side of the road because a wheel fell off the car after the service is ! This actually happened to a pupil of mine yesterday ! Fortunately, her family do have an Emergency fund and it paid for towing and a hire car until the garage that did the servicing can fix the car and pay compensation. 

We'll talk some more about Emergency funds next week !

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

A Cheap Menu Plan

Jane over at has produced a great free menu plan with 21 meals for a week and all for around $50 which is around £30 UK money. Jane says that her secret weapon is shopping at Aldi and if you read my previous post I don't always think that Aldi is the cheapest place to shop so you might be able to get the cost lower than Jane if you shop around.

Jane also has a great free resource with 101 questions to ask yourself when saving money which I thought was a good read, especially if you are just starting out.

Her website is well worth a look if you are looking for inspiration on your money saving journey !

Monday, 12 June 2017

Finding Cheap Boiler Cover

I have been looking around for a deal to get the boiler serviced. It was installed in 2009 and its age means that boiler cover costs too much now so we no longer get a free service. Last year I paid £85 for a service so was looking for a better deal than that.

I checked USwitch and HomeServe had a deal for a year’s boiler cover including a free service for £60 a year. This saved me £25 and will give us emergency breakdown cover. However, I know from using HomeServe before that when you have a breakdown that they only come when they can and you might wait several days before the engineer gets to you.

So I’m not getting too excited about having boiler cover again, I’m just pleased to have knocked off £25 from the cost of getting the boiler serviced.

Summer is a great time to look for deals on things like boilers and heating as the firms don’t get a lot of business at this time of year and you can often get a discount.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Open Farm Sunday

Today is another opportunity for a free outing. It is Open Farm Sunday and all over the country farms are opening the gates to let the public see what modern farming is all about. Some farms will have tours, some walks and others lots of activities which you have to pay for like food and tractor trips.

You can find out which farms are open near you by going to and searching in your area. Up will come a map with little pins on that you can click on and find out more, like whether that farm visit is free !

We thoroughly recommend a visit as some of the people run more like smallholdings rather than farms and you can pick up some good gardening tips as well as giving the children a good run round in the fresh air and the chance to see some animals !

Enjoy your Sunday !

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Bucks Open Studios

This weekend is the start of the annual Open Studios event round here. I have always wanted to go but previously have been busy with report writing but this year I'm not !

The town has organised an Art Trail around 16 different artists with a wide variety of media, from pottery to painting. There are 2 bigger exhibitions and it is all free. 

Do have a check around your area as these Open Studio events are often organised with the same date across the country. It should be great fun !

Friday, 9 June 2017

Frugal Friday

So, the most frugal thing I did this week was timing the laundry so that it could all go outside to dry. That meant getting up early to put the wash on before the school run and pegging it out to make sure that it dried before the rain came back ! It worked and even cut down on ironing as blowing outside all day in a stiff breeze straightens out most of the wrinkles.

Apart from that it was a quiet week on the frugal front. We changed over to Plusnet for our telephone and broadband and it went much more smoothly than last year's change to BT. Last year we had to wait 3 days for service and lots of phone calls. This year with Plusnet it only took one phone call and the UK customer service agent was able to sort the problem immediately. So far the speed has been faster as well, so we are pleased with a better service for less money !

I posted a returns parcel for MissShoestring using stamps from the Royal Mail survey and downloaded several free Kindle books and a free book about menu planning from the Renaissance Housewife. I also made tortilla, homemade re-fried beans, 5 meals from 1 chicken, chicken stock, elderflower cordial and syrup pudding. I used up 4p frozen cabbage which was a yellow-stickered bargain from Christmas time.

We also picked strawberries from the garden as well as salad and ate ice cream and lollies from home when it was hot. We weeded and re-planted in the garden to make sure that we are going to get good crops and pulled out some woody radishes to make room for something new. I read "Your Playbook for Tough Times Vol 2. Needs and Wants Edition" by Donna Freedman and thought that it was even better than Vol. 1. I have also just started " The No Spend Year" by Michelle McGagh. I enjoy reading about the frugal strategies of others and find it so motivating !

I can't wait for the weather to get warmer again so that the blackcurrants get ripe

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Five Meals from One Chicken

I have been re-reading a book by Bethany Bontrager who blogs over at The Renaissance Housewife, it's all about feeding your family for $10 a head per week. She says that you should identify the ingredients which offer the most nutrition for your money, like chicken and eggs. So on Sunday I roasted a chicken 1.25kg in weight and then challenged myself to see how many meals I could get out of it. The chicken cost £2.35 from Aldi and id classed as a small one.

So, on Sunday we had roast chicken, roast potatoes, stuffing, carrots, cabbage and gravy and steamed syrup pudding. On Monday we had the same from leftovers. On Tuesday we had chicken potpie using leftovers and some of the chicken stock I made from the carcass. There was enough leftover to have on Wednesday with some mashed potatoes and then today I made soup from the stock. All told, that small chicken made 5 meals for 3 people, all with adult appetites !

Looks like Bethany is right, a chicken offers excellent value for money !

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Living on a Shoestring - regular bills

Now that we have a spending and a meal plan it is time to save money on the regular bills. The first thing to do is make a list of them all, so check bank statement etc. to find out what they all are. You may find some regular charges for things you have forgotten about, like magazine subscriptions or club memberships. 

Once you have your list, label it so that you can see which ones are a fixed cost e.g.) term life insurance or the community charge and which ones can be negotiated, like the gas and electric bill. Now examine all the fixed bills and decide if you really need it. For instance, we have fixed term life insurance which will stop once MasterShoestring is 18. With the community charge it is worthwhile checking that your property is in the same band as your neighbours. If it is in a higher band they query why ?

Once you have checked all the fixed costs it is time to examine the negotiable ones. You may have a few charges that you are paying by monthly direct debit. Only do this if it does not cost you anything extra over the year. For a long time I paid the TV license in instalments until I discovered that it was costing me money ! It is the same with car insurance or line rental, find out if the instalment plan is more expensive. For a few years now I have paid the telephone line rental all at once and received a substantial discount. Examine whether you really need a landline now that so many use a mobile device. If you are just getting it for the broadband access there are now firms which offer just broadband, no need for the landline.

Once you have done all of this you are ready to use some comparison websites to find the best deals for your negotiable services. Moneysaving expert has some excellent advice on shopping around for gas, electricity and telephone, also any sort of insurance including home and car. I always aim to find a price beneath what I paid last year !

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Making Elderflower Cordial

We have lots of elderflower in the garden just now and so I am going to make some elderflower cordial. I first learned how to make this the summer I was 19 and away from home for the first time. I was astonished to discover that the flowers are edible !

I don't add ascorbic acid or lemon juice when I am making this as you will find in some recipes. I just make and bottle the syrup and then add lemon juice when I make it up. Elderflower is very popular now in posh soft drinks and you can save a lot by making this syrup yourself. Here's how to do it.

First make sure that you know which are the elderflowers ! Get a friend to show you as there are lots of white, foamy flowers around just now and you don't want to make a mistake. Some recipes get you to remove the tiny flowers from the stalks with a fork, but I don't bother, I just cut the thick stalks away and then pour boiling water over a bowl full of flowers and leave it to stand for 24 hours.

After 24 hours have elapsed drain the liquid through a sieve and measure it out in pints. For every pint of liquid you need to add a pound of sugar and heat until all the sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture up to the boil and boil for a few minutes. If you want to bottle the cordial you need to make sure that you have got clean, warm bottles and stoppers ready. Then fill up the bottles right to the top with the hot syrup and stopper tight so there is no gap between the syrup and the stopper. As the liquid cools it contracts and a vacuum is created at the top of the bottle keeping the cordial fresh.

I don't bottle the cordial anymore, I just wait for it to cool and then stick it in the freezer in jam jars. That way I can store it in smaller quantities as we weren't always able to use a whole bottle after we had opened it.

To use the cordial dilute it with water in the same way you would with any other soft drink e.g.) blackcurrant cordial like Ribena. We normally add a good glug of lemon juice to the cordial before diluting as that cuts the sugar and the strong taste of elderflower giving just a nice hint of the flavour in the same way as commercial drinks.

I hope you enjoy this drink as much as we do, especially in the Winter when we like to use up the last of it for a taste of Summer !

Monday, 5 June 2017

Book Review

Last week I found some book tokens which still had some money on them so I went to Waterstones for a look round. This is not something I normally do as I find book buying such a temptation. However, the prospect of a 'free' book sounded good and in the end I purchased this one !

This is a hefty, paperback book and it starts with lots of good advice for cooking at home. There are sections on being confident in the kitchen, stocking up a pantry, meal planning, fussy eaters, special diets, using a freezer and a microwave.

All this great advice is followed by over 80 recipes arranged Breakfasts, Lunches, Dinners, Desserts and Family Feasts. There are also sections on seasonal eating and how long you can keep food for. There are even 2 week long menu plans with a shopping list to go with them.

I thought this was the best book of the three I have recently bought to get people started on budgeting in the kitchen and I really liked that all the recipes were straight forward and did not contain strange ingredients. There are also lots of colour pictures of the finished dishes.

The book's price is £14.99 which I think is a bit steep for a book which is trying to save money, but if it meant one less takeaway or you got it from the library then it would be good value. Do you have a favourite new cookbook ?

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Learning a Language

With all the lovely sunny weather my mind has been turning to our late Summer holiday in Italy. I wanted to learn a bit more Italian and have been trying various different methods. So far I have found Duolingo the best. This is a free web or app based programme which allows you to learn various languages. I like the fact that you can do just 10 minutes a day and hear the words spoken. But I think that it would probably work best if you also had a book to go with it as I have to guess what the words mean sometimes and then learn them. For instance the verbs are not all written down together so it has taken me ages to learn a few simple pronouns.

I also liked the BBC mystery series but not all the episodes were available online so I gave up on that. I am going to try and get a book at the library to go with the Duolingo programme and would be happy to hear if you have any more tips !

Saturday, 3 June 2017

The Grow Network

Our garden is producing well this Summer and I am very thankful for it so I thought that I would share a resource that I have found very helpful in getting it that way. It comes from the USA so not all the ideas are applicable over here but lots of them are !

You can have a look at all the useful information at One of the reasons I was so keen to let you know about it is that from Monday they are running a Home Grown Food Summit entirely on the internet so you can watch all the presentations from home and they are all free. I signed up last week and got 3 free bonus videos which I found useful, even though I don't plan to raise rabbits for meat any time soon !

Pop over and have a look, one of the most useful ideas we saw early on was to layer compost in the beds much thicker than we normally do and to have a whole patch of lettuce leaves rather than rows of individual lettuce. That patch has produced salad everyday since the start of May and is still going strong ! The website is worth a look to see if you cant learn something new too !

Friday, 2 June 2017

Frugal Friday

Lots of frugal fun this week with 2 birthdays and last night a local election hustings which was as much fun for people watching as it was listening to the candidates.

I got another £5 voucher for the Correctly Delivered survey so spent £4.69 on a guarantee for 15 years laser sharp kitchen knife as we needed another small, sharp knife in the kitchen drawer. We cleaned MissShoestring's car ourselves and were treated to a free Valet and MOT on our car when we took it in for an MOT test and service.

 We planted the last of the free wildflower seeds, but I'm not sure if they will survive the pigeon attacks. The free local paper was a good read and will be saved for lighting the fire in the Autumn. We made the most of the increasingly good weather this week by having a barbecue for MissShoestring's birthday. The very first of the strawberries appeared in the garden yesterday and we enjoyed having one each !

I sold an unwanted gift for my birthday and used to get a book I wanted. I enrolled in a free online course which will help with a college assignment and I started to learn Italian with Duolingo ready for our holiday at the end of August. I also downloaded more free Kindle books and was sent a menu planning book for free in exchange for some proof reading.

This week we made 2 birthdays cakes, burgers, buns, yoghurt, tortillas, chips, pancakes and bread from scratch. I also installed a sav-a-flush device in one of the toilets which isn't low flow.

I spent £101 on food, which with a little top up should be enough for the month and scanned all the purchases with the Nielsen scanner to get some more points towards cinema tickets. We mended a puncture in one of the bikes and used the cheapest petrol station to get fuel for the car. It was half term so I didn't have to pay for lunches for MasterShoestring.

All in all a good frugal week, especially as the garden is producing well !

Thursday, 1 June 2017

May Reckoning !

I knew that May was going to be an expensive month as we were starting to pay the Community Charge again and it had gone up to £247 a month and this first month was a little more at £250.40 to even out the monthly instalments. I also knew that right at the end of the month we would have the service and MOT for the car. It turned out that a bit of the suspension on the car was broken so the whole thing cost £249.95. This was alright as we had saved up for it but it did make decide to avoid the really pot-holed part of the track we live on as it was clear that all those potholes were what had caused the suspension link to break in the first place ! The other big expense this month was putting all that diesel in the car after I had made mistake and put some petrol in it. This cost will eventually even itself out so I'm not too worried about that.

Transport also cost a bit more than we were expecting as MrShoestring had a specialist appointment down on the South coast. However, we used to pay to see this neuro-otologist and now MrShoestring is seen on the NHS, so it is still a big saving. The best news of all is that he is so much better that he doesn't need to go again if he stays well and will be slowly cutting down on his medication as well ! We were 81p over the food budget this month as MissShoestring really wanted some strawberries on her birthday cake and we only had 2 in the garden, so I had to go and buy some yesterday.

I managed to find a good energy deal to replace the one that will come to an end in June. I had hoped to save some money but the best deal I found was 18p more a month than we are currently paying. This was much better than the 25% rise we had been offered by our current supplier, so I was glad to take it. We will also swap our telephone and internet supplier on 8th June to try and keep the bill at its current level. The good news was that the water bill has fallen by £5 a month and that will save us £60 over the course of the year.

So far I don't think that the Smart meter is saving us any money on the gas and electricity but it is showing us that we use quite a bit more electricity than we do gas. This is probably because we sue electricity to cook and we do all our cooking at home. Next month I am going to investigate how we might cut down on this, especially as the Summer months mean that the solar power is producing a lot of kilowatts on sunny days ! So all told we spent £1351.42 this month which is still well under our £1500 goal and I was able to out £148.58 into savings, just under 10%, so not bad for such an expensive month !

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Living on a Shoestring - Meal planning

So, now you have worked out what you have, cut costs and brought in a little more, the next few posts will concentrate on making the most of what you have, starting with meal planning. I have just been doing this for June and so the process is fresh in my mind.

The first thing to do is take an inventory of what you already have in stock. I walk around with a clipboard, paper and pen and write a list of things in the fridge, the cupboards, the freezer and at this time of year, the garden. This month I had lots of split peas and bacon left as every week there was enough spaghetti bolognaise left to feed us for another meal so the bacon dish was not made. This means that I have enough ingredients on hand to cook it 4 times this month.

I find it easiest to theme each day of the week and then cook something to match. For example, Sundays are a roast/meat dish and Thursdays are always soup and rolls, I did adapt this in the hot weather so that the bread dough for rolls became pizza bases and the vegetables for the soup were used to top pizzas which we had with salad from the garden. I could also have served a cold soup.

I also try and include a couple of new recipes, which this month will come from those new cookbooks I got. This means that we don't get too bored with our limit of around £10 per person per week. Now that MasterShoestring is a teenager I do find that I also have to include snacks on the menu and I can't rely on there being leftovers for the following day. One day I made 3 large pizzas and had half left after the meal. Oh good, I thought, those will do for lunch tomorrow ! They didn't last, MasterShoestring ate all the pizza for supper that night !

Now that food prices are rising I don't have the funds I used to for stocking up but I do try and have a little left over to nab a bargain if I see one and I also allow around £40 a month for school meals. I could provide cheaper lunches myself but MasterShoestring likes to be able to go to the cafe with friends and not feel left out. This is a priority, so I make the budget stretch in other areas such as using chapatti flour for bread making rather than more expensive labelled wholemeal flour. It makes a good loaf and costs 30p a kilo instead of 50p.

The good thing about meal planning is that it is flexible, if you have all the ingredients in at the start of the month you can swap meals around and not be reaching for the takeaway menu on busy nights. It also means that if you have the time you can cook ahead and put things in the freezer for emergencies, like someone not being well or the car breaking down and you get home late.

Meal planning undoubtedly saves us money and time so I thoroughly recommend it and if you need help getting started then Bernadine Lawrence's book on feeding your family for £5 a day is a great place to start.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A Lovely Outing

Buckingham is a very attractive town about an hour away and since the weather yesterday was not so reliable that is where we went for my birthday outing. The picture above is the county goal, which was very splendid. The whole town is full of very old buildings and interesting shops. Nearly all of them were closed yesterday, even the tea shops which was a bit of a surprise.

We had gone there to do the circular walk and fortunately the rain stayed off just long enough to let us do it ! It was spitting a bit when we got out of the car and made our way down to the River Great Ouse.

It was lovely and peaceful along the river and the perfume from the flowers after the recent rain was amazing. We did the 4 miles or so and then walked a bit quicker back towards the town as the sky was darkening.

We admired the golden swan on top of the town hall and then decided to head for home for a cup of tea. We had just got in the house when the heavens opened ! We were so lucky that the rain held off whilst we were walking !

Buckingham has several play parks spread out along the route of the walk and plenty of green space, there is even a little waterfall on the grounds of the university, so well worth taking a picnic and making a day of it, when the weather is better.

We paid nothing but petrol and 50p to pump a flat tyre on the way home, so a great frugal, birthday adventure, especially when we slid down the track from the railway bridge to the road below !

Monday, 29 May 2017

Frugal birthday

With two birthdays this week within two days of one another we need to make sure that each day is special but that we don't go overboard with spending on them.

To start with all the decorations are handmade and re-used from one year to the next. This is easier now that everyone is that bit older. For younger children it is still possible to get great decorations from the pound shop. The birthday child/adult has a specially decorated place at the breakfast table and the cloth, candle and flowers are all things we already have on hand. The presents and cards are laid out on the table and the birthday person gets to choose the breakfast. Whilst that is being prepared they open their cards and presents. Doing it first thing in the morning means that everybody can share in the joy before heading off to work or school. It also means that things aren't too overwhelming and anything that arrives later in the day can be enjoyed as well.

If it is a weekend or holiday then the birthday girl/boy chooses the lunch and what we do that day, outing, film marathon, board game tournament etc. Outings are especially popular but these will be something free or cost effective such as a trip to a pick-your-own farm.

Supper is the next special event with the birthday person choosing the meal and rounding off with a singing of 'Happy Birthday' and the blowing out of candles on a handmade cake. 

For very special birthdays or ideas for birthday parties with all ages, especially teenagers, we have a great book called " The Birthday Book" which has loads of ideas in it and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Right, I'm off to enjoy the rest of my birthday !

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Having a Water Check

Affinity Water supply the water coming into the house here. Since we also have a well and a septic system we save quite a bit on not having to pay for the disposal of waster water and rarely need to pay to water the garden or clean the car, as we use well water for that. The well does run dry sometimes and then we don't wash the car and use a ate ring can for the garden !

We also have a water meter fitted which has just been upgraded to a more accurate digital one. As a result of this our bill has just been decreased from £14 a month to £9. I was very pleased about this as I think that MissShoestring has been taking a lot of showers ! In spite of all this water saving I still thought that we could probably do more and since we live in an area which is 'water stressed' I wanted to find out how to conserve more.

Affnity offer a service whereby a technician comes round to your house, checks all your taps and fits extra water saving devices if you need them. I had a visit on Friday from a charming young man who replaced the aerator on the kitchen tap, ordered a toilet bag online for me and left a shower aerator for MrShoestring to fit to the fixed shower which can't have a change of head. I was delighted to have the kitchen tap aerator replaced as it has been falling off the tap regularly for the last few months which was very annoying ! We had bought a few different ones to replace it but none of them fitted properly, so it was great to get the correct one for free !

The technician was also a mine of information about water saving. We had been contemplating using a pressure washer to clean the patio this week but I changed my mind when he told me that they use 1000 litres of water an hour ! He said that the water company would prefer it if I used a bucket and a scrubbing brush, so that is what I shall do ! He also said that the water levels in the area were lower than expected at this time of year and that if we wanted to avoid restrictions later in the Summer we should all do our bit to save water now.

I thought this free water check visit was really worthwhile and as a parting gift I received a free shower timer as well. I like a really long shower, it is one of my little luxuries, especially as the hot water is heated by solar power at this time of year. Now, I shall think of the water saving we should be doing and try very hard to have a 4 minute shower using the timer !

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Review of " Save Money Good Food Family feasts for a fiver"

This cook book is not by the two lovely people who presented the ITV programme of the same name but by a guy called Rob Allison and it does not contain all the recipes from the TV show. That said it does have some excellent frugal ideas in it and I was glad that I was able to get my hands on a copy.

It is a substantial hardback book with excellent photography of the dishes. At the start of the book there is also lots of good advice about how to store food to avoid waste and how to save money on the weekly grocery bill. Then the book is divided into 6 main sections which includes one on using up leftovers and one on Friday night feasts. There is even a dessert section !

All the recipes are costed on the basis of being for 4 people and costing £5 for the whole dish i.e. a cost of £1.25 a head per portion. Now this is a bit expensive for my everyday budget but there are lots of adaptations which you could make which would make the recipes cheaper. For instance, I would not put chorizo sausage in my macaroni cheese !

The section I found most interesting and the reason I bought the book is the one on Friday Night Feasts. This includes recipes for having your own 'takeaway' at home including Chinese. American, Mexican, Indian, British and Thai. All of the 'feasts' include more than 1 dish and I feel that I would definitely have a go at some of these ideas, especially the Indian and Chinese ones. That's where the cost of £5 for the whole feast seems like good value for money and I will be trying out a few ideas next week during those 2 birthdays.

There is another book I would recommend along these lines and that is "The Takeaway Secret'. That is a smaller, cheaper book and does not have pictures. It does a similar job but without the emphasis on cost saving. All the recipes are still cheaper than a takeaway !

The "Save Money Good Food" book has a retail price of £18.99 and I would not pay that much for it ! I waited until I found a damaged copy on Amazon for £4.99, it had a big crease down the middle of the cover. I paid for it using a Swagbucks gift card and used the Amazon Prime trial for shipping, so the book was effectively free, that makes it good value !!