Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Reckoning !

So in spite of a few unexpected expenses this month we did really well with keeping our expenses low, they came in at just under 1000 pounds for the month. I think this is really great and although the 500 pounds saved will be needed for expenses later on in the year it shows that we can live a frugal lifestyle and manage on a budget.

Unexpected expenses this month included:-  a bit more on petrol thanks to sporting and trustee trips; quite a lot more in the dental column thanks to my filling; some new shoes for MasterShoestring who is in his puberty growth spurt and has wide feet, so that meant a brand new pair at 50 pounds and a little bit for rail transport for MrShoestring but that is counteracted by the fact that he earns more when he has to travel !

We still had a lovely half term, enjoyed celebrating Valentine's Day and enjoyed some date nights at home thanks to LoveFilm and Netflix, neither of which we pay for !

I am quite inspired to have another look at the shopping list for next month to see if I can squeeze the budget further.  I have already bought Easter eggs on special offer and we don't have any special events next month so I would very much like to find the money to donate to a few charities over the course of Lent.

I hope that you have also had a frugal February !

Monday, 27 February 2017

Pancakes !

We love pancakes in this house ! MasterShoestring  has them for breakfast and after school snacks and I eat them for supper on busy days when I have to be out of the house before the others eat. Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent, when traditionally all the eggs and butter in the house were used up in pancakes before the fasting for Lent began. Now we don't fast in this house, all our special diets make that not such a helpful idea, but we do try and cut down on the grocery budget even more during Lent and then give the difference to charity. Pancakes are very cheap to make and delicious to eat so they may well make an appearance during Lent as well !

This recipe will give you thin, crepe like pancakes but if you want thick American style ones just cut everything in half apart from the egg !

1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup water
1 egg

Mix all the ingredients together and oil a frying pan really well. Wait for the oil to be hot then ladle a bit of the mixture into the centre of the pan. Turn with a spatula once the surface of the pancake is no longer runny. You can try flipping them, but I don't recommend trying this if you want to have a pancake to eat !!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

An Unexpected Pleasure

One of the unexpected pleasures last week was that an envelope, which came as part of the Royal Mail survey I do, arrived with a hand drawn picture of a pug on the envelope. The picture took up all the space on the front of the envelope with the address written around the picture. I thought that it was really ingenious and saved it to show everyone I met that day.

On the back were the details of the artist and a website that you could look at to find out more about the project. The website is and apparently it is run by a group of people who have committed to decorate an envelope and send it every day for a year. The original of my envelope is on there, as well as some really clever pictures, like the one where the queen's head on the stamp as been used to develop a whole picture of her Majesty posting a letter !

The envelope and the website made me smile and gave me a lot of pleasure. It also made me think about whether I could draw some pictures on envelopes I send ! My drawing skills are not that good but I could put a little joke in a lunchbox or pin a cartoon on the bathroom mirror. So I think this week I shall start to look for a few little ways to make other members of the family smile ! It costs nothing but some thought and can really cheer up someone's day !

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A Trip to the Library

I realised that I needed to go the library when I looked online to see when some books I had ordered would be coming and discovered a fine of £2.10 ! At first I thought that it was a mistake but then I realised that magazines could only be kept for a week and I had three which were a day late. Not so frugal, until I realised that I could cancel the books I had been waiting for, which were now too late to help with my assignment, using the money  refunded to pay the fine and be 90p in credit. I did all this online and then set off for the library, keen not to incur any more fines.

Once there, I picked up two books to help with gardening this season.

The first was this one with detailed information about what to do on your allotment when. We don't have an allotment but our garden is larger than usual so I always find these sorts of books handy to look through and this one has recipes as well. I also picked up the Which guide to the Garderner's Year Made Easy which is right up my street and has lots of colour pictures telling you what to do each week.

To make up for the books I cancelled I found two more about mindfulness which is what we have to read about for the course.

This was the first one I found and I'll have to read it to find out whether it will be helpful. Similarly with the second one which is called Mindfulness on the Go.

Finally, a couple of books for fun.

We are hoping to drive down and see Venice in the Summer. All the family has been apart from MasterShoestring who would really like to go. He agreed that it could be a camping holiday as long as he gets to see Venice. So this book will help me plan some other places to visit as well.

I also got this one.

We have always loved The Little Prince, so much so that MrShoestring read it to me again whilst we were in labour with USAShoestring so I am hoping this new sequel will be as heartwarming as the classic.

I love the library, you can always find something you want to have a look at and if it turns out not to be as good as you thought you can just return it and choose another, no money wasted on a book that is not as good as the front cover led you to believe. If it is a really good book then you can start to look for a cheap copy to add to your own library ! Enjoy your library this weekend !

Friday, 24 February 2017

Frugal Friday

This week I tried to keep a note of all the frugal things we did and it ended up being quite a long list !

First, on Sunday I gave MrShoestring a haircut, he looked quite nice with much shorter hair and no curls ! This means that we have enough money to pay for the barbers for MasterShoestring, as at 14 he does not like his Mum cutting his hair !

I also bought a cheap black printer cartridge, getting an extra large size for 3 pounds cheaper online than I pay for the normal size one locally. Monday we made turkey potpie using the last of the turkey saved from Christmas and there was enough left over to eat as leftovers for supper on Wednesday as well.

We made the petrol last until the end of the week but when MrShoestring said that he would not go to collect more free pallets for the stove without more petrol in the car I cracked and went and filled up at the cheapest, local station. There are a couple of sporting events over the weekend for MasterShoestring so I knew that I could not hold out any longer !

We also made bread, yoghurt and breadcrumbs and ate 3 vegan meals this week. I was also really careful to price my grocery shopping before going to the shops and took into account the cost of driving there as well, to work out the cheapest possible place for shopping this week.

I sorted out all my files and discovered over 100 plastic pockets for re-use. We use these all the time and it was great not to have to buy any new ones and just put out the ones we already had. I also found a display book which MasterShoestring can use for school. I also put 4 cartridges for a pen MrShoestring uses into his desk where he can find them so no need to buy more. the rubber bands from the post were placed in the stationery drawer so we know we have plenty and will not buy them.

The mustard and cress for this week's salad was grown on a couple of cotton flannels which can be re-used rather than blotting paper which has to be thrown away and full loads in the washing machine was a rule we stuck to this week. The beautiful weather on Monday also allowed us to line dry some more bulky items.

This week was unusual in that we also earned some extra money from using Swagbucks, selling some books to Ziffit and tutoring someone. So all in all a good week ! 

I'm really interested to reckon up expenses next week, at the end of the month as we have also had some extra expenses, so I am wondering if we have anything to save this month ?

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Options for Produce Purchases

I often read that going to the market can save you money when you buy fruit and vegetables so I decided to do a bit of an experiment yesterday with the aim of purchasing a pound of apples as cheaply as possible.

The cheapest option would be if you had managed to store some apples from last Autumn from your own trees or from a neighbour's surplus. Then your apples would be free, apart from the cost of newspapers to wrap them in and a big cardboard box to put them in.

After that you might have stored apples from purchasing a job lot from an orchard last year. We have done this in the past, but have never had prices under a pound a pound, as we always purchased from an organic orchard and the prices were understandably a little higher.

Next I checked out the local market. This is in a posh Home Counties town so is a bit more like a Farmer's Market and that means prices can be high. The cheapest I found there was 98p a pound.

The next stage was to check out prices at local supermarkets using the mysupermarket website. This is very comprehensive now as it includes Lidl and Aldi as well as all the major stores and Ocado and Amazon. There was a bit of difficulty in translating number of fruits to price per pound but in the end Lidl won out with a cost per pound of under 70p. This could be beaten if you manage to get stock which is going out of date and has had the price lowered. For instance, last week I got a pound and a half of apples for 59p at the local Tescos.

Final stop was at the local greengrocers where a pound of Cox's Pippins was 85p.

So for the very cheapest apples I would have to drive to Lidl, which is 6 miles away. Including the cost of petrol in my calculations made it cheaper to purchase the apples locally and helped me realise that my monthly shop at Aldi or Lidl should also involve picking up some fruit and vegetables which will keep !

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Little Corners of Home

This week I have been tidying up and decluttering again as I have a few more pupils coming for tuition and I want the place to look welcoming and tidy. As I was trying to see the rooms where we will be working through new eyes I realised that it's not fabulous new furniture or storage ideas that make your house a home but all the cosy, little things which are meaningful to you. These do not have to cost a lot or take a lot of time to arrange. I picked out three areas in our home to show you what I mean.

The first is a picture which MissShoestring painted for a special wedding anniversary, it hangs in our bedroom and brightens up a corner where otherwise only a dressing gown hangs. You can see our love of sunsets shining through !

The second is this lovely quilt which we have hung on a bare wall. It was made by some ex-pupils, each one made a square and it is a lovely reminder of our time in the USA. It brightens up a wall where otherwise there would be nothing.

This final picture is a wee peek at our 'nature corner' on the dining room table. It is still dark enough to make lighting a candle at the evening meal a cosy thing to do and the vase holds 5 snowdrops from the garden to remind us that Spring is nearly here. The postcards are from a collection that I have built up over the years and they can be changed to match the seasons and festivals.

I couldn't buy any of these things at a fancy homeward store but all of them make our house a home !

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Line Drying Clothes

It was such a lovely day yesterday that we quickly washed all MissShoestring's dirty clothes and MasterShoestring's dressing gown and bedspread. I knew that I could get a head start on drying the heavier items outside, as the predicted afternoon temperature was 15C. This is the temperature that I look for so that I know there is a good chance that the whole load will be nearly dry or completely dry by the end of the afternoon.

The other thing we do to ensure quick drying outside is to be sure to hang the large, heavier items on the big clothesline at the end of the garden. This means that we can spread them out and only one layer of fabric needs to dry. We reserve the smaller clothes post, which is telescopic and has looped layers of washing line for smaller things which won't be at a disadvantage from hanging close to other wet washing.

Experience over the years has also taught me that woollen jumpers like to lie flat, if you let them drip then they stretch. It is best to hang trousers, skirts and dresses from the hem rather than the waistband as the waistband is thicker and takes longer to dry. But socks and underwear should be hung from the top so the thicker toe and gusset have a chance to dry.

Plastic clothes pegs do not rot if left out in the rain the way wooden ones do but they break more easily so I like the wooden pegs which are all in one piece or if I can't get those plastic ones which come all in one piece. These do break quite easily, especially if used on a thick piece of fabric but they do not have a metal spring top rust which can leave marks on your washing. If the pegs do get wet then I leave them on some newspaper on a sunny windowsill to dry off.

Yesterday's weather was another gift that let's us know that Spring is on the way, I can't wait until all the washing is drying outside once more !

Monday, 20 February 2017

Time for some Baking

This was the pan of chocolate brownies which I baked for Valentine's Day. Later I decorated them with individual hearts and glitter sprinkles. The recipe is very easy, but very rich and is my 'go-to' cake for a treat for MrShoestring as it contains no sugar. The cocoa makes it gooey and very chocolatey !

2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup carob or other syrup e.g.) maple
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1tsp vanilla extract

Mix all the ingredients together and if the mixture is a bit stiff add a little more non-dairy milk. Grease a 9x11 inch pan and turn mixture into it. Bake for 30 minutes at 350F. Cool slightly and then cut into very small squares, the usual size of brownie will be too large as these are very rich ! Enjoy !

Sunday, 19 February 2017


This week I have been lucky enough to be up in time to see the sunrise and the sunset. At this time of year the days begin to get significantly longer fairly quickly. Today, round here, sunrise is at 0711 with sunset at 1723 but by the end of next week sunrise will be at 0654 and sunset at 1737, so 17 minutes difference in the time the sun rises and 14 minutes difference in the time the sun sets. This means that we have over half an hour of extra day light just over one week. I have noticed that we are not putting the lights on in the mornings anymore and that the curtains are being closed later in the evening, so that will definitely be helping with the electricity bill. It is also lovely to have the beautiful sunrises and sunsets to enjoy. It reminds me of the old hymn line .. " New every morning is the love .."

New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.
New mercies, each returning day,
Hover around us while we pray;
New perils past, new sins forgiven,
New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.
If, on our daily course, our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
As more of heaven in each we see;
Some softening gleam of love and prayer
Shall dawn on every cross and care.
We need not bid, for cloistered cell,
Our neighbor and our words farewell,
Nor strive to find ourselves too high
For sinful man beneath the sky.
The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God.
Seek we no more; content with these,
Let present rapture, comfort, ease—
As heaven shall bid them, come and go:
The secret this of rest below.
Only, O Lord, in Thy dear love,
Fit us for perfect rest above,
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray.

Enjoy your Sunday !

Saturday, 18 February 2017

A Visit to Brighton

Yesterday I had to go to Brighton for some trustee training and took my camera and set off very early, at 0620, to try and avoid the traffic. I had visions of arriving early and wandering around the quirky shopping and stunning architecture, perhaps with a little walk along the beach !

In the event I spent quite a lot of time here.

This is the Asda car park about 3 miles along the promenade close to the marina. You may be wondering why I would drive to the seaside and park in a supermarket car park ? The answer of course, was to save money !!

There isn't much parking in Brighton and what there is, is very expensive. The supermarket car park allowed me to have  a little snooze on arrival and visit their super clean toilets whilst I waited for my training venue to open.

We often find a supermarket to have  a picnic close by when we are on holiday as the food is reasonably priced, if we haven't got a picnic and the toilets are always handy and usually clean and well-equipped. This can be a godsend if you are travelling with youngsters who get travel sick. You can even go and buy a  cheap outfit if you can't reach the clean clothes packed under all the camping stuff. Yes, we have had to do this !

It was very misty yesterday first thing so I had a wander around the streets of Brighton instead of the beach and decided that I'll go back another day for the beach ! The free training was good and came with a free fish and chips lunch, what a pity I couldn't eat it ! However, it took nearly an hour to arrive and I was able to eat my packed lunch at 1pm and not endure an hour's hungry wait . This has happened before on training days and makes me glad that I have to bring a lunch. Perhaps I should have suggested they nip down to Asda for lunch ?

Friday, 17 February 2017

Frugal Friday

This week we were down to only four at home and for a quite a few meals MissShoestring was away so that meant we could eat leftovers quite a few days. MissShoestring likes leftovers too but often there is only enough left to serve 3 rather than 4 ! USAShoestring eats a different special diet to us as well so now he has gone home, we miss him, but we don't have to add so many extra items to the grocery bill. This meant that the total grocery bill was £15.04 this week. Pretty good and I still have some money left in the budget for next week and have already paid for MasterShoestring's lunches for next week.

I went to the dentist this week and had budgeted the usual fee of £19.70 for a checkup. However, it was time for x-rays and these showed a tiny bit of decay under an otherwise perfectly, good tooth ! The dentist said that she could fit the filling in this week as well. I wasn't best pleased as being allergic to local anaesthetic means having the filling with no pain relief at a cost of £30.20 which I had not reckoned on ! I decided that it was lucky that the problem had been caught when it was so small, so probably wouldn't hurt getting it done and as it was without anaesthetic the dentist put in a more expensive 'white' filling as you do not have to drill away so much tooth when these are done. The filling hardly hurt at all and whilst she was at it the dentist whipped out an old mercury filling in  another part of the tooth and did all the repair work in 'white' so now the tooth looks brand new ! I am very careful with oral hygiene precisely to try and avoid fillings but the dentist said it was just one of those things that a bit of bacteria had got under the enamel through a tiny fissure ! In the end I decided that I had got value for money !

It was a bit warmer this week so we kept the central heating off quite a bit and we did not go for an outing on Valentine's Day as I had a horrible cold, so that saved a bit of petrol money for another day. I also got books for free for my course with a book token and through the library. I decluttered the linen cupboard and got rid of 2 single duvets which we did not need. Now I know exactly what we have I know that I do not need to buy any household linen for a very, long time !

MasterShoestring had fun with friends and saved money on feeding them all by coming home and we have started to spend the £1 coins in the cash box so we do not get caught out when they cease to be legal tender. We were given USAShoestring's coin jar this week too and I was going to take it to Coinstar to be counted but then I discovered that they take 9.9% of the value that is counted and decided that I would just spend the change at jumble sales once they get started again.

Now that we are halfway through the month I also counted up how much we have spent and we are on target for another frugal month inspite of the unexpected filling !

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Feeding Teenage Boys

MasterShoestring had 2 friends over last night to go bowling. I said that I would pay for 1 game of bowling for the three of them but after that it was up to him. He opted to come home to eat pizza, chips, salad and rhubarb crumble rather than pay for food at the bowling alley which would have cost him close to £20.

I made 4 homemade pizzas, one with a goat's cheese topping, one with an ordinary cheese topping, one with meat and one just with vegetables. The ingredients were just the same as for a loaf of bread plus the toppings. The bases cost around £1 for 4 or 25p each, the tomato sauce was 10p for each pizza and the toppings would have been around 25-40p each, with the meat being the most expensive. So the most expensive pizza cost 75p plus the cooking cost which would have been around 4p. So at the very maximum it cost around £3 for the pizzas. Then half a bag of chips cost 40p and the salad around 75p. So under £5 to feed all three boys ! Great value considering they are all now taller than me !

It also means that we don't have to worry about the cost of MasterShoestring having friends over, as long as the eat with us and not out at a fast food place !!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Signs that the end of Winter is on its way

The last 2 days have been quite sunny here and although Monday was still a bit chilly, yesterday was up into double figures in centigrade ! Along the roadside I have seen a very early clump of daffodils and the hazel catkins are out along the road too. I thought that I would go out into the garden and see what signs of new life I could find.

The first thing that I saw was that the 3 little Winter heathers that I had planted close to the front door were in flower. I haven't seen any bees near them yet, but when a really warm day comes I know that I will see them hovering around the white and purple flowers.

The second thing I saw was this little, tiny snowdrop just poking its head above the grass. It is not open yet and some of the neighbours have whole clumps in bloom, but it is welcome sign that Spring is on the way. The front of the house is usually in shadow at this time of the year and I think that is why the flowers take so long to open.

The third thing I saw was this lovely tree with its pink blossom, so tiny and delicate, just trying to open. It was very pretty and I brought a few sprigs inside to brighten up the table in the kitchen.

Just as I was coming in, the sun struck the laurel hedge down the driveway and looked strong and vibrant, not at all like weak and watery Winter sunshine ! So I took a picture so I can remember that the sun is getting stronger and that Spring is on its way, just in case we get a few more of those completely grey days before the end of the month !

Looking round the garden only took a few minutes, taking the pictures cost me nothing and yet it reminded me that I don't have to spend any money to have a good time and keep my spirits high !

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Valentine's Day Meal

We shall be having a delicious meal of steak and chips as our Valentine's Day treat but it will be in our beautifully, decorated dining room rather than a restaurant and the portion sizes will be a little smaller !

I picked up a pack of 4 sandwich steaks for £2.21 in December and put it in the freezer to save. We have potatoes from the farmer at 15p per kilogram and the salad cost 40p, so the main course will cost under £1 per serving and means everyone in the family can have something special, rather than just the two of us ! For dessert I am going to make individually sized chocolate brownies. The 2 youngest can have ice cream with their brownies and I'll cut them into heart shapes.

MrShoestring is within 7lbs of his target weight, so this will help him still have a treat whilst staying fit and healthy !

It is nice to do something special together, so we are planning a walk up Ivinghoe Beacon, if it is not raining, but we will not be spending on excessively priced flowers, chocolates or cards. There is something rather nice about knowing you love one another after 30 odd years without a Hallmark card to tell you !

Monday, 13 February 2017

Another Tasty Meal

The soup post was so popular I thought that I would share another favourite meal made in the slow cooker. This one is called Pork and Peas. I used bacon last week to make it extra tasty and you can see the bacon and the onions in the slow cooker above. It was cooking bacon so very cheap. Here's the recipe

1 chopped onion
1tsp ground black pepper
500g pork/bacon
150g yellow split peas (soaked overnight)
1 pint stock (whatever you have)

Put the slow cooker on HIGH and place the pork and the chopped onions straight into the cooker.
Put the soaked split peas and the stock into a pan and bring to the boil and boil for 15 minutes. Then add the peas and the stock to the slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 7-9 hours.

This makes a very tasty thick stew which is delicious served with French bread and salad ! Ideal for these cold, grey days.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Warning about Rice Milk

MasterShoestring has been drinking rice milk since he was quite young. He had a specially formulated formula when he was small as he was allergic to breast milk and normal formula. Then we tried soya milk but he was intolerant to that so we moved to rice milk and for the past decade or so have been happily using it to make hot chocolate, pancakes, bread etc. to boost his calcium intake.

A kind blogger over at Frugal in Norfolk featured a whole piece about arsenic in rice the other day and I began to do a bit more research. We had heard about the problem with arsenic, especially concentrated in brown rice last year and as a result had cut down our consumption. However, I had not heard that the problem was especially bad in rice drinks with all the ones tested containing higher levels of arsenic than are recommended in drinking water. It was hard to find actual figures, so in the end I read the original report from the University of Aberdeen. It is an interesting read, but not an easy one and it confirmed that the levels of inorganic arsenic in rice drinks are high enough to say that it should not be given to children under 5. The report says that further investigation is needed into the impact on such groups as the one MasterShoestring falls as being dairy and soya intolerant, as they are likely to consume higher levels of these drinks than the rest of the population.

I stocked up on rice milk at the start of the month when it was on special offer and this morning I poured the remaining 6 litres down the sink. MasterShoestring is still growing, very rapidly at the moment and it felt wrong to use the rice milk when I wouldn't let him drink water with that level of arsenic contamination. I wish there was a bit more publicity about this issue and that it was easier to find out the facts, as some rice is not contaminated.

The Food Standards Agency in the UK and the FDA in the USA do have some information on their website but there are no recommended levels for arsenic in food which children eat so now that I know I'm playing safe.

The big problem now is what to substitute the rice milk with, as MasterShoestring can't have most of the alternatives ! I think we may be looking at grinding up calcium tablets !!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tasty Saturday Lunch

One of our favourite lunches on Saturday is soup and bread. We really like rolls to go with lunch and these are easy to mix up in the bread maker as dough and then shaped and baked in the oven for 15 minutes.

550g flour (I use a mixture of white and wholemeal)
1tsp yeast
25g oil
300ml rice milk
2 tsps sugar
50ml warm water

Add the sugar to the warm water and stir in 1 tsp yeast. Put to one side to froth and tip all the other ingredients into the bread maker. You can just use a bowl if you haven't got a bread maker. Add the yeast once it is active. Put the bread maker on the DOUGH setting and wait. Knead for 10 minutes if using the bowl method and leave to rise for 1 hour.

Once the dough is ready turn onto a floured board and cut into 12 equal pieces. Roll into round shapes and place on an oiled baking sheet to rise. Cover with a cloth to prevent drying out. ( I put mine in the airing cupboard as it is nice and warm there in the Winter !) Leave to rise for 30 minutes and then bake in the oven at 200C for 15 minutes.

Add your soup of choice ! This is lentil and tomato which I froze earlier. Soup and rolls makes a good tasty Winter lunch and are easy to prepare whilst you are doing other things around the house and garden.

If you are looking for new soup recipes Gina over at Home Joys has a great list of 22 to try !

Friday, 10 February 2017

Frugal Friday !

So we have been quite busy being frugal this week. USAShoestring finally had his visa interview at the embassy and instead of paying for a hotel, to make sure he got to his early appointment on time, he caught the earliest train and was there in plenty of time and saving himself over a hundred pounds. After securing the visa he went to the South coast to see friends and we turned off the heating in his room to make sure that we were not heating it whilst he was away. We kept the thermostat at 18C and only boosted the heat during the day when it fell to 16C.

We made all the evening meals in the slow cooker this week and that meant that there were leftovers to eat for lunches. We only spent £8.64 on a top up shop for groceries this week and otherwise ate from the big shop last week. The children are not keen on lentils but this time I added 1 tablespoon of hot chill sauce to the lentil bolognaise and they declared it delicious !

I knew the grocery budget was tight but after using petrol on Monday to get to IKEA to spend the Christmas voucher, I decided that Lidl was too far to drive and that the local supermarket would have to do. I was delighted to find that they have started to stock their own brand rye crispbreads at the same price as those from Lidl ! This was the main item I wanted to stock up on, so now I could buy them cheaply and not use petrol money ! I spent the £20 IKEA voucher on a throw blanket to form part of MissShoestring's Christmas present this year and two packets of colouring pencils which can also be used for watercolour painting. These will also go into Christmas presents this year. Withe the final pound I got some sealable bags for the freezer which can be washed out and re-used again. I don't think that we will use the IKEA offer again this year as the traffic to get there is awful and I suspect the petrol costs make it unlikely that we actually save money. So I shall be on the hunt for other methods to get a cheap, real tree of around 6 feet.

We made our own yoghurt and granola and everyone packed drinks and food when they were out and about to save buying anything. I sold a few more books and CDs to ziffit and downloaded 2 new free books for the Kindle. I got another £5 voucher from Swagbucks and will use it to buy a book for the course which I first borrowed from the library but think it is good enough to buy. We used home grown mustard and cress for a lunchtime sandwich rather than paying out for shop lettuce !

MrShoestring repaired a dent in MissShoestring's new car and we decided to wait for a film to come out on DVD rather than going to the cinema to see it. 

Next week it is half term and St Valentine's Day, plenty of opportunity for frugaling !

Thursday, 9 February 2017


Now that the days are definitely getting longer, we don't have to draw the curtains so quickly in the afternoon and are enjoying some lovely Winter sunsets.

The picture above was taken at our house in the USA, hence the lovely snow on the ground !

Enjoying a sunset is a real frugal pleasure. All those lovely colours and no predictions of what is going to happen. I'm sure that if this was a leisure attraction people would definitely be charged to watch it !

One of my favourite poems is all about the sunset :-

Sunset by Emily Pauline Johnson

To-night the west o'er-brims with warmest dyes; Its chalice overflows With pools of purple colouring the skies, Aflood with gold and rose; And some hot soul seems throbbing close to mine, As sinks the sun within that world of wine. 
I seem to hear a bar of music float And swoon into the west; My ear can scarcely catch the whispered note, But something in my breast 
Blends with that strain, till both accord in one, 
As cloud and colour blend at set of sun. 
And twilight comes with grey and restful eyes, As ashes follow flame. But O! I heard a voice from those rich skies Call tenderly my name; It was as if some priestly fingers stole In benedictions o'er my lonely soul. 
I know not why, but all my being longed And leapt at that sweet call; My heart outreached its arms, all passion thronged And beat against Fate's wall, Crying in utter homesickness to be Near to a heart that loves and leans to me. AT SUNSET 

I think that the opening line about the West overbrimming with warm colours exactly describes what a pleasure a sunset is. I hope that you can enjoy one soon !

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Trees !

This is a beautiful picture I took in the White Mountains, New Hampshire when we were visiting USAShoestring. There are trees as far as the eye can see. There are lots of trees around our house here too. At the moment nearly all of the them are dormant but it is fun to see that one or two have the faintest beginnings of blossom and the hazel catkins are now out all down the roads nearby.

We have several fruit trees in the garden and I am so thankful for them. In a good year, the apple trees give more fruit than we can handle and the new, young, plum tree gave the first harvery of 6 plums last year. So, I am hopeful of more plums next year.

We have planted a pear tree too, but I think that it will take so long to mature that Master Shoestring will be an adult before we see any fruit from that. MrShoestring has planted a whole lot of trees along the front fence so that eventually they will form the border to the garden rather than the enormous laurel hedge, which needs cutting annually.

We both love trees and really miss them if we travel somewhere that has only a few, the Orkney and Shetland Isles.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Books !

Now that USAShoestring has finished clearing out his books we have 2 nearly full bookshelves which were empty before ! We all love books and it is hard to let them go. USAShoestring is still hanging on to his university books but I predict that in a few years time those will go as well.

On the bottom shelf on the left hand side are the very few books we have kept from when the children were young. We have got a few picture books from Elsa Beskow and an illustrated Beatrix Potter. The sort of timeless books that we know that any young visitors will love.

Along from there are all the Sharpe novels and Patrick O Brien books which MasterShoestring wanted to read. These are great for middle teens as they are very historically accurate, have a rousing storyline and are full of good values. However, MissShoestring never liked them, too many battles for her !

Then the top shelf is mainly the books I got at jumble sales to read on the long commute last term. I haven't finished them all so that is plenty of reading material to hold in reserve in case I can't get to the library or when we go on holiday. We all have a horror of running out of something to read but what with this little lot, the library and a few free books on the Kindle, I think we are fine for some time to come and almost no money down !

Monday, 6 February 2017

A Freshly Made Bed

Having a comfy bed has saved us a bit of money over the years as now we do not need to pay so much for back treatment ! We have always had a wooden framed bed with slats rather than a box spring and have always replaced the mattress every 10 years. However, the last time we needed a new mattress we also bought a slightly larger bed, a kingsize, to allow for more moving around at night and a memory foam mattress. The mattress was really expensive and the only reason we bought it is because it was half price as it had some delivery marks on it. The orthopaedic surgeon I was seeing for a prolapsed disc recommended trying one, so we went for it. I can honestly say it has been a wonderful investment, no more back pain and no more expensive visits to the chiropractor either !

The quilt is an old one which I bought over 16 years ago and this photograph makes me realise that I should start planning to make a new one to replace it. I have enough fabric, thanks to cutting up all those old shirts in January, but I am quite worried about trying to quilt such a large piece of fabric using my ordinary sewing machine. I think that the thing to do might be to make separate squares and quilt those and then finally sew them all together. I don't think I fancy hand-quilting a bedspread on my own.

We also have cotton sheets and duvet cover on the bed and in the winter months use an electric blanket to warm up the bed before we get in. I've got bad memories of burning my hand filling a hot water bottle so those are left to MissShoestring now !

A comfy bed is definitely a frugal pleasure !

Sunday, 5 February 2017

A Lovely Cuppa

This is one of my favourite mugs sitting in front of the kettle whilst I get ready to make a cup of tea. I like floral, bone china mugs, not too thick and quite light. I have a few different ones and enjoy choosing which one I am going to use. I prefer mugs to a cup and saucer as the tea seems to stay warm longer and you also get more without having to go back to the teapot ! I use loose leaf tea and now drink decaffeinated to keep the daily caffeine consumption low as I drink more than 5 cups a day. I like it very weak with just a splash of milk in the bottom. This is one of my frugal pleasures in the day and I often think about having a cuppa out but then decide that the one at home, made in a favourite mug, will taste much better and be better for my purse !

MrShoestring prefers coffee but also has a preferred style. He likes stripy mugs and decaffeinated coffee made in a cafetiere. We have a little one, for when he is just making a cup for himself and a much larger one for family breakfasts or for making enough coffee to put in a flask to take out and about. The family know that if they are stuck for a present that some flavourful tea or coffee from a good supplier will definitely hit the spot !

Stopping for a cuppa breaks up the weekend nicely for us and gives us enough strength to go on with the next thing on the 'to-do' list which today includes mending the front porch light and a dripping tap !

Enjoy your cuppas today !

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The View out of my Window

This was the view out of my bedroom window taken on Thursday. The weather is pretty much the same today so I think it is fine to say that it looks the same today ! Tammy over at RowdyKittens has got a month long list of things to photograph for February so I thought that I would join in as it will encourage me to take more photographs which was one of my goals for this year.

Interestingly enough the photograph shows lots of frugal things that we have done in the garden. Far over on the left hand side of the picture you can see the shed which MrShoestring built. It is nearly nine years old now and with regular weather-proofing it is still going strong and is the ideal place to lock away garden tools. 

Next on the left you can see the long washing line and as soon as the weather warms up I shall be hanging loads of laundry there again. It is really fun to hang out the first load in Spring when primroses cover the grass.

In the centre you can see the homemade polytunnel where we have a grape vine and grow herbs and tomatoes. Just in front of that you can see the garden beds which have only got strawberry plants and some cutting sin them just now. You might be able to make out a couple of homemade cold frames which MrShoestring has placed over the beds to help the soil warm up. You can also see the two com posters that we have got.

Closer in is the peanut bird post. It is set up in the middle of the lawn to make sure that the squirrels stay away from it. However, so far I haven't seen any birds on it either ! I wonder what we can do to let them know that it is there ?

Friday, 3 February 2017

Frugal Friday

So this week was very frugal as we waited for the start of the new month. I waited until Wednesday to go grocery shopping and to buy petrol for the car. This meant doing without flour and driving to school whilst the petrol tank gauge read empty. I was determined not to crack and so made a loaf of bread from some gluten-free flour and put ten pounds worth of petrol in the car using a gift card we had been given ! MasterShoestring was a bit upset not to have pancakes for breakfast and I got a bit tired of pasta but we survived and had savings to bank which was a definite win. It would have been really easy just to go and buy what we needed but I really didn't want to do that.

Wednesday I went and did the big grocery shop and filled up the car and decided that just going to one shop where the prices were pretty cheap was going to be cheaper than visiting lots of shops to try and buy all the loss leaders. The big shop cost just over £88 and should last us all month with a few top ups for fruit.

I sold some more books to ziffit and made £60 over the course of the month so that is a tidy sum to put in the holiday account. I also transferred the interest we earned on the current account and just over £8 which I made selling a book on Amazon into the holiday account too. It is adding up nicely.

Three members of the family are trying to lose weight and so we have not been eating pudding every day this week and that has saved quite a bit, also it saves time in the kitchen so I have more time to work on decluttering. This week USAShoestring finished going through all of the things he had been storing here and was able to donate several nice pieces of clothing to MrShoestring so our 'buy no new clothes' for adults campaign is working very well so far.

We are going to continue to try and save as much as possible this month in order to pay for a Geography field trip for MasterShoestring which is happening in April so that will be a good focus to carry on cutting costs !

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Buying a car

I'm a bit late getting this post up today as there was much excitement in the household last night when Miss Shoestring arrived with a 'new to her' car.

It's a Toyota iQ, so really small and does not have any road tax as the emissions are so low. She has been researching cars for a couple of weeks now and thought that having a car might make commuting to jobs and interviews a bit easier. She test drove lots of cars and decided on a make and model and a target price and then went hunting for something that fitted the bill.

She almost bought a car just a few miles from here but they wouldn't move on the price even though she was paying with cash, so she just walked away.

Finally she got a deal 120 miles away which included MOT and service for a year and new tyres and was the target price. So having confirmed her car insurance she went and got it and drove it home yesterday.

She is very excited and we know that she has made a sensible buy which has a great reliability record and will be cheap to run. We're also really happy that she will be able to drive herself to the station !

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Reckoning

So, with the help of our annual spending spreadsheet and the January envelope system I was able to reckon up that in January we spent £1349.50 and were able to put away £150.50 in savings.

This was better than I was reckoning on after buying a new retainer and an air ticket, which were not expenses we had reckoned on. I would have liked to have been able to save a bit more to put towards expenses later in the year, such as medical and car bills, but think we did well to save anything at all after having 2 extra adults staying all month !

Miss Shoestring is off on another interview, so we hope that she will get something soon and USAShoestring has his visa renewal interview next week, so February should prove a little less expensive. It's also half-term month which means savings on transport, but a bit less in income.

I had a look to see which months we get a break from paying the Community Charge but it is March and April round here, so we're still paying it in February. So, it will be another ultra-frugal month round here and I've got a plan to try and use my camera more to let you see some of our daily pleasures. So roll on February with its lighter evenings and hopefully, slightly warmer temperatures !