Thursday, 30 June 2016

Glis glis !

Lots of these little fat dormice live in our loft. They live up there and breed like rabbits and make a terrible racket and are protected so you have to pay 60 pound cage deposit to the council and 15 pounds every time they come to collect one when you catch it ! Our record was 36 caught one Summer, so you do the Maths ! They are originally from Italy but Baron Rothschild who lived nearby released them into the wild round here and they like lofts better than trees. Most of the year they hibernate so then things are quiet but the rest of the time we are regularly woken up by them.

So in the end, we got licensed as pest controllers by Wildlife England and bought our own humane trap ! Now we catch our own and do not pay the council guy to come and do it for us ! It was him that told us it was possible to do that as he was so tired of making his way down our pot-holed drive. The trap came from Canada and as long as it is baited with apple works very well ! I just wish they would stop coming but there is always one that we miss before the hibernate in October and then the whole cycle starts again !

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

On not getting a dog, yet !

One of the things which Master Shoestring hung on to when he had to change schools earlier this year was the idea that we would get a puppy in the Summer and he would look after it. For many weeks he looked at pictures and read books and talked about it just before prayers. We said that we would  give him dog care equipment for his birthday and then bring a puppy home after visiting USAShoestring next month.

However, as the birthday crept closer and we kept asking what sort of dog and when we should sign up for dog training classes etc. Master Shoestring grew ever vaguer in his replies. Over the past couple of weeks he said that he would have to think about it some more and then last night said that he did not think he was ready for a dog. We asked him why and he said that he was probably still too lazy to look after an animal properly !

In a way we are proud of him as it would have been very easy to make promises and the renege on them and leave Mum and Dad to do all the work. However, we also pointed out that getting a dog might help motivate him not to be so lazy ! So he's going to think about it and let us know when he is ready, but we won't be getting dog care equipment for his birthday !!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Tomato Paste

Delicious homemade pizza with the sauce on the base made with the bargain tomato puree I got on Friday night. This was the only other bargain I spotted along with the onions. The own brand of tomato puree was being discontinued and so was 10p off making it 30p for a 200g tube. I used to buy tomato puree in huge tins from Approved Foods and freeze it but now that Approved Foods are a bit expensive this was a bargain. So I stocked up with enough for a year. It will keep on the shelf no problem and then in the fridge once opened so now I know I can carry on making tomato sauce and bolognaise sauce for a whole year.

I have a feeling that some food prices will creep up this winter so I am keeping an eye out for bargains to stash away now. For instance celery is on offer at 29p a head this week so I will get a few heads and chop them up for the freezer as this is a great addition to winter curries and stews.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Onions !

When I went shopping on Friday night I kept a look out for any reduced bargains. These are getting harder to find as now lots of people know what a good buy a 'yellow-stickered' item can be ! However, at the vegetable shelves I struck good-eating gold, with a whole lot of 1kg bags of red onions reduced to 10p each. I didn't want to be too greedy but it was quite late and so I popped 10kg into the trolley ! One pound for 10kg of onions cannot be beaten.

Some of them are a bit mouldy from being stored in plastic but I shall just cut off the bad bits and use the rest to make delicious onion soup and potato soup, we make this like leek and potato soup but just using onions instead !

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Frugality will always be in fashion !

This week have done quite a bit of driving about and hearing the news. USAShoestring is doing very well so congratulated him and consoled Miss Shoestring who is quite likely to lose her job now. One thing is for sure frugality is always a good idea ! Nice to know that you can cope when or if things get tight. Frugality now to help future prosperity is how USAShoestring is managing to fulfil his dreams. Frugality now is how Miss Shoestring will manage her future as she knows she has good choices no matter what happens.

Frugality then and now is how we have been able to help them both !

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Midsummer Bonfire

Looking forward to a Scandinavian tradition tonight, a Midsummer bonfire ! We gather up all the debris from the garden, have a barbecue and later on when it gets dark light a fire. Sing a few songs and then toast marshmallows in the embers. If it is a warm night we can star-gaze !

Fingers crossed that the weather co-operates as it has been a bit of a miserable June so far !

Friday, 24 June 2016

Birthday Parties

When we first moved back to the UK from USA we tried to have home birthday parties for our children. It did not work so well as all the parents stayed ! Our picture of 2 hours of cake, juice and party games was not at all what they were used to. The expectation was for professional entertainment and catering including alcohol and nibbles for the parents ! 

We quickly stopped participating, our children when invited to do amazing things were allowed to go but we decided that we did not feel the need to reciprocate. It worked quite well that Master Shoestring's birthday is in the middle of the Summer holidays so he could usually just get away with inviting people home for pizza and a movie at another time. That is what we shall be doing this year too as he turns 14 !

All his friends will be invited over one weekend, they will go off and play football at the local park, have homemade pizza and cake for tea, then watch a movie hired at low or no cost and then go home with perhaps 1 or 2 who live quite far away stopping over for a sleepover. The important thing for Master Shoestring is that he gets to have a fun time with friends, it does not have to be zooming around Silverstone in F2 cars at a cost of £200 per person !

He does really enjoy all the amazing things others do at their birthday parties and we are grateful to the generous families who invite him, even though they know that their child will not get a similar invitation back, but we just do not feel the need to participate in a birthday party 'arms' race and are so glad that we decided this early on !!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

School Photographs

It is school photograph season, we had ours done yesterday. Now we only have Master Shoestring in school we do not have so many packs coming home but I can well remember what a lot of pressure there was to buy. Master Shoestring knows that we do not purchase things this way and so is never disappointed when we return the pack unopened. However, the older two did found this very hard and we did find ourselves succumbing occasionally, usually for sports' team portraits.

These photographs are very expensive and if you have a cheap camera at home you can now take better shots yourself and get them printed more cheaply either online or at a local supermarket. Unless the pictures from school are extraordinary and you can never catch your child looking that good, save the money and schedule a home portrait session during the school holidays. You and your children will have a lot of fun, make memories and get some lovely pictures. Leave the overpriced ones on the shelf !

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Cheaper Meat

When I go shopping in between the big monthly shops I always have a look in the reduced sections just to see what might be there. Usually there is a lot of processed food which is no good for us but I have discovered that Tesco often has reduced near on Wednesdays. Sometimes I get really lucky and score several packs all reduced to the same low price and then I stock up but even if it is just a little piece of steak for a birthday, a low price is still worth buying. My target price for meat is under £4 a kilogram and if I see some at this price I will usually buy it even if we do not need it just now. The only barrier is if I do not have any food budget left.

This week I was lucky. I got a whole set of pork ribs for £1.25 and 850g of pork mince for £2. These prices were well under the target price so I snapped them up. The ribs will go in the slow cooker to make lots of pork and peas and the pork mince was divided up into 3 portions to make meat loaf with. Master Shoestring will be delighted with some more meat meals next month !!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Menu Planning

I do not use a special menu planning sheet when I am working out what to cook for the month. I just use a calendar page from a calendar that we are given at the start of the year. I find the ones with squares are just big enough to write down a main course and a pudding. In busy weeks or months this often means that only the first week is filled in as then we eat exactly the same for the remaining 3 weeks. This saves time and also means that people look forward to their favourites e.g.) pizza on Saturday !

This week we are eating:-

Sunday Roast Chicken, brown rice, vegetables and steamed jam pudding
Monday Chicken Curry , bulgur wheat, leftover jam pudding
Tuesday Chicken Fajitas, fruit salad
Wednesday Spaghetti Bolognaise, leftover fruit salad
Thursday Lentil Soup and Bread, fresh fruit
Friday Pork Chops, chips and peas, cake
Saturday Pizza and sorbet

Some of the meals are more complicated than others, e.g.) homemade pizza on Saturdays when we have time to make the dough from scratch and some are really easy like pork chops as we are busy doing housework that day.

Master Shoestring has been requesting more meat recently so this month there has been a near meal nearly every day, still managing to stick to the budget by looking for bargains that are nearly out of date and then freezing them.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Saving the Chicken !

Yesterday this was NOT what my chicken looked like ! I had decided to seal in the juices before I put it in the slow cooker, so popped it into the frying pan in some hot fat. The fat was not quite hot enough so the chicken did not begin to sizzle when I put it in. I went to the other side of the kitchen poured a glass of apple juice and went outside to chat to Mr Shoestring about planting some herbs, fully intending to go back in and turn over the chicken once I heard it sizzling !

Oh dear, the next thing I heard from the kitchen was the smoke alarm !! I had completely forgotten about the chicken ! The kitchen was full of smoke. I wanted to throw the chicken away, Mr Shoestring thought that it was only singed and that he could cut away the singed bits of skin and still put the rest of the bird in the slow cooker !

He was right and it worked, even the pan was not too bad once I put it in the sink to soak. I must remember that getting distracted is NOT frugal !!

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Frugal Week

I was trying to think about what we had done to be thrifty this week and could not get past the rather large bill for a new satellite dish and cables to replace the old so that we can continue to have television reception. I know that it does not sound very frugal, but we cannot have an aerial on the roof because of an old covenant on the house and the loft one does not work well. So once we had unplugged the TalkTalk box on Tuesday to return to them we had no reception at all. The boys really enjoy watching sport and with Wimbledon coming up they wanted to have it fixed !

We did wait all week and then found a firm which was prepared to come out on Saturday and do the work for a very reasonable price, it is guaranteed for a year and should last for 30 years. So on an annual cost basis it should work out to be a bargain !

The nice thing was that we could easily afford the bill because of all the automatic thrifty things we do. For instance this week :-

we used an old trap from the loft to catch glis glis rather than calling the pest control;
we hunted for the cheapest petrol;
we used toilet tissue rather than tissues when I had a cold;
we picked wild flowers rather than buying them;
we ate leftovers for lunch at work;
we used a gift card to buy a birthday present so it was effectively free;
brought leftover fruit home from work and used it to make ice lollies, the fruit would otherwise have been thrown away !

It can be a bit of a shock though after pinching the pennies to spend all those pounds !

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Water saving devices review

So we have been trying out our free water saving devices for just about a week now. The shower head is very good and you cannot notice the difference when you take a shower so I would recommend getting one of these. 

The tap aerators did not work for us as they did not fit our size of tap so we shall have to buy a new one for the kitchen tap !

The timers for shower and tooth brushing work well and we are using them. The gel for the plant pots also worked well and I might buy some more of this for when we go away in the Summer.

So all in all a good lot of freebies with only 1 fail in the whole lot. I would recommend that you find out what your water provider can offer by way of water saving devices and try a few out !

Friday, 17 June 2016


One of our favourite times of year has arrived ! The strawberries are starting to be ready ! Nothing beats a home picked berry and strawberries are very frugal as they keep on giving new plants through the little runners.

Our favourite way to eat them is just fresh on their own but if there are too many we also freeze them for later and make jam !

Yummy !

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Freezing Coconut

Master Shoestring won 3 coconuts last Saturday. Last year when his accurate throwing also won him a prize we put them out for the birds but this year we thought that we might have a go and keeping them for ourselves.

First thing Mister Shoestring bored a couple of holes in the top of each one and we drained off the water to drink. Next he tried hitting them with a hammer to try and break them open but without success. So then he put them in his woodworking vice and turned until they cracked. After that we dug out the coconut meat and grated it to put in the freezer.

Shredded or cubed coconut will keep for up to 8 months in the freezer so we are looking forward to a few coconut treats in the future. Well done Master Shoestring !

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Trying a musical instrument

We have had an old guitar lying in a cupboard and Mister Shoestring wanted to learn how to pick out a tune. We found lots of instructions and videos online so he could have a go and see if he wanted to continue to having lessons. In the end he wasn't that committed but the videos saved us having to pay for a few lessons to find that out and also saved a teacher from wasting their time on a pupil who wasn't going to continue.

Now we have donated the guitar to a wonderful music school in Africa which refurbishes instruments for youngsters in the developing world as we now know that none of us are going to play it but the videos were a cheap, fun way to find out that the instrument needed a home elsewhere !

What do you do for music lessons ?

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Keeping Fit

I have always struggled with my weight, sometimes a bit tho low when the allergy problems were really bad, but mostly a bit too high and that is not a good thing as I have a high risk of developing diabetes. Two years ago I decided that I must lose the 14lbs of excess and keep it off forever. I discovered that the secret was not diet but exercise and so far, as long as I exercise 5 days a week my weight has been stable and spot on where it should be.

I like walking and discovered that there are lots of free walking workouts on YouTube, there are lots of others as well and these are ideal for when you can't get out of the house and have no money or motivation for the gym. The great thing is their flexibility so you can exercise at any time and anywhere and they don't cost a penny and you don't have to worry about what you look like while you do them !

I like Leslie Sansone's videos as she is always so cheery and motivating and I also like that her videos have older people in them and people of all shapes and sizes so you really have the feeling that of course you can do them too.

What do you do for frugal exercise ?

Monday, 13 June 2016

BT Reward

So we changed broadband provider last Thursday, paying just over 30 pounds to get out of the contract with TalkTalk as the internet service was so poor. We waited and waited and were assured by BT that it would all be working by Friday morning, as although we had the telephone working the broadband was not and we are paying to have super fast fibre to help ensure a better connection so Master Shoestring can always do his homework !

Friday afternoon, still no broadband so onto the telephone I went. What a pleasant surprise to get a UK call centre, with an incredibly helpful person who kept on waiting at the end of the line as we switched the router from one room to another and reported the changes in coloured lights, described sockets etc. Finally it was working and without an engineer's visit ! A big thank you to Ruth who was on the end of the line and to BT who will be refunding me £155 for switching which will more than pay for terminating the contract with TalkTalk !

Even better, so far the internet connection is faster and less intermittent than it was with TalkTalk, so it looks like this change will be a win and at least in the first year will be a cheaper service !

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Repair !

I hope that you can see the picture above, it is the old light switch in Master Shoestring's room which he discovered in the middle of the night last week had failed.

Mister Shoestring said that he would have to manage with the bedside lamp until he could get around to getting the parts and fixing it.

Well he went to get the parts from a new shop which has opened up near us, Screwfix. The part that he needed only cost 56p and the light switch was as good as new. All he had to do was unscrew it and replace it.

Mister Shoestring says that you do not need to be afraid of doing simple electrical repairs at home. Turn everything off at the mains so you will be safe and then use a good DIY manual or YouTube video to show you what to do.

Mister Shoestring was ever so pleased with a 56p repair bill rather than a £60 call out charge !

Saturday, 11 June 2016

School Fair

School fair today ! These can be very nice events, especially the one we go to as unlike most school fairs the aim of this one is just to have fun rather than make a profit for the school. It is so nice to be able to run a stall and just sell things at cost. We are manning the ice cream and lollies and I went to Aldi and got a lot and can just sell them at pocket money prices to cover the costs and that is all. What a relief not to have to compete over which stall makes the most for the school !

In case you worry that we don't raise money for the school there is also a very large Advent Fair which raises thousands !

What are you doing today ?

Friday, 10 June 2016

Canadian ETA

Until I started researching what else I still needed to do for our trip in the Summer I did not realise that Canada as well as the USA expects you to receive electronic authorisation to land at an airport. In the USA this is called and ESTA but in Canada it is an ETA.

We are flying to Toronto rather than Boston to start our journey to see USA Shoestring, he lives only 50 miles south of the Canadian border and going to Canada saved us over 1000 pounds on the three air tickets. It is going to be quite a long drive but a nice one !

When I went to start the ETA process I was a bit shocked to discover all the websites which charge you extra on top of the normal fee to 'help' you with your application ! Make sure that you just use the plain and simple ETA site, nothing with anything added to the name or you are quite likely to be charged extra !

The internet is a wonderful thing, I could make my applications for the ETAs very quickly but it is also full of scams so you have to watch out !

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Travel Insurance

I have been hunting for travel insurance for our trip to see USA Shoestring in the Summer. We do have EHIC cards and a free European insurance policy through our banking but these are only valid in Europe and we know that USA travel without medical insurance would be unwise !

The cheapest policy was highlighted by one of my favourite websites, Moneysavingexpert, so a big thank you to Martin Lewis and his team for starting the site. We got comprehensive insurance for 3 of us for 50 pounds so that was really good. 

Now I just need to find a cheap way to get to the airport !

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Once a month grocery shopping

As I explained yesterday I try to menu plan once a month and then do a big shop to match it. Once I know what meals I will be making I make a long list of things we need and include household items that we might be running out of such as washing up liquid.

Once I have the list I have a look at my price book and website which lists prices for lots of supermarkets round about and then next to the item I want I mark the initial of the place which has it at the cheapest price. Sometimes I check a price at an online retailer as well which I know has had good prices in the past.

Once the list is done I work out what is going to be the quickest way to do the shopping. Last Wednesday for June I worked out that travelling further would save me money as I would be able to visit Lidl and Aldi at the same time and then pick up more specialist items at another supermarket on the way back.

In total I spent 2 hours shopping and another half an hour unpacking and dividing up larger packets into smaller ones to put in the freezer. At present I am finding that loss leaders at the supermarkets are beating on-line retailers like Approved Foods and bulk buy stores like Costco. I have tried these stores in the past and local markets but at present this is the cheapest way to shop for us. Grdening at home also helps a lot.

How do you grocery shop ?

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

What we are eating this week

I menu plan for a whole month and then base my shopping at the start of the month on that plan. The plan starts with a pantry and freezer stock take to see how many meals I already have and then I plan to fill the gaps. There are several non-negotiable items on the menu, like roast chicken on Sundays but I do sometimes vary what we have with it. For example we have lots of rice in stock so most Sundays that has been the accompaniment rather than roast potatoes. Here's the menu for this week, sometimes I eat something different because I can't eat what the others are having and I have recently upped the amount of meat as Master Shoestring is growing really quickly. Lots of egg and cheese based dishes are off the menu because of allergies as are fish and soya .

Sunday - roast chicken, roast potatoes(left over from our guest last week) vegetables, blackcurrant and apple pie with fruit frozen from the garden.
Monday - chicken cacciotore with leftover tomato sauce from pizza on Saturday, leftover pie
Tuesday- chicken fajitas( with the last of the chicken from Sunday), fresh fruit
Wednesday - pork and peas ( a slow cooker dish with dried peas and reduced pork) served with homemade french bread, tinned fruit
Thursday- homemade soup made with stock from the Sunday chicken, homemade bread, homemade cake ( banana muffins this week)
Friday - homemade beef burgers and chips with vegetables, homemade chocolate crispie cakes
Saturday - homemade pizza and salad, sorbet

What are you having this week ?

Monday, 6 June 2016

Band Concert

Lovely concert yesterday and all free thanks to the Town Council. Thank goodness that the weather has finally cleared up ! It was quite depressing all week last week, especially when I had to walk nearly 3 miles in the rain to collect the car after its MOT. Still, can't complain, the car is getting quite old and didn't need anything done, hurrah !

Sitting in the sun yesterday listening to the lovely band, they got quite hot in their uniforms, was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I even remembered to bring a camping chair for extra comfort.

Next week they are having a really big affair to celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday with lots of bands playing, think I might be too busy to go to the whole thing but might be worth popping down for a bit if the weather is good !

Have a great start to the week everyone.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Jumble Sale !

I found a lovely book at the jumble sale yesterday, it is called " Keep Smiling Through" and has lots of little details and pictures about life in Britain during the Second World War. I'm quite keen on WW2 cook books as they contain lots of good thrifty recipes which are often allergy-friendly because people had such trouble getting eggs and dairy produce !

The book reminded me of a lovely blog I have recently found called 'Remembering the Old Ways', do pop over if you are interested in good recipes and a glimpse inside a lovely home and family life.

At the jumble sale it was 3 books for a pound so I added a couple of holiday novels to the one above which is the one I really wanted. It is a hardback and I'll get a lot of pleasure from looking at it and remembering to be as thrifty as they were !

I was also looking for a photograph frame for a photo of USAShoestring's graduation which I found when I was cleaning up the letter rack the other day. I found a lovely brass one, brand new and all for 40p. I also got a pretty hanky and a silk scarf. the silk scarf was going in to the gift cupboard but as I looked at it I thought that the colours would go rather well with all the brown clothes I wear in the winter so it's gone in my cupboard instead, not bad for 40p !

I hope the weather will cheer up today and we will be able to go to a band concert in the park, last chance to go out before back to work after a lovely, busy week's holiday at home.

What are you doing today ?

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Chocolate Crispie Cakes

Miss Shoestring home today and she does love a sweet treat. The tins are empty after there being 2 teenagers in the house for a substantial part of the week, so I needed something quick and easy ! The answer Chocolate Crispie Cakes. The added bonus was that I could make some headway into using up 2 giant packets of 'no sugar' crispies which the children gave Mr Shoestring for his birthday but which he does not like !

I made 2 batches of this, one with dark chocolate for Master Shoestring and one with milk chocolate for Mr Shoestring, Miss Shoestring ate some of both !

The easy recipe goes like this :-

Melt 100g of broken cheap chocolate in the microwave.
Mix in 50g of dry crispies.

Divide up into little cases and leave in the fridge to set if you are in a hurry or want to make sure that they last until supper time !

Do you have a favourite crispie recipe ?

Friday, 3 June 2016

Spending in May

Now that May is over and our guest is gone it is time to reckon up the finances. Not too bad, managed to save 54% of our income and that was after paying for a few treats for the guest and changing internet and telephone provider.

We were just so tired of the poor service from TalkTalk and especially the difficulties Master Shoestring was having completing his homework that I broke down and ordered a good deal on BT fibre broadband. Getting out of the contract with TalkTalk meant paying a penalty of just over 34 pounds, as the contract had until August to run, but the deal with BT came with a 100 pounds Mastercard and 30 pounds cash back so that should make up for it, as long as I manage to claim them both ! I paid the line rental in advance for a whole year and we should switch on Thursday to a faster service which will cost less per month ! I hope it will be better !

Food was under budget, petrol was over budget and I'm still managing to keep the book buying in check, so altogether a good month !

How did you do last month ?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Water Saving

Lovely surprise in the post today as Affinity Water our supplier is offering free water saving gadgets ! We don't pay as much for our water as some people as we have a septic system so don't pay for waste water and a well so don't pay for garden watering or car washing and we have a meter so only pay for what we use. However, I'm always looking for ways to save and Affinity were offering a more efficient shower head for free so I went ahead and ordered one !

They were also offering 2 free tap aerators, which was very handy as the one in the kitchen keeps falling off ! I was just thinking that it was time to replace it ! They also had free shower and tooth brushing timers and special gel to put in your flower pots so you won't have to water them so often ! I ordered one of all of those. i was slightly disappointed that we did not qualify for a free plumber's visit to fix leaking taps as we have one in the bathroom which is leaking hot water ! However, Mr Shoestring does know how to fix that, he just needs to get the time to do it !

I look forward to receiving all the water saving products and trying them out ! Maybe the bill will go down !!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Another Day Trip !

Late breakfast today with our guest from the USA and then off to another town with dreaming spires in the hope that the rain would go off before we arrived and it did ! Cambridge is another beautiful town and also has an excellent Park and Ride scheme. We also took a picnic today after deciding the portions in the sandwich shop yesterday were rather small ! So another frugal outing !