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 !!

Friday, 26 May 2017

Frugal Friday

Getting close to the end of the month and with two birthdays next week I have to be very careful to get the food budget to stretch to a few treats, I have precisely 3p left ! So we have done lots of frugal making food from scratch this week !

The big thing this week was requesting a tax refund of over £1000 and I am looking forward to using the money to pay course fees next year. I also downloaded several Kindle books for free and sold some books and CD s to Ziffit to fund MasterShoestring's skills project for the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award.

We made soup, bread, French bread, muffins, yoghurt and ate salad from the garden every day. We sold a book on Amazon and that funded MrShoestring's birthday present to me giving a profit of 60p. I love it when we can get something we want for nothing ! The book we sold was posted using stamps from the Royal Mail survey so that did not cost anything either.

I bought another new cookbook on saving money and eating well using a Swagbucks voucher and then joined Amazon Prime for a month to get the free shipping. I have already cancelled the membership but can use the benefits for a month so shall be investigating the free library of books and films.

A fun thing this week was using the Nielsen scanner to scan all the items in my £11.80 shop from Aldi, having to scan all the items made me really aware of everything I had bought and whether we really needed it. I can imagine that participating in the survey might save us money as I'm only going to want to scan what we really need !

It was Ascension Day yesterday but we were all working so no time to go up a hill and contemplate the beauty of the natural world. We are looking forward to a lovely free outing at the weekend instead !

Have a fantastic, frugal Bank Holiday weekend !

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Planting out Leeks

We love leeks ! There are very handy to have in the garden during the winter when nothing else much is growing and they are very tasty. The strong taste also keeps pests away so that means they are usually very successful in our garden.

However, this year the seedlings were damaged so we did not have any to plant out. Freecycle to the rescue ! A very generous local gardener allowed us to have 25 of her young sprouts as she was going away and would not have time to plant them out. We exchanged stories of woe about all the garden pests around here and I went off with some lovely leek starts for free !

We had already prepared the bed so we only had to make some holes and water them in their new home. I am so happy to have some leeks growing and am looking forward to making some leek and potato soup much later on in the year !

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Living on a Shoestring - bringing in extra

So you have made a budget and cut your costs and the next item in your armoury of living on a shoestring is bringing in a little more. You can either bring in more money or bring in money equivalents, like services that otherwise you would have had to pay for.

One of the first items in this armoury is bartering for things you need. When USAShoestring needed some French tuition for his French GCSE I bartered French conversation lessons in exchange for some Maths tuition from me. I have also bartered babysitting for a Christmas bike ! 

Freecycle, Freegle and Trashnothing are also great sites to find items for free. We have also sold items on Ebay, Gumtree and Craigslist to buy things we need. So, in the USA we sold our car and then used the money to buy a new to us car in the UK.

Then there are sites where you can earn cash in exchange for surveys, YouGov is the most well known and pays out once you have done £50 worth of surveys. It did take me over a year to get to that amount but it was very welcome when it arrived. This year I have also investigated getting a tax refund and a refund of pension contributions which are insufficient to create a pension. The tax refund should be over a thousand pounds and similarly with the pension. Swagbucks allows you to earn gift codes for searching the web and doing other little tasks and I usually earn quite a bit from that which is useful for gifts. Similarly with the shopping panel, it's not a lot of points but it does amount to a treat we otherwise would not have. It's the same idea with shopping loyalty cards and our Tesco points keep us in free magazine subscriptions !

Lastly there is actually working an additional job or side business, such as baby sitting, dog walking or tutoring. All of these can make a substantial difference if you want to pay for little extras such as school trips !

Do you have tips for bringing in extra ?

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Joining the Nielsen Shopping Panel

This arrived last Tuesday, all the way from Belgium where the Nielsen organisation is based. It is a hand-held scanning unit to scan all your shopping. Every week the base unit then downloads all the information to Nielsen who anonymise it and use it to advise retailers on shopping trends. I thought that some more frugal shoppers should be represented on the panel and Nielsen agreed with me !!

You are rewarded for uploading your data with points which can then be exchanged for gifts from the reward catalogue. You get 600 points for joining and then 90 points a week for sending in data. If you haven't bought anything that week you get 75 points. Every 4 and 12 weeks there are bonus points to be won if you have faithfully uploaded your data.

I applied to join before I knew what the rewards are but I requested a gift catalogue last week and it has just arrived. It contains a vast assortment of eclectic merchandise most of which would just add to our clutter ! It is a bit like the old Green Shield stamps catalogue, if anyone can remember those. However, I did find 1 thing we would like and that is a pair of cinema tickets which cost 2138 points. With the starting bonus and the monthly ones I think it will take about 4 months to earn a pair of tickets. This is not a great reward but since we don't buy that much new I don't think that it will be too much work to get free cinema tickets 2-3 times a year ! We'll see !

Nielsen also offer a free prize draw once a month to which you have automatic entry and you can order gifts starting at 1007 points, these were CDs and artificial plants ! They also have an annual prize draw for a car ! I thought that it was worth a go now that I have a bit more time on my hands but if you were busy or did a lot of shopping I'm not sure the rewards be worth it for all that scanning !

Monday, 22 May 2017

Mishap with the Car

We have a Passat estate which runs on diesel and which we try not to use much. It is very economical on long runs, like going abroad on holiday or going to Scotland, but not so much on short trips. So normally we put £10-20 of fuel in it and then run it until the fuel gauge says EMPTY.

Well, on Saturday, the fuel gauge had been saying EMPTY for a few days and I offered to go to the garage and put £10 worth of fuel in it. Having very carefully researched which was the cheapest garage I drove with a light touch on the accelerator  just in case I might run out of fuel on the way there. I had to wait whilst I was there and by the time I got to the pump was in a bit of a dream. I unhooked the unleaded pump and commenced filling the car. Now, if I had tried to put the wrong fuel in a car which took unleaded petrol using the wrong fuel pump would have meant that the nozzle did not fit in the tank. What I did not know was that this is not the case with diesel cars !

By the time I realised what I had done there was already 1.16 litres of unleaded petrol in the car. Now I was faced with a dilemma. Call someone to get the fuel emptied out of the tank or do something else. I knew that I would have to turn the engine on to move the car out of the way of the forecourt whilst I waited for someone to come. Turning on the engine would mean disaster as there was so little fuel in the car the unleaded petrol would immediately enter the system and ruin the engine creating a massive repair bill. So I decided to risk doing something else. I filled the car up with as much as diesel as I could squeeze in hoping to dilute the effect of the unleaded petrol.

It worked ! I put in just over 65 litres of diesel , diluting the unleaded fuel down to a ratio of about 1:65. I drove the car home with no ill effects. Apparently, most diesel cars can tolerate about 5% petrol in the engine and as long as we keep topping up with diesel to further dilute the petrol the car should be alright ! 

Emptying the fuel out would have cost around £100 and I don't know how I would have moved the car to wait. So I think this was a definite frugal win, even though the fuel budget for the month is now well overdrawn as I had to put £70 worth of diesel in the car ! I am just so glad that the car seems alright !

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Making a Will

I have had a number of wills over the years and last made one in 2008 when we moved back from the USA. Now we just have one child living at home and one of our children lives abroad so it seemed to time to update things, especially the guardianship for the one child under 18. Now that MasterShoestring's siblings are both old enough to look after him it seemed sensible to name one of them as a guardian rather than another relative or friend.

The last will I made cost over £900 and previous to that it was over £300. Since I only wanted to change the guardianship and otherwise leave things to MrShoestring it seemed silly to pay the £170 I was quoted by a local solicitor. A few years ago we downloaded a form for free to do MrShoestring's will so firstly I looked for that possibility. However, although I could find a few free forms they were mostly linked to pay services which you could cancel later on. I wasn't happy about paying anything to these services as I might forget to cancel.  Instead, I bought a pair of forms, a guide to writing a straight forward will and a special envelope to keep the completed form in all for £5.49. This means that if your requests are straightforward you could get a pair of wills for £5.49 !

I wrote the entirely straightforward will using the guide and got it witnessed at my course, this was the quickest way to find a couple of unrelated witnesses. This was a cheap solution to our need to update the guardianship arrangements for MasterShoestring, however, I cannot emphasis enough that if your situation is less than straight forward or you want to do more than leaving everything to your spouse then you should get legal advice on your will.

There is often free will writing month in this country, usually November, when you can have a will made by a solicitor in exchange for a donation to charity. Several charities will also help you write a will for free if you intend to leave them a legacy. So do look into these options if you need some more legal input.

All this thinking about wills got me thinking about natural funerals as well ! So I've left some instructions alongside the will, as I don't expect the cost of burial will be any cheaper when I go. Now, I know that some people will think that this is rather a morbid subject for the blog, but I know from dealing with my mother's passing and the funeral arrangements that one of the kindness things you can do for those left behind is to make your wishes clear. Not having to make lots of choices whilst dealing with grief is a great relief !

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Review of 'Good and Cheap' by Leanne Brown

This is the new cookbook I ordered from the USA using Swagbucks, so effectively it was free, very appropriate for a book that is firmly aimed at those with challenged budgets.

The author started with recipes on her blog which had been formulated as part of a research project for her Masters degree in Nutrition. The aim was to show how people who were on welfare food payments in the USA could manage to make their budget of $4 a day stretch to provide 3 meals a day.

The book is divided into sections and includes advice as well as recipes. It starts with tips for eating and shopping well and includes a guide to seasonal produce and what to have in the way of basic kitchen equipment. The emphasis throughout is on eating well and not feeling deprived. So there are tips on getting the most flavour for the least amount of money and building a pantry. 

The book then provides recipes for Breakfast, Dinner, Light Meals, Soups, Salads and how to make at home big batches of things you might otherwise buy such as hummus and tomato sauce.

I really like the book, it has a cheery style throughout and the recipes are photographed beautifully. The book has glossy paper which will wipe clean if you spill something whilst cooking and there were lots of recipes that I went to try out. Each recipe is costed per serving and in total which is very useful and the only thing a British audience might struggle with is the names of some things, such as eggplant for aubergine. There are even instructions on how to make your own fresh pasta !

I would recommend this book, especially if you want to try something new besides the old favourites !

Friday, 19 May 2017

Frugal Friday

So we have had a quiet week cutting costs. MrShoestring went and collected some more pallets to restore our collection after using so many to build the blueberry planter. There were lots that he had to leave behind as they were too big to fit in the car. I think the building project is coming to an end so it won't be long before that particular pallet supply dries up !

The garden is growing at a great rate now and we had the first radishes and mizuna to add to salads this week. I also made fudge, yoghurt and pumpkin loaf, from the last of the pumpkin puree frozen at Halloween. Homemade granola, pancakes and meatloaf were also on the menu. A new free cookbook arrived from USA and I'm looking forward to trying out some new recipes next week.

The power lead on our digital radio had frayed and kept cutting out so we fixed that with no cost and also downloaded free anti-virus software to protect the computers after the latest ransom ware attack. We booked a free health check for MrShoestring and I updated my will with a cheap form, it cost £5.49 rather than the £170 - 200 quoted by the solicitor. We just need to update the guardians for MasterShoestring so it didn't seem worth paying that amount of money for something so straightforward.

I also got lucky on the Royal Mail Survey prize draw and won £10 ! I thought that it was a joke at first and did not really believe it until the voucher arrived ! So I was very pleased. I also downloaded some free Kindle books and joined the Nielesen shopping panel. The shopping panel scans all your shopping and then rewards you with points which you can exchange for gifts. I think that they might not believe that we buy so little !!

We enjoyed all the good weather for free and the free water from the heavy rain this week, that should help with the garden !

I hope that you had a great week too !

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Shopping at Aldi

So, I used to enjoy shopping at Aldi and knew that it was saving us money. Now, I have to be much more careful about what I buy there and doing the big shop there last month was not worth the 20 mile round trip.

In common with many other stores, Aldi have been gradually raising their prices and now that some of the bigger stores are also offering discounted weekly deals on fruit and vegetables I have to calculate whether it is worth going there or not.

They are still cheaper for some things, such as :- meat, cheese, ham, organic milk, flour and toilet rolls. However, the basic ranges in other supermarkets now match their prices e.g.) on butter and they are more expensive on some items e.g.) Tesco basic mayonnaise is only 40p.

All of this means that I have to check prices very carefully before thinking that a big shop in Aldi is worth the petrol money. I think that it would be different if the discounted stores such as Aldi and Lidl were closer to me but all the cheaper stores are a good distance away and that means petrol money ! Doing a big shop might be worth it sometimes e.g.) to stock upon toilet rolls but not dropping in for bits and pieces or taking advantage of the weekly deals !

I only realised this last month when I was trying to cut down the grocery spend for this one and checked every price I could on my I still check the market occasionally as people keep telling me that markets are cheaper than supermarkets, not in this affluent part of the world !

I guess the message is grow your own as much as possible and keep checking those prices !!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Living on a Shoestring - decreasing your spending

So now you have your budget it is important to look at every category and see where you can save money ! The biggest spends for us are on housing, food and petrol and we have worked hard on getting the food and petrol spending down. The housing costs could go lower as the house is now a bit too big for us. However, MasterShoestring will finish school in 3 years time and then we plan to downsize drastically. We are thinking of buying something really small to live in (check out Tiny Houses !) and then perhaps having something a bit bigger that we can rent out for holiday lets and have family to stay in. Until then we concentrate on making sure that the big house does not cost too much to run, so we do all our own repairs and maintenance and don't heat some of the house in the winter.

With food I'm always looking for new cheap recipes and just got a new book from USA about living on $4 a day, so I'm looking forward to reading that and posting a review. Petrol is the same, we use to check the price of fuel so we are always filling up at the cheapest rate. We are also careful about our driving style and walk or bike for short journeys.

The next categories we always check are the utility bills. There are lots of price comparison websites around so no need to pay more than you should. Next month, once the contract is up we are switching the broadband and telephone service to Plusnet because they offered a better deal and I'll be switching the gas and electricity at the end of June as well. First Utility, our current supplier wanted to put up the bill by around 25%. Instead I found a variable rate deal from ToTo which looks like it will cut the monthly bill by £22.

We shop around for everything and have discovered that in very few cases is the cheap product no good. For instance, I always buy cheap glasses from Tesco and so far they have lasted for years ! I shop around for travel and car insurance and also wait for anything that can wait e.g.) replacing appliances until I see a good deal. We also always look to see if we can get something for free first, for example we have a free piano from Freecycle and friends have given us countless 'hand-me-downs' for the children over the years. After 'free' we shop at jumble sales, then charity shops then reasonably priced high street stores or the internet. Nearly all our chemist items now come from the internet as that is the way I get the cheapest prices.

If we want something that is not really a need but more a want then we might ask for it for a birthday, save up for it or use extra income to pay for it e.g.) Swagbucks for books. 

Using all these strategies I am hopeful that we will spend less this year than we did last and that is with an extra person in the house !

Keep on frugaling, it really does pay off !

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Visit to Aylesbury

Doing some training in Aylesbury I thought that I could turn the visit into a mini-day out using the breaks in the training and some time before and after the sessions I had to attend. Fortunately, the training was very close to the town centre so not too much time was wasted looking for parking !

Above is a picture from the central square called Market Square, lovely old buildings which reflect the town's status as the county seat. Aylesbury is a strange mixture of old and new as it also has some very up-to-date buildings such as the new theatre.

I hadn't realised that just behind the theatre is a canal, it was quite a nice walk and I was wondering why it had been so well hidden !

Apparently, the Aylesbury part of the canal is a branch of the Grand Union Canal and was originally intended to form part of a plan to link up the Grand Union Canal with the River Thames. However, the landowners and canal builders argued for 17 years about how the water for the canal would be provided and on the end the idea was superseded by the railways ! 

Finally, I took a quick tour around the county museum in the old part of the town and it was back to training ! I can thoroughly recommend a mini day-trip in your lunch break if you happen to be somewhere new ! 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Free Health Check

The NHS has been running its health check scheme for a few years now and it is well worth taking advantage of if you are offered an appointment. It is only for people who are not already being treated for one of the more common diseases of later life e.g.) Type 2 diabetes and is designed to catch those who are already ill but don't know it or who could lower their risk if they knew what the risk was.

The scheme is for people between the ages of 40 and 75 and the idea is that every 5 years they are called in for a health check at their local GP and given advice to lower their risk of common diseases such as heart and kidney disease and diabetes.

It is very straight forward and involves filling in a questionnaire and getting your height, weight and cholesterol measured. The measurements are entered into a computer programme which then calculates your risk of getting these common diseases over the next ten years. Once you have had your initial visit you go back 2 weeks later to discuss your results with a nurse and get any advice you need. The nurse's visit also allows you to discuss any other worries you might have.

We think it is a good preventative health scheme and I've already had my health check done. MrShoestring is going next week. So if you get the chance to go do take it up ! It's all free !

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Foolproof Fudge

I have always wanted to be able to make fudge, but even with a sugar thermometer, had so many disasters and had to clean so many pots that I gave up making it many years ago.

However, I was lent a magazine last week and in it was a recipe for microwave fudge, I got all the ingredients and it worked !! The family love it and it was so easy. It is not as frugal as buying fudge in the supermarket, the cost difference is about 50p, but it only contains 3 ingredients and tastes amazing. I have adapted the recipe slightly to make it even easier and I made this recipe in an 850W microwave so know it works !

400g golden caster sugar
140g salted butter
397g tin CONDENSED milk
1tsp vanilla essence

Place sugar and milk in large microwaveable bowl, cut the butter into small pieces and stir everything together. The bowl needs to be large as during cooking the fudge foams up the sides and if the bowl is not large enough you will get a big mess in the microwave. Microwave on HIGH for 10 minutes stopping every 2 or 3 minutes to stir the mixture. Stir in the vanilla essence and microwave on HIGH for a final 2 minutes. Turn into a 20cm square tin lined with baking parchment and leave to cool for at least 1 hour.

This amount cost me £2.46 to make, the condensed milk is about £1 a tin. However, Asda currently have condensed milk on sale for 60p so I might go and stock up ready for Christmas fudge making !

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Frugal Trip to Iceland

MissShoestring is just back from 4 days in Iceland. She went alone as this was a holiday destination we rejected earlier on in the year because it is so expensive. However, MissShoestring did very well at cutting the costs and I'm going to share a few of her tips here.

The first one is to fly midweek with a budget airline and only take hand baggage. Also, reserve airport parking before going or get a lift to the airport, or use public transport. She also timed her flights so that she got 4 full days in Iceland but only paid for 3 nights accommodation. She flew out on the 0615 which arrived in Iceland at 0820, plenty of time for sightseeing all day on Monday. The flights cost £30.49 both ways with Easyjet from Luton making an air fare total of just under £61.

Next she booked beds in hostels which cost between 20 and 30 pounds a night making a total of £70 for accommodation. Lastly, she booked a really, small hire car at a cost of £75. She bought £50 worth of petrol and saved on food by visiting the cheap supermarket in Reyjkavik before setting out. She spent £25 on food and lived on breakfast bars, pasta and sandwiches. There were very few cooking facilities in the hostels, just a single ring and no mugs or cutlery ! She was glad that she had bought easy to prepare food.

So, for a grand total of £281 MissShoestring had an unforgettable visit and brought home plenty of pictures and some Icelandic sweets she picked up in the supermarket. If you are going in a group, then the petrol and car hire costs would be shared, so that would be a further saving. She also met lots of people who were camping, but she said that it is so windy there she might have worried about the tent blowing away! Also, bringing camping equipment is going to add to your flight costs.

Iceland is somewhere that I have on my wish list of places to visit, so maybe I'll start saving for a long weekend later in the year !

Friday, 12 May 2017

Frugal Friday

A big welcome to the new people who have just started to follow along here with our frugal journey ! It has been a quiet week on the money saving front, with the big project being the completion of the blueberry planter. MrShoestring even used a special offer to get the ericaceous compost he needed and ended up saving £7.96 !

Other things we did this week included cutting more rhubarb and putting it in the freezer for later and eating lettuce everyday ! This is a big treat and we also cut chives and parsley. The strawberries have lots of flowers, as do the blueberries and blackcurrants so we hope for a good harvest later on.

I needed a book for my course, quite a rare one and was pleased to find it in the library reserve stock. I still had credit from the last ones I ordered so I was able to get it at the local library for free. I also bought a new cookbook from the USA about thrifty eating and used Swagbucks to pay for it, so that was free as well. 

One thing that I have just started doing is re-using the foil which I use to keep MasterShoestring's morning pancakes hot whilst we wait for him to get up ! It seemed a shame to keep throwing it away, so now I put it in the cupboard and re-use it all week. As well as making pancakes every day for breakfast I also made tortilla, meatloaf, chapattis, bread, soup, bolognaise sauce, muffins and soup. MissShoestring was away so we also ate leftovers for a few meals.

We had a couple of birthdays in the extended family this week and I sent gifts purchased with gift cards and used stamps which I got as a reward for helping with theRoyal Mail survey; so the gifts and postage were effectively free and the recipients got something nice. I've got a birthday coming up at the end of the month and have already indicated to my nearest and dearest the useful things I might like. MasterShoestring was scathing at the idea of a useful gift, I think he was afraid that we might get him something useful as a gift too !

I also borrowed magazines, took my own food and drink to training days and interviews and sent some ecards to friends, rather than using up all the stamps !

All in all a good, frugal week !

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Garden planter made from pallets

We have lots of pallets sitting in the garage after foraging them from a 'free firewood' pile. Yesterday, MrShoestring turned some of them into a very big planter for the blueberry bushes.

The blueberry bushes need acid soil and are currently in some big pots. They have grown quite a lot and we were worried about them getting pot bound and not giving us quite so many blueberries this year !

He used a really big pallet as the base, so it stands away from the ground and won't rot so quickly. He will line it with leftover weed surprising fabric which we have been using on the fruit beds to save weeding during the summer. Even the nails he used were left over and he pulled them out of the panels and firewood that we've been burning. So a total cost of nothing except his time, it did take him all day.

However, I think it looks great, will definitely do the job and the only cost will be the acid compost to fill it ! So, I think it is a frugal win !

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Living on a Shoestring - Making a Budget

This week's post is all about making a budget or spending plan. Some people are put off doing this because they think it is too much work or they don't need one because there is always money left in the bank account. We lived like this for years and finally realised that although it was quite a bit of work to set one up but it certainly gives you more control over your money.

The first thing we did was work out how much money we had coming in regularly. We did not count on intermittent income, just the basic we could depend on every month. This included child benefit but some people keep this separate just for the children. Once you have that figure then track ALL your spending for a month. Give everyone in the house a little notebook or use an electronic one and RECORD ALL YOUR SPENDING ! I cannot emphasise enough how important this is. It is the only way to get an accurate idea about what you are spending in each category. After starting that, use statements and receipts from throughout the year to work out how much you spend on annual events, for instance birthdays and going on holiday. When we first did this I was horrified how much I was spending some months on books. I justified it by saying that I needed them for work, but there were cheaper ways of getting them, like the library !

We still track spending every month and I adjust the budget every 3 months to reflect our actual spend rather than the theoretical one I planned at the beginning of the year. We use the following categories in the budget:-

CAR INS +tax
 As you can see this is a lot of categories and some people manage with fewer. However, we tried this and were always coming up short wondering where the last £100 had gone. Now, I have a figure in mind for each category and can save up over the year for annual expenses like the TV license. It is almost always cheaper to pay all at once than to pay in instalments. We used to pay the car tax,TV license and the house insurance all on instalments as I thought this was better budgeting as it meant a fixed amount through the year. Only when I worked out how much extra it was costing us did I realise that it was worth trying to save up through the year. The first year we tried it I managed to pay the TV license all in one go, then we worked on the car tax etc. It has taken us about 7 years to get to where we are now and I used to do it the budget on paper using an A4 notebook. I only set up an EXCEL spreadsheet 2 years ago.

The Moneysavingexpert website has some excellent advice and templates on setting up a budget and they make a good place to start. You can always tweak it to suit you later on ! Good luck with budgeting !

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Goodbye Bluebells, Hello Roses

It was a lovely day on Sunday so we walked in the woods to say 'farewell' to the bluebells. They are only here for a couple of weeks and I knew that with the warm weather they would be past their best by next weekend.

The incredible colour of bluey-purple against the fresh green of the newly opened beech leaves amazes me every year.

There was just a faint hint of perfume in the air as well, which made our walk seem all the more special.

You can see in this picture how tall the flowers have grown and that there are no more flower buds to open.
I think that the bluebells flowering in the woods is one of the amazing natural wonders and we are so lucky that they are right on out doorstep. Not far away the National Trust are now charging £3 a person to walk in their bluebell woods, so I'm very happy that we can just walk along the free footpaths round here and enjoy them !

Back home we got a surprise to find that one of the roses in the front garden was in bloom, May seems very early for that but it is lovely to see the first signs of Summer on the way !

Monday, 8 May 2017

Taxing the car online

So, we had the notice in the post that it was time to tax the car. Only a few years ago this used to mean finding the MOT certificate, the certificate of insurance, the ownership documents etc. and then trekking to your nearest chief post office. Then you would stand in a queue for a very long time and since post offices were only open office hours you had to remember to do it during your closest holiday. You could also post all your documents off and hope that you had put the correct postage on the envelope and filled in the form correctly.

This is in big contrast to how I taxed the car today. I used the notice of renewal to logon to the government website and renewed the tax in under 10 seconds ! All I had to do was fill in the special identification number from the letter and confirm that they had the details of the car correct. The tax cost nothing as it has ultra low emissions. We would definitely buy another ultra low emissions car as paying no car tax has been quite a saving over the years .

At present we are thinking that we will replace this current car with an electric one once the prices have fallen enough. At the moment they are still too expensive to make it worthwhile but eventually we should be able to run it for almost nothing as we can charge it using electricity from the roof solar panels. But until then let's hope our 8 year old car gets through the MOT at the end of the month without too many repairs !

Sunday, 7 May 2017

An Art Day

Yesterday, I went to a personal development day as part of the course I am on. It involved making and drawing things and we were all adults on the course. Quite a few people were not very enthusiastic about the day when we first started. I used to feel like that about art activities as I had been told as a girl that I was "no good at art".

By the time the day ended everyone had been able to produce something they were happy with and said how much the day had helped them. I realised that after years of painting, drawing and crafting with children I am no longer "no good at art" ! I actually quite enjoyed crayoning on large pieces of paper and thought that with all the popularity of colouring in books for adults perhaps the next big thing might be art for adults in all its forms ! 

To that end I thought that lots of the things we did on the day could be used in an art day or hour at home. No need to pay for the expensive pottery cafe when it rains at half term but rather break out the pound store drawing pads and crayons ! So I give below 10 easy are activities for you to try at home for adults and children. We did some of these activities with just the adults on the course and found it great fun.

1. Draw self-portraits 2. Take a line for a walk with your eyes closed and colour in the result. 3. Paint or draw a rainbow all over the page. 4. Draw a tree and then turn the page upside down and draw the roots of the tree. 5. Cut out pictures from magazines and use them to make a new picture, stick it all down once you are happy. 6. Make a HAPPY poster with lots of pictures of things that make you happy. 7. Draw the cartoon story of your life. 8. Make a picture from the letters of your name. 9. Copy a flower or other natural thing. 10. Pretend you are taking a photograph but draw, make or paint the image instead.

Have fun !

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Cost per Meal

Our grocery budget of £170 a month includes household supplies, such as toilet paper and the £40 a month cost for school meals, this means that I have to keep the cost of meals way down. In effect, it means that the cost per day per person has to stay well under £2 per person.

How do we do it and still stay healthy and take account of all the food allergies etc. ? Well, lately, as food prices have been rising I have had to be more conscious about what we have been eating and move to cheaper options. We still stay healthy but I no longer stock up on every good deal I see and I'm more conscious of making the most of what we have in the garden.

Yesterday's menu for me cost £1.75 and included 5 a day fruit and vegetables. I thought that you might be interested to see what it was to give you an idea about calculating your own food costs per person.

Breakfast - 2 economy wheat biscuits, berries from the garden, 200ml milk
Snack - a banana
Lunch - 8 rye crackers, 1oz butter,1oz cheese, tomato salad
Supper-wholewheat macaroni cheese, 2 vegetables
5 cups of tea throughout the day

You can see that I don't eat dessert or have many snacks through the day. I have reached that age in life when my metabolism doesn't allow them ! However, for the teenagers and young adults in the house this menu would be too meagre, so breakfast is more substantial, something like pancakes and supper always includes a dessert and there has to be baking. They usually have a snack before bedtime , so homemade bread and sandwich fillings such as hummus are always available.

So far, I have not had to raise the grocery budget in line with rising food costs, but it does mean that we now eat lasagne on Sundays, rather than roast chicken and we are back to a lot of vegan meals. Fingers crossed that the garden produces well this season and I can continue to feed us well for less !

Do you have a favourite frugal meal ?

Friday, 5 May 2017

Frugal Friday

This week has been frugal living on autopilot as MasterShoestring was not well and we tried to find out what he had eaten that caused it. Thank goodness he is better now and back at school, so that was a few journeys back and forth that we did not make. I also filled up the car for 114.9p a litre at a cut price fuel day coming back from a job. We never have petrol prices that low in our local area so that was a real saving.

I tried to go looking for food reductions over the Bank Holiday but no luck ! The reduced things were still too expensive compared to regular cheap prices. The free lettuce and rhubarb from the garden have certainly helped with meals this week and we also cut chives and parsley. I made yoghurt, granola, tortillas, re-fried beans, salsa, bread, felafel, muffins and crumble. All much cheaper, healthier and nicer than I could have bought. I kept the food shopping bill down for the big shop at the start of the month to just over £60. With a top-up shop to fill in the gaps I have spent just under £90 for the whole month. There will still be the cost of school lunches and some fresh fruit but I am hoping to meet my goal of having some money spare for topping up food stocks.

I got a lift to the local polling station to vote in the local elections and picked up a free local paper at the same time. Two monthly magazines arrived, both free with Tesco vouchers and I earned a £5 Swagbucks voucher. I also used a Tesco voucher which I had forgotten about to bring down the price of a new sandwich toaster to just £6.

We had a lovely free day out in the bluebell woods for the Monday Bank Holiday and posted birthday presents to USA using stamps I had earned from the Royal Mail Postage Survey. It did mean that the presents had to fit in a large envelope but I don't think the recipients will mind. I also hand delivered some other birthday presents.

We carried on using cloth napkins, eating leftovers and using up what we have rather than buying something new and I enjoyed getting some free e-books for the Kindle including the new one about frugal homemaking by Kate Singh. I'm looking forward to trying out a few new ideas !

I hope that you had a frugal week too !

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Rhubarb Crumble

A quick tip before the recipe is that Kate Singh has her new ebook  on Amazon just now. It is called "The Homemade Housewife" and contains everything you need to become self-sufficient at home. It was downloadable for free yesterday and will be for the next few days !

Now that it is time to harvest the rhubarb this delicious pudding is on the menu quite a lot.

1lb rhubarb cut into chunks
4oz sugar (more if your rhubarb is very tart)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
6oz plain flour
4oz margarine or butter
2oz brown sugar (white will do !)

Stew the rhubarb with the first lot of sugar and stir in the ginger once it has got soft. You will need about 1/4 pint of water in there as well to stop the rhubarb sticking. Be careful not to stew too long as then the chunks disappear.

Cut the margarine into the flour and once it is like fine breadcrumbs stir in the second lot of sugar. Tip the stewed rhubarb into an oven-prood dish and sprinkle with the crumble topping. We like lots of topping so this makes a good, thick layer. Bake at 200C (400F) for 20-30 minutes, until the topping gets golden. Enjoy ! (If you don't like ginger with rhubarb just leave this out.)