Monday, 31 July 2017

July Reckoning

So we did come in under our 1500 pounds a month budget this month but had one or two annual expenses which meant our savings rate was only 19% of that amount. Not too bad for a month where for part of it MasterShoestring was on holiday, which means he eats something just about every hour !

However, I had re-jigged the budget in March to take account of some expenses going down, like water and books, but had noticed that we were spending more in other areas. In particular, transport and telephone calls. We had changed the package to Plusnet in June, but had not included a telephone package just to see if it would cost less as we don't make that many calls. So this month when I looked at the itemised bill one of the calls was for over £8, it was one of my calls to a friend ! For £8 a month I could have Unlimited 60 minute calls at anytime so I've decided to add that package ! Transport for MrShoestring in and out of London was also around £10 a month more expensive than we had been reckoning on so that budget category has been increased as well.

Overall, the extra expenses mean that the budget has increased overall by around £50 a month. Still doable but over the next few months I might have to put up the food budget as well as we are just squeaking in under £170 a month on average. There are a few possible reductions in expenses on the horizon as our new Tax Credit exemption cards should help with dental and prescription charges. However, there are a few possible increases as well. For instance, I've stopped doing the postal survey, they always retire you after 6 months, so back to paying for postage !

August is going to be a bit of a challenge as we are away right at the end of the month and MrShoestring won't earn anything. We have money saved to cover all this but it is tempting over the Summer not to watch every penny, but I think this year we will have to !

Have you had to re-jig this year's budget at all ?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Blueberry Muffins

At last, the blueberry bushes are producing enough to allow us to make blueberry muffins. This recipe is very popular in our family and a dozen muffins doesn't last long. The good things about the recipe are it does not need eggs and is quite light on sugar, so these muffins are quite good for a teenager boy's breakfast during the holidays !

1/4 cup margarine
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup dairy-free or ordinary milk
2 cups blueberries

Cream the margarine and sugar together. Add the flour, milk and blueberries and mix together. Fill 12 cupcake papers 2/3 full with batter and bake at 200C for 20 minutes. Leave to cool before eating or else the blueberries will burn your mouth !

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Not so good Boiler Check

You may remember a few weeks ago I said that I had got a boiler check from Homeserve for less than I paid last year and how pleased I was that it also included boiler cover for a year. I paid £60 via a £5 a month direct debit.

Well, last week they came to check the boiler and validate the cover. So far, so good, except the engineer was 4 hours late and the hot water did not work properly after he left. We excused the 4 hours lateness, as these things happen and did not know there was a problem with the hot water until 6 days later when due to the cloudy weather the solar hot water was not working. When I turned on the hot water all the radiators came on, not what you want on a warm Summer day !

I checked it a few times and then called Homeserve to tell them to come and put it right. As part of my story I also told them about the lateness and that this had affected my work. Well, they said that they could not come and put it right as I had called 6 days after the event and as it was a breakdown they would charge the £95 excess on the policy before they would make an appointment to fix an breakdown.

I explained all about the solar hot water and then said I wanted to formally complain that the boiler had been working before the check and that their unhelpful attitude meant I would now be complaining about the lateness as well. So we raised a formal complaint and went around  the house turning off all the radiators manually just in case we might get another cloudy day and need to turn on the hot water.

Well a letter came saying that they have judged my complaint and were sending me a cheque for £40 for the lateness but would still charge £95 to come and look at the boiler. I have had unhelpful service from Homeserve before and want to warn you against them if you do not like stress.

Now, I've contacted an independent engineer, who does not charge a call out fee to come and look to see what has happened. If it is a genuine breakdown I do not think it will cost £95 to fix and I'm going to put the £40 cheque in the bank towards any costs. If, as I suspect, the boiler check engineer just forgot to put something back in the right place the repair should be quick and easy. If not, I still think it will be cheaper than having Homeserve come out for £95. MisterShoestring isn't so sure, so we'll see next week !

Was this a frugal move, to use Homeserve even though I have had poor service from them in the past ? Well, at the moment I have had the boiler checked for £60 and received £40 of it back, fingers crossed any repair required doesn't cost much and I still come out ahead !

Friday, 28 July 2017

Frugal Friday

Another good frugal week, which is just as well as yesterday I calculated that driving to Italy and back at the end of August is going to cost just under £300 ! So we need maximum savings in the next few weeks !

I had a free eye test and then ordered two free pairs of glasses on the NHS using my new tax credit exemption card. I had to pay for 1 pair for computer use but £25 for the test and 3 pairs of glasses seemed good value. We re-used foil quite a few times and I haven't had to buy any for several months.

We made yoghurt, soup, scones, blueberry muffins, peach cake, bread, rolls, ratatouille and tortillas. Into the freezer went blackberries, raspberries. spinach, courgettes and celery. I picked two pounds of mirabelle plums and used them to make 2 jars of jam.

We found a cheaper septic tank emptying service and that will save us £7 a year and got a free watch repair at the same time as having the battery replaced.

I signed up for the Nationwide Building Society Rewards scheme and got £5 off a £30 spend at Lidl and MrShoestring fixed a faulty shower seal for free. We applied for and got the Marriage Allowance so should see the difference in MrShoestring's tax code in September and I got a book for my course from the library. I also downloaded a few free Kindle books.

The not so good weather meant that we stayed home on Wednesday and watched an old film so that saved travel money and we got free tickets for a tour of the Houses of Parliament so the travel money saved this week will pay for going to that !

Keep on saving !

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Everyday Adventures - last week

The weather has interfered with the 'everyday adventures' this week but I still had a lovely trip out on my bike. I have got a red mountain bike with a broad saddle and this makes it much more comfortable to ride on the bumpy country lanes around here.

I went to see if there were any blackberries along a footpath by a farmer's field as our favourite patch was cut down by the council last year. There were quite a lot right at the far end and having the bike made them much quicker to reach and get them back home again.

Another day I went to look for wild plums and found some. Usually they are yellow when I pick them but this year lots of them had turned red as well. I was able to pick 2lbs of them and carry them home to make two big pots of jam. These little cherry plums are difficult to destine so I always cook them up first and then scoop the stones out as they float to the top of the pulp.

I also took some pictures of bees, did some meditation, wrote some snail mail, did some journalling and gave some hugs !

What were some of your everyday adventures ?

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Living on a Shoestring - the final post !

This is the final post in this series and I'll start a new series in August. But before we get started a quick alert about a couple of good deals this week. The first one is for people with a Nationwide debit card. If you go to the Nationwide Simply Rewards page

 and sign up, you can register to get £5 off a £30 spend at Lidl if you spend the £30 at Lidl on your Nationwide card before 31st July. So I shall be doing my August grocery shopping a bit early !

The second offer is on the Kate Singh site and is a free ebook about penny pinching, well worth it if you haven't got it already !

So why bother with either of the two offers above ? Well, eventually living on a shoestring, or well below your means, will enable you to do things that might otherwise not be possible. Over the years we have spent a few years working and volunteering full time for causes we believed in, without earning a wage and we are still able to do this part-time. Giving back to what we believe in is a central value in our lives and we are happy to do without some things to enable this to happen. Other people like to give money as well as time to charity and shoestring living can allow this to happen.

We have also been able to take advantage of educational opportunities for our children which otherwise would have been out of reach. On occasions, it has helped us out with major medical problems too. We have had fantastic holidays with all the family by only going on holiday every few years and it has been all the more exciting for it !

Most importantly of all, living on a shoestring has given us choices: we have been able to walk away from bad work situations; train for careers we believe in and work less as we are getting older ,yet still enjoy a rich and fulfilling life. We have also been able to help our children with house and business purchases ! In fact living on a shoestring enables you to do everything a rich person does at much less  cost !!

What do you like about shoestring living ?

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

School Holiday Savings

One of the best things we have done over the years to save money during the school holidays is to have a plan for each day of the week. One day might involve spending some money but all the other days had to involve free activities.

A plan might look like this :-

Monday - Cooking Day
Tuesday - Park Day
Wednesday - Outing Day
Thursday - Craft Day
Friday - Playdate Day
Saturday - Movie Day
Sunday - Rest Day

The outings on Wednesdays might be to pick your own farms, the beach, a country park or on occasions, to somewhere a bit more costly if you can afford it. This year we're going to visit all the free museums in London with MasterShoestring.

The other thing we have done and are still doing with 15 year old MasterShoestring, is to insist on some level of routine. That doesn't mean it can't be broken at times, but it does mean that over the course of several weeks you don't end up with everyone in bed until noon and then demanding to stay up later on as they are not tired ! So MasterShoestring has certain things he has to do before he is allowed any electronics !

We also found the library reading scheme and the list of events on the local council website really useful. Some places even offer free swimming and the National Citizenship Scheme is worth looking in to for older teenagers !

What are your tips for the long Summer holidays ?

Monday, 24 July 2017

Top 3 Moneysaving Websites

I have a long list of favourite websites on the blog. Some of them are about simple living, some about day to day frugal life, some more about money saving and some I just follow because they remind me about the important things in life but I was trying to think which ones I would recommend to those just starting out with frugal living and came up with a list of three.

The first one is based in the UK and is Martin Lewis' Moneysaving expert :-

The great thing about this website is that it is not too hardcore, if you just want to look for a better deal on your mobile phone contract, you can, but if you are looking for really good advice and support to cut back, the forums are the place to go, particularly the Old Style Thrift one. I used to look at this everyday when we were just starting out and it still has great recipes and is my 'go to' place when shopping around for deals on insurance and other regular bills.

The second one is based in the USA and now has helpful videos to go with it, it is the Kellam family's Living on a Dime:-

I have all their books and they have walked the walk as well as talked the talk. They have had to deal with chronic illness and had very little money coming in. I use their recipes every week and love their kindness and the feeling that they really know what family life is like !

The final one is Frugal Queen based in the UK again:-

This blog is worth reading from the beginning to follow her story of getting out of debt. Now she is renovating a property if France to help with retirement savings and always has great recipes. She also muses on why it is important to live frugally and the challenges faced by families on low wages or none. Always worth reading !

Which are your favourites ?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

What to sow now

Our new lettuce seedlings are starting to grow and in the spaces where crops are finished we are just starting to sow some extra things to try and extend the season a bit.

Thomson and Morgan have a excellent seasonal list of what to plant in July and it includes flowers for next Spring as well as vegetables for now. We have planted some French beans, some more peas, radishes, carrots and turnips, all of which should take  around 60 days to mature. This means that we will have some more crops in the Autumn.

In the meantime the courgettes and pumpkins are taking up a lot of space and the courgettes need dealing with every other day. We don't mind as everyone likes them and they are very versatile. This is the first year where we have grown them successfully, even though they are supposed to be so easy !

The other thing you can plant which is quick to grow and good to have in the kitchen is pak choi, but we have given up with this and other brassicas as the pigeons eat it, even if covered with a net !

How is your garden growing ?

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Vegan Chocolate Banana Cake

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

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

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

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

Friday, 21 July 2017

Frugal Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that you had a good week too !

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Everyday Adventures - third week

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

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

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

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

Real hardcore tips about moneysaving living are contained in this book

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Freezing Beetroot

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

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

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

Monday, 17 July 2017

Blackberries are Coming !

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Making your own diluting juice

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

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

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

Does anyone else make juice ?

Saturday, 15 July 2017

A Day Out

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

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

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

Enjoy a lovely day !

Friday, 14 July 2017

Frugal Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Everyday Adventures - second week !

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

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

Living on a Shoestring - Gifts

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Having a Cheap Barbecue

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

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

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

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

Monday, 10 July 2017

Net Protection for Blueberries

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 July 2017


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

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Wildflower Bed

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

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

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

Enjoy your weekend !

Friday, 7 July 2017

Frugal Friday

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Everyday Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Living on a Shoestring - Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Gooseberry Jam

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 July 2017

Another Car Repair !

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Planning for the Holidays

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 July 2017

June Reckoning

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

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

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

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