economising update…

I haven’t done a post for ages on our economising so thought a bit of an update in order.

It is slow progress but at least there is progress.  I have now moved our savings into higher interest rate accounts, although the rates are still comparatively low, but any interest is better than nothing.  These savings will help to make our pension go further in the future when we stop working so it is important for us to make the most of what we have.

One of the best rates for us at the moment is actually the Flexclusive saver from Nationwide  paying 5% gross over the year.  It is one of those regular savings account where you save up to £500 a month and this accumulates over the year – you cannot put in a lump sum at the start.  At the end of the year you have to close the account and start again.

On the spending side I have managed to balance the books so to speak and deal with the outstanding paperwork.  I think it took me longer than the two hours I am trying to set aside each week and last week I did not do anything at all deciding instead to go in the garden.

I have sorted out all our new outgoing payments such as the increased Council tax and my yearly parking contract and have fixed the utility bills for a while though these need constant watching for better deals.  I find it tiring to have to search around on the internet and compare all the time – thank goodness we don’t have to do this for the mortgage.

Since the New Year I am still planning a menu for the week although it is often a bit of a rushed flexible list; however, it is having the required effect and cutting down on any waste food.  I have also started planning and taking a packed lunch to work – mostly I have a mixed salad, a cabbage and carrot slaw with walnuts (homemade by OH) and then some protein – a piece Nut Loaf or Quiche or just a boiled egg – sometimes it is leftovers.   This saves me about £3.50 a day.

I  have two months overtime to claim this payday a total of about 50 hours so quite a nice boost to the savings pot although I have a few items I want to buy and I might even treat myself  – perhaps a relaxing massage or reflexology treatment.

When we go out we have been making the effort to pack a picnic – actually I am enjoying these and have a few recipes to try that I can freeze in individual portions.  Tomorrow we are going up to North Yorkshire with a picnic to see my granddaughter and visit the Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park at Grewelthorpe.  I have a feeling the plant nursery is going to be far too tempting perhaps this will be my treat rather than a massage!

Sainsbury’s have been very good recently and keep giving me a triple points coupon and the reward points are already building up again – I have now got £64.24p.  Morrisons have also given me a £5 coupon to spend (we tend to get our petrol here).  It will come in useful when we go to Scotland as the two supermarkets in Stranraer are Tesco and Morrisons.

And the not so economical

I had a bit of a spending spree last week on items that I had run out of or worn out and a few that had not been planned for but caught my eye  – this is the list;-

  • I needed some face cream and I use Neal’s yard which is not the cheapest but it suits my sensitive skin
  •  one or two gorgeous little outfits for my granddaughter from Sainsbury’s £18
  • a white top for work from Sainsbury’s £10
  • some new Tayberry Mucker gardening boots £35  from the internet as my old ones are wearing out.  They are a bit like moon boots but very flexible with comfy fur-lined soles – I wouldn’t be without them so much better than my old wellies.

Tayberry Mucker Boots

  • a bird house from Sainsbury’s £8 and OH has put this in the garden, attached to the top of a pole. I think the pole cost more than the bird house!

 

We also bought a few items for the garden last weekend from the Garden Centre with my birthday tokens (some National Garden vouchers) which covered the cost and although I could have been thrifty and grown my own herbs I felt it was just nice to treat myself and the large bottles of feed / bug spray will hopefully last a very long time – here is the not very thrifty list:-

  • A Gazebo to go in the shady border £35
  • some organic seaweed feed £7.49
  • an organic greenfly spray £6.99
  • a courgette plant, some mint and fennel £5.49
  • a posh garden fork by Burgon and Ball £9.99
  • a paving knife also by Burgon and Ball £9.99I love my new shiny stainless steel hand tools – my old fork has hardly any wooden handle left it is so worn – but must be well over 20 years old.

Hope everyone is enjoying the weekend x

a relatively good start…

With menu in hand I completed my Sainsbury’s shop last night after work and felt quite pleased with myself, especially as I limited myself to a hot chocolate without a little snack (I would usually have a scone to keep me going).  Even though I was aiming to buy seasonal British grown produce I noticed the  cabbage was actually grown in Spain!  My trolley was mainly vegetables with a couple of loaves of bread and a few groceries – the ones we were running out of and one or two on offer.  My total bill came to £32.21 for the week – so I am quite pleased with that especially as we are eating better than when I spend a lot more!

shopping

This was all the fresh veg that I needed to add to the bits and pieces in the fridge to make my selected weeks menus.  The cheapest item was the Kiwi fruit at 30p and the dearest the dozen mixed sizes free range organic eggs at £3.70.  I need five for the Spiced Chickpea bakes and the remainder will carry over for next week.  The herbs were on offer and I will be able to freeze what I don’t use.  In the end I decided to buy a ready pack of Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato for £1.

Fresh Veg

Last night we had the Mushroom Stroganoff unfortunately when hubby made it he forgot he was making Stroganoff not risotto and mixed the rice into the mushroom mixture – but in the end it tasted the same!  Tonight we had the veggie stew with roasted chickpeas and butter beans a good warming winter dish – we both enjoyed the new recipe but perhaps the sweet potato and butternut squash made it a little too sweet for me so I would need to make slight adjustments next time.  The other draw back is it does not make enough for 2 meals – the leftover portion will however do for my lunch.  I will have to think of something to fill the empty slot for our tea tomorrow or move everything forward a meal.

Whilst in Sainsbury’s last night I had some returns – I had bought a snuggly throw for the bed at the caravan to keep us warm overnight.  It was a knitted cream blanket with an acrylic sheepskin style underside.  I never thought to check the washing instructions when I purchased it and was rather shocked to find it was not washable.  When I found the receipt to take it back I noticed I had been charged twice for this item.   As it was part of my weekly shop at the time I had not thought too much about my bill seeming a bit dearer than normal and had not checked the receipt afterwards.

So when I asked for a refund of the throw I had bought  I mentioned to the lady at Customer Services about being charged twice and confirmed that I had only bought one – after a bit of a quiet moment and a few umm’s and argh’s she agreed to refund me the money for both.  I thought this was very good of them as I had no way to prove I had not bought two at the time.  So well done Sainsburys for the goodwill gesture – but I will be checking my receipts more throughly in future.

We are certainly getting back into a routine again, all though we are well into January now, and a few of those stubborn little tasks are being crossed off the list.  I booked the car in for the MOT and service on Friday  and made a dentist appointment for the same morning. 

 I am not sure if the car or my teeth will require any major repairs – I hope not as I need to make economies in all areas of my spending.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

menu plan monday…

It is definitely that time of year when every magazine you look at has eye-catching headlines such as ‘Best Year ever’,  ‘Your time to shine’,  Make 2017 your year of change’  – I can never decide whether this is motivating or suggests that we are lacking a certain amount of satisfaction with our lives and are left wanting more or different.

The start of the New Year does seem to bring with it a desire to change many aspects of our life that we are disappointed with and of course we all begin with such good intentions but often by the time we are midway through February we have slipped back into our old habits and the resolutions we made become a distant memory.

If I were to make a list of all the things I would like to change it would be so long I wouldn’t have a hope of fulfilling them all this or any other year.  So then I start wondering why I want to change and I can only say to try to make my life feel better – less stressful – more as I imagine it could be – certainly happier, healthier, perhaps a little wealthier – plenty of me time, family time – a well run house, a glorious garden and even some room for creativity.  Of course I then have to wonder why on earth I am not already living this perfect life!

However, in my Economy mode I am whizzing straight past all the magazines with such appealing headlines – I already have a subscription to Country Living magazine (Xmas present) so for as long as I can hold out that is my lot.

This month I am concentrating on compiling Menu plans – mainly for our evening meal at present and then I will deal with my lunches later so I don’t make things too difficult for myself all at once.  I am aiming for low-cost, no waste, nutritional meals using seasonal fruit and veg as much as possible and also using up items from my store cupboard, fridge and freezer.  See the list here.

I have laminated my Good Food – Get 5-a-day every day chart of seasonal winter fruit and veg – this tells me all the British grown fruit and veg and also those items from further afield that are in season and therefore should not be too expensive.  Blueberries and Strawberries are not on the list so I will use up any frozen berries to go with my natural yoghurt for breakfast.

 

dsc08065

 

My menu plan this week uses up a few items already in my stock cupboard but most of the veg I will have to buy fresh as I only have celery, carrots and onions left over together with some rather soft radish and a bit of dubious broccoli.

The sprouts, parsnip, leeks, cabbage and beetroot are all in season and British, the Sweet potato is also in season although not grown here.

The items not listed as seasonal are broccoli, green beans and mushrooms.

I am introducing 3 new recipes this week –

  • Vegetable Stew (substituting Sweet potato for the Butternut squash – this will also use up the remaining leek from the Stroganoff on Tuesday).
  • Spiced Chickpea bakes
  • Herby Brown Rice Salad

From my choice of fruit and veg I am told that I will be enhancing my Beta – carotene intake effective against viruses and bacteria, Vitamin C  for my immune system and phytochemical that help the digestive system.

I am looking forward to making the new recipes – if they pass the taste test then I will put them into my recipe binder – if not they will go straight in the bin so I am not keeping recipes that I will never make again.  Any modifications I will add notes to the recipe for next time.

I will be going shopping tomorrow night so will then know just how economical my shop is (or not!) in financial terms – bearing in mind the cold weather a warming Vegetable Stew sounds just right this week.

Have a good week.

 

 

 

 

a new word for a new year…

My Focus Word for 2017

After much thought and deliberation I have decided on my focus word for the year and it is

economise

Taken from the Greek oikos meaning house and nemein meaning manage –  economise is the careful management of resources, careful use of something

I like the sound of carefully managing resources as I feel our throw away society is something I prefer not to be part of and I want to see just how resourceful I can be this year.

As well, due to impending changes in our household income  I need to cut down on unnecessary spending.  Becoming resourceful with our resources in order to ‘minimalise’ our purchases will also feed my desire to simplify and ‘minimalise’ our possessions.  Now we have the caravan whilst waiting for the cottage to be sorted we only have room for what is absolutely necessary and I love living with such a drastic reduction of ‘things’.  At the moment we only have 2 cups – so we have to keep on washing them up to reuse – it is quite challenging to see what we can get by with but also quite liberating.

The plan

Already this year I have been writing a Menu plan for the week – this seems to be the most effective way to save money,  reduce food waste and eat healthily.

At present I am shopping in my cupboards and only buying fresh vegetables and other necessities to add to what I already have to be able to make 7 healthier home-made meals each week.

I find it hard to admit that I am not sure what my food bill was each week over the last year – it was so manic that just getting through the week was a challenge on its own.  I ended up in Sainsbury’s with no plan and often duplicating items I already had in my cupboards.  We have probably eaten far more ready-made meals than ever before – pizza, vegetable samosas and quiche are the pre-prepared foods we normally fall back on together with those pots of chilled sauces for pasta.

I believe almost all of my lunches at work last year will have been bought and I dread to think the number of baked potatoes with cheese and coleslaw I got through but it will be quite a few – luckily it is my favourite lunchtime meal.

When I run my end of year spending report on my computer program all will be revealed and I don’t think it will be a pretty sight.  I know I will be upset at the amount of money I will have spent and wasted.

I find that at this time of year it is so easy to start off on the right foot but then as life takes over our good intentions fall away.  I have yet to resolve this recurring situation and I am thinking hard of a way to keep on track even through busy periods.

Below are some of my ideas to get me into Economy mode and at the same time increasing the number of nutritional  meals we have to improve our health.  I buy as much organic produce as possible – I like to think my food is free from any contaminants or artificial flavourings etc. –  this already makes my shopping dearer than the average, however, on the plus side we are both vegetarian so no expensive fish or meat in my trolley.  Having said that some vegetables can be quite expensive bought at the wrong time.

  • Having a menu plan is the number one priority – it only takes 20 minutes to write a simple plan for the week.  For me it is best done on a Sunday so that my new plan begins on a Monday – on a busy week even this amount of time can be difficult to find so my plan is to have some pre-written menus for these weeks to tide me over.
  • Keeping up with what is in the store cupboards, fridge and freezer is the second priority and including these foods in the menu plan helps to keep everything rotating and avoid food going past it’s sell by date.
  • Only buying store cupboard items with long dates on them when they are on offer such as cereal, packets of Passata, tea bags rice etc.  Some foods that I buy are rarely on offer but others come round fairly frequently.  Having a quick look as I go along the aisles to check the offers is worthwhile and saves money on those staple items.
  • Trying out new recipes to add variety to the weekly meal plan.  Test these on a weekend and time how long they take.  Having lots of very quick meals can become quite boring to the point where we often go off a certain meal.
  • Planning the menus around seasonal produce – this saves money as fruit and veg in season is usually cheaper.
  • Look out for coupons and vouchers.  As I shop at Sainsbury’s I automatically get Nectar points but I also get coupons at the till with either money off or additional Nectar points.  Make a point of buying the item on the coupon if it is something I would use or normally buy.
  • Remember to freeze left over bits of foods that have been opened but only a small amount used – such as tomato paste, coconut milk etc.  Also grate and freeze cheese and breadcrumbs and mix up and freeze crumble topping.

 

In addition to the planned meals I have a one or two quick standby meals in the freezer just in case.  Last week it was a ready-made pasta sauce to add to whole wheat pasta and this week a pizza. If I don’t need to use them then I will save money by not having to replace them.

My lunch at work is the area I need to get to grips with – I am more likely to eat a sandwich at home and prefer baked potatoes at work rather than too much bread. My current idea is to buy a ready done baked potato but take my own fillings and salad. This should cut the cost down and I can also organise myself to make soup for the week and freeze in smaller portions.

 

So far this year we have really enjoyed getting back to proper home cooked meals and saved money at the same time.  I actually prefer the winter salads I make of shredded cabbage, carrot and beetroot and raw cauliflower florets – I like the crunchy texture.  I find the bagged lettuce quite limp and wasteful.  Any remaining salad items have made delicious sandwiches served with home-made soup for lunch at the weekend. The meal plan for this week was a little different as we were on holiday from work and stayed at the caravan for 4 days and had to rely more on easy to make meals.  On Saturday night we are hosting a Burns Night Supper with some friends – we brought the haggis back from Scotland (vegetarian for us) together with some mini steak pies and macaroni pies, not sure of the nutritional quality of these!

 

I will put the menus in the tabs above – here is the quick link

Weekly Menu Plan January 2017

 

Just to update on the caravan we now have running water and central heating and a fully operational shower.  The Swift engineer who was coming to replace the fridge socket however did not arrive – or rather he did come but thought we were on the caravan site next door – as this is all closed up for the winter he went away again.  So fridge socket still not sorted…watch this space!

Meal Planning and a bit of chit chat…

For those of you who are interested you will find my menu plan for the week over on Re-routed

I don’t know about you it has been a very busy weekend here eating all that chocolate and cake LOL! 
But we have made progress – the kitchen planner came on Saturday and we now have a plan and room views of the proposed kitchen we just need to decide on the style, range and everything else.  I did find it very odd that one of the first questions on the form our planner fills in was “will you be wanting a cutlery tray?”
Of course we always manage to choose something from the expensive range no matter what we are buying so we may have to compromise a bit on what we want – good job we have a small kitchen! 
After many splodges on the wall we have at last found the paint colour we have been trying for.  With all the tester pots we have we could have produced a patchwork effect as a feature wall (maybe not a bad idea).  We are having the same base colour throughout all the rooms in our house and now that decision is made I need to go and get a tester pot to choose a ceiling colour.  We are having Farrow and Ball paint we have used it many times before and it does give a good finish.  All I need now is for Homebase to have a 20% off paint day sale and we will be first in the queue.
To get back to my focus for the month which is simplifying my space I have been doing a task a day and I will be posting about that soon.  I would have done it tonight but I have my appraisal at work tomorrow so must go now and fill in the dreaded form – which bright spark invented appraisals???
Hope you all had a good weekend and better weather I will catch up with you in the week.

Reducing the spending is back…

For anyone that is interested I am restarting my Reducing the spending posts over on my sister blog Re-routed.
This is where I will be taking stock of my grocery budget and meal planning.  I will also be moving the posts on ‘What I have bought this week’ over there just to keep these challenges separate from this blog.
Very soon I will be updating you on this months focus which is to Simplify my Space.
Have a good day tomorrow lets hope the weather is calmer.

Easy steps to organised cooking…

Believe it or not there is a term that incorporates organising with cooking.  If you saw the state of my kitchen at times after a baking session you would not think this possible.  The term I refer to is ‘Mise en place’ – quite simply it is French for ‘put in place’ a trained chef would refer to it as prepping.  

I like to call it Blue Peter cooking if you can remember that far back (and no you do not need any empty Fairy liquid bottles).  Every ingredient is pre weighed or prepared and then placed into something like a glass Pyrex bowl.  If you want to refresh your memory just take a look at this brilliant clip (wait for the trailer to finish) and note the bowls of ingredients all ready to go.  I think I might even make those cute mini Dalek cakes!

Having quite a tiny kitchen I adopted this method a while ago and it has much improved the way I keep myself and the kitchen organised whilst cooking and baking. 

Firstly I read through the recipe and collect all the ingredients together. 

mise en place 4

Then I weigh and pre-prepare everything and place into little bowls such as these cuties I found recently in Waitrose…

Pyrex Bowls

Now you might think that this method increases the washing up load with all those little bowls (and you would be right to some extent) however, I find that having one ingredient per bowl isn’t necessary as you can generally combine many of the ingredients. 

For instance when making a cake all the dry ingredients can be put together,

Mise en place 5

or with something like Nutloaf I combine the nuts and breadcrumbs and similarly with veg soup I would combine any veg added at the same stage of cooking.

mise en place 3

 

…then have a good clean up before launching into the mixing and cooking.

 

I don’t weigh out the olive oil for cooking but I do get the bottle out of the cupboard and have it ready together with all the utensils I am going to need.  Before I begin I would also check I have the right baking dish and prepare that too.

The bonus of this method is you don’t come across those little surprises halfway through a recipe when you discover that the only egg you thought you had has been eaten for breakfast that morning and too late to abandon the recipe you end up dashing to the local shop or next door.

The tendency is always to rush into the mixing and cooking but I find organising myself this way I avoid burning one thing in the pan whilst I am hurriedly preparing something else or forgetting an ingredient altogether.  I can remember many times trying to add that pinch of salt or herbs to a rolled up ball of pastry having forgotten to include it when it was just at the crumb stage!  

I noticed that the ‘forgotten’ ingredient happened quite regularly on the Bake Off – and who, I would like to know, does all their clearing up?