more thoughts on economising…

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Sometimes I can easily overlook the obvious – do you do that?

I refer to a very simple statement I came across recently –

‘Spend less than you earn = more savings’.

In my quest for a simple life this is good simple advice.

I do, as it happens, spend less than I earn overall and do not have the problem of credit or overdrafts, but even so I can take this on board and spend even less than I earn and save even more = less stuff. 

Less stuff is something I am working towards so it will be a win, win situation.

Where I fall down is spending too much day-to-day on lunch at work and on the weekly shop.  Buying lunches and over estimating on fresh food for the week or turning to expensive convenience foods through lack of planning and time increases our spending unnecessarily.

After all the hard work of searching out and setting up good deals we often lose track of them coming to an end.  We also get so busy we  fail to check the online bills for errors of which we have at times found plenty.  Therefore a little more attention to these areas will undoubtedly keep more money in our pockets.

Being thrifty is a challenge I actually enjoy and watching our savings grow is rewarding and with retirement looming on the horizon I can feel a slight urgency to give our savings a boost.

Putting it into practice is not always easy – sometimes running short on time and temptation takes over.

 

My thrifty moments this week –

  • I have stocked up on the next two months cards for birthdays and anniversaries using a 25% off WH Smiths voucher for cards. Cards are not cheap now so I am always on the lookout for reasonably priced ones.
  • An 8p off a litre of petrol coupon from Sainsbury’s.
  • Triple reward points plus 800 free points
  • A grocery shopping free week – as we were going up to the caravan for a long weekend last Thursday I didn’t need to do a supermarket shop saving a good £50.

What I have wasted money on this week –

  • Buying my lunch for work – I could certainly save money here if I took something from home.
  • Buying lunch out at the weekend when we could have made sandwiches and taken them with us and just bought a drink.
  • Buying a tray bake cake with a drink at Costa – an expensive enjoyment.

My week at work is over now and I will certainly be spending an hour or two on our finances tomorrow.

this and that…

February has almost been and gone already.  I cannot even think what I have been doing but I know I have been busy doing it!

I warn you now this is more of an update and not a very exciting blog post – feel free to leave now…

Earlier this month we had a few days in our new caravan…a few very wet days and then snow when we got back home here in Yorkshire.  This weekend it has been extremely wet and windy and I don’t know about you but I feel I am in desperate need of some warmer sunnier weather, especially to wake up to.

Cottage renovations aside we are planning a bit of a whole house revamp here in Yorkshire – inside and out  – starting with the airing cupboard of all places.  This may seem a strange place to start but recently we had a new Combi boiler installed and the hot water tank upstairs was removed.  The upside is we have a large empty space but the downside is that the airing cupboard is no longer warm!

Mr I. has spent many a day inside this tiny space sanding and painting and fitting new shelves and  a small tubular electric heater to keep it warm so I can carry on airing the clothes and linens after I have ironed them.  I already keep spare toilet rolls and lightbulbs in here and the aim is to store the towels here too.  To get the job done quickly Mr I. bought Quick Drying gloss – this was a big mistake it is definitely not as good in finish and quality as a normal gloss and it is still slightly tacky one week later – thankfully it is only the airing cupboard.

As well as the airing cupboard we are redecorating my younger daughters bedroom (she left home in 2002) and we have never updated it in all that time!

We are installing some fitted wardrobes in this room so last Friday we had another visit to Ikea – our third in two weeks – not because we had a lot of shopping to do but because on previous visits I couldn’t decide on the style of doors for the front of the wardrobes we had gone to buy!

As usual I thought I knew exactly what I wanted until I got there and then found I needed time to have a rethink.  In the end I did buy the wardrobe doors I had first decided on and they have been delivered and are in our living room waiting to be put together.  I am looking forward to having a place to store my linens  which are in our main wardrobe at the moment.

Feeling Frugal

The menu planning and shopping has gone better than expected – my shopping bill is definitely lower, our meals more nutritious and we have even produced a few leftovers for my lunch at work to keep my daily spend down too.

Boots have to their 3 for 2 and a five-pound off coupons at the moment so I am stocking up on my basic face creams and a new mascara.   I haven’t compared my spending yet with this time last year – that will have to wait for a free hour next week when I can sit down and look at the budget.

Today I set up a new savings account with 5% interest which is a good rate given the low rates at present and I am trying to rearrange better utility deals one by one.  Not a job I enjoy doing but hopefully will produce some significant savings.

The To-do List

I have been concentrating on reducing my list of tasks and trying to give myself only 5 a day so that those awkward ones don’t get left undone and keep recurring.  This week will be even busier than last as I have a training seminar to attend in Leeds and I am involved in a fund-raising evening on Thursday after work.

On Monday I have a job to sort out at Kwik Fit who serviced my car and did the MOT and somehow entered my Vehicle number incorrectly.  This has caused a problem at DVLA and guess who has to sort it out!

I have also a few items of shopping that I think will be cheaper from one of the bargain shops or Wilkos rather than from Sainsbury’s or Boots so I will make the effort to go shopping at lunch time.

I have quite a few birthdays for March so I had better start looking for cards and gifts so they are not last-minute.

Well my time is up now  – hopefully It won’t be another month until my next post!

Have a good week x

 

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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

highlights from the week…

During last week I was on holiday from work so we decided to head up to the caravan in Scotland for a few days whilst also arranging to meet the engineer who came to get our water and gas connected.

I was sitting in the caravan looking out over a calm, silvery winter sea during the time just before dusk sets in.  The wood-pigeon was gently cooing outside and inside a very peaceful quiet. Just like in the cottage we have no means of communicating with the outside world – it feels almost like being on a desert island – all we can do is just sit and be.  A very odd experience – 250 miles away from our usual existence at home where there is always some pressing ‘To Do’ to be done and I would normally, like a lot of the population, be at work.  I quite enjoyed this break – so did hubby who was often found gently dozing in the corner!

The highlight of the trip was at last we have running water, central heating, a flushing toilet, fully operational shower and gas cooking facilities.  Thank goodness for all these modern inventions – being without such comforts is good for the soul once in a while as it reminds us of how grateful we should be for these services we take for granted and how they free up our lives.  For the last few weeks we have managed with containers of water, a bucket under the van to catch the sink waste and a chemical camping toilet to catch the other waste!  I won’t go into detail here!!  We had to have a wash with one bowl of water each and clean our teeth with a glassful.  All hot water had to be boiled on our little gas camping stove and our meals consisted of soup, soup and more soup – the easiest thing to heat up when you only have one gas ring.

The caravan is now a real home from home and is actually warmer, cleaner and more comfortable than our cottage was whilst we attended to the renovations.  But it does not have the character or the space.

Now the caravan is fully up and running we can turn our attention to the garden maintenance.  It suffered a lot last year due to shortage of time and the cottage being out of action still.  We had to limit our visits and stay at a nearby B&B or hire another cottage.

Many parts of the garden were badly affected by the flood and all though most of it has sprung back there are still some strange effects to overcome even now. The lawn and borders on the wood side of the cottage are covered in wild garlic leaves, the bulbs being washed through the garden and scattered by the flood water.  The only way is to dig them out by hand one at a time.  So far I have done a patch about one metre square – the amount of garden affected by this is probably 20 metres square – some of it appears in clumps and others more scatterd – funnily enough the ones in clumps are easier to pull out than the numerous single bulbs dotted around.  Any good ideas anyone?

The stream bank is looking so much better and as soon as we hit a drier patch the contractor will be back to spread the top soil and re-seed the area.  The black protective mesh will eventually allow the vegetation to grow through it and it will look like a natural grassy stream bank.  Of course the stream bed is much wider now but will probably, hopefully, look narrower again as the vegetation takes hold.

 

Stream Bank

 

Back at home now we celebrated Burns night here in England with a few friends – it was a great night and always reminds us how good it is to have a get together.  I have never cooked Haggis before but it was quite easy – not so easy is mashing a huge pot of potatoes and turnip.

For eight of us (5 meat eaters and 3 vegetarians) I spent

2 x Haggis  £5.00

1 x Haggis veggie £2.50

1 large bag Potatoes £1.29

2 x Swede £0.80

1 pot beef gravy £2.00 (already had some veggie gravy)

8 mini Scotch pies  £2.70

2 macaroni pies £1.15

Add in some Scottish delicacies

1 box Tunnocks chocolate teacakes £1.60

1pkt Tunnocks Caramel wafers £1.60

1pkt mini Scottie shortbread  £1.00

 

A total of £19.64 or £2.46 a head – one friend brought fruit kebabs for a starter and another friend a Rhubarb crumble for afters.  So quite an economy meal.

 

 

 

 

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!

Financial Focusing update #11

I know I said I would be working on my budget but after the day I have had at work I think I can be excused any further mental torture.  A night in front of the TV seems very inviting.  I haven’t been idle altogether, I have paid for my car tax online, moved some money into my Regular savings account so that the interest doesn’t drop below 2.5% and paid the M&S credit card bill which was mainly clothes and will come out of our clothes account.

My only spend of the day (besides my lunch) was also one of my biggest savings.  I managed to get a £9 No7 Lipgloss for only £4 and 100 bonus points.   I had a coupon for £3 off any No 7 makeup but in addition I went to the Advantage card kiosk and printed out a further coupon for £2 0ff any lipstick and another for a 100 extra points on any makeup.  Surprisingly the bar code scanner accepted all the coupons even the one for lipstick when I had bought Lipgloss – so I can tell you it is worth going to the kiosk before you buy and just hand everything to the assistant to scan.   Well done Boots you made my day.

Only 3 days of January left and I have still got quite a lot to do.  Fortunately I will be having the afternoon off on Thursday so I should be able to finish more of the remaining tasks.  I am still hopeful that I can complete this Financial Focus within the month as I would like to be able to move on to my next focus.  I have a few ideas of what this will be and no doubt I will enlighten you in another post.

Tomorrow I will be meeting my friend for lunch, we usually go to Costa and I am hoping I will have enough points to cover part of the bill.  Hope you all have a good day. x

 

Financial Focusing update 5#

A very cold start to the day this morning both inside and out – our gas boiler has more or less broken down and we are waiting for our engineer to get the part and then fit it, meanwhile, to get any heat we have to ignite the boiler manually when we get up or get home so the house is quite cold when we wake and after work on arriving home.  Reminds me of the days when you had to light the coal fire.

I must say for a month where I am trying to watch the pennies I am finding I am paying out rather a lot of large maintenance bills!  Last Saturday we picked up my trusty little Saxo car (now 12 years old)  after passing the MOT and having a full service.  Luckily no major faults found.  Now I need to attend to giving it a good clean inside and out and also I could do with a new set of hub caps and a battery for the remote.

As it happens my focus this weekend was to list all the items and appliances we own that require maintenance – some will need more than others.  Now I have the list which includes everything from the car to the hairdryer, lawn mower to the kettle I am going to set aside some time each week to maintain one item.  This might be giving it a good clean, arranging a service or buying a new part – whatever it takes to keep in good working order.  This way I hope to extend the life of the appliance.  I will post the list another day.

I allow for the MOT and maintenance as part of my  bills budget so it is never a scramble to find the money though it would be nice to have cheaper bills.  Since 1985 I have estimated all my bills for the year – added 10% then divided by 12 and the end sum is the amount that goes into our bill account every month by standing order without fail.  As this budget account has been running for many years it tends to have a surplus which is always good in case of the unexpected.  This money is absolutely not to be used for anything else even if the account is well in credit.  The bills I pay from here are –

  • Car – maintenance
  • Car – road license
  • Car – parking contract
  • Car – insurance
  • Computer security
  • Cottage bills
  • Council tax
  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Gas boiler and fire service
  • Gas boiler and fire maintenance
  • House buildings and contents insurance
  • Mortgage
  • Mortgage overpayment
  • Personal Pension
  • Telephone and Broadband
  • Water rates

Many of the bills are fixed rates such as Council tax, water rates, car road license and mortgage.  I can only save on the variables such as energy bills, telephone, insurances etc by shopping around – but there are savings to be made.  With any savings I make over the year I can do one of two things either make an extra mortgage overpayment or keep a surplus in the bill account so I don’t need to increase my monthly standing order next year.  In a day or two I will be putting figures to the above categories when I know more what my expenses will be.

At the moment I am researching new energy deals and thinking about applying for a water meter.  We have paid our BT line rental for the year with a big saving and all the calls are free to landlines if I make sure I don’t go over the hour (a timer comes in handy here).  I also need to revise our car insurance and breakdown as it will be due in March.  As you know I wasn’t overly impressed with the service I received when I broke down.

On Sunday I returned the last of the items for refunds – so gained another £119.  We made sandwiches to eat in the car park at the Cheadle branch of John Lewis (not a common occurrence at this branch!) and just bought a drink inside.

My spend on Sunday was

  • 2 drinks    £4.55
  • 1 black printer ink    £10.99

Today after work there were a few bits and pieces of shopping I needed.  I spent Saturday afternoon going through my dressing table drawers.  I am trying to pare everything down to the bare essentials.  I have a few products to use up and I have replaced my mascara and lipstick using the No7 voucher.  I realised when away at Christmas that I do not have a round hair brush in my travel bag and my usual one is quite large so when I saw this cheap small one in Wilkos it will fit my travel bag perfectly.  I have also replaced my old comb for a stronger black one – I wondered if I could do without but what would I clean my brushes with?

I saw the Polyfilla stick in an advert and I am crossing my fingers that this is the answer to my prayers.  We have a number of those fine hairline cracks in the plaster in one of the bedrooms.  It is just on the top coat of plaster nothing sinister like subsidence but they are the most awkward things to fill with any success.  It looks remarkably like a Pritt stick!  I will let you know if it is any good but you will probably hear me shouting Eureka before then if it is!!

Shopping 20.01.14

Taking a picture of the items that come into the house as a record of my spending may help to stop me buying anything unnecessarily.

Holland and Barrett

  • Essential oil mixer bottle  £2.49   – for my massage oil
  • Vegetarian Gravy Powder  £1.79
  • Apple and Apricot spread  £1.85

Post Office

  • 6 x 2nd class stamps  £3.00 – to have in stock
  • 1 x 1st class stamp  £0.60 – for special birthday card

Wilkinsons

  • 1 round brush for travel bag  £2.00
  • 1 black comb  £0.70
  • 3 gift jam jars  £3.75 – for fruit spread
  • 1 Polyfilla stick for fine cracks  £5.95 – to fix the hairline cracks in plaster I hope!

Sainsbury’s

  • Cauliflower and Broccoli  £1.20 – tonight’s tea
  • 1 orange  £0.35 – for rind shreds in fruit spread

Total spend £23.68

So my focus tomorrow is getting to grips with the energy bills.  We have Npower gas and Scottish Power electric as this was cheapest at the time.  I know Npower have not been able to bill people recently and their bills are expected to go out in February meanwhile they have a LOT of our money in credit as I don’t believe we have used what they estimated.

Scottish Power are sending us £54 as compensation for the period last March when the cottage was cut off for 3 days in the snow.  Not being there at the time and the freezer only having a loaf or two and a tub of ice-cream we are quids in with this refund!  It will go towards the food I had to throw out when I accidentally unplugged our freezer at home.  We didn’t waste much in the end, a Higgedy Pie, 4 Samosas, a pack of veggie sausages (hubby gone off them anyway), a handful of frozen chips, a reduced Pizza and the remnants of a tub of ice-cream.  I am most cross about the ice-cream as I watched and waited for weeks for the brand we like (Mackays) to come on offer and now I have had to ditch it!

Well I think I have rambled enough.  How is your spending / none spending going?