Thursday 31 December 2020

Moving on

 Well, that was 2020.  There was C***d and B****t.  There will be fallout for months (if not years) from both.  My finances feel OK but I'm anxious about what may be around the corner so I need to act now to keep things on an even keel.  

So far B****t has caused few changes to my lifestyle but the other thing has had more impact than any other single factor this year.  It has reduced my income but my expenses have reduced even more.  Food spending has rocketed, largely because I have stopped going shopping for myself.  Minimum orders from Sainsbury and having to accept (very gratefully!) whatever friends and relations bring me, have bumped up the weekly spend by around 20%.  Motoring costs have plummeted because I'm rarely using my car.  My social life has been conducted largely by Zoom or Facetime and so the coffee consumed has been home made rather than bought at a fancy coffee shop.

It has been a very expensive year for replacing major items - my mobile phone, laptop, fridge and freezer all died and I had to replace the curtains in my sitting room with blinds.  My mobility scooter had major repairs too  Those six items totalled £2439 so savings by being confined to the house most of the year were very necessary!

You've probably guessed what's coming next: No Spend January.  Obviously my direct debits will happen as usual, (covering things like council tax, energy, car tax and charitable donations), but other thigs will be cut to an absolute minimum and I will declare them on this blog.  I'm in a tier 4 area (stay at home) so my opportunities for spending are severely curtailed, I've got store cupboards and freezer stuffed to the gunnels, and I shall have to be stern with myself when it comes to on line spending.  

Happy 2021!

Friday 13 November 2020

Thinking about vegetables

 I've been using a wayside vegetable stall for some of my fresh food.  It's several miles away but I go as my fortnightly run to keep my car in order.  I can get lovely fresh seasonal vegetables and eggs and they also sell a few plants and pickles.  Today they had stalks of Brussels sprouts for sale at £1.25.  Last year I decided not to grow sprouts as I wasted far too many so I bought a stalk.  It looked as though it had been cut this morning.   

A few weeks ago I did an exercise in costing chicken thighs bought "bone in" as compared to chicken thighs bought ready boned.  I thought it might be interesting to compare ways of buying sprouts.  I took Sainsbury's as my comparison point.  They sell stalks at £2 so as mine was just £1.25,  I was in the lead.

First my stalk had 975 grammes of sprouts on it which works out at £1.29 per kilo.  Sainsbury's has sprouts for £2 per kilo this week so I was still in the lead.  However, assuming that a Sainsbury stalk yields the same as mine did, I also noted that it is cheaper to buy loose sprouts than it is to buy a sprout "tree", as Sainsbury calls it.  

I weighed my sprouts after I had trimmed them and found that I have 780 grammes of trimmed vegetables.  That means that the ready-to-cook price is just over £2 per kilo.  Some of these I have frozen, some I will eat over the next few days.

As a matter of interest I checked the price of frozen sprouts at Sainsbury.  £1.30 per kilo.  If cost is one's only criterion, frozen sprouts are the way to go!  They win over both sprout trees and loose sprouts.  

PS I have kept the top to use as spring greens as well - I think of that as free food!

Wednesday 11 November 2020

The marrow part 4

 And now for something completely different.

So far I've done two versions of stuffed marrow, I've made a soup with marrow and I've had marrow roasted with meat.  All those are fairly predictable and commonly done with marrows and I wanted to try something completely different so I googled and found a recipe for hazelnut and maple syrup marrow.  That is something I would never have thought of in a month of Sundays so I decided that's what I would do with the final chunk of the monster.

I peeled, deseeded and chopped the marrow and put it in an oiled dish.  I covered it with foil and roasted it for forty minutes at 200C.  I then removed the foil and added a drizzle of maple syrup and topped the lot with a mixture of breadcrumbs and chopped hazel nuts before returning it to the oven for 15 minutes to brown the nut and breadcrumb  mixture.

I served it with a jacket potato and sour cream dip and really enjoyed it!  If I made it again I would probably have it with pork.

You may remember the soup which I made in part 2 of this project.  At that time I decided that it was too bland.  I reheated the remaining portion and added a little harissa paste (needs using up!). It was an improvement but not enough for marrow soup to enter my repertoire.  

So, the marrow is no more.  I've rather enjoyed doing this project though.  It is sometimes difficult to avoid waste when living alone because something which is large can become very boring.  I've made myself eat the lot without getting bored.  I shall try a similar project with a different sort of glut.  

Monday 9 November 2020

The Marrow Part 3

 The comments about my marrow have been fascinating but rather than reply to each I’ve decided to write a little more about marrows. 

Anyone who has had to organise a Harvest Festival will be very familiar with Monster Marrows.  There are sometimes grown competitively and weights of over 200lbs have been recorded.   Botanically they are very close to courgettes (zucchini) but according to Auntie Beeb (the BBC)  “courgettes tend to be bushy and thin-skinned whereas marrows tend to trailing and have a thicker skin”.    According to me, marrows have less flavour and are more watery and the skin is very thick.  I’d eat the whole courgette but discard skin and seeds from marrow. 

Anyway, my not-too-monster marrow is disappearing.  Today’s offering was marrow stuffed with sausage meat, apple and onion.  I peeled it first, (unlike the minced beef stuffed one where I left the skin on for cooking but left the skin on the side of my plate when eating).  I'd cooked extra vegetables yesterday so I had them with my sausage stuffed marrow. 

There’s still a big chunk left but I won’t be cooking it for a couple of days as I have found an interesting recipe for which I need a few ingredients from Sainsbury - maybe I ran down my basics a little too much!  

Sunday 8 November 2020

The Marrow part 2

 I don't plan on having an extended relationship with the marrow but I don't want to end our friendship with the marrow and I still un-united so today I cooked some more of it.  I cooked a slice (peeled and deseeded) with my lunchtime pork chop, rather like Mother would cook some with the Sunday roast.  It was OK.  I had a sense of virtue on not wasting it but it would never be at the top of my personal hit parade.  

Yesterday I showed you a roasting tin filled with vegetables.  It was peeled and deseeded marrow, chopped and chunked potatoes and some sage from the garden along with some oil.  I roasted them whilst my yesterday stuffed marrow was cooking then today I sweated an onion, fished out most of the sage and discarded it before I added he marrow and potato mixture to the onions to make marrow, potato and sage soup which sounded good but wasn't brilliant.  I ate some and will eat it all but may experiment to add a little more flavour.  However, I could add marrow to other vegetable combinations to get another fruit-and-veg-five-a-day.  We shall see.  

About two thirds of the marrow has now disappeared.

Saturday 7 November 2020

The Marrow part 1

The green one is the marrow!
 Readers of my other blog will know that I have been given a marrow.   I've never been given a small marrow but this one isn't one of those monster marrows which appear at Harvest Festivals.  It's quite a civilised size and I feel I can take on the challenge of eating it.  

Stuffed marrow, mashed potato, broad beans

I am a child of the fifties,  a time when austerity as still the order of the day.  Marrow was often cooked with the Sunday joint because it would take up the flavour and make that flavour last a bit longer.  Marrow itself is rather flavourless so something else needs to be added.  Some thrifty housewives make marrow and ginger jam but that won't be appearing on my table as I don't like ginger in sweet things.  I have made marrow chutney in the past but its not one of my favourites and I won't be making it this year.

Today I've had the first piece of the marrow.  I chopped a generous chunk off one end, scooped out the seeds and filled the cavity with a small portion of mince, onion, tomato and beef which I cook in bulk for various dishes.  I covered it with foil and cooked it for about an hour at 200C then removed the foil, topped it with grated cheese and returned it to the oven for ten minutes.  I served it with broad beans and mashed potatoes and it was rather nice.  

Now what will that be?

While that was cooking I started on the next chunk of marrow.  But that's a story for another day!

Sunday 1 November 2020


 This has been a year like no other!  None of us could have predicted the turn of events, no-one could have foreseen the problems to be faced.

You probably think I'm talking about the pandemic and indeed I could be, but actually I'm talking about budgetting.  No two years are ever the same, we will always have unforeseen expenditure, there will always be problems.

Since January I have had to buy a new freezer (£430), a laptop (£570), a fridge (£320), a (refurbished) iPhone (£234), blinds (£505), major repairs to my mobility scooter (£600) as well as the usual round of car servicing and repairs, appliance maintenance etc.  I make that £2659.  

But it will ever be thus.  The fridge and freezer should be good for many years now but the dishwasher is twelve years old and the tumble dryer over twenty years.  My car could need major repairs, my mobility scooter will eventually need replacing or any number of other emergencies could arise.  My pension income is assured but since March I have been unable to earn the fees which normally put a generous coating of jam on the bread.  Fortunately I have made savings by not going out, hardly moving my car and generally cutting back.

I am so glad that I budget properly.  I also track rigorously so I can work out how to cut down and can see the result of my economies.   

Saturday 12 September 2020

Doing some sums

 I have quite a lot of leisure time at the moment so I decided to try a mini experiment.

I bought a one kilo pack of chicken thighs from Sainsbury.  I think thighs are really good value.  Actually, without the tray they weighed 1150 grammes so I was ahead by 150 grammes before I started!

I then boned them and resulting the flesh and skin weighed 1040 grammes.

Then I removed the skin and fat and weighed the meat.  850 grammes.  They had cost me £1.95.  That means that skinless, boneless chicken fillets had cost me £2.30 per kilo.

I checked the Sainsbury site.  They sell chicken thigh fillets at £5.31 per kilo.  More than double!

And I got a small pan of stock as well.  

Tuesday 1 September 2020


On the face of it, it seems crazy to call this month's review of my finances, "Rejoicing".  Once again I have spent far more than my income.  Once again something broke down and had to be replaced - this time my iPhone.  Once again I have overspent on food.  I brought forward my planned car service from December to August because if I have to sit and wait for my car to be ready I'd rather sit outside in August. Once again I have far less money at the end of the month than I had at the beginning.

But the point is that although most of those things could be called "unplanned expenditure" the truth is that it is all expenditure which I have planned for - what a wonderful example of gobbledygook!  The point is that I didn't plan for my mobile phone to break down any more than I planned for the laptop to die in June or the fridge to develop a terminal illness in July but, sure as eggs is eggs, things will break down and Murphy's Law says that they will do so at the most inconvenient time.  I know that my car will have to be serviced, so each month a little is set aside for the purpose - in fact I had set aside enough in eight months because there was no extra work to be done but I had saved extra in case of extra work.  I could even take the opportunity to buy extra meat when that opportunity arose. 

So I can rejoice.  Money is not just to be saved but to be used wisely.  In months when I have had less demands on my purse I've set some aside so now I can rejoice.

But I can still hope that September doesn't hold too many nasty surprises!

Sunday 2 August 2020

Looking back

Oh dear.  July was not a good month financially.  And it followed a not very good June when I had to buy a new laptop.

I had decided that in July I would treat myself.  I had quite a lot of Amazon vouchers which I had received for various survey payments and I had long wanted a new camera.  I bought one but had to dip into my reserves for £80 to get the one I want.  That would have been manageable.

Then my lovely landlord had a wonderful new fence built to the side of my home.  I'd offered a financial contribution but my offer was declined!  The fence didn't cost me anything but I took advantage of the collection he had arranged for the old fence and had quite a bit of rubbish  removed.  £50 down.   

Then someone pointed out that life seemed to have lost its oomph for one of my tyres, so that was £65 unexpected expenditure.  Things were looking dodgier.

The very next day I realised that the fridge had died.  My finances for July were in terminal decline.  I have finished the month £35 down on how I started it.  And August may also be "interesting" as I have booked my car in for a service before the winter. 

I also way overspent on groceries.  I bought a case of loo rolls (£40) from "Who gives a crap?" but they will last about eighteen months.  This company gives half its profits to sanitation projects in developing countries.  The loo rolls are good too so that's quite a few happy bums from one purchase.  (Incidentally the loo rolls are made from recycled paper and bamboo fibre so they're kind to the environment.) My usual "personal shopper" (a cousin) wasn't available so I had to have weekly deliveries from Sainsbury's with a minimum £40 spend.  I have a feeling that may be the case during the winter as well.

I've also needed more paid help.  At the moment I am employing Annie-the-home-enhancer (cleaner) again and will do so through August but when September comes and her children are back in school that will change.  

And yet I don't feel despondent.  I had set money aside for unexpected expenses and unforeseen emergencies.  It was there ready.  Maybe if I could have known how the month would pan out I wouldn't have bought the camera but to be honest, I don't regret it.  Everything else was necessary and I did my best.  

As I have hinted above, August too will have its problems but I will survive!

Sunday 26 July 2020

How to live like a millionaire on a retirement budget

I've been reading "How to live like a millionaire on a retirement budget: Priceless strategies for living as if money were no object" by Elizabeth Dunkel.   Many of the ideas in it will be very familiar to frugal bloggers but they bear repeating.

Her basic philosophy is that creative, stylish thinking, feeling and living is the way to celebrate a life in retirement.  Or to quote Coco Chanel, "There are people who have money and people who are rich".  Her hacks are not so much about money saving as about rethinking how to look at money and luxury.  Simple ideas like eating outdoors (or lighting a candle if indoors) to make a meal into occasion even if it is eaten alone.  Or a single flower in a slender vase.

I hate it when my environment reminds me that I am careful with money.  Actually I'm glad (and maybe a little proud) when I look at my accounts that I am careful with money but I don't want to feel cheapskate when I walk around my house.  So, as a contribution to luxurious stinginess I am offering just one idea.

Like many people I cut open tubes to make sure I get the last smidgen of a product out, even if the product was itself super value.  Some people just pop one end of the cut tube over the other and continue to use it but when I see a tube like that in my bathroom or on my dressing table it looks a little bleak.   Instead I save old face cream pots and when I've cut the bottom off a hand cream tube I scoop the remaining hand-cream into a de-labelled pot.  Hand-cream budget range from Wilko, face-cream budget range from Lidl (or maybe Aldi, can't remember which).  
Luxury method

Quick method

Saturday 25 July 2020

Two steps forward, one back

To be honest, I am one of those fortunate people for whom lock down has been a financial gain.  My spending has reduced in many categories (motoring, eating out, paid help) and I've been able to control my grocery expenditure as I have become accustomed to the new situation.  My income has dropped as I am no longer able to work at all but the fall in expenditure has more than compensated for that.  I'm not a "recreational" shopper and I think that retail therapy just results in headaches at 2am.

But I cannot believe how many of my appliances have died this year.  Back in January it was the freezer and just last month I had to replace my laptop.  I thought I was OK this month but on Thursday I acquired a large nail in a tyre which meant I had to acquire a new tyre.  Not as bad as a freezer or a laptop but still an appreciable sum.

Then Friday the fridge died.  I just can't believe it!  To be fair I have been having a few doubts about its efficiency but I didn't expect it to die.  

So today I shall have to contact my local electrical appliance supplier and spend some hard-saved money.  I've checked on line and I know what I want (basically the fridge to match the freezer I bought in January!) and they will deliver.  It's not really a problem but oh! I wish my finances didn't suffer so much!

And I know how fortunate I am that I can manage to buy a fridge and that buying a fridge is my only problem

Thursday 9 July 2020

Getting roped in

Last year I was approached by the Office for National Statistics to do a one-off survey.  I think they choose households at random so they can some idea of the "state of the nation".  At the end of the survey they asked if they could approach me again (they try not to over-burden the unwilling) and I said OK so throughout last year I did surveys on household finance.  Apart from a reusable cotton tote bag there was no reward but I was happy to help anyway.

Earlier this year I was asked if I would help with the corona virus survey which I mentioned on my other blog.   I'm really pleased to help with that one.  I was chosen in the light of the demographic information (gender, age, postcode, income etc) which they already had from my previous surveys.  This one is paid in vouchers for places like Tesco, Sainsbury or Amazon.  

I also get roped in for all sorts of things because I do surveys for commercial firms.  I get a free product and usually a financial reward as well.   I've tested soap powder, face cream, butter and other things over the years but at the moment I am testing an on-line fitness programme.  I'm really happy to help with this one because they are including help for disabled people.  (Sorry, I can't tell you the name.)  

I started on Monday although I did a questionnaire a while ago and I've got just four little habits to develop.  They've asked me to have a large helping of green vegetables, to do some simple stretches, to make sure I eat nothing during the two hours before bedtime and to walk half a mile on my treadmill each day.  There is no way that I could walk half a mile in one go but I keep nipping out to the garage and doing fifty or a hundred yards.  I get motivational texts several times a day.  

As far as I know there's no financial reward for this but if it makes me try just a little bit harder that is more than enough reward for getting roped in.  

Thursday 2 July 2020

Double Oh Dear!

The first Oh Dear! is an apology because I haven't blogged since this time last month.  Sorry about that.

The second Oh Dear! is because I've had budgetting problems.  About three weeks ago my laptop died.  I really hammer my 'pooters as they are used on my lap and they get damaged rather easily.  Anyway I went to my usual techie type chap who also said Oh Dear!  The laptop needed a new motherboard and as it was four years old it seemed better to replace it completely.  However, he set up the new one for me and transferred everything which he could transfer from the old one.  

What we couldn't retrieve was my old budget and tracking information so I had to work out my expenditure from alternative records.  Fortunately it was just a couple of weeks worth of figures which needed retrieving.

So, let's look how things are going.  As far as I know I reduced my grocery expenditure by nearly fifty pounds last month (I keep a separate detailed record of grocery spending).  This means that it's at roughly pre Covid levels.  Also I am no longer eating out so that's a huge saving.  I had to buy some petrol (£30) but that was the first I've bought since early March.  My gardener/handyman is back and I am paying my cleaner a retainer so that's quite a lot.  

And apart from the usual bills which I pay by monthly direct debit I've spent very little else.  I've had quite a bit in from surveys etc.  So despite my Oh Dears! and buying a computer I was still able to stash £50,

So I think I can say, Oh Dear! Oh Dear! Well done Dear!

Saturday 6 June 2020

Bye, May. Hi, June.

Ah well, it's only 6th June.  Sorry I'm more than a little late.

I actually did my May wrap-up of finances on Sunday but I didn't get a blog post written.  These lazy long days are doing me no good at all in the getting-things-done stakes!

My food expenditure remains high and I think there are several factors at work.  Firstly I am not eating out at all.  I always have "eating out" as a separate category from "food".   I have been having an occasional takeaway (to support a local business) which I have counted as groceries but from June I shall call it eating out.  I am having a few treats to compensate for the things I can't do.  Other people are shopping for me so I can't shop around for the best deals.  So, all in all, the grocery bill has been too high

I am managing to save during the lock-down, largely because I am no longer meeting friends for coffee. no longer having pensioners' pub lunches, and driving much less.   Because I'm not going out I'm not buying any clothes, not even tights - I spent £265 on clothes in 2019, much of which was on tights and underwear.  My craft group is no longer meeting and although that was only £8 per month I often decided I had to have something to make me a better crafter.   The stash is being used instead.  That will save money around Christmas.

I'm spending quite a lot on paid help because my gardener is coming every week at the moment and I am still paying my cleaner half wages.  However, I think this is all money well spent.

I have been doing as many surveys as I can but I am usually paid in Amazon vouchers so this doesn't appear as income although usually it does reduce expenditure.  I'm also being paid to be a participant on a year-long survey concerning corona virus.  Again I am paid in Amazon vouchers so I have decided to save up for something special.  

Quite apart from that, I am still managing to salt away a little money each month, in fact slightly more than usual so I am still a happy bunny.  I wonder how all of our finances will look when we get to the other side of the corona crisis?

Saturday 2 May 2020

Auditing April

Each month I write a detailed account of myself, my finances, my activities, my hopes and my dreams so that I can see better how life is unfolding.  That account is for my own eyes only but sometimes I also blog about the highlights. 

April has been like no other month ever!  And one of the most fascinating things about it is the opportunity it has given me to see my finances in a new light.

The first thing to say is that my income is down.  My pensions are constant (indeed my annual rises took effect this month) but my earnings have almost dried up.  Churches are closed and wrinklies like me have been told not to take any funerals even in crematoria.  However, my income from completing surveys has been quite good.  I've been doing surveys for quite a long time and I have had quite a lot to complete concerning corona virus and isolation.

When it comes to expenditure there are lots of ups and downs.  I've been spending far more on food than I was doing in recent months but less than I was spending on food a year ago, which tells me that my normal spending (ie recent spending) has been much more controlled.  I've had to rely on other people to fetch stuff for me so I am reliant on where they choose to shop.  I've got a full fridge and freezer and my store cupboard looks pretty healthy too.  There are gaps (flour!) but over all it looks good.  I've done lots of cooking.  

I've spent nothing on petrol and nothing on eating out so together those two categories have more than compensated for the increased food spending and the decreased earnings combined!  I'm now doing all my own housework but I decided to pay my cleaner half wages even though she's not coming at present.  

I've managed to save a little so all in all I am a happy bunny!

Friday 1 May 2020

Every little helps

One of my hobbies is comping, aka entering competitions.  I enter a lot.  A Very Lot.  So I occasionally have a few wins.  

This was my most recent win.

In case you can't see I'll tell you it is roast red and yellow peppers, truffle flavoured oil, roast red peppers, olive oil, polenta, jack fruit, cherries and risotto. Of those only olive oil is in regular use in my kitchen in that form so I shall be doing a bit of experimenting.  That should add a little interest to my days!

Friday 13 March 2020

Four walls

I think I shall be seeing quite a lot of my own four walls these next few weeks.  The advance of this virus seems inexorable.  I've made the decision that as no-one relies on me for anything (I'm retired and I have no family responsibilities) and I'm in a high risk group (older with underlying health issues) I'm going to reduce my face to face social contact in favour of letters, e mails and the phone.  I'm not isolating, just reducing my risk. 

So what will the effects be on my finances?

Most items in the budget will be unaffected but there will be gains and losses.  I've bought quite a bit of fish as I know from experience that if I'm off colour only fish will be even remotely inviting.  But on the other hand I shall spend some of my time doing some batch cooking so long term I'll save on groceries.

I won't be going out so much so my budget for eating out or having coffee with friends will be underspent.  My mileage should go down so I'll save on petrol.   The heating costs may rise as I will be at home more.  I may buy some craft materials on line so I can get Christmas and birthday cards and presents made.  

I'm on various pensions so my basic income won't be affected but my ability to earn extra will be severely curtailed.  

I wonder what other costs will be affected that I haven't even thought about?  Any ideas?

Thursday 12 March 2020

Everything but the squeal

When I was a little girl my grandfather was a farmer.  Farming in the fifties was way different from how it is today.  Grandad's was a mixed farm - there were cattle, sheep. pigs and chickens and he grew wheat, barley and roots. 

A couple of pigs were kept for domestic consumption and when the time came for pig killing my Mother would go to help.  She wasn't involved in the killing but the butchery and preparation of the meat was more than Grandad and Grandma could manage alone.

There is a saying in Lincolnshire that you can eat every part of the pig except the squeal.  Obviously the main muscle meat would be salted as ham or bacon but there would still be little bits of meat and the offal to be used.  Sausages were made using not just meat (and dry breadcrumbs) but the intestines which became the sausage skins.  The fat which surrounded the organs would be rendered into lard.  Bones would be cooked to extract the jelly which would be combined with more tatty bits of meat to make brawn.  Haslet, pork pie, scraps would all be made before the pig was gone.

When a household killed its pig it was the tradition to send meat to one's neighbours - they might be killing their animal next month and then they would return the favour.  Usually it was "ducks" or pigs fry which would be sent.  Duck, or savoury duck is the Lincolnshire name for faggots, a mixture of various minced pig meats and offal, well spiced, shaped into balls and cooked in a rich gravy.  Pigs fry was small pieces of the various parts of the pig (including some which butchers aren't allowed to sell these days!) flavoured with pepper and sage and again cooked in a rich gravy.  It would be sent out on a plate or dish which would be returned unwashed - washing could wash the luck away!

I made pigs fry yesterday.  These days butchers can sell only pork, liver and kidney for fry so that's what I used.  Not s good as Mother used to make but still pretty good!

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Pop-up shop

I have many times bemoaned the closure of local businesses.  Caistor is down to one pub, a co-op and a butcher's van in the market place once a week.  Really I have to go to Brigg to do any sensible shopping and that must be true for so many large villages/small towns everywhere.  Butchers, bakers, cobblers greengrocers - they all moved out.

But sometimes there is a ray of sunshine!  We've had one in the Methodist church rooms the first Saturday each month for the past few months.  It's a pop up shop, selling loose items like pasta, lentils and breakfast cereal.

I went this last Saturday and bought dried bananas, dried apples, pasta, a cabbage, shampoo and conditioner.  The shop has no bottles or bags - you have to take your own.  Originally I bought kefir in these two bottles but they are quite substantial and I was happy to to take them along to use for my toiletries.  It's not cheaper than standard products but I feel I am contributing to a minimal plastic environment.

There's also a repair cafe going on at the same time.  Bikes and guitars, clothes and computers were all being attended to while I was there.  I also had a tomato and lentil soup with a home made bread bun while I was chatting to a repair cafe volunteer who was repairing a soft toy which had been loved too much.  There was no charge for the soup and no charge for repairs, just a request for a donation

Monday 2 March 2020

That was February - how about March?

It was a mixed sort of month on the frugality stakes.

First the good news.  I managed to set aside over £440 in February.  Around £150 of that was from earnings but the rest was reduced expenditure.

Then there's the bad news.  I spent a lot on groceries, far too much at around £150.  That means I've spent £240 on groceries in the first two months of the year.  What I find fascinating though is that in the first two months of 2019 I spent £380!  It's fascinating because my concern about overspending in this category shows how much my mindset has changed - I certainly didn't fret about my food spend last year nearly as much as I am agonising about it now despite the fact that I have reduced it by over 35%!  

I've had my "Smart" meter for over a year now and I am beginning to see the effects of being more aware of how much energy I use.  My energy company is suggesting that I reduce my payments by a further £7.50 a month even though I pay £20 a month less than I did last year.  I shall wait until April before I do anything about that just to make sure we don't get anything like The Beast From The East this year.  I've put "Smart" in inverted commas because my meter is no longer Smart - I changed supplier and at the moment my new supplier can't read my meter remotely.  However, the monitor which sits in my kitchen still works and records my usage but the cost readings are no longer accurate.

I took a short holiday in February taking advantage of the very low rates many hotels charge in February.  This was much cheaper than the holiday I took at bargain rates last year but as I didn't enjoy this one as much I don't think I'll be going back to this year's hotel.  

I want a low grocery spend again in March, if possible below £40.  I have a couple of projects in mind as well which I'll post about another day.

Wednesday 12 February 2020

This and that

Midway through the month I've been thinking about this and that.

February is a good month financially because I don't have any council tax to pay.  I pay it over ten months which gives me a bit of slack in February and March.  However, I'm taking a short holiday later this month so that saving is earmarked for other purposes! 

My improved food shopping habits seem to be continuing as I've spent only £27 so far this month.  However, I'm planning on going to Newark tomorrow and I shall visit Waitrose.  (Overseas readers may not know that Waitrose is one of our more expensive supermarkets.)  I go there only twice a year and I shall renew a few kitchen items and buy a few treats.  I've got quite a generous money off voucher which will help. 

One lovely Christmas present I received was a voucher for one of my favourite eateries so my meal out last week was covered.  My social life revolves around coffees or lunch out so the gift was very welcome.  I've started work on this year's Christmas presents.  That doesn't affect the budget (I'm using stuff from stash) but it's good to know that I'll need to spend less come November/December. 

I've been having a few problems (actually more than a few!) with BT so I made a complaint.  The £50 "apology" won't affect my payment until next month but every little helps!

I think I may be able to start squirreling a little money away again this month.  Here's hoping!

Sunday 2 February 2020

Looking back

My financial resolution for 2020 was to save £350 per month, down a little from my target of £400 each month in 2019 because my earnings are likely to be down too.  £350 is going to take quite a lot of ingenuity!

So let's start off by saying that I managed only £6.22!  Dreadful!  However, I had to spend £429.99 on a new freezer and before that I had paid £145 for a short holiday in February so I don't think I did too badly.  I used the credit card to buy the freezer but have already paid it off.   Money is saved with the intention of paying for such major items, not just to say I have £XXX in the bank.  

I failed too on the grocery budget, spending nearly £60.  However, that's still a very reasonable figure.  I tried a couple of new recipes 

I think my weirdest item for January was a computer mouse which cost me £4.88.  I'm really pleased with it, I wrote a favourable review on Amazon and was sent a voucher for £5!  12p profit and a really good mouse!

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Grocery spending in January

Well, I've failed.  I set myself a budget of £38 and already I've spent £44.  So why?

Some of that failure is simply down to the time of the year.  January is never a good month for me and if a foodie treat is needed to fend off the January blues then I'm having a foodie treat.  Last week some blinis were reduced at Lidl so I had those and some smoked salmon and cream cheese (neither of which was reduced) and thoroughly enjoyed them  

I have a definite feeling that grocery prices are rising pre Brexit or maybe it's just the time of the year.  Grapes, for example, were £1.29 at Lidl a couple of months ago and now they're £1.49.  I like to freeze a few grapes and eat them in the evening as a fairly low calorie snack which helps me avoid drinking too much fluid near bedtime.  Mushy peas (don't judge me) have risen from 16p to 18p.  I could list more rises but you already know them!

My eat-down of stores in November had reduced some of my staples and I wanted to replace them.  I use some salad dressings as dips to have with crudités.  A few carrot sticks and some celery with a dip is a cheap snack but I had no dressings left.

Auntie Hettie fancied a few things like a ham hock and a rice pudding.  I always put cream into the rice pudding I give her.  I think that at nearly 95 she deserves a little spoiling from me!

All these are excuses rather than reasons.  Smoked salmon is an extravagance, grocery prices are always rising, I could have made more dips and Auntie Hettie would have enjoyed the pudding even without the cream.  However, in the scale of things I really haven't done too badly.

But, there is still quite a bit of January left and Auntie Hettie still deserves a few treats so I'm increasing my budget to £55.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Using the credit card

You may remember that last month I suddenly had to find nearly £600 for repairs to my Trundle Truck (mobility scooter).  Last Friday my freezer died so I had to find £400 for a new one.  Neither of those is an item which I can manage without!

I have a credit card but I usually avoid using it except when there is a real emergency or I want the protection of Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.  This is a very useful piece of legislation  which means that the credit card provider must protect purchases over £100 so if there's a problem I could get my money back and this "insurance" is free!  However, there's something even more important  - I always pay the credit card balance in full before any interest is due!  

During 2019 I was trying to save £400 per month but in December I was able to save only £50.  I paid for the repairs with the credit card but almost immediately paid it off and I feel quite pleased that I managed to save anything at all especially after shelling out for  that and Christmas.  I paid for the freezer with the credit card again but it won't be repaid until the end of next month, again long before any interest is payable.  

Saturday 11 January 2020

2019 financial review

I have taken quite a long time to do a 2019 financial review but here goes!

I am in the fortunate position of having pensions which rise automatically annually so my pension income rose last year and indeed rose above the rate of inflation. Early in the year I was doing quite a lot of fee-paying work.   However, although at the beginning of 2019 I was earning a good amount, by the end of the year my professional earnings had dropped considerably and are unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future.  I've continued to do a lot of on-line surveys but not as many as in 2018 so I must make a little more effort in that direction.  I like to think that part of my standard of living is at least partly dependent on my current endeavours and not just on my pension accrued over the years.

Now for expenditure.  My big increases in costs have all been to do with my disability.  I employed a cleaner from late 2018 so that cost has really hit my purse in 2019.  In addition I have had to have major repairs to my mobility scooter.  I employ a gardener/handyman on a casual basis as well.  The car which I need for transporting my scooter is very expensive to run as it attracts a high rate of road tax as well as being expensive on fuel. 

Another increase in expenditure has been on eating out.  This is the centre of my social life as most weeks I will meet friends either for morning coffee or for lunch.  We all live in a rural area and it is easiest to meet in the market town when we go shopping.  However, I have been treating myself to breakfast out rather too often (once or twice a month) and That Will Not Do.  

Now for the good news.  I've managed to reduce my grocery bill by £16 per month even though I am now being much more conscious of healthy eating.  My petrol bill has reduced by £10 per month because I am planning my journeys better.  I've taken better control of my crafting stash and reduced my craft expenditure by £10 per month as well as reducing my spend on presents for birthdays, Christmas and so on as I have made things.  I've bought very few clothes other than undies and so spent only £145 in the year.  Every category has come under scrutiny and that will continue.

The most important thing is that I track everything.  My budgetting software enables me to do that whether I spend on my credit or debit card or whether I pay cash.  I've been doing this now for four years and I have very good information on which to base my decisions.  My unaccounted money is now around £8 per month which my old self would have found incredible!

Tuesday 7 January 2020

The Thrifty Trail

I am aware that most of my commenters are old hands at stretching every penny until it screams - I read many of their blogs!  However, when I look at my readership statistics I am also aware that the vast majority of people who read my blog do not comment and I think there  may be some who are just beginning on the frugality trail.   Maybe at the beginning of January their numbers are swelled by those who are trying to recover from a Christmas overspend.

I started to live more thriftily when I retired and I took a considerable cut in income.  I hadn't planned on retiring when I did but ill-health forced the decision on me.  I was ill prepared.  Initially my income wasn't enough to live on and I had to dip into my savings big time.    I had more than a few sleepless nights.  My mental health suffered (and caused more over-spending, a particularly vicious circle) but I realised that I had to look at everything I did and see if it was essential, and if so could I do it more cheaply.

It was three years before all my pensions kicked in and my income was adequate but the habits I had learnt stuck and living frugally is now part of who I am.

So, back to starting out on the frugality trail.  At times it has been boring.  I had to make up my mind to have treats only when I had paid for them rather than promising that I would pay for them in the future (by using a credit card).  In the beginning they were few and far between and falling off the thrift wagon would have been disastrous.  

Pinching pennies is more fun when one can afford a few treats.  There are many who cannot afford any treats and for whom set-backs are not just annoying but disastrous. 

Sunday 5 January 2020

The Rewards of Digging

Eating down the freezer sounds so dreary, but it certainly isn't like that here at Frugal Follies!  My freezer has quite a few delights to reward me when I start to dig through its contents.

Whenever I shop in Lidl I have a look through their "reduced for quick sale" items.   Usually they reduce things by 30% which is well worth having, but sometimes items are marked "Waste Not" and they are definitely worth a consideration.

No matter how good a "bargain" food is, there is no point in buying things you don't need.  However, if they can be frozen I often buy them and think about them next time I am wondering what to cook.  This pork fillet was reduced from £2.81 (already a good price) to 90p back in early December.  Today it became Pork and Apricot Casserole.

Pork and apricot casserole
 1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1tbsp cooking oil
300g very lean diced pork
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
Half tsp chilli powder
450ml meat stock or water
250g dried apricots
1 tbsp chicken gravy granules
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
salt and black pepper

Gently fry the onion and garlic until soft. Add the pork and spices, continue to cook sealing the meat on all sides. Transfer to slow cooker and add tomatoes, apricots and stock.  
Cover with a lid or pour into a slow cooker and simmer gently for  3 hours on low until the pork is tender. Add the gravy granules and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes, adding more stock if required.

I had it with mashed potato and swede and carrot, both from the freezer.

Saturday 4 January 2020

Ham Hock

I bought a ham hock to cook at Christmas but it never got cooked and just reclined in the freezer.  I love ham hock.  I know there's a lot of fat and bone but once those have been dealt with the meat which is left is delicious and very economical.

Into the slow cooker it went, just with water.  Sometimes I add herbs or veg but this time I cooked it totally plain.  I then had some hot ham with a baked potato and roast vegetables.

But today has been even better.  Soup!  When I took the hock from the slow cooker I kept the liquor as it's some of the tastiest stock I can make.  Yesterday I chopped celery, carrots, onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes and put them all in the stock.  Once I'd taken the meat off the bone I put the bone in too.  I set the cooker to high and left the pot to simmer for four hours then switched it off and left it overnight.

This morning I put the pot on again for a couple of hours then (once I'd removed the bones) blitzed the lot.  It tasted amazing!  I then added a tin of sweetcorn to make the texture a bit more interesting.  Food fit for a queen!

I've had several meals from the hock quite apart from that first one.  So far it's done another ham-and-roast-veg meal and several sandwich meals and there's still quite a bit left.  Not bad for a £3 joint

Thursday 2 January 2020

First spends!

I hadn't bought any food since 23rd December but today I bought a couple of lemons.  I've got a truly disgusting cold at the moment and I can't down my usual tipple of black coffee so instead I've been having an eighth of a lemon in boiling water.  Fortunately I had bought several lemons ready for Christmas but the supply is getting very low so a friend fetched me two lemons from the Co-op.  45p each!  Normally I just wouldn't pay that but at the moment they feel important.  

I've had a forage in the freezer and found some salmon.  Life is hard!

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Planning for January

I can't say that the idea of a no spend January appeals to me but a low spend month has its attractions.  I rather enjoyed my low spend November for groceries and the freezer now has some rather nice post-Christmas leftovers so I think that may be the way to go.  Goose, Christmas pud, pigs in blankets, roast vegetables - this is hardly going to be a period of self-denial! 

This time I want to do a few experiments.  I cook most of my food from scratch but I tend to play safe and other than "serendipity" soups and casseroles I rarely try a new recipe but this month I want to do ten try-outs either of new dishes or new ways of cooking familiar items.  

My budget this time will be £38 or £1 per day from Christmas to the end of January.  I'm not pretending this is any deprivation but it is a way of focussing my mind.  I shall be watching my food choices to make sure I get a healthy diet.