Monthly Archives: November 2009

Off to a good start

I’ve tackled the big, scary pile of post. I know everyone says it, but I am beginning to get really, really annoyed by the amount of junk mail we are getting – particularly all of these catalogues trying to flog Christmas stuff. At some point I’m going to phone all of these companies and ask to be taken off their mailing lists. Anyway, I sorted through the post, putting the junk mail straight into the bin and then tackled the things we need to keep. Why do banks enclose so many leaflets with each statement? Grrrr. That all went in the bin too. By the time I’d finished there was a pile that only took about 10 minutes to file and another pile that went through the shredder. Job done.

I’ve also managed to put two loads of washing on today so I’m well on course for getting my little ‘to do’ list completed over the next two weeks. None of this stuff takes very long. It is just very dull to deal with and can build up so quickly. It is just a question of making sure I do a little bit each day. Today’s effort took less than an hour, leaving me the rest of the evening to have a long bath, read my book and eat some nice food…and I’m thinking an apple crumble is probably on the cards too!

Categories: Getting organised | 8 Comments

Running through treacle

Running through treacle pretty much sums up how things have been lately! As soon as I found out I was pregnant (and started feeling nauseous and tired) I gave myself a hefty break from most of my usual routines. It was necessary at the time.  However, the past couple of weeks have reminded me how much easier it is to perform basic functions when I am organised. Which I have not been. The house is a tip, I keep running out of food and having to do lots of little shops and finding clean clothes and towels etc is becoming more challenging. I am feeling a lot better now. I still get tired quicker than I would have and I still feel sick from time to time. However, it has eased up enough that I can try to get back on top of things again. So, for my own purposes really, here’s my list of what I want to try and get done over the next two weeks:

  • wash and iron all of my clothes
  • pack away any clothes that I’m not going to be able to wear in a few weeks time
  • wash all of the bedding and towels that we own
  • take all of our Christmas presents and cards that need to be sent abroad to the post office
  • file or shred all of the post that has arrived over the past, er, few months. I’ve been ignoring it – just opening things and then adding them to a giant pile. How quickly it spins out of control!
  • give the house a good spring clean (yup, spring cleaning in winter – sometimes it has to be done)

The plan after that is to keep on top of things and spend the rest of the time relaxing and enjoying the festive season. Oh, and stocking my freezer back up with home-made meals! I’ve really gone off cooking in a big way. Something to do with the smell I think. Anyway, things were a lot easier when I didn’t have to try to dream up something to eat each night so I need to get on the case. I just need to get our home straight first!

Categories: Getting organised | 2 Comments

Shopping list for baby

Here’s my current ‘shopping list’ for baby:

  • Cot: Our second bedroom is very small and a very odd shape. There is only one place a cot could go and it is in an alcove. Annoyingly, it is 5cm short on space for most of the cots I have seen. So far, through online research, I have only found two models that could fit this space and I’m not keen on either for a variety of reasons so I’ll keep looking!
  • Moses basket and stand: The stand will live next to our bed. The moses basket will hopefully be on the move!
  • Car seat: My cousin had a spectacular car crash recently. She was waiting at traffic lights and a car ploughed into her, flipping the car over one and half times so it ended up on its roof. Both of her kids were in the back including her four month old son. The car seats were fantastic – neither child had a scratch on them and both were held firmly in place. I’m getting the same model, no question, no matter what it costs.
  • Pram: One of those that can be converted from pram to pushchair. I’m not up on the technicalities of these things but I’m sure you know what I mean.
  • Sling/carrying thingie.
  • Breast pump: Gah. I can’t believe I am typing these words in relation to myself. But I do want one for a variety of reasons. Can anyone tell me what they make of the manual versus electric debate?
  • Bottles and steriliser thingie: Even if I don’t use these straightaway I’m sure I will later on. I’ve looked around and the basic stuff doesn’t seem to be very expensive.
  • Towels and bedding
  • Muslins
  • Changing mat: I’ve seen one online that can be used instead of one of those table top changing things. It can be used anywhere. I don’t have room for a special changing table (nor do I really want one). However, Husband does have back problems so doesn’t want to crouch on the floor.  It is about £25 so, while it is more expensive than a regular changing mat, it is a lot cheaper than a special piece of furniture.
  • Monitor: I’m still looking into this but I’m planning to get one with a temperature display and a secure channel (so I don’t end up listening to a baby down the road instead of my own!).
  • Smoke alarms: Ours is a bit elderly so I want to replace it and buy one additional one.
  • Bath: I know people say you can bath your baby in the kitchen sink but ours has a fixed tap so I can’t see how that would work. I’ve seen plenty for around the £10 mark.
  • Baby bag: Yes, I am aware I don’t need a special bag. But I want one! I’ve been oggling the Cath Kidston range for a long, long time. If I see a cheaper one I like as much then I’ll get that. But I suspect a Cath Kidston changing bag is going to be my one big treat.
  • Thermometer
  • Initial supplies: Bath/nappy changing stuff. I’m not going to get too much in advance as it seems better to wait and see what we and baby get on best with.
  • Clothes: A few basics but not too much as I know that a) they grow out of everything fast and b) people love buying clothes as gifts when babies are born.

The rest of the baby equipment fund will be reserved for things the baby needs as it gets older including a high chair, a bigger car seat and so on. I may also use some of it for buying a chair and chest of drawers to go on the baby’s room. I don’t expect to get much, if anything, passed on to us as all of our friends with children are still using all of their baby equipment. However, one has offered to pass on some clothes if we have a girl which I thought was very sweet. If anyone has any particular recommendations for any of the above or thinks I have missed something vital then let me know! 

Trying to plan for this feels a bit strange. I will only be 14 weeks pregnant tomorrow and I’m not really showing yet (I can see the difference but no-one else would be able to). On one hand I feel like I ought to wait longer until I start thinking about all of this. It is still early days. On the other hand, I know the time is going to fly and I don’t want to have a big stressy panic at the end. So, all things considered, I am going to keep planning and saving and trying to finish the rest of the house. Then, in a few months time, I will actually start buying things and sorting out the spare room.

Now I’ve just got to tackle the very large pile of laundry that needs to be done…

Categories: Baby | 10 Comments

Shopping and pregnancy reading

Husband and I had the day off today (it is our wedding anniversary this weekend) so we decided to go to our nearest big town and ‘hit’ the shops. Admittedly this is a different kind of affair since Project Shoestring began but still.

First stop: maternity bra (sorry to any chaps reading- you can skip this paragraph if you want). I went to Mothercare but exited quite swiftly. The range on offer was, er, a little scary. I’ve never seen biohazard lingerie but, if it existed, I would imagine it would look something like the specimins I saw on offer today (their online selection is much better to be fair). So I hopped off to M&S instead. They managed to squeeze me in for a fitting and I came out with a pack of two for £20. Okay, they aren’t the raciest garments I’ve ever had, but they aren’t terrifyingly ugly either. And they are very soft and comfortable.

Next stop was Paperchase. Someone gave me a 25% off voucher cut out from Red magazine. I wanted (and got) a small scrapbook for putting Christmas things in, though more about that another time. I also bought a nice pen to write my Christmas cards with. Then I dashed into WH Smith to get Gran a calendar as the one I ordered from Amazon is no longer available. I got some pennies off that too with a 10% discount voucher. By the time I had been to these four shops I was bored with the whole shopping malarky so we jumped in the car and came back home.

I’m not delving into the realms of buying baby things yet. It seems a bit too early. The only things I have bought, other than the bra, are 3 books:

  • Your Pregnancy Week by Week by Professor Lesley Regan
  • The Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Kaz Cooke
  • The Rough Guide to Babies and Toddlers by Kaz Cooke

The first book is good but lingers on a lot of medical stuff and potential problems. While it is good to be informed I don’t want to start getting unnecessarily paranoid about things that could go wrong. I’m relying on my midwives and doctor to tell me what I need to know in that respect.

The second book I found so good that I ordered the third. They also contain a lot of medical information and things you need to know. However, it is also very funny, human, laid-back and enjoyable to read. There is such a lot out there that it is easy to feel like you are drowning in contradictory information (and believe me, a lot of it is very contradictory). I am currently steering clear of any online pregnancy forums. They seem to be even worse for dishing out contradictory information (For example: You should be able to feel your baby move by week 16 / no, it’s week 20 / it’s different for everyone / don’t worry if you don’t feel anything/ if you don’t feel anything you should phone the doctor straight away) and so on. You could be taking the advice of an experienced midwife and mother. Or a total moron. You just don’t know!

Categories: Baby | 2 Comments

The Family Fund

Many thanks to each and every one of you who left lovely messages about our baby news. It’s so nice to know other people are excited for us too. I’m feeling much better about the whole tests/stats thing now. The chances are by far in our favour that everything is fine and there are plenty of other, happier things to focus on. Which is clearly what I need to do.

I’ve mentioned before that I recently completed my savings plan specifically designed for starting a family. In case anyone is interested, this has included:

  • A budget for buying equipment (everything from a cot to muslins) of £1000.
  • A budget for buying maternity clothes for me and tiny clothes for the little one’s first couple of months. I’ve put back about £250 for this.
  • Top up money for my maternity leave. I have been the higher earner in the house for a long time so the loss of my wages will change things. Although I’ll get maternity pay (which will be taxed), to be reasonably comfortable I wanted at least £500 a month extra from savings (preferably £700).
  • A budget for redecoration of the spare room of £100. This doesn’t include the budget we already had saved to re-carpet and re-paint the room.

I worked all of this out quite a long time ago. Nearly two years ago in fact, which was when I started saving (though I only really got down to it properly this year!). When I originally worked it out, for some reason I calculated it as though I was only going to take 6 months maternity leave. Now I’m planning to take 9 months off so I’ve got some more saving to do. However, I think it is more important than ever to get to my £3000 emergency fund target in case something happens to one of our jobs in the meantime. I’m about halfway there. I need to sit down and do some more sums but I think, between the baby fund and the emergency fund I need around £2500. This is not to mention the fact that I need to save some cash to finish the house (we’re a bit short of what we need) plus Husband wants to get a more reliable/safer car before the baby arrives. And, if at all possible, I’d love to put back some pennies for our first family holiday. I doubt we’ll have enough money to have one for a long time otherwise!

The plan is for me to return to work part-time after 9 months leave. I’d love to stay at home until the little one goes to school but we just can’t afford it. Not if we want to eat anyway. Let alone anything else! Plus the place we live really isn’t ideal for having children. I think we’ll get away with having a baby here but as soon as it gets to walking age it would be a nightmare. So we’ll need to get this place finished and on the market early 2011 and try to find somewhere more suitable. Alas, we can’t get a mortgage around here for anything more fancy than a garage on one salary! So it’ll be back to work for me. I am hoping I will be able to do some of my hours from home but we’ll just have to see how things pan out. Very luckily for us, my parents have offered to look after the baby when I go back.

Half of me is tempted to go and buy/do some things while I’m still earning. However, the other half knows I’m not going to be comfortable until I’ve got those very necessary funds in place. So it will be shoestringing for a bit longer. The only thing I’m going to spend a bit more on here and there is food to make sure that I get a good mix of fresh, healthy food.

I’ll keep posting as our plans develop!

Categories: Baby, Budgeting, Money Management, Saving | 6 Comments

My news

Any regular readers of this blog might have noticed that my posts have been a bit here, there and everywhere of late. There’ s a simple reason for this: I am pregnant. So, until now, I haven’t been able to blog about the new financial things I’ve had to start juggling with and I’ve also been too busy flopping about feeling, well…sick and tired mostly.

I’ve had my combined test results back for Downs Syndrome. They are okay. I am considered low risk, though out of everyone I know who have had these tests, I still have the highest odds, in some cases by quite a long way. I am trying to get my head around this and be positive but I’ve found the last couple of days extremely difficult. According to the scan everything is fine, for which I am very grateful. Opinion seems so divided on these tests that I am beyond knowing what to make of it all. Husband is placing full confidence in the words ‘low risk’. I wish I could manage to do the same. I expect I will, given a bit of time for it all to sink in properly. Basically I am thrilled to be having a baby but also freaked out by the test results.

Either way, there are going to be a lot of changes coming up for us. Our finances will be facing a whole new set of of challenges, not to mention everything else! But, since this is supposed to be a personal finance blog, I will be trying to keep the focus (most of the time) on preparing our home and finances on the things to come…

Categories: Baby | 14 Comments

A great whopper of a shop

I’ve just gone and done a whopping great shop waaaaaayyy over my budget. But it had to be done.

I haven’t been to Tesco for a couple of months to do my usual big monthly shop and my store cupboard has been running dry. And, as I haven’t been feeling too hot, I haven’t been doing my big cook-ups where I make lots of things to go in the freezer either. This has basically resulted in Husband and I scrabbling around trying to find things to fashion into meals and they haven’t been exactly healthy ones. I was trying to make a meal plan for the week, planning to go to the local Co-op and eyeing up my £30 budget when Husband offered to drive to Tesco. It came to around £75 which was more than twice what I had originally planned to spend but, just this once, I think it was worth it. My store cupboard is now re-stocked with everything from flour to cous cous and I have bought so much fruit that I’ve had to get two extra bowls out to accomodate it all. And lots of veg. And some vitamins. And a few good BOGOF’s on things like pasta sauces for those evening when we really can’t be bothered. Oh, and they were doing that offer of three trays of meat for £10. I’ve bought some chicken (as I already had a jar of korma sauce at home), some lamb steaks (which we’ll have tonight) and 6 pork chops. I’ll divide the pork into two portions of three for the freezer. I never like to eat much meat in one go, a small portion is always enough for me,  so I can cook one for me and two for Husband at a time. I also got some beef to make a stew and some sausages because I haven’t had toad-in-the-hole for ages.

I don’t deliberately go and blow my own budget very often. However, this week it was a toss up between staying in budget and not eating very healthily or buying lots of fresh goodies and rebuilding my supplies. I’m borrowing the extra £45 from my emergency fund as I know I can put it back next week when I get paid. It just seemed daft to wait.

The best thing about all of it is that I get to have roast parsnips tonight – one of my favourite things in the world. We went to the cinema last night to see ‘New Moon’. It has been on my calendar since they announced the release date months ago. So tonight we’re staying in and cooking a giant meal with lots of veg to be followed by a big cream cake (special weekend treat) and watching the next installment of 24 which arrived by post from Lovefilm this morning. It’s not very rock and roll, but frankly I can’t think of anything I’d ratehr be doing on a wet and windy night in November. Hope you all have a good one too!

Categories: Frugal food | 4 Comments

My little blog

I have no idea how many hits the average blog gets and I very rarely check the Shoestring Alley stats. However, I had a peek just now and discovered that I have passed 20,000 views! How exciting! I know a few of you through your own blogs, which I love reading and catching up on. The other visitors – who knows? All I can say is thank you very much to all of those people who have stopped by, particularly those of you who have left a comment or two and inspired me, given me advice, comiserated with me and laughed along with my trials and tribulations.

I started this blog on the 1st of March having decided to take a different approach to my finances and, to some extent, my lifestyle. It had done its job very well in keeping me focused on what I am trying to achieve. I doubt I would have stuck at it and kept putting the effort in without knowing I had to report back here, even just to myself. Naturally I’m going to be carrying on. I suspect the next year is going to throw some new challenges my way, down here on Shoestring Alley. Regardless, my objectives will remain much the same, namely:

  • Managing my finances to keep out of debt and put some money aside for the future
  • Keeping track of of my spending on everything from the weekly food shop to getting the best prices for things like utility bills
  • Learning more about cooking so I can be both frugal and healthy while still enjoying my food (and believe me, I do enjoy it!)
  • Getting my home in order; decluttered, simplified and finished
  • Finding out more about great things to do for free or very little cost
  • Learning about making and re-using and being less wasteful with my own resources
  • Adapting my life into a more simplified version of its old self

Once again, a big thank you to everyone that visits me here – you keep me motivated!

Categories: Goals | 8 Comments


I’ve done a spot of wrapping and card writing this evening. Not very much – just the things that need to be sent abroad. I’ve got cards and small packages that will be zipping to various points around the globe this Christmas. As the post has been disrupted with strikes and what-not I thought I might as well get on the case. I won’t actually be posting them just yet but I wanted to get it done as the next week is going to be pretty busy.

I had a rummage in my little cupboard where I keep stationery and bits and pieces and found a few Christmas cards and quite a lot of gift tags left over from last year. Score! However, I still had to buy more today as I remember Husband getting in a panic last year after getting a flood of last minute cards through work and having to dash out and buy a box. I managed to get a pack of 40 from Tesco for just £1.97 which should do the trick. We’ve got plenty now – enough to keep some over for next year which will be good. I had also forgotten about an unopened roll of Christmas wrapping paper that I bought in the Woolworths closing down sale. I bought a roll last week so I should have plenty to get me through this year.

In a further fit of trying to be both thrifty and organised, I’ve written a Chrsitmas card list. In previous years I have posted (rather than hand delivered) a large number of my cards. However, this year I have tried to work out who really needs to have their cards posted and who I can deliver them to myself or with the help of others. Several members of my family all live in the same town. I know that between Mum and Gran they will be seeing our other relatives before I will, so I’ll be sending my cards and gifts over on their next visit. I had also got into a weird habit with some friends and neighbours who have second homes in the same town as me; I’d been posting their cards to their main homes in case they didn’t get them in time! The other day I re-read ‘How I lived a Year on a Pound a Day’ and paused on the section where the author described taking a walk around the city she lived and her home town delivering cards by hand. This made me realise how wasteful I had actually been in the past. Since I already have my cards I can deliver them in plenty of time so that everyone gets theirs before Christmas. I hand deliver them to plenty of other friends. I just need to make sure that the ones going to second homes get delivered a bit sooner. Frankly, I could use the exercise! Having scanned through my list I realised that (aside from the things being posted abroad which will need to be weighed anyway) I only needed to buy 4 stamps. And here’s another thing. I always used to send things first class. Why? I don’t know. It’s not like it is an urgent form of communication, is it? I went to the post office on my lunch break and bought 6 festive, second-class stamps. I bought 6 because a) I’m bound to have forgotten someone and b) it’s not as though they won’t get used at some point if I haven’t.

None of these things (getting cards and wrapping paper on sale, hand delivering a few extra cards to save on stamps etc) add up to giant savings. However, they save enough that I find them worthwhile. I see it as part of learning to be a little bit more resourceful and a little less wasteful!

Categories: Getting organised, Home Economics, Make do | 3 Comments

Trying to make a plan

I’m still mulling over those pesky, never-ending home improvements. Last time I reported on my lack of progress I said I was going to leave it until my Christmas break to start tackling them. While this is still the case, I decided to try and make a new plan to put in my trusty filofax. That way, I’ve got all of the information to hand at any time. I’ve made four lists:

  • things I can do myself
  • things Husband needs to do/help me with
  • things Dad has offered to help with
  • things I need to get an expert (ie an electrician) to deal with

I’ve sort of given up with my budget. After some rough calculations I have discovered that we are about £400 short. Knowing this has also been creating a bit of a mental block about getting going again. However, I’ve decided to crack on with what we’ve got until it has all gone. Once we’ve run out I’ll just have to lower my monthly savings to cover the shortfall until the whole place is finished.

Does anyone else find that they get massively ‘stuck’ by just one or two things? Here’s something I’ve been dithering about for ages. Some years ago Husband and I handed over (what to us) was rather a lot of cash for a gorgeous oak dining table from Habitat. I still love it. As far as I am concerned it is a thing of beauty. However, it is also far too big for our living room and we don’t have a separate dining room. If we have people over for dinner we have to move all of the other furniture around to get it out. We’ve been putting up with it for ages because it seems daft to buy a table when we’ve already got one etc etc. Now, though, I’ve got to the point where I’m really fed up of eating every meal off my knees, sitting on the sofa, beside the fact that I quite like sitting at a table with a mug of coffee and reading a newspaper or doing my paperwork. I’ve decided that the only thing for it is to put our lovely table into storage (somewhere free!) until we finally get to move and get another one to use until that day comes. I’ve seen a couple of drop-leaf tables that aren’t too expensive. I suppose it isn’t very thrifty to buy a table when we’ve already got one. But since we can’t actually sit at it without a lot of hassle it is much like not having one anyway.  

Another thing I have been stuck on is the fact that we really need to re-sand and varnish the living room floorboards. This is going to be difficult as we have nowhere to move our furniture to while we are doing this and sanding floorboards creates a giant mess. I’m still not sure, logistically, how we are going to get it done. However, the fact I don’t know how to tackle it is putting me off finishing anything else in that room. Grrr. My solution, for now, it to ignore it and try and get other things done that I do know how to deal with.

I just wish there wasn’t quite so many things on that bloody list! But I will tackle it. Honest…


Categories: home improvements | 1 Comment

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