Monthly Archives: January 2010

Gift tags

I’ve been hanging on to old interiors magazines because I liked some of the pictures inside and didn’t want to just throw them away. With the recent spate of birthdays I realised that while I always have cards, wrapping paper and ribbon I never seem to have any gift tags. Thus I spent a couple of hours getting busy with a pile of old magazines, some scissors, a hole punch, pritt stick and a sheet of black card which had been knocking around for a while…

I ended up making about 30 so I should be covered for birthdays for quite a long time!

We’ve been trying to get on with sorting out all of  the things I mentioned in my post a day or two ago. The plumber is booked for a visit next week and we’ve been speaking to various garages trying to get cars fixed/scrapped/bought. It looks like we’re in for another weekend of traipsing around instead of getting on with the house. We are still determined to get the painting in the bathroom finished before the end of the month. I bought a small tin of paint today in an effort to move things in the right direction (same colour as before – sage green) and I’m hoping that we manage to get this done in the next week or so. I also need to investigate the back of the cupboard under the stairs – I’m sure there is a tin of woodwork paint in there somewhere! Our plans for February are a bit more ambitious (in terms of the number of things that we want to get done) but there is just too much going on to think about it now. One thing at a time…

Categories: Frugal ideas, Make do | 6 Comments

Home Improvement 14: Paperwork & gaining space

Last year I had a major sort out of all of our paperwork. This needed to be done again because the spare room/office needs to be cleared and also because the system I had wasn’t really working for me. I had lots of A4 files with everything in which was all very organised. The trouble was I could never seem to keep on top of all of the post coming in. It meant sitting down with the hole puncher, getting out various files and faffing around. This might not sound like much hassle – it isn’t. The thing is, I’m a bit lazy when it comes to keeping on top of this stuff and it just wasn’t easy enough.

At the weekend I bought two expandable (is this a word?!) file cases from the Tesco Value range. They were just £3.90 each and are perfect. They come with printed tab headings inside though I have used stickers to create a lot of my own. I’ve now reorganised all of my paperwork as follows:

File 1: Finance and Employment with sections for…

  • Statements for our various current and savings accounts
  • Old loan and credit card details (I like to keep proof that they were all paid off,  just in case!)
  • Contracts from work for both of us plus another section each for any correspondence regarding pay, changes etc
  • Employment certificates for any courses/qualifications etc

File 2: Bills…

  • Individual sections for each basic household bill – water, electric, council tax etc
  • All insurance policies relating to house and mortgage
  • A section for each car so all registration/insurance/MoT documents etc are easy to find

I’ve had to hang on to a couple of the other files for other things relating to the mortgage but as there are only a couple they can go on the bottom shelf of the bookcase without taking up too much room. I’ve also used a couple of the storage boxes (freed up by my DVD clearout) to house old bank statements etc which I like to keep but hardly ever need access to.

I am really, really pleased with the new system. It means that it is seriously easy to file things as soon as they come in and then find them again. There are plenty of sections left over which can be used for other things as they crop up. The new files hardly take up any room at all. I no longer need the 2 drawer filing cabinet or an entire shelf on a book case for storage so I’ve actually managed to create some space!

Categories: Decluttering, Getting organised, home improvements | 7 Comments

Getting on with things

Back in September I started a project called 50 Home Improvements – the original post is here. However, the short version goes like this; complete 50 projects that will achieve any of the following goals:

  • Declutter
  • Redecorate
  • Get things fixed or replaced
  • Make things simpler and/or more organised

The aim of this project is to get everything finished by the time the baby arrives and also to get ready for going on the market in early 2011. I thought I’d get back into it by reminding myself of what we have managed to get done since then (with the help of family and friends too):

  1. Organised an alcove for extra storage of books and DVDs
  2. Bought a storge box for make-up and cleared some old stuff out
  3. Cleaned two marks/stains out of carpet
  4. Made display out of dusty old glass bottles that were in the way
  5. Painted bathroom ceiling
  6. Replaced broken door bell
  7. Got toilet fixed (no, it is not supposed to flush itself)
  8. Fixed loo roll holder & put it back up
  9. Replaced broken stereo
  10. Cleared out all broken/mismatched crockery & replaced with simple white set
  11. Taken all unwanted books to charity shop
  12. Stored all DVDs (that weren’t donated) into a wallet and thrown out the covers
  13. Cleared out bathroom drawers and got rid of unwanted bed linen

So – 37 projects to go! I’ve really got to get on with it. Ideally I need to do at least two things a week. Watch this space!

Categories: home improvements | 1 Comment

Financial fatigue & a new plan

A host of things, financially, seem to be going wrong at the moment. Mainly because things keep breaking/not working and also because of my work situation. It’s getting really frustrating because, now more than ever, I need to know what I’m getting when and to save as much as I can before my maternity leave starts.

I’m now going to be getting paid at a different time of the month which means I’ve got to re-assess how I do my monthly budget. I’ve managed to rearrange the dates that things get paid today which is good. However, I’m going to have to stop my spending journal for now because my planned budget is now irrelevant. I’ve got to start again and work a few things out. Which is fine, except…

We got told today that Husband’s car can’t be fixed and will have to be scrapped. The plan had been to upgrade Husband’s car later in the year and a savings fund had been started, which will now have to go on buying a (very old/cheap) car. This means that not only do we not get any money from selling the about-to-be-scrapped car to put towards another one, but we have to pay the garage bill for the parts and time they spent trying to get it going. In addition to this, the car that we have been borrowing is now making a terrible noise and we have got to take it to the garage to be looked at as well. As if this isn’t enough car trouble to be having, the ‘new’ car that I bought only a week ago has to go back for work to be done. Although this is under warranty, we will still have to make a 60 mile round trip to drop it off and then again to pick it up. Argh!

So is it just car trouble? Nope. Last week the hot tap on our bath decided to stop working. At all. Thankfully we have a shower but all I really want is a long soak in the tub. And the boiler is still making weird noises. And our living room lamp stopped working ages ago. And my boots can’t be mended. And, frankly, I’m fed up with the lot of it!

We both got really stressed about it all today. I spent ages trying to work out various plans and in the end came up with one. This won’t sound particularly dramatic, but here it is. When I get paid I am – on purpose – not even going to attempt to save a penny of it. This is a fairly revolutionary idea for me these days. As I’m so close to my due date (in terms of saving) I really don’t like the idea of not putting something back – or having to raid the last bit of my emergency fund which was heavily plundered during the whole job change/car buying debacle. However, these things all need to get sorted and I’m fed up with waiting to get things in some kind of order. Enough is enough. For the rest of the month I am spending, not saving!

I think it’s a good plan. I don’t feel anything like as stressed out now. The emergency fund can be started again next month. Any other savings can also be started next month. This month is all about getting back on track. So here’s our ‘shopping/to do list’ (I wish I could say it was more exciting):

  • Pay the garage for the work already done on the ‘dead’ car
  • Get a quote on mending the borrowed car
  • Get the plumber to fix the tap and check out the boiler
  •  Replace my boots
  • Replace the lamp

I guess the last two aren’t essential but guess what? This month I just don’t care. No more broken stuff. No more managing without. Sometimes you’ve just got to let go, do what you need to do and start again (even though it does make you go GRRRRR) !

Categories: Budgeting | 10 Comments

More clearing out

I finished clearing my books out today and have put together a final bag for the charity shop along with a few of the DVDs and a pile of videos that we didn’t want to keep. I can’t really put them in any kind of order yet because we need to move some furniture around over the next few months and I’m not quite sure what will be going where. However, my collection is now down to the books I want to keep and books I haven’t read yet. In the future it might be that I don’t want to keep some of the latter so I’ll donate those as and when. So, there’s another job I can cross off the January list!


(Yesterday) Food: £9.50 (some of this was dessert and drinks to take to our friends house, the rest went on grapes which I had a fancy for yesterday!)

Today: Nothing spent

Categories: Decluttering | 4 Comments

Progress on the January list

I’ve done two things from my January ‘to do’ list today. First thing, quite an easy one I admit, I finally got around to getting my hair trimmed for the bargain price of £8 plus tip. The second thing was sorting through our DVDs – something This Thrifted Life also posted about doing recently.

 Last Spring I put a lot of our DVDs into one of those big wallet things and threw the covers away. However, there was still a lot (and I mean a lot) that I couldn’t seem to let go of. What with baby on the way, space is at a premium so I knew I was going to have to have a go at it again. I think I’ve become a lot more ruthless about clutter since my first attempt. Previously I wanted to hang on to the covers of my favourite films and series, now I just wanted the space. After all, it’s the disc itself that counts! Even Husband, who is a hoarder by nature, seemed relaxed about getting rid of the covers this time.

I knew we had a lot of DVDs. We had several storage boxes full, a whole shelf plus little clusters of them scattered around under the sofa, in drawers and in cupboards. I think I’ve managed to find them all. What I didn’t realise was that I had enough covers to completely fill two large bin liners. Two! Of just DVD covers! All of the actual DVDs are now neatly, safely stored in two special disc wallets that hardly take up any space at all. There were some discs that there was no space for plus some old home videos (holidays, weddings etc) that I don’t want to part with so I’ve put those all in one small storage box.

I can’t believe how much space we’ve gained. I’ve mentioned that I’ve been trying to donate a lot of books but I’m getting close to the point where I can’t part with many more so I’ve gained one more shelf that I can keep the ‘keepers’ on. Throwing out the DVD cases has also meant that I now have several empty storage boxes which is great. I’ve got a few ideas for them but I think I’ve done enough for today!

Categories: Decluttering | Tags: | 1 Comment

Preparing for the weekend

I was really, really not in the mood for doing any chores this evening. However, I  made myself get on with it and I’m glad I did now. I’ll wake up tomorrow to a (relatively) tidy house and a kitchen full of food! Nice. I did the weekly clean (hampered by the fact that the bins are overflowing having not been collected for bloody ages) and then Husband came with me to do the food shop. Here’s what I bought:

  • Coffee flavoured ice cream (a rare treat – I hardly ever see coffee ice cream!) £1.56
  • Blackcurrant squash £1.99
  • Jar of tomato pesto £1.35
  • Butter x2 £1.98
  • 12 sausages £4.50 (4 to go in the freezer)
  • Semi-skimmed milk 86p
  • Full fat milk 86p
  • 3 chicken breasts £3.50 (to go in the freezer)
  • 14 clementines £2.40
  • 5 apples £1.13
  • 3 bananas 70p
  • Parsnips £1
  • Broccoli 73p
  • Leeks £1.38
  • 9 carrots 62p
  • 3 onions £1.10
  • Lettuce 65p
  • Green pepper 85p
  • Wholemeal loaf £1.29
  • Weetabix £1.78
  • 4 loo rolls 45p

Total: £30.68

I’m pretty pleased with this. We had quite a few things left in the kitchen that we can use up. We have cereal for breakfast most days and our snacks are usually along the lines of fruit, yoghurt (we had some left so didn’t need to buy more) or maybe a slice of toast so I won’t include those things but here’s the rest of the food plan for the week:

Saturday: Lunch: Vegetable soup and bread / Dinner: At friends

Sunday: Lunch: Vegetable soup and bread / Dinner: Sausages, mash, broccoli and onion gravy (I’ll be maing and extra two portions to go in the freezer minus the broccoli)

Monday: Lunch: Soup and bread / Dinner: Pork chops (from freezer) with broccoli, carrots and roast postatoes and parsnips

Tuesday: Lunch: Egg and lettuce sandwiches / Dinner: Out for the evening

Wednesday: Lunch: Either egg or cheese and lettuce sandwiches / Dinner: Out for the evening

Thursday: Lunch: Sandwiches / Dinner: Pasta with tomato pesto – a quick meal because we’re going out yet again!

Friday: Lunch: Tin of soup / Dinner: from next weeks food shop

Husband also bought some food because he’s making a surprise for dinner tonight. I don’t know what it can be – I’ve been banned from the kitchen. He did ask if we had a rolling pin though…

I may buy some extras tomorrow as we’ll probably take a dessert to our friends house. However, since I came in under the £35 budget this should be easy enough. I went out for lunch today which cost £5.25 and came from my pocket money so that’s my spending journal up to date for today! I’m hoping I can get a few things done from my January list tomorrow…

Categories: Frugal food | 1 Comment

Updates and misunderstandings

The list seems to be doing me some good so far because I’ve got the following done this week:

  • Finished January and February birthday shopping and wrapped presents/written cards
  • Posted all cards/gifts
  • Taken my returns to the Post Office
  • Cleared the bathroom drawers
  • Taken 12 books to the charity shop

We have a chest of drawers in our bathroom. It came from IKEA some years ago and has done us pretty well so far. It has three deep drawers, one for bed linen, one for towels and one for all of those odds and sods you don’t keep ‘out’. Since we don’t have an airing cupboard it comes in very handy! I’ve taken one set of bed linen to the recycling skip (it had a bleach mark on it) and another to the charity shop (it was given to us by a friend that had only used it once but it turned out to be the wrong size so we can’t use it anyway). This leaves us with two sets of bed linen. We don’t need more than that and it is nice to have the extra space and see the drawers looking much clearer. I also decided to bin some sun lotion. We had quite a vast collection of tubes that were half used but some of it was quite old and I know it can go past its best, making it – well – useless. I kept one tube that was nearly full, plus one after sun lotion, and threw the rest away.

Spending Journal 12th, 13th & 14th January: Postage for a return £2.70 from pocket money fund

Before I sign off I just have to share a conversation that had both Husband and I in stitches earlier this evening. We needed to find a new venue for band practice and found a village hall not too far away. After checking times and dates with the rest of the band we went to call back and book a slot for Sunday. We hadn’t written the telephone number down so we looked on the internet again, got a number and placed a call…

Husband: Hello, I called a little while ago about booking the village hall?

Woman on phone: You must have the wrong telephone number.

Husband: Isn’t this (reads telephone number)?

Woman on phone: Yes it is but I’m not a whore! (puts phone down).

Categories: Getting organised | 2 Comments

Making a meal of it

My Pretty Pennies left me a comment (following yesterdays meme) asking how I managed to go from hating cooking to considering it a hobby (of sorts). I started trying to leave a reply and then realised I couldn’t summarise my answer in a few quick sentences. However, I did think it was a really good question and particularly relevant because it was mostly a change born out of necessity to fit in with trying to live on less. So my post today is inspired by MPP…

I wouldn’t exactly say I love cooking. I actually used to hate trying to make a cooked meal. And I really mean hate it. I’d get stressed out, things would go wrong and then I’d end up feeling I’d wasted food and a lot of time and avoid the whole thing. I should tell you that, in my time, I’ve blown up a casserole dish (it wasn’t the kind you can use on the hob as it turned out) and set fire to the grill with pecan nuts. I tell you this to be clear on where I was starting out from! I’d give myself various challenges, like making a new recipe once a week or even once a month but I’d invariably get bored of the idea and never get past the first recipe. Trying to change has been a gradual process which has come about by:

Sorting out the kitchen

My kitchen is very small and used to be a cluttered nightmare.  About a year ago I tackled it by clearing the cupboards of all equipment I knew I would never actually use or was broken etc, gave everything a good clean, arranged everything so I could find things easily and threw away all of the out of date food. Basically I gave myself a clean slate. I gave the walls a lick of white paint, got Husband to put up some shelves (which makes it easier to get at things, like pasta in storage jars, and also freed up a lot of cupboard space) and bought a digital radio. This all cost well under £100 but it meant that the kitchen was suddenly a much nicer place to hang out and potter around. Obviously you don’t have to spend any money at all – a good clear out would have done the job! Either way, it was important to make it a space I didn’t mind being…

Back to basics

I think I used to come unstuck because I looked for ideas in recipe books. While I still like a good cookery book, for me, they mostly contain recipes that are more for special occasion meals and not every day stuff. I found them complicated and they often called for weird or expensive ingredients that I was never just going to have to hand. So I decided to ignore them and learn how to make simple things like soups, casseroles and a few sauces. I asked friends and family what they were making for dinner and asked them how they were going to prepare it. By doing so, I picked up all sorts of tips, from poaching salmon to wrapping chops in foil parcels and popping them in the oven. Really basic stuff. In terms of sweet stuff I stopped trying to make fancy desserts (or buying them) and instead learned really easy things like flapjacks, fruit crumble and banana loaf. And I kind of built up from there. It became much more satisfying and productive because it is easy to get good results out of simple things. I go through phases of making things, go off them for a bit and then come back to them. A bit of trial and error lead to various discoveries such as realising I was quite good at making basic pastry – cue lots of quiches, tarts and so on. By getting to grips with really, really basic things it all started to get a bit easier and cooking became more instinctive – getting the timing right so everything would be ready at the same time, what extras I might be able to throw in a pot which would work (rather than tasting weird) and so on. Because it got easier I didn’t hate it as much. In fact, it became sort of fun.

Learning to like it!

Because my kitchen has a nicer feel to it and because I’ve slowly built up what I can do and have gained some confidence I enjoy cooking much more. It isn’t stressful and I know I can make something actually worth eating. I still don’t like cooking in the evening, particularly after a days work. It is one of the reasons I like making things at the weekend and then freezing portions (aside from it being the cheaper option). Weekend cooking feels like a leisure activity – evening cooking still feels like hassle. Husband and I share ‘evening’ cooking duties pretty much equally which helps.

It really has been a case of adjusting my mindset. I wanted to be able to cook more because I simply prefer wholesome, home-made food to pre-prepared stuff and also because we had planned for children one day and wanted to be able to feed them well. It also really is cheaper – we’ve saved a small fortune. You might recall my recent estimate that we saved £1300 on food  comparing my budget from 2008 to 2009.

I am still a long, long way off being a good cook but at least I now have a reasonable level of competance. Things don’t get burned/go lumpy/get cold before everything else is ready. Anyway – when it came to cooking I firmly decided that I was just going to learn to like it. I get a great sense of accomplishment from being able to make something from scratch (or almost from scratch – I still prefer white sauce from a jar when I’m making lasagne!) and also from seeing my freezer stocked up with home-made goodies. Perhaps I enjoy this sense of accomplishment more, or as much as, the act of cooking in itself. As for baking, I’ve always found that fun. I mean, who doesn’t like cakes?!

So I suppose I came to like cooking because I stopped being intimidated by it and started finding it a bit more interesting and worthwhile.

How about you folks? Do you like cooking or is it a chore?!

Categories: Frugal food, Frugal ideas, Home Economics | 4 Comments

The best things in life are free

Thank you so much for all of your comments on our latest news. We still haven’t had much luck on the name front (despite a late night pouring over books and the internet). While we’ve got plenty of time to think about it, it would be so nice to be able to have a name! Oh well, we’ll probably change our minds a hundred times over the new few months and settle on something we haven’t even thought of yet…

Make Do Mum and Get-Stuff-Done both tagged me in the ‘Ten best things in my life that are free’ meme. If anyone feels like joining in then please let me know so I can read your response! Here’s my ten…

  1. Feeling my baby move: I am utterly transfixed every time I can feel her move, laying my hands on my bump and following her movements. It is the best thing. Ever.
  2. Hanging out on beaches
    From evening BBQs in the summer with a group of friends to stomping across the pebbles in a palette of grey. Not keen on being out anywhere in the rain though – particularly drizzle. I hate drizzle. It has no oomph.
  3. Reading
    Books are something of a passion so I use my library for a free reading fix and also like borrowing books from friends who have similar reading tastes.
  4. Writing
    Another big passion. I decided to be a writer when I was about, er, 4 years old. It hasn’t quite panned out as a profession but when I’m not blogging I can often be found tapping away ‘making stuff up’.
  5. Cooking and Baking
    I really used to hate making things (other than cups of tea) but I forced myself to keep doing it and it has become something of a hobby now. Though I still prefer baking to cooking…
  6. Taking photographs
    I haven’t taken that many photos since I’ve been pregnant (I’ve been massively distracted not to mention feeling quite rough at times) but I expect I’ll pick up my camera again soon. I particularly love the macro setting on my digital camera. You’re much more likely to get hundreds of close-ups of the inside of flowers from me than, say, landscapes. I suspect the baby will become my new favourite subject though!
  7. Music
    I started learning to play bass guitar in 2008, tutored by a host of kind friends. Playing with the band is just brilliant and I also like mooching around just listening to music too.
  8. Hanging out…
    …with my friends. A big pot of tea is often required. A few laughs goes without saying.
  9. Playing hide and seek
    Here’s a weird confession. Husband and I often play hide and seek at bedtime. We know it’s coming when one of us hears the other making a frantic scramble up the stairs just as we’re switching off the lights. Husband is rubbish at it – I rock. In fact, this is precisely how the base of Husband’s wardrobe came to be broken.
  10. Baths
    Okay, I suppose you could say that heating the water counts as ‘spending’ but I’m not counting that here. I never used to be a bath baby but I am now. I can wallow for hours. It is my favourite place to read a book. Occasionally Husband lets me give him a bubble beard (ie sticking bath bubbles to his facial stubble in the manner of a soapy Father Christmas). I hope I never reach an age when I do not find this hilarious…
Categories: Frugal ideas, Shoestring Fun | 8 Comments

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