Monthly Archives: January 2011

The (frugal) February plan

So, once again using my 2011 goals list as a template, the plan for February is:

HOME

Simple – finish the decluttering, tidying and organising. Do a big spring clean. Finish any work that needs doing. Sounds so easy written down like that, doesn’t it?

FINANCES

I now have a maximum budget of £150 a month to cover: LoveFilm membership, mobile phone, spending money, petrol and any other expenses not covered by our joint account. This is going to be my budget for the next three months. The joint account will provide a separate fund of £200 per calendar month for food. If I can’t stay within budget I’m going to have to fund the extra from my £150. I’m also going to be using my spending diary ‘properly’ from February onwards. Watch this space!

FOOD

Meal plan properly. Stick to it. No excuses. Also, try two new recipes (one of which must not be cake!). And check what it is in season.

MIND

No cheating with short stories this month. Food for brain must be found (and I’m not talking about protein). I should also make a start on the book that accompanies a course I am hoping to do in September.

ME

The last of the pregnancy weight needs to go now. It’s been nearly eight months – it is time. The trouble is, as soon as I could get into my old jeans my motivation took a nosedive. I can get most of my old clothes on now. Some look fine. Some do not. None look great. I need to lose 8 pounds and I need to pay much, much more attention to what I’m eating. I know where the problem is. I’m not organising my time well enough to make sure that a) I am getting something to eat and b) that the something is at least relatively healthy. Also, with the mank weather I haven’t been out and about walking as much for well over a month now. So my really complex, high-tech plan is this: Eat regularly, eat well, exercise more. It’s amazing how an entire weight loss industry is built around something that is essentially quite simple (for most. I do accept that some people have medical conditions that mean it isn’t this straight forward. I don’t have this excuse. My only condition is couch potato. And wanting to bake cakes and then eat them. I don’t think the doctor can help me with this one). And also (ha ha ha ha ha ha!) – try to get more sleep. It’s something I’ve been trying to do for months. But I need to get on the case because I am so tired and being tired makes everything else difficult.

So that’s the plan. I’m going to try to do a post a day through February updating my progress (and keeping me in line) because I really have to stick to this budget and I really want to lose this weight. On that note, I’ll be back tomorrow!

Categories: Getting organised, Ramblings | 6 Comments

January round-up

 

Wow – where has this month gone?! I know there’s still a day left but I thought I might as well do the January round-up of my progress towards my 2011 goals…

HOUSE

  • Baby’s room, the bathroom and the kitchen are completed. Our bedroom and the living room are almost done. Just the hallway and the landing areas are yet to be tackled but shouldn’t need too much effort. I didn’t get it finished but it is well on its way…
  • I’ve written a list of things that need to be bought (front door, doormat etc) and things that need to be done (get rid of crap piled up alongside the house etc). I just haven’t quite decided what repainting needs to be done. This is a good enough effort!

FINANCES

Shockingly bad fail on this one. I saved, er, nothing. I spent, er, everything. Some quite serious frugaldom is nigh.

FOOD

Well, I didn’t get around to doing my seasonal food posts and the meal planning didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons that were, to be fair, mostly unavoidable. Will do better next month! However, I did manage to complete my goal of trying at least two new recipes. I made chocolate hazelnut cupcakes, lemon cupcakes, banana cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes and Lentil and Spinach soup. You may notice this is a little heavy on the baking front but I am fine with this. All I can say is that there have been a lot of birthdays. So, I actually managed to try 5 new recipes.

CREATIVE PURSUITS

I made an apron so – yay – I managed to do this one! I keep meaning to take a photo to post here but I haven’t got around to it. Will try to in the next few days…

MIND

Hmm. I did make an effort in this direction but it was a bit of a cheeky one. I read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I first discovered this when I was studying and bought a copy to come back to and read properly at a later date. I must confess I picked this one to read this month because it is part of a short story collection and I was running short of time. However I did really enjoy it. The rest of my reading matter has mostly been somewhat on the light side this month – a bizarre mixture of genres spanning personal finance, children’s literature and chick lit!

ME

Not too sure how to summarise this one. I’ve been a bit lazy again but I’ve been tired as Baby has had a lot of sleepless nights – teething combined with a cold and cough. Poor bub. So me faffing around with face masks and so on has been at the bottom of the ‘must do’ list. My hair is another story – I’ll come back to that another time…

 So, all in all, it’s been quite a good month. I’m happy with what I’ve managed to achieve and I’m okay with what hasn’t gone quite to plan. I’ll be back again tomorrow to lay my plans for February which, I suspect, are going to incorporate something of a frugal bootcamp!

Categories: Goals | 2 Comments

The year on record

It seems that 2011 is going to be a year on record – something that has come about somewhat unconsciously. In previous years I’ve often set out to try and log every book I’ve read but I seem to lose steam after a few weeks. I also seem to lose track when I write the books down in my day-to-day diary. This year I decided to try using a beautiful notepad that I was given about 7 or 8 years ago. That’s right, it has sat languishing on my shelf for that long. It has thick, creamy pages and is bound in soft cream coloured leather. I’ve never really known what to do with this notepad – it seemed too fancy for regular notes. It has a lot of pages so I could potentially log my reading for years. Maybe I will. Either way, I’ve managed to record every book I’ve read so far this year (9 at the last count).

A few weeks ago I wrote about buying a spending diary. A few days in, I realised it wasn’t working for me. It is too small to record my spending properly. Some days I don’t spend anything, other days I buy lots of little things and there isn’t space. I really liked the idea though so I decided (ironically perhaps) to buy a larger diary. I figured I am going to be using it all year and it didn’t make sense to not spend the money and then abandon the whole idea because I as getting irritated. The new diary is working out well though I won’t really be doing it properly (ie doing an end of month summary on what went where) until February when my new budget begins.

The old diary isn’t going to waste. I’ve decided to use it as a food diary. The weight just isn’t coming off (I keep baking and eating cake – there is nothing mysterious about it). I know a lot of people who have said that recording what they eat has helped them to lose weight by keeping them accountable so I might as well give it a go.

Does anyone out there keep records of anything? Are you like me and start out with good intentions but cave by March? If I stick with all of these things, by the end of 2011 I will have a bizarre set of records detailing what I ate, spent and read for a whole year!

Categories: Ramblings | 4 Comments

Back in the kitchen

So far the 2011 resolution to get back in the kitchen has done me quite well. I borrowed the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook from the library and loved it so much I’ve asked for a copy for my birthday. I’ve tried two recipes – banana cupcakes and chocolate hazelnut cupcakes – and both were utterly gorgeous (though I did find the frosting a bit too sweet so I’m going to have tinker with the recipe a bit I think).

Seriously though, some of the best baking results I’ve ever had. I’ve also tried out a new soup recipe. I wouldn’t usually (knowingly anyway) copy a recipe from a book but I’m going to today. It is from Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food and in the introduction Jamie actively urges readers to pass on the recipes. So, here I am – passing it on!

LENTIL AND SPINACH SOUP

Serves 6-8

2 carrots / 2 sticks of celery / 2 medium onions / 2 cloves of garlic / olive oil / a thumb sized piece of ginger / 1/2 to 1 fresh red chili / 10 cherry tomatoes / 2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes / 300g red lentils / 200g spinach / salt and pepper / 200g natural yoghurt

Peel and roughly slice the carrots / Slice the celery / peel and roughly chop the onions / peel and slice the garlic / put a large pan on a medium heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil / add all your chopped and sliced ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon / cook for around 10 minutes with the lid askew, until the carrots are softened but are still holding their shape and the onion is lightly golden / meanwhile peel and finely slice the ginger / deseed and slice the chilli / remove the stalks from the cherry tomatoes and slice the tomatoes in half / put the stock cubes into a a jug or pan and pour in 1.8 litres of boiling water from the kettle / stir until the stock cubes are dissolved and then add to the pan with the lentils, ginger, chili and tomatoes / give the soup a good stir and bring to the boil / reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on or until the lentils are cooked / add the spinach and continue to cook for 30 seconds

To serve, season well with salt and pepper. You can leave it as it is or using a hand blender or liquidizer, pulse until smooth. Delicious topped with a ddollop of natural yoghurt.

I really love this recipe book. It boasts ‘Anyone Can Learn To Cook In 24 Hours’ on the cover. This is probably true. The instructions are very, very clear so that even the most inexperienced cook should be able to make something. I got a copy last year when inspiration was a bit thin on the ground and have found lots of very easy and quick recipes to play with, hich is just hat I as looking for. I’ll be trying out some more soon.

Although the month isn’t over yet (so I may well try out another new recipe or two) I can safely say I’ve met my goal of trying out to new recipes in January!

Categories: Frugal food | Leave a comment

Decluttering and separation anxiety

My decluttering spree didn’t happen as planned. Baby had a terrible night (though got her first tooth through – yay!) and I was too knackered to even contemplate it. However, I did manage to crack on with it today (despite having another rubbish night. The teething saga continues). Actually, Baby is sleeping in her own room for the first time tonight. Our bedroom is the largest room in our house (weird I know) and so we’ve been able to have the cot in with us since she outgrew the moses basket. We’ve been meaning to make the move for ages but then there was the snow (her room can get very cold) and then it was Christmas (enough faff going on) and then the teething. But there’s always going to be something so we thought we really must do it before she gets old enough to get upset by the change. As I type she is fast asleep in her cot in her own room for the first time ever. I had to go back in to resettle her after five minutes but all seems to be well for now. I suspect that she will be fine and it will just be me waking up through the night trying to listen to her breathing – the separation anxiety is all me!

Anyway, you might wonder what all of this has to do with decluttering. Basically, a lot of things had to be moved around today to facilitate the move and so it was a good opportunity to get some more clearing out done. I took a large bag of stuff to the charity shop and three bags to the fabric recycling bank. A couple of carier bags of ‘stuff’ went in the bin too.

I’m at that weird stage where I’ve cleared and cleared and cleared and – annoyingly – it doesn’t really look any different. Anyone else been there? However, a fair amount of storage space has been cleared up so as I tackle different areas I should actually be able to put things away properly. I’m counting on that making all the difference!

Categories: Decluttering | 6 Comments

Decluttering fatigue

I’m trying to revive my flagging enthusiasm for decluttering. I had quite a good go at it around New Year and I think I used up all of my mojo. One of my January goals was to get the decluttering finished as part of our prep for getting the house on the market.

So far I’ve finished the kitchen (including a swap around of various cupboard contents which has made it all work better) and thrown lots of things out. In fact, the reason I haven’t done a ‘Declutter 10’ post for a while is that I’ve got rid of too many things to log. I even tackled the area on top of the fridge where loads of random things without allocated homes tend to get dumped. No more. It is now home to a very neat basket full of medical stuff (plasters, tablets and so on), two pretty cake tins and a stand for recipe books. It looks so much better and I get a little kick out of it every time I look there.

I’ve also tackled various bits and pieces here and there but the kitchen is the only room that I can count as ‘finished’. Thus I need to get on with it as the end of the month is getting closer and I am not going to get behind with things on the very first month of the year. My parents are going to babysit for a bit tomorrow so I can have a good couple of hours at it. Hopefully I’ll be able to tick a few more areas off the list!

Categories: Decluttering | 5 Comments

Blue Monday

This year January 24th will be Blue Monday – officially the most depressing day of the year. This date, according to various sources, has been calculated by taking into account the weather, levels of debt, the time elapsed since Christmas, the failure of New Years resolutions and generally feeling unmotivated. Cheery concept isn’t it? And yet…

…I suspect there is a grain of truth in it. I don’t think I’m alone in having a fit of the blahs. It’s dark, it’s miserable, everyone is skint after Christmas and sunny summer days feel like a long, long way away. So, yes, the weather is a bit of a bummer at the moment. Levels of debt? Well I’m not in debt but I have to say my spending has been appalling so far this month. I know exactly what it’s all about – my maternity allowance is about to run out and this mad little voice in my head keeps saying ‘Get it while you can!’. I’ve bought all sorts – muffin tins and cases, a silk scarf (in the sale I hasten to add), a bizarre collection of food that I am sure is quite unnecessary and a host of other things too innumerable so mention. It’s okay though. I’ve got my finances in order for February to April (more on that another time) so this phase will come to an end very soon!

What’s else on the list? Time elapsed since Christmas? It does seem like a long time ago. In some respects I kind of feel like it passed me by this year.

This just leaves the failure of New Years Resolutions and generally feeling unmotivated. How is everyone doing on their New Years Resolutions and 2011 goals by the way? I’m doing okay so far, except on the weight loss front. In fact, my goal is going in reverse because I’ve been baking up a storm and, as a consequence, put on two pounds. Rubbish. However, we’re only halfway through the month so I’m not throwing in the towel just yet.

In summary? Yes, I could be teetering on the edge of a Type-A Blue Monday. I’d best some plans for this, the most miserable day of the year, so it doesn’t tip me over the edge!

Categories: Ramblings | 5 Comments

Spending money like water (on water)

When people are trying to clamp down on their spending, one of the first resolutions made is to take a packed lunch to work. It is such an obvious and simple thing to do but, equally, it is easy to slip out of the habit of preparing food and drink to take when you’re going out. These days I’m at home rather than the office so I rarely need to think about packed lunches. However, I have been using these rather a lot:

I tried to re-use small, plastic water bottles but I always seemed to lose them or throw them away by accident. Then a friend told me about some research which suggests reusing plastic water bottles can actually be harmful. There are lots of articles on the internet such as this one if you’re interested in finding out more about this. Last year I decided to buy a proper re-usable water bottle and found one (see photo) which was £5 from Paperchase and has already more than paid for itself. There’s no way I could throw it away by accident and it is easy to fill up and pop into the changing bag or car when I’m on my way out. Also, my flask has had a fair few outings of late for when I need coffee on the go (and I’m always on the go so I always need coffee…). If you’re thinking of building a frugal/shoestring kit I’d have to recommend investing the small amount it would take to buy a bottle and a flask. In my experience they pay for themselves very quickly!

Categories: Frugal food, Frugal ideas, Home Economics | 3 Comments

Taking the pain out of meal planning

We all know meal planning makes sense if you’re on a budget. In the first flush of blogging (and for some time after actually) I found it really easy to do this and it became a normal part of my week. However, it seems I’m not alone in letting this slide. I’ve noticed several other bloggers commenting that they need to get back into it again. Why does it get so difficult? Is it because it is hard to stick to a plan or because it is hard to find the time and inspiration in the first place? The latter seems more likely to me. Just to re-cap, meal planning is great because:

  • You only buy what you actually need (thus cutting back on those little extras that add up) so it is cheaper
  • You don’t end up doing extra trips to the shops to pick something up for dinner (thus spending more than if you had done a bit of planning)
  • You tend to use up things that need to be used up (thus not having to throw things away because they’ve gone off )
  • You don’t have to spend all evening saying ‘What are we going to eat?’ (thus not driving yourself/each other crazy)

Everyone needs to find their own approach for this. Notes From The Frugal Trenches has often mentioned that she likes to do a meal plan that is flexible enough that she can pick what to have out of a potential selection each day. I’ve been spending a bit of time thinking about my own meal planning needs. What I’ve realised is that, for us, it only makes sense to have a meal plan for Monday to Friday as the weekends are a bit more variable; we might have people over, we might be eating at a friends house or we might go out to eat. I also used to have time to have a big cooking session each weekend where I could freeze lots of meals to be used over the next couple of weeks. I don’t really have the time now and if I do get the time I’d rather cook something new that isn’t necessarily freezer-friendly. My biggest ‘want’ has been to find a way to take the pain out of meal planning and this is what I’ve come up with:

  • Writing 4 plans: Yup, I’ve written 4 weeks worth of meal plans. It took me about an hour of faffing about but it was worth it. The four meal plans now reside in my filofax, each with their own shopping list and I can chop and change between them. If I fancy something different then I can write a different one but, on the weeks I can’t be bothered, the thinking has already been done.
  • Basic shopping list: I’ve also written a basic shopping list for all of the things we buy every week or every other week (like milk, cereal, fruit, bread etc). That way I can check off what I need to get when I’m doing the weekly shop.
  • Freezer food: Each week I’m going to do one bit of batch cooking in the evening (so two portions can go in the freezer) and then we can have one evening ‘off’ each week too as we can have a home-made ready meal. Nice. 

I’m still using my storecupboard list and a few other ideas (see the ‘Shoestring Food’ page for more details) but this really is making life a lot easier already!

Categories: Frugal food | 4 Comments

The January Plan

The plan for January looks like this:

HOUSE

  • Declutter and spring clean every room in the house (apart from the two under stair cupboards – a consuming project in its own right!)
  • Compile a complete list of work that needs to be carried out before getting a valuation, make a plan and set a budget

FINANCES

I get the last of my maternity allowance this month so I need to have my finances in shape by the time February rolls around. January is my biggest month of the year for birthdays – Husband’s, Mum’s, two friends and mine too. The rest are fairly well spaced out through the year. So January never is quite the frugal month for me that it is for other folk who are recovering from Christmas and New Year spending. Also my car needs an MoT and a new tax disc – gah! My financial plan is basically to get to the end of the month having paid for everything I need to pay for and to see if I can save a pound or two before my money runs out – eek!

FOOD

  • Meal Planning: Get it sorted and get on with it! I’ll be posting on this in this next day or two…I have a new plan…
  • Try at least two new recipes
  • Seasonal food: Really must get on and do a January post before it is too late!

As for the other things (‘Mind’, ‘Me’ and ‘Creative Pursuits’) it’ll be a case of I’ll do what I can when I’ve got a minute, if I’ve got a minute!

Categories: Ramblings | Leave a comment

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