Monthly Archives: March 2011

Diet update

It’s going well. Really well. I think I’ve finally got past whatever mental block I had regarding my eating. While I have been quite literally climbing the walls, craving cake and cookies (I know, sad isn’t it?) I haven’t been hungry at all and the food has been really good. I tried out a recipe for trout with flaked almonds in a cream sauce which was gorgeous (the bones were a pain in the arse though). I don’t think I’ve ever cooked trout before so that can be added to my list of cooking experiments. I’ve already lost a couple of pounds but I’ll do a proper progress post after the first week is up (and when the weekend is past – always a bit of a dodgy time for me and diets). It’s pretty hard to feel hard done by when you get cream in your coffee and a brie, avocado and prosciutto salad for lunch…

Categories: Ramblings | 2 Comments

The new diet plan

Gah – I’ve now put six pounds back on. Noooooooo! Clearly trying just to eat sensibly isn’t working. I’m one of those folk that needs rules (and with my spending too. What am I, five years old?). Anyway, I’ve dug out my India Knight and Neris Thomas diet books – basically a sensible take on a high protein, low carb diet.

I went and did a big food shop yesterday. It wasn’t cheap but this endless waiting to get back into all of my clothes has got to end. I’m actually feeling quite optimistic this time; the food looks good, I’m looking forward to eating it and I feel motivated. I think it might also be the kick I need to breaking the habit of wanting sweet food all of the time. I’ve tried eating more fruit but, weirdly, I just don’t want it and haven’t been finding it at all appetising. Only time (and the scales) will tell if this works. I’ve got 11 pounds to go. This would actually take me to 1 pound less than my pre-pregnancy weight – the weight I was when I got married 12 years ago. Let’s go!

Categories: Goals | 4 Comments

Adrift without a budget

Oh dear. I’ve lost the plot regarding spending again. What have I learned? I am hopeless – hopeless – without a budget. The one thing I am really looking forward to regarding going back to work will be having a regular, consistent monthly income. I am so fed up of my finances changing every month or two. To give a quick overview of the last 16 months I’ve gone through the following changes: a relatively high income, a new lower income, having to wait three months to get one months pay, maternity allowance, no maternity allowance. At the moment I’m using what we’re getting in child tax credits for my own expenses. The amount we get for this has already changed once (bear in mind we’ve only been getting it a few months) and will change again once I go back to work (and once we see what effect the budget cuts will have on that). Anyone following the financial element of this blog for the last year will probably realise what a bloody mess it has been. I’ve tried to keep up as much as I can but I confess that from now until my first pay packet, I’m coasting. We’ll see what happens!

I haven’t really got anything done on the house since my last post. It’s been one of those busy weeks where we’ve been out every day doing something different which has been great (and I got to meet one of my favourite bloggers and her gorgeous twins – you know who I’m talking about!). So a week off really. Which might not quite excuse the crazy spending but hey. And, anyway, if you’d seen this bag for £12 in Sainsbury’s I bet you’d have bought it too…

Categories: Budgeting | 5 Comments

Making progress

Since deciding to focus on finishing the house I’ve managed to get quite a few things done. Nothing amazing, but really annoying things that for some reason I’ve had a mental block about including:

The kitchen bins: We had an old, huge bin in the kitchen. This never really made any sense as there is hardly any floor space in our kitchen and it was always in the way, particularly now we have Baby. I went to Homebase and bought a new, smaller one that looks a lot smarter and has made the kitchen look a smidge larger. I also bought a cute little counter-top bin for peelings. We live in an area where compostable recycling is collected and have been using the hideous grey bin provided by the council. While I would have carried on using it if we weren’t trying to sell (and thus make the place look as attractive as possible) I have to say the new one looks a lot nicer (and, again, is smaller)! I also replaced the plant that I managed to kill off this winter and at the checkout I actually remembered to use my voucher for extra Nectar points!

Clean windows: I don’t remember the last time my windows were cleaned. They had been in a disgusting state for months and months and months. This week I managed to clean the inside of them all and the window cleaner has just been to clean the outside (all of our windows are on the first and second floor so we can’t clean them ourselves). The windows look amazing! Note to self@ do not leave it so long next time. And because my window cleaner likes me and is a poppet he only charges me a tenner. Nice.

Re-filed my paperwork: Last years filing system wasn’t working for me any more. Some paperwork needs to be kept long term, some only needs to be kept for a year and other things can be thrown away more frequently. I bought some new files and reorganised the lot. This has now freed up a corner on the landing where the big box files used to be kept.

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of the things I am doing involve trying to free up space! Anyway, it’s not a bad start but I really do need to crack on now and do some more. I’ll try to keep updating my progress here to make sure I get my arse in gear. Speaking of which, I weighed myself this morning and discovered I had put 5 pounds back on. No, no, no! Attention must be paid…

Categories: Getting organised, home improvements | 2 Comments

The Busyness Plan

In my last post I talked about how it seems I’ve been trying to juggle too many things – things in reality (mainly centred around the house) and things in my head (projects, what the future holds etc). Three years ago, if someone told me that I would have a gorgeous baby girl and that I would get to work part time instead of full time (and that some of those working hours were from home) I would have been over the moon. But there’s really no point in clawing back those hours (and shouldering the financial consequences) if I don’t make the most of them. And by making the most of them, I don’t mean packing them full of ‘things to do’ but enjoying them. My plan for 2011, while not too disimilar from the goals I talked about at New Year, is now:

For the next 5/6 weeks: To really get on with the house and at the end, whatever state it is in, to get it on the market. I also want to use this period of time to lose the last of the baby weight. I got pretty close (4 pounds off!) and then put some back on again. I think I’ve been eating crap because I’ve been stressing about everything. Hopefully with a simpler plan I can make myself stop doing this. Once the weight is lost I’ve just got to maintain it and then I can stop thinking about it (thinking about diets and weight rank quite high up on my ‘dull’ list). So I’d like it gone by the end of this time.

In 5/6 weeks time: Figure out the details of going back to work; what routine needs to be established, finding and sorting through my old work clothes, working out what I’ll need and so on.

From now until the end of the year: Get a better handle on my spending (I’ve been trying to keep up to date with my spending diary but, oddly, having less money is making me want to spend more. This needs to be dealt with!). Meal plan – eat well and within budget. If a plan, project or idea crops up and is do-able right then and there, then do it. If not, forget it. Much better to wake up and think ‘Oh, we could do this today.’ than think ‘I’m knackered and I just want to talk Baby for a walk in the sunshine and read a book but wasn’t I supposed to be doing…’.

This plan could, perhaps, be more efficiently summarised as: Finish house, put on market, lose weight, go back to work, make the most of the time I can spend with Baby and sod everything else. Which is basically what it boils down to!

This means I am still going to be quite busy (the next six weeks will involve getting the house done and losing the weight and the time after will revolve around getting back to work and the juggling act that will result) but it seems more manageable because I’ve ‘cut’ everything else.

I suppose this means I ought to switch off the computer and work out where I need to start…

Categories: Goals | 5 Comments

Breaking the busyness habit

I’ve got into a bad habit recently. Every time I get more than about two minutes when I’m at home and not doing something baby related I spring into action; check email, wash up, drag washing out of washing machine/stuff things into washing machine, move the 100 pairs of shoes back upstairs that have snuck down during the night (does this happen in your house too?), check our online banking, deal with the pile of post and so on and so on. I can’t seem to fight the compulsion to do things – now! I know why. I’m still surfing the shock waves from having a baby. In the early days it was difficult to get much done during the day; having a shower, making a sandwich and getting dressed (quite possibly in that order) was a full days worth of activity. I felt really frustrated about not being able to keep on top of things like the laundry, the shopping, cooking, filing and so on. And, yes, Husband did step up but his version of clean and tidy and mine are two different things.  

However, now Baby is no longer a newbie I do get little pockets of time throughout the day while she’s busy playing or having a (sadly very short!) nap. The urge to fill these pockets of time with the constant round of nagging chores is overwhelming. It’s the sheer novelty of actually being to get them done that I think is driving me on.

I also keep mentally starting on different projects that could fill these pockets of time. In a few years time I might change careers and I keep looking at related courses I could do. I want to get new cushions and make my own covers. The urge to do some creative writing keeps getting stronger. I ought to be excercising more, particularly while I am still on maternity leave. If I could just spend a bit longer on meal planning I could eat more healthily, lose weight and still stay in budget. And what about the house? I’m not getting any of the work done that needs to happen before we can go on the market. And there is still more clutter in my house that could go and things that could be reorganised to be more efficient. I spent six years getting a degree in Literature and I might lose everything I learned if I only read drivel. There are loads of things that I’d like to do but I can’t do all of them. Actually, I can’t do many of them, not right now. I recently responded to a post over at Shopaholly by mentioning a great quote I heard (but can’t remember the source of, sorry) which goes something along the lines of ‘I could do anything, but I can’t do everything.’.

This is something that really resounded with me and I keep trying to make myself remember it. Although I think this quote is really aimed at major life decisions (what career to choose, what country to live in, what type of life to lead) I think it works well for the smaller stuff too. There will be a time for thinking more about my career (probably when Baby starts school), there will be a time when I can do some writing (maybe when my brain doesn’t feel like it is flatlining), there will be a time when we can afford to go on adventures abroad again. The world won’t come to an end if my house isn’t in show room condition. However, getting through the day will be difficult if I don’t keep on top of things like washing up and ‘stuff’ all over the floor.

The only real time I get to myself are the few hours after Baby has gone to bed and before I go up myself. I spend all day thinking ‘I’ll get that done tonight’ but by the time the evening rocks around I’m just too tired and switched off.

I’m trying to come up with a few simple strategies to get around this; things that will take in account what I actually need to get done (particularly as I’m going back to work soon) and ways to drop what I don’t. I’ll post again over the next few days and let you know if I’ve figured it out! I’ve got to stop trying to fill every second, not just with chores but with my little projects too.

Am I alone in this or does anyone else share this bad habit?!

Categories: Ramblings | 4 Comments

The trials and triumphs of a book lover

I love books. I love them. I really, really do. I tinker with other hobbies and pastimes but I always come back to books. And I hate being without a good book on the go. It makes me feel sort of lost and empty. I often find it quite difficult to find ‘new’ books to read (I find Amazon quite useful for recommendations) but, luckily, I’m happy to read my real favourites again and again.

A while ago Laura at Move To Portugal wrote a post on clearing her book collection and asked how many books her readers had. Mildly curious, I counted up how many books were on the two cases in our living room. There were over 300. I should point out that there are more books on the shelves in our alcove, in boxes in the cupboard under the stairs and also in boxes in my parents attic. Basically, even after donating several hundred books to the local charity shops over the last few years, my collection well surpases the 1000 mark. This seems like an embarrassing excess but I’m just being honest. I begin to see where all of my money has been going over the years! In fairness to myself, the majority of these books have been bought second hand and many have been given to me but still. I’m at capacity – there is no more space for new books until we move (I have secret fantasies about one day having a little room of my own with shelves on every single wall. It might happen. You never know). Aside from the fact that I’m not supposed to be spending too much right now. So what’s the answer for someone like me who is currently averaging three books a week?

The library. Obviously. Holly (at Shopaholly) wrote a great post recently about supporting local libraries which I hope everyone will do if they value them at all. I visit mine at least once a week but usually twice, particularly if it is the week for the nursery rhyme and music session which Baby loves. Did I ever think I’d be rocking the Grand Old Duke Of York at 9.30am in a public space? Probably not. It’s great though and the little ones love it, particularly when they get the shakers and tambourines out.

Anyway, this year I’ve started ordering books through my local library that I might otherwise have bought (sorry to any authors out there who are missing out on some £s. I’ll be buying again at some point!). This service costs 50p per title if you order it online and £1 if you order it in person at the library. For me, this is a winner; I get to read loads of books that wouldn’t usually be in stock (my library is well stocked but at the end of the day its a small one) plus I don’t have to buy them or store them afterwards. Genius! The only drawback is that the librarians are now far more aware of my slightly, er, ecclectic reading tastes (‘The Hunger Games? It says here it’s a young adults book. Are you sure that’s the right one?’.). I’ve just read Anthony Capella’s latest offering – The Empress of Ice-Cream. Incidentally, does anyone else just love Anthony Capella? I never hear anything about him. Massively underrated in my opinion. I digress. If I start talking about what else I’ve been reading we’ll be here all day. My point is, if you don’t already do it, start ordering books from your library. Even though there is a small charge it is such a cheap form of entertainment, particularly if it means you get to read lots of new or obscure titles that you might otherwise have to buy.

Anyway, if I’ve been a bit quiet around here it’s because every time I’ve had five minutes to myself my nose has been happily buried in a book!

Categories: Book love, Shoestring Fun | 11 Comments

My 2nd blogging birthday!

I can’t believe it – Shoestring Alley is 2 years old today! Where did that go? It’s so odd, thinking back to when I started this blog – like looking back on a different life, almost. The passing of time can be like that though, some events simultaneously feeling like yesterday and ten years ago all at once.

Two years ago I was ticking along in the same job I’d been doing for several years, increasingly alarmed by the reports of economic meltdown, redundancies, plummeting house prices and my own lack of savings (not to mention my spending which I knew I was going to have to rein in). I wanted to get serious about my Future Family Fund so I could afford to take maternity leave with a reasonable amount of comfort and security. Not to mention I wanted the ‘Future’ part of the equation to hurry up and become ‘Present’.

Fast forward twelve months and, this time last year, I was six months pregnant, the scary economy had indeed plucked me from the job I had held though, luckily, presented me with a another one, albeit on a lower wage. But still, I had saved my targeted £s for my maternity leave and I had conquered my spending well enough to know I could live well on a lot less.

And here I am, two years on. I have a beautiful baby girl, I’ve managed to scurry the funds together to take a full year of maternity leave and I’m just about hanging in there with my low, low budget. In a couple of months time I’ll be going back to work for which I’ve managed to negotiate part-time hours. The funds left over after I’ve ‘paid’ the joint account will be very small (I won’t know quite how much until I get my first wage slip) but enough to pay for everything – I hope! The year off has been incredibly good for me in so many ways. It has given me enough of a step back from the day to day grind to gain a slightly different perspective on a lot of things. I hope that I don’t lose this once I go back to work.

Over the last two years I’ve used this little corner of the internet to contemplate and experiment with a variety of approaches to personal finance, simplicity, frugality and wealth. In that time I haven’t exactly come up with any solid ‘answers’ about anything and I don’t think I’ve arrived at any one way of thinking about it all – it’s still a learning process and a set of evolving philosophies.

As I was bodding along the seafront the other day, I was thinking about some of the blogs that relate to downshifting and was startled to realise that, without exactly setting out to do it or think of it in that way, I have managed to achieve quite a massive downshift. Because I haven’t moved house or done anything more dramatic than have a baby (which, actually, is dramatic in my own little universe but you know what I mean) I guess I hadn’t noticed. But I’ve gone from working full time, being stressed a lot and spending a lot to saving money, living on less and working part-time. I could probably make more money but I couldn’t earn enough an hour to make up for what I’d be missing. I’ve always wanted more time. I’ve always lived for weekends and holidays and I’d rather have more free time and less money rather than the other way around, at least while I can afford it.

I started this blog to keep myself accountable, a job which no notepad or journal could possibly have done so well. While I, like many other bloggers, write primarily for myself, it has often been the comments and the inspiration provided by other bloggers (check out my blogroll) that has kept me going. So a big thank you to everyone who stops by to say hello, share a bit of experience or advice and to my favourite bloggers for being inspiring, amusing and generally brilliant. Since I’m soon going to be on my tightest budget ever I’ll still be here, trying to figure out how to make it all work and blogging about it along the way!

Categories: Ramblings | 6 Comments

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