The month of skintness

I got paid less than a week ago and already it has all just about gone (and then some). We’re right down to pennies in most of our accounts. This is simply because we’ve spent a lot in the last couple of weeks! I’ve already blogged about the stuff we bought for the house but I also stocked up on loads of stuff for Baby as Boots are currently running their 3 for 2 mix and match promotion in their baby department and it would have been stupid not to make the most of it. I ordered some clothes from Next (all very much needed plus a £10 scarf as a treat) and I am going to be writing a very annoying cheque for the incomptenent morons at HM Revenue & Customs who keep cocking up my tax codes.

We’ve got our holiday coming up (3 nights in Cornwall with some friends and their little ones) which I am really looking forward to. I haven’t been away for almost exactly two years (I was 6 weeks pregnant at the time – a lot has changed since then!). Fortunately, Husband and I have been really organised about saving for the holiday so not only is it all paid for but we worked out how much we’d need for petrol and spending money and saved it up. Now our only task is not spending any of it before we go!

We’re not in debt and we’ve got enough (just!) to pay for everything but there is bugger all left over. And then it will be Christmas! Argh! However, in spite of all of the above (and the fact that the bloody house still isn’t finished) I’m feeling pretty good about everything. We’re steadily getting stuff done, I seem to have got a handle on my derranged eating habits, we’re going on holiday and there shouldn’t be anything I can’t pay for. In addition, the things we’ve changed at home in the last month have made a massive difference to how our home ‘works’ – loads more space to play with Baby and everything is tidier and easier to manage (you can’t underestimate what a difference a bit of effort and a few small changes can make). I’ve got food in the freezer, books on the shelf and can definitely get through another month with not a lot leftover. Let the skintness commence…

Categories: Budgeting | 1 Comment

7 week challenge: week 4 (and a bloody tax mess)

Argh – how can I be on week 4?! I am way, way behind on so many things! Don’t even ask about the diet. That needs a whole post of its own. As for the other two categories (Getting Organised and Home) they are all kind of mixed up together, thus:

  • Bought rug and nest of tables
  • Got three stair gates – 2 installed, 1 to go
  • Moved the big piece of marble to under the sofa where it can live until we move. I hate that bloody thing.
  • Have given the Jumparoo to a friend. For those not in the know, a Jumparoo is the last word in baby bouncers. Husband bought it from a friend whose little one had out grown it. We’ve now lent it to some friends who have a baby just the right age to start enjoying it. We’ll have it back when they’re done with it, just in case we ever have another one! Jumparoo’s are great but they are also massive. Thus lots of lovely extra space now available.
  • Packed away Baby’s ‘nest’. When she was able to sit up by herself but was still a bit wobbly we created a nest in the corner of the room with two blankets, lots of cushions and her basket of toys. Since she can now crawl and we have the lovely new rug to play on she doesn’t need the nest anymore. On one hand I’m a bit sad not to see the cosy nest on the corner. On the other hand I’m grateful to be able to get into the sideboard and clean the floor properly!
  • Baby proofing as mentioned on last post
  • Moved shredder from the landing to under the bed (we only use it occasionally so it is just in the way most of the time)

And that’s about it. I’ve been a bit quiet again, I know. I’ve been sucked in by another pile of books. It is hopeless. I plan to get all of these things done and then I say to myself ‘Oh, I’ll just read 10 pages’ and before I know it two hours have vanished and it is time to think about going to bed. Still – it is cheap!

I’m waiting for pay day…less than a week to go. Come on! Actually, nothing too exciting will be going (exciting currently defined as being able to save a decent amount of money). HM Revenue and Customs are doing my head in. They sent me a letter last week informing that my tax code is being changed again – for the fourth time this year. I am not joking. Between changing jobs, going on maternity leave, changes to child tax credits and endless buggering about with my tax codes, I haven’t had the same income for two months straight for 20 months. 20 months! For someone who holds having a budget in high regard (and who now has to live on quite a small one) this has driven me completely crazy. They told me I didn’t pay enough tax 4/5 years ago. However, I paid too much tax last year. I owe them, they owe me. One of the changes to my tax code was to claim back the taxes ‘owed’ – my rebate was supposed to come by cheque. Then they decided they could cancel out most of what was ‘owed’ by taking off what they owed me and not sending me the cheque. Now, in error, they have not only sent me a cheque after all but they have changed my tax code AGAIN so I am not paying the overdue tax back that I need to. Are you following this? I am but only just. Apparently they probably can’t change my tax code again this year so the problem will get rolled over into the next tax year. No no no! I want this bloody mess over and done with. Once I get paid I am going to send them a cheque for the difference so we can hopefully draw a line under the whole thing. Of course, that doesn’t cancel out the fear that they will cash my cheque and then lose all record of ever having done so. I can but hope. So there won’t be much saving going on on my forthcoming pay day. With any luck I should be able to give myself a clean slate and a proper idea of what my take-home pay will be each month. Allegedly…

Categories: Budgeting | 1 Comment

Food budget cock-up

I think the title of this post says it all! I haven’t kept my eye on our food budget this month and now I’ve got to get on top of it so we don’t go over. The first week was okay but I came unstuck last week because of a blinkin’ voucher. After the previous weeks shop, Co-op gave me a £5 off voucher if I spent £50 or more. I’m usually very wary about this kind of voucher as you can easily end up spending way more than you planned, even picking up things you don’t really need to make sure you have spent enough to get the discount. Not only did I do exactly this but I also spent £3 on a Co-op meal deal (sandwich, brownie and drink) to drop down to Husband at work as I forgot to make lunches the night before.

Annoyingly, I have done this on a ‘5 week’ food budget month – grrrr. I have spent £100 in two weeks so I now have £100 to last three weeks. Fortunately as part of my 7 week challenge I have been quite good about doing a weekly batch cook and thus I am going to live off the freezer and storecupboard as much as possible. I am hoping that I can get away with just buying fruit, veg, bread and milk when I do the shop at the end of the week. Oh, and loo roll!

Bizarrely, I bought a mini loaf of bread a few weeks ago and stuck it in the freezer (you know, one of those 400g ones so half the size of a conventional loaf). We ran out of normal sized bread last night but, rather than go out and spend more of the food budget on another loaf, I’ve taken the mini one out of the freezer. Husband is going to work with a variety of small sandwiches tomorrow!

Categories: Budgeting, Frugal food | 2 Comments

Working out the cost of gifts

Have you ever worked out how much you actually spend each year on birthday and christmas presents? It’s a scary (but necessary) exercise. Even when I try to work out the barest of budgets for giving to each person I am still a bit shocked when I work out what it costs annually. And don’t forget the cost of greetings cards too. It adds up really, really quickly! I know a lot of people are arty and/or crafty and can make amazing almost free gifts but, sadly, I’m not one of them. I went through a spell of making my own Christmas cards (we’re talking a decade ago mind) which ended when I realised it was costing more than twice as much as buying a pack. Anyway, if you’re in a budgeting frame of mind try this out for a quick exercise:

  • Write a list of everyone who you buy a birthday present for each year. Allocate a budget for each gift and add it up.
  • Write a list of everyone who you buy a Christmas present for each year (for some reason this is always slightly different to my birthday list). Allocate a budget for each gift and add it up.
  • Write another list, this time accounting for extra greetings cards and gifts (include things like weddings, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other special occasions. Also factor in wrapping paper for all of the above/ Add it all up.
  • Then add up the above three figures and you’ve got your annual spend on gifts.

Shocked? I was. Even with mostly giving small gifts to a lot of the people the total runs into the several hundreds. I know a lot of people swear off giving gifts altogether and that’s fair enough. I can’t do it though. I love giving presents, even if it is just a book or a scarf! So it’s all about setting a realistic budget. With funds being pretty tight at the moment I’m going to be putting back £25 a month which, gives us a budget of £300 a year. The rest will have to come from little buys here and there from my general spending money. Ideally I would put back enough for the whole budget but a) I want to see how creative I can get with it this year and b) putting back more would mean sacrificing other savings funds that are more important at the moment.

I’ve blogged plenty of times about giving gifts on a budget but if you fancy a refresher, click on the following for how I get organised about buying in advance, a bit more along the same lines and also home-made gift tags.

I have to say, I heart Amazon. I really do. Most people I know love a book or DVD for a gift and the prices are so affordable – plus it is all with free delivery now. I recently bought a new paperback from an Amazon seller for 1p plus £2.80 P&P. The book arrived in perfect condition and was given to a friend as a gift. She loved it (I knew she would – we like reading the same stuff which helps!). £2.81 plus the cost of a card is about as budget friendly as you can get!

Any other ideas for budget friendly gifts?

Categories: Budgeting, Money Management, Saving | 9 Comments

Keeping within budget

I’m still in the process of juggling all of my finances. I don’t think there is going to be much/anything left over by my next pay day but at least everything that needs to be paid for has been paid for. Birthday presents have been bought, my Next sandals paid for (remember the ones I ordered over a month ago?), the electric window on my car has been fixed and I feel like I’ve just about got a clean slate!

I seem to be managing on my smaller budget okay so far. Husband has been doing some more fishing and has caught enough that we’ve had quite a few free dinners and have a small supply building up in the freezer. I’ve been contemplating doing another OU course (there’s one on children’s literature that I really, really, really want to do) but, at £700, I just can’t get it in the budget. Maybe next year. Or the year after come to that! I get paid again in two and a half weeks and I have precisely £15.31 in cash in my wallet to last me until then. I’ve got a bit in my account put aside for a couple of father’s day gifts and my LoveFilm payment and that is it!

Speaking of LoveFilm, I’m thinking about cancelling it. I joined over 5 years ago and I’ve really loved it but it seems that, at the moment, we just don’t have time to watch any of the discs. We’re working our way (very slowly) through the first series of ‘Lie To Me’ but I think I might cancel it once we’ve watched all of the episodes. By the time we’ve got Baby settled for the night, had something to eat and got our lunch and work stuff ready for the next day there just isn’t time to watch a film before bed. We’ve sometimes got time for one or two ‘episodes’ of something but there aren’t any boxsets of our favourite TV series (Burn Notice, The Unit, Grey’s Anatomy etc) out for ages. It seems to make sense to cancel it at least for a few months until there is something we really want to watch.

And that’s about all that is going on for now. Husband is just serving up some mackerel and salad so I’d best be off!

Categories: Budgeting | 7 Comments

A score on the food shopping front

At the weekend I made this cake for my Gran’s 91st birthday. It was a sort of coffee – mocha combo, based on a recipe from the Hummingbird Recipe book. It was good (though that recipe book gives demented quantities. A lot of reviewers on Amazon have pointed this out too. Still, I’ve made a note of how to tweak it for next time)!

Anyway, good news on the food budget – I’ve come under! With the way paydays fall it was either going to be a case of stretching the £200 to four weeks this month and five weeks next month or the other way around. Since we were doing so well for this month I decided to take the ‘hit’ of the extra week this month. And even doing five weeks food shopping it came to under £200! I am amazed. I think I had really given up on getting the food shopping down to a reasonable level. There is £4.01 left in the food shopping fund which I expect will get used up during the week as we will probably need another loaf of bread and some more milk (I know you can put both of these in the freezer but it is already full). I really optimistic that with next month only having 4 food shops we’ll be able to save a bit of cash back at the end.

It did help that I received my Tesco Clubcard vouchers this week. I got £7 of general vouchers but also some new ones that I hadn’t seen before – £6 off a £40 shop (which I used today and then two vouchers giving £4 off a £40 shop. I haven’t decided how to use the £7 vouchers yet. I know you can double or even treble the value depending on what offers you take up (check out the Tesco Clubcard website for details). For now I’ll just hang on to them and think on it. I might just keep them in reserve for a really skint week/month!

And now I’m off to make some tomato and basil sauce to go with pasta…

Categories: Budgeting, Frugal food | Leave a comment

I’m a saver again!

I’m a saver again! Yay! I’ve been paid and got a bit more than I was expecting, just for this month (something to do with tax. Whatever the reason, I’m not complaining). It’s just as well as the car has had to go to the garage and – gulp – Baby’s first birthday is coming up!

I had already decided that the minimum I was going to save each month was £100 unless exceptional circumstances arose (I’d include going on holiday or something ‘big’ like that under this heading). I’ll try to save a bit more each month but £100 is the minimum. I’d budgeted £150 for the car repair but it only came to £63. They did warn me that I’m going to need a new battery soon so I’ve put back £50 for that (they said it would be less but better safe than sorry). Thus I had £37 left over from the car budget. I budgeted £70 for petrol but when I filled the tank right to the top it came to about £63 so there was also an additional £7 there. I added a few more pounds to take the amount I could save up to £150. Yesterday I received the paperwork on my new ISA and so today I trotted over to my local branch and paid in my £150. This leaves £44 in my easy access savings account just in case something crops up, I need more petrol or something like that. I wasn’t planning on paying all of my savings into my ISA each month as I like to have a few hundred pounds that I can access easily. However, I really wanted to get some cash in my ISA so I could start earning my 3.3% interest! I guess I’ll decide each month how I want to play it.

I have to say, being able to save again felt really, really good. It’s funny because I never thought I’d see the day when the most exciting thing about being paid would be being able to put my earnings into a savings account instead of going out and spending it. I’m not saying spending money isn’t fun – it can be. But right now, putting it back for a rainy day feels much, much better.

Categories: Budgeting, Saving | 1 Comment

Business plan: ISAs (and a bit about reusable cloths!)

The other day I mentioned my latest strategy of organising my finances in a more business-like way. I decided that the most important place to start were my ISAs. Because you earn interest over the course of the financial year, time literally is money. Thus it was first on my list. My action plan on starting out looked like this:

  • Find out my current interest rate for ISA 1. Ask if it can be improved and by how much. Ditto for ISA 2.
  • Check interest rates with other providers, remembering to look at rates for both new accounts and for transfers (rates for transfers rather than new accounts tend to be less). Consider if it is worth opening a new ISA for any savings in the current financial year.
  • Change/open accounts if necessary.

Fisrt up, ISA number 1. I had already popped into my local branch and asked about the interest rate. A staggeringly crap 0.5%. Just by asking, they increased it to over 2.5%. After thinking about this I’ve decided to keep it open. By transfering it I could only get an extra 0.3%. Since this ISA is ‘attached’ to my current account (thus very convenient) I decided to leave it where it was.

Second up, ISA number 2. I spent a frustrating few days trying to contact my ISA provider but the line was constantly busy. Having decided the rate was probably as bad as for the first ISA (and their customer services weren’t up to much since I couldn’t actually get hold of anyone) I thought I’d open a new account and transfer it out. By coincidence they sent me their statement for the year 2010/2011 this morning. I was pleased to see that, despite me not contacting them or chasing them up, my interest rate had not dropped and I had earned over £90 in interest – yay! I’m really impressed that they gave me their current ‘best rate’ in spite of me not being a new customer or hounding them about it. Long may it continue. I’m leaving my money where it is.

Which left the last point on my ‘action plan’ – deciding whether or not to open a new ISA and where. While I’m happy enough with where my current ISAs are, I decided I’d like to take advantage of some of the offers available for new customers/ISA accounts. I checked Money Saving Expert for the latest deals and chose a provider that is offering 3.3%. If the interest rates go up then so does my interest payment but they won’t go below 3.3% if they drop. Great! The offer is only ‘good’ for the first year though so I’ve made a note in my diary to review it then. I made a call and 17 minutes later (my phone tells you how long each call is – I’m not that much of a freak, honest) my account is all set up. Yay!

I really do feel that I’ve done something worthwhile with my time on this and I’m looking forward to getting as much into that new ISA as I can. I’ll be trying to get my ‘business head’ on over some other areas of our finances shortly. Watch this space.

On a final, and rather different, note – do you use washable kitchen cloths?

Mum recently introduced me to these pretty cloths that you can buy in Tesco. They have worked out to be about 50p each but, rather than throwing them away when they are ‘dead’/falling to pieces/generally too manky you can pop them in the washing machine and they come out as good as new – ta da! I know plenty of people chop up old T-shirts etc and make cloths which is a great idea. I’ve never done this, mainly because I take clothes to the charity shop when I’m done with them but it would be worth giving it a go if you had something ripped that couldn’t be reused. Plus these are so pretty. I’m convinced they are saving me money already. Particularly with Baby around, I seem to spend a lot of time wiping things up these days and they are so small they can easily be added to a regular wash (so no cost there). Brilliant!

Right. I’m off to enjoy the fact that Baby is having a rare, long day time nap and go put my feet up…

Categories: Budgeting, Frugal ideas, Home Economics, Money Management | 11 Comments

Running it like a business

It has frequently occurred to me that I really ought to be running my personal and home finances as though they were a business. While I’ve thought it, however, I haven’t actually acted upon it. I’ve seen other bloggers with similar ideas (such as the SMART concept etc) but that’s not quite what I mean. My idea is a bit more simple. What are the basic questions that you would have to ask if running a business? What plans would you need to make to stay in business and so on? Here are my initial thoughts:

  • What is my income?
  • How can we increase income?
  • How much do I already have and how is it working for me?
  • What are my overheads? How can they be tightened up/cut?
  • Are there any procedures in place that could be changed to be more cash efficient?
  • What resources do we have?
  • What is the budget?
  • What spending is necessary to take the business forward?

I mean, you don’t want to get too obssessed by this stuff, but it can be an eye opening way of looking at things. It has been for me, anyway. I can already see that I’m currently very efficient in some areas yet simply not paying attention to others at all. For example, I’m really good at staying within budget but I’m not looking after what I’ve got (my profits if you like) at all well. I need to find better interest rates for my ISAs for a start. For example, I’ve got an ISA with just over £3k in it (this is our fund for paying legal fees etc when we move). It’s been kicking around for years. I don’t think about it much because I pretend it isn’t there (so I don’t spend it!). A few years ago, when interest rates were better, this used to give me a about £150 a year in interest. The interest earned over the last year? £35. Rubbish! I’m considering firing myself right now.

This sounds like small fish to be frying (it is) but think of the logic. I wrote a post last week about saving money on bin liners by using carrier bags. I’m going to estimate that I would have spent £2 on binliners 6 times a year. So if I stick to my carrier bag plan for a whole year, I’d save £12. Now, interest rates are pretty crap at the moment, but say I’d been on the ball and moved my ISA elsewhere so I’d earned £80 in interest instead of £35. That would be £45 more than I’ve just received. I’d have to come up with another TWO cost cutting exercises like the bin bags just to save what I could have earned in interest. Am I making sense?

There is no point being exceptionally budget conscious and thrifty if I don’t back it up with good money management. And vice versa, I’m sure. So. I’m going to be getting my business head on and sorting things out!

Categories: Budgeting, Home Economics, Money Management | 5 Comments

My new financial priorities

This road sign cracked me up when I saw it the other day – it seemed pretty apt for times of change. It doesn’t exactly fit my situation; my priorities are more or less the same but I have got to adjust and refocus my spending and saving priorities.

Anyone who has read my older posts will know that I saved up for ages to have a big cushion for my maternity leave. The maternity allowance wasn’t anything like enough for us to get by on while I was on maternity leave. My savings allowed me to pay my usual amount into the joint account (where all of our main payments come from) and have a realistic amount of spending money left over. I actually spent a lot less than I originally anticipated and, while things have been very tight for the last three months, this meant I had enough left in my funds to extend my maternity leave to a full year. It was worth it. I transfered the last of the fund into the joint account this weekend, right down to the last pound. The rest of my savings are in ISAs and aren’t that easy to access (just as well). I currently have £2.95 in my wallet plus the contents of my piggy bank where I’ve collected 20ps. The next few weeks until my first pay day are going to be interesting!

Once I get paid (and find out what my take home pay is) I’ll be able to set a budget. I already know, however, that it is going to be tight. I’m more determined than ever to save as much as I can. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how ‘bad’ it is to want to accumulate money. Here’s what I think though. If I want to go on holiday with my family, see new places, experience new things, then I need money. Not a lot maybe, but more than £2.95. If we want a house (instead of an apartment) with a garden then we need more money. If we want to not panic about our jobs or lay awake worrying about how to pay a house/car repair bill then we need financial back up. Money for it’s own sake isn’t what I’m interested in. But, as I see it, savings can give you the freedom to do a lot of things. Change jobs, visit new places, move house, have peace of mind – whatever it might be.

I’m not going to be able to save as much as I’d like so I’m really going to have to work it. The time has come to pull out every shoestring trick I’ve learned over the last couple of years. Game on…

Categories: Budgeting, Getting organised | 13 Comments

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