Frugal ideas

Decorative recycling

I can’t remember if I’ve ever blogged about two of my very favourite pendants before…

20.03.13 018

I bought the one on the left from Etsy about 4 years ago. It wasn’t very expensive and neither was the postage considering that it came all the way from the US. It is a recycled games tile with a vintage stamp lacquered on to the front. I’ve seen similar things since (though not as pretty as mine) but when I bought it it was completely unlike anything ‘out there’. The other pendant is also from the US funnily enough. A very lovely American friend of mine bought it for me at a craft fair. It is made from a piece of broken china. I’ve worn both of these in the last week in a further effort to make good use of everything I have.

My favourite plate got broken at the weekend. I confess to being really quite gutted about it. I had hankered after it for a long time and eventually bought it. It was a ridiculous amount to spend on one plate (£14.95 from Emma Bridgewater) but – do you know – I enjoyed that plate every single time I used it. It is – was -part of my daughters home landscape – ‘Mummy’s chicken plate’. I’ve kept the pieces with a vague hope that I might be able to team it with some other broken ceramics and fashion one of those plant pots that you used to see all the time. I can’t let go!

Husband offered to buy me a new one (he was the one wot done it) but the design has been discontinued. The only place I could find one was ebay and that was £29.95. I’d never dare use a plate that cost £30! Boo. I really, really loved the pattern.  Would a replacement be the same? Or should I/Husband splash out and get another ‘special’ plate in a totally different design? And why should I need a special flippin’ plate anyway? I;ve got perfectly good tea plates. Hmmm. I’ll let you know if I come to any conclusions!

Broken crockery aside, my daughter and I are still struck down with the lurgie. It’s been here for two weeks and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. I would really like to be able to say the letter ‘m’ again. I miss it.  I had to make arrangements over the phone at work today for things taking place in May. Except no-one knew what I was on about as even I could tell that ‘Id Bay, id BAY!!’ sounds very little like ‘In May’. Grrrr.

Categories: Frugal ideas, Make do | Leave a comment

The shape of things to come

Rencently I’ve posted about how I’ve been reconsidering what it means (for me) to be frugal, having an ongoing feeling of blahness and generally feeling a bit underwhelmed. I’ve come to a few conclusions and resolutions which, in no particular order, look a bit like this:

  • Spending on non-essentials: There is a balance to be found between spending and saving. While I don’t need a walk-in wardrobe full of new things to wear I also do not like things that look worn-out and scruffy. It is perfectly okay to buy new clothes, shoes or whatever providing that I save more than I spend each month. I know I keep saying this but I somehow need to make it ‘stick’ in my head! Enough with the spending guilt.
  • Weight: I still want to lose some more. I am currently 9/10 pounds off where I was pre-pregnancy. I keep thinking that if it doesn’t disappear by ‘x’ then I’ll give up. The trouble is I can’t give up. I loathe it. I’d settle for losing another half stone (7 pounds). But this should really come under…
  • Food: I’ve blogged about experimenting with cheaper foods in recent months. The outcome is actually that I’m not always comfortable with these options. Cheap meat, for instance, is generally only cheap because it has been imported from somewhere with very low standards for animal welfare. I’m not okay with this and am going to be taking a much more pro-active approach by trying to find outlets for locally (and ethically) reared meat. And, in general, I am going to be trying to make much, much healthier choices which ultimately ought to sort out the weight issues.

Also rumbling around in my head:

  • Moving house and domestic chores: No point looking at this until Spring now. Am going to forget trying to do any more things to the house until after Christmas (or unless I get really, really excited about something) so I am free to concentrate on the list above and, more importantly, my family. Ditto any decluttering projects and spring cleans. I am just going to keep things reasonably clean and tidy and wait until spring actually is here!
  • Autumn/winter plans: I love this part of the year. Reading books on dark, windy evenings. Eating comforting stews while listening to the rain. Good films. Preparing for Christmas. I hate the weather after Christmas but love the weather on the run-up! Also, I need to make more of an effort to see some of my friends who don’t live on my doorstep. I keep waiting for a time when I don’t feel so tired and rushed but who am I kidding? I’m a working parent. Tired and rushed are in the job description! I also want to have a crack at a couple of crafty projects too.
  • Financial planning: Can you believe I still have no idea what my take home pay is?! That’s right, after 5 months HM Revenue & Customs have buggered about so much that I have been paid something different each and every month. Oh well. I’d like to refine what I’m doing at the moment so I’ve got a clear plan and can set things up so they tick along without me having to think about it all the time.  

So that is it! This is the shape of things to come over the next few months…

Categories: Frugal ideas, Getting organised | 3 Comments

To spend or not to spend

I’ve been a bit quiet here. Partly because we’ve been away but also because I’ve had a period of mulling things over again. I seem to go through frequent cycles of contemplation about the whole money/frugality thing which, by writing this blog, I end up thinking about perhaps too much. Sometimes I think it makes me overly focused in a way that is not good and then I have to step back from it a little bit so I can try to remember what I am trying to do.

This particular episode has been brought on my having bought some clothes and then having a slight guilt attack about it. I mean, how can I write about being on a budget etc etc when I’ve bought clothes? I already have clothes – there was no danger of me having to go naked! And yet I bought some and ended up questioning everything again; what should I spend money on? What shouldn’t I spend it on? What are the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ things to spend it on? Should I even spend a single penny? Does the purchase of non-essentials make me extravagant? Why am I even thinking in these terms? While I was having a ponder along these lines I had a look in the dictionary and this is what I found:

Thrifty: showing careful management, esp of money

Frugal: economical in the expenditure of resources

Economicaladj 1. thrifty. 2. efficient; not wasting money, fuel, etc.

And then I realised I am doing just fine. I live within my means and even though I don’t earn a lot I still manage to save. Everything gets paid for. I’m careful not to waste food, fuel and energy. Everyone’s definition of ‘wasting money’ is going to be different. But there is no point in worrying about anyone else’s definition of what is a waste of money. If you start thinking in those terms you are doomed – you wouldn’t have holidays, you wouldn’t go out, you wouldn’t have pets, you wouldn’t even have a framed picture hanging on the wall. I guess I just needed a reminder that my way of going about it is the only way for me!

Categories: Frugal ideas | 4 Comments

Mini jars and movies

I pinched this teeny jam jar when we were out having a cream tea a few months ago. It is the perfect size to fill up with salad dressing and take to work in my packed lunch box.

You can’t really tell from the photo but this jar is smaller than the usual little jars and I took a real shine to it! I thought I might as well take it home and re-use it rather than let it go in the bin.

You might remember that I downgraded my package from Lovefilm a while back, saving £5 a month. At the time there weren’t many films out that we really wanted to watch so it seemed like 4 discs a month would be enough.  It turned out they weren’t! Almost straightaway I missed being able to order any old film I felt like once I remembered that they were rationed (for the extra £5 we can rent an unlimited number of films). I realised how much I liked being able to watch lots of different films and the really good TV series and that when I heard about a new film coming out, knowing I’d be able to watch it as soon as it came out on DVD. It also never seems a ‘waste’ to rent an older DVD. Last week I was in the library and spotted The Ruby In The Smoke which was adapted from the Sally Lockheart series by Philip Pullman. I loved this series of four books and had been wanting to see the two that got made into films. I really enjoyed the DVD and my first thought was to add the next one to my LoveFilm list. My second thought was the realisation that I already had quite a few DVDs on the list and so I might not get to see it for a couple of months! I can afford the extra £5 a month so I went ahead and changed back to my original package where we can have unlimted DVDs and two discs at home at any one time. Long, cold, dark evenings are not so far away and it is good to know we’ll have a bit of entertainment lined up!

When you are living on a tight budget you do end up questioning every penny. However, sometimes it is worth loosening the purse strings, particularly when you can get such a lot out of a little bit of cash!

Categories: Frugal ideas, Make do, Shoestring Fun | 5 Comments

Greetings (for 83p!)

The other day I picked up this brilliant pack of cards:

I found them for £5 when I was in Waitrose looking for posh chocolates to give as a birthday present. Even though I’m not short on birthday cards at the moment there will always be more birthdays and I thought they were gorgeous. There are 6 cards in the pack so they work out to be 83p per card – waaaaay cheaper than anything you’d find in most shops when buying individually. I love this letterpress style and have seen similar cards sold individually for much more in Paperchase. Good buy!!

My birthday card box had a sudden influx last month as we abandoned a project for our hallway. I was going to paint some old frames and pop greetings cards inside them (much cheaper than buying prints) but we’ve decided against it. Plus I found an original watercolour painting in a second hand shop for £8 that will fill the space instead. I’d already bought the cards but they won’t go to waste – they’re in my card box ready to go!

Categories: Frugal ideas | 3 Comments

A budget bookworm

You might remember that I’ve been trying to keep track of which books I’ve read so far this year. I only remembered to record one for June though I’m sure I read at least 5. However, other than that glitch I’ve kept up with my little record pretty well. It seems I’ve read over 60 books so far this year, more than 50 of which have been new (ie not re-reads) which I’m pretty impressed by as it can be so hard to find good, ‘new’ books and authors! If you are a voracious reader like me you might encounter the same problems – namely if you read a lot of books fast it can a) get expensive and b) get difficult to find new stuff to read that you actually like. Here’s how I’ve managed so far this year:

  • Using my local library and seeing what they’ve got in stock. Also…
  • Ordering books through the library instead of buying them. It costs 50p to order a title online and £1 if you go in and ask them to do it for you.
  • I’ve bought second hand books from car boot sales, charity shops, second hand bookshops and via Amazon for much less than the cover price
  • A friend recommended that I sign up to Goodreads . I haven’t actually used their website (which is pretty amazing) but I pour over the newsletter they email me each month. It keeps me up to date with what is coming out and I’ve read loads of books that I wouldn’t have know about otherwise.
  • Use the features on Amazon – everything from their recommendations, to other readers ‘Listmania’ lists and the stats on what other customers have bought who have viewed the same items as you.
  • I keep a list in my filofax (which goes everywhere with me) for when I hear about books or authors I want to check out. Once or twice a month I go and place an order at the library or see what is available for 1p plus P&P on Amazon.
  • I’ve said it before but I do buy new if one of my favourite authors releases a book. I want to make sure the publishers know they should keep publishing them!

It struck me that I should do a top ten list out of the books I’ve read so far this year but as soon as I thought about it I realised how hard it would be. However, I’m going to give it a go, so – in no particular order:

  1. Becoming Queen, Kate Williams
  2. The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly
  3. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Schaffer
  4. Room, Emma Donoghue
  5. Daphne, Justine Picardie
  6. Remarkable Creatures, Tracey Chevalier
  7. The Empress of Ice-cream, Anthony Capella
  8. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
  9. Madame Tussaude, Michelle Moran
  10. My Last Duchess, Daisy Goodwin

Special mentions must go to The Postmistress, The Passage, The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly and also Jodi Piccoult. My favourite re-reads have been Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling and Marianne by Monica Dickens.

What are the best books you’ve read this year?

Categories: Book love, Frugal ideas | 3 Comments

Where do you buy clothes?

I’ve blogged about this before but I still often find myself wondering where I ought to be buying clothes from. There are a lot of ethical issues involved in the manufacturing of the clothes that hit our high streets but where do you buy if you can’t afford boutiques and bespoke? Most high street shops seem to have a set of policies in place regarding the conditions and pay of workers but do they ever actually check that the factories are adhering to the agreement? I know there is a great argument for shopping in charity shops but does the fact that the item has been recycled (which is great) make up for the fact it was made under who knows what kind of conditions? Just because it is from a charity shop doesn’t mean that it wasn’t made in a sweat shop. I really don’t know who to believe when it comes to ethical trading. I’ve noticed quite a few shops selling ethical lines but, to me, all this does is highlight the fact that the rest of the stock must be unethically (is this a word?!) produced! A few years ago it wasn’t too hard to get a bit of guidance online as to who to support and who to avoid on the high street. Now it seems that every store has some sort of policy in place regarding the working conditions, pay etc of the workers in the factories where the clothes are produced. But how are we supposed to know how much of it can be believed? Or has there really been a massive shift due to consumer demand (I’d love to think this was the case but I think it is unlikely somehow).

It has left me more confused than ever as to where to shop. At the moment, and I know this is probably wrong, but once I’m on the shopping on the high street, I’ll shop almost anywhere because I tend to think that most of them are as good/bad as each other. I avoided Primark for a couple of years but then I read a recent article about their improved standards and policies so I’ve been back. A month ago I bought a cardigan for £12 (which looks like it cost 3 times that) and a few other bits and peices, including some much needed underwear! I can afford Primark – it fits very nicely within my budget. But should I shop there? A lot of people ask how Primark and similar shops can sell stock for so little. Is it because they are ‘dodgy’ or because they profit from high turnover? Are other shops just buying it in at the same price but putting a higher mark up on the prices? I don’t know. Do you?!

PS I do look in my local charity shops. A couple of months ago I found a Per Una jumper in my size – it is the first thing I have found in years that I would actually want to wear. I am very jealous when I hear other bloggers talking about the amazing and cheap things they can get in chairty shops. In my neck of the woods the charity shops mostly sell books ashtrays and clothes for the 80+. I’d never be able to put my entire wardrobe together from them…

Categories: Budget beauty, Frugal ideas | 9 Comments

Ebay for beginners

Long term readers will know I’ve had some hardcore decluttering sessions over the last couple of years, getting rid of everything from clothes to mountains of out of date paperwork. While this is all good there have been odd moments where I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t have tried to sell some of it. Most of the things I’ve got rid of (that weren’t total rubbish!) have been donated to charity shops which I’m more than happy with. However, I’ve kept back a few things that I thought might sell on ebay. Without, er, actually getting around to reactivating my ebay account and getting on with it. The trouble is, I’ve forgotten how the whole system works – what sells, how to present it, when is best to list things and so on. Caroline from What’s Happening At My House has always impressed me with her dedication in heading out to local car boot sales nearly every Sunday morning and actually getting things listed on ebay on a regular basis (unlike me – the lazy, hoarding type)! She has kindly agreed to do the first ever guest post here on Shoestring Alley on how to get started. Over to Caroline…

Hello – I’m Caroline.

I’ve been reading and enjoying Shoestring Alley ever since Shoestring began writing it, and she has asked me to write a post about selling on eBay.

Whilst I don’t consider myself any sort of expert on the subject, and am still learning all the time, I have been selling on Ebay for almost ten years now, and have grown my business over the years to make a good, regular part-time salary from it.

So, without further ado, here are my top ten hints and tips for selling on eBay, aimed particularly at those who are new to it.

1. RESEARCH – you can see how much similar items have sold for in the recent past by ticking the ‘completed items’ box in the Advanced Search feature. Also useful to see which category is best to list in.

2. DESCRIPTION – be as honest as you can in your description. If the item has any faults or is well-used, say so. Try to keep the written description factual and concise.

3. PHOTOGRAPHS – as the old saying goes, a picture paints 1,000 words. Good quality photos are the key to getting a good price. Generally speaking, the more photos, the better (although in some categories, eBay charge extra for more than one photo).

4. TITLE – Remember that people will find your item by searching on certain words. An item title that reads “DRESS SIZE 12” will therefore get far fewer hits than the title “BLUE LONG SLEEVE SILK WALLIS DRESS, SZ 12, BNWOT”.

5. START/END TIME – Everybody has their own ideas about this, but personally I’ve found the best end times for auctions are Sunday early evening and Mon/Tue/Wed between 7 and 8.30 pm.

6. STARTING PRICE – As a rule of thumb, I like to keep my starting price as low as possible, which I have found encourages more bids and interest. I start many items at 99 pence (which also means free listing).

7. OVERSEAS – For many years, I didn’t send items overseas, but after a friend had some success I tried it, and about 5% of what I sell now goes abroad. Touch wood, I’ve had very few problems with postage – only one item has gone missing in the last 12 months. Do make sure that the Royal Mail will pay out if the item is lost, though – I found out the hard way that perfume is not insured overseas.

8. FEES – remember to take into account eBay and Paypal fees – they are often higher than you anticipate.

9. POSTAGE – weigh the item, and work out roughly what it will cost to post with packaging added. Do not be tempted to overcharge for postage, although adding a small amount to the actual postage cost to cover peripherals is acceptable.

10. COMMUNICATION – probably the most important tip I’m going to give you. Always communicate with your buyer. Answer any questions promptly, thank them for their purchase, post their item as soon as humanly possible after they’ve paid for it, and let them know you’ve done so. In the rare event that there are any problems, communicate politely and promptly.

Thanks Caroline! Now it’s just down to me to get some things listed…!

Categories: Decluttering, Frugal ideas | 2 Comments

Running it like a business: Making plans for the future

I always shudder when I hear people talk about five year plans. I’m not sure if it is because the idea of having everything laid about before me like a straight road with no mystery or surprise makes me want to give up before I start or whether it seems like such an obvious way of setting yourself up to fail (or take the wrong course because you are ‘sticking to the plan’).

That said…

If you’re running a business you’ve got to look to the future. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m going to be really annoying and say that I can’t blog about one aspect of this. Surfice it to say that I have been doing a lot of thinking about my current earnings and the potential for the future. And how, without turning into a money grabbing monster, I ultimately want to be able to get more for the time that I am effectively ‘selling’. There are no immediate plans for changes but I do have a sort of action plan (in the vaguest sense of the word) and some steps that I can take, nice and slowly without compromising my time with Baby. I know it is annoying when anonymous bloggers allude to things that they aren’t blogging about. the only reason I mention it at all is to say that I do have a plan – I’ll post more as time goes on! Also a plan, possibly, for potential second income. I need to brush up on some things first though (the earliest I’d look into this would be next year) so I’m going to spend the rest of the year trying to sharpen up my tired and confused old brain!

I also need to look at the whole house sale thing again. The amount we can borrow has been seriously curtailed by my drop in wages. We might only be able to raise a 5 figure number and we need to go up from a 2 bed flat to a 3 bed house – eek! There are only two things we can do about this. 1: Save money towards a deposit (on it!). 2: Get more for our flat.

I must admit that I’ve been ignoring the list of home improvements left to be done (imagine, if you will, me sat at home with my eyes screwed shut, fingers in my ears shouting ‘la la la’). I think we have missed the boat for 2011. What can I say? We’ve had a baby and have just made the transition of me going back to work. It looks like we’ll have to stay until next spring. Which, in one sense is good as it gives us more chance to save and also more time to do things that might make our place more desirable. For example, our bedroom carpet is looking truly awful. I was hoping we were going to get away with not replacing it but we’ve been here too long – it needs to go. As does the carpet on the stairs leading up from the hall. A lot of things are beginning to look very shabby. I’ve never managed to make the very peculiar mantlepiece in our bedroom ‘work’. It needs to be dressed properly. In fact the whole place needs to be polished up somehow. I’ve been trying not to spend any more money on the place but perhaps this isn’t the right approach. We need to sell and we need to get as much as we can for it so maybe spending a bit more £ wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. In addition to the front door (which we already have the money saved for) I think it would take less than £1000 to make some improvements that would make a big difference. I’ll blog on this as we go along!

And that’s it. Thinking about my future as an earner and trying solve our immediate problems are as close to a five year plan as I’m prepared to go!

Categories: Frugal ideas, Goals, home improvements | 4 Comments

What spurs you on?

If you are into the thrifty/frugal living movement – what is it that spurs you on? What makes you keep going when it seems really tough or you feel like you just can’t be bothered?

I get like this from time to time. It’s hard, always thinking about where every penny is going (or coming from!) or always checking you’ve used up every last thing in the fridge when it would be much easier, on those particularly exhausting days, to just get take-out. I don’t get it right all the time but I find I am at my best when I’ve got a really clear idea of what I’m working toward or, unfortunately, if things seem really bad.

The biggest amount I ever saved (and then spent most of – by design) was my maternity leave fund. I saved up enough money to top up my maternity pay and to buy baby/maternity related things in advance. It was really, really easy to go without things to achieve this because I really, really wanted a baby! At the moment, the thing spurring me on is feeling a bit worried by things. What if something happened to my job? What if something happened to Husband’s job? What if we can’t sell our house for enough to be able to put down a big enough deposit (and thus can’t buy anything at all?). What if I want to retrain? What if I go completely insane if I never see another country again?! And so on. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t sit around being morbid and negative all day. But these are the things that tend to play on my mind when I feel a bit worried. Thus when when of them pops into my head I find it easy to turn it into a reason to go and make dinner out of random things in the fridge and cupboards. If I’m worried about the future I find it easy to spend a bit of time online to check what we’re paying out for things and find a way to cut the cost. At the moment, rather than being an annoyance, these types of activity are actually giving me peace of mind. I’m doing all I can do and when I think of, or hear about, a new idea I do that too.

I have to say my motivation has been riding high the last few weeks. I’ve got that ‘Come on – let’s do it!’ frame of mind about spending less and saving money. I hope I can keep up my momentum. Things that keep me going include: keeping my eyes on the prize (all of the things we’d like to do, like buy a house), reading other blogs about people being inventive, clever and optimistic in thier thrifty lifestyles, also reading blogs about financial management and re-reading my small collection of books on personal finance and frugality.

There’s a lot less in the press regarding the economic doom and gloom these days. However, we are far from being out of the woods. I see evidence of the mess we’re in every day; cuts to child tax credits, increased food prices, empty shop fronts, subtle layers of cutbacks and redundancies (not the ‘mass’ redundancies of a year or two ago but the odd position lost here, a few hours cut there and so on). It seems to have less impact because it is old news. But I don’t see that things are going to get better any time soon – the road to economic recovery is going to take years as far as I can see. And it worries me. I’m not exactly losing sleep over it but I’m not comfortable either.

Looking back over this post, it does seem a bit negative. It isn’t meant to be. It’s just the reality of where we’re at, at the moment. For us here in the Shoestring household things are okay – nothing specific to worry about as far as we know – but we haven’t got a huge amount of back-up if some kind of financial disaster struck. And so that’s what is spurring me on at the moment. That and all of the things we’d like to do in the future that don’t come for free.

What about you – what spurs you on with thrifty living?

Categories: Frugal ideas, Home Economics, Money Management, Saving | 5 Comments

Create a free website or blog at