Home Economics

Challenge & partying neighbours update

Firstly, thank you to the lovely folk who left me messages following my midnight rant. They dispersed not long after doing a few rounds of the YMCA and all was quiet by about 12.30am. At precisely the moment my Husband started snoring. At 1.15am I asked if he’d mind going and sleeping on the sofa. I’ve got a tricky relationship with sleep. If I miss my ‘window’ I find it really hard to get to sleep and I missed so many windows last night that I was still checking my watch just after 2.30am. Not sure when I fell asleep but Baby woke up bang on 6am and not long after it was time to get up properly and get ready to go to work. Gah! I am seriously considering following Kat’s suggestion (see comments on last post) if it happens again! Speaking of, there is music blasting out from somewhere right now. On our road this is very, very unusual. Anyway. I was so tired after last night that when I woke up a huge coldsore had popped up. Thanks very much. Now I have to go and buy Compeed patches and get a repeat prescription for my Aciclovir tablets. So their party not only cost me a nights sleep but I also get to have a coldsore for at least a week and I get to pay out about £15 to take care of it. Grrrreat!

Moaning over. So how have we got on with the 7 week chellenge? Hmmm. Here we go:

House and Getting Organised

  • Cleared out a section of the sideboard so I could use it for my bits and bobs that usually go on my sidetable
  • Found a new home for my sidetable (really sad to see it go but we just don’t have room for it and have nowhere to store it while we wait to move)
  • Put together the nest of tables (which will be going in the spot previously occupied by my sidetable and also replaces the coffee table – all of this is to make space, which it has done very effectively)
  • Lowered Baby’s cot. Sadly, this has meant we’ve lost just ahout all of the storage space underneath. I’ve managed to sort out part of a cupboard to house some of it but the rest will have to wait until later in the week)
  • Finished my ‘picture’ for the bedroom (more on this another time) and hung it
  • Got a quote from AA to replace the RAC membership but we’ve had to spend out so much on house and car stuff this month that it is now going to have to wait until we come back from holiday

Diet

  • Hilariously bad results. I am rebelling against myself. The more I try to diet, the more cake I eat. I ate 6 doughnuts on Friday (this is not a joke). Through trying to diet I have put on 5 pounds. I give up. Whatever, whatever, whatever! I’m not blogging about this again for a long time!!

I hope you are all having a good week and some good sleep!

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Categories: Home Economics, Ramblings | 1 Comment

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

Business plan: Outgoings (& a bit about hot chocolate)

I really love Tesco’s own-brand Hot Chocolate. It isn’t a low fat version or anything like that but I do find that it is satisfying enough to stop me from running out to the shop and buying chocolate when the craving strikes (so cheaper than buying chocolate and surely less calories than a dessert?!). It is only £1.45 for a jar and it lasts me ages.

Anyway, on to business. The next stage of running my personal and home finances like a business has been looking at our outgoings. There are quite a few elements to this so I decided to start by looking at all of the direct debits and standing orders on our joint account (which pays for all of our household bills). It turns out we’re doing pretty well. The fixed rate on our mortgage finished last year and out mortgage payment actually dropped because interest rates are so rubbish. Since we’re hoping to move at some point (though it feels like it is never, ever going to happen) and the monthly payment is lower than it has been in years there is no point chasing another deal (particularly as they like to add on ‘administration’ charges just for taking out mortgages these days). Most of our other bills seem to be at good rates too. I couldn’t find a comparable phone package with anyone else (we pay £24.99 a month for our line rental, unlimited broadband and free landline calls at any time of day. They give us a discount on calls abroad and we try to use the free minutes on our mobiles to call other mobiles to not add to the phone bill). However, there are a couple of things that can be improved. The first is our gas and electric bill. I know this really needs to be looked at properly so I’m going to deal with this another day when I can give it my full attention. That leaves our RAC cover.

Husband took the cover out six years ago. I’d argue that we don’t really need it but Husband wants us to keep it up, particularly now we have Baby. Fair enough. Our payments have recently increased to just over £10 a month. Having looked at both RAC and AA websites this is far too much. I contacted RAC to see if they could reduce our payments to the amount shown on their website. A very sarcastic ‘customer services’ lady told me that ‘everyone knows’ companies offer better deals to new customers and if we felt that as ‘loyal’ customers we should be given a better rate we should have brought it up when the policy was automatically renewed. Apparently it can’t be changed until the next time the policy is up for renewal. Clearly in these tough times RAC can afford to lose customers. AA are offering cover for a year for around £62. It can be paid monthly but it works out to be about £1 more a month. I’m going to see if we can scurry up the cash to pay it in one go and take advantage of the saving. This would take it to the equivalent of just over £5 a month – half what we are paying now for exactly the same thing! As soon as I can confirm there are no penalties for cancelling the RAC policy (and that we’ve got the £62 for the new one) I’m making the switch. And that’s about it. Until I face up to trying to figure out how to compare energy tariffs that is…

Have you saved money by switching companies recently?

Categories: Home Economics, Money Management | 2 Comments

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

Eating crumbs (in a good way!)

A few days ago Husband bought a loaf of fresh bread which we didn’t manage to finish. What was left went dry pretty quickly so I got out the food processor, whizzed it up and made breadcrumbs. I put a third of them in the freezer. To the remaining crumbs I added cheese, oats and herbs which I used to make a savoury crumble, based loosely on a great recipe over at Frugal Queen (see my blogroll for the link). I only needed half of the savoury crumble mixture so I froze the rest. I made two crumbles, had one for dinner and put the other in the freezer.

I’ve been pretty good at getting homemade stuff in the freezer over the last week or so. This should be handy for the days I’m in the office and don’t want to have to come home and cook. Minimal effort and minimal washing up are the order of the day!

I think I mentioned the other day that I’m trying to use up a lot of what we have in the cupboard – firstly to hold of spending any more than I have and, secondly, so I can sort of start over with my storecupboard. Anyway, I found a small tin of sweetcorn that needed to be used by this month. I get into this ridiculous mindset of keeping things ‘just in case’ when I really I should be using them. I mixed the tin of sweetcorn with some tuna and mayo. Husband and Baby have had this in their sandwiches for lunch today and I am having it with salad. Glad I found it in time!

Categories: Frugal food, Home Economics | 2 Comments

A load of rubbish: saving a few pennies

I’m trying not too throw too much away. Firstly, and obviously, because it is wasteful but also because it costs money in binliners! We live in an area where we have three bins. Once a week the council collect compostable recycling and also glass, plastic and paper recycling. The special compostable bags for food waste (egg shells, tea bags, peelings – preferably not unused food!) are really expensive and work out to be about 10p for one small bag. I have a roll left but, once that is used up, I have decided to go for the free option – wrap it up in newspaper for free. There are plenty of free newspapers about so I’ll be able to reduce this cost to zero. The glass, plastic and paper recycling costs nothing although, annoyingly, they don’t recycle cardboard (why?!).

Other rubbish is taken away every fortnight. This can make things difficult (particularly if you’re a keen declutterer like me) as the bin we have to use is actually quite small and we only have two to share between several flats. A while ago I posted that we had bought a new, much smaller kitchen bin to save space. After I bought it I went to buy some bin liners of the right size and realised that the price of the liners was much the same as the large ones we’d used before but, due to the size, would need to be changed more often. Bugger. So I’d actually have to spend more on bin liners than before…

We’ve always saved and re-used carrier bags. I usually take two large bags when I go shopping and then use carrier bags for whatever is left. I realised that I could use carrier bags as bin liners in our new kitchen bin. It means that we only get to use about half the capacity of the bin at a time, but hey. It’s free! We already used carrier bags as bin liners upstairs – now we’re using them everywhere. I’m still using my reusable bags for most of the shopping as we have plenty of carrier bags ready and waiting. Incidentally, I also use carrier bags to sort my washing. I know that a full carrier bag is about the right amount for a single load in my washing machine. My laundry basket is full of carrier bags of laundry waiting to be done (this means I can sort it into different ‘washes’). Once a bag is full, that load goes into the washing machine.

So, my ‘rubbish’ plan to save a few pennies is:

  • Use up the compostable bags and then switch to free newspaper to wrap it up instead
  • Use free supermarket carrier bags as bin liners
Categories: Frugal ideas, Home Economics | 4 Comments

Day 1 of the 17 day challenge

Why 17 days? Because that will take me up to the day before the long Bank Holiday weekend, after which I will be – gulp – going back to work. There’s a lot of stuff I need to get done before I head back, some of which is quite hard to define but here’s an overview of what I’m going to be tackling:

  • House: I doubt very much the house will be ready to go on the market as early as planned. Boo. Even so, I’m going to get as much done as I can. I also need a bit of a sort out so things can run smoothly when I have even less time than I do now!
  • Clothes: I need to get suited, booted and work-ready. I had originally planned to pick up a few bits and pieces but funds are a bit tight so I need to sort through my old stuff and see what I can cobble together. I also needed to sort out my nails (fingers and toes) and my eyebrows. The beast of Bodmin look will have to go.
  • Routine: I think this will have to develop a bit more slowly but I’m going to have to adapt the way I’m doing things now. I’d like to still be able to give Baby her breakfast before I go to work so everyhting is going to have to happen a bit earlier and in a different order.
  • Finances: From next month I will have a regular income again. I won’t know what my take home pay will be until the middle of next month but I need to get everything in order and can finalise plans and budgets then.
  • Other stuff: There are other things that need to be done that don’t have a category of their own – a few presents that need to be bought, the car needs to be fixed, I need to speak to the plumber etc. They need to get sorted before I get back to work.
  • Diet: I want to shift as many of the last few pounds as I can. I went a little, er, off track during the last week (I blame Husband being at home. He buys treats).

I’m going to try to do at least one thing a day towards the above. And here’s my ‘thing’ for the day:

Since the majority of the painting has been done in the bathroom I have finally been able to put up the new shower curtain (excuse the crap photo – I’m having to use my camera phone these days). I’ve also started sorting through my collection of work shoes and have thrown three really tatty pairs away. Not a bad start! I’ll try and post every day for the whole 17 days so I’ll be back tomorrow…

Categories: Getting organised, Home Economics | 2 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

Plans for 2011: (Part 1) Home

I’ve been plotting away on my plans for 2011. It seems to be a varied collection of ideas – some big, some small, some specific plans and some vague intentions. I’ll try to do a post on each on the run up to New Years Eve! Today I’m kicking off with one of the big obvious ones…

You might remember that we spent the first few months of the year in a frenzy of home improvements. This was because a) we wanted to get things done before Baby arrived and b) we want to sell up and move on. It is going to be Spring before we know it and time to be on the market. I am dreading this. We tried to sell before but, sadly, it was right at the time when the news was full of plummeting house prices and economic uncertainty and it just didn’t happen for us. What did happen, however, was that loads and loads of people came to have a look. Without saying too much about where we live (being anonymous and all) our maisonette is in a really interesting, historic house and I think a lot of the viewings were people just wanting to have a nose around. I know this blog might make it seem like I am super tidy and organised all of the time but I’m really not. And I hated, HATED having to try and keep it in show-home condition all of the time. Hence my sense of dread. There are all sorts of reasons why is might not have sold (aside from the state of the market at the time) and we’ve done our best to address what we can. However, there is still a lot of work to be done and we’ve really got to get on with it. To that end, as I type, Husband has a paintbrush in hand. We have a massive under-stair-cupboard in our entrance hall that has been rammed full of crap for years. He has spent the last three days taking things to the tip, creating new walls and a kind of false door out of tongue and groove and a ceiling. He has also bought a very nice coat rack which will be going up sometime in the next week. This will look so, so much better than it did before. I’ll try and take a photo when he’s finished! At least that will be one job off the list…

Anyway, I am really hoping that 2011 is the year we get to move. It isn’t going to happen without some effort though, so the plan is:

    • Finish decluttering and reorganising every single room (so it looks good and so we don’t end up moving a load of crap with us when we eventually go) and a major cleaning operation

 

  • Making and executing a plan of final improvements (replacing the knackered, old front door is probably the most major thing I can think of)
  • Getting valuations and choosing the right estate agent
  • Finding out about mortgages; how much we can borrow, who is has the best deals and so on

I am planning to dedicate January to the first item on the list. Moving is probably the most important thing on my ‘to-do’ list for 2011 so I’ve really got to get on with it!

Categories: Goals, Home Economics | 2 Comments

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