Ooh – extra money!

I’ve finally got around to doing it – I’ve sold some things on eBay! I listed five items of clothing last week and every one of them has sold (the cheapest went for 99p plus P&P, the top seller went for £16!). I haven’t had all of my payments in yet, I haven’t paid the eBay fees and the first items won’t be posted until tomorrow. I always keep padded envelopes when I receive them and so I’ve got a good enough stash not to have to waste money on packaging, I’ll just have to pay for the postage. I reckon that after expenses I will have ended up clearing just under £30 for stuff that has been sitting in drawers for aeons. Yippee! I have already listed a few more items and need to do a spot of photographing tomorrow for a few other things I’ve had put to one side. It will be good to gain some space having made extra cash while I’m at it! I’m going to keep the money in my eBay account and use it for buying summer clothes. I’ve also spied something on eBay that could make a great present so it could be used for that too. I’m excited!

Categories: Getting organised, Saving | 2 Comments

Building it up by rounding it down

A little while ago I came across an interesting idea over at Frugal Queen. She said that when doing her banking she often transfered very small sums of cash, such as a few pennies or pounds at a time (thus rounding down the amount in some of her accounts), to help chip away at her debts. I’ve always liked the phrase ‘Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’. In this case, it seems particularly apt! 

I was doing a spot of internet banking earlier today and thought I’d have a look and see if I could manage to tuck a bit more into my savings account using the same principle. As I’ve said before, I have several savings accounts for everything from Car tax and MoTs to the House fund. You might remember that I started a new savings fund a few months ago in a new ISA at a pretty good (for the current climate) interest rate. On pay day I’ve been transferring my savings into a general savings account and then paying in to my ISA now and then. I don’t do it straight away because this is my only day-to-day emergency fund (I have a ‘proper’ emergency fund but it is in another ISA so it is for real emergencies only) and so I like to have easy access to £100 or so. Anyway, I paid some more into my ISA earlier this week taking my ISA balance to £300 (not a huge amount I know but I’ll get there!) and leaving £50 in my general savings account.

After having a tinker around with some of my other accounts and doing some ’rounding down’ here and there I managed to get just over £16 extra into this general savings account. I then decided I might as well use some more cash from my current account to take this up to the nice round figure of £70. It was a good exercise! Ultimately this £70 will end up in the ISA too but I like to have it where it is now ‘just in case’. Now the challenge is not to spend any of it before pay day when I’ll be able to save some more…

Categories: Money Management, Saving | 1 Comment

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

Saving for holidays

I am excited – we are going on our first ever family holiday! Yay! In a few months time we are having a long weekend in Cornwall and our friends and their little ones are coming too. It is going to be great. It is also going to be very shoestring friendly at around £85 per adult for 3 nights. We’ll just need petrol and spending money for while we’re there so it isn’t going to break the bank. It’s so nice to have something to look forward to.

Now I’m back in the land of earners I’ve been working out what small savings funds I should be starting in addition to my ‘main’ savings. I’ve always found it hard to save for holidays when I don’t actually have one booked. However, the reality now is that I can’t put back big chunks of cash quickly (ie over just a few months) so, if I want to have holidays (which I most definitely do!) then I’ve got to go with the slow and steady approach.

Ah, just looking at this photo from our last jaunt abroad makes me want to pack my bags and find my passport. In fact, I might print a copy of it out and stick it up somewhere to keep me motivated! We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to go abroad for a sunny holiday in about 18 months time. It sounds like we’ve got plenty of time to save up but I’ve really got to make a start on it now.

As of next pay day I’m going to try to put back £50 a month (or at least £40) to go in the holiday ‘pot’. Once we’ve had our weekend in Cornwall I’ll continue saving the same amount for the next trip away. If I manage to come under our £200 monthly food budget I’ll put the difference in the holiday fund too. Eyes on the prize, eyes on the prize, eyes on the prize…!

Categories: Money Management, Saving, Shoestring Fun | 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

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

The challenges of financial motivation

I’ve written several posts this year, contemplating the challenge of keeping focused on finances. This is something I find tricky because I’m not particularly motivated by money – weird statement from someone who writes a PF blog, I know. I suppose what I mean is that the idea of having money for the sake of it just doesn’t really do it for me. However, I am interested in saving because I’d like to buy a larger house eventually, I don’t want to be left financially stranded in an emergency and, let’s face it, very few people aren’t going to have to provide for themselves in the future. Therein lies the challenge. When the goals get bigger (buying a house, providing for retirement, creating a nest egg or whatever the goal may be) they sometimes seem so far off that it can be hard be motivated by them, particularly when you start running out of fresh ideas for how to scrape any more out of your budget.

After writing my last post (‘Is Frugal Still Fashionable?’) which touched on this subject, I went on to read a few of my favourite blogs. Move To Portugal provided links to some great posts out there in the PF blof ether and this post at Get Rich Slowly, ‘What to do when personal finance becomes a bore’, really struck a chord. It discusses how difficult it can be to stay motivated once debts are paid off and you’ve cut your expenses down as far as they can go. It goes on to point out that once you are down to your bare essentials there isn’t much more you can cut before having to think of ways to earn extra money if you want to be able to save more. This really resounded with me. Some readers might remember a post I wrote a while back (you can read it here) where I talked about the struggle I was having in working out my long term financial plans because I didn’t really know where to place myself as a saver/spender anymore. The post at Get Rich Slowly talks about making saving a game which is kind of what I was trying to do with Project £1k. The goal is arbitrary really – I’m just saving for the future but trying to motivate myself by having something to work towards.

The post really gave me a bit of food for thought as I don’t often consider how to make more money – I tend to just concentrate on how to spend less of it! I don’t know exactly where I’m going to go with this train of thought. Things are busy at the moment so I suppose I’ll just let it rattle around in the old grey matter for a bit until I hit upon an idea.

Categories: Frugal ideas, Saving | 8 Comments

Day 2: Looking after the pennies

Husband has a habit of scattering coins around the house. Its not something I do – they tend to stay safely in my wallet! I’m always picking them up and throwing them in a little box and, when its full, I put them in a jar that sits on the bookcase. Yesterday I sorted through them and now have all of the coppers in the jar, all of the 20 pences in one purse and all of the 5 and 10 pences in another purse. When the jar is full of coppers I’ll take them to the bank to be changed up. The purse of 5 and 10 pence pieces is now going to live in the glovebox to be used for car parking and the remaining ’20 pence’ purse is a purely random saving project I’ve started. I hate scrabbling for change to get a parking ticket (or worse still, having to drive away when I realise I don’t have any) so this should make things a bit easier!

It was another gorgeous, sunny day in my neck of the woods so Baby and I drove over to see everyone from my office and we all went out for lunch in a lovely little cafe that has a walled garden with chairs and tables dotted about the place. Later in the afternoon we went to a town nearby. I bought an ice-cream and then pushed the pram, containing a sleeping baby, along the seafront. I wonder if all the walking will counteract the ice-cream (and the fact that lunch was an egg and bacon bap washed down with a strawberry milkshake?!). I’m thinking yes. Total spend: £6.70.

Categories: Frugal ideas, Saving | Leave a comment

Project £1k

I guess the title of this post kinds of gives away where I’m going with this! Following my last post, I’ve been making a few plans. I’ve mentioned before that I’m at my best (from a financial point of view) when I’ve got a specific goal to work towards, whether that be wanting a holiday, needing to pay something off or save a particular amount. The goalposts change as life meanders on. This time last year I was working full time and earning a good wage so I could have saved £1000 in two months. Now I’m at home on maternity leave looking after my lovely baby (which is bloody brilliant by the way) and that obviously isn’t possible. Any long term readers (bless you for sticking with me through the disjointed ramblings of the past few months) will know that I saved a chunk of cash to get me through my maternity leave. I’ve been dithering because the money I saved is my monthly contribution to the joint account and that means making a savings plan is kind of tricky because, really, I’d just be not trying to spend what I’d saved rather than saving any ‘new’ income. This might not make any sense but I, at least, know what I mean! To keep things simple I have set up a standing order so the correct amount of money goes into the joint account once a month for the duration of my maternity leave – which was the purpose of saving these funds for in the first place. This means that I can ‘ignore’ this account and focus on what I can save from my maternity allowance. This is all exceptionally dull but I wanted to be clear about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.

I’m giving myself the goal of saving £1000. For now, I’m not giving myself a deadline for when I have to save it by – it’s just a figure to give me a bit of focus. I hope that, in the future, I’ll be able to extend this to £2k or £5k – perhaps I’ll even write a post one day titled ‘Project £50k’, who knows? My progress will probably go up and down a bit as I go along. If I need or want to spend some of it then, quite simply, I will. Over the next few months, various expenses will be coming up: my trusty leather Converse trainers have just started leaking (noooooo! Just when I’m getting used to pounding the streets with a pram instead of tottering around the office in heels), a relative from Australia is visiting for a week and we’ll be doing lots of outings, there’s the dreaded C-word (that’s Christmas by the way) and also a special piece of jewellery I’d like (more on that another time). So, while money will go into the ‘Project £1k’ fund, a bit will also be coming out here and there. The aim is to get the savings ball rolling again and to try and get into a slightly more inventive mindset.

Let the saving commence…

Categories: Money Management, Saving | 3 Comments

Starting to make long term financial plans

Over the last few months I’ve been contemplating my attitude towards money and comparing it to that of other people, some who I know in person and others whose blogs and books I’ve read since starting Shoestring Alley. Some people unashamedly want to be richer and others are trying to live on substantially less, sometimes downshifting to barely living on anything. I’m facinated by most people’s stories though I’m not really sure where I fit in.

The thing is this. I don’t believe money makes the world go round and I don’t want savings for the sake of having money in the bank. HOWEVER. Without adopting a very particular kind of frugal lifestyle I can’t seem to escape the fact that I need money to live the life I want. Based on this I’ve roughly realised that:

  • I don’t need to buy clothes all the time/regularly but I do like buying them sometimes. Sometimes a new top is just what the doctor ordered. I’m pretty good at sticking to occasional purchases these days. I also like buying accessories as they are cheaper updates than clothes though, again, these days I’m much better at sorting through what I’ve already got and rediscovering things. At the moment I’m happy with the balance I’ve got here: new things occasionally and only when I can afford to buy things without using any kind of credit.
  • I can’t pretend I don’t buy books because I do. Some people collect pottery or stamps or have pets or join gyms. Me – I collect books. Mostly they are second-hand and I do use the library a lot. Since I re-read books frequently and enjoy lending them to other people (and it’s a cheap hobby to be frank) I’m okay with my level of spending on this.
  • Going out: For lunch, dinner, to see a film, have drinks or whatever. There are loads of things you can do for free but I also like the things that cost a few pennies from time to time too!

The above vices are all fairly small ones and hardly excessive by most people’s standards. So far so good. But these are only small things really. I also like holidays. I like seeing new places and going abroad. We won’t be doing much holidaying in the next year or so but it is something I want to continue with in the future. And they don’t come free.

The major ‘want’ I have is a new home. Husband and I have lived in our flat/maisonette for ten years and it is really small, totally unsuitable for a toddler and just not the place I want to raise a family. It could easily be argued that we are very fortunate to have a roof over our heads and own (with a mortgage) our property when some others can’t afford to – this is all true. But then I’m not expecting a mansion (three bedrooms and a garden are about as ambitious as I get) nor am I asking anyone else to give it to me (though that would be nice). The money for this has got to come from somewhere. As has the money for my retirement. I might not have any debt but I don’t have a pension or any substantial savings either.

I’m about to start making a new plan so that I can:

  • Spend as much time as possible with Baby while also earning a wage (from next year)
  • Indulge occasionally in my small vices (clothes, books and so on)
  • Go out sometimes and have a holiday once a year
  • Have money put aside for the future (family stuff, emergencies and retirement)
  • Be able to have a larger home

Watch this space!

Categories: Budgeting, Money Management, Saving | 3 Comments

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