Tuesday, 31 January 2012

End of the month

We made it to the end of the month - hooray! I will have a proper round up of the finances tomorrow when I have had a look through them. I am very pleased (and the FH is extremely chuffed) that we have bought the car and are financially no worse off really, which is a major achievement for us.

The car is a pleasure to drive, goes really well, and I hope it will prove to be economical to run - the tax disc is cheaper, to start with, and the diesel should outperform petrol in the miles per gallon stakes.

The storecupboards are looking bare, though, and I will have to re-stock them over the next week or so - it is typical of me that I had those cupboards groaning before Christmas, absolutely full of food to get us through a tough winter, I believed, when the snow would lay thick on the ground and I would not have to traipse to the shops! The winter has been really mild, the stores have been depleted - and guess what? Those really cold days, with the chance of snow? They are coming this week!!

I am still trying to use stuff up, but the staples like rice, pasta, UHT milk, jam, etc are running out, and so the shopping list will have to go up on the board, and the trip to the shops made. But which shop? I'm not sure that I want to darken the door of Tesco again, but do I cut off my nose to spite my face, so to speak, by not taking advantage of the offers they have? Perhaps I should travel a few more miles and support Morrisons and check out their new M range...don't know yet. Will think about this one more - what do you think?

Hope you are all OK and warm in this chilly weather - we have the fire alight and it is warm and cosy in the sitting room. About to go and dive into a hot-water-bottle-warmed bed now.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The rules don't change

I have just been having a look through one of the issues of the Tightwad Gazette compendiums which I bought years ago - I have all three of them although I know that a bind-up is available as a single volume. The one I was looking at had been published back in 1995, about 17 years ago.

Amy Dacyczyn wrote a newsletter for six years on a monthly basis, whilst raising six children. She had a clear set of goals in mind, and the books are well worth reading (from the library, of course!). I found her books inspirational at the beginning of this journey to live well on little, and still have them all together on the bookshelf; they are invaluable for a boost now and again.

The thing which is so useful is that whilst there are plenty of tips, AD talks about the bigger picture. She is more of the "teach a man to fish and he can feed his family for a lifetime" school of thought, so the ideas are broad reaching and fundamental. The recipes are few and far between, for example, but the Master Muffin recipe is excellent. She puts together a guideline for how to balance a selection of ingredients in order to create your own muffin recipe, based on what you have in stock, what is cheap where you live, and what your family likes.

Watching an interview with AD here, made after she retired from the newsletter to concentrate on family life, she seems content and happy, her kids are older and some have left home, but she is still passionate that this is the best way to live.

Putting it at its most simple, I gleaned these rules from our earliest studies of her work, and these are the ones we still use:
  • Save money - save as much as you can, as often as you can!
  • Spend less than you have - set a budget and live within it - don't spend what you don't have.
  • Watch what you spend - record your spending, and keep track of what you are spending on what. Look for patterns, change the patterns if they are not good ones! Check for deals on everything, buy when sales are on!
  • If you can do it yourself, it will save you money - so we would grow vegetables when we can, not buy prepackaged vegetables and salads, no ready meals, no takeaways; we also decorate the house ourselves (although it tends not to be that often!). The FH and UJ also practise this principle in their gardening and DIY, saving screws from salvaged wood, recycling items for new purposes, etc. Making cakes and bakes from scratch is a given - I wouldn't buy a packet mix for a cake.
  • Combine to save - combine journeys so that each mile makes the most use of the petrol pound, so to speak. Do all the shopping, library and banking visits on the same day that you have to go to town for the piano lesson, for example, rather than going back on a separate occasion. Combine ownership with relatives - we have the use of a cement mixer, a set of draining rods, a holiday home, and a rotavator, even though we don't actually own any of them. Similarly, we would lend out anything that a friend or relative needed to borrow if we had what they needed. Combine uses - don't acquire gadgets which only do one thing! Multi purpose items are far more cost effective and useful.
  • Get creative - make things. Make gifts individual and special so that it doesn't matter that they are home made, they become hand-crafted! Don't pander to snooty relatives and friends who turn up their noses at such offerings. If home made jam is acceptable to HM The Queen, it is good enough for Aunty Joan...
  • Make your own rules and stick to them: Rules can vary between the price you are willing to pay for a family holiday, and how often, to your take on overnight school trips (they are a no for us - saves arguments and shocking prices for short trips). But it is key that they OUR rules and we are not swayed by either the media or so called friends trying to persuade us to do something we don't want to do. The girls know that we have a family rule that they do not go on school trips which involve overnight stays - so they have not been to a gallery trip to Liverpool, on a New York half term trip, on a battlefields trip, etc. We have done galleries in Cambridge instead, and she didn't study History at GCSE so the battlefields wasn't missed, and New York? Well, New York will still be there when they are old enough to decide for themselves. And that rule is not entirely financially motivated.
  • Don't automatically buy it new. Look for a bargain. When we lived in a town and walked everywhere, I was always popping into the myriad charity shops that were everywhere! I dressed the girls, myself and the FH mostly in charity shop finds, as well as buying other bits and pieces like duvet covers, bedspreads, books, jigsaws, etc. The FH has a pair of Church's shoes worth over £200 which set him back about £4 from a charity shop. Those were the days. Now we live so far from town that when we go to town, we are usually armed with a list of things to do already that there is no time to potter around the half dozen charity shops. That sort of thing is best done several times a week, I found, popping in on the off-chance to see what had come in. That doesn't work for us now, so our charity shop finds are fewer, although I love a good browse when we are on holiday. Our shopping strategy has changed somewhat: I now keep a mental list of who needs what, and I watch online sales closely. When Hawkshead announce a sale, I know that perhaps the EFG needs a new fleece, and I look to see what might be on offer; I remember that Asda's George trousers fit the YFG well, so we notice when they have a sale on and pick up a pair on offer. Shoes are our biggest problem with their wide feet and I am still working on an effective strategy for those, until we move the beach somewhere hot and they can go barefoot permanently!!
These strategies and rules have kept us in the black for the twenty years we have been together. I am fortunate in that I married another tightwad-type and not a spendthrift. Perhaps having a similar attitude and outlook on life has helped more than anything else, because it has meant continuous support and encouragement in the whole project all these years. If I had had to do it alone, and been fighting someone who wanted to spend as much as I am driven to save, I think it would have been impossible. Well, perhaps not impossible, but much much more difficult.

Do we live a miserable, small life, though, with no joy and not a scrap of fun? No. Not at all. We have holidays and days out, we go to the cinema (Tesco Clubcard vouchers), we buy DVDs and have technology (ipod and Kindle, laptops etc), we do gymnastics, the EFG is starting Hockey club this week, and none of us starve! We run two cars, live in a 4 bedroom house, and support too many chickens and half a dozen rabbits. There are other ways we could cut back but choose not to at the moment.

It is all about moderation, appropriate behaviour, and keeping it all in perspective. It is a challenge, a game, on one hand, but I do not in any way make light of the seriousness of the situations of people who have to do this to scrape from one week to the next. Part of me is saving like mad to keep a safety net in the pot so that I can avoid that situation when the time comes. The plans are in hand but things take time to happen and we can't see the future - we have to trust that we are doing our best for the people we care about and love.


A warm welcome to new visitors and friends - lovely to have you popping in!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I can do it!

There is no Council Tax to pay in February and March, so the £154 I would usually be paying out can go straight into the fund to put us back in the black! That's the £144 sorted already...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Savings success

Tomorrow we are going to pick up my new-to-us Skoda Fabia (a black 2005 version of the car above) and I have just been doing some calculations to see what its purchase has done to the family fortunes.

I sold the Vectra for £500 so that is in hand to go towards the Fabia. The Fabia is costing me £1500, so a balance of £1000 has been required to be found.

Today I went to the bank to withdraw that money, so that I can pay the owner the cash in the morning. Tonight, I have been looking at the figures, and have just given the FH the good news:

Due to all the savings, the challenges, the sales of the DVDs, the YouGov contribution and the scrimping I have done in January, although I have just withdrawn £1000 from the bank, we are only actually £144 worse off than we were at the beginning of the month.


I am fairly sure I can recoup that in February....watch this space!

Catching up

Life gets in the way of blogging, occasionally! Sorry to have kept you hanging on...

The confessions? Well, last weekend I went to Tesco. Personally, that feels like a failure in the challenge, as it meant that I spent way more than the £21 a week limit, and there were lots of offers on! The spending on groceries amounted to £29.20 and brought the total for last week to £55.34 - whoops indeed.

What did I buy? What were the temptations? Why did I even go in?

There were some certain feminine products we needed, and at 8pm on a Friday night, there are a limited number of places to buy them. We ended up buying a selection of other things of which we had run out:

S R flour 52p
squash (3 bottles) £3.74
Weetabix (offer - £1/box) £2.00
sunflower oil £1.39
Baking margerine £2.89 (1kg)
UHT milk (4@49p) £1.96
Frozen mixed peppers (2) £2.00
Pack reduced bananas 28p
Bacon (2 for £4) £4.00
Pink salmon (offer - half price) 4 @ £1.34 = £5.36
Mango £1.50
Sausages £2.56
Twix pack £1.00

The thing with doing these back-to-back challenges is that one runs out of standard stock cupboard items, and then only replaces them if absolutely necessary. There is no budget for stockpiling this cupboard, and this affects the long-term budget. For example, the salmon in the list above - I can make a selection of dishes which will feed us for a main meal with the salmon as the main ingredient - that is cheap at £1.34 when compared with, for example, a meat-based dish which could easily cost £1 per person or more, just for the meat part of the dish. By stocking up on salmon when it is on offer like this, I am able to put together these cheaper meals and reduce the amount spent on meals those days. If I don't buy the salmon because it is a challenge week, I am hampering myself on those other days. Do you see?

We have just 6 days to go to the end of the month, and I am still convinced that these challenges work, since the amount I have spent overall on food this month so far has been less than £97. This is still a success, even though it is a few pounds over the £84 which would have been 4 times the £21 set. I anticipate that by the weekend, I may have spent about another £5 on fruit and veg, but we'll see!

Being given a lot of leeks this month has helped no end as we are eating a lot of leek and potato soup for lunchtimes at home, and I have served it with baguette as an evening meal twice. It has also set me back on the straight and narrow as regards my breakfasts - there is a huge container of oats in the pantry, so I am enjoying porridge for breakfast each day - lots of goodness in there!
It has also been a boon this month that the hens have begun to lay again, so there have been no purchases of eggs. I am not "buying" them from myself, although that might have been a consideration in some methods.

Monday, 23 January 2012


Well, I am afraid that confessions will have to wait until tomorrow now - I wrote the title then was called away, and now I am away to my bed.....Night all xx

Friday, 20 January 2012

Prayer community

I know that there are those of you reading who are Christians and I want to ask you to pray with me. As people become known to me, in real life, in blogland, wherever, I will add them to a new list on the right hand side of the blog. Perhaps you would join with me in adding these people to your prayers. If you would like your name, or that of someone you know, added to the list, please let me know through the comments - I won't publish details if you don't want me to.

Getting lonely here

Reading about the problems others have been having with their comments, and wondering why no one had absolutely anything to say about my sunsets or baking, I thought I might be having the same issues - so I have been fiddling around with the settings! Perhaps now I will get a comment or two?!!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Totting up again

I didn't get to stay at home today, as I had to go out unexpectedly - the FH was going to go on the piano run but then it turned out that he wasn't able to do so.

I nipped into the Co-op for more bits and pieces, because the natives are getting a little bit restless about the lunchboxes! There was a huge stash of things from AF and Rosspa which came before Christmas which were "lunchbox-designated" and they have now munched their way through it all. They will take home made things in their boxes, but they do like a packet of crisps now and again. Or a KitKat, perhaps, especially when in need of a chocolate hit!! I don't want to spend a big lump of money on the delivery of an AF/Rosspa order this month, so I am plodding along, picking up bits for them here and there. We had run out of carrots as well - and the YFG does enjoy a chopped carrot in her lunchbox (she can't bite it because of the braces she is wearing).

So, it looks like this:

Crisps (2 multipacks on offer) £1.80
Weetabix (chocolate ones) (24) £2.00
Loaf 0.83
Red Leicester cheese £2.97
Carrots (reduced) 0.35
Bananas £1.26

The total is £9.21 - which would have been within budget if I hadn't bought the sack of potatoes, so I am saying no more!!

A morning in the kitchen

This the culmination of some of the cooking today - the girls had the salmon quiche, the baguette and some baked beans for their tea.
They love the baguette, and like the flavour of the quiche, although they mentioned that they weren't so keen on the texture. It was a crustless quiche.

These are the little sticky buns I made with a sweet dough for the after school rush to piano. In the car I have the two FGs but also the YFG's friend who also has a piano lesson, so I always take three of anything and she is very appreciative of home made goodies. They all like these! There were 12 to start with, and I have managed to stash 4 for tomorrow....

Baguettes came out beautifully as usual.

A dozen plain scones to the fab Paul H recipe I mentioned last week or so.
I've hidden them away - some in a tin and some in the freezer. They are fine for a couple of days, we have found, if they are slightly warmed before serving with lashings of raspberry jam!

And this was the salmon quiche, cooling on the windowsill so that I could put it in the fridge!

Have you baked today? Do you bake at all? I know some people don't have the time during the week so perhaps the weekend is their baking time...

Happy baking! Good for the purse, if not the waistline.

Wide Fen skies

Driving home from dropping the YFG at her piano lesson today, I was very glad I had popped the camera into my bag! These sunset views really give you an impression of the size of the landscapes out here, and those huge Fen skies. On a clear day, we can see across the fields for miles! This one is on the edge of the village.

This one is out of the village on the road to the town. We pass through about 6 miles of this kind of open space before we get to a slightly more inhabited area for a couple of miles before we hit town. Plenty of fields - several full of leeks at the moment, although there are lots of hard working people out there in all weathers up to their knees in mud, picking them this week! The air smells of leeks as we drive along the road.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Grocery Challenge update

Today I had to make a trip to town to take a friend home who had come out to the village on the bus. The EFG hitched a ride as she wanted to buy a small gift for a friend's birthday, so we went to Sainsbury's.

I could kick myself as I forgot to buy the self raising flour which was too expensive in the Co-op!!

I did make some purchases though, and just about used up this week's money, but do bear those potatoes in mind, and be kind! I may go over this week...but I am going to really try not to.


Gluten-free flour £1.75
Clover spread £1.00
Mushrooms £1.00
Parsnips 0.63 (for two parsnips for tea tonight)
An organic cucumber £1.30 (The YFG wanted it to go in her sandwiches for school - I only let them have home-grown or organic because I don't like the way normal cucumbers are grown)

All that comes to £5.68, leaving us £4.07 - I think the Sealed pot may go hungry from this week's grocery challenge money!

How's your week going?

Keeping a lid on expenses

Watching meters is an integral part of what happens to monitor spending. There are some purchases that we don't make in a shop over a counter with a handful of cash. Such transactions include our buying of water, electricity, piped gas and broadband.

It is that last one which I am having the most trouble at the moment!

We have a package with BT which allows us 10GB of download each calendar month. That has been fine each month since we joined back in the summer - we do usually use about 7 or 8GB a month, but not the full amount, so I thought we were doing fine with that package.

Unfortunately, I received an email from BT to say that we had used 15GB in December, which was very surprising. I also had another email from them to say that already in the month (on the 8th) we were projected to exceed the limit again this month! Oh dear!

So I have to start digging around. I started with the HomeHub and found a device listed which was not one of ours - as it was called "neighbourandhiswife" (insert their names) it was obviously theirs - so I phoned BT. These people are not friends of ours, and they haven't been inside the house in the last 5 years, let alone the last 6 months since we have had this HomeHub, so there is no way that they could have seen the Hub stickers with the passwords on them. So, passwords have been changed to longer configurations, and that device is on Access Control to limit the availability of the internet to them, should they get past the passwords again.

I thought we had the situation under control, and I have been monitoring the usage daily with the handy meter on the website. That was going fine, and we were back to 0.19 - 0.22GB a day which is fine. Then last night's reading from the night before had shot up to 0.6GB!!!

We have downloaded "live" meters to watch what uses the most, and we are checking the meter on the website daily, we are also trying to think about which websites may have been used on particular days. The YFG has had a load of homework set on a website which the school uses, and she had 85 English exercises to do - we are wondering about this as she had done a chunk of them on the day we recorded the 0.6GB, so I have sent an email to the school's IT dept to see what they know about it....I'll let you know as the investigation continues!

I really don't want to have to upgrade to a more expensive package but we have had the warning for going over the limit in December so we will be charged this month and every other month we exceed the limit.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Tuesday twitterings

Gosh, today has been a here, there and everywhere kind of day!

I had to take the YFG to the doctor's this morning about her lovely ganglion which has sort of disappeared, but the advice was minimal and almost a waste of an hour and a half.

I have done some shopping, since I was in town, and passing the potato merchant:

25kg sack of Picasso potatoes (highly recommended) £5.50

At the Co-op:
Two bags of apples (Russets, and Braeburns) £3.50
Loaf of bread 0.83
1/2 lb mince, reduced £1.42

The total grocery spend for today is £11.25 although it includes a bag of potatoes which will probably last us a month or more, but I am not going to get into a complicated system of "buying" a smaller quantity each week. A chunk of this week's money has been spent and that is that!!

That leaves £9.75 for any other spending needed this week....

AND Mrs Mac's prize is on its way - it should make it to you within 7 working days, I am assured by the lady at the Post Office. Sorry it is a day later than I had hoped getting started.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Money in my pocket

Just popping in to say that I have had two "No Spend Days" in a row, and that the bank balance is looking healthy because most of the shopping I am doing is in a small Co-op rather than a large Tesco! Less choice but less temptation...

Having said that, I refused to pay over £1 for 1.5kg self raising flour the last time I was in the Co-op as I know that I can get it for 52p in Tesco - even Sainsbury's is likely to be cheaper that the Co-op! I am therefore going to have to make a trip to one or t'other later this week.

More chocolate traybake made today for the girls and their lunchboxes. Mind you, I think that the YFG has had a couple of slices already. She has been at home today with a headache and a pain behind her eyes - she used to get a lot of migraines so it was better to keep her off because once it develops, she gets pretty bad very quickly. Thankfully she slept it off this morning, and when I came home from a meeting at school, she and the FH were watching a DVD and she was feeling better, so she will be back at school in the morning.

Hope you are all doing well.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Menu planning this week

Keeping to the theme of eating mostly from the storecupboards and freezers, the menu for the week ahead is looking good. There's plenty of food around, and lots of inspiration available from books, magazines and the internet.

Monday - Fish and home made chips, peas
Tuesday - Beef and vegetable curry with rice
Wednesday - Chicken thighs in casserole with root veg, roast potatoes, green veg
Thursday - Salmon quiche, baked beans, baguettes.
Friday - Leek and potato soup, apple crumble and custard
Saturday - Homemade lasagne/enchiladas from freezer
Sunday - Roast pork, roast potatoes, vegetables.

The shopping list? Well, so far I know I need to buy another sack of potatoes, which is going to cost me £5.50. I am sure that there will be a need for lunchbox fruit as well as some veg.

Do you menu plan?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Counting the cost

I've made a sponge cake this evening, filled it with strawberry jam and put a sprinkling of caster sugar on the top. It tastes scrumptious. This is made with dairy free margerine and gluten free flour. There are 8-10 portions here, depending on the portion sizes.

Here are the two portions which the FH and I have just enjoyed - he does enjoy sampling the baking!

So, I have thought tonight about the cost of making this cake. All the supermarkets now do extensive (and expensive) ranges of "free from" bakes and cakes, biscuits, pasta, bread, etc. These are very tempting and quite handy sometimes, but I have been trying to avoid them this month especially, because of the cost implications - for example, in the Sainsbury's range, 4 cherry bakewell cakes are £2 (50p each, obviously) and 4 chocolate brownies are £1.93 - 48p each for a tiny slice of (heavenly) chocolate cake that can be downed in three mouthfuls!!

My sponge has cost me in the region of £1.85 for the ingredients:
Vitalite dairy-free margerine @ £1.20 for 500g - I use 200g at 48p
Caster sugar @ £1.79 for 1kg - I use 200g at 36p
Dove's Farm gluten-free flour @ £1.70 for 1kg - I use 200g at 34p
Eggs - this varies widely from 10p each for value ones to 25p each for Free Range, but I sell my eggs to friends and neighbours at £1 for 6 so this costs 67p for this recipe.

Making this with "normal" ingredients for the family would only alter the margerine price to 36p, and the flour price to 7p based on Tesco value self-raising flour at 52p for 1.5kg.
A sponge made for the family with these ingredients would cost £1.46.

Today I filled my sponge with "free" strawberry jam which UJ gave me - it is lovely!!

So I can compare a one-tenth portion of my cake costing me about 18.5p with a cherry bakewell for 50p - and I know which I'd rather have - the home made one every time!!

Giveaway Winner!

And the winner is................

(drum roll!)

Mrs Mac


The prize will be winging its way across the pond this time.
(Please send me a comment which I won't publish to tell me your name and address)

I'm not going to spoil the surprise for Mrs Mac by telling everyone what I am sending, but I will take a photo and once Mrs Mac tells us that she has received it, I will share the photo.

THANK YOU all for entering - it has been wonderful to "meet" the new commenters - welcome!

Giveaway Day

The target of 30,000 was hit sometime overnight - when I checked first thing this morning, the hit counter was at 30,002, so today is the day.

Any comments left between now and 6pm tonight will still be entered into the pot for the draw. At 6pm, I will put all the names in a basket, and I will ask one of the FGs to choose a slip. Good luck, and if you stop by here today, just say "Hi" for a chance to win!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Grocery challenge end of the week update

I called in at the local Co-op on the way to pick up the EFG to go to gym this afternoon, and I bought the fruit and veg that we needed, as well as a few other bits.

Rounding up the week:

Orange squash £1.55
Baking margerine 2 @ 0.89 = £1.78
Sliced white loaf 0.83
Iceberg lettuce (reduced) 0.50
Bananas £1.26
Clementines £1.20
Grapes £2.00
Carrots 0.70

That all comes to £9.62 so added to the earlier spend of £6.60, we have a total spend for this week of £16.22, leaving a little lunch of £4.78 for the sealed pot this week.

We still had some apples, and there are plenty of green vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, green beans, sprouting broccoli or calabrese, etc) in the freezer, along with a bag of frozen mixed peppers which I find far more economical than fresh ones. We also have some potatoes and onions left, and plenty of tinned beans and tinned tomatoes, so please don't think that we aren't eating healthily on this challenge! We have frozen cooked apples, pears and peaches in the stores as well, so they make great crumbles now and again.

Meals we have eaten this week have included Shepherd's pie, boiled ham joint with veg, home made pizza, curry, tuna pasta bake - there hasn't been a lot of chicken this week, but there is plenty in the freezer so that is bound to be on the menu this next week.

If you are doing this sort of challenge, do let us know how you are getting on!

Come on, folks!

I have decided that the giveaway will be something frugal in one way or another, but a surprise!

There have been very few comments, so there is a good chance YOU might win - so come and leave a comment - the hit counter is getting towards the 30,000 and might get there this weekend. Leave a comment to be in with a chance of winning a frugal surprise....

Just what I need today

A quick check of the emails this morning revealed one from Facebook with my "verse of the day" which was just what I need this morning. 1 Peter 5:6-7:

"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."

Must do that!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Giveaway coming up!

My hit counter is approaching the 30,000 mark, but I don't know when it will actually hit it, so every comment made between today and the day it hits will receive one entry into a giveaway. I'll have a rummage and see what I have/can find that is suitable to commemorate the occasion.

If you comment 5 times, you will get 5 entries, just to be clear.

Bonne chance!

Tea's ready!

Leek and potato soup made, to use up some leeks the FH was given yesterday, and a couple of French sticks are at the proving stage, just about to go into the oven. That will be the basis of the tea tonight, with some kind of cake for pudding as I am going to make something to make use of the heat of the big oven whilst I have it on as the baguette tray is too big for the new mini-oven. I think that I might make some chocolate tray bake.

Hope you are all well xx

Time and money in the freezer

Last week the YFG wanted tuna pasta for her tea, so I made rather a large batch - bit too much really! Before starting this Grocery Challenge, I would have chucked the leftovers to the chickens, perhaps, or put them in the bin. But this time, I divided the leftovers between two little foil containers and stashed them in the freezer.

Cue last night. Two hungry girls coming home from Guides after everyone else had eaten, and it was easy to pull the two portions from the freezer, zap them in the microwave and their tea was ready! Saved money - saved time - result!!

Now I need to turn my attention to perking up their lunchboxes - the YFG has gone off this morning with a Special K bar, a chopped apple, a chopped carrot, a frozen Frube and a packet of crisps. The crisps and SK bar came from AF so didn't cost a lot, and the Frubes were bought cheaply as they were close to their use-by date, but I froze them so they are OK. I wish that there wasn't so much "bought" stuff in there, and that she would take a sandwich or a wrap or a roll, but she doesn't seem to want those and always moans about them :-( There's definitely work to do in that department! The EFG isn't quite so bad but is stuck in her ways a little and likes the same things day-in day-out so gets huffy if I run out or don't buy the same things. I need to talk with her about variety being the spice of life and all that!!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Getting back to normal

After the girls were briefly at school for a couple of days, it was the weekend again, and felt like we were right back in the holidays! Gym hadn't resumed and there was still little pressure on us to be anywhere or do anything specific.

Monday morning brought life back to a more normal schedule with a bit of a bang! School is really cranking up the gears as the EFG approaches a season of GCSE exams all coming together, with final assessments due to be completed and exams on the horizon, so she is working harder than ever. She's always worked hard but they are really piling it on now, and she has to stay to a couple of after school sessions now and again, to help with the time available to complete art and English assessments.

The YFG is back at gymnastics as of last night, and piano lessons, so her extra-curricular stuff is also off the ground again. She is struggling with a ganglion on her hand which hurts a little when she does handstands and cartwheels, so she is wearing a support on her hand and we have another appointment with the doctor next week. Last Friday we were at the orthodontist in Cambridge and she was happy to hear that the braces will be coming off within the next two appointments, so the light at the end of that particular tunnel is definitely in sight.

I am really trying to get into a housekeeping routine which is getting off to a little bit of a slow start although I did spring clean the ensuite on Monday, so I guess that is a place to start, and something to build on. I am trying very hard to make sure that the kitchen is clean and the surfaces clear before bed each night.

And the Grocery Challenge? Yes, I am still keeping up with this; there was a small spend yesterday so that I could restock a couple of items we were out of so here we are:

Skim milk powder (an ingredient in my baguette recipe) £2.25
Buttery spread £1.35
Vitalite (Dairy-free for me) £2.00 (for two, on offer)
Tea bags £1.00

So that total was £6.60, leaving £14.40 for the rest of the week.

There is still loads of meat in the freezer so there will be no need to buy any this week and the large sack of Picasso potatoes is half-full. The store cupboard is still looking healthy so I am fairly confident we will make it through the month on this regime.

If you are doing a similar challenge, do share how you are getting on, and what problems you are encountering. For me, now that school and all its associated activities are back on, it is finding the time for all the baking and cooking from scratch that has to be done. I do enjoy it, but this afternoon I have school meetings and then the EFG will be volunteering at Brownies from 6pm and then the YFG will be out as well as she goes to Guides at 7.30pm - both need to be picked up at 9pm so there are only small windows of opportunity to get things done.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Economical energy

We bought the new mini-oven in Lidl's on Thursday because I had seen it recommended on Frugal Queen's blog, and having had the energy monitor for several months now, I have become aware of how much electricity the main oven uses.

This afternoon, I cooked the scone pudding, some roast potatoes and a half-batch of scones for tomorrow's lunchboxes. Whereas the energy monitor would have been up in the high 40s or low 50s if I had had the main oven on, the mini oven never pushed the monitor beyond 18p/hour. And it wasn't the only thing on - there was a tv, 2 laptops and a couple of lights on as well!

The roast potatoes were pretty scrummy!

And there are just enough scones left for the lunchboxes as they have been tested!

Recycling scones

Friday night was baking night here in the Fens, and I cooked up a storm, as they say! A sponge cake, the French baguettes, pizzas, and Paul Hollywood scones (two links there - one to tell you who he is, and one to the recipe).

The scones are pretty good, the folks say, but they do need to be eaten the day they are made, and since I didn't make them until the evening, they didn't all get eaten. Today I have recycled those that were left to make a type of bread-and-butter pudding but with the scones as the base instead of bread.

They had risen up quite well, so I was able to slice through each one to make three pieces, which I then buttered and put a layer in the bottom of a dish.

A handful of mixed dried fruit and half a tablespoon of brown sugar finished the first layer off.

Another layer of buttered scones and then more fruit and sugar.
I sprinkled a sachet of the instant value custard powder over the base and then poured over some ever-so-slightly out-of-date double cream which had been mixed with four beaten eggs and a drop or two of milk. This made the custard.

I thought this would be ideal for trying out the new mini-oven, and it fitted just perfectly into the oven space. 200C for about half an hour and it smelt gorgeous!

And this is the finished product. The folks have eaten half of it for supper tonight, and then the rest is stashed in the fridge for tomorrow.

These Grocery Challenges do concentrate the mind on reducing waste and maximising every penny I spend!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Grocery Challenge update

Today I had to get some more vegetables as I had thought I would have to.

Today's purchases:

punnet of grapes £2.00
Iceberg lettuce £1.00
punnet mushrooms 0.82
Bag Russet apples £1.50
Bag Carrots 0.70

So the total of £6.02 is the second spend of the week for this challenge, and brings the total for the week to £19.89 and a little bag of pennies for the Sealed pot challenge!

Friday, 6 January 2012

French sticks recipe

When I do these challenges, I do more baking and cooking from scratch! Today we have run out of bread, and rather than go and buy a nice sliced loaf from somewhere and using at least one of my challenge pounds, I decided to make a couple of French sticks. The original recipe came from a post on the MSE forums, and works every time. The dough comes out of the bread machine, and I knead it a little.

Then I divide the dough into two pieces, as the recipe makes two sticks. Each one is rolled out to a rectangle about 10" long and 3-4" wide. I fold them over into thirds and place them on the special baguette rack with the overlap underneath.

Then I set them in the living room where the FH had helpfully lit the fire and they rise in about 4 5 minutes.

Perfectly puffed up and I sprinkle with a little more flour for a rustic look!

After about 20 minutes in the oven, I wrap them in a clean tea-towel so that they don't overdo the crustiness!

The ingredients:
300ml water
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp milk powder
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp sugar
500g strong bread flour
2tsp yeast - I use Dove's Farm quick yeast.

The baguette tray came from Amazon a few years ago.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Grocery Challenge update

We haven't spent the whole of this week's £21 yet, thank goodness!

So far, I've spent:
Crisps £1.00
Weetabix £1.99
Squash £1.53
Clementines (big bowlful off the market) £1.00
Cheese (2 for £6 offer) £6.00
Peperami for pizzas £2.35

Total so far £13.87

That leaves £7.13 in the pot, which will go into the sealed pot if it doesn't get spent. I do think more will be spent at the weekend on vegetables, though.

Cheese scones

Fresh out of the oven last night

The girls love these cheese scones, especially warm spread with a little butter! Naughty but very nice, apparently. The YFG had a few last night and they both had them for breakfast this morning - I doubt that there are many left in the tin this morning!

I have had this recipe handwritten in my recipe notebook for some years, and am afraid that I do not remember where it came from - it may have come from a book, a website or a blog.

Put 1lb of self-raising flour, 2 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt, and 1 tsp mustard powder into a large bowl and mix them together. Preheat the oven to 200C, and get out two baking trays.

Rub 8oz of cold margerine into the dry ingredients, and then stir in 8oz grated cheese and finally mix it all together with 8fl oz milk.

It will come together into one large ball of dough. Make sure it is all incorporated, but do not over handle it.

Cut the ball into two pieces, and take one out and put onto a floured surface. Pat it down with your hands into a large flat circle, about 3/4 of an inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the circle into 8 wedges and place them onto a baking tray. Use a little more grated cheese to top them, and then bake for about 15 minutes. Do the same with the other ball of dough.

Allow them to cool and then keep in an airtight tin. They have never lasted longer than a day or two here, but they can be frozen.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

No Spend Day

I haven't ventured out today, so I am pleased to record a NSD. The FH will be taking the YFG to her piano lesson tomorrow and whilst she is in there, he will need to pop to the shops as I am building up a little shopping list of things I am running out of which we need to replace!

I have made cheese scones tonight as the YFG wanted them for her lunchbox tomorrow - but she has scoffed at least three since she got home from her Guides meeting tonight. Because I made those, I need more cheese...

I watched a new cookery programme tonight which was amazing - The Fabulous Baker Brothers. It was on Channel 4 at 8.30pm, and I would definitely try to see it again next week. Click on my link and it will take you to an info page from where you can go to the recipes as well - they made some really yummy looking "sticky sticks" which are like long thin doughnuts which they fried, rolled in sugar and then dipped in fresh chocolate sauce!! Kind of wish we lived in Gloucestershire!

Stocking up storage

The store cupboards in the garage are well stocked and look a little different now from how they did back when we first put them there. This picture is the bottom of the second one, and has lots of home made pickles, as well as tinned fruit and peas, enchilada kits, biscuits, crisps, cat litter and a few sweets.

This is the top half of that second cupboard, and has most of our home made jams, marmalades and pickles here. The tinned meat and fish are also in this area, as well as noodles, sauces and spreads.

This is the first cupboard that featured in the original post. This one houses the various flours in those storage boxes, UHT milk, icing sugar, rice, pasta, squash and juices, spare spices, pasta sauces and suet, and soups. The baked beans, vinegar and Camp coffee also find their home here.

I think we are fairly well stocked in this kind of goods, and I buy things when they are on offer, when I find them on the Approved Food or Rosspa websites, and I really try not to run out of things! We have a mini blackboard in the kitchen and the idea is that once we start using the last of something, we write it down on the board so that we know we need more. Saying that, I try to keep a handle on what we have and how many we have, so that if I see something at a good price, I know whether it would be good to buy a few, even if we haven't actually officially run out!

I do keep the garage locked up as the chicken food is also stored in here, and I would hate to lose any of it all!!

Spring clean

The kitchen has had a spruce up over the weekend, and I was so pleased, I took some photos!

Just a few of the cookbooks are stored here - the ones I use the most often - and the huge pink folder is full of recipes downloaded from my favourite websites. I use it a lot!

The gas hob is very useful - there is no mains gas in the village so when there is a power cut, I am one of the few people on the estate who can cook and boil a whistling kettle so some of my friends come round for a cuppa occasionally. What with the gas hob and the woodburner, power cuts don't bother us too badly!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Budgeting for 2012

I've spent an hour or two this evening working on our household budget for the year. I've been realistic in all departments and based this year's figures on what we spent on each thing last year. But I am hoping to make more savings in some areas this time, and be able to save some of the budget, so each figure should be a maximum for the year, and the aim would be to have some left over to transfer to savings.

I have set up a big spreadsheet so that I can keep track of the monthly spending in each area of the budget, and I have a new diary where I am recording every penny we spend this year. Today has been a day at home so I have been able to record a No Spend Day.

So, in accordance with tradition here, January is a Low-Spend month. I will be doing four back to back $21 challenges but changing the amount to £21 - this is the amount I am allowed to spend each week to supplement what we have in stock for the menu - it is usually spent on fresh fruit and veg, cheese and things like that. There will be no spending on frivolities and luxuries and it will really be a month of living on what we have got! Hopefully it will kick start the savings.

My aim is to save £5000 this year, as I fell short of this target in 2011 by quite a way.

We have made a start on the decluttering by packing up a load of old DVDs to send to musicmagpie and I donated 10 items of clothing I no longer want to a recycling bin yesterday! We have to start somewhere!!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

And so 2012 begins...

Happy New Year to all my blogging friends and readers!

There are lots of things I want to do this year, but tonight I have been sorting out old DVDs to send to MusicMagpie, so my thinking is not clear about our goals and aims!

I am going to think and post about that tomorrow, when I do the regular Monday review of my finances....and I'll see how well 2011 went!

Let's keep thinking positively as there is a lot of doom and gloom in the papers, but I think that people who live below their means will get by, perhaps by the skin of our teeth, but I hope we will all make it through the year! Good luck!

See you tomorrow xx