Friday, 28 December 2012

Back in the saddle....

...return to frugality.

 By many people's standards, my Christmas is pretty frugal, but I feel that I feast and celebrate and enjoy myself thoroughly. I am still eating my way through treats and gifts (Christmas cake is a viable breakfast option in December, right?), but eventually they will run out and it will be back to the frugal life for me.

 I have a goal in mind. My daughters bedroom DESPERATELY needs replastering. This isn't cheap, and is way beyond my skills. I have given myself three months to save up enough to pay for it. Now, bearing in mind I often end the month with nothing left to spare, this is a pretty humongous challenge. But, I have to do, and necessity can be a pretty good motivator.

 I've been searching the Internet today, for both ideas and inspiration. I need to psych myself up for the next three months, give myself a mental shake and focus on what needs to be done. One of my favourite frugal websites is Whenever the frugal road seems hard and grim, a glance at this site cheers me up no end. Yes, it offers great advice. Yes, it has some tasty and reliable recipes. Yes, it has encouraging articles to read. But none of those things are why I like it so much. You see, it is just BEAUTIFUL to look at. The photography is gorgeous. The simplest, cheapest of meals are served on pretty plates, garnished with a sprig of herbs. Each glass of water is made beautiful with a petal, or a slice of lemon. The whole site is a delight to look at and a powerful, visual reminder that frugal doesn't have to be ugly, or grey or depressing. It makes me realise that it doesn't cost a fortune to make life pretty, and suddenly the frugal life doesn't seem so hard.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012


 One of the nicest things about the Christmas feast is the promise of leftovers still to come! I try not to cook too many veg, as I know that these can end up being wasted, but I make an exception for roast potatoes. My daughter loves them, and for breakfast every Boxing Day she tucks into a plateful of roasties, and some warmed up gravy. Not everyone's idea of a perfect breakfast, but she loves it!

 We had three meats for lunch - a turkey breast, a joint of beef and a ginger glazed ham. Again, I don't buy huge quantities, but I do have plenty of leftovers. First, all three are sliced up, cold, as part of an assortment of nibbles for tea. The ham will all go, it is just delicious! The turkey will be used up in turkey and stuffing sandwiches over the next couple of days, but the beef was unlikely to be used up any time soon so I sliced it, wrapped it in tin foil and froze it. It will make a nice, easy meal one evening heated up in some gravy.

 We served quite a number of desserts today. The trifle and the tiramisu will be eaten over the next couple of days, but I have plans for the Christmas pud. I shall have a go at making Nigella's Christmas puddini truffles to take with me to a friends house on the 27th.

 Tomorrow we will spend the afternoon at my mums house, where she will no doubt lay on a buffet. Then, we are off to a friends house to enjoy their Boxing Day bubble and squeak. On the 27th, we will be going into town to spent a bit of Christmas money in the sales, then off to another friends house. On the 28th, it is my oldest friends birthday, and we are invited to her house for dinner, so I don't expect to be cooking another proper meal until the 30th! A real bonus after all the effort that went into preparing Christmas dinner.

Merry Christmas!

 So, that's it...all over for another year ;-)

 With only eight around the table for lunch this was a quiet Christmas here, but a happy one. Gifts were exchanged - lovely, thoughtful gifts that were really appreciated. Feasting took place, and was enjoyed by all. Candles were burned, lights twinkled and Christmas music was played. Best of all, family and friends gathered to share, to talk and to laugh.

 However you kept your Christmas, I hope that you enjoyed it xxx

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas doesn't come from a store...

...maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more...
                            Dr. Seuss, 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.'

By author unknown...

Jingle tills, jingle tills
Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to spend
Our hard earned Christmas pay!

Dashing through the stores
Sweating all the way
Oh what fun it is to spend
Our hard earned Christmas pay!

Deck the halls...

...with sparkle, glitter and homemade crackers.

I've never been keen on having a 'theme' for Christmas decorations. A tree decorated with a single colour just leaves me cold, I'm afraid. I really enjoy the ritual of taking the decorations down from the loft and sorting through them. It's like welcoming distant family and friends back around the Christmas dining table - so many memories come flooding back! I've saved a few of the decorations that my daughter made when she was small - a loo roll cracker, a glittery heart, an angel with a distinctly crooked halo! I've got some baubles that say 'baby's first Christmas', and a few that we bought as souvenirs on a family holiday to Disneyland, Paris. Over the years, I've picked up some bargains in the January sales, like a lovely set of three wise men. Some of the baubles date back to my childhood! Quite a lot of my Christmas decorations came from my mum, who loves a 'theme' and updates her decorations regularly!

My Christmas tree was the biggest expense. It isn't particularly large, it's artificial and has lights built into it. It is a nice tree, and has lasted a long time. It still looks good, so I imagine we will get many more years use out of it. The lights on one of the branches have stopped working, but we just keep that part turned to the back, and no one can tell!

I don't really need any more decorations, in fact I haven't managed to put them all out this year. However, I do like to make some, just for fun. I sometimes bake biscuits to hand from the tree. This year I'm making some salt dough decorations with my lunch time craft club at school. It's really easy to do.

You take half a cup of salt, and mix it with a whole cup of flour. Gradually stir in half a cup of water, and knead for ten minutes. A splash of oil improves the texture a bit, but isn't essential. You make your decorations, then it needs to dry. It will air dry, but to speed things up you can microwave it for two or three minutes, or put it in a low oven for a while. Once dry, you can paint or varnish them, but last year I made some little stars and left them plain, and was quite happy with the effect.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ready for Christmas?

So, once again Christmas is rushing up to meet us. Is it just me, or even though we know its coming, do we always feel just a little bit caught out by it? Three more days at school for me (kids think that they are the only ones counting down to the holidays - what do they know!). I've wrapped all the presents that I've bought so far. Still got a couple to buy, but that's because I haven't a clue what to get. Hope inspiration strikes soon!

The crowd that normally descends on my house for Christmas Day is going to be much smaller than usual, due to a serious ongoing illness in the family. I must say, my own interest in the excesses of the season has been diminished this year, but I still believe that celebrating is important. The birth of Christ is, for me, an event worth rejoicing over, and I also know that during times of difficulty the drawing together of family is more important than ever.

For me, feasting is an important component in the Christmas celebration. Not greed, you understand, but enjoying seasonal foods that evoke memories and emotions. I have a good deal of the food for Christmas already stashed away. I've never made a Christmas pudding and I probably never will, but I bought one quite a few weeks ago, and that is waiting in my cupboard. In the freezer, a vanilla flavoured cheesecake awaits. My mum will be bringing along a trifle. A fruit cake sits in the cupboard next to te pudding. In the fridge, there are a number of tubs of long life cream. I don't think I'll bother with brandy sauce this year. I have ordered my meat from my local butcher. A turkey crown, a ham, some pork and some sausage meat. I could probably have found some cheaper meat, although my butcher is competitively priced. However, I like knowing that I'm supporting a much valued local business, and I was able to order and pay in full for my meat at the start of the month. I have a bottle of ginger beer and a jar of ginger preserve, ready to make my signature ginger ham (based on a Nigella recipe, I cook it every Christmas and it never fails). A while ago I bought some ridiculously cheap organic red cabbage from Asda at the end of the day. I cooked this and froze it, so that s ready to add a burst of seasonal colour to the table. I've got some cheap packets of stuffing mix, which I shall tart up with the aid of the sausage meat, and herbs from my cupboard, not to mention eggs to bind and enrich. I have a packet of vacuum packed chestnuts in the cupboard. Not sure what to do with these yet. Maybe they could go into some chocolate brownies? Or maybe into the stuffing? I have sausages and bacon in the freezer, ready to make the essential pigs in blankets.

All in all, I am feeling well prepared for Christmas. Only some last minutes bits to get nearer the big day, and then I can enjoy!  

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Homemade Christmas fudge...

...with no faffing about with thermometers!

450g icing sugar
100g white marshmallows
2tbspn milk
100g butter
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

This is a really simple recipe. Making some treats is a nice part of preparing for Christmas, especially when they are as tasty as these.

Grease and line a shallow square cake tin, approx 7inch.
Sift the sugar into a large mixing bowl, making a hollow in the middle with the back of a spoon.
Cut the marshmallows in half. Snipping them with kitchen scissors is the easiest way.
Put them in a small an, along with the milk, butter and vanilla.
Heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all melted and mixed together.
Pour the mixture into the hollow in the icing sugar, and beat it thoroughly with the wooden spoon.
When it is all combined, with no lumps, then pour it into the tin. Push it into the corners and smooth it out as well as you can.
Stick it in the fridge until it is set. This will take about three hours, but it might be more convenient to leave it overnight.
When set, turn it out on to a chopping board, peel off the lining paper, and chop into bitesize squares.

This fudge will keep nicely for about a week in an airtight container, so would make a nice little gift.

Frugal fast food...

...and comforting, too.

Here's a really, really easy recipe. It's frugal, tasty, flexible, and can have dinner on the table in under fifteen minutes.

Easy Macaroni Cheese. Serves 4.

Boil some pasta. Macaroni wold, of course, be authentic, but I most often use other shapes, because that's what I have in my cupboard. 250g will be about right, if you want to measure it.

While the pasta is cooking, grate 200g of cheese, whatever sort you like.

Drain the pasta, then stir in half a pot of creme fraiche. I use reduced fat, most of the time. Add the cheese, and let it melt and go nice and gooey.

And that's it - super easy!

Of course, you can add all sorts of things to this, to add interest, flavour, texture and vitamins. Veg could easily be cooked with the pasta, such as some frozen peas, sweetcorn or some frozen mixed veg. Left over cooked veg can be added with the creme fraiche, and warmed through. Some chopped up ham, or cooked bacon, would turn this into a quick carbonara. Some spinach could be wilted into the sauce at the end, it would only take a moment or two.

A recipe like this is really useful, as it makes a meal from just a few simple ingredients, and can help you resist the temptation of the takeaway!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Entertaining children...

...without a Playstaion, Wii, or an X-box.

My own daughter is too old now to have many toys around the house. Her interests mainly revolve around fashion, make up and YouTube. However, many of our friends have young children, and I try to keep a few ideas up my sleeve for how to entertain them when they visit. I have neither the space, nor the budget, to keep toys on hand - so I need to get creative.

Junk modelling is always a hugely popular activity. Boys always seem to construct robots, while girls tend to make houses. I make no judgement, I just mention my observations! I am a bit lazy when it comes to taking out the cardboard packaging to the recycling bin, but this pays off sometimes as I often have a sack of 'junk' on hand to build with. The only extra required is a roll of tape.

My button box is a source of entertainment for many young children (as long as they are past the 'shove everything in their mouth' stage). Counting, sorting, shape building etc all go down well, as well as just the sheer pleasure of flinging them around!

Food comes in handy as a source of entertainment in many forms. A sheet of card, some glue, and a few small bowls of rice, pasta and lentils are all that's required for an impromptue collage creation. For really young children, a layer of flour on the tray of their high chair gives them something to draw in, using their finger. This can be a bit messy, but I don't worry too much about that, and anyway lour can be brushed, wiped or vacuumed away pretty easily.

Children love to 'help' in the kitchen, and I make full use of this as a way to entertain them. A bit of water in a washing up bowl, some dirty dishes to wash (maybe plastic, depending on the age of the child), and you have a happy, busy, little guest. Okay, they might splash about a bit, but it's only water, it doesn't matter!

Paper dolls seem to go down well. Do you remember making rows of dolls, joined together at the hands when you were a child? I often cut a row of people shapes, or snowman shapes, for my young guests, and give them a few pens or crayons to give each figure a different outfit. At this time of year, cutting out snowflakes is a popular activity. It doesn't require anything more complicated than a few sheets of paper and a pair of scissors.

Random frugalities...

1. Use your local library
2. Always eat breakfast before you leave home
3. Take a packed lunch
4. Never leave home without a bottle of water
5. Stay away from the shops
6. When you have to shop, take a list
7. Put a jumper on
8. Use a hot water bottle
9. Cook your own food
10. Pay with real, live, old fashioned cash

Monday, 10 December 2012

Celebrating Christmas...

...the frugal way.

Last year some of my friends hosted an open house. They entertained a LOT of people, and it was a really lovely, relaxed time. They achieved this on a very tight budget, and here is how;

1-  They chose the timing of the event carefully. 2.30 until 5pm. This avoided meal times, so there was no expectation of a large meal being served. It meant that people could come and go as they pleased between those times, without feeling awkward.

2- They served a limited range of drinks. Tea, coffee, and lemonade. A large pan of home made mulled wine, simmering gently on the hob. It made the house smell amazing.

3- They served a limited range of refreshments. There were lots of home made mince pies, baked and frozen long before the festive madness began, warmed through and sprinkled with icing sugar. The only other option was lovely big, warm cookies, baked from dough that had been made in advance.

A good time was had by all!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Why did the mushroom get invited to all the parties?

Because he's a fungi!

 This evening my mum and I took a trip to Asda. In the fruit and veg aisle, a member of staff was busy marking down products. Many crates of mushrooms were there, all being marked down to 10p per pack! So I bought six. I also bought six packs of lovely, juicey peaches, at 10p per punnet, and two punnets of raspberries, for 20p each.

So, no prizes for what I shall be eating tomorrow!

One of the punnets of raspberries has already been eaten, with yogurt, for supper. For breakfast I shall have a couple of wraps, filled with dry fried mushrooms, and maybe a little grated cheese. For lunch, I've chopped up three plums, and topped them with the rest of the raspberries. I'll take some yogurt to have with this, and probably put a banana and an apple in my bag, too. For dinner, the pasta bake that I had planned shall now contain mushrooms instead of sweetcorn. Then, I will have to think about what to do with the rest of the mushrooms! I might use them in a lasagne to have on Wednesday evening. Hopefully, there will be enough left for another couple of breakfasts.

As we walked around the shop, we came across another member of staff marking down cream cakes. We almost succumbed, but then remembered that we are weight watchers, and resisted!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Instead of a chocolate advent calendar...

...I bring out the Christmas socks!

 I do my very best to only wear Festive themed socks (and knickers, if that's not too much information for you!), during the month of December. What can I say? Everyone has their Christmas tradition, right?

 Well, today is the last day of November, so I'm searching through my drawers, and bringing all those festive items to the front. It's like welcoming old friends ;-)

No thanks, I'm washing... hair.

 When I have the time, I rather like to experiment with natural alternatives when I'm washing my hair. Egg works pretty well as a shampoo, although you have to be prepared to rinse it really thoroughly with almost cold water to avoid the 'scramble' ( so not an option during the colder months! ). I've used herbs steeped in boiling water to make a rinse, and likewise lemon juice and skins. I gave bicarbonate of soda a try as a shampoo, and found that effective. However, most of the time I settle for a quick wash with a pretty basic, supermarket own brand shampoo, and a dollop of cheap conditioner. Occasionally, I develop a bit of a flakey scalp, and when that happens I switch to a baby shampoo for a while, which clears it up nicely. I don't really use any other products on my hair, except maybe some warm olive oil for a deep conditioning treatment now and again.

 My daughter, on the other hand, sees my tendency to wash my hair with food stuff as yet more evidence of my general, all round freakiness. She suffers with a sensitive, easily irritated and flakey scalp, which anti dandruff shampoo only makes worse. Baby shampoo is reasonably effective for her, but E45 shampoo is by far the best she has tried. It is, sadly, rather expensive. Paying nearly a fiver for a bottle of shampoo really makes me wince! But, it is a price I'm willing to pay. I'd rather spend more on something that works really well, than waste money on something which is going to fail. Also, I keep my eyes open for any special offers that reduce the cost. Boots sometimes have deals on for advantage card holders. They had 20% off all shampoos one day, so I picked up three or four bottles. On another occasion, they were offering an extra 25 points when you bought hair care products, so I picked up a couple then, too. My daughter only really uses conditioner on the ends of her long hair, so I'm only willing to provide the fairly average conditioner I buy for myself. If she wants something more glamorous, then she has to stump up for it herself, and sometimes she does.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Beware of little...

...expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.
                                                                           Benjamin Franklin

Money in the bank... like toothpaste in the tube. Easy to take out, hard to put back.
                                                                                                        Earl Wilson

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

How far that little candle...

...throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.

 I really like to have candles burning at home, especially at Christmas time, and now that there are no small children in the house I don't worry too much about the safety aspect. A big package of tea lights really doesnt cost much, but can contribute a lot to the ambience of a room.

 I don't really own many proper candle sticks, but I've made a lot. Little empty jam jars look pretty, and so do simple glasses. I've used empty tin cans too, sometimes with holes punched into them. I have a couple of old saucers that I use too.

 You can turn glasses or jars upside down to stand pillar candles on.

 Sometimes I buy taper candles, if they are cheap, but I don't have any proper holders for them. So I fill the glasses, cans and jars with something to support the candles, and poke them in. I've used sand, gravel, rice, cous cous and cat litter!

 I always try to group candles together. Different sizes look really effective together - the more the merrier!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Epicurus said...

..."We should look for someone to eat and drink with, before looking for something to eat and drink."

Next Sunday a family from our church will be hosting their monthly bring and share open house. The idea is that everyone brings some food, it all goes on the table, and everyone present can share in the feast. This is a style of entertaining that I have turned to frequently, both in my home and at church.

It has a number of benefits. For one thing, it is an inexpensive way of hosting a large gathering. No one family carries the full cost of feeding so many mouths. It also builds a sense of community, with everyone contributing to a shared experience. When I have hosted such events I have usually provided something filling, substantial and cheap, like a great big pasta bake (just pasta, tomato sauce, veg and grated cheese), or a big pan of soup with bread rolls to dip in.

I guess you run the risk of having lots of the same thing, but that has never been my experience.

I've been giving some thought as to what I will take on Sunday. I am following weight watchers, so I want to be sure there is omething healthy and low fat! I also need something that won't take much prepping, as I am going to be out literally all day on Saturday. So, I think I shall settle for carrot sticks, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, bread sticks and a simple dip or two. A big tray full of those will look appetising without being too expensive! I might take some fresh fruit salad, too, depending on what is on sale for a good price at the shops.

Chocolatey goodness...

...recipe suggestion.

Very close to my school is a little shop which sells a dangerously addictive substance...


The kids at my school go crazy for it, and so do many of the staff. The Tiffin from this shop is the stuff of legend. If you've never eaten it, then frankly, you have never lived.

Well, it's almost the end of the month, so funds are running low. I have enough basic foodstuffs to see us through until payday on Friday, but sometimes the basics are not enough. You need a little tiffin. So tonight, I'm going to make my own. Tiffin is the easiest thing in the world to make, using very simple ingredients, but somehow tastes far more wonderful than you would expect.

First, put 2 tablespoons of golden syrup, 2 tablespoons of sugar (any sort), 4 teaspoons of cocoa powder and 110g butter into a large pan. Heat gently to melt.
Then, stir in approx 220g of biscuits, crushed and bashed to get a mixture of crumbs and lumps. Rich tea is traditional, but really any sort of biscuit will be fine. I usually use digestives, because that's what I have in most often.
Add a handful of raisins, if you like them. Actually, my daughter has an unreasonable aversion to all kinds of dried fruit, so I don't often bother. I might throw in a handful of rice crispies instead, or a bit more biscuit.
When its all mixed, spread it out into a tin, pressing it down well.
Then melt the chocolate, and spread it over the top. Chill for a couple of hours, then eat! It's very rich, you might want to keep the slices small.

Of course, this recipe has all kinds of variations.
You could add any kind of dried fruit you like - cranberries, apricots, cherries etc.
You could use plain, milk or white chocolate to top it, or a marbled mixture of all three.
You could use ginger biscuits, chopped up glacé ginger, and top with dark chocolate. I think this would make a very grown up Tiffin!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Not just reindeer food...

...or, how to eat carrots without getting bored of them.

I try to eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg. For one thing, I know it is good for me, and for another, I can eat as much as I like on my weight loss plan, so it helps me to fill up.
However, some fruits and veg can be more pricey than others, so consistently cheap veg like carrots appear regularly in my shopping bag. They are one of those 'backbone' foods that are cheap, healthy and frugal. But if I served them up in the same way every time, my family would soon get sick of them. Here are a few different ideas for how to serve carrots, you will see how versatile they are.

Raw carrot sticks can go into lunch boxes as a snack in their own right. Teamed with a dish of hummus, or yogurt mixed with herbs, they can bulk out a meal by acting as a starter.

Grated carrot can be mixed into a pasta salad. Sometimes I mix it with a couple of spoons of mint sauce from a jar, and it makes a really tasty side dish, with a bit of a Moroccan feel to it.

Grated or finely chopped carrot can be mixed into any dish made from minced meat, to stretch the meat, bulk it out and add fibre and vitamins. It can also go into any tomato based sauce.

Roasted carrots are a favourite in my house. Just a splash of oil is fine. Shake some cumin, or coriander over for extra flavour. They are a lovely side dish served hot, but I always make extra because they are so good to take for lunch cold the next day, maybe mixed with a few salad leaves, or some cos cous. A bit of feta on top is perfect.

Roasted carrots can also be blitzed with some veg stck to make a tasty soup.

Steamed carrots, served just warm, and drizzled with a little olive oil, lemon juice and pepper make a lovely warm salad.

Carrot sticks, dipped into flour, egg and Parmesan, then deep fried are amazing!

My daughter makes a lovely carrot soup, with fresh coriander. A splash of single cream stirred in towards the end makes it extra nice, but a dollop of soft cheese will achieve the same creaminess, if that's what you have.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Stale bread and...


Christmas brings out the crafter in me!
I really enjoy messing about with bits of card and a prit stick, but I have learned from experience that any craft I attempt must be simple, and need nothing that cannot be found around my home. This idea fitted the bill perfectly.

First, I took half a dozen slices of white bread out of the freezer. It was the very cheap, very white, very plastic kind that I pretend not to like, but secretly gobble up, smothered in cheese spread, but any sliced bread will do.
They didn't take long to defrost, just long enough for me to search the kitchen cupboards for my plastic Christmas cookie cutters. Bought these for about 75p from Asda several years ago, in the after Christmas sale.
I cut out as many shapes as possible, mostly stars because I like them best. Used a straw to poke a hole in each shape. And then I left them to go hard and stale. After I cooked dinner in the oven, I put them in there with the heat tuned off, and left them again. Remembered to take them out before I turned the oven back on the next day, then did the same again. Basically, I just wanted them to dry out thoroughly, and go hard and dry.
When I was happy that they had dried out as much as possible, I set out to decorate them. Some I painted, some I covered with glue and glitter. I tied a thin bit of ribbon through the hole. Some of them were pretty dodgy (I could pretend a small child made them), but most of them looked quite nice. They would have made nice decoration for the tree, but I used them to decorate Christmas presents that I had wrapped in brown paper.

Making them satisfied my need for a bit of glittery creativity, without the need for an expensive trip to Hobbycraft for supplies.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Frugal moments...

...of pleasure.

A hot cup of tea on a cold day
A slice of warm toast with homemade jam
Soft, fluffy bed socks
A library book
A walk in the rain
A conversation with a friend
Music on the radio
A blanket to snuggle under
Someone to snuggle with
A funny text message to read
A friend to visit
A dog resting her head on your foot
Making a display of conkers, twigs and leaves
Taking the Christmas decorations out of the loft
Borrowing a Christmas film from the library
Laughing at a joke with a colleague
Putting together a new outfit from clothes you already own

Monday, 19 November 2012

Feed your soul...

...with free art.

 I am currently redecorating my bathroom, on a budget of big fat zero, which is a bit of a challenge! I wanted some artwork to brighten up a large, flat, boring white wall. I can't afford to go and and buy anything, so I need to get creative. I can avoid having to buy frames, because I intend to string some yarn between two hooks, and peg pictures onto it using some miniature clothes pegs. So I started looking on the Internet for some images that I could print for free.

And I found the most beautiful, gorgeous, delicious, wonderful LOVELY art at I cannot tell you how much I love these images. Original, quirky, beautiful art, all available to download for personal use for free. Go and have a look. Go now!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Comfort food...

...for cold weather.

 This evening we ate one of my faithful, reliable, frugal meals - lentil shepherds pie.

First, you chop an onion, and soften in a little oil. If you have any garlic, through some of that in too, but don't loose any sleep over it if you don't. Take a few handfuls of bright orange lentils (the dried kind, super cheap if you buy a big bagful from The world food aisle in a supermarket, even super cheaper from an ethnic food shop), and add them to the pan. Sometimes I add chopped carrot, or swede, or whatever else is in the veg rack. Sometimes I don't. Give it all a good stir, then add some liquid in the form of tinned tomatoes, water and a couple of stock cubes. If you have half a jar of pasta sauce lurking in your fridge, add that. If you feel like it, a squirt of brown sauce will do no harm at all. How about a couple of spoons of chutney, to empty the jar? Stir, and cook until the lentils are soft, and the sauce thickened.

Meanwhile, make the mash to cover your pie. Potatoes are the obvious choice, of course. Sometimes, a packet of instant mash will do. Doesn't have to be potato, though. Tonight it was parsnip and sweet potato, because that's what I had.

 Put the lentil mixture into an oven proof dish (or two, if you got carried away and made too much. The second one can go in the freezer for next week, with or without mash topping). Top with mash. Some grated cheese and breadcrumbs might be nice, but not essential.

 Either put the pie in the oven for a little while, or put it in the fridge then cook it tomorrow.


Frugal happiness...

...from this week.

 Monday was my daughters birthday. Our house was filled with family and friends all evening, sharing simple, tasty food, and far too many doughnuts. Cards and gifts were given, but the most precious thing was the love and care that surrounded my daughter. She is not loud, or pushy, but open and genuine, and delights in making friends, and on Monday evening lots of those friends went out of their way to show her how special she is to them.

 On Tuesday afternoon my school got 'the call' - inspection Wednesday and Thursday. Not fun for any teacher, but the high points were; Dunkirk spirit amongst the staff, pupils who made every effort to make a great impression, good friends who instantly offered to feed myself and my family, so I wouldn't have to bother with cooking (and served the most wonderful comfort food!), and that wonderful feeling of relief when it was all over!

 The cutest guinea pig ever, pop-Corning around his cage in excitement while I fed him carrot sticks.

 My two lovely dogs, jumping on the bed for a cuddle.

 Finding bags of corn for popping on sale at my local co-op for 20p each, and big bags of dried soya beans for just 40p each.

 Sitting in a comfy chair, in a warm house, with a cup of tea, and the knowledge that I have the weekend to spend with my family.

Happy! X

Monday, 12 November 2012

Camp outs, crackers and....

...Christmas stories.

 When you have children, the costs of Christmas can easily sky rocket. So much focus is on gift giving, you can easily feel as if you can never give enough to your child. I enjoy giving and receiving gifts, but it isn't the be all and end all. There is much, much more to celebrating Christmas than just presents.

 I have spent the last half hour looking around the Internet at suggestions for frugal, thrifty ways to celebrate Christmas, and I noticed that most of the sites I looked at talked a LOT about gifts, and a lot less about celebrating in other ways. So here are some suggestions of ways to celebrate Christmas with children, without thinking about gifts at all.

How about a Christmas camp out?
 No, I'm not really suggesting that your put the tent up in your back garden! But you could set up camp in front of the Christmas tree instead. This is something that you could do as a family, or perhaps your child could invite friends round for a festive sleepover. You could make up beds on the floor and drink hot chocolate, eat mince pies and tell Christmas stories in a room lit only by the twinkling lights of your tree.

Visit the library.
My local library usually runs a craft and story session during the Christmas holidays. My daughter is too old now, but used to enjoy them. You could also visit the library to borrow a range of Christmas books, and read them aloud each evening in the run up to Christmas.

Make an event of decorating the tree.
If you can stand the thought of a less than 'perfect' tree, then let the kids loose on it. Some Christmas music on in the background, a tree and a box full of decorations might just be the highlight of their Christmas. You can always rearrange things a bit when they've gone to bed! A quick google will present you with loads of craft ideas for making decorations with stuff you already have to hand. If the thought of glue, glitter and cotton wool brings you out in a cold sweat, then snowflake cut outs might be the way to go. All you need is white paper and scissors, and they actually look quite effective. Some very elaborate and beautiful ideas can be found on line, if you want to try for sophistication!

On Christmas Eve, you can track Santas progress with NORAD.

A friend of mine with two young sons has a special Elf toy which only comes out at Christmas. Elf goes everywhere with them, and they post photos of his adventures on Facebook. They set a place for him at the table, and during the night he magically comes to life and writes little messages and jokes for the boys.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Take control...

...of Christmas.

 If you are fortunate enough to work in a sociable, friendly environment, then the chances are you will be invited to (or even expected to) take part in various activities to celebrate Christmas. These can be costly, but I've found a few ways of acting intentionally to make them more frugal. If you are the person who is prepared to organise and coordinate the activities, then you can make sure they fit your budget! Here are a few example;

Christmas cards - instead of all the cost and hassle of giving cards to all your colleagues, organise a charity donation instead. Suggest that people might donate a nominal sum, such as a pound or two, and send out an e-mail greeting to all colleagues with the names of those who donated on it. This can be cheaper and easier than churning out loads of cards, and you know that the money isn't going to be wasted, but will help a god cause. One year we did this in my workplace, and were able to buy lots of dog food, to donate to a local animal rescue centre.

Christmas lunch - instead of going out to a restaurant,  organise a bring and share lunch. I used to do this a lot at my previous workplace, and it was a great way of spending time with colleagues without involving a great deal of expense, or even effort.

Gifts - in some workplaces, gift giving is fairly common, and you end up spending lots on token gifts which you know are only going to end up gathering dust somewhere. Instead, a Secret Santa can be a much better option, so that groups of oil leagues only end up buying one gift, instead of half a open. Alternatively, you might collect contributions to raise money for a charity, or one of those buy a goat for a third world family type things. That will probably cost less, and you know it's being used for something worthwhile.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Hiding the rocket...

...on the way to school.

 When I was a child, I don't remember much about Bonfire night. I'm sure we had fireworks in the garden, but the only time I can remember is when a poorly fixed Catherine wheel escaped from the fence and flew across the garden. My mum probably spent a lot of money on fireworks over the years, but I don't remember.

 What I do remember is that when my Auntie walked me to school in the days following Bonfire night, we would often come across spent fireworks lying in the path. We used to psh them into a make shift hiding place, like under a pile of leaves, and then see how long they could remain undisturbed. Each morning and afternoon, we would walk past and check the hiding place. Once, the firework stayed there until school broke up for Christmas - a record!

 I cannot remember why we did this, but I certainly remember it. Looking back, my most cherished memories are of times like that, times spent with family or friends. I wonder what my daughter will remember? And I wonder if she will realise that the most precious things in life don't cost a penny.

Keeping Christmas...

...without breaking the bank.

 Before I begin, I need to tell you that I LOVE Christmas!
Cheesy Christmas movies, mince pies, twinkling lights, feasting, carols, gathering family and friends, mulled wine, crowded shops...I love it all. I don't love the commercialised greed-fest that Christmas has become, but I really enjoy making a big deal out of celebrating. Although I enjoy giving and receiving gifts, that isn't the main focus of Christmas for me or my family. That doesn't mean that Christmas comes cheap, though! In order to celebrate Christmas, I do need to plan and budget for it.

 One of the main ways I do this is by planning ahead. I get really annoyed by people who boast about not even thinking about Christmas until December. I can only assume that they have someone else in their family who does all the planning, organising and shopping, and so makes Christmas happen for them, or they can afford to do all their shopping in one go, and paying top prices at that.

 I start thinking about Christmas in January. This is when I pick up cards, wrapping and sometimes even crackers, when they are being sold off really cheaply. I have a wooden chest in the conservatory in which I store my Christmas things.

 During the year,and particularly during September, October and November, I buy gifts here and there. These go into the chest, and means that I don't have to spend huge amounts in December.

 I buy savings stamps from my local supermarket all year. A pound here and there soon adds up, usually enough to buy the meat and veg for Christmas lunch. I have a lot of family over for Christmas lunch, usually 12-15. I try to buy as much as I can before December. Things like a jar of cranberry sauce, a bottle of wine, ginger beer to cook the ham in...they don't cst much per item, and can be picked up along with the weekly shop. If I left them all until the December shopping trip, though, the combined cost would probably make me wince!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Simple pleasures...

The family budget around here is always pretty tight, and never more so than at this time of year when we have birthdays, Christmas, and an MOT to pay for! That doesn't mean, though, that we don't have any fun as a family, it just means that we need to cultivate a taste for frugal pleasures.

 My almost teenage daughter always complains when I suggest a games night, but only because she feels like she should. We have a few board games that we really enjoy, like scrabble, UNO extreme and backgammon. Playing those games is a lovely way to pass an evening, but the real bonus is the time it gives us to spend together as a family.

 Watching a movie (preferably a Christmas movie!) is something we can do together that costs us nothing. We have collected a number of DVDs over the years, and sometimes we borrow films from a friend. We have used Lovefilm before now, and found this to be a fairly frugal way of seeing lots of different films. You can get some good deals, especially if you are a brand new customer. We cancelled our subscription after a few months, because we found that in the summer we didn't watch as many films. When the weather is good and the evenings are sunny, we are more likely to be out and about. Movie nights seem much more tempting in the winter, I find.

 As a family, we are pretty sociable, and love spending time with friends, but too many meals out, or even trips to the coffee shop, are not possible in our budget. Inviting people to our home is much less expensive, even with the cost of feeding extra mouths! I enjoy cooking, but I don't go in for fancy, dinner party style meals. A nice, tasty, family meal is always well received, especially if the dessert is good! Of course, a pleasant side effect of having people over for meals is that they often invite us to their homes, too!

 We have two dogs, so obviously walking them is a feature of everyday, whatever the weather. But on bright, cold days there is nothing better than bundling up in coats and scarves and going off for a walk together as a family. This costs nothing, and it is good for us!

 Making Christmas cards, decorations, and wrapping gifts is something that my daughter and I enjoy doing together. We are not particularly gifted artistically, but we enjoy the effort at least!

 None of the suggestions above are particularly original, but sometimes simple things like that can be forgotten about. There are plenty of people trying to convince us that the only way a family can have fun together is by visiting a theme park or event, or by buying an expensive games system, or by dining out...but those people are mostly out to make money!

Natural beauty treatments...

...from the kitchen.

 I'm not too keen on spending loads of money on creams and potions, nor do I put much time or effort into make up or beauty products, but I do sometimes enjoy a bit of a pamper session. I prefer to use natural products. My skin is pretty sensitive, and I tend not to react to simple food products in the same way that I can react to chemical products.

 I am no expert, but these are treatments that I have used successfully myself;

Yogurt face mask.
Supposedly, yogurt has properties which help prevent acne, it is good for clearing and disinfecting pores, and full fat yogurt can moisturise dry skin. Honey is pretty well known for its antibacterial properties. All I know is that this mask feels nice on my skin, and is a great way to use up out of date yogurt!

- Mix up a couple of tablespoons of plain yogurt with a squirt of honey.
- Spread it over your face, and leave for 15 mins.
- Wipe off with a soft facecloth, rinse and moisturise as usual.

Egg and honey face mask.
1 egg
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
Mix them all up together, apply to face. After about 15 mins, rinse off and moisturise.

Cinnamon and nutmeg acne mask.
Nutmeg, I am told, has anti-inflammatory properties, and cinnamon is a natural antiseptic and exfoliant.
Mix to a paste 1tsp each of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and honey. Spread on face, and rinse off thoroughly after half an hour.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Planes, Trains.....

...and Automobiles.

(Or more accurately, cars and busses!)

 For a number of years, my husband and I ran two cars. He needed a car because his office was forty miles away, and he travelled all around the region as part of his job. I assumed that I needed a car in order to get to work, and to drop off and pick up my daughter at her out of school club.

 However, we reached the point where the car that I drove was really beyond repair. My first thought was that I needed to replace it, but then I reconsidered. There was a reliable and frequent bus route from my home to my place of work. Also, one of my colleagues lived close to me, and I felt sure that she would be willing to give me a lift. The one difficulty was getting my daughter to a from her club, but she was only going to be there for a few more weeks.

 After some thought, I decided not to replace my car. My friend was happy to give me a lift, and I was happy to chip in for petrol. We got on really well, and were both happy with the situation. I was happy to be living in a slightly more Eco-friendly way, and my budget really wasn't missing the running costs and upkeep of running my own car.
 Unfortunately, after a few oaths my friend moved abroad, and I had to reconsider my options. There were other colleagues who live near me, and offered lifts, but there was no one whose working patterns coincided well enough with mine to make regular car sharing a possibility. This left the bus. Cost wise, a weeks bus travel was equal to the fuel costs of driving a car. However, I wouldn't have to tax, service or MOT the bus! The journey took about 40 mins each way. In the morning, the bus was very quiet. It became my favourite part of the day. I had forty minutes entirely to myself. I would usually spend this time reading my bible and praying. On the way home, the bus would be pretty crowded, usually with old ladies, who were always happy to have a chat, and shared their mint imperials and werthers originals! If I wasn't chatting to one of the other passengers, I could catch up on some reading, or even play a game on my phone. There were some inconveniences. The times of the buses weren't always convenient, especially if I had to work late. However, I was usually able to accept the offer of a lift from a colleague on these occasions.
 Then, circumstances changed again. My husband changed jobs, and no longer needed the car for work. He found his bike more convenient, as well as a useful form of exercise. My daughter became a student where I work, and the cost of bus fares for us both to make the same journey was ridiculously expensive. So, the car is now driven by me. I appreciate the convenience this brings. The reduction in travel time, the freedom to drop in and visit my mum on the way home, or pop to the bank, and never having to stand around waiting for the bus in the rain. However, I really, really miss the bus. I hate being responsible for the car. I have no mechanical intelligence at all, and am wholly reliant on the RAC if anything goes wrong. Most people would assume that having a car brings freedom, but I feel like it's a bit of a ball and chain. If only bus fares were more reasonably priced, I would be more than happy to leave the car at home. Maybe if the powers that be ever get really serious about addressing environmental issues, then this will be something they will address.

Friday, 2 November 2012

There is... dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means.
                                                                                                - Calvin Coolidge

I have learned... seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.
                                                                                - John Stuart Mill

When life sends you....

...bargain butternut squash.

 I popped into Aldi yesterday afternoon and found that they were selling butternut squash at 69p each. That is a lot cheaper than my local supermarket (£1.50), or my local fruit and veg shop (£1.16).
 Butternut squash keep for weeks, and they are just about my favourite veg, so I stocked up!

Last night I roasted two, along with some parsnips, onions and sweet potato, in a bit of oil and generously sprinkled with cumin, coriander and paprika. Whizzed it up with a bit of veg stock, and made an enormous pan full of lovely, lovely soup. Will serve it on Saturday night when I have some friends round, along with some cheesy croutons made from a sliced up, reduced price baguette (20p).

 Here's some other ways that I like to use butternut squash;

Instead of mashed potato - zero points on my weight loss program, full of vitamins, and seems to hit a similar starchy, creamy note.

Roast half moon slices with plenty of salt and pepper, and served topped with some yogurt and paprika, with chilli on the side for those who like it spicy.

Roast in halves, and stuff with a packet of sage and onion stuffing / risotto / mince and onions / tomato and veg sauce / cous cous and dried fruit.


Cubes of roast squash stirred through cooked pasta, with a splash of cream and a grating of cheese.

With cous cous, as a packed lunch

Cooked with chick peas, a tin of toms, some dried fruit and sweet Moroccan spices like cinnamon.

Roasted cubes on cocktail sticks for party nibbles

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Stuffed hearts and Pauper's puds...

...a review of Delia Smiths's Frugal Foods.

Frugal Foods was republished in 2008, with all royalties being donated to CAFOD. It was first published in 1976, and reading it is in some ways a nostalgic journey through food history. The recipes themselves seem a little dated, as you would expect, but they also seem reliable, straight forward, clearly explained and tasty, which is also what you would expect from Delia.

 The artwork in the 2008 publication is lovely. Simple, clean line drawings, and beautiful photographs of simple, frugal ingredients like eggs or carrots, which complement the tone of the book; that food can be simple, tasty, nutritious and interesting, at the same time as being frugal.

 There are no photographs of finished dishes, but as the recipes are clearly explained this does not seem like much of a draw back.

 Cost cutting advice is given throughout, and is fairly simple and basic - but no less valid for that! I tend to read cookbooks more for inspiration than to follow recipes to the letter, and there was plenty of inspiration here. I was reminded of many 'old faithful' dishes which had been pushed aside in favour of newer flavours.

 One of the recipes which I tried out was egg with cheese and spinach sauce. This brought back memories. Delia, of course, gave concise, thorough instructions. Here's my garbled version!

Make a bechemel sauce, with 40g butter, 25g flour and 275g milk (or in my case, a dollop, a couple of spoons full, and 'enough'.)
Meanwhile, boil 4 eggs.
Stir 50g cheese into the sauce.
Cook and drain thoroughly a bag of spinach. Stir into the cheese sauce. Give it all a good mix. Delia suggested whiz zing it all up in the food processor. I expect that would make a lovely jade colou, but frankly I didn't want the extra washing up.
Put a bit of sauce into the bottom of a dish. She'll the eggs and cut them in half. Put them into dish, cut side down. Top with rest of sauce, then sprinkle over a handful more cheese.
Delia suggests putting under the grill, but I had my oven on for something else, so popped it in there for ten minutes.

I love cheese, I love spinach, I love egg.....this dish was great!
I served it with some new potatoes and some carrots, but it would be nice with salad too.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Store cupboard alchemy...

...for a Monday night.

 On Monday evenings I host a ladies bible study/prayer meeting/discussion group in my home. At my church we call these Connect Groups. They are a valuable way to build relationships and develop connectivity in a pretty large church. About 8 ladies come to my group, and I have to say that knowing these women has enriched my life far more than any amount of money ever could.

 I like to offer a little something to go with a cup of tea or coffee as people arrive. Nothing very elaborate is required, and most weeks a packet of biscuits is the height of my culinary offering! However, since its half term, which means I'm not at work, and since its almost payday and my purse is feeing very light, I decided to bake something using ingredients I have to hand instead.

 I have a recipe, written on a rather stained and dog eared scrap of paper, which I've been making for years. It makes a sort of a flapjack-y style bar, with a layer of jam in the middle. It is a really, really reliable recipe, well liked by everyone who tries it, it is easy to adapt depending on what you have in the cupboard, and the high oat content means you can almost convince yourself that it is healthy ;-)

 The original name for the recipe s Apricot Oat Bars, but as you will see, this isn't always an appropriate name. I wish I could remember where I found this recipe, to give credit where credit is due, but I'm afraid I cannot.

155g margarine
250g soft brown sugar
220g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
155g oats
250g apricot jam.

First, cream your marg and sugar together in a bowl until light and creamy. I use a hand held electric whisk for this. A wooden spoon would do the job eventually, but would take longer. Honestly, I most often use cheap soft margarine for this. Real butter would be delicious, but that's not often an option in my budget. As far as sugar goes, I've used all sorts. Sometimes the soft brown called for in the recipe, sometimes Demerara, sometimes caster, sometimes plain old granulated. Sometimes a mixture of all sorts of odds an ends, depending on what was in the cupboard. They will alter the taste and colour of the bake, but they all work! One of the beauties of this recipe is that it is very forgiving of substitutions.

Then, beat in the bicarbonate and the flour. I have forgotten the bicarbonate a couple of times. You still get a decent end result, but it is heavier and denser. Plain white flour is almost always what I have to hand, so is what I use. I made it with half white, half whole meal once, and that was lovely too.

Then stir in the oats. Last time I made this, I realised I was about 60g of oats short, so I threw in a couple more tablespoons of flour and hoped for the best. The texture was different, of course, but it was still lovely.

 Press half the mixture into a greased and lined tin, approx 18x28cm. Don't worry about the precise size of your tin, this isn't the sort of bake that needs an exact size. I don't bother to line my tin, I just grease it well with some veg Poland a pastry brush. It always comes out fine.

 Spread with jam. I don't think I've ever weighed out the jam. A few dollops to cover with a generous layer will do. I'm not really that keen on apricot jam, so I have not used it often. Any jam at all will do. I'm lucky enough to have been given some jars of homemade bramble jam, so that's what I used today. I have used other things though, such as a jar of mincemeat, left over from Christmas, a jar of cranberry sauce (also a Christmas leftover, of course), some stewed apple - it really depends what I have to hand.

 Bake at about 160c (in my fan oven, at least) for approx 30 minutes, until its nice and golden. Leave to cool in the tin, cutting into portions after about ten minutes. It's quite a sturdy bake, and holds together well. It keeps in a tin for a good few days - certainly, we've always finished it before it ever needed throwing away!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Snug as a bug... my warm cosy bed.

 Growing up, we had no heating at all upstairs. Bathing was a hasty business in cold weather, and no one lingered for long on the loo either! Downstairs, the lounge had underfloor heating, and on really cold nights we would sometimes 'camp' downstairs rather that face the frosty bedrooms.

 In my house now we have radiators in all the rooms upstairs, but very rarely turn the ones in the bedroom on. Our house is pretty well insulated, with double glazing, and just doesn't get all that cold, most of the time. Also, the hot water tank is in one bedroom, and hot water pipes run through the other, and heat up both rooms quite significantly. I prefer a slightly cooler bedroom, so I'm happy without the heating on. I do like to be nice and cosy in bed though, and there are a number of frugal ways that I achieve this.

1. I don't expect to be able to sit around my house in shorts and a t-shirt in December, and I don't expect to go to bed wearing next to nothing either! I love my pyjamas, and I'm always really happy to receive more for Christmas or my birthday. A pair of socks helps too, and if I need to put an extra t-shirt on under my pjs then I will. When we go camping I take a fleece hat to wear in bed. I've never actually needed to wear one at home, but I suppose I could! Warming up any bed clothes before you put them on is a good idea, either by putting them on one of the radiators downstairs for a bit, or wrapping them around a hot water bottle.

2. I use as many quilts and blankets as I need to to keep warm. My daughter sleeps in a single bed, but has a double quilt so that she can wrap herself up. Single quilts leave too many gaps and drafts!

3. I try and make sure that I'm warm before I get into bed. A bath warms me up quickly if I am cold, and then I can dry quickly and jump into bed. A warm drink before bed helps too.

4. Hot water bottles are great. But don't stop at one. We own four altogether, and on really cold nights I put them all into my daughters bed half an hour before she turns in. I wrap them up in her pyjamas and bed socks, so that they are nice and warm to put on.

5. I must confess that I really, really, really love my electric blanket. I turn it on five minutes or so before I get into bed, and only leave it on for ten minutes or so once I get in, but it makes such a difference!

6. You really can't beat another person in the bed with you to share body heat! A hug from my husband is worth a dozen electric blankets! And a dog or two laying across your feet certainly keeps them warm, although being unable to move is a bit of a downside ;-)

I am really looking forward... my dinner tonight.

 When I walk through my front door tonight I will be able to smell my dinner cooking. This morning, before my eyes were even fully open, I dumped some stewing steak, sliced onions and mushrooms into the slow cooker. I sprinkled a couple of stock cubes in there, and poured hot water from the kettle over the lot.

 I know for a fact it will be delicious. I've got some carrots to go with it, and some sprouts (even though they are evil!). If I can find the energy, I might peel some spuds and have mashed potatoes too, but if I can't I will be more than happy to settle for a chunk of crusty bread.

 Even better, there will be enough left over to have for dinner tomorrow night, probably with a jacket potato.

 I love my slow cooker. It makes life so much easier knowing that dinner  will be ready and waiting for me whenever I want to serve it. I love that it makes the cheapest, toughest cuts of meat tender, flavoursome and delicious. I love that although I have plenty of fancier, more elaborate slow cooker recipes, just a bit of meat and stock and a few veg can be transformed into something good to eat.

 Slow cookers don't allow liquid to evaporate, so the gravy will be very thin. I usually thicken it up by adding a little cornflour, slaked in a tablespoon or two of water, but a sprinkle of potato flakes stirred into the gravy can also do the job.

Things to do when you're broke...

...and bored, and its cold and wet outside!

 Master the art of Origami. Google will offer you a huge range of sites giving instructions, from the most basic to the most complex. All you need is some paper, and this could be pages torn from old magazines, catalog use, junk mail etc. depending on the dexterity of your child, this could be a suitable activity for all ages from about seven or eight years up.

 Wrap up warm, and go visit the nearest library. I can pass a very happy half hour (or more!) choosing books to take home. I can try books that I would never normally buy, because I'm not spending any money on them. If I hate them, I've lost nothing. If I enjoy them, I may have found a new favourite author. My daughter is a bit too old for most of the kids activities on offer at our local library, but when she was younger we went along to all the free craft and story activities they offered.  
She also thoroughly enjoyed choosing a big pile of books to take home. My local library has a fairly limited selection of DVDs, CDs and audio books, but I have borrowed a number of them, completely free of charge.

 Have a pamper session, using items you already own. Warm up a little olive oil (or plain old vegetable oil) and massage it into your hair and scalp. Wrap your head in cling film, then a warm towel. Leave it for ten-fifteen minutes, then shampoo it away. Make yourself a face pack out of some natural yogurt mixed with oats, ora mashed up banana. Lay back and relax with slices of cucumber on your eyes for ten minutes, then rinse of the face pack. Use an old pair of tights, or a dish cloth, or a square of muslin if you're the kind of person who has squares of muslin to hand, to fasten up a few scoops of oats. Run a bath, and let the oats soak in there (very good for dry skin). Take a look on YouTube for make up tutorials, and use the make up you already own to get the 'look' of a particular celebrity.

 Share you skills/ talents and make your own YouTube film! Show other people how to bake a cake, introduce them to your pet hamster, talk them through how you have organised your sock drawer, sing them a song, whatever you like!!!

 Clear out your junk drawer.

 Make a list of who you will send Christmas cards to, and start making them.

 Play a board game.

 Invite your friends round to play board games with you. Serve tea and toast to snack on. If they offer to bring snacks, or wine, let them!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

How can I help....

...when I have so little to give?

 One of the struggles of living on a really tight budget is feeling unable to help others. It is really difficult to see people in need and no that there is literally no wriggle room in the budget from which to give. But there are ways to help. Here are a couple of ideas...

 Give things you no longer need to charity shops. As my daughter has grown out of clothes, shoes, toys, books etc we have been able to pass them on to charity shops. Very close to us is a charity shop which supports a local hospice. I may not have spare cash to donate to the hospice, but I know that they can use my donations to raise money. I was given lots of clothes recently, but some of them didn't fit or were not my style, so I donated them. I don't like clutter or 'stuff', so I often have a few bits to take to the charity shop.

 Last year I helped my daughter organise a coffee morning to raise money for an amazing charity that  helps children in Colombia. We served tea, coffee, juice and hot chocolate, along with 3 or 4 varieties of home made cakes. We probably didn't spend more than £10 altogether. We invited friends to come along, and to make any donation they wished. Lots of people came, and we all enjoyed a lovely, relaxed time. When we emptied the money box at the end of the day, we had raised more than £50!


....the meat!

 Minced beef is a real staple, frugal food. You can make so much out of it, it regularly finds its way into my shopping basket.

 But even minced beef can be pricey, and it is also quite a high point option on the weight loss plan I follow, so I do try to stretch it if I can. Here are a few suggestions;

 Add plenty of chopped, fried onion, mushrooms and grated carrot to a tomatoey sauce. You will still get plenty of flavour from the mince, and they add a good texture along with vitamins and fibre.

 If I'm making a chilli, I usually add a couple of kinds of beans, so that the bean to meat ratio is about 50/50.

 When making a shepherds pie, I mix in plenty of veg like diced carrot, swede, peas etc.

 Whatever I'm making with the mince, I often stir in a handful or two of orange lentils, and a handful or two of oats. These soak up all the flavour, and no one ever notices that they are there. I sometimes mix beef mince with soya mince, too.

 All of these options make good quality minced beef go further, and add useful nutrients too.

Uses for free rosemary...

 A little while ago someone gave me some sprigs of rosemary from their garden. I used it in a number of ways...

1. I added a little chopped rosemary to two packs of reduced price green beans (20p per packet) that I cooked until soft with a sliced onion and a tin of chopped tomatoes. I portioned this out into 3 plastic tubs, topped them with a little crumbled feta cheese, and put them in the freezer to take to work for lunch.

2. I had some friends over for lunch on Sunday, and I wanted to serve another vegetable, but I didn't have time to go to the shops again. So, I opened a couple of tins of butter beans, and warmed them through in some olive oil flavoured with a sprig of rosemary. I had never done that before, but they were absolutely delicious!

3. Inspired by the success of the butter beans, and The Italian vibe coming from Nigella Lawsons new series, I made a white bean and pasta soup, using up a couple of onions, a potato and some chicken stock from the freezer. I flavoured this with rosemary and bay leaves. When it was cooked, I mashed it up a bit, added a splash more water and the last of some small pasta shapes. I cannot tell you how good it tasted!!! Sometimes a meal tastes so such greater than the sum of its parts - and this was one of those times :-)

4. I made a rinse for my hair by boiling some water in a pan along with some rosemary stalks and a few leaves. I poured it into a jar, and left it to cool. While cooling, I dropped the shell of a juiced lemon into it. I strained it and used it to rinse through my hair after shampooing.

5. I cooked some chicken breasts in a simple tomato sauce, flavoured with a sprig of rosemary.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A flexible, fall-back...

...frugal meal.

 About twenty years ago I bought a cook book from Kwik Save supermarket. Kwik Save doesn't exist anymore, but there are a few recipes in the book which I still use. One of them is Tuna Mornay. Now, the actually recipe calls for a layer of rice, a layer of tinned tuna, and a layer of curry sauce. I really don't like the idea of the curry sauce, but the recipe was the inspiration for a dish that we eat quite often.

 First, I cook some rice in my electric rice cooker. I love my rice cooker, I really do. Without it, I'm rubbish at cooking rice. I don't often weigh the rice, but I guess between 60-100g of dried rice per person is about right.
 The cooked rice is layered in the bottom of an oven proof dish, mixed with some sweet corn, or some peas, or some mushrooms, or nothing at all, depending on what I have to hand. I prefer to mix plenty of veg in, but sometimes I don't have any available. In that case, I will try to serve salad on the side, or have fruit for dessert.
 On top of the rice goes a layer of fish. Usually, this is a drained tin of tuna or two, but it might be some tinned salmon, or some cooked, flaked white fish. On top of that goes a layer of white sauce, made with butter/spread, flour and milk. Actually, I've found that if I'm short of milk, I can replace up to half of it with chicken stock (or chicken stock cube and hot water!) and it will still taste good. On top of the white sauce goes some grated cheese, or some breadcrumbs, or both, or neither.
 The whole thing can either be chilled quickly and then thoroughly reheated (you cannot be too careful with rice), or put straight into the oven to warm through and make the topping golden.

 My family all enjoy this, and it is so flexible that it enables me to use whatever I have to hand. It's also something that I can prepare in advance, which I find really useful.

Why I pay to be weighed...

Every Wednesday evening I pay a nice lady called Janet £6.25 for the privilege of standing on her scales. I have a perfectly good set of bathroom scales at home, so surely paying Janet is a waste of money?

 Well, not for me. Being frugal isn't just about spending as little as possible, it is also about getting value for my money. My weight loss class gives me value for money. I get a sensible plan to follow, leaflets and booklets each week, rewards like stickers and key rings to reward me for weight loss achievements, and a half hour motivational talk each week. It isn't as though I get told anything new -  I fully understand the principles of healthy eating, but that's not really the point. The meeting provides accountability, and that's the one thing I cannot provide for myself! More self-disciplined people than me can lose weight all on their own, but I am a realist. I know from experience that without the accountability that Janet provides I would not stick with it, so for me that £6.25 really is money well spent!

Making the most of...

...what you have.

 A few days ago I was mooching about the local Co-op, looking for any price reductions. Down the freezer aisle I came across a half price BBQ pack, containing sausages, burgers and BBQ chicken wings. Original price £5, I paid £2.50. Well, it certainly isn't BBQ weather, but I knew I didn't have to BBQ them!

 I served up burgers in homemade bread rolls for tea on Saturday evening, topped with onions, and a bit of salad. They weren't the greatest burgers ever, but they were tasty and didn't shrink much. My daughter was thrilled - for some reason she always seems thrilled when we are eating actual meat, as opposed to quorn or lentils. I don't think I use lentils that often, but maybe I do....!

 Some of the sausages made a hearty Sunday morning breakfast for my daughter and my husband, and then most of the rest went for sausage, mash and veg for tea on Monday. I was left with one sausage remaining. I could have just served it up on Monday, but I didn't, and used it instead for my daughters breakfast on Tuesday. One sausage, a couple of mushrooms and a slice of bread. Just enough for a breakfast.

 The chicken wings made an appearance for tea last night, with rice and cabbage stir fried with one Nigella seeds.  I cooked some extra rice, and mixed it up with a little leftover bit of honey and mustard salad dressing. Some chopped up cucumber went in. If I'd had more salad stuff, I would have used it, but I didn't so I made do with just cucumber. There was a bit of cooked chicken in the freezer, not really enough to fill a sandwich, but enough to add taste and protein to the salad. I thought it could use a bit more crunch and texture, so some peanuts went in next. That is my husbands packed lunch for today. He gets fed up of sandwiches, but his office doesn't have a microwave at the moment so I cannot sent leftovers from dinner, which he would prefer.

 I still have two burgers left. I think I'll use them tonight. I've made a great big pot of bean and pasta soup, flavoured with rosemary (a gift from a lady at my weightwatchers class) and bay leaves (from the garden). It smelled amazing while it was cooking last night, I cannot wait to eat it for diner tonight. However, my husband really doesn't consider soup to be a 'proper' dinner. I hope that if I serve it alongside a beef burger in a bun he will think its substantial enough. I have a few apples that need using, so maybe I will make a little apple crumble for pudding. Surely no one could grumble about a meal like that!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

I just cannot bring myself to...

...really enjoy porridge. It sounds like it should be appetising; a big, steaming bowl of hot porridge, with dried fruit, a generous sprinkling of brown sugar, maybe even a dollop of golden syrup. But no matter how hard I try, I just cannot summon up much enthusiasm for it. At best, I am ambivalent about it. At worst, it makes me feel vaguely sick.

 Which sort of makes me feel like a bit of a failure in the frugal department. Just about every frugal website in the world waxes lyrical about the virtues of oats as a breakfast food. Undoubtedly, they are a cheap meal. Equally undoubtedly, they are also easy to prepare, keep you full for ages, and are astonishingly good for you. Sadly, though, I just cannot bring myself to like a hot bowl of porridge, no matter how cold or grey or wintry the morning.

 However, all is not lost! I have found a way of preparing oats for breakfast that I actually enjoy! I take a couple of spoons of oats, and put them in a breakfast bowl. I add a spoonful or two of dried fruit (such as sultanas). Then, I cover them with milk, pop the bowl in the fridge and go to bed. By the morning, the oats and the fruit have soaked up the milk and they are smooth and juicy and all round lovely. Try it, if you don't believe me! Complete perfection would involve a banana sliced on top, but sometimes perfection just cannot be had, and I enjoy the oats anyway. The friend who gave me the idea for cold soaked oats also suggested soaking the oats in apple juice instead of milk. I keep meaning to try it, but I'm far more likely to have milk in the house than I am apple juice, so it hasn't happened yet. I did once grate an apple into the oats just before eating, and that was nice, but not as nice as the banana. And it left me with a grater to wash. If I use dried mixed fruit, and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top, it tastes and smells a bit like Christmas :-) if I don't have any dried fruit in the house, I might squirt some golden syrup on it to sweeten it instead.

Frugal Christmas wrapping...

...that doesn't look cheap.

 A couple of years ago I bought a great big roll of brown wrapping paper. It cost about a fiver, and I'm still using it! I think it makes presents look really classy, and because it is neutral I have used it for every event, including birthdays and weddings. Once the gifts is wrapped, I tie it up with string, and add a brown card parcel tag. I bought a huge pack of those from a newsagents a long time ago, and it seems like they will last for ever! The gift looks pretty cute and 'retro' just like that, but I do like to add a bit more embellishment. A couple of holly leaves snipped from the garden, and tucked into the string looks cute, and is very Eco-friendly, of course. A little bauble or two that won't fit on the Christmas tree looks great. In fact, you can buy them so cheaply from supermarkets and pound shops that getting a few just for wrapping is a pretty frugal option. After Christmas lays year I bought a pack of little wooden cut out shapes from Paperchase. There is no way I would have paid full price, but they only cost a few pence and they will look great on this years gifts. Usually, though, I try not to buy embellishments. I would much, much rather use what I have to hand. I don't buy ribbon, but I save whatever bits come my way, including those bits sewn into clothes to help them stay on hangers. They hang out of your clothes annoyingly, so I often snip them off. I don't throw them away, though, because they might come in handy for fastening around small gifts. I save tissue paper, and use that to wrap gifts. I have a few little self-inking Christmas stamps that I sometimes use to decorate the parcel tags. I often use a gold pen, or a nice bold, black felt tip pen to write the tag. I can't do real calligraphy, but I do my best to make my handwriting an attractive feature.

 After Christmas last year I bought some make your own cracker kits very cheaply from Hobbycraft. I intend to make some nice crackers to go on the table or Christmas lunch, but I have more than I need, and it occurs to me that they would make a great 'wrapping' for small gifts, such as little scented candles.

I always cook from scratch...

...except when I don't!

 Without a shadow of a doubt, cooking from scratch is much, much more frugal than buying per-made, convenience foods or ready meals. However, sometimes I have to work late, or forget to take what I need out of the freezer, or just don't have time to squeeze in a shopping trip. On those occasions, a convenience food or ready meal can be a whole lot more frugal than my other option, which is to get a take away.

 I try hard to plan carefully and not let that occur very often, but when it does happen there are a couple of quick, easy meals that I can fall back on. Pizza is the first thing that springs to mind. In my book, there is no such thing as a bad pizza! Having a couple of frozen pizzas to hand can be a budget saver, providing me with something quick and easy to dish up. Even buying pizza from the local shop and cooking it at home is just as quick, and a lot cheaper than buying a take away. Also, pizza makes a good meal to offer any unexpected guests.

 A jar of pesto and a packet of pasta in the cupboard means that I always have a quick meal on hand. I can usually scrape up a bit more to add to it, such as some veg, cooked with the pasta (even if its just a few peas out of the freezer), or some grated cheese, or a couple of chopped up bits of ham, or a tin of tuna, but even if I have nothing else, no one in my house would turn their nose up at pasta and pesto.

 Convenience foods can sometimes be more frugal than the alternative, but I need to be careful that they don't become a regular part of the menu!

The most frugal decision I ever made...

...was to get rid of the TV!

 As a family, we were aware of how much of our time TV was swallowing up, and at the back of our mind was a growing sense of unease. We try to be careful about the influences we allow into our lives, and found that quite a lot of the things we saw on TV didn't really reflect our standards. So, we decided to say goodbye to Sky, and to disconnect the arial.

 Now, we're not some Amish-wannabes, you understand! In our household (of three people!) we have one laptop, one notebook, two iPads and three smart phones, so we have no shortage of Internet access. We watch things on 4oD, BBC iplayer, YouTube etc. We also enjoy watching DVDs. However, even with all of these options, we still don't spend anything like as much time staring mindlessly at the screen.

 So what's frugal about that?

 Well, the first christmas without TV, my daughter sat down with a paper and pen to make her 'list'.

"2 guinea pigs" was as far as she got.

 With no exposure to adverts, she had no desire for 'stuff'. I genuinely hadn't realised how much materialism seeps into us through the TV. In my experience, watching TV really does contribute to a sense of discontentment. Perhaps children are more sensitive to this than adults. They lack the sophistication and life experience to see through the advertisers tricks. But are we really as sophisticated as we think we are?