Monday, 21 January 2013

Reusable toilet cloths...

...a step to far???

 I've seen a few stories on the Internet about people who have entirely eliminated disposable paper products from their lives, including toilet paper. Instead, they use 'family cloths', which they use then launder in the same way you might wash a babies nappies. Although I might admire their frugal and Eco credentials, I'm certain that this is not for me. The ewwww factor is just too high.

 However, I don't use very many paper products. When I was a child, all our old t-shirts, sheets and even pants, once they reached the end of their useful life,were cut up and used as cleaning rags. This is something I have started doing too. Without the pants, though! The rags can be used as dish cloths, floor cloths, for leaning the bathroom and for wiping up spills around the house. I used to spend money on disposable wipes for cleaning the kitchen, and on paper kitchen role, but now I use the rags instead.

 I don't use paper napkins, I have cloth ones instead (bought from a charity shop).

 I very rarely use paper plates, only when I host large numbers of guests, when I consider the cost of convenience a price I'm willing to pay.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

It still feels a bit like Christmas... least, in my house it does.

 There is something about snow that always seems a bit Christmassy, I think, and in recent days I have found myself tempted to get the Elf DVD out. However, I've resisted. Instead, I've been using up some Christmas foods.

 On Christmas Day I sliced up the roast beef and froze it, thinking that it would make a nice easy meal one day. This morning before church I took it out to defrost, and prepared some veg to go with it. We don't usually have a roast dinner on. Sunday. My husband is a Pastor, so Sundays are most definitely not a day of rest, and there isn't usually time to cook a roast. I was glad that I had prepared a substantial meal, though, especially as my husband invited one of the interns from church home for lunch.

 So the sliced beef went into the oven, covered in gravy, to heat through, while the potatoes boiled for mash, the carrots and butternut squash roasted in the oven, and the cabbage cooked in the steamer. It took about forty minutes from walking though the door to sitting down to eat - not too bad, I thought.

I didn't really have a proper dessert to serve, but some chocolates and biscuits left over from Christmas  and enjoyed with coffee after the meal seemed to leave everyone happy enough.

 I was really pleased to be able to dish up a good meal quickly, easily and frugally, using leftovers and fresh veg, for both my family and an unexpected guest.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Snow... Walter de la Mare

No breath of wind,
No gleam of sun -
Still the white snow
Whirls softly down
Twig and bough
And blade and thorn
All in an icy
Quiet, forlorn.
Whispering, rustling,
Through the air
On sill and stone,
Roof - everywhere,
It heaps its powdery
Crystal flakes,
Of every tree
A mountain makes;
'Till pale and faint
At shut of day
Stoops from thevWest
One wint'ry ray,
And, feathered in fire
Where ghosts the moon,
A robin shrilly
His lonely tune.

I've just taken my dogs out for a walk in the snow, and it brought this poem to mind.

My other frugal friend...


My mum almost never eats pasta. It's strange to think that just one generation before me, pasta was pretty much unheard of. Spaghetti hoops on toast for a Sunday night tea was the closest I came to pasta as a child.

 But now, pasta is a staple food for me. Two, maybe three nights per week we eat pasta. It's quick, it's versatile, it's simple and its cheap.

 I usually buy those really big bags of pasta from Asda. Penne, usually, but I'm not too fussy. I also buy spaghetti, and lasagne sheets. I can't imagine not having a decent stock of pasta in my cupboard, because if I have that, then I can always make a meal.

Fresh pesto is delicious, but jars are pretty good too, and we will eat pasta and pesto two or three times a month.
I really enjoy tomato based sauces, but my husband doesn't, so I usually serve them on nights when he isn't home. It's easy to make up a tomato sauce with tinned tomatoes, onion and herbs. Garlic is great in there, so is basil, and all kinds of veg an go in there too. Sometimes I roast a load of veg with garlic, then whiz it all up with some tinned toms. This can be frozen in portions, then used as a sauce with pasta, or chicken, or on pizza.

Often my husband with fry up some onion in olive oil, add some bits of bacon, cooked pasta and a sprinkle of grated cheese to make a quick, tasty meal.

Pasta is frugal because it can turn a few bits and pieces into a filling, satisfying meal. It is quick to cook, so a meal is always on hand, thus avoiding trips to the take away!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

My frugal friend...


I used to really struggle with rice. No matter what I tried, I just couldn't cook it well. So, I used to buy frozen rice, or those little packets of microwave rice, which all cost a lot more than a bag of plain, simple rice.

Then, I read Nigella Lawson waxing lyrical about the virtues of an electric rice cooker. My birthday came along, and my mother in law was kind enough to buy one for me....and my life was transformed!

Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration, but it really does make cooking rice simple and convenient, and I use rice a lot more often than I used to.

Rice is a really versatile food. Obviously, it accompanies curries and chillies well, but it can also be teamed up with any sort of casserole, especially when I can't be bothered to prepare potatoes. Quite often when I cook rice I will make more than I need, and use what's left as a base for a salad for lunch the next day, or to make a 'tuna and rice, cheesey-topped casserole'.

I also really enjoy risotto. A simple base of chopped onion and garlic, some rice and some stock can be a vehicle for using up all kinds of odds and ends, and turning them into a meal. I love the texture of proper risotto rice, but I'm happy to make do with ordinary long grain if that is what I have to hand.

I use rice to bulk out foods, too. Mixed into meatball, burger, or meatloaf mixture they stretch the meat further. I often add a and full of rice to a an of soup, or even to a pan of bolognese sauce.

And rice is a favourite with both my dogs. One has a rather delicate digestive system, and sometimes a little rice is all she can tolerate until she feels better :-(

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A truly frugal pastime...

...Reading, of course!

I love to read. I simply cannot imagine a life without books. To me, words can take you anywhere, make you feel anything. And happily, reading is the simplest, most frugal of pastimes. I don't need special equipment, I don't need to go to a special location, I don't need anyone else to join me, I can combine it with other tasks (having a bath, on the bus, waiting for an appointment).

I use my local library a lot. It's not a large library, but its very friendly. I often take out books that I wouldn't consider buying, books that I am not sure I will like, because it costs me nothing to try them, and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. My library will order books free of charge, and I've never had any difficulty getting hold of something I want to read, even if I've had to wait a week or two.

I do like to buy books, too. I enjoy having a good old root around in charity shops, and most of the books I buy come from there. I keep an eye out for authors I like, and that my husband enjoys. In fact, I keep a little list in my purse of all the Iain Rankin novels he owns, so that if I see one I can quickly check if he already has it. I rarely pay more than a pound per book in a charity shop, often a lot less.

Even if I end up paying full price for a book, I consider it good value for money. For about the price of a cinema ticket I get several hours of entertainment, even if I only read it once (and I often re-read books that I have enjoyed).

Deliberately frugal...

...choosing to take pleasure in frugal activities.

There are all sorts of outdoor activities, like mountain biking, snow boarding, kayaking etc that sound like they might be a lot of fun, if you are into that sort of thing. The difficulty is, they are all pretty expensive. They require a lot of specialist equipment, and even just hiring it is costly. If I thought I would have the time, energy or enthusiasm to use it regularly, I might be tempted by a good bike, but I know that I wouldn't get my money's worth.

I do like to get outside when I can though, and I have a couple of dogs, so walking is a regular part of my life. And I have to say, you can't find a cheaper outdoor activity than walking! All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes, and unless you are intending to go on serious hikes, I'm not talking about any sort of specialist footwear, and you are set.

An important part of living a frugal life for me is intentionally choosing to enjoy simple, frugal pleasures, like walking. Taking the dogs out can seem like a bit of a chore, especially in the rain, but I make a conscious effort to make it a pleasure. I vary the routes that I take from my house, so that I am not always pounding the same streets. I might combine it with a little 'window shopping' along the Main Street. Yesterday evening snow had fallen quite quickly, and my daughter was keen to come with me when I walked the dogs, largely so that she could pelt me with snowballs, I suspect. It was a magical walk, with everything made beautiful by a covering of snow, and all the sounds so muffled that it felt as though we were alone in the world.

Sometimes I will put the dogs in the car and take them somewhere else for a walk, perhaps a park, or the beach, or the river bank. If I can persuade them to come along, my husband and daughter may join me. Sometimes we meet up with friends who join us on our walk. And the whole experience costs nothing more than a little petrol money.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Shopping monthly... save time and money.

 In an ideal world, I would shop locally every day, and visit farmers markets and artisan bakery's and such like. However, I work full time and I have neither the time, money or energy to do all of those things all of the time. So I have found a way of shopping that works for me.

 At the start of the month, I visit the supermarket to do my Big Shop. This is when I stock up on a months worth of staples. Store cupboard basics like big bags of pasta and rice. Tinned tomatoes. Tea bags, sugar, flour, coffee, butter/margarine. I usually pick up a few jars of pesto to keep in the cupboards for a quick and easy meal. Long lasting fruit and veg like potatoes, onions, root vegetables, apples etc. I'll get enough fresh milk to last the week, and a carton or two of long life milk for emergencies (I don't like the taste in milk or on cereal, but its fine to use in cooking). I will often get some packets of upstart powder - my husband would eat cardboard if I covered it in custard. Dried fruit, cereal, porridge oats, digestive biscuits, cheap chocolate for cooking, eggs, and some packets of cheap instant mashed potato. Noodles. I might get some bread, if its reduced and I have room in the freezer. I often pick up pitta breads, as they don't take up much freezer space, and wraps are useful as they usually have a long date on them and won't take up much cupboard space. If they are on special offer, I will stock up on LOTS. Tinned tuna, tinned anchovies, baked beans and tinned sweetcorn are also staples, also stock cubes and sauces, like brown sauce and salad cream. Loo roll, sanitary products, toiletries, washing liquid etc. Dog food. Meat for the freezer.

 There are probably more things, but I can't think of them right now.

 And that is probably my only trip to the supermarket that month. I have enough basics to last me a month. In some cases, I might have more than a months worth, but that just means that I can build up a bit of a stockpile. I have four tubes of toothpaste in my bathroom cupboard right now, that might come in handy in a really tight month when I have to cut back the shopping budget!

 Each week, I will top up with what I need from local shops. I'm really fortunate, in that I work close to an Aldi, so can pop in on my way home to take advantage of their offers, particularly on fruit and veg. Also, the town were I live has some great local shops within walking distance, so on Saturday mornings I often take my 'granny trolley' and shop. I can also visit the local library - this weekend I borrowed two novels, two cook books, Greg Wallace's autobiography and a River Cottage DVD.

 My aim is to keep my shopping trips limited to just one per week. I haven't quite managed it, but I am getting better!

 I know that many people meal plan and shop accordingly. I tend not to do this. Instead, I prefer to know that I have plenty of staples at home in the cupboard and freezer, and then take advantage of any special offers I see. I'm a confident cook, and very happy to be creative in the kitchen, so for me this is as much a hobby as a chore. Before my daughter was born I worked in an emergency access night shelter for the homeless. We relied more or less entirely on donations from the public to produce breakfast, lunch and a simple supper for the service users, and sometimes the donations were pretty random! Making decent mels from what we had was actually my favourite part of the job, it was a bit like bing on Ready, Steady, Cook ;-)

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A moment of...


 When I woke up this morning, my first moments of consciousness involved ( as every morning ) me thinking to myself 'what day is it? Where do I have to be? How long do I have until I have to be there?
 Blissfully, wonderfully, the answer to those questions was : its the weekend, and I don't have to go rushing off to anywhere!

 I don't think you could overestimate the pleasure I took in that moment. The joy of being able to luxuriate in my nice, cosy bed, knowing that I didn't have to rush off anywhere.

 And do you know what? That moment of pure, unbeatable pleasure - it didn't cost a single penny :-)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

If I don't go into the shop...

...then I can't spend the money, right?

 I seem to have discovered a law of nature, something akin to the law of gravity. Ready? Here it is;

 It is actually impossible to go into a shop for milk, and to come out with ONLY milk.

 Maybe it's just me, but whenever I pop into a shop, usually on my way home from work, to get the one item we are running out of (usually milk, but sometimes bread, sometimes loo roll, and more often than you would think, nail polish remover - I have a teenage daughter, remember) I never, ever leave the store with less than a bag full of other stuff. It's almost always useful stuff, like reduced price fruit or veg, cheese on special offer, ice cream on sale, etc - but it's stuff that I DID NOT intend to buy!

So here is my solution to this money draining law of nature;

Don't go in the shop in the first place!

Not exactly rocket science, right? All I have to do is make sure that I plan ahead, and don't run out of things like milk every other day. Hmm. Simple... Isn't it??? I don't usually go in for making New Year resolutions, but that sounds like a good one.

I went to Asda yesterday to do my monthly big shop, and I really went all out to stock up. I thought through the next few days, checked my cupboards, fridge and freezer, and hopefully I have enough of all the staples to last a good long while. My aim is to make it through to the weekend without spending a penny. I'm just one day in, but so far so good!