Friday, 30 September 2016

Five fabulously frugal things I've done this week #4

Comparing conkers on a fabulously free family walk

I'm not quite sure where the last week has gone, but it's certainly flown by.

Feels like I've only just written a post about five frugal things, and here we are, it's Friday again and time to celebrate another set. Here are the links to weeks one, two and three if you'd like a recap.

We're back in the swing of the school routine, with the juggling act of remembering who has filled in which reading diary, who needs what kit on what day (recorder? football boots? Brownie hoodie?) and the relentless round of locating discarded uniform before the clean stuff runs out.

In between I try and get some work done, with varying degrees of success. Believe me, there's a whole load of blog posts that get written in my head and never quite make it onto the computer.

So here's the round up of frugal fun this week:


The tip of the conker iceberg

Enjoyed a free family walk round Wanstead Park

We headed off to visit friends in Wanstead last weekend. It was great to get the two families together, and on Sunday we took advantage of the sunshine and got wellied up for a long walk.
For once my children hardly complained about the distance, as they wandered round Wanstead Park trying to skip stones across the pond, comparing sticks, paddling in the stream (yes, they did all get wet feet) and pursuing a record-breaking collection of conkers.
I do think glossy conkers are a particularly beautiful colour, so I've stuck some in a jug to decorate the dining table.
However, this hasn't made much of a dent in the 300 odd my children insisted on carting home.
Sure, I can thread some string through a few so they can play conkers, but has anyone got any other suggestions?
Zoe over at Eco Thrifty Living pointed out on Instagram that horse chestnuts have saponins in them, so I could potentially chop up the conkers and boil them to make laundry detergent. My mind is still boggling at that idea, so I'm open to alternatives.


Look! Roots! Let's pretend that was on purpose.

Became an accidental hydroponic gardener

I wish I could pretend that sticking some mint sprigs in a glass of water until they sprouted roots was a deliberate decision to grow a free mint plant.
In reality, it's just an example of rubbish housekeeping.
My mother-in-law gave me some mint from her garden to go with new potatoes, and I stuck the remaining half in water to keep it fresh for another recipe.
Ever frugal, I even brought the remainder back from Dorset at the end of our holiday, wrapped in damp kitchen towel and foil. The mint has been sitting in a glass of water on our kitchen windowsill ever since, with a few leaves used here and there in salads or mojitos.
Fast forward nearly (cough) two months, and the mint has sprouted new leaves and plenty of roots ready to plant in a pot. Result!


Nostalgia trip from Ladybird books

Been passed on some retro Ladybird books

I'm all in favour of using second hand stuff that still has life left in it - clothes, books, toys, furniture, the lot.
When the grandparents retrieved some children's books from the loft, I was only too happy to give them a home, as new books for the family to read for free.
I've picked up retro Ladybird books here and there in the past (pics of some in this post), but now we have loads more to add to the shelves, all relics of my husband's childhood.
Much as I love the illustrations, some of the text is quite as politically incorrect as you might expect from the recent Ladybird parodies.
However, the kids have been keen to read assorted stories, and my son carried off "The Seashore and Seashore Life" during his school trip to Felixstowe.
Think it's safe to say that the books on "How it works: the telephone" and "How it works: the television" may not be completely up to date...


The offending lump of carbon.
You came here for the glamorous photos, right?

Getting the Aga serviced

Now, I appreciate that spending £95 to get the Aga serviced may not appear exactly frugal, especially given I have ordered a new cooker (short pause while I count down the days until delivery).
However, the elderly oil-fired Aga had lost heat so much that I couldn't actually cook anything, and using a single plug in electric ring was a pain.
When I went away for the competition trip with my sister (it was utterly amazing! More details here), there was no hope of bunging the traditional Friday night pizzas in the oven, and my husband ended up at the local takeaway.
The next day was our wedding anniversary, but with no working cooker, any attempts at cooking a fancy meal like last year were completely scuppered.
We ended up eating fish, chips and fizz*, all four of us sitting in a row on the sofa, watching the Great British Bake Off on catch up. Rock'n'roll.
*I do feel compelled to point out that the primary school aged contingent were on the milk, before anyone feels the need to call social services.
Takeaways are a rare luxury for us, and shelling out £32 on just two meals was painful.
Compared to the spiralling cost of more takeaways, getting the Aga back in working order suddenly seemed more sensible.
Anyway, this week Ross Damasco the amazing Aga man took pity on us and squeezed in a service at short notice.
He pointed out that the problem was all due to a plug of carbon building up as the oil burnt, which then prevented further oil from getting through. No wonder the flame was guttering.
After he worked his wonders, the Aga is now back to blast furnace again, rather than boring food to death.
This is an example where I fear my attempts at frugality, in not getting the Aga serviced last year when we expected to replace it, had expensive side effects.
Now I can continue cooking until the new oven is delivered and connected, and we can attempt to sell the old one in working order.
So if anyone fancies an 80-year-old pre-war Aga, that guzzles oil like there's no tomorrow, just give me a shout. It has even featured in the Sunday Times and everything.


Home-made pizza for pennies not pounds

Made our own pizzas

Now that the Aga is back in action, it's back to making our own pizzas on Friday nights. I make the dough using this recipe, with only really simple ingredients: strong bread flour, or value plain flour at a pinch, plus yeast, salt, a teeny bit of sugar, a slug of olive oil and some warm water.
Pizza is a great way to combine different odds and ends lingering in the fridge. You can also stretch ingredients like ham or salami to serve many more people when it's all chopped up.
You can take out any frustrations bashing the dough about, but you do need to allow a good hour for the dough to prove, so it's not an option if you're in a hurry. I have tried making double quantities and freezing a couple of pizza bases, but it didn't work entirely well.
Anyway this week we went for ham, mushroom and value mozzarella on one side, and brie, black olives and caramelised onion on the other side. Yum.


And as a final update for anyone who's wondering, my 49p basil plant hasn't died yet!
I've been sticking to the advice about watering the saucer not the plant, and getting rid of any remaining water after 10 minutes.


Basil: still alive! 

Anyone else have some frugal triumphs to celebrate, or on the flipside, frugal intentions that ended up with expensive side effects? Or is it just me then?


I'm joining in with the #5frugalthings blog linky. If you'd like to join, or just want to check out other thrifty suggestions, hop on over to visit Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, Becky at Family Budgeting and Emma at Emma's Savvy Savings

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Five fabulously frugal things I've done this week #3

Writing about the frugal things I've done each week has reminded me about the many small things I do to spend less, while still making the most of our move to the country.

(Here are the previous posts about five frugal things in week one and week two)

So I'm very grateful to Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, Becky at Family Budgeting and Emma at Emma's Savvy Savings for starting the blog linky, so thrifty bloggers can share their money-saving measures. If you'd like to join in, check out their blogs for the details.

This was a really unusual week for me, as I headed out of Hadleigh for a trip to the cinema and an amazing outing with my sister. Certainly made a change from the normal school run routine.

Here's the round up:


Yellow-stickered food: save money, cut food waste

Bagging some bargains at the Co-op

I often nip into the Co-op straight after dropping the children at school, to buy milk and check out the reduced shelves. The staff seem to mark down short-dated food first thing in the morning, so 9am is a good time to look.
Buying cut-price food means I can stretch the family budget further, and include more exotic (read expensive) items than normal.
I only buy marked down fruit and veg if I think we can eat it in time. However, yellow-stickered meat and fish can go straight in the freezer to eat later.
On Friday, I picked up some radishes for 17p, a couple of pak choi for 43p, some organic broccoli for 38p, four floury rolls for 45p and locally sourced pork & apple sausages for £1.50. I'm a bit suspicious of the content of some sausages, so would prefer to get fancy sausages half price from the Co-op than spend the same amount on cheaper ones.
Even though I usually make our own pizzas, I also spent £2.50 on a half price fancy pizza. It will come in handy for a night when I'm away or run out of time, effort and energy.


One single rose still flowering on the climber by the back door.

Taking time to smell the roses

When we moved to Suffolk, we acquired a much bigger garden than our small paved plot in London. In an attempt to learn what on earth is growing there, I've been posting a flower a day over on the Much More with Less Instagram account. (Cue emails to my mother saying "help! what's this?")
OK, so I've stretched the definition of 'flower' to include trees, leaves and fruit, such as pears in the secret garden or the grapes outside the kitchen window.
Noticing the sunlight through blossom, or the shadows cast by leaves, has brought enormous pleasure without spending anything at all. This week, I've been enjoying the odd solitary rose still blooming in late September.
Do come and follow me over on Instagram, if you're interested.


Bridget Jones's Baby: good film, great airbrushing.

Cutting the cost of cinema tickets

Heading off to the cinema is hardly a frugal activity.
Usually we watch films on Freeview, borrow DVDs from the library or go to a cut-price children's showing first thing in the morning.
I can't remember the last time I went to the cinema to see something that wasn't child-friendly.
However, when a group of mothers suggested watching the new Bridget Jones film, I was far too excited to wait for it to come out on DVD. #TeamDarcy all the way.
I volunteered to book the tickets, which meant we could all benefit from the Cineworld discount if you register and book online. It cut the price per ticket from £10.90 to £9.88. A small saving, but I'm clutching at the fact it all adds up.


£1 a pop trial magazine subscriptions

Cancelling special offer magazine subscriptions

I used to have a pretty hefty magazine habit. Unfortunately, when I started a spending diary it was clear how the price of those glossy tomes escalates.
Now I've pretty much gone cold turkey, but if I buy magazines at all, I look out for special offer subscriptions.
Earlier this year, I signed up for £1 trial subscriptions of three issues each of Simply Sewing and BBC Homes & Antiques, and a whole £3 for 3 issues of Mollie Makes.
My fiver bought 9 magazines that would otherwise have cost £47.91 from the newsagent. Good value, I reckon, especially as Simply Sewing and Mollie Makes come with free gifts like craft kits or sewing patterns.
The catch is that you have to sign up by Direct Debit. If you forget to cancel well before the end of the trial period, WHAM you get hit by a full whack subscription for several months.
So when I subscribed, I put a note on my calendar a week or so before the first big payment. My frugal act this week was to spot the reminder and ring to cancel all three.


My sister and I, cackling away.

Winning an unreal competition prize

I've saved this one until last, as it's still a bit "don't pinch me, I might wake up". If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you might already have seen some photos.
Ever the optimist, I happily enter competitions here and there.
I don't mind handing out contact details in the hope of winning a holiday in Crete, a crate of wine or whatever. A quick click, a brief dream, and on with the rest of my life.
But every so often, they come good - like when I won tickets to see Blur in Hyde Park after filling in a survey about charity challenge Live Below the Line.
I have the cheapest possible subscription to the Times and Sunday Times, so I can read the articles locked up behind the paywall.
Each week, I click to enter prizes offered in the weekly email to subscribers.
Amazingly, I actually won one.
Even more amazingly, it consisted of a manicure and pedicure. With dinner, breakfast and a hotel stay in London. For two! SO MANY CHEERS!
It all seems a bit ridiculous as beauty treatments are about as far from my money-saving existence as you can possibly imagine. I'm not sure the last time I had a manicure. Possibly before I got married? Bear in mind my oldest child is now 8...
Anyway my sister lives in Edinburgh and I don't see her very often, so I took her as a belated birthday present. We booked the prize for last weekend, as she was coming to London for a wedding and I could arrange a work meeting beforehand. My husband bravely volunteered to field the children.
My sister and I cackled solidly during the treatments, raved about the goody bags, toasted everyone in sight during dinner, slept briefly, and then chatted continuously the next morning too. The point when the waitress warned us they were running low on lobster and said: "No really, cocktails and wine are included in the the meal too, whatever you like" was a particular high point.
So no this post isn't remotely sponsored but many thanks to Margaret Dabbs for the unbelievable prize, and everyone at The Marylebone for looking after us so well.
For the cost of train tickets and some tips, it was the most luxurious frugal weekend I have ever spent. I fear I am unlikely to be a repeat customer, but as a one-off living a ridiculous life it was brilliant.

But don't worry, on the way home I ended up on a rail replacement bus to Witham, so it's all back to normal now.

Anyone else got some frugal savings to celebrate this week? Have you ever enjoyed winning a competition? I'd love to hear!

And many thanks to Angela and Anonymous for the tips last week about my bargain basil plant. So far it's still alive on the kitchen window sill. Fingers crossed for the future...

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Five fabulously frugal things I've done this week

Short pause while I stroke my shiny new pans

I meant to get this post up on Friday, but I was running for a bus/train/meeting, then whirling around with everything else.

And now it is (cough) Tuesday, so I thought I’d better get a move on, or the blog hopping will have disappeared off into the distance. Here's last week's post, and do check the links at the end to see posts by the other bloggers. 

I also thought of making this post nice and short and punchy, but that would have taken me even longer.

Anyway – ta dah – here’s a celebration of some money saving measures this week. Not quite as much excitement as last week’s massive cooker purchase, thank goodness.

Sunshine and a spitfire at Martlesham Control Tower

1. Visited free Open Day at Martlesham Control Tower

Last weekend coincided with the Ipswich Heritage Open Days, when you can visit assorted eccentric buildings for free.
We headed off to Martlesham Control Tower, a US fighter base in WWII, as we figured the kids would find it more interesting than some of the others. They turned out to be running a full whack Open Day. We discovered stalls, displays and a bouncy castle, accompanied by live music and jive dancing.
There was a whole array of stunning vintage cars and army vehicles, and lots of people wandering round in retro uniform. (What is it with us and stumbling on crowds of renactors?)
The afternoon cost a couple of pounds for the tombola, where my son was delighted to win a 1,000 piece jigsaw.
I even remembered to take a packet of biscuits from home, as bribery to step away from the enormous queue for the ice cream van.


Basil dilemma - in or out?

2. Snapped up some yellow-stickered bread and basil

I staggered round Morrisons on Tuesday night after Brownies and Beavers, which turned out to be the perfect time to pick up cut price short-dated bread. Bread freezes really well, so it won’t go to waste.
I now have a seeded bloomer (9p), six granary rolls (9p) and a couple of extra croissants (10p) in the freezer, and we’ve already wolfed the tiger bread (9p) and bag of five giant chocolate cookies (15p). Total cost? 52p. Bargain.
I also picked up a cut-price basil plant for 49p, full of dreams about mozzarella, tomato and basil salad, and ignoring my disastrous track record with house plants.
Basil is notoriously tricky, so I could do with some advice. Should I just stick it in the herb bed and leave it to fend for itself, or repot in a bigger container and try to nurture it on the window sill?


Eggs shakshuka as a veggie option

3. Cooked a veggie option

I try to include some vegetarian meals each week, both to mix it up and as a money-saving measure.
This week I did eggs shakshuka, which is basically eggs poached in a spicy tomato and pepper sauce, and served it with brown rice. As our cooker is on the blink, it took forever, as I was cooking on a single plug-in ring and had to cook the rice before doing the rest.
Still reckon it’s a blinding recipe though, if you’d like to try it. Bring the cost down with mixed weight free-range eggs, value pack of peppers, value tinned tomatoes, then add long-lasting herbs and spices stashed in the storecupboard. Adding one herb or spice to my basket every so often makes the cost less painful than forking out for a whole load at once.


Bargain brand new pans

4. Bagged bargain saucepans from Gumtree

The fancy new cooker ordered last week has an induction hob. This means all but one of my existing saucepans will be useless, as they are not magnetic.
I know this because I’ve harassed them all with fridge magnets, when I could wrestle the letters from my children long enough to stop them spelling out rude comments about each other on the fridge.
Anyway. The cooker shop offered me a suitable set of four pans for £50, which is pretty good when the same set can cost £119.99 online, if you don’t get it thrown in for free with a Bosch or Neff induction hob.
However, I thought I’d check elsewhere, and ended up buying the exact same set, brand new, still in their box and original packaging, for £25 from Gumtree.
It was listed at £30 but the nice man selling the pans not only agreed to take less, but even dropped them round on his way to the gym. I am beyond excited with my beautiful new frying pan, milk pan and two cooking pots with lids.


Cooker plug socket It's all glamour round here.

5. Got a lower quote for connecting the cooker

Still on the cooker theme, I was quoted £95 for connecting the cooker when it’s delivered.
As there’s an existing cooker point, this seemed expensive for what appears to be basically wiring a plug. I asked around for recommendations for a local electrician, and was quoted £30, less than a third as much. 
When the electrician comes round, he’s also going to give us a quote for putting in a couple of ceiling lights.
Believe it or not, ceiling lights you can switch on by the door are pretty damn useful when it gets dark. Who knew? Certainly not some of the people who lived in this house before, or they might have PUT MORE IN. (And breathe).

And here’s a bonus extra fabulously frugal thing:

Snap! What are the odds on finding the same design?

6. Found a matching plate in a charity shop

I have a bit of a weakness for vintage crockery, as confessed in my post about charity shops.
This week I was delighted to discover a square plate in the EACH shop with exactly the same design as some side plates I picked up in a charity shop last year. 
It cost £4, but will be perfect for a piles of home baking. Will have to get cracking with that National Trust recipe for fruit scones again!



So those are my frugal highlights from this week. Any successes you’d like to share? Or top tips on my basil dilemma?

If you'd like to check out other posts in this linky, or find out how to join in, do go over and visit the blogs Diary of a Frugal Family, Family Budgeting and Emma's Savvy Savings.


Thursday, 15 September 2016

Saving costs and calories with Thai green chicken curry

My favourite meal this week

I'm a big fan of Thai food. However, all that coconut milk isn't always the best option if you're trying to shed pounds. The cost of exotic ingredients also adds up if you want to save pounds too.

The good news is that one of my favourite recipes is a diet-friendly version of Thai Green Chicken Curry, using low fat coconut milk.

My husband is also keen on this recipe, so I'm willing to shell out for long-lasting specialist ingredients like fish sauce, Thai green curry paste and kaffir lime leaves, knowing they will be used for multiple meals.

I keep the costs lower by looking out for bargain packs of chicken on the reduced shelves, which can be stashed in the freezer to use later. Chicken thighs, breast fillets or chunks from a whole chicken would all be great in this recipe.

So when I saw a yellow-stickered pack of sugar snap peas and baby sweetcorn in the Co-op this week, I snapped it up. I knew I had a tin of low fat coconut milk at the back of the cupboard, so I grabbed a lime and some fresh coriander, ready to make our favourite curry for less.


This is just making me hungry

GREEN THAI CHICKEN CURRY

Quantity serves 2 people. No-one else gets a look in.

Ingredients 

Dash of oil (vegetable oil, rapeseed oil or ground nut oil are all fine, or an oil/water spray)
Onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of Thai green curry paste
200ml (half a tin) of reduced-fat coconut milk.
150ml chicken stock
200g to 300g skinless chicken, chopped in chunky cubes
Pack of mangetout and baby sweetcorn, or sugar snap peas and baby sweetcorn.
6 kaffir lime leaves (check the herbs & spices shelves. I use dried leaves, bit like a tube of bay leaves)
1 tablespoon lime juice (half a lime should do it)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar, or low-calorie sweetner if you prefer
4 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
180g rice

Method

1. Cook the rice according to the instructions on the packet. Remember to allow extra time if you're seized by the idea of using healthy brown rice rather than white rice, as it could then need to boil gently for 30 minutes rather than just 10. (Spot the person who forgot this when cooking rice last night)

2. Heat a dash of oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and fry gently for a few minutes until it is softened.

3. Add the green Thai curry paste and fry for a further minute. Give it a stir if it looks like sticking.

4. Add the chunks of chicken, and poke around for a couple of minutes until it turns from pink to white.

5. Stir in the coconut milk and chicken stock, and add the kaffir lime leaves, baby sweetcorn and green veg, whether sugar snap peas, mangetout or green beans.

6. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.

7. Right at the end, stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and most of the coriander.

8. Serve the curry with the rice, a sprinkle of coriander and a decent dose of black pepper.


Top tips

-  I left a sprig of coriander intact in the pic above, in an attempt to improve my food photography as posted before. However, I don't really recommend chowing down on entire leaves.

- If you buy a pack of fresh coriander, wrap anything left in a piece of kitchen towel. It will then keep longer in the fridge before turning into green sludge.

- Try to spot the kaffir lime leaves and remove them at the end.

- Freeze the half a tin of coconut milk left over, to use another day. Alternatively, Thrifty Lesley is a big fan of coconut milk powder, especially when it's available at rock bottom prices via Approved Food (here's a post about Approved Food, if you don't know about it already).

- I used a Sainsbury's Basics chicken stock cube to make the stock, but this is a great recipe for using any stock you make by boiling up the bones from a whole roast chicken.

- This recipe only uses the juice and not the zest from a half a lime. If you grate the zest off the lime before using it, you can freeze it, and use it to flavour something else. How about a lemon & lime version of lemon drizzle cake?


So over to you - are you keen on Thai food? How do you cut the cost or the calories?

Also, would anyone object if I include an affiliate link to Approved Food in this post?
It means that if you click through to their website and buy something, I might get a commission from the sale at no extra cost to you.
I'm thinking of including links like that to help cover the costs of the blog. What do you reckon? I've never mentioned companies I wouldn't recommend, and don't intend to start now.

And if you've ever had techie problems commenting on my posts in the past, it's worth giving it another go. A fellow blogger let me know there was a problem, and fingers crossed it's now fixed.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

5 fab frugal food blogs to follow

An early start at the station

This weekend I headed back to London to meet up with other money bloggers, for the SHO-MOs conference and awards.

It was so much fun chatting to a bunch of other bloggers, and hearing from some excellent speakers. Everyone is passionate about their different fields, from extreme couponing to eco friendly living, money saving to hard-core investing, and keen to share ideas.

It was also exciting to meet people in real life, when I'm only used to seeing them on the internet!


Some winners and judges from the SHOMOs!*

I was delighted to be one of the finalists in the the Best Frugal Food Blog category, alongside some excellent candidates. I didn't win, but really wanted to recommend reading the other fab frugal food bloggers on the shortlist:

WINNER: Reduced Grub
Reduced Grub is all about reduced food ideas for family meals at a fraction of the cost.
As a self-confessed "whoops warrior", Kelly swoops down on those yellow-stickered bargains on the short-dated shelves. She aims to "feed her family like kings, at a fraction of a normal shop".
Kelly has stormed to success since starting blogging seven months ago, and is such a warm and chatty person!
Her recipes are full of flavours, and she also posts useful info including the best times to find reductions at different supermarkets. I hope to see many more of Kelly's recipe videos, like this one for her delicious Thai Pork.

RUNNER UP: Skint Dad
So great to meet Ricky and Naomi, the powerhouses behind Skint Dad, on Saturday.
I am truly in awe of everything they have achieved on their journey out of debt, and all the amazing ideas they continue to produce.
There's a handy cheap recipes section on the Skint Dad blog, so you can find food posts within the wealth of money making and money saving resources.
I'm a big fan of Skint Dad's fakeaway series, showing you how to save a fortune by recreating takeaways in your own home.

Thrifty Lesley
Thrifty Lesley describes her blog as "1 person, 1 day, £1" or "How to feed yourself on £1 a day".
When it comes to frugal food, Thrifty Lesley really knows her onions. And her falafels, herby scones and powdered coconut milk!
I was particularly excited to meet Thrifty Lesley, as I've been reading her blog for years. It was a bedrock of information from back in 2013 when I first did Live Below the Line.
There are way over 400 budget recipes on the site, with loads of creative ideas. Plus, I reckon one of the most useful resources is the nutritionally balanced Meal Plans, which make it possible to eat healthily on such a minimal amount of money.

Frugal Family
Cass over at The Diary of a Frugal Family describes her blog as a "bit of a mish mash of family fun, money saving tips and foodie ideas, with lots of cupcakes and smiley faces thrown in too".
Taking a common sense approach to saving money, Cass has some fantastic family-friendly sections on her blog, with appetising colourful photos.
Under "Frugal Food" you can find loads of favourite family recipes, plus useful topics like using a slow cooker and a beginner's guide to batch cooking.
Cass also has excellent suggestions for Cooking with Kids, so important for their future.
And even if you don't hae kids, there's also a section on Slimming World on a Budget.

Five Year Target
Jack and Jack have launched a great-looking website to track their progress towards their dream of owning their own home.
They're keen to make money, save money and still enjoy their lives.
When they started back in May, Jack H. shared how they save £60 a week by meal planning. Since then you can check their weekly meal plans for ideas and inspiration on cutting your food costs.
I wish them all success in smashing their target, and look forward to hearing more about their progress!

So do go over and check out these blogs, if you're interested in frugal food.

I've highlighted the five finalists from the SHO-MO awards, but there are so many other great frugal food bloggers out there.

In particular, no post on frugal food blogs would be complete without mentioning Jack Monroe, over at Cooking on a Bootstrap, who wrote the cookbook "A Girl Called Jack".
Also, I have learnt such a lot from Sue's daily posts at Our New Life in the Country.
Other favourites include the first frugal food blogger I ever discovered, Miss South at North / South Food, the amazing Frugal Queen and Penny Golightly for her storecupboard challenges.

Anyway, I hope these suggestions provide some food for thought (boom, boom).

Now over to you - who are your favourite frugal food bloggers, whether long established or new on the block?


*Photo credit: Andy over at Be Clever With Your Cash. Andy also did an amazing job of organising the SHO-MO conference and awards for UK money bloggers - here's a full list of all the winners.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Five fabulously frugal things I've done this week

Today I'm joining in with other bloggers on a series of posts about "Five Frugal Things". All most exciting!

I enjoy reading the updates from Cass over at her Diary of a Frugal Family blog, about five ways she's saved money each week.

This time, Cass, Becky at Family Budgeting and Emma at Emma's Savvy Savings have turned it into a weekly linky, so do go over and check their posts for great ideas.

I think we all share similar aims about living on less, but making the most of it, for example by getting good deals and being careful with our cash.

So here's my round up of the five fabulously frugal things I've done this week:


Salad from odds and ends, from the first day of Zero Waste Week

Used up leftovers as part of Zero Waste Week
The children headed back to school on Monday, which coincided with the start of Zero Waste Week.
This year's theme was "Use it up", aiming to cut food waste, which is a cause very close to my heart.
Food waste was one of the things I tracked during last summer's store cupboard challenge, when I cut our shopping bills by 40% by eating the contents of our cupboards, fridge and freezer (see weekly updates hereherehere and here).
If you've been following me on Instagram and Twitter, you may have seen some of my "use it up" efforts already.
So rather than resorting to my standard sandwich at lunch time, I dug out all the odds and ends from the back of the fridge and made a salad. Very nice it was too.
Altogther, the red chilli pepper going soft at the stalk, orange abandoned after using the zest in another meal, half pack of value feta and half a lemon would have cost a pound to replace.
I also got to use some the generous gift of courgettes, broad beans and mint from my parents-in-law's garden.





Cooked soup from bendy carrots
On Tuesday, I continued Zero Waste Week by cooking a big pot of soup from the bendy carrots left in the veg drawer. The carrots were definitely past their best, and too rubbery to eat as raw sticks or grated into other recipes.
However, when chopped up with some tough celery, an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic, and simmered for 20 minutes in a litre of veg stock and a pinch of chilli flakes, they made a great soup.
As an added bonus, I cooked enough for lunch on Wednesday too.
.

Saved by searching for a good deal online

Got a double discount on rugby kit from a sale and voucher code
My six-year-old has started playing tag rugby, and the club recommended buying specific branded layers to wear under his kit, to stop him freezing on winter mornings.
I couldn't find any decent deals on eBay or Gumtree, but in the end the Canterbury website had a sale on, with cheaper postage than buying from Sports Direct, and a 10% off voucher code.
Many cheers! The junior baselayer ended up costing £13.03 delivered, rather than nearly £24 RRP.


Save a third off train fares with a railcard

Used my railcard to get cheaper train tickets
I'm off to London on Saturday to meet up with other money bloggers, so I weighed up ticket prices from our two nearest stations.
It's more convenient for me to get to Ipswich, but tickets are cheaper from Manningtree, because I can get a third off using my Network Railcard (a bargain at £30 for a year).
An off peak day travel card from Ipwich, which includes tube travel, costs £45.
I checked out the split ticketing website, and could bring the cost down to £28.20 if I use two return tickets: Ipswich to Colchester and then Colchester to London.
However if I travel from Manningtree, it halves the cost to £22.35 for a super off peak day travelcard thanks to my railcard.
In the end, my husband has promised to pile the kids into the car and give me a lift to Manningtree so I can get the cheapest fare.

I finally, finally bought a new cooker

Haggled for a better deal on my new cooker
The final frugal thing I did this week was also a really big deal for me - I bought a new cooker.
The elderly AGA we inherited with the house is on its last legs, and expensive to run as it burns oil 24/7.
I cook a lot, and this is a big purchase, so I've been agonising over what to replace it with since we moved a couple of years ago.
This week I finally bit the bullet. I'd nailed it down to a choice between two models months ago, but then we got hit with a big bill for work on the house.
Anyway I did a lot of googling and ringing around to find a good price, but was a bit reluctant to use an unfamiliar website in case anything went wrong.
In the end, after going backwards and forwards over a few days while they negotiated with the sales rep, a local firm were willing to price match the best internet deal I discovered.
This saved a whopping £500 compared to buying the same make and model from the likes of John Lewis or Currys.
Stellisons will also send two delivery men to take it right into my kitchen not just to the kerbside, unpack it, and arrange connection, if I can't find a cheaper electrician.
We spent more on a model with an induction hob, but this should mean our running costs are lower in future.
Fingers crossed I like the new cooker when it actually arrives!

Any thrifty successes you'd like to celebrate this week, or frugal top tips to pass on?
I'd love to hear!

If you'd like to join in with the linky, check out the blogs at the top of this post for all the details.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Top tips for thrify packed lunches

Sandwichtastic

Sometimes my summer holidays come straight out of a Victoria Wood sketch: "72 baps Connie - you slice, I'll spread".

Yup, it's all about sandwich making.

Summer is high season for packed lunches in our household, in our quest for living on less and making the most of it.

Almost every time you read an article about saving money, it mentions packed lunches - at work, on outings, on holiday. That's because packed lunches really do represent serious savings. 

Think about it - even if you only spend £5 a head in a cafe or sandwich shop, that's £20 for a family of four. Try that for four days a week, for six weeks of the summer holidays, and suddenly you've shelled out almost £500. Ouch.

So if you'd rather spend your cash on fun stuff not food stuff, here are my tried-and-tested tips for thrifty packed lunches.

Time vs money
As with much of life, it's a trade off between saving time or saving money.
Buying pre-packaged food is quicker, but will almost always cost more than if you make it yourself.
Splashing out on a box of quiche, fancy crisps, dips, packet of biscuits, can of Coke and a pot of melon and grapes is going to set you back a lot more than throwing together a ham sandwich and adding an apple, own-brand crisps, bottle of tap water and home-made cookie.

As an example, a quick and basic kid's packed lunch can cost less than 75p:
(prices from Morrisons, just because it's near me)

20p for a couple of thin slices of sandwich ham (£1 for 125g with 10 slices)
10p for a couple of slices of bread (if splashing out £1 for a loaf with 20 slices)
5p for a bit of butter (250g own brand butter for 87p)
14p crisps (pack of 6 own brand crisps for 85p)
20p apple (bag of 5 for £1)
6p for a couple of raisin cookies (blog post with costing here, using 50g raisins in recipe here).

Prefer buying to baking? Grab a pack of Clubs, Penguins or Kitkats when they're on offer at £1 for 8, so 12.5p each, and it would still cost less than 82p.

Multipacks are your friend
As you can tell from the example above, I'm keen on multipacks for producing packed lunches.
Bulk buying is almost always cheaper than buying individual items.
I stock up on multipacks of crisps, yogurts, fruit, fromage frais tubes, juice cartons and biscuits (anyone else get nostalgic when faced with a Penguin or an orange Club biscuit? Just me then?).
A stash in the cupboard also means you can grab stuff quickly for any last minute outings.

Child-friendly fillings
Making our own sandwiches means that everyone in our family gets something they actually want to eat.
The only acceptable sandwich for one child involves medium cheddar (not mature), grated, with none of that pickle nonsense. Dead easy to make at home, tricky when faced with a menu that only offers artisanal cheddar cheese on rye with rocket and lovingly crafted chutney.
Yet if my husband feels like eating salami and blue cheese, that's fine and dandy too.

Cheap and cheerful sandwich options
I try to ring the changes with assorted different fillings (apart from the grated cheese fanatic): ham, tuna, hummous, egg mayo, salami or on special occasions soft cheese & smoked salmon (look out for value ranges, smoked salmon sandwich slices or offers).
Additions like mango chutney, mayonnaise, onion chutney, pickle and mustard can liven up the taste for the adults.

Bring out the bread
Sure, the mainstay of our packed lunches is sliced bread.
But if we're off on holiday, and doing a lot of packed lunches, I'll throw in alternatives like rolls, burger buns, pitta bread, value range part-bake baguettes, bagels, wraps and sandwich thins. My sister's children love oatcakes. Mine don't.

Sandwich alternatives
If you can't face another sandwich, other options that work for us include;
- sausage rolls or mini sausages
- cheese scones. Cheap, cheerful and quick to make. Best baked on the same day you want to eat them, or bake and freeze.
- quiche, if your kids will eat it. One of mine will, one won't. Curses.
- pasta salad with tuna, mayo and assorted chopped veg like tomato and peppers
- greek salad pasta (pasta with tomato, cucumber, olives and value range feta aka "greek cheese"). 
- couscous with roasted veg like peppers, red onions, courgette and butternut squash, topped with more chopped feta
- chicken drumsticks, roasted the day before then chilled

Veg
My kids aren't overly keen on sliced veg in sandwiches, but they'll chew on a chunk of cucumber or some cherry tomatoes if offered separately. 
As a nod to health, I also take along a bag of chopped veg like carrot sticks, celery sticks, sliced peppers and even apple slices. 

Fruit
When it comes to fruit, apples and satsumas travel well, and I take melon slices, grapes and strawberries in boxes. When on offer in summer, soft fruit like peaches, nectarines and plums can be good, even if messy. I've given up on bananas, after one too many squashed brown disasters. 

Drinks
Even multipack juice cartons soon add up, so often we take refillable water bottles. If your kids are clamouring for variety, fill them with some sugar-free squash. My children love Fruit Shoots, but I'm only prepared to buy them on special offer, and have been known to substitute own-brand squash (shush, don't tell them). 

Crisps
The odd pack of ready-salted isn't going to hurt anyone, but you might not want to take some every day. One super-cheap alternative is home-made popcorn, shovelled into freezer bags.

Yogurt
If you want to avoid warm yogurt, stick a few yogurt tubes in the freezer. Bung them in the packed lunch bag in the morning, and they'll defrost by lunch time, while keeping everything else cool too. 

Treats aka rampant bribery
Adding something sweet can provide an incentive to eat the healthy stuff, and will also help beat back demands for the tea shop.
I genuinely like baking, so often include quick and easy stuff like choc chip or raisin cookies, fruit scones, lemon drizzle cake, banana cake, flapjack or muffins. I also keep a bag of hot cross buns or teacakes in the freezer as back up.
Sometimes I even get organised enough to make jelly in little plastic boxes with lids, left over from weaning.

Max out the microwave
Microwaves can unleash a whole new world of packed lunch options, although admittedly they're a bit tricky to take on a family outing.
However, if you're taking a packed lunch to work, take advantage of any microwave available. Soups, pies and stews provide welcome relief from a sandwich treadmill.
I often cook extra food for dinner, so my husband can take a box of leftovers for lunch the next day.
One caveat - best to avoid strong smelling curries and fish pie for the sake of office harmony.

Caught short?
If you're out and about without a packed lunch, search for a supermarket.
Buying a meal deal or assorted rolls, filling and fruit, will almost always cost less than in a cafe or sandwich shop.
Nipping in for multipack ice creams or lollies can also cut costs on hot days.


What are your favourite packed lunch items? Any suggestions for more frugal food?