dear diary >> a productive day

I love those days when a few insignificant jobs are ticked off the list that provide some quite significant improvements. Yesterday was one of those days.

I spent an hour in the pantry putting things straight and filling up containers. I only found the bread flour and a pot of Thai curry paste to be near to its best before date so I will search out one or two recipes to use these up. I haven’t made Thai curry before and when I bought the paste pot it seemed easier than buying all the special ingredients that make it Thai.

The breakdown truck came mid morning and recovered the car to the garage whilst we followed on behind. The initial report from the nice garage man was that the escaping fluid is a leak from something that has worn through (I am so impressed Mary by your knowledge of cars) and the part required to fix it is relatively cheap, thank goodness, but we will have to wait a few days for him to get one (as they are imported) before the car can be made better, but at least it is now being dealt with.

Once back home DH pruned the berberis in the front garden, a bit of a spikey job, mended my little green birdhouse (which is only decorative) and put up the two pottery holders, grow and fresh, in the greenhouse that I found sorting out the garage. They are just the right size to keep bits and bobs in them.

Our afternoon walk took us round by the village so we could drop off the soft plastic bags for recycling at the Co-op. We have just gained a lovely little gift shop in the village called Nest. They have some delightful inexpensive gifts and cards and today I noticed the empty shop by the old post office has now opened as a hardware shop – I do wish them both luck – our village could do with a few shops that are not just charity shops, beauty parlours or dog grooming. We once had the most wonderful green grocers (in fact there were two) but they were forced to close when Safeways (now Morrisons) built a supermarket on the old railway station.

I did manage to put away more bits and pieces from the holiday and sorted the washing after which I needed a bit of time lying flat to ease my back so I watched the final episode of Downton. I do love to have a potter around the house once in a while especially after we have been away and there is no real urgency to get anything done, though I am on a bit of a mission to give it more attention than it has received in the last few months so it feels more loved and cared for.

I made the Courgette bake, but didn’t quite get round to mixing up a batch of pastry – that will have to be another day or maybe even today. I have to wait for the remaining courgettes in the garden to grow a little bigger before I can make the Veg lasagne (our Co-op doesn’t have anything quite as exotic as courgettes yet!), so nut roast is the next meal on the menu plan and maybe this time I will get those pastry cases made.

Today it will be a toss up between going in the garden or looking through the paperwork pile – I know which I would rather do, but maybe sorting out the finances is more important. Scottish Power have sent me an email to tell me about the £400 fuel rebate and we have just applied to the council for our £150. We will need to put this aside to pay for our fuel bills during the colder months – maybe I will buy a couple of very thick jumpers with some of it. DH is looking to add to the insulation in the loft – I always think it is so full of ‘stuff’ up there that more insulation is probably not required!

On a different note did anyone see the program about Woodstock the Festival on Sky Arts on Tuesday night? It took place in America in the summer of 1969 – I was a mere 15 year old teenager with long flowing skirts to match my long flowing hair and I had just bought my first Leonard Cohen album , Songs of Leonard Cohen and becoming very much a part of the flower power generation. We once knew someone who had actually been to the festival and like a lot of our friends we have the Woodstock album – it was an historic moment back then. A few things struck me watching the video movies that had been collated to make this documentary, firstly, the majority of the young people were so noticeably slim and the lads wandering around without t-shirts were very well toned despite the fact that there were no fitness gyms in those days, and secondly, the girls seemed so naturally pretty without any make up, false eyelashes, fake tans or lip and boob enhancements and such a marked lack of tattoos and piercings. Whatever happened to those carefree days of a generation that believed in people and preserving the environment – how did all that love and peace give way to the years that followed of Thatcher’s greed and capitalism?

We are certainly paying the price now as big business giants rake in excessive profits and council leaders are paid huge salaries whilst care for the elderly in their boroughs are cut to the bone and they have growing numbers of homeless people on our littered streets. Kate Josephs, leader of Sheffield council, has recently been reinstated in her job after being under investigation – she has a salary of around £200,000 and was paid more than £60,000 to stay at home until it was concluded. Just what does she do for this amount of money I wonder?

Meanwhile, I spend most of my days trying to think of ways to save a few pennies to eek out the meagre pension pot I spent a lifetime working for.

dear diary >> homekeeping

We had rain yesterday, quite a heavy down pour…..it was so welcome as our garden is like dust and it meant I didn’t have to water the planters for once, though I must remember to give the tomatoes and courgettes a liquid feed. Today it feels cool, but fresh, with a hint of Autumn, though I am not ready yet to relinquish the summer. My greenhouse is almost complete, the paint went on a dream – DH did two coats on the inside and three on the outside for good measure – we used Crown Superdec, the same as we painted the shed a few years ago, and it has worn well and best of all we bought it on offer at our local Crown store. I love the transformation and the contrast against the rougher pallet wood of the staging boards.

It is so good to be back home now and I have a great deal of homekeeping to catch up on…my bad back over the last 5 months has left my house in a sad and sorry state but at last I feel ready to begin to tackle it again…. in small quantities of course and bring back some order. I have been severely short of any routine recently and even the basics were not being done. Now our holiday is over I have time to gather my thoughts and start planning.

We did the supermarket shop yesterday so the larder is well stocked and it is a pleasure to walk into the pantry with a wonderful display of fruit and veg. I always tend to heed the words from Dominique Loreau’s book L’art de la Simplicite – how to live more with less when she says “seek only the best”….source the finest untreated produce, tasty fruit and really good bread.…and even better when you manage to find them at a reduced price. I can now turn yesterday’s little haul into some nutritious meals and fill the freezer with homemade fare over the next few days. If my menu for the week goes to plan then we are having Tuscan Bean casserole tonight with halloumi. Whilst the oven is on I intend to cook some pastry case bases for a quiche or two to freeze at the same time. If I mix up extra pastry I will make some lentil and mushroom pies to freeze tomorrow. I bought a punnet of mushrooms to make mushroom soup and two lots of celery to make celery soup and gained extra nectar points on both.

I had to buy new electric toothbrush heads….ouch – I used the last two before we went away and I like to keep some in stock. A pack of four Oral B heads are on offer in Sainsbury’s at the moment for £11, a saving of £5. These high priced items really bump up the shopping bill total so I tend to spread them out over the year and only buy them on offer. Water filter cartridges, soap powder and dishwasher tablets all fall into this category.

We have developed a good routine in the supermarket and whilst I scan the supermarket shelves for all the red sticker offers and items we use that have extra Nectar points DH does the smartscan shop for both our Nectar cards (as each card has different offers and I don’t scan shop as well as he does). We often buy multiples of the best offers to stock up. We bought four boxes of Alara muesli – normal price £2.70 – scan shop offer £1.60 saving us £4.40 on 4 boxes. I am hoping to stretch this weeks shopping to ten days if possible just topping up with some extra milk and the odd bit of veg.

My intentions today are to complete the unpacking and putting away. I always refill the toiletries ready for our next trip before I put the bag away – it saves time when we next have to pack. I invested in two of those handy picnic blankets for the beach last year – £5 each from B&M. They fold up into a neat little package with a carry handle and are ultra light and yesterday I gave them a good blow on the line to shake off any residual sand before they are put away. I don’t really have anywhere to keep them at the moment that is easily accessible but I am working on it. I do like to have a place for everything and they are definitely keepers so something else less useful or unused may have to go to make room. I am gradually selling bits and pieces on ebay again to free up space in my cupboards and the garage.

I have an osteopath appointment this afternoon….another ouch cost wise but the benefits are worth it, he has done wonders for my back and I am hoping that today he can straighten out a few of my stiffer body parts. I fell whilst at a country fete in Thirsk with my two granddaughter’s last Saturday. There was a small hidden hole in the grass on the field and my foot went down it as I walked along and my ankle twisted over. I went down with a bump jarring my poor back and already bad shoulder and I have ended up with a slight limp, a stiff back and quite sore wrists where I tried to save myself…..and I hadn’t even been drinking…..well only decaff tea!!!

Well I had better get going – there is a lot to do.

dear diary >> unsettling times…

Having just got back home after our recent trip up to North Yorkshire to visit mum then my daughter and the two grandchildren Little L and Sweetie we unpacked, washed, shopped and then repacked and I am now writing this from Scotland…it may even be published this time, I have written a few posts recently but then never pressed go and they remain on my drafts list incomplete. Like many other bloggers the recent invasion of Ukraine has left me lost for words, scratching around in the dark looking to find a chink of light that will help me make sense of the world right now. This is a photo taken on the Pennine Moors above us in Yorkshire of the sunset the other evening – it is such a peaceful place – and probably a stark contrast at the moment to the ruins of some of the Ukraine cities – I stood gazing at this for ages and couldn’t help wondering what might the future be for our world.

And how, I keep wondering, can one man cause so much suffering, so much bloodshed and so much heartache and what are we going to wake up to next in the morning?

After the last two years of Covid and restrictions and a feeling of uncertainty I think we were all hoping for a better 2022, and now as spring and the promise of better weather are almost within our grasp, at last….it seems our hopes are fading fast.

Life is so unsettling at the moment and all the problems that have been gathering around me at quite a pace over the last few months have now paled into insignificance compared with those faced by the people of Ukraine…but each day I wake up they are still there and ignoring them is not making them either go away or any easier to sort out.

Mum is becoming quite hard work for my sister and one of the team of carers who go in on alternate days has refused to go. She was mum’s favourite but sometimes mum has been quite nasty with her. At 96 she now feels she has the right to speak her mind, but often what is in her mind is not endearing her to the people who are trying to help her. I can understand mum’s frustration at losing her mobility and being practically housebound but the other residents in the apartments are finding her hardwork and avoid going to see her leaving her more isolated than ever. I ring her each evening, we will have the same conversation many times over, usually she has to establish if we are at home or in Scotland and when we will next be going to see her, after only a few minutes she will have forgotten what I said and will ask me again and so it goes on for the next 40 minutes. To make matters worse she has a habit of holding the phone upside down so I cannot hear her properly but that is not quite so bad as when part way through our call she sometimes switches to trying to talk to me on the TV remote and I can hear her saying ‘can you hear me’! I cannot see there is any solution.

Sadly, it has also got to the point now where we dread coming up to our cottage, wondering what we will find this time, what changes await us. Joe and his wife are here at the moment in the remaining caravan on the little site below us, the light was on when we arrived last night and it felt quite comforting to see an old face and have a neighbour. The caravaners were our friends and now they are almost all gone. Thankfully Joe has no plans to leave at the moment.

There must have been an excess of rain up here because the roads had large pools of water along the verges. The tarmac lane from the main road down to our cottage eventually comes to an end and then we have to drive over a wide strip of grass just outside our property to reach our hardstanding by the garage, (the lane and grass belong to the caravan site owner – we have right of access over it). We could see that the grass was soddened and so parked at the end of the lane and walked over the grass on foot to unpack the car – it took us ages squelching about in the mud…..I might have uttered a few choice words at the time. I cannot ever remember in all the time we have been coming here that the grassy bit was this bad or this waterlogged. Once unpacked we moved the car onto a patch of gravel on the other side of the lane so it won’t get stuck in the mud. It is not actually our land and no doubt the new owner won’t like it but the other option is that we will churn up his grass trying to get in and out of our property.

We have two sizeable farm gates at the entrance to our little cottage and just before we left for home on our last visit the gate post of the left hand one had rotted and sheered off at ground level and toppled over bringing the gate down with it. All DH could do at the time was to prop the gate back in place but the wind must have blown it over. Of course it is another job on the list – I am not sure if it has even made it on to the top ten of urgent things, but it must be close. The new caravan site owner did send us a text to let us know – it seemed a neighbourly thing to do but then on the end of the text he asked if we would consider letting him have a part of our woodland for his business! I probably don’t have to tell you what our answer is to that.

The lady who came once a fortnight to cut our grass has given us notice because her knees are so painful and swollen the doctor told her that to continue would certainly make them worse. So we have to find someone new…it will go on the list….the list is getting too long for comfort…I keep folding it in half so I don’t have to look at all of it at once….but I am not sure it really helps.

No doubt we will weather these storms – all we can do is carry on trying to cope with the problems as they come up.

In and amongst, like most of you, I am trying to find a way through these rising prices but if through sanctions, my gas, electricity and fuel has to rise even more to help the Ukraine people then so be it, if the price of some foods like flour and oil becomes too costly to buy or too scarce then I will put up with that too…I am willing to make sacrifices if it will help to stop this ridiculous war.

So I am spending quite a bit of time roaming the aisles of the supermarket gathering up any reduced priced items that we normally buy, using the Smartscan and Clubcard offers and collecting reward points (though these may well be donated to the Ukraine crisis fund). We are using the oven as little as possible and making most of our meals on the hob. We have decided there a few things we can give up or buy cheaper and somethings we will not be buying at all if I can make them.

I am reluctant to stop buying as much fresh fruit and veg – it is the staple of our diet and as you know I buy mainly organic to support the farmers who are growing sustainably. We make our own soup each day using veg that is on offer or needs using up. When the oven is on I have batch baked pastry cases and sponge cakes for the freezer, in fact the freezer is groaning

This week I made this farmhouse fruit cake to take with us to the cottage. Using a very old Stork margerine recipe (so old the ingredients are only in pounds and ounces and the oven temp in Fahrenheit) I was able to use up all the left over bits of dried fruit from when I made the Christmas cake, although I no longer use block margerine like Stork prefering instead to use the Pure dairy free olive oil spread free from nasties.

I figured the best way to cut our spending is to not go shopping at all other than for food or necessities and that way I am not tempted to buy things I don’t really need.

I have been shopping though.

I needed to buy a new bedsheet – I only have two (one on the bed, one in the wash) and one on the guest bed (not that we have had any guests for a long time!). DH woke up one morning to find a rip in the sheet almost the full length of the bed, it had worn quite thin over time and there was no way I could repair it. We also need to replace the wooden blind in our living room. As we have some John Lewis vouchers we headed over to Cheadle branch have a quick look at theirs. The ready made blind we wanted is now discontinued and their made to measure ones are too costly for our budget. We tried a few other places and have seen one in B&Q which we have put on standby. Because of the size and shape of our window we have to remove at least a third of the slats of the ready made ones as they come as a standard 180cm length; DH is not at all phased by the alterations needed – he ‘cut to fit’ the one we presently have but we are seriously looking at having a made to measure one through Swift blinds who just happen to operate their business only a few miles away from us and their prices are quite reasonable.

The fitted bed sheet was easier to find and I just bought an ordinary white one from their Anyday range which is £13 and good quality. On the way out I passed the clearance section and spotted this double cotton duvet set. It was the remaining one of last summer’s range and was marked half price (£32.50 originally £65) so quite a bargain and good quality. The colour will go well in our main bedroom – when it is decorated that is – and although I don’t normally buy florals I do like the Scandi style print on this. The coupons we had covered both purchases so they costs me nothing.

Having a John Lewis / Waitrose reward card meant that by taking 5 empty beauty products that can be recycled (any make) I could have £5 off any beauty product purchase. This offer is not continuous but keeps coming round so that I am able to take advantage of it and buy the Liz Earle shampoo and conditioner that I use when I need one and although they have just had another price rise to £13 each (ouch) it meant I only had to pay £8.

So that was my shopping expedition for this month and probably all I will be buying other than food. I have been busy making and baking and when I get back home I will be sowing seeds ready for growing a few bedding plants for the planters and this year I will probably grow tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes and some salad leaves to eek out the food bill.

Well I will leave you all here and maybe even manage a couple of posts from Scotland. The cottage garden is just waking up and I can’t wait to get out there to tidy up a bit. x

dear diary >> improving

The weather is certainly improving as I write this post but it is not the topic I am about to talk about. Regular readers might remember my chosen focus word for this year is improvement. I have really taken the word on board and somehow it seems much more manageable than words that I have chosen in the past and then, like a New Year’s resolution, sadly neglected., I am quite excited and committed to this word already.

My idea is to consistently make the tiniest and simplest of improvements across all the different areas of my life and each one, no matter how small or how insignificant, will be an improvement on what I had before.

So here are a few improvements that I have been working on this week:-

The treasury – I am sure that, like many readers and bloggers, costcutting is at the top of everyone’s agenda. With prices rising sharply and the £1 in our pockets buying so much less it is becomming a matter of urgency that I both curb our spending and look where I can to make savings. Big savings.

Smartshop (Sainsbury’s scanner shopping), offers good discounts for nectar card holders using the hand held scanner (this is not the same as the individual self scan checkouts). DH collects up these offers (whilst I do the main shopping that we take to the normal checkout); first he goes and finds the items that are reduced on my card and goes around again to find the ones on his card – although it is the same nectar account the card numbers end in a different number and we are sent different offers. Here is the receipt from last week – we took advantage of 8 offers on my nectar card, the actual price an ordinary shopper would pay by going through the manned checkout would have been £18.70.

We paid £13.28 by using the scanner – a huge saving of £5.42 for items we would be buying anyway, plus we collect the nectar points on top some of which have extra points. The muesli alone had a saving of £1.05 per box so we bought three boxes to stock up.

I have had a flurry of coupons recently too – some more useful than others. The M&S coupons for £7 being the most worthwhile and their offer of a free bar of chocolate a bonus.

In the post on Saturday arrived a letter from Dobbies to say they have given me a free upgrade to their Dobbies Plus card for one year. This entitles me to a free cup of tea and coffee each month, 10% off all plants, bulbs and seeds, a special birthday treat and 2 points for every £1 spent. Normally you pay £12 for the year to have this card – I wouldn’t pay to have it but I have no objection to it being free for the moment. Every little helps if it avoids paying full price for anything.

Of course the biggest challenge is to avoid temptation and not buy anything we don’t really need. Going to the shops less is a good way of avoiding tempatation!

Meal planning – one improvement I am making in the kitchen is to adjust my winter menus so that I make more meals that can be cooked on the hob such as lentil stew, curry, chickpea and rice – this way I don’t have the oven on as often which will hopefully reduce the electricity bills. I do like baked potatoes in the winter (well anytime really) so at the weekend with some potatoes baking in the oven I made a batch of pastry and baked a selection of quiche bases for the freezer whilst the oven was on. Today we had ratatouille and baked potatoes and again whilst the potatoes were baking I made a batch of chocolate sponge mixture and filled four sandwich tins. They are all in the freezer now and I feel quite pleased with myself for making the effort.

Health – such an important area of my life now as I am heading towards another major birthday (still a couple of years to go yet).

It often feels like an uphill struggle to keep relatively healthy as creaks and groans appear daily and the inevitable sagging has set in – so I need all the help I can get. Adding a little more nutritional value to my diet without resorting to buying expensive supplements is hopefully going to improve my health – so I was delighted to find these packets of milled mixed seeds and nuts in Sainsbury’s containing ground Flaxseeds, Sunflower Seeds, Walnuts (13%), Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Almonds (10%), Chia Seeds providing Vitamin E, Fibre and Omega 3. I sprinkle a good two dessertspoonfuls of the mix over my bowl of spelt flakes each morning, but you can use it on pasta or crumbles to make a crunchy topping. An instant easy healthy improvement.

Housekeeping – I have a few spots around the house that need just a little bit of love and attention. Nothing major, just a tiny adjustment – a task that may only take me minutes to complete. I am searching them out and one by one will be addressing each issue. It might be a messy drawer or a plant that needs reviving or an item that needs to be kept in a better place.

Today it was this hand sanitiser in the bathroom. Since the pandemic this bottle of Carex handgel has stood on our bathroom shelf for use both by us and visitors alike. It has always bothered me since the day it took up residence – a rather unattractive plastic bottle and not one I really want on show. I noticed in Tesco they were still selling these little soap dispensers at £4, I bought a couple when we first got the caravan for handsoap. So now I have poured the hand sanitiser into the new container and voila such an immediate improvement.

In the garden – the outside is another area that often needs a bit of attention. The long trough at the front of our house was looking a bit dull since the pansies all keeled over and lost the will to live. So for a few pounds in the sale at the local garden centre I bought 3 lovely cyclamen in pots for a splash of winter colour (I have left them in the pots and sunk them into the compost) so they will lift out easily when I want to replace them with some spring bulbs.

A large tray of lemon polyanthus was on sale too and I have dotted these about the garden and put a few in the tub beside the front door. Another of my little improvements.

Tomorrow we are looking to collect the new dining table from Leeds, weather permitting. The new table will be a big improvement to the kitchen.

Have a good day everyone x

dear diary >> home again, home again

Well no, I haven’t quite done the jiggety jig, rather I have been making a big mess. I knew that if we delayed coming home by a day or two I would have to make my friend’s anniversary card in a hurry, so after a good night’s sleep on Tuesday night (we were both zonked from the travelling and slept like logs) I was up bright and early to put away some of the unpacking and then began on the card.

I had an idea of what I wanted to do but anything to do with crafting and a mess forms around me with surprising speed. I decided on something simple, but obviously homemade and personalised to them. I chose a piece of pink handmade paper from my scrap box and this rather pretty heart stamp that I bought years ago. I stamped the paper with embossing ink and then sprinked on some antique white and gold powder. I love it when you apply the heat tool and the powder changes very quickly into this textured surface. I then outlined the heart with a gold ink pen and cut it out and placed it onto the front of a trifold card with a few foam pads. I then added the stamped greeting in gold ink.

Inside I printed the greeting and added a lovely little picture I had taken of them on their wedding day 20 years ago. It was their 2nd marriage and a beautiful sunny February day. What a good job it wasn’t yesterday’s appalling rain and wind. I cut out tiny hearts from some gold Washi tape to stick the printed sheets in place.

The ribbon, which was another scrap threads through a slot in the back and when the card is folded it ties around the front.

The first practise heart I had made on white paper I used as a gift tag for the little posy of flowers I bought and wrapped in a sheet of gold tissue paper.

After making and delivering the card and flowers we had to go out for some shopping. Our vegetable fridge was bare – in fact I had switched it off before we went away and DH busied himself cleaning the inside …well he did offer and I wasn’t going to refuse him.

It was quite busy in Sainsbury’s but we didn’t need a lot. DH went off with a separate trolley to scoop up all the personalised Smartshop offers with a scanner and I picked up a few other offers from the shelves. The rapeseed oil we use for cooking was reduced by a £1 and …….I stocked up with enough fruit and veg to cover a week’s meals.

My box of washing powder is nearly empty and I will have extra bedding from the caravan to wash this week so I have been on the look out for a good deal on the Persil non bio washing powder, which I use as it doesn’t irritate my skin. They had some of those mega boxes of 130 washes for £14 (ouch) on the aisle that displays large bulk items supposedly cheaper. However, we had just received a leaflet through our door from Farm Foods offering the same powder and size – 2 for £25 and the leaflet also has coupons on it for £2 off if you spend £25 or over making the two boxes £23. So this seemed a better buy and made each box only £11.50. A bit of an outlay of course, but 260 washes is going to last me a very long time and if stored well it doesn’t go off.

So after we had finished at Sainsbury’s we drove round the corner to the large Farm Foods shop to pick some up. I have never been in there before, mainly because they tend to sell everything we don’t eat – a lot of ready made processed foods and it was stacked high with packs of coke and other fizzy drinks that we don’t drink. We found the Persil and paid our £23. When we returned home I had a quick Google and couldn’t find the same size boxes any cheaper anywhere else….unless anyone out there knows better.

I have been thinking long and hard about where we can make economies in our household budget. With prices rising and yesterday’s news that inflation is running at 5.5% our pound will not buy as much as it did.

Of course the biggest money saving economy is to not buy anything….not be tempted into things I don’t really need (I might want them but don’t need them). After this the things I do need to buy must be at the cheapest possible price or items that will last a very long time as sometimes cheap is not the most effective if it is of inferior quality and breaks or wears out so quickly it has to be replaced.

Where food is concerened I could probably more than halve the budget if we didn’t buy organic foods and fruit and veg but I am a big believer in not using pesticides or chemical fertilisers and I would rather eat less but still buy organic as I feel it is important in the bigger picture of sustainability. So organic stays and I will have to spend more time searching out offers and gearing my menus to the veg that is on offer and in season.

Whilst we were away we had the heating set so low it was just above frost protection so the heating would come on if it reached a certain temperature if it got really cold. I can tell you the house was cold when we arrived home and out came the hot water bottle and an extra blanket on the bed. It will be interesting to see what this month’s fuel bills are after two weeks of hardly running the boiler, no showers or cooking etc.

I bought a bag of Pentland Javelin seed potatoes from the garden centre in Stranraer. They are so much cheaper up there and I like to support them as over the years their little business is shrinking and maybe in danger of closing like the one further up the road in Ballantrae and soon there will be nowhere local near the cottage to go. I need to place them into the egg trays to chit as soon as I can.

Today we have our hair appointments, we go together now since the pandemic started, it does save on fuel costs and means that we are the only ones in her tiny shop. Our hairdresser has been very cautious all through the pandemic when she has been allowed to open and continued to wear a mask, as we do, even when the option had been relaxed.

This morning will be tidying, menu planning and some paperwork – I had planned to do this tomorrow but I had a phone call from my elder daughter last night, who lives nearby, to ask if we could look after master Freddie on Friday. Well I wasn’t going to say no…it is always a joy to have him. I daresay with the next storm approaching it will be too windy to go out which will be a shame.

I have had a peep outside this morning but can’t see any damage from last night’s gales but I have not heard from Scotland yet – our caravan could have been swept off its anchoring points and be floating in the sea! I just hope the new kitchen roof is still in place!

Have a good day everyone.

treasury :: June, July and August tally

As my usual readers will know my blog is more or less about my daily life and homekeeping and a desire to live a simpler life. For me keeping a home running well involves keeping the finances running well too so I include them on my blog as they are part of my story and presently a large part of our new journey into retirement.

I have, for as long as I have been married, kept a weekly tally where I record all our spending – I used to do this in a cash book but now keep a record on the computer. It is something that has become second nature but stood us in good stead throughout our married life and when money has been tight (many times) I am able to see where cut backs can be made.

So as it is the end of the month here is a quick round up of the past few months.  For any new readers I will just mention that I am not exactly a frugal blog ( though I do like to learn from these); I prefer to be mindful of our spending and am on a mission to live simply – cutting down on any frivolous and unnecessary purchases that might lead to future waste. Since I left paid work last year we are trying to live more economically within our present meagre means of one state pension plus a small private pension of DH and so finances are a little tight at the moment.

I fall into the WASPI group of women who through being born at just the wrong time have to wait until I am 65 and 10 months to draw the state pension which until the recent changes took place I always thought I would be claiming at 60 – like the majority of my slightly older friends. I have only 9 more months to go now before I can draw it. Phew.

Not only am I curious to see how possible it is to live on a small pension but one of our aims is to survive without breaking into any of our savings each month to top us up. This is proving to be an almost impossible task as unexpected expenses crop up each month and it might only be something like having our Aussie cousin to stay (and entertain) that tips us over.

As one day we will be downsizing and maybe moving to live at the cottage (when it is sorted – see the Beach Cottage tab above for the flood story) we are committed to living a simpler and ‘stuff’ free life – we are both trying hard not to buy things we don’t need and my daily motto has become use up, use up, use up so we are not storing unloved and neglected toiletries or cleaners or finding out of date foodstuffs lurking in the cupboards.

As I continue to declutter our lives I am loving the clear spaces I am creating throughout our home but I cannot throw things away recklessly instead I am looking to recycle, reuse or repurpose them in some way or pass them on to good homes. We have also been able to sell some things on ebay which have helped us financially and I am looking to do a car boot sale soon.

Of course the best way to save money and keep the house contents to a minimum is not to buy it in the first place. At times this can be easier said than done and it is so easy to justify any purchase if you really want it. As one of the famous Minimalists said ‘ not buying something is your future self letting go of something’

For those following along you might have noticed the June and July tallies did not happen due to all the other pressures we faced at the time and if I remember clearly it was also the period I spent researching and going ad free on my blog.  As you might say ‘one cannot do everything’.

This year will have seen us relying entirely on our pension income as I left paid work a year ago now.  As I do not have an income I can give £1,250 of my personal tax allowance to DH so he can keep more of his pension before it is taxed – for anyone in the same boat check it out on the government website. I find that you really have to work hard at limiting your spending and keeping yourself buoyant each month when you have no paid work and no possibility of overtime as a backstop.  If you run out of the money from the pension income then it is capital and savings that you have to delve into to cover your costs.  Eating into next month’s pension is not a good idea.

So how did we do in the last three months?

Transport and fuel costs

June was the lowest spend on fuel of the past three months but July and August much higher due to the extra costs of going to Scotland and many trips up and down to North Yorkshire as well as driving around the countryside taking my mum and the Aussie cousin out and about.  We made good use of the Sainsbury’s petrol vouchers with 10p off a litre and the lower petrol prices at some garages but I am not sure September is going to be any less expensive.

In addition we had to have two new front tyres in June.  DH checked them every week for tread until they were worn down as far as they were still legal.  We took out the extra £20 tyre guarantee (which we did use last time when we got the puncture earlier this year and it was a big saving).

Health, wellbeing and beauty

I limit myself now to the number of skincare and toiletry products I buy. Where I can I buy in multiples when there is money off and they generally last a long time. In June I bought more Neal’s yard face cream because I had another 20% off voucher – they don’t always land in my inbox at the most favourable time but if I don’t use them when they do I would not be able to indulge in this one luxury at full price.  Together with the yoga costs and a few supplements I bought for both me and DH it was an expensive month.

I didn’t attend any regular Yoga in July as the teacher had to go into hospital but DH had some NHS dental work done to renew an old filling at the standard cost of £62.10.  We both had hair appointments to pay for and more supplements – mainly those probiotic ones for DH because the antibiotics he was given earlier this year for his dental abscess really made his stomach bad.

August was much better – I bought a mascara and a pot of basic day cream to be able to use the £10 off a £20 No7 spend  voucher – so the cream in effect came free.  DH had another course of the pro-biotics.  It can take up to 3 months to repopulate the gut once antibiotics have destroyed the good bacteria.  So although the antibiotic prescription was free it has ended up costing us a fortune to make him better! 

Utilities   

The reduction in our landline and broadband costs has been significant in the last few months.  The BT charges were heading towards £50 a month for our anytime calls with unlimited broadband and a discount for paying the rental upfront once a year.  They could not quite match the cheaper price quoted by Zen – not even close, though they tried a few times with their many best and final offers!

We are pleased with the switch to Zen – they have good customer service and our monthly bill for unlimited calls, faster broadband and line rental is £36.49 – the other advantage is we do not have the bother timing any calls to get the free hour as Zen calls are just free as long as they are not to those expensive numbers we all avoid.

The gas and electricity is now combined with SO Energy – we are well in credit due to the summer months – this may be needed to cover the winter months but if not we will get a refund.  I like their very clear monthly bills so you can see exactly what you are paying for.

Grocery and housekeeping costs

Over the last three months the grocery costs have remained higher than they probably need to be but then we have been feeding a lot of visitors from time to time.  It is quite right that when you get busy you don’t have as much time to shop around, plan meals and take advantage of the best offers. I know I could cut this down a lot if I shopped elsewhere and didn’t buy organic veg and groceries but organic food is important to us and I will continue to buy it for as long as I can because I like to support organic farmers – I strongly believe it is the way forward for sustainability and health.

The remaining housekeeping costs for things like cleaning products, basic toiletries, car parking, stationery and magazines are all quite low expenses now since I have made big changes to what and how much I buy in this area and have been flexing my will power with magazines!

Home and Garden purchases

Over the three months we have spent little bits here and there on small items for the home like a new chopping board, new drinking glasses and a picture frame to house a new photo of the latest grandchild. Each item has been no more than £5 but of course over time all these little bits add up and I now question whether we did really need them.  I also had to renew the pillows that were recalled from Sainsbury’s so that the double bed in the guest room was usable by our guests.  I ended up in Dunelm where we bought a pair of cheaper polyester pillows (though I feel this was a bad choice sustainability wise) but also two new duck down ones for our bed – which are heaven to sleep on. I think spending money on things like a good night’s sleep is vital and cost effective.

I also bought (after much deliberation) a quilted double mattress protector from IKEA as a spare because not having a dryer it has been hard work getting the one on our bed washed, dried and aired to put back on the bed in the same day especially in the winter.  I gave the spare one I used to have to my daughter when she moved house thinking I could manage without it but have regretted this ever since. It will however double up for the bed at the caravan if any of the family go to stay there and use the spare bedroom.

The new single bed mattress we have just bought (for our other spare room with the bed on the mezzanine and which will be used by the grandchildren when they stay) together with the unit bases for the pantry are not included in this months figures because we bought these using the interest free credit offer at IKEA and will be paying monthly for these from September. We don’t really need the credit but I prefer to keep my money where it is earning interest for as long as possible. The monthly payment will just be absorbed into our monthly bills so shouldn’t be noticed quite as much as taking a large sum from savings.

I admit to overspending on the garden this year. Being at home now I have spent a lot more time in the garden and started growing our own salad produce.  I need to use more of my time to take cuttings and grow annuals next year for the planters.

The bargain of the year though must be the two large wooden planters above that we bought in August from our local Wyevale garden centre originally priced at £39.99 each but had a sticker on saying 70% off – plus we got the 5% member discount and a £5 voucher making them £8.90 each – how could I walk away from them – not sure yet where we will put them but we will be growing more food in them next year.

Cards and Gifts

I really had no idea how much I might have spent on this category.  I remember birthdays coming and going during the three months but had little time to make cards or shop around for bargain presents.  However, the total spend for 3 rolls of gift wrap from IKEA and the cards was quite minimal considering the majority of these have been anniversaries and special birthdays. The only gifts were for my granddaughter’s birthday and a 60th present. Making more cards and gifts would help – I certainly have enough craft supplies and really need to use them up.

Crafts and Hobbies and Books

The biggest expense was my blog upgrade to get rid of those pesky adverts.  I did get a discount and no I don’t regret it. We also bought some foam core for various uses and a cunning sheet of black card to put against the Velux window in the sunny spare room as a kind of blackout for when Little L slept in there to keep her asleep longer in the mornings. Bliss it worked!

Leisure and Entertainment

We paid entrance fees at the four different Open Garden events we attended @ £5 each –  £45 and worth every pleasurable penny especially as it doubles up as a donation to charity. We also paid for the little train and cliff lift rides at Saltburn…but it did make for an enjoyable day out.

Eating Out

I always have difficulty with this category – I ponder too much on what I could have bought with the money as often the majority of this spending is for café lunches and snacks and not altogether good ones – it is not as though we have gone out for a special restaurant meal.

Some of these costs are incurred because there is no other way to avoid them when you are out and hungry, but the larger expense is when we take my mum out and about for a few consecutive days; and of course in July we paid for food and drinks for our Aussie cousin whilst we entertained him and also bought drinks when we had a bit of a reunion with old friends in the local pub.

We are still quite good at packing up picnics and usually if mum comes to stay with us we can take a picnic for one of the meals but when we visit her we can’t and have to rely on café meals.

Clothing and Footwear

August was a good month with a zero spend on clothes and shoes. June and July saw us replacing worn shoes and slippers and I bought some harem joggers from Next and a couple of cheap t-shirts.

I will be doing an update of my wardrobe declutter soon in another post.

So that is the extent of our spending and my rambling – not all doom and gloom.  I made use of vouchers where I could and have cut down quite drastically on clothes, magazines and books. As always the eating out and fuel continue to cost us dearly and even though our spending on the home is higher than I would like there is at least something to show for it and they are more considered purchases rather than on the spot impulse buys.

I thought at the beginning of the year that I might be able to reduce our costs more and even be able to put some money into savings but that is probably not realistic. We have attended to all the utility bills and managed to reduce them, but there is little you can do with the council tax other than pay it or move.

We have so much stuff in the house but each month our tally shows we are still gathering more. I am trying hard to avoid those scenarios where you have a cupboard full of food yet there is nothing to eat, or a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear.

I want my purchases to count….to use it or love it. I love the space and freedom from having less stuff….and at all costs I do not want to find myself constantly decluttering….. throwing out or selling on purchases I make today at some time in the future.

I will be doing more posts on my decluttering and money saving activities but for now the garden calls as the cooler weather gets underway and we are facing autumn once again. x

treasury :: April and May tally

Feel free to skip this post if reading about my financial exploits is not for you or boring as hell!

Each year in January I start off with some well-intentioned financial goals – they are usually along the lines of spend less, save more and economise. This is probably true for most of us.

I always begin with real enthusiasm….. nay….. real gusto… but by May my resolve to keep going has, by this time, usually got up and gone.  Keeping focused on our finances to the point where it becomes a daily obsession just cannot be continued when there are equally important things to attend to in other areas of my life.

This year is no different.  During April and May there have been many days when I have had no idea of our financial status.   Once I get busy everything else seems to break down and any habits I had nurtured to this point to help me keep on top of things just disintegrate. 

Let’s face it life is just too busy.  

This must mean that I have taken on too much – but how could I not do a party for my SIL or make a Christening dress for my granddaughter or look after my mum to give my sister some respite?

So here I am at the end of May and only just inputting receipts for April and totting up the totals to reveal just how badly we have done.  I know even before I get the all-important final figures that we have not done well, we will have overspent.

So how did we do?

Transport and fuel costs

After a few months now of monitoring our fuel consumption it appears that we always have to fill up twice in a month and this covers a trip to Scotland and another trip or two to see mum/sister/daughter in North Yorkshire. In May we had an extra visit to North Yorkshire and went down into Derbyshire for the day with mum so had a further tank of fuel but this will be the exception rather than the norm. Because the fuel is quite a stable amount I am going to move this into our bill account budget – after all it is a bit like paying a monthly bill. 

The MOT and car service for our estate car was another expense in April but it is more than allowed for in our ‘bill account’.

The puncture we got during May was repaired free under a tyre guarantee – how lucky was that.

Health, wellbeing and beauty

Because of the two family events we have had more hairdressing appointments closer together bringing forward the one I would have normally have had in June to May.

The yoga classes are well worth the £8 a week – it is pay as you go so the two I missed whilst in Scotland did not cost me anything. I have now signed up for an extra class on a Friday for the next 6 weeks (paid in advance) which is smaller and with individual attention so I can work on any problem areas.

I also had a voucher for 20% off Neal’s Yard products so I used mine to get another bottle of the Frankincense Intense Serum this is my one beauty luxury that I could never afford at full price but it suits my skin and I can feel it tightening those little wrinkly areas.

Utilities      

We switched our electricity provider from Scottish Power in March to a dual fuel contract with SO energy.  Our new combined payment is £115.00 (seems steep but it was a good deal as prices have risenagain). Unfortunately there is no breakdown of the payment between gas and electricity but you do get separate statements of the usage. I shall be monitoring it carefully. Switching has saved us quite a bit in the past with the rise in fuel prices and we usually accrue quite a bit of credit over the summer months so this monthly payment should reduce.

Until we have been with them for a full month it is hard to know if we have been excessive with either fuel – my guess is that with the cooler weather recently we may have used more gas for the heating even though I have been buried under a mound of throws in the evening, whilst wearing a woolly jumper, to avoid putting the heat on.

We also switched internet and landline provider from BT to Zen. They have good customer service and should save us a small fortune over the year. We have been loyal customers of BT for many years but we are not rewarded for this so the time had come for a change. As we have only made one payment up front so far I cannot really compare the costs this month.

Grocery and housekeeping costs

This is mostly food, general toiletries, cleaning, stationery items and magazines with a couple of cheap bunches of flowers here and there for a cheerful treat each month. I knew this category would not be good news – I have lurched from spending around the middle £300 a month to well over £400 for my housekeeping costs in April – probably because of the extra food for the party and being too busy to plan out the menus. 

I do have to confess to buying a Gardener’s World magazine in April but this was in order to obtain the free 2 for 1 gardens scheme card, which also came with some handy gloves and a few packets of seeds, some useful some less so; and a Homebuild and Renovating magazine which had a free spreadsheet and tickets to the exhibition.

Home and Garden purchases

I can see from my figures that it is that time of year when the garden needs more attention as the costs in the garden category have shot up immensely.

All those little purchases of potting compost, bedding plants, plant food and even a new broom start to add up.

We also bought another outdoor bench seat from B&M for the patio – £40. (Sadie – I notice you have bought the same one!).

The costs in May are more attributed to the fact that we bought a mini greenhouse, £24 for the tomato plants plus three pots, a trellis panel and stakes to replace a broken one at the side of the house and DH has finally bought the treated wood and made lids for the compost bins he made years ago.

Added to which we bought some bags of small beach pebbles to finish off some of the awkward spots at the change of level on our boundary with next door.

I had quite a lot of vouchers from Wyevale and got a large £10 bale of their better compost for only £4.50. Since becomming part of Dobbies their reward scheme has now ended and they have moved over to 5% discount and 10% on a Tuesday. I also got 4 packs of bedding plants for £6 from Wilkos.

I frivolously spent money on bits for the home, a smart grey linen waste bin for the office £5 from Wilko, to replace an old wicker one, some pretty outdoor garden festoon lighting from Sainsbury’s for the party £34, and absolutely gorgeous, and one of those things you just have to have – a metal tool caddy, reduced in Sainsbury’s to £12.75. They were all a temptation too far but my favourite buys of the year as well as the bench.

Cards and Gifts

This must be the year of the big birthday – you know the ones ending in a nought. I usually spend a bit more on a gift for the more major birthdays and especially for close family members such as daughters and their partners.

I had four or five majors this month (ouch) and bought some friends a theatre voucher each.  

Crafts and Hobbies and Books

The main costs in this category for April were for the bits I got for the Easter decorations and egg hunt as well as my son-in-law’s party decor.  The twiggy branches might have been free but all the little bits soon add up.

In May I had to buy extra cottons and lining for the Christening dress and a pack of new fine bridal pins, I couldn’t believe the price – how much – for pins – really?

I managed to steer clear of buying books – there was little time for reading and I made use of the library – so a good saving here – perhaps my only one!

Leisure and Entertainment

We paid £16 in total for the Open gardens of Little Ouseburn and York Gate Garden (which was on the 2 for 1 gardens scheme).  This money actually goes to the charities running them and could in theory go into my charitable donations category.  Whichever, in my mind it is always money well spent for the pleasure it brings.

Eating Out

Mum’s visits always come with a hefty price tag – she loves being out and about and eating out… cafes, pubs, fish and chip shops…she is not worried where and prefers it to us coming back home and eating home cooked meals. We are the opposite always prefering meals at home! We did manage a few picnics with her so this has helped keep the costs down but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find things she will eat – no fruit or veg or salad.  She did eat the soup we made so a win there.

When we are on our own we have become used to packing up and have saved quite a lot of money over the last few months – but then all our scrimping just disintegrates when mum comes to stay and we end up spending a small fortune. I am not complaining though as it keeps mum happy and she does contibute every now and again buying us all a drink or ice cream. It is more that it puts a heavy load on this part of our budgeting that we would not have otherwise. As we don’t see her every week we take her out and about as much as possible but these kind of costs for eating out and the extra fuel consumption are just not sustainable on a state pension, so lucky we have a bit of a back up with our savings.

Clothing and Footwear

In April I bought a hooded duvet jacket to wear at home in the garden.  I got one from Primark for £15 it was actually a man’s, size small –  but returned it for the roomier medium one a few days later by which time they had been reduced to £10 so I was given a £5 refund. Nice.

In May I took advantage of the Sainsbury’s 25% off all TU clothing offer and treated  myself to some new yoga leggings and a top as well as a grey stripey top to wear with jeans (but the jury’s out on this one and I may return).

The conclusion….

So a disappointing couple of months although I was under no illusion that it would be any different – like slimming you always know when you haven’t stuck strictly to the diet.  My aim is not so much about being frugal as being careful with the money and most of all I am trying to simplify everything so it is easier to keep tabs on things.

The old tea caddy system of long ago was a good system – you could see at an instant how much cash was in the tin and when it was gone it was gone.

Last week I rang and finally made the appointment with the financial advisor from Hargreaves Lansdown and this will take place in June so we should get our private pension sorted soon and in exactly a year from now I can draw my state pension too. Yeah!

I also found a way of making the 4 weekly payment of the state pension work for us.  No matter when the pension comes into our ‘holding’ account I have set up a standing order to transfer £500 of the pension on the 1st of each month into the general housekeeping account.  This gets around trying to budget monthly when the payments come in on a different day every month.

Looking to June I will be guarding the purse strings once again. I have already spent a bit more on the garden yesterday – more on this later – but this should be the last – it is now all down to hard work.

The next big bills will be the insurances for the house and cottage but they are later in the year. All our big expenses for the yearly car maintenance are done and June and July are surprisingly free months with only the fixed price utility direct debits going out.

I intend to get back to some serious menu planning and grocery bill reducing, filling the freezer with meals and making some more cards. I will be so busy in the garden I shouldn’t have time to go near any shops.

trEAsury ~ the March tally

The figures never lie – but surely I didn’t spend THAT much….did I?

I thought I had March under control as far as our spending went but sometimes the reports tell a different story.

We had similar trips to last month and trips = petrol which in turn = cost.  Our grocery bill stayed at the same average weekly rate which was disappointing and cards and gifts came in more expensive due to a special birthday gift and Mother’s Day. The most expensive categories appear to be eating out and home and garden – could they have been better…let’s find out…..

Transport and fuel costs

Almost exactly the same in March as February – not surprising as we had a visit to Scotland and North Yorkshire yet again.  We also spent £6 on the park and ride fare to Leeds for the financial seminars.

The MOT and car service for our estate car was actually done in April so a bit of a reprieve here on the March costs.

Total costs for gadding about and a ticket to ride: £185.65

Health and wellbeing

I never mind spending on this category if it keeps me fit and well. Bendy I am not at the moment – still there is hope.

Total cost for my flexible foray: £8

Utilities

We switched our electricity provider from Scottish Power in March to a dual fuel contract with SO energy who provide us with our gas.  They are a hit with us on two counts; good customer service and extremely clear statements, which come in on time every month so you know how much you have spent.   Without the benefit of the good weather we had in February, March was a much cooler month and our gas bill reflects this but only by a few pounds.

Total cost with a toastie transference: £78.00

Grocery and housekeeping costs

The total bill for groceries and whole foods alone was much the same this month as last, £314 with the average also remaining the same at £78.  I liken my weekly shopping costs to a Slimming World weigh in – I was convinced I had spent less but in truth I had not,  though as with a weigh in remaining constant is better than gain and obtaining a constant average of £75  since the beginning of the new year is I think worthy of a prize.

I have managed to build up a bit of a stock of some items – not intentionally, not for Brexit even, but in order to take advantage of the items on offer – so my figures reflect stock rather than foods eaten.  I do have in the back of my mind that when Brexit happens we may face shortages so maybe it is no bad thing to have a bit of a stockpile.Neal's YardIncluded in this category are toiletries and this month I bought another Neal’s Yard frankincense serum.  They offered me 20% off and I had just run out.

I heard on the news that the price of stamps was going up so I called in to our local post office and bought 12 first class and 24 second class for £21.96.  As I don’t use many stamps other than at Christmas I will now have them ready and at the old price.  I usually prefer to buy the Christmas design stamps for my cards but when you are on a pension needs must.  I will decorate the envelopes with some pretty rubber stamps instead.

And I confess to three magazines £10.99 Country homes came with Woman and Home as a deal and Simple Things – who can resist a bit of a spring fling and the ideas contained in them have sparked some creativity.

Total cost for putting away for a rainy day and keeping my furrows at bay: £419.14

Home and Garden purchases

I had no frivolous purchases this month for the house but as spring got underway a few replacement tools were needed for the garden – anvil loppers, secateurs and a very useful small hand fork for tight spaces.

Our one expensive impulsive purchase was the small corded Dyson – not a planned expense at all, bought more out of necessity from thinking ahead. Our Dyson at home is quite heavy now to manoeuvre and carry up and down the stairs, while the one we have at the caravan is so much lighter (the downside being that you have to empty it more often).  Presently you can still find old stock in the shops but soon both the corded vacs and the small lighter models will be obsolete.   Surprisingly, the exact same model we bought for the caravan in April 2017 with the insurance money was £50 cheaper and came with a larger selection of tools.

Total cost of a moments impulse replacing some cool tools : £340.32

Cards and Gifts

I had two special cards to buy this month – a 70th birthday and a Mother’s day card, for the rest of the birthdays I was using my old stock of bought cards so managed a bit of a saving here.  I bought mum a basket of plants £10 and spent another £40 for my friends 70th, a theatre voucher to share with his wife who will also be 70 in May.  They like going to see musicals so although this will not buy them a seat each it will go someway to the cost, or if they are hard up too she could sit on his knee!

Total costs to include a musical interlude £55.50

Crafts and Hobbies and Books

Crafts and hobbies don’t come cheap and knitting is one of them. I spent a whopping £15 on patterns – generally they seem to be £3 each in the shops – but I have now enough to keep me going a while.I like to be able to read the pattern before I buy it so I can tell if I might be able to understand most of it. The King Cole Cottonsoft wool for my next project came from Boyes and was a reasonable £12.30 for 3 balls.I came across some cotton lace for the Christening dress from Boyes £8.60 for quite a few metres. I bought two books on knitting for £7.99, a novel called The Bookseller for £8.99 and a much-needed road map of Great Britain £7 to replace our old one that was now so far out of date some of the new roads are not shown.  As we don’t have sat nav, a map is essential.

Total cost of my homespun hobbies and a : £63.87

Leisure and Entertainment

It seems that even though we have been here, there and everywhere during March we have not actually paid for any entertainment or leisure activities; they came free.

Total cost of a leisurely life – bingo a healthy: £0.00

Eating Out

The most disastrous month so far this year and not because I had eased up on the packed lunches.  If I break the figures down it has been a heavy month because we saw my mum at the beginning and end of March and even though we packed picnics on our days out we still managed a whopping £120.49 in the tea shops and cafes and buying a meal in Saltburn on our last visit in lieu of a Mothering Sunday lunch.  But how can I begrudge her a little enjoyment.

We also had the extra expense of eating out for the day in Leeds when we attended the financial seminars – although the seminars were free the food needed to keep us going all day was not!  So with other drinks out over the month we managed to hit £63.

Total cost for stuffing ourselves: £193.12

Clothing and Footwear

I have done even better than I thought in this category and spent hardly anything. I bought two more long-sleeved t-shirts, one white and one black, they are so versatile and I had to buy them before they disappeared off the rail and replaced with the summer short-sleeved ones but that was all I bought.

Total cost for a modest attire: £17.00

It is interesting how what you do through a month reflects on how much you spend.  Having a visit to Scotland, and visits to see my mum and younger daughter are expensive trips – not only getting there (fuel costs) but eating out during that time.

I notice too that the weather has some bearing on expenditure – now the sun is shining the garden needs maintenance and gardening like crafts are not cheap pastimes.  Any outlay now should set us up for the year, or will it?

So I will endeavor to muddle through another month – I know April is going to be harder to keep a tight grasp on the old purse strings as we approach Easter and a family party at the same time as well as numerous birthdays to cope with.

Anyone wishing to read the previous monthly tallies click below

January tally

February tally

trEAsury ~ pension overwhelm

Yesterday saw us in Leeds attending 3 seminars delivered by the financial advisors Hargreaves Lansdown – you may have heard of them they are a pretty big national company.  The seminars were free – so seemed a waste not to go – after all any advice is better than none.

I must admit I am so glad we attended – we came away with much food for thought.

We decided on using the Park and Ride as the seminars covered most of the day and parking in Leeds is not only difficult but expensive with a capital E.  It worked well and I would use it again – the buses were clean, quiet and driven by a lovely helpful man and we did not have to wait long coming or going.  Cost £6

The snacks and drinks we had to buy during the day to keep us going were not very cheap – we took sandwiches which we ate at 11am in the car as the first seminar was 12 noon to 2pm,  after that it was places like Costa for a toastie.  The event finished at 8.30 so we had to cover food for all day although they did lay on tea and coffee and some chocolate chip cookies.  Cost for drinks and eats out a hefty £17.

I know some of my readers are in the same place as me or coming up to retirement – some of you will be lucky enough to have final salary or public sector pensions – every ones means are different and that is the message that came out of the seminars.  I am in no way promoting or recommending Hargreaves  Lansdown – I am certainly not being sponsored by them nor am I advising anyone in any way.

The three seminars were entitled –

  • Planning for retirement,
  • Looking to make the most of your money in retirement
  • Passing your wealth onto your loved ones (presuming you have some money left).

We thought we did not have enough wealth to warrant advice but the truth is when you add up your assets – your house, car(s), caravan, any valuables, savings, shares etc (especially if you live down south where property prices are higher) you may find that they exceed the £325,000 inheritance tax allowance and so when you (or both of you) pass away the tax man will claim his 40% first on the excess and this can work out more than any individual beneficiary receives. Thinking ahead can help to preserve more of your estate for your children’s / grandchildren’s benefit.

There are it seems many legitimate ways to protect some of the money that you might pass on to loved ones by means of a trust.  I did not know anything about trusts and they may not be applicable to us but it was interesting to learn more about them.

One of the main points I came away with was I do wish we had been more attentive when we were younger and thought seriously about putting more of our surplus money into a private pension pot.  Anyone younger reading this I would say get to know more about pensions now and act on it – you will not easily sustain the standard of living you have got used to, when you leave paid work and retire on just the state pension – so don’t rely on it.  That is not to say you cannot live fairly comfortably on a state pension – my grandparents did well enough but there are no frills attached.

Obviously for us this cannot be reversed now and I remember when we were younger we did not have a lot of spare cash – we had mortgages with hefty interest rates in the 80’s and two growing girls – pensions were not on our mind but should have been and I am sure we could have squeezed a little more out of the monthly budget to put away.

But we are where we are and part of the seminar was to think about how much money we really need to live on now and during the rest of our life (of course not knowing how long this might be is a bit of a key factor in this game) and are we going to meet that income with the pension we have or is there likely to be a major shortfall.  For instance if you want to travel to exotic places or keep a high standard of living going or remain in a big house this may cause a large shortfall.

I just need to know I can enjoy my retirement and be comfortable, have a few good holidays and follow one or two hobbies and if anything unexpected happens we have the means to deal with it – I am not expecting to live it up exactly but if there is a shortfall or we need expensive care costs how can we generate more income to bridge the gap.  There are only a few ways to receive more income during retirement – for most of us this would be through savings generating interest, investments generating dividends, or  rental income (if you are lucky enough to have another property or inherited one), you might be lucky at gambling or bingo but at worst you might need to go back to work.

Another fact I had not considered is that different governments will have a future effect on our money – some will want more than others in tax.  That will not alter the choice of party i vote for but is something to be aware of.

Since 2015 the flexibility of accessing our private pension pots has greatly increased but with it a lot of complexities and the goal posts change yearly with the budgets so you need to be mindful of these changes.

The speaker, who was extremely knowledgeable, took the time to explain about the merits of the relatively new drawdown pension scheme in contrast to taking the traditional annuities.  The advantage of drawdown is that it passes on to your beneficiaries which annuities do not.  This pension pot is there to draw on if and when you need to but if most of it is left invested it can generate more capital growth to create an income stream (something I had not considered as I had been under the impression that capital was something that just ran down steadily in retirement).

The downside of a drawdown pension is that the money continues to be invested and so needs managing and if not by yourself by someone else at a cost.  If not managed well you could run out of funds unlike an annuity which gives you a set guaranteed amount monthly for life – it is a secure amount but you need a decent sized pension pot to receive a decent monthly payment in the current climate.

On the risk side I learnt that you cannot assume that having your money in cash just gaining interest is low risk – this is actually very high risk as that money although safe will undoubtedly not keep pace with inflation and if you live another thirty years will be worth very little and might only buy you a cup of tea in the future.

The best way we were told to minimise risk is not to put all your eggs in one basket – invest your money in a whole range of ways.  Sadly, this is not a simpler option and as you know I am looking for simplicity in all areas of my life but we live in a complex world so it feels pretty unavoidable.

We came out feeling much more informed if not a little overwhelmed – but like everything else we need a plan – so during this next week we are going to seriously plan our strategy and have a go at a lifetime cashflow chart as they suggest.

We arrived home to find two letters – a bank statement for our bill account, all as expected, and one from DWP notifying us of a rise in our state pension from April of £4.25 a week, about £18 month – when I budget I will work on the old amount not the new – this rise of £18 will go straight to savings.

A day of potential doom and gloom – (but made better by the free freshly baked cookies and an unexpected rise in income). x

trEAsury ~ the February tally

Once again I am facing the moment of truth.  Sometimes we can think we are doing well and spending less but the figures at the end of the month never lie.

Overall for February the total outgoing money was much the same as January but the amounts in each category had shifted around – a bit like the sand and pebbles on our beach at the cottage.

To summarise; the housekeeping, household bills, cards and gifts were lower than last month but fuel costs, eating out, health and wellbeing were higher.

The housekeeping money (which for me includes groceries, whole foods and supplements, magazines, cleaning supplies, toiletries, face creams, make-up, postage, stationery and flowers for the house when I buy any) came in at £367.00, but of course it was the shortest month so maybe this wasn’t a great achievement and remember I am not an all out frugal blog by any means (stop reading now if you were expecting severe thrift or you will be disappointed) – I like a bargain and I like to live within my means – I also like hanging on to my savings for dear life but I don’t particularly buy cheap in all cases in fact I like quality and value for money so I assess everything I buy with that in mind whether it be food, clothes or a garden tool.

I know there are many of you out there who would do much better than me but this is my way of cutting the spending down and buying less without making myself totally miserable or obsessed and I am pleased with myself if I find I have spent less than last month.  I haven’t even set category budgets for myself – I suppose I should really but I know I have to stay within the bounds of our one state pension for most of our day-to-day living costs and save a bit if we can.  When we have lived on the pension for a while and have definite figures to work on then I can adjust and budget.

So how did I do…

Transport and fuel costs

February was heavy on fuel costs not just for the car but during the warm spell we had recently we had to buy petrol for the mower in order to cut the grass!  The trip up to Scotland and 2 round trips up to North Yorkshire increased this category to £180 ouch!  In compensation there were no other transport or car related costs but we do have an MOT coming up next month.

Total costs of seeing the world and shaving the grass: £186.87

Health and wellbeing costs

February saw us both at the hairdressers for a cut and blow dry.  We go to the same local hairdressers  – not together I might add, that might be a little strange!….and whilst mine is £26, DH only has to pay £11 but then his hair is much shorter and he has less of it.  For me it is worth the expense, I always feel much better afterwards.

Total cost of a brand new me and him:  £37

Utilities

Our central heating and hot water runs on gas and we have a coal effect gas fire in the living room.  The heating is on from 5 pm to 8pm – after that we will just put the gas fire on if it is really cold whilst watching the TV or sometimes for a bit of glow on the lowest setting.   The gas bill for February came in at £69 plus VAT.  I didn’t think that was too bad – helped of course by the milder weather and watching TV during the evenings wrapped snuggly in a throw rather than putting the fire or heating on.

Total costs for the joy of warm toes:  £72.63

Grocery and housekeeping costs

Surprisingly I spent less this month than last (but then it was only 4 weeks long) however the average per week on groceries alone worked out at a little more than last month @ £77, (£309 for the month) but we did take advantage of a lot of items on offer so are pretty well stocked in the grocery department.  Some weeks I do better than others and have more time to plan – sometimes it is all a bit rushed and that is when I do spend more but we have been having some nice meals recently and I have been trying new recipes.Yellow Sticker foodWe had a surprise freebie in Tesco in Castle Douglas in Scotland when they were handing out free rolls one evening.  You couldn’t beat this yellow sticker price!Daffodils I didn’t buy any toiletries or face creams during February but did treat myself to some flowers for the house.

Total cost to eat and be merry £361.87 and a bunch or two of cheerfulness £5.

Home and garden purchases

Once again just bits and pieces bought in this category but it still added up to an alarming £106 – I had to look twice at this in disbelief – but it is there in black and white and needless to mention this cost will be taken from savings not the pension – the pension does not allow for frivolous purchases that consist of:-

  • 2 large storage boxes with lids for in the loft to replace some old cardboard bankers boxes
  • 3 lidded craft storage boxes to hold our old slides
  • 1 small 4 litre Maslin pan to make jam and marmalade reduced by £10 to £19.99Maslin Pan
  • 2 glass lidded containers from Muji for cotton wool and cotton wool buds (this was a definite treat); I love Muji products for their simplicity and have wanted these for ages and couldn’t resist when DH gave me the OK nod.muji
  • Portable Muji diffuser – on offer at the Muji store – gives out 2 hours of real essential oil fragrance
  • 2 Pillow protectors on sale in Sainsbury’s for £3.60 – decided against the dearer John Lewis ones and will return them.

This is certainly a category to watch – those little bits here and there add up to quite a lot.

Total cost for unavoidable household needs wants: £106

Gifts and card costs 

Gifts and cards came in lower than last month – only a couple of birthdays and mum’s belated birthday book token.  I already had a Valentine’s card and a stock of birthday cards and luckily none of the birthdays required a gift, so much cheaper month than last.

Total cost to gift away: £22.50

Crafts and hobbies

Confession – I bought two books (I include books in my Craft and Hobbies category).  Simple Sewing posted here, and The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee.  I bought his book The Four Pillar Plan a while ago and it is one of the best general health books I have read and continue to reread and am trying to put into practice. The Stress Solution I couldn’t wait for his new book to appear cheaper in The Works so splashed out the £8.49 in Sainsbury’s.

Having tried a bit of crotchet with the hooks and wool I bought last month it became apparent I would not be making any baby clothes any time soon – I couldn’t even crotchet a square and will need more time to practice so I decided to try my hand at knitting again. Sidar Baby Crofter I bought a baby pattern £3.10 and 3 balls of Sirdar Baby Crofter from Hobbycraft @ £4 ball to make a jumper for Sweetie and now realise knitting your own is not a cheap option.  DH just smiles!

Total cost to keep me busy: £27.78

Leisure and Entertainment

I spent a worthwhile £15 on the pantomime tickets (no discounts even though I am related to the stars of the show!), however I do still have to pay my sister for these when I see her.  Of course the petrol costs to get there would have been about £30 – but she is my sister and of course Libbie (Little L) was so thrilled.

Other than that our other entertainment this month was visiting Ikea – totally free!

Total costs of a good belly laugh: £15 (not including the fuel a definite boo!)

Eating out

This continues to be much reduced now we take picnics everywhere or get free drinks in Ikea – but is higher than last month as we had our trip to Scotland and bought a chip butty tea each on the way up and back £7.70.  Mainly though our only regular expense is the pre shop drinks in Sainsbury’s café every week £4.10, DH always comes along with me now since I am no longer at work (probably to keep an eye on the spending!) so it doubles this little indulgence – if we gave this up we would be down to zero pounds unless we elect to treat ourselves for lunch out, which we did at Costa en route to the Pantomime.

Total costs to satisfy our healthy appetites:  £52.25

Clothing and footwear

I bought a grey long-sleeved t-shirt from Sainsbury’s – it was, I am pleased to say, a considered purchase.   I bought one last Autumn and love it so much I invested in another before they disappear, they are great to wear under a jumper and keep me snug and warm in the cold weather – so a small price to pay.  I also needed to replace some old wornout black socks that I wear with my jeans and leggins.  One pack of five from Tesco for £5 – they have the same patterned rib as the previous ones I bought two years ago which is great as I won’t need to spend time matching socks after washing them.

Total cost to looking totally glamorous presentable: £9.75

As you might expect the spending in the different categories has ‘see-sawed’ a bit this month.  What was a low figure last month was higher this month and vice versa.  I am enjoying the books, enjoying the knitting (more on this another day) and will no doubt enjoy making some jam and marmalade.

So a few new items have entered my home but what has gone out…I will reveal later.

As usual hoping to do better next month and any advice is always welcome….xx

If you want to read January’s tally click here