Friday, 31 March 2017

Monthly Round Up - March

I've been a lot more disciplined in March, which has been very encouraging.  I made a decision to try to exist without any non-essential spending, and although I didn't quite stick to it 100%, I spent a whole lot less than I've done for months. Any purchases I did make, were small and pretty inconsequential really, save for my new glasses, which I mentioned in a previous post.

By cutting out most of the non-essential spending, I've actually proved to myself that it can be done. In fact, I kind of managed to create a new mind set around getting on top of my finances, in that I've decided that until my finances are in order, I don't deserve any large treats that aren't absolutely essential.

Previously, my budget just wasn't working because I'd make allowances here and there to justify unnecessary expenditure and it just wasn't getting me anywhere, so at least I've had a mental breakthrough in this regard, and I didn't find it too difficult to more or less stick to either.

With regard to the budget, despite doing a bit of a back to basics budget, I still overspent in most areas this month, and spent in some that I didn't intend to spend in at all, but even taking these overspends into consideration, I'm relatively happy with progress.

The normal £400 food budget went over this month by £60.  I'm not sure why this was, although March is one of the longer months of the year and I think it included an extra weekly shop. (i.e. 5 instead of 4 shops). The monthly budget for this category is staying at £400 going forward, but if I can come under even by a few pounds some months it will help.

I halved the Household budget this month to £50, but unfortunately couldn't stick to it and ended up over budget by £46. I think stocking up on bulk items that weren't absolutely essential accounted for most of this. I did also need to buy food and treats in readiness for our dog going to a sitter whilst we're away next week which would ordinarily come out of next month's budget.  In any case, everything will get used over the coming months, it was just bought a little prematurely. In spite of this, I think halving this budget is potentially viable, so I'll be doing this every month from now on until my finances are completely under control.

I cut my personal budget to zero this month too (not including optician and dental costs).  I didn't, however, stick to this either, as I bought two books on eBay, a plant, an inexpensive pair of earrings and a couple of other small things which took me £22 over budget. I think realistically, a zero personal budget isn't very sustainable, but I might reduce my personal budget by half to £25 per month from now on, just to allow for a few small treats to motivate me.

I cut the home budget to zero too this month and again didn't manage to stick to it.  I was, however, only £5 over, so I think I could realistically reduce this budget drastically going forward, to something like £20, which will again help keep me motivated, by allowing for a couple of very small purchases to maintain our home.

LB's budget was slashed to zero too this month, as there was nothing she really needed and she still had plenty of her own money left over from her birthday and Christmas, so could buy things for herself if she wanted anything.  I did treat her to a DVD from a CS, so this budget went over by just £1. I'm going to keep this budget at the same level as my personal one going forward, i.e. £25, but obviously if she really needs anything, I'll buy it.

The final area of the budget was Miscellaneous and I allowed £50 for this budget, but didn't manage to stay within it. In the end I was £33 over which was mainly due to buying and posting off a couple of gifts, plus various small expenditures, some of which weren't completely essential, but which all add up over the month.  I could do better in this category, so I'm going to keep it at £50 for next month.

In all, I was pleased that I'd slashed my budgets, despite the overspends.  I've read that it takes 3 months to form new habits and stick to new budgets, so I'm not expecting miracles of myself instantly.  It's a process and any improvement I make from month to month is a positive. At least this month has demonstrated to me that I can reduce budgets and spending if I put my mind to it, and it's something that I've now committed to in the coming months.  I'm trying to look on it as a challenge, rather than a chore, in order to help motivate me.  Turning things around is a slow process, but I think I'm making progress.  Baby steps as always.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

More Progress at the Allotment

Friday afternoons at the allotment are becoming almost a regular feature of my life at the moment.  I thought I might be needed to work at the CS last week, with the manager being away, but as I wasn't I decided to make the most of it and see if I could break the back of digging over my plot. 

As mentioned in my post last week, I managed to get about one third of the way around the plot the previous Friday afternoon, (see picture above) so last Friday, I was hoping to get at least another third done, so that I could start sowing and putting plants in.  The spring inspections are at the end of the month, so time is running out.

It was a bit of a grey, cold day, but there was no rain forecast, so I figured I'd soon warm up once I got digging. I most certainly did as the sun decided to come out whilst I was there, which made a big difference.

Digging isn't my favourite task, nor is it the most exciting task, especially combined with the weeding that was necessary, but I know it's worth persevering, as the real work of creating my new plot can begin once it's done.

I have to admit that although I think I'm reasonably fit, when I start digging at the allotment, I feel like a very old lady. I stiffen up almost immediately, because of all the bending and stretching.  It is such hard work, especially as the ground was still a bit wet after rain this week, so it was pretty heavy going. I kept plodding on for about 3-4 hours on this visit and managed to get three quarters of the way around the plot.

I also managed to sew a few seeds this visit; lettuce, curly kale and parsley.  There were already some broad bean plants and onions in that I had overwintered. I just needed to weed around them. 

Onions and broad beans that overwintered

I was completely exhausted by the time I got home, so I decided to go to bed for a nap. I think I just overdid it. As a consequence, OH volunteered to come back with me on Saturday and finish the digging, as well as planting my potato tubers for me. (He always does a better job than I do).

Potato tubers in and earthed up

We went back on Saturday morning and whilst OH started digging over the last two beds, I transplanted some rhubarb, gooseberry and blackcurrant plants into the one of the dug beds.  I'd salvaged these from my old plot before I left.

Perennial Fruit Bed

I also sowed some more seeds and planted out some petit pois plants that I'd bought from Lidl a few weeks ago.  I don't know if they'll thrive, but I gave them a shot.

We were probably on the plot for just a couple of hours on Saturday morning and finally finished digging it all over.  It was such a relief to get it done.  We then headed home for bacon sandwiches as a treat for all our hard work.

Now the interesting bit begins. Growing food.

An overall view of the whole plot

Here's a picture of the plot now. As you can see its pretty much a blank canvas save for what I we planted and sowed. I still need to devise a solution for the paths between the beds. I'm not sure what yet, as I don't really want to spend any money, or at least not much.

In any case, it will have to wait now, until we get back from holiday.  I probably won't be able to do any more work on the plot until after Easter, but least there should be a few things growing by then.
I'll keep you posted on future progress.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

An Eventful Week

It's Wednesday night and already it's been an eventful week.  Why is it that the week before you go away, everything goes crazy?

Anyway, poor OH has copped for most of the hassle. Whilst out doing the weekly grocery shop on Monday the car started playing up.  To be honest it's not been great for a few weeks and on top of that OH has been trying to get new tyres fitted but the security bolts on the wheels had fused and prevented them being taken off, so several trips to the dealership and tyre garage ensued to get that problem sorted.  He's still got to get the tyres replaced this week.

The other problem with the car has been a valve that has got choked up and needs replacing.  A nice £500 worth of valve, might I add, just a month or so after the 5 year warranty ran out.  Who would have credited it?  Call me cynical, but it's a known problem with this particular brand of car, according to OH who has now researched it on the internet.  Anyway, he's got it replaced and it's just the tyres to go now.

In addition to all of this going on in the last few weeks, LB has been rehearsing for and then performing in another production at school this week.  We went to the first show, which was good, and I had to go collect her from the second last night as it was getting too late for her to come home alone.

The dog has been to the groomers today to be stripped, in readiness for the weather starting to warm up. She looks cute, but quite different, bless her.  She behaved much better this time, as we had reports of her being a little grumpy the last time this was done. She's still not 100% since the tick incident, nothing too serious, but we'll probably be taking her back to the vet when we get back from our holidays. This is another long running saga, rather like the car.

I've just finished my two days at the CS and as the manager had no staff to work with him on Saturday, I've volunteered to go in. I didn't go in last weekend as I thought I might, so I figured I should this weekend, especially now I've got the garden and allotment up to scratch. (Last year, I nearly lost my allotment due to not keeping on top of it due to overcommitting at the CS. I had a real job getting it back under control and adequately cultivated over the summer, so I'm trying to be careful not to do the same this year - it should help that my new allotment is a much more manageable size)

In any case, LB has an end of term sleep over at a friend's on Friday night, which fits in perfectly, as she'll probably be off hanging out with her friends most of Saturday anyway and therefore being at the shop won't be such an issue. I, for my part, will find it quite interesting to see what it's like working in the shop on the busiest day of the week.

As a consequence of the above, the remaining two days of this week I'll be getting organised for the holiday, i.e. washing and ironing clothes, packing, buying last minute holiday essentials if any are required.  I've already got my currency. (The exchange rate was atrocious I might add, but what can you expect, as the PM starts off our exit from the EU). We also had a few extra euros left over from previous holidays, so I'm taking them with me. I've got all the sun lotions we need and my holiday reading lined up already, which are a few things ticked off the list.

Talking of books, I also need to return all of my recently borrowed library books before we go, as they fall due whilst we're away.  I just need to finish the book I'm currently reading and they can go back. I may also need to collect my new glasses from the optician, but I'm waiting to be notified that they're ready.

I'm now getting quite excited about the holiday, whilst simultaneously really feeling in need of a break.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

This Weekend

This weekend has been one of those wonderfully productive ones where you feel that your time has been well spent.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning were spent at the allotment, finally getting it up to scratch and ready for planting out and sowing. (More in another post)

The weather was glorious. Sunshine all weekend.  It's amazing that a bit of sun can make such a difference. Being out at the allotment and out in the garden, I realised how much I'd been stuck inside all winter, spending most of my time on the computer.  It was so good to sit out in the garden and feel the heat of the sun on my face.  It feels like it's been a long time coming.

As a consequence of the better weather, my gardening mojo came back, and on Sunday, I finally bought the compost I needed to do a few small repotting jobs that I'd been meaning to do for a while.

I also planted out some petit pois pea plants into one of the raised beds, from a tray I bought from Lidl for £2.29 a few weeks ago. There were so many plants in the tray, I've still got lots more to plant out. I'm waiting to see if the foxes disturb the first planting, so at least I can try again if they do. They are tiny, spindly things at the moment so I'm hoping they'll bush out given time.

I moved some lettuce seedlings that had overwintered in one of the raised beds. Spreading them out a little more to give them room to grow. 

I also took advantage of the sunshine to get around to washing all of my dirty garden pots.  I always leave them until spring and do them on the first sunny day we get if I have time.  There weren't as many as I thought there were going to be, so it didn't take long and then I re-used them to sow some seeds in the greenhouse.

Having done this, it cleared the way for me to move the potting table to the end of the garden in readiness for building work later this year.  The greenhouse will be the next thing to be moved to this area.  We just need to sort out the fence as, behind the panel our opposite neighbour to the rear has removed the fence panel without any discussion and left this matting type panel suspended in mid air practically. Needless to say, I'm not very impressed.

Anyway, the decking area now seems so much bigger.  More space to sit out and enjoy the sunshine while we have it. I got the garden chairs out of the shed to facilitate this.

I put a couple under the cherry tree too.

I now feel ready to go on holiday in a week or so, knowing that I've caught up on all of these jobs and don't have them all to come back to.  Next weekend is going to be all about the packing.

Loving the spring now it's finally sprung. How was your weekend?

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Frugal Measures and Freebies and a big fat Frugal Fail 3

For this post in this current series, I decided to add Frugal fails to these posts, as lets be honest, we all make mistakes or get persuaded to spend more than we intend at times. I'll start this post with my most recent frugal fail in order to get it out of the way.

My major frugal fail this post was allowing myself to be talked in to buying varifocal lenses on my recent visit to the opticians, against my instincts and budgetary efforts to stick to my usual lenses for short sightedness only.

It's my first venture into varifocals and although it will probably be a lot more convenient, as I do spend a lot of time taking my glasses on and off at the moment, the cost was twice that of the normal lenses I've been buying for years and I'm not yet sure that it was worth it, as I haven't actually got my new glasses yet. I'm paying for them across two months, in order to be able to afford them, so I don't know yet whether I'll like them, but I am hoping that I do or I'll be even more annoyed with myself than I am at present.

Anyway, onto the positives, recent Frugal Measures and Freebies include the following:

1) I watched the film Me Before You on Netflix.  I have to admit though, that waiting to watch it for free (well, not strictly free, due to the subscription) was due to multiple reasons and not just frugality.  One reason was that OH wouldn't go to the cinema to watch the film with me, another was that I knew I'd cry watching it and didn't want to do that in a public place and probably the third reason was fiscal. I thought it was very true to the book and the casting was pretty good too.  I'm hoping they'll make a film of the sequel, Me After You, as I enjoyed reading that too.

2) I used two of the yellow stickered cards I bought from M&S back in February, for a couple of birthdays this month.  These two cost 19p and 29p respectively. They're nice quality cards, too.

3) I created a strict budget plan for the next six months, to try to achieve the financial outcomes that I want to achieve this year.  I now just have to stick to it and I should be in a much better financial position.

4) I had a six month check at the dentist and didn't need any treatment, so just paid £20 for the check up. Result. I was advised to book in for a scale and polish in a couple of months time, but I'm happy to do this once in a while to keep my teeth as clean and healthy as I possibly can. I've adjusted my strict budget accordingly to account for it.

Whilst at the dentist, I helped myself to this free sample of my usual toothpaste, as it is perfect as a travel size when we go to Crete next month.

5) I had another week at the CS where I didn't buy anything.

6) Having signed up to my recently acquired life insurance policy through MoneySuperMarket, I qualified for a £75 voucher, once I'd paid my third monthly premium. I got an email through about it today, requesting that I choose between Argos, Next and M&S. I, of course, went for M&S because at least I can use it to buy food, as well as other things.

I will hopefully receive it in the next 28 days, so it should help keep me within budget next month and possibly the month after, if I use it carefully and don't blow it in one go.  I might use it for my weekly top up grocery shop until it runs out.

Not quite as many frugal measures and freebies this week, but the ones I did manage will be very useful indeed.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Glad to be Home

Tonight, I'm very glad to be home. I feel very sad for those people and their families caught up the atrocity in Westminster and who are at this moment fighting for their lives or recovering from the trauma. I heard the news on the radio whilst working at the CS this afternoon.

I found out a bit more about what had happened on Yahoo and via the radio when I got home, but will probably find out more details from the 10 o'clock news later tonight. It's a sad day for London, but I was rallied by the #wearenotafraid campaign that I read about online.

The world seems such a volatile place at the moment. We try to just get on with our lives regardless, but these sort of events bring us back to reality. It saddens me that there is so much negativity, hate and malice out there.

Changing the subject slightly, I've been watching Gary Vaynerchuk a lot on YouTube lately and I almost agree with him when he says that lots of people want to get rich quick these days and not work hard for it.  They all look to the self-made young millionaires on YouTube and want to be like them. Aah, the age of YouTube, where you can earn thousands/millions advertising your own and everyone else's products to an impressionable audience who will then go out and buy them. What an amazing opportunity for those who got in the game early.  Excuse me if I sound a little cynical, but the kind of success it offers doesn't interest me much, but I can understand how people can get swept along by it or young people are desperate for the opportunities it can open up for them.

I stopped watching sponsored content a good while ago, as it just seemed so gratuitous and unappealing. I've actually got to a stage where I almost pity the vloggers who get sent mounds of PR samples and stuff in their PO boxes from numerous companies, wanting them to promote their products.  Clutter springs to mind.  What can you do with a whole range of lipsticks.  It takes me two years to use one up, let alone 20. I just see them as vehicles for big business hijack in order to hawk their wares. Fair play to them, they are getting amazing opportunities early in life, so who am I to criticise.

Anyway, I like the way Gary just tells those waiting for it to happen for them to stop moaning about why they haven't made it big instantly, be grateful, work hard, put content out there without being too precious about it and be patient. Nothing worth anything ever comes easy. 

It's such old fashioned advice, but still so true, even in our digital age and it obviously still needs to be imparted because people (me included) are lapping it up. What is the hurry to be a millionaire when you are 20? Although at least they are wanting to get on and are hungry. In many ways, I wish I had been more hungry for success when I was 20, and had known more about compound interest, but I didn't and I didn't really come from an entrepreneurial background. 

Having said this, I am not sure that I would have liked to feel the pressure that many young people feel to be a financial success these days.  There was very little pressure on me.  Too little I sometimes think, hence why I've always been pretty terrible in relation to my finances. I came from a hard working background though, and my parents did their absolute best for me and my sisters, I know that much. It didn't come easy to them, so why should it be any different for anyone today.

Anyway, in the light of today's events, success just doesn't seem so important somehow, it can all be wiped out in seconds, but then we shouldn't let others' hate stop us from striving for a better life and world.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Working to a Strict Budget

March has been an interesting month. I've tried hard to stick to a really strict budget. I didn't fully succeed, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the fact that it wasn't as difficult as I thought it was going to be.

I think it helped that I got to that 'sick and tired' moment that The Former Mrs Jones talks about on her YouTube channel, that prompted her to get on board with Dave Ramsey's 9 Steps to Financial Freedom. I've had a lot of those moments in recent months and the penny has finally dropped.

I myself am not actually committing to Dave Ramsey's programme, as I don't really have a lot of debt to pay down and prefer to chart my own journey, but it is a useful tool to measure your success by and therefore every now and then, I do check where I am in relation to his steps.  Here's my not quite complete version of them.

1) £1000 Emergency fund
2) Debt Snowball
3) Save 3-6 months expenses
4) Invest 15% of income for retirement
5) Save for kids college education
6) Pay off mortgage early
7) Build wealth and give

I am personally taking an approach that attempts to tackle several of the steps simultaneously rather than in the order Dave Ramsey suggests. In this sense, I'm trying to save and invest for retirement and my daughter's education, keep funds available for emergencies and regularly give some small amounts of money to charity (in addition to my time volunteering at the CS)

(Please note, that I may have mixed the order of some of these steps to suit my own personal priorities. I also think there was another step about buying a car with cash, but as we own our car outright, I didn't include this one in my list. I'm not sure what the other missing one is though.  If anyone knows please enlighten me.  Again, it may have been one that didn't seem relevant, perhaps titheing, which isn't a particularly common activity here in the UK or at least I don't know of many people who do it. Please refer to Dave Ramsey on YouTube for the proper 9 steps in his plan)

Anyway, as I said, I'm not strictly following Dave Ramsey, but I am taking a lot of notice of Budget Girl who does follow the Ramsey plan, and charts on her YouTube channel, how she is paying down her student loan debt. In particular, I am paying attention to her detailed budgeting methods. She is very inspiring. I'm so enjoying seeing her debt go down each month. She truly deserves to be debt free for all her hard work and positivity.

She argues that the ability to budget is like a muscle, that grows stronger with practice and focus.  I like this analogy and find it does make perfect sense.  As a consequence, I am flexing that muscle in an attempt to build it up over the next six months.

Although in March I partially succeeded in sticking to a strict budget, I was still left feeling like I was treading water, if not going backwards and couldn't see to when the light would appear at the end of the tunnel, so on Sunday I decided to plot a strict budget for the next 6 or 7 months and see where it would take me.

I kept the Food budget at £400, Household at £50, Home £20, Me £25, LB £25 and Misc. £50 and tried to account for any known upcoming big birthdays, events, foreseeable expenses.  According to my calculations, if I stick strictly to this budget for the next six or seven months (until September), I should get where I want to be, in terms of being in control of my finances and living firmly in the black and within my means, rather than using credit cards and my overdraft to get by each month. (Although I do pay them off every month and never pay interest) This is a terrible habit that I've formed over the past 10 years and I'm trying very hard to break it and start paying for everything in cash or with a debit card. (Unless purchasing online, when I will still use my credit card)

In some respects, sticking to such a strict budget for so long seems a bleak prospect, but I think the built in small budgets for me, home and household should help me stick to it, as they do allow a little room in the budget to buy the occasional treat for myself or to enhance our home. I think I'm finally in a mindset to tackle this financial turnaround strategically and I'm going to do my darnedest to crack this thing.

Of course, there will probably be lots of things that crop up that I haven't accounted for, which will more than likely blow my budgets, but I'll just have to cross those bridges when I come to them. Having focussed on what I want to achieve, and having potentially created a path through the jungle of my current finances, I now just have to follow it to hopefully achieve my aim and the prospect is making me feel much more optimistic. I will be keeping a very close eye on my progress each month and I'll let you know if I'm sticking to the plan and achieving the progress I have predicted.  Wish me luck.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Weekend Catchup

After my stint at the allotment on Friday afternoon, I was hopeful this weekend, that I'd get to finish digging over the plot, but unfortunately life had other plans, or LB did anyway.  She wanted to have a sleepover with a couple of friends on Saturday night at our house, so I spent most of the day cleaning up in readiness and making the place presentable.  It gave me the kick up the backside I needed to get on with it anyway.

In the process, I did a bit of hoovering and dusting in our bedroom, as dust and dirt levels were getting very severe.  As I've said before in posts, it's probably the least cleaned room, as every other part of the house seems to be given priority, mainly because no visitors come into our bedroom and see the state of it.  Don't get me wrong, it's tidy, but not as clean as it could be.  Anyway, it is now and it looks a lot better. 

I even got around to putting some fragrant draw liners in my underwear drawers.  They had been a gift a couple of years ago.  The trouble was, when I went to bed all I could smell were the liners, and it wasn't a nice smell either.  It smelled like chloroform or something similar.  Needless to say, they came out again the next day. I don't know if the fragrance had gone off, but I just couldn't tolerate it. Anyway, I learned a valuable lesson - use such gifts as soon as you can to prevent deterioration.

In the process of cleaning our bedroom, I also found a few more things that I was happy to donate, which was good and in emptying my drawers to line them, I came across lots of summer clothing that I may need when we go to Crete in a few weeks time. As a consequence, I decided to start packing. 

As I'm taking just a carry on, for only the second time, I'm going to squish all of my clothes into one of those shrinkable storage bags, so that I can get more into my suitcase.  I'm hoping it will allow me to take everything I need, but not take up too much space in the carry on.  (I got the idea when in TK MAXX where I saw some for sale.  I resisted buying them, which I was pleased about when I got home and realised I already had empty or near empty ones I could use) I'll keep you posted about whether this works or not.

On Saturday afternoon I tackled the ironing mountain once again, putting all the clothes away on Sunday. There's still just under half left to do, but the pile is much more manageable now.

Sunday, I attended my regular class at the gym.  We've been struggling with the music system for two weeks now, so the class wasn't the usual one that the instructor teaches. She had to adapt the class to slower music which wasn't ideal, but we still got a good workout.

I did my usual weekly shop at Lidl straight afterwards and it was hell.  They've reorganised the store so that the bakery is the first thing you walk past as you walk in.  Trouble is the aisle isn't wide enough for everyone to pass, so it's a bit of a bottle neck.  In fact, the whole store was a bottle neck this week.  Not a very enjoyable experience.  I did almost all of my weekly shop for £52 though, which is good for us. I'm currently trying to avoid other supermarkets to avoid impulse spending.  It's working quite well.

Sunday afternoon was a pretty lazy one. I probably could have gone to the allotment, but it was very windy, so I stayed home instead. You've got to have some down time on the weekend.  That's my excuse anyway. I rounded off the weekend by watching the first episode of the new series of Vera, a long time favourite show. I hope you had a good weekend.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

CS Update

Life at the CS has been steadily improving over the last few weeks. As a consequence, and you can probably tell this from the variety and number of posts I've been publishing lately, I've found myself with free time to actually get on and do jobs at home, that I've neglected for a long time. This has been very satisfying on many levels and has allowed me to strike a much better balance.

The main reason for the improvements, has been that the new manager has started a volunteer recruitment campaign and we've had quite a few people through the door enquiring about volunteering. I've been pleasantly surprised by how many people are actually happy to volunteer, as we've never had a recruitment push since I've volunteered there.

Anyway, a few new volunteers have already started, which has reduced the pressure on long standing volunteers to fill the gaps in shifts. The manager is looking for people who can give a longer term commitment, rather than be able to stay for just a couple of months. I can see his logic, as quite a lot of time and effort goes into training people, so the longer they are willing to stay the better.  Although there are no guarantees with any volunteer, making clear the minimum amount of commitment you are looking for in the outset will help to make the staffing of the shop easier and more sustainable in the long term.

Next week, the manager is on holiday, so I'm expecting to work a few extra hours, mainly to stay and help cash up of an evening, as the afternoons tend to have less volunteers than mornings.  I don't mind too much, as everyone needs a holiday and new volunteers don't necessarily have the experience to take on some responsibilities. Having said this, I haven't done this very often, as I usually leave before the shop closes, so it's good experience for me too.

I may volunteer to go in on the Saturday, as a one off, which I haven't done before, as the manager was struggling to fill this particular shift. Both myself and another long term volunteer are away from the shop in a few weeks time for a week, so I feel it's the least I can do before I go.

The nice weather makes such a difference to the commute too. London is like a completely different place when the sun shines.  People's moods seem to be lifted and they appear much happier going about their daily business. People sit out in bars and cafes and enjoy the warm weather and the whole atmosphere is a little more congenial.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

An Afternoon Working My New Allotment

I posted late last year about how I'd swapped my old allotment, which I was struggling to maintain, for a new smaller one around the corner from my house. It was pretty sad to leave the old one, but I was looking forward to working one that was more manageable for me, considering my new commitment to the CS.

I visited the new plot back in November and started work digging it over.  It wasn't in too bad condition, but there was quite a lot of digging to do as it was still a good size. Here's what it looked like when I took it over.

Here's how I left it back in November after digging half of it over.

When I arrived today, it looked like this.

As you can see, there are many more weeds on the half I didn't dig over before Christmas.

Anyway, as there are going to be inspections at the end of the month, and as the weather is starting to warm up, I thought I'd better get to work this week, so on Friday afternoon I took myself there and do some digging.

I stayed for about 3 hours digging over some of the beds.  I decided to dig between the beds too as I'm not sure I want paths between beds as was the arrangement before.  It was hard work and by the time I'd finished I was aching all over. Some muscles I never knew I had were letting me know about it.

Here's the result of my work.

I'm probably just over a third of the way round.  The bed in the foreground looks larger than it actually is in this photograph, it's actually quite narrow.  If I can walk tomorrow, I may go back and do some more work. I'm looking forward to getting growing on this plot and see how things fare.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Freebies and Frugal Measures 2

Recent freebies and frugal measures include the following:

1) I received these two packs of free seeds with my subscription to Kitchen Garden magazine this month.  (A gift from a friend for my birthday last year)

2) I borrowed some books from both my local library and a local Little Free Library. (Sadly, this hasn't prevented me from buying a couple of books too)

3) One of my eBay items sold, which was good news and brought in a very small amount of cash, but better small, than not at all.

4) I found a small piece of furniture on the street whilst walking the dog and gave it a makeover.  It is now being used in our bedroom as my bedside table. (See recent DIY post)

5) I got free tickets to the Ideal Home Show at Olympia, London at the end of the month.

6) I bulk bought several staple food and household items this month, which should keep us going for a good while.

7) I got a free pack of Naked Salted Caramel Nibbles using a voucher at Tesco. (Needless to say, this is the empty packet)

8) I finally received the results of my requested Pension Forecast from the Department for Work & Pensions, which was more positive than I thought it was going to be. I still need to contribute NI contributions for several more years to qualify for a full state pension, but as I've started to pay voluntary contributions this year and intend to continue if I don't find a job, this shouldn't be a problem. (I say positive, that's assuming, of course, that there still is a state pension when I reach retirement age)

9) For two out of the last 3 weeks that I've worked at the CS, I haven't bought anything, which is good going for me.

10) I received some freebies this week when OH was sent some samples for his business.  I nice pen, post-its and a 7.5gb memory stick. (I removed the promotional material from this, so it's now empty and ready to use to store some of our family photos - Saves me buying one anyway.)

It's not been a bad couple of weeks all things considered.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Approved Food Order

A couple of weeks ago, I was notified by Approved Foods that they were offering half price shipping on any orders made. I hadn't placed an order with them for a while, mainly because their shipping is £5.99, which I feel is a little expensive, so because of the offer I thought I'd take a look and perhaps place an order, which I did.

The order was pretty quick to arrive and came last Thursday.  Here's a picture of what I bought.

The above is the food part of the order.  I got a bulk 1kg pack of chia seeds for £5.99, several fajita kits for £1 each, various jars of olives/cooking sauces and tins that we use on a weekly basis, lower calorie snacks that I use for lunches and on the days I go to the CS, porridge and a few dessert options. I was pretty pleased with everything that came and I'm hoping that I will only need to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and perishables for the remainder of the month now.

Part of the order was made up of household and toiletry items, as in the photograph below. Most of these were for OH, LB and the dog.

There are probably a few items I will still need to buy in this category, but for the most part I am pretty well stocked up to get us through the rest of the month and beyond. It was nice to re-visit the site and be able to place an order whereby the postage wasn't prohibitive.

I still like to take a look every now and then and it's interesting to see that they stock a lot more health conscious and organic products than they used to which are worth checking out.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A Little Found Item DIY Project

A few weeks ago whilst walking the dog, I came across this little wooden shelving unit that had been left outside a property for anyone to take.  Call me a bit of magpie, but I can't resist a little piece of furniture which has the potential to be spruced up.

It was a little rough and a bit grubby, but a good sand down, clean and a touch of wood filler and it looked a bit better. I wasn't sure what I would use it for, possibly a little shelf or bed side cabinet in the guest/sewing room. On it's end, it is perfect to house magazines and books for bedside reading.

Anyway, I tried to paint it a few weeks ago, but couldn't find any paint I liked in the cupboard, (I was looking for some grey paint) which is how I came to do a bit of a clear out of all the old tins and tester pots.

Fast forward a few weeks and after getting fed up of it hanging around in the kitchen getting in the way, I decided to paint it white, as we had lots of white eggshell and satin finish wood paint which I chose in the end.

As it was lovely and sunny on Saturday morning, I took it outside on the decking and got stuck in.  It took a few coats to make it look anywhere near decent, but as the paint was quick drying it didn't take too long.

Here's the finished result in situ in our bedroom by my bed. I put a few magazines and books in there in ready to read. It's nothing fancy, but I like it and the fact that it was free makes it all the more appealing.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Recent Reading

I've been doing quite a bit of reading lately. I'm trying to read for 30 minutes every evening before Igo to sleep and for at least 30 minutes on each morning that I don't go to the CS.  As a consequence, I've been getting through quite a few books.

I'm currently in a non-fiction mood, with a preference for financial self-help books or business/biography type books.

I paid a visit to our library the other day and amongst other books, I got out Michelle Mone's autobiography 'My Fight to the Top'. It was pretty inspiring stuff.  She's definitely a gutsy lady and quite a force to be reckoned with. I enjoyed her account of her early life in the poorer parts of Glasgow and the eventual creation of her bra business Ultimo with her then husband. It's good to read a book about a woman doing well in business.  I think I might look out for more in this genre.

Following this, I've been reading this book that I bought from the CS a few weeks ago.

I started reading it on a very quiet day, whilst I was sat by the till and in between customers coming in and it got me hooked, so I just had to buy it.  It is full of anecdotal accounts from fifty of the richest men in various cities and towns across the US.

I find it really inspiring to read how people created successful businesses and then maintained that success and even took it to another level entirely.  There are some amazing stories in this book of hard work, determination and the rewards that these bring.

Towards the end, it summarises the advice of the various millionaires and billionaires with regard to the most important things to do to create and maintain a successful business. I'm almost finished reading this book and it has definitely been an enjoyable and interesting read.

One thing I took away from this book is that most wealthy people don't retire, they continue working because they enjoy it.  It has made me look at the notion of retirement with new eyes. We don't necessarily need to give up working, indeed, many people can't afford not to work past retirement age. The idea that we can do as we please and continue to make money if we so wish has, however, helped to ease the pressure a little in relation to financial planning, although this is still very high on my agenda at the moment.

My next read is going to be this book that I bought on eBay last week.

I think it was a book recommended by Tim Ferris at the end of his book the Four Hour Week, which I read recently and posted about. Anyway, I just love reading about overconsumption.  It always fascinates me and inspires me to declutter more and buy less, which is no bad thing.

Aside from reading, intermittently, I've also been listening to the odd podcast, and in particular a recent one by James Altucher in which he interviews Tony Robbins, the infamous US author and life coach to big business and the rich and famous.

I've also been watching some video interviews with Tony on YouTube.  He's a very popular guy across the pond and his work is very inspirational, hence why he's a billionaire on the back of it and makes sure to give back to those less fortunate.  Now, if he were to write an autobiography, that would definitely make very interesting reading indeed.

Talking of Tony Robbins, I watched an interview with him on Gary Vaynerchuk's channel on YouTube.  The host was severely criticised by many viewers for constantly interrupting him and not letting him speak, but when I watched it back, it didn't seem as bad as it was suggested. 

Anyway, I found this video on Gary's channel which just about sums up how I feel at the moment.

Disclaimer: There's the odd four letter word in this rant, so please don't watch this if you are likely to be offended.

What do you think?

Monday, 13 March 2017

Busy Bee Saturday

I've been a busy bee this Saturday.  The morning was spent listening to podcasts, listing and posting off eBay items (business as opposed to personal), painting a found piece of furniture, doing some washing and household chores and using my food dehydrator for the first time.

Yes, I finally got around to using the dehydrator that my sister bought me for my 50th birthday last October.  I had bought some thin cut beef steak with a yellow sticker on and I finally defrosted it and used it to make some dog treats.  On a recent visit to the vet, our dog was found to be a little overweight, so I'm trying to give her healthier treats and this was an attempt to make some.

Here are the strips in the dehydrator.

Here's what they looked like when they came out. 

I think I either overcooked them or over hydrated them, as they are a bit crispy, but better safe than sorry.  I had to put them in the oven for 10 minutes before putting them in the dehydrator to kill any bacteria, hence why I think they look overly dried.  They were very thin strips too.  The dog loves them though, so they won't go to waste. You live and learn.

Next, I want to dehydrate some fruit or vegetables and see how they turn out.  I'll keep you posted.

Anyway, I also spent quite a bit of time in the garden on Saturday as previously posted, just generally tidying up and sweeping the decking and the front path. It was a lovely day, perfect for it.

Later, I sat down and wrote/completed quite a few blog posts, so I'll probably be posting every day for a week or two now, which makes a change, as my posts have been few and far between lately. How was your Saturday?

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Saturday Afternoon in the Garden

Like many other bloggers, I too spent part of Saturday in the garden.  It was sunny here and bright, so it was a good opportunity to tidy up a little bit.

Firstly, I set out my potato tubers on a tray and put them in the boiler cupboard to chit.  Then I ventured out into the garden and did a bit of pruning of my corkscrew hazels, which had quite a bit of dead wood in them.

(Notice I didn't rake the wood chip paths, I've almost given up on them, as the dog just scatters them as she runs around the garden - Big fail!)

Anyway, I hoed all the borders, save for the border on the left as the dog is constantly in there, so it never stays neat. I'll dig it over some other time. I swept the decking and then tidied up the covers on the raised beds, which has still had several visitations by foxes, despite all of my efforts.  What can you do?

I've got a few salad items that have overwintered and I could start to harvest them really.  Mustard leaves and this mizuna to be precise.

I sowed lots more lettuce seeds the other week which have started to germinate.  I can't wait to start harvesting my own home grown lettuces again.

I do need to buy some compost to start sowing some more seeds and also to re-pot a few things here and there. I hadn't really budgeted for it this month, but needs must.

The rhubarb I took out of my old allotment is coming through now.  Here it is planted in an old recycling box.  I may now transplant some of it into my new allotment. 

Having worked on our garden this weekend, next week I will be focusing on getting the new allotment up to scratch, in time for inspections at the end of the month.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Month So Far

Well, so far this month, I have been quite frugal and sensible and have stuck largely to my planned budget.  I was trying not to spend any money at all, in various areas, but I have to say, that a few very small purchases have been made thus far.

Mostly, I'm just spending money on food and household/toiletry/pet items, plus paying for a couple of medical/dental appointments that I've got coming up later this month.  I have, however, had some unbudgeted vetinary expenses this month, due to the tick bite that affected our dog, so this has impacted my overall budget quite a bit..

I've been much better at the CS and have not spent much at all, save for this week when I purchased this basket to use in our living room.

I wanted it to store the throws that we use, so that I could remove a shelving unit and make the room look less cluttered.

Here's the before

and the after.

Much better.

The basket is tucked behind the sofa in the corner.

I also bought a guide book for our forthcoming holiday on the island of Crete, a dvd for LB and a jacket for OH, which will serve as part of the Christmas present that I still owe him. The only other things I've bought have been gifts, a couple of inexpensive books, some photograph corners and a chalk pen, the latter 3 on eBay, some of which were bought with money I earned by selling a book at the beginning of the month. I don't, however, intend to buy anything else this month, save for one more small gift and some compost.

I'm still within my food budget, despite placing an order for some bulk items from Goodness Direct, (rice/pasta/laundry liquid) and another order with Approved Food for more bulk and other food and household items. (More in another post) I'm hoping these will help me through the rest of the month and beyond, and mean that I will spend less in subsequent weeks on food as a consequence.

I could have done better by not buying the books, especially as I'm still supposed to be on a book buying ban, but I can't resist a good read, it's my main pleasure in life these days. How's your month going?

Friday, 10 March 2017

Tackling a Long Neglected Task

On Thursday afternoon I had a major breakthrough.  I finally started to tackle the huge bag of photographs that have sat awaiting my attention for over 3 years now.  I've had it on my yearly goal list for at least the last  two or three years, but have just never felt that I had the emotional energy to tackle it.

There's something about photographs and looking back into the past that I find difficult to negotiate.  Perhaps, because I've had my fair share of sadness and difficult times over the years, (like most people) photographs seem to trigger quite unpleasant memories and so I've taken the approach of avoiding them.

However, after my friend died I got to thinking how I was lucky to be able to look back over our lives and I started to take a look at some photographs the other week.  The experience wasn't actually as upsetting as I thought it was going to be, so when I got a sudden urge to just get on with the job of sorting through them on Thursday afternoon, I decided to just dig in and get on with it. I was glad I did.

I started by taking a look at the albums I'd already collated and finding the ones that weren't completed.  I then completed these and then decided which new albums I want to create from the photographs we have.

I decided to create different albums for different subjects, namely a family album of my own family from childhood to the present, a family album of our joint family, a baby album and a toddler to ten album of my daughter, a holiday album and I'm considering a small album of photos of the houses we've lived in and my allotments. Once completed this will mean that the physical photos have been taken care of.

I also filled a few frames that I've had for years but never used with photographs that I like and put them up around the house. There are some physical photos in our collection that I won't be keeping and I may try to return some to appropriate people in the family eventually.

From about the time of my daughter being 5 or 6, most of our photos have been stored digitally, so I aim to tackle these at some point and put them onto CD's or a memory stick to be stored with the albums.

I probably sound like a bit of a dinosaur, as most people are putting CD's and physical photographs online now, but I'm happy to keep actual photographs to look through, as  I can't honestly completely trust computers, having lost lots of photos over the last couple of years through computer malfunction. Besides, who knows what will happen with computers in the future.  Call me old fashioned, and I'll say yes, I probably am.

Anyway, I spent the whole afternoon and most of the evening on the task and I've got quite a lot done. I had to stop because I ran out of transparent photo corners to complete the last couple of albums. I ordered some on eBay today to finish the job. I also need a couple more small inexpensive albums, which I'm going to look out for in the next few weeks. I'm hoping it won't be another 3 years before I get around to finishing the job.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Lazy Friday Night/Productive Saturday Morning

It's been a funny old weekend this weekend.  Friday night LB was out with her friends and OH was out meeting a client, so at 5.30pm I sat down to watch a film on Catch Up that wouldn't be available any longer if I didn't watch it that night.  It was called My Old Lady and starred Maggie Smith and Kevin Kline. I really enjoyed it.

In fact, Friday night was actually a really enjoyable lazy night in.  Once OH got back, we had pizza in front of the TV for supper and watched a couple of episodes of The Break on Netflix.  Sometimes it's just got to be done.

On Saturday morning, I had a bit of a lie in to finish the book I was reading, then got up and ready and started to tackle a couple of tasks that I hadn't managed to do during the week. 

When I came downstairs, I noticed that the salad seeds I'd planted the other day in one of my vegetable beds had been disturbed by foxes.  I'd put bubble wrap over cloche hoops to protect them, but with the stormy weather of late, it had all blown off and they were left exposed, allowing the foxes in.  Angered by this, I decide to rebuild the protective cloches, tidy up both beds, sow a few more seeds, and more importantly try to prevent anything getting access again. As the sun was shining for probably the first time this week, it was the perfect time to get out there.

The result looks a bit of dogs dinner, but hopefully it will do the job until I can afford something that looks a bit more attractive. I have seen some dome cloches on line that would just about fit the beds, and I might invest in them, but they are £30 each, and I can't afford them at the moment.  If they keep foxes and cats out (I found a dog bag full of cat faeces in one bed), I will, however, be happy to pay for them.

After being out in the garden, I decided to have a sort through of all my seeds, ready for sowing in the next couple of weeks.  I had lots of very old seeds that were just not worth keeping anymore.  I don't have the time or patience to see if they come through and would prefer to save time by just using seeds that are in date and will most likely germinate.  As a consequence, a whole heap of seeds got thrown away, but it is something that I probably should have done a long time ago.  Sometimes you can try to be too frugal for your own good and it just doesn't pay.

Another job that needed doing was to get LB's bank account working for her, by activating her debit card before it ran out of time, requesting a new pin to use with it and getting her set up with a telephone banking security number. It was all new to her and she didn't know what to do, so I rang up and did what I could and then handed the phone over to her.  If you want a bank account, you just have to get used to all the procedures that go with it.  Eventually, it all got done and now we're just waiting for the new pin to arrive before she can start using her new debit card.

The next job was to arrange an appointment at the vet for the dog, whose skin had reacted to the tick that the vet found on her the other day.  We went to a different vet closer to home, who was open on Saturday afternoons, who we previously attended with her when she was a puppy. The only problem was, they had none of the medicines she needs, so I've got to go back in the week for them which is annoying. 

I did have a bit of a fall in the vet's, I tripped over the dog scale on the way out, forgetting it was there.  I went down with a bang and as a result left with a sore wrist and elbow and feeling a bit shaken.

In spite of this, the day was quite a productive one with quite a few more things ticked off the list, so I can't complain.  Tomorrow is forecast rain all day, so we'll see what I manage to get done inside.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Thursday Spring Cleaning

This afternoon, I made a radical decision (for me anyway), to do some spring cleaning. As anyone who's read my blog for a while will know, I'm not the most house proud person on the block and  I've been especially neglectful in the cleaning department lately. As a consequence, the living room and 2nd reception room were in a bit of a state, so I decided to set about thoroughly cleaning them.

I have to say that I was partly shamed into doing it, as a couple of weeks ago, I was horrified when I got back from walking the dog one Saturday afternoon, to hear that the mother of our neighbour had called round unexpectedly to find her son and his family out and had taken refuge in our house for a to watch the rugby with OH.  When I got in and looked around the room, it was in a pretty dire state with coffee stains on side tables and dusty surfaces (and no doubt the eau de dog everywhere - I think we're a bit noseblind these days) I was a bit embarrassed about what she might think. (Well for a minute or two at least).

Anyway, it took a few more weeks for me to finally get around to cleaning it, but now I have it feels very good. Everywhere has been dusted, hoovered, mopped, furniture pulled out and dust and dirt from underneath removed, cushion covers changed over and fabric surfaces sprayed with freshener. I can now finally sit in there of an evening and not feel guilty about the state of it.

Spring cleaning is actually a good way to keeping me out of the shops too.  I was thinking of going to the garden centre to get some potato tubers for the allotment, but instead I stayed home and cleaned.

With one room done, I think I might spend tomorrow cleaning too.  The hall, stairs, landings, bathroom and downstairs toilet will on my list to clean and then I'll probably give the bedrooms a hoover. (Spring cleaning them will probably have to wait for another time). I did mean to do some cleaning in February, but it just didn't happen.  Now the days are getting longer and the nights lighter, it's good to be able to let the light in and not see the dirt.

Is anyone else getting up to any spring cleaning?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Enjoying Lately

On a slightly more positive note than some of my more recent posts, here are a few things that I've been really enjoying lately that I thought I'd share with you. Only one of them actually cost me any money, which is a positive. (You can tell I'm buying less these days as there are less physical favourites to post about)

The first is a new series on Netflix.  Well, it's not exactly new, but is new to us.  It's a Belgian crime drama called The Break. It's a bit strange, reminiscent of The Bridge in some ways, although not scandi noir, more North European noir, but I'm quite getting into it.  We're about 5 episodes in now and enjoying it, so that should keep us going for at least a week or two.  I've also earmarked a few other things to watch once we've finished.

I'm currently reading this book by Timothy Ferriss.  I've heard a few people talk about him on a few of the US blogs I read. I think he's a favourite of James Altucher of Altucher Confidential.  Anyway, the book is about converting or building a business to require only 4 hours work per week. It's essentially about outsourcing your business or working remotely, so you can live the life you want. 

It's very interesting and I can only admire the people that are actually doing this and enjoying the freedom it brings. I can't, however, say that it will likely ever work for me, but I love reading about how the world has changed in our digital age and what is now possible with relatively little effort and a bit of digital know how. And yes, it was the one thing that cost me money, as it was purchased from the CS where I work.  They get some really good books in, which does make it very hard to resist buying them.

On YouTube, I'm currently really enjoying Budget Girl's channel.  She's a young newspaper journalist who lives in the US and has been paying off her student debt of $30,000 for the past few years and is now down to paying off the last $10,000, which she is aiming to pay off by the end of this year.  She calls it her 'scorched earth budget'.  I think she's a follower of Dave Ramsey and I love watching her channel as she's so sweet and has a cute dog. 

She's also losing weight on account of regularly attending Zumba classes. Good for her. I like her posts about her Frugal Wins and Fails and when she reads the mail from her PO Box. People from all over the US (and other parts of the world) send her encouraging cards and sometimes money through the post.  I have the feeling that she'll end up paying off the debt far sooner than she ever imagined as a consequence.  It's only what she deserves, as she's inspiring lots of people in a very positive way, which can only be a good thing.

Finally, the last thing I'm enjoying is playing Candy Crush Saga.  Since I got my new laptop for Christmas and OH installed the app for me, I've been playing quite a bit, shall we say. Yes, I know it's mindless, but it costs nothing and sometimes it's nice to do something completely mindless to take your mind off other things in life.

One good thing is that it keeps locking me out for periods of time in the hope I'll stump up the money to continue playing. I'm not that addicted. Anyway, when it does, I have the opportunity to go and do other things until I can get back into it.  It's just as well really or I wouldn't ever get anything done. In fact, I'm currently locked out for 60 hours until I can get on to the next level, so I'm getting lots of things done at the moment.